Here’s where we consider all that music that falls outside the normal categories. If it’s too noisy to called jazz, too dissonant to be called rock or just too…different…to be called anything else, it goes into this big, beautifully messy bucket. Some of these selections have been called ‘jazz’, which tends to be a catch-all for anything improvisational, and it can be a real judgment call sometimes when deciding whether some music should be j-tagged and go on this list instead.
But good music is good music is good music.
Here are eleven new albums of choice wack sounds that for some reason or another struck me right, along with an old classic revived for a timely reissue treatment. It’s hard to explain how or why such music connects because it’s so instinctual, but apparently, putting the word ‘pomegranate’ in the title or having Nels Cline play on it helps.
Every selection listed here has been previously reviewed here, too. Those fuller assessments are just a mouse click away via the album titles.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Craig Scott’s Lobotomy – War Is A Racket: This album is a racket, too: an ingenious, crafty, witty racket. The mastermind behind this is Leeds, England’s Craig Scott, a multi-instrumentalist, multi-dimensional and multi-demented savant who took his own live-taped improvised outside jazz recordings, contorted them analog style and put them back together digital style, rich in vivid detail and countless subtleties. Figures are introduced, with layers added, then suddenly vanish and another musical thought in another completely different, exotic style is introduced. Sometimes, that prior motif reappears out of nowhere, oddly maintaining some sort of continuity to this mishmash of ideas.
Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, Negativland and The Residents were likely inspirations but Scott takes their innovative absurdity a little further, which is saying something. A sound collage of hand-made performances that places creativity both in front of and behind the recording console in equal measures is what puts War Is A Racket at the top of a very nice heap of outsider records.
The UK’s answer to Frank Zappa may have as about as much musical genius in him as did the late Mothers of Invention leader. That is scary good.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Henry Kaiser + Ray Russell – Celestial Squid: Russell, the UK session guitarist who’s worked on too many notable soundtrack projects and sideman recordings to count, gets back in touch with his noise-rock side by pairing with a guy whose name is synonymous with noise-rock guitar.
Many Arms + Toshimaru Nakamura – Many Arms and Toshimaru Nakamura: Inserting Japanese noise specialist Toshimaru Nakamura into the mix changes Many Arms from a trio to a quartet without leaving anything behind, because Nakamura amplifies their punk ethos/free jazz spirit.
Scott Amendola (featuring Nels Cline and Trevor Dunn) – Fade To Orange: The major triumph of FTO is that so many divergent parts were thrown into an orchestra playing alongside the Nel Cline Singers and came out together as a fully unified whole. Amendola wrote a symphonic piece where you can immerse yourself into the emotion, sentiment and flow of it and not be concerned about not the style categories it might fall into because it transcends that.
Stephen Haynes – Pomegranate: Cornetist Haynes learned much from his mentor the legendary Bill Dixon, but the most important takeaway he learned is finding his own voice. With its eclectic mixture of instruments performed by a band full of unique improvisers (Joe Morris, William Parker, Warren Smith, Ben Stapp) Pomegranate is an album Dixon would no doubt be proud of.
The Spanish Donkey [Joe Morris, Jamie Saft, Mike Pride] – Raoul: This is about making a rock noise with base jazz instincts, like the original Tony Williams Lifetime gone off the rails and playing without a composition. It’s a dirty job, but there could hardly be three musicians more up to the task than The Spanish Donkey.
Merzbow/Pandi/Gustafsson with Thurston Moore – Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper: The beautifully brutal music Merzbow, Balazs Pandi and Mats Gustafsson made on Cuts (2013) became even more so with the key addition of Sonic Youth screech guitar icon Thurston Moore. This ain’t pop music, ladies and gentleman; this is a party of noise.
White Out with Nels Cline – Accidental Sky: Starting with an empty slate, White Out with Nels Cline paint on a sonic canvas in a way they makes them seem as surprised as to what happens next in a performance as the listener.
Aram Bajakian – Music Inspired By ‘The Color of Pomegranates’: As a subversive within the musical realm, Aram Bajakian connected with the subversive director from the USSR and like the film for which he created this graceful, subdued alternate score, effectively said much without any words at all.
Will Mason Ensemble – Beams of the Huge Night: A drummer with a keen knack for composing extended, undulating musical pieces, Will Mason might tell you his music is a mixture of contemporary classical, out-jazz and math-y rock. It arguably is, but the styles don’t grab ya’ like the naked passion of his music does.
Raoul Björkenheim / eCsTaSy – Out of the Blue: Visceral, vivid and uncompromising, this picks up where the debut album left off. Raoul Björkenheim and his eCsTaSy band continue to conjure up a new set of fresh ideas for each track, and leverage an ample supply of intuition and musicianship to make it work right.
REISSUE OF THE YEAR
Sonny Sharrock – Ask The Ages: Sonny Sharrock’s greatest artistic achievement is nearly a quarter century old but has lost none of its immediacy and freshness. Probably because no one has quite caught up to the late, great cutting-edge guitarist.
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