Look Beyond Appearances – 2009 Music Gems


Staff Benda Bilili from Congo. ‘Staff Benda Bilili’ means look beyond appearances–an apt title for my brief listing of some of my favorite new music from last year.

Every new year between 1974 and 1986 I prepared a listing of the previous year’s best jazz records. I used my evaluation to merchandise records at the store and support broadcast on the radio. At the time, it seemed my sense of the previous year had to be credible for the simple reason that I was in a good position to mightily sample the year’s jazz releases. The record companies were generous in recognizing my dual role. My base sample was large, usually numbering several hundred records.

This comes to mind because this year I have for the first time since then gone to the considerable trouble to assess listening highlights for the past year. The biggest challenge was going back to figure out what actually came out last year. Then, armed with a raw list, in January I mined for recordings I had missed and was interested in.

Between the fan blogs and forums, and, the old line critics, I apprised myself of other critical views. Just a few steps in this direction had me reflecting on how much the critical culture around music has come to–paradoxically–accept and deny the ramification of the internet in its year-end recaps. In a follow-up post, or two, I’ll delve into this. It’s suffices to suggest that the old style critical culture has not grasped how prolix the wider musical culture has become. On the other side, the smart musical mobs do not grasp, and likely have no good reason to grasp, what were the precedents to today’s iTunes and share-ism.

One way the old and new school may be bridged is to consider the consequence of share-ism: as music sales have imploded, exposure has increased. This means that the critic is no longer positioned as a gatekeeper by their main advantage, that the critic can sample more music than the dedicated fan. Where this really is evident is in the new school muso’s ability to deeply ‘sample’ on the margins. This comes about because the unit cost of exposure has plummeted. This is in contrast to the old line critic who seems to still be wed to taking stock of what gets pushed their way. Whereas the informal and amateur culture is advantaged more by pulling music into their orbits. Think about it!

Meanwhile, my own list simply reflects what I really enjoyed. I make no other claim. Some of the music below represent long standing guilty pleasures. *marks one recording in each broad genre that I’d tell you to leap into first. I’ll be highlighting individual recordings in the future.

*Asleep At the wheel – Asleep & Willie country-folk
Levon Helm – Electric Dirt country-folk
Michael Hurley – Ida Con Snock country-folk
Buddy & Julie Miller – Love Snuck Up country-folk
Lhasa De Sela – Lhasa country-folk
*Celer – Breeze of Roses electronic
Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions electronic
Burkhard Beins – Structural Drift electronic
Stephen R. Smith – Cities In Decline electronic
Monolake – Silence electronic
*Abdullah Ibrahim – Bombella improv
Sun Ra – In Detroit improv
Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra – Whispering Elephants improv
Keith Jarrett – Testament improv
Louis Moholo-Moholo – Sibanye: Duets with Marilyn Crispell improv
Martial Solal – Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love improv
Cyro Baptista & Banquet of the Senses – Infinito improv
Wadada Leo Smith & Jack DeJohnette – America improv
Bill Dixon – Tapestries for Small Orchestra improv
Kenny Barron – Minor Blues improv
David S. Ware – Shakti improv
Gretchen Parlatro – in a Dream improv
*Or the Whale – s/t pop
Neil Young – Live Archive v.1 pop
J.D. Souther – If the World Is You pop
Ry Cooder – I, Flathead pop
The Band of Heathens – One Foot in the Ether pop
*Allen Toussaint – Bright Mississippi R&b
Los Cenzontles – American Horizon r&b
Buckwheat Zydeco – Lay Your Burden Down r&b
*Staff Benda Bilili- Tres Fort , Tres Fort world
Lucas Santanna – Sem Nostalgia world
Orchestre National de Barbès – Alik world
va – Brazilika world
Tinariwen – Imidiwan:Companions world
Oumou Sangare – Seya world
Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali world
Culture Music Club – Shime world

(139 recordings I enjoyed from last year – below the fold)

The master list – the contenders – all of interest

Abdullah Ibrahim – Bombella
Abner Jay – Abner Jay
Allen Toussaint – Bright Mississippi
Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali
Anouar Brahem – The Astounding Eyes of Rita
Asleep At the wheel – Asleep & Willie
Baaba Maal – Television
Basseko Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – I Speak Fula
Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – I Speak Fula
Ben Allison – Think Free
Benny Golson – New Time, New ‘Tet
Bill Dixon – Tapestries for Small Orchestra
Bjork – Voltaic
Bobby Sanabria: Kenya Revisited Live
Branford Marsalis – Metamorphosen
Buckwheat Zydeco – Lay Your Burden Down
Buddy & Julie Miller – Love Snuck Up
Burkhard Beins – Structural Drift
Caetano Veloso – Zii e Zie
Cecil Taylor – The Last Dance V1&2
Celer – Breeze of Roses
Celer – Four Pieces
Chas Smith – Nokadai
Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse – caves from the Ghetto
Cowboy Junkies – Trinity Revisited
Culture Music Club – Shime
Cyril Neville – Brand New Blues
Cyro Baptista & Banquet of the Senses – Infinito
Cyrus Chestnut – Spirit
David S. Ware – Shakti
David Sylvian – Manafon
Delbert McClinton – Acquired Taste
Diana Jones – Better Times Will Come
Dinosaur Jr – Farm
Drive By Trukcers – Austin City Limits
Ellen Jewell – Sea of Tears
Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane And Sugarcane
Extra Golden – Thank You Very Quickly
Fanga – Sira Ba
Fred Anderson – Staying in the Game
Gary Louris/Mark Olson — Ready for the Flood
Geoff Muldaur & The Texas Sheiks – Texas Sheiks
Gerald Cleaver/William Parker/Craig Taborn – Farmers by Natu
Ghana Special –Modern Highlife Afro Sounds Ghana Blues
Graham Parker – Live in SF 1979
Gretchen Parlatro – in a Dream
Harmonica Shah – If All You Have Is A Hammer
Henry Threadgill Zooid – This Brings Us To, Vol. 1
J.D. Souther – If the World Is You
James Moody – 4A
Jayhawks – Music From the North Country
Jesse Winchester – Love Filling Station
Jessica Williams – The Art of the Piano
Jimi Tenor and Tony Allen – Inspiration Information 4
Joe Lovano: Folk Art
John Campbell – Good to Go
Jon Balke & Amina Alaoui – Siwan
Jon Hassell – Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street
Keith Jarrett – Testament
Kenny Barron – Minor Blues
Khan Jamal – Impressions of Coltrane
Kid Loco – The Remix Album
Kimi Djabate – Karam
Klaus Voormann & Friends – A Sideman’s Journey
Kristina Train – Spilt Milk
Laura Viera – Troubled By the Fire
Levon Helm – Electric Dirt
Lhasa De Sela – Lhasa
Los Cenzontles – American Horizon
Louis Moholo-Moholo – Sibanye: Duets with Marilyn Crispell
Lucas Santanna – Sem Nostalgia
Lustmord – The Dark Places Of The Earth
Luther Allison – Songs From the Road
Luther Dickinson & the Sons of Mudboy – Onward & Upward
Lyle Lovett
Madeleine Peyroux – Bare Bones
Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat – I Am Eve
Manassas – Pieces
Martial Solal – Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
Matthew Shipp – Harmonic Disorder
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs – Under The Covers Vol. 2
Michael Hurley – Ida Con Snock
Michael Hurley – Parsnips
Miranda Lambert – Revolution
Monolake – Silence
Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics – Inspiration Information
Muslimgauze – Cobra Head Soup
Neil Young – Live Archive v.1
No Blues – Lumen
Novalima: Coba Coba (Cumbancha) Perú
Or the Whale – s/t
Orchestre National de Barbès – Alik
Orchestre National de Jazz – Around Robert Wyatt
Otis Taylor: Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs
Oumou Sangare – Seya
Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra – Whispering Elephants
Ran Blake – Driftwoods
Rashied Ali – Judgment Day v2
Rashied Ali Quintet – Live in Europe
Red Molly – Love & Other Tragedies
Richard Thompson – Live Warrior
Robert Henke – Indigo_Transform
Rosanne Cash – The List
Roswell Rudd – Trombone Tribe
Ry Cooder – I, Flathead
Said the Whale
Salif Keita – La Difference
Samba Toure – Songhai Blues
Shelley King – Welcome Home
Sleeping Me – lamenter
Son Volt – American Central Dust
Sonny Landreth – Levee Town (extras)
Staff Benda Bilili- Tres Fort , Tres Fort
Stefon Harris/Blackout – Urbanus
Stephen R. Smith – Cities In Decline
Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe Lovano – Mostly Coltrane
Steve Roach -Dynamic Stillness
Sun Ra – In Detroit
Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions
Susana Baca – Seis Poemas
Tam Echo Tam – Dawn
The Band of Heathens – One Foot in the Ether
The Bottle Rockets – Lean Forward
The Doors – The Complete Matrix Club Tapes
The Stone Coyotes – A Rude Awakening
The Subdudes – Flower Petals
Thomas Koner – La Barca
Tinariwen – Imidiwan:Companions
Tinsley Ellis – Speak No Evil
Tom Harrell – Prana Dance
Tony Allen – Secret Agent
Trilok Gurtu – Massical
Trio 3 + Geri Allen – At This Time
va – Brazilika
va – Tudo Ben
va – Chicago Blues: A Living History
Wadada Leo Smith & Jack DeJohnette – America
William Parker – Petit Oiseau
Willie Nelson – Naked Willie

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