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)

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