Dusted's Bill Meyer looks back at the year in music.
Ten Good Things About Music In 2004 by Bill Meyer
This is not a top 10 list; the notion of comparing sound worlds as disparate as, say, AMM, the Able Tasmans, Ali Farka Toure and Fred Anderson gets more, not less, ridiculous with the passage of time. But since the Dusted editors strongly urged me to contribute some kind of 2004 best-of, and I really need those compromising documents back before I run for office, it behooves me to come up with something. So here’s a non-comprehensive list of persons, groups, and objects that brought me joy in 2004.
1. Albert Ayler
Revenant’s Holy Ghost box is the sun around which all other recordings orbited in 2004. It comprises a phenomenal and gorgeous package, a solid (although by no means conclusive) body of research, and a gripping 10-disc parallel history to the sanctified saxophonist’s existing discography that fills in a few long-gaping blanks in the time line.
2. Acoustic guitars
Not only did Jack Rose, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Glenn Jones, Six Organs of Admittance and Sir Richard Bishop all deliver excellent albums that furthered the art of the (usually) steel-stringed wooden guitar. John Fahey, the genre’s progenitor, and Bola Sete, whom Fahey idolized, both weighed in from the beyond the grave with concert recordings (The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick and Live At The Grace Cathedral) to remind us all how great they really were back in the day.
3. Camping - Suburban Shore (Plug Research)
One music journalist of my acquaintance commented, upon surveying the big box of CDs that turned up on his doorstep on a typical afternoon that “every day is like a bad Christmas.” I wish I could say I say it first, because it’s true. But every once in a long while a record turns up by someone you’ve never heard of, playing something you don’t expect to like, and it bewitches you. Camping, the unlikely alliance of German vocalist Henning Fritzenwalder and Washington DC-based electronic duo Chessie, turned the unpromising prospective of a CD of plugged-in German-language sambas into a seductive debut that restored my faith in music’s potential for endless creative renewal.
4. and 5. Axel Dörner and Keith Rowe
Not only do these men continue to rewrite the rulebook on their instruments (respectively trumpet and guitar; both use electronics), they do so in surprising and consistently musical ways. Their duo set at the Empty Bottle in Chicago on the opening night of the Wire’s Adventures In Modern Music festival was exquisite, and between them they made some of my favorite free improv records of the year. These Dörner duo with percussionist Tony Buck, Dürch und Dürch (TES); Keith Rowe / Burkhard Beins (Erstwhile) a devastating live record; Rowe, Robbie Avenaim and Oren Ambarchi’s Honey Pie (Grob); and Rowe, Dörner, and Franz Hautzinger’s The View From The Window (Erstwhile).
6. John Butcher
The English saxophonist made a few more of my fave improv efforts, most notably Cavern With Nightlife, the inaugural release of his new label Weight of Wax. He also did me an enormous honor by having me write the liner notes to the reissue of his 1991 recording Thirteen Friendly Numbers (Unsound).
7. Duke Ellington
All of Sony’s reissues of ’50s and ’60s era Ellingtonia are worth your attention; even when the man was on the ropes, as he was during those dark days before Newport 1956, he coaxed music of the highest order from his fabulously dysfunctional big band. Start with Blues In Orbit, an especially swinging and joyous effort from 1959, or the earlier Ellington Uptown, which comes with an entire extra suite.
8. Califone - Heron King Blues (Thrill Jockey)
This is great for the same reasons that Califone’s concerts can be quite befuddling; the band revels in perverse “shouldn’t be able to get there from here” shortcuts between genres. Who else could tackle disco and an extended meditation upon Captain Beefheart’s “Mirror Man,” and make it all work? But the band’s January record release show in Chicago cut out the perversity - they rocked at the top of their game.
9. Philip Jeck
Jeck finally brought his Battered turntables and brutalized records to Chicago, and the music he made was every bit as entrancing as his marvelous recent records 7 (Touch) and Host (Sub Rosa).
Their new single, “The Lost You,” turns a one-note Robert Wyatt sample, some remedial Beatles piano playing, and a healthy gust of noise into a great pop swirl. Looks like there’s stuff to look forward to in 2005!
By Bill Meyer