Best New Avant-Jazz Albums of 2008

Braxton_Graves_ParkerHaving felt like my exposure to avant-jazz was insufficient in 2008, the first person I thought of to help me catch up was Bruce at Downtown Music Gallery. There is not a more important record store in New York City (or possibly the world) for the kind of music I love the most. Heck, I work at a record store but I still shop at DMG (and 40% of Bruce's picks aren't even on iTunes). And then I thought, why not give our readers his unadulterated opinions? So here, in alphabetical order, is Bruce's top 10 of 2008 with his comments. (Steve Holtje)

Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (Tzadik)
The overall sound here is magnificent, perfectly balanced, and all of the elements flow just right. Braxton is in incredible form as he balances between two streams, his more spiritual side and his more fractured note side. Parker keeps up a constant flow of cosmic ideas on his trusty contrabass, organically connecting with Milford's ever-swirling layers of drums. Graves, one of the grandmasters of rhythmic dialogue, keeps up a constant flow of spinning layers, weaving a web that brings everyone he plays with closer together, closer to the source of true inspiration.

Roy_Campbell_Akhenaten_SuiteRoy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (AUM Fidelity)
The sound of this quintet (which also includes violinist Billy Bang, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, bassist Hill Greene, and drummer Zen Matsuura) is much like an early '70s Blue Note date, always swinging infectiously. What made it different from other projects by Roy is how melodic and charming it is. One piece has a theme that reminded me of Sketches of Spain by Miles, while another song, composed by Billy Bang, has an Eastern vibe. This was one of the most enchanting sets of last year's Vision Festival and it still sounds wonderful on disc.

bill-dixon-dafurBill Dixon Orchestra: 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (In Concert at Vision Festival XII) (AUM Fidelity)
I've caught professor/composer Bill Dixon on a number of occasions; sometimes his group is just great and sometimes they are amazing. This set was by far the best I've heard from him. He had an all-star Vision Fest Orchestra and they played his magnificent work incredibly well. The piece was brilliant, challenging and the Orchestra and audience were well primed for this historic occasion.

RegenerationPaul Dunmall/Paul Rogers: Regeneration (Future Music)
Featuring Paul Dunmall on soprano sax, bagpipes & piano and Paul Rogers on seven-string bass. After so many years and sessions together, this duo sounds like they are thinking together as one focused spirit, in a perfect balance. It often sounds like a friendly conversation between two old friends, and I guess that is just what it is. For the final piece Dunmall whips out his soprano sax and Rogers plucks up a storm. Again, this duo seems to anticipate each other's moves and sail together in magnificent waves, spinning, swirling, cascading, and dancing on the edge of the abyss. Just as long as this duo continues to provide us with manna, we will continue to dig in and have hope for a better future. Amen.

Joel_HarrisonJoel Harrison: The Wheel (Innova)
The Wheel might be Joel Harrison's best effort yet. Our journey begins with "American Farewell," a most poignant piece. Joel writes of combining African music with the blues on "Blues Circle" and does a fine job of blending the two. I love the way the strings are plucked rhythmically while the horns play their own complicated lines together. "Rising" has some especially dynamic string writing/playing that reminds me of some of the better moments of John McLaughlin Apocalypse with the large version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. One section even has that incredible start-and-stop part found on Love's Forever Changes. "We Have Been the Victims of a Broken Promise" is an incredible piece for intense and expressive strings with a touching melody that is hard to forget. "Ceaseless Motion" is an aptly named piece that has some great swirling strings and an exciting sax solo near the end. "In Memorium: Dana Brayton" brings this classic disc to a fine conclusion with some more extraordinary strings and intersecting horns.

Tony_MalabyTony Malaby: Tamarindo (Clean Feed)
Malaby's reputation as a complete tenor and soprano saxophonist continues to grow, and his modesty and absolute dedication to his music have become legend. Without making a fuss, he has become one of the most spectacular musicians on the New York scene. If the ancient Chinese martial art has indeed influenced his music, his music's spirit is strongly rooted in jazz history. That said, Malaby is not burdened by the past; for him, tradition is food for creative work but nothing more. His companions on this wonderful record -- the much-in-demand rhythm section of William Parker and Nasheet Waits -- are, like Malaby, acutely aware of the past, yet inventors of the future.

Louis_MoholoLouis Moholo-Moholo & Marilyn Crispell: Sibanye (We Are One) (Intakt)
This first meeting between South-African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo and American pianist Marilyn Crispell is one of the finest collaborations that either musician has produced. After listening to this gem a half dozen times, I’ve got to admit that it is one of the most exquisite and enchanting discs that I've heard this year!

Parker_Double_SunriseWilliam Parker Orchestra: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM)
The second set on the first night of Vision Fest 2006 was a world premiere of William Parker's Double Sunrise Over Neptune for a 16-piece orchestra. The instrumentation was unique and included three saxes, two double reeds (Bill Cole & William Parker), four strings, oud, banjo, two basses, and two drummers, plus a fabulous Indian woman vocalist who was one the evening's highlights. The piece was one long work that developed a handful of themes. It had a middle Eastern/Indian sort of sound and evolved and repeated like a raga. Rob Brown took one of the most lyrical and breathtaking of all on his alto sax and later traded lines with the Indian vocalist, adding even more magic to the piece. William left the bass duties to the young but ambitious Shayna Dulberger, while William played some fine kora in the second half. An outstanding work and perhaps Parker's finest moment yet!

Secret_Chiefs_3Secret Chiefs 3 [John Zorn Masada Book Two]: Xaphan: Book of Angels Vol. 9 (Tzadik)
This long-awaited and long-delayed gem was well worth the wait. The Secret Chiefs 3 excel at middle-eastern soundtrack-like excursions and here the stakes are raised even higher. Much of this music doesn’t really sound like Masada music, but all of it is wonderful and unique.

John Zorn: FilmWorks XXII: The Last Supper (Tzadik)
One of the strangest films Zorn has ever scored, The Last Supper is a science fiction/art film of wild imagination and style. The brainchild of French director Arno Bouchard, the film combines primal ritual with futuristic fantasy in images reminiscent of David Lynch or Alexandro Jodorowsky at their most bizarre. Drawing upon the world's first musical instruments (voice and drums), Zorn has created a beautiful and powerful score that simultaneously embraces the sensual and the repellent, the dark and the light, the ancient and the modern. - Bruce Lee Gallanter

Braxton-Gallanter

I have been a music fan-addict ever since seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in February of 1964 at age 10. I bought perhaps 100 singles from ages 10 to 13 and then bought albums weekly starting in 1967 when I was Bar Mitzvahed. I started buying music magazines in 1966 since I was fascinated by lyrics and then to read about the bands that I dug. When I started to listen to FM radio in 1967, I discovered an unexplored world of underground rock. One of the first records I bought was Freak-Out! by the Mothers of Invention. It changed my life and I became a freak. Psychedelic and political or protest music were and still are my favorites types of music. Groups such as Soft Machine, Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, Love, Jefferson Airplane, the Kinks... then King Crimson, Procol Harum, Yes, etc. influenced me in many ways. I started going to rock concerts in 1968 and still attend gigs religiously. I've become more open-minded as my tastes evolved taking in modern classical, world music, avant jazz, progressive, punk, blues, folk, bluegrass -- it is a never-ending journey that continues to expand. During my college years, (1972-1976), I was a Canterbury and progressive music fanatic, listening mostly to Henry Cow, Robert Wyatt, Hatfield & the North, Mingus, Braxton (that's him in the picture with me), Mahavishnu Orchestra, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra... My vast collection continues to grow: 12,000 albums, 20,000 CDs, hundreds of singles, a few thousand music magazines, and 4,000 tapes of gigs that I recorded from 1975 to1995. I've worked in record shops or for music distributors on and off since graduating college in 1976. I started Downtown Music Gallery in May 1991 so that there would be a home for avant/progressive/free-jazz/modern composer/rock and roots music in NYC. We started an e-mail newsletter 1996 and now some 7,000 folks receive our lengthy newsletters every week. I write about 10 reviews a week, 500 per year which can be found on our website: downtownmusicgallery.com. I have been writing music lists (discographies, want-lists and recommendation lists) since 1967 and publish a lengthy set of lists every year which can also be found our website. Our store will turn 18 next year and we are one of the few (only?) remaining stores worldwide that still sell the music that we still love and need in order to keep our sanity in these troubled times.

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