Monday, January 5, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2008: Part III

Today: Numbers 10 through 6! Let's roll!

PLEASE NOTE: All tracks are for preview purposes only! Support the artists you love by buying their work!

10. Bar Kokhba Sextet - Lucifer: Book of Angels, Vol. 10 (Tzadik)
It speaks to the power of Bar Kokhba's music that the ensemble, having released only three albums in the past 10 years, is one of the best-selling outfits that tackle John Zorn's music (such groups are usually noted for their prolificacy). The Book of Angels entry is the Bar Kokhba Sextet's first studio work since 1998, and it finds the band playing tighter than ever, whipping out wonderfully exotic takes on Zorn's Masada compositions, which are based on Jewish scales and sonorities from both Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions. Of particular note in this session is Marc Ribot, his playing both urgent and lyrical, one of his best showings in recent memory. Though his musical palette is much wider than many other contemporary guitarists, he seems especially at home in the company of this particular group. While I still prefer the immediacy and spontaneity of the 50th Birthday Celebration live recordings, Lucifer is a pleasing addition to the Bar Kokhba canon and is certainly in the running as one of the best releases in the Book of Angels series, as well.

Track listing: 1. Sother (5:59) 2. Dalquiel (6:08) 3. Zazel (3:23) 4. Gediel (6:13) 5. Rahal (3:50) 6. Zechriel (7:55) 7. Azbugah (3:02) 8. Mehalalel (9:54) 9. Quelamia (4:59) 10. Abdiel (3:25)

Personnel: Cyro Baptista percussion; Joey Baron drums; Greg Cohen bass; Mark Feldman violin; Erik Friedlander cello; Marc Ribot guitar

Download the track "Sother"

9. Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull (Southern)
Earth are in an interesting position in the metal world, having essentially invented drone metal in the early 90s, only to disappear and let their followers (most notably sunnO))) ) attract attention and garner accolades for its unique sound. Earth didn't stay hidden though, and when they returned after nearly a decade-long hiatus, their sound had changed quite drastically. The music was still slow in tempo and drawn out over long swaths of time, but it was spare and even more economical, not nearly as heavy, at times lacking distortion at all, and it had a hint of country twang that made it sound like a glacial Morricone soundtrack. In the three years since their reappearance, Earth has worked diligently toward fully fleshing out this new approach, and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull represents the apex of that vision. To put it succinctly, the album is just beautiful. The sound is still deep, full in the bass register, but it's not abrasive or percussive like metal, instead delivered as a rich, healthy vibration that's more relaxing than anything else. Every element is carefully considered and nothing is used to excess; each guitar chord or splash of Hammond is delivered in a deliberate, measured way that works towards building a lush, dense atmosphere, but without becoming overbearing or murky. Carlson has indicated Terry Riley is one of his inspirations, and I think Mr. Riley would approve.

Track listing: 1. Omens and Portents I: The Driver (9:08) 2. Rise to Glory (5:47) 3. Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine) (8:01) 4. Engine of Ruin (6:28) 5. Omens and Portents II: Carrion Crow (8:04) 6. Hung From the Moon (7:44) 7. The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull (8:15)

Personnel: Dylan Carlson electric guitar; Adrienne Davies drums, percussion; Steve Moore grand piano, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer piano; Don McGreevy bass guitar, double-bass; Bill Frisell electric guitar (1, 4, 5)

Download the track "Omens and Portents I: The Driver"

8. Bobo Stenson Trio - Cantando (ECM)
Bobo Stenson is one of the most revered modern jazz pianists, having recorded as a sideman and a leader for over 30 years. Cantando served as my first introduction to Stenson, and I've been ravenously seeking out his back catalog in the few months since. Honestly, if I had found Cantando a little sooner in the year, it very well may have placed higher on this list. It's an album so bursting with ideas, so expertly executed, so illustrative of the magic that can happen when musicians are keyed in to one another, that gaining a full appreciation of its entirety seems a herculean task. Stenson and bassist Anders Jormin have played together for most of their respective careers, and share a musical symbiotic relationship: each anticipates and complements the other in a manner that suggests they share a single mind. Since long-time trio drummer Jon Christensen passed away a few years ago, his seat has been filled by Paul Motian and now the young Jon Faelt, who is absolutely breathtaking. He subscribes to a Motian-style drumming philosophy, serving not so much to keep time, but by subtly accenting the lead players (Jormin's role is hardly that of a mere rhythmic anchor). Faelt's contribution is by far the best example of this style drumming I've encountered, and I think I even prefer Faelt's drumming to Motian's. The Stenson/Jormin organism, when taken with Faelt's new energy, results in a tremendous collection of tracks that embody the best elements of free music and creative interpretation of standards and source music.

Track listing: 1. Olivia (6:39) 2. Song of Ruth (6:42) 3. Wooden Church (7:01) 4. M (8:00) 5. Chiquilin de Bachin (8:04) 6. Pages (13:40) 7. Don's Corapiece (5:09) 8. A Fixed Goal (4:13) 9. Love I've Found You (3:13) 10. Liebesode (8:36) 11. Song of Ruth, var. (6:48)

Personnel: Bobo Stenson piano; Anders Jormin double-bass; Jon Faelt drums

the track "Wooden Church"

7. Bohren & der Club of Gore - Dolores (Ipecac)
Bohren & der Club of Gore is a band comprised of a bunch of metal heads. The thing is, almost 20 years ago, they decided they didn't want to play metal. What they've steadily developed in the years since is an arresting, doom-metal-slow style of jazz that pushes the boundaries of both tempo and minimalism. Bohren's frugal use of notes places great emphasis on every musical decision, and the economy of their sound combined with the timbre of their instruments of choice makes for a haunting, beautiful listen. While some of Bohren's past albums deliberately strove to create a creepy ambiance, it seems with Dolores the band is no longer concerned with being scary, merely with making the best possible music they can in the style they have pioneered. There are still a few chilling cuts, though, largely thanks to the ominous samples utilized in some of their Mellotron lines. Also of note is the shorter song lengths this time around, which suprisingly doesn't detract from the slow, steady crescendo building they've employed in the past.

Track listing: 1. Staub (7:51) 2. Karin (3:38) 3. Schwarze Biene (Black Maja) (8:12) 4. Unkerich (5:31) 5. Still Am Sresen (3:59) 6. Welk (6:19) 7. Von Schanälbeln (3:57) 8. Urgelblut (6:13) 9. Faul (5:56) 10. Welten (6:54)

Personnel: Thorsten Benning drums, percussion; Christoph Clöser Fender Rhodes, vibraphone, saxophone; Morten Gass 8-string bass, Fender Rhodes; Robin Rodenberg contrabass, fretless bass

Download the track "Staub"

6. Charles Lloyd Quartet - Rabo de Nube (ECM)
Charles Lloyd is another jazz legend that I first caught wind of this year, with Rabo de Nube being released in conjunction with his 70th birthday. A live set, the album showcases Lloyd's new backing band of fiery young musicians. It quickly becomes clear that their youthful exuberance is required to keep pace with Lloyd, who plays with a vigor and passion that matches that of his classic 60s output. Drummer Eric Harland is particularly notable on this session, as well as Jason Moran, who has attracted quite a lot of critical attention as a leader of his own band in the past several years. For the most part his piano-playing is in lock-step with Lloyd's vision, though there are portions of a few of his solos that are occasionally aural stumbles, as though the wild drive of the music simply broke free from Moran's control. It's not enough to detract from the overall brilliance of the set, though, and Moran's got big shoes to fill in any case: Lloyd's consistently surrounded himself with high caliber piantists. His groups have included the likes of Keith Jarrett, Bobo Stenson, Geri Allen, and Brad Mehldau. Lloyd has been a consistently powerful voice in the jazz world for over 40 years now. Charles, we hear you loud and clear.

Track listing: 1. Prometheus (14:42) 2. Migration of Spirit (10:14) 3. Booker's Garden (14:32) 4. Ramanujan (11:38) 5. La Colline de Monk (4:01) 6. Sweet Georgia Bright (12:16) 7. Rabo de Nube (7:36)

Personnel: Charles Lloyd tenor saxophone, alto flute, tarogato; Jason Moran piano; Reuben Rogers double-bass; Eric Harland drums

Download the track "Prometheus"

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