Jan 4 2018
So… about 2017, Part II: We are everywhere
Next year, this post will be better.
For the 2017 year-in-review, you get only half an idea.
These things come to me in the moment, and I write stuff down and in the deluge of music, that stuff gets forgotten and buried under stacks of lists and one-sheets and drafts. But I thought it would be fun to map out where the Best of 2017 music was coming from. I didn’t remember this great idea until, well, like just yesterday. I cobbled this map together real quick:
The purple dots represent the home turf of a musician whose album appeared in the Bird is the Worm Best of 2017. If I’d been a bit more prepared, I’d have gotten those dots to scale in size based on total count of albums for that city. For instance, the dot for New York City should be pretty damn large… something like 15 different albums could trace roots to Jazz Central. And if I’m really badass, then I’ll get the map to represent every album I write about for this site (or other outlets)… which will really light that map up.
Another thing I’m gonna do next year is expand the definition of “home turf.” As Vijay Iyer wisely pointed out during a twitter discussion, music that comes from New York City doesn’t necessarily reflect the breadth of the geographical influence upon the album. For instance, I’ve got Diego Barber listed as repping NYC, but he hails from the Canary Islands. Yazz Ahmed is tagged as London, but her Bahrain birthplace influences her music. Fabian Almazan was born in Cuba and raised in Florida; does his time in New York dramatically affect his current sound? Probably. But does that mean it’s in the absence of places he’s previously set down roots? No, probably not. And what of the dramatic influence of Camila Meza on Almazan’s Alcanza? Why shouldn’t we have a point on that map for her? Guillermo Klein lives in upstate New York, and that relocation was critical in the Upstate Project album happening… but to ignore his Argentinean roots and not put a dot on South America is probably a misrepresentation of the diversity of the music hitting this site’s Top 50. These are considerations that will go into next year’s map. If I get started early on my data tables, and maintain them throughout the year, we could have a pretty cool map for 2018.
Let’s wrap up with some videos, because, hey, I don’t ever want to post something on this site where you aren’t able to hear some music.
Here’s a video from the Sandcatchers. Their album What We Found Along the Way earned the #47 slot on the Best of 2017 list.
Next up is a video from the quartet MAP, whose Guerra e Paz received the #32 slot on the Best of 2017 list.
And let’s wrap up with a video from the Anne Quillier 6tet, whose album Dusty Shelters earned the #7 slot on the Best of 2017 list.
Jan 5 2018
So… about 2017, Part III: Not Enough Days
Jaimie Branch walks her trumpet straight into 2017, moves to the center of the room and brings the house down. Fly or Die is a remarkably strong vision confidently expressed. It’s the kind of album you hope for every time you hit play on a new album, and feel blessed to actually encounter a handful of times each year. It’s the way to wield music so that a challenging, unconventional project can come off as personable as a friendly handshake. This is what Branch did.
Something else Branch did was pen a very openhearted and insightful look back on her success in 2017. It was published on The Bandcamp Daily, and I highly recommend checking it out.
I think it’s best to spread the love around, so having two albums from the same label land in my top ten is a scenario I prefer to avoid. But, damn, International Anthem crushed 2017. I mean, as if two albums in my top ten weren’t enough, along with Fly or Die and the eponymous debut by Irreversible Entanglements they also put out a new thing from Makaya McCraven, a deluxe edition of Jeff Parker‘s 2016 release The New Breed, and the incomparable Not Living In Fear from the trio Hear In Now.
A member of the Hear In Now trio is cellist Tomeka Reid. Let’s run this down. She contributed to Branch’s Fly Or Die, Nicole Mitchell‘s Mandorla Awakening II, Nicole Mitchell’s other outstanding 2017 release Liberation Narratives (album write-up soon on this site), the duo collaboration Signaling with saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, and then any number of projects that could only be heard live. That’s just in 2017. Any conversation that revolves around naming an Artist of the Year has to include the name of Tomeka Reid to have any kind of legitimacy. And if the conversation shifts to Label of the Year, the name International Anthem better come up.
Speaking of labels who had an excellent 2017, there’s a tiny label from Aarhus, Denmark that deserves a healthy dose of attention. Jaeger Community Music quietly released an impressive array of recordings in 2017. Hoax, the debut of I Just Came From the Moon was received warmly on this site, as was the latest from pianist Kasper Staub. The cheerily named ensemble I Think You’re Awesome released another set of catchy, charismatic tunes with Books near the tail-end of 2016. And then there’s Fabel by the Fabel trio. That album earned the #22 slot on this site’s Best of 2017 list.
And let’s briefly revisit Fabel, because they did something extra special… as if one of the albums of the year wasn’t enough. Their project was originally designed to be a multimedia project, and to be less considered a standard recording and instead viewed as an album-as-video. It’s not quite a soundtrack, though it certainly behaves that way. And the video that accompanies the music isn’t quite a movie, though it certainly behaves that way, too. The film, viewed with no sound, implies a soundtrack of its own. And the music, heard in the absence of the video, certainly generates its own vivid imagery. But married together, the music and film resonate a power far greater than the sum of their individual impacts. You should really go check out that video.
So, if I thought expanding the Best Of list to 50 would spare me a bit of my sanity, lemme tell ya, I was sadly mistaken. Even with twenty extra slots, there were still excellent albums that didn’t make the list. That’s probably always going to happen, but 2017 in particular presented challenges that previous years haven’t. Maybe I say that every year, but 2017 sure as hell seemed deeper in quality than any other year of recent vintage. I’ve stated before that it’s a slim difference separating the #5 album of the year and the one that lands in the #50 slot. For 2017, expand that out to #70. At least.
And damn there was an explosion of quality new releases that came out in the last few months of the year. I’m still digging out of that hole, and it’ll be February before you stop reading about 2017 releases on this site. Might even bleed into March. And speaking of bleed… typically a Best Of list spans a year from November of the prior year to November of the current. But with so many 2017 albums still in the queue one week into 2018, don’t be surprised if this site’s Best of 2018 list includes some September/October 2017 releases among its honorees.
Oh dear god, I’m already talking about the Best of 2018 list. I’m getting a drink.
By davesumner • Essays & Columns & Lists, Other Writing • 0