Jan 5 2018
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.