We're down to the last segment of 2010, and what better way to ring out the year than with our pop music Steve Hochman, and jazz and world music guru, Andrew Gilbert. They run down their top picks for 2010 in jazz and pop music.
Steve Hochman's Top 10 Rock and Pop Recordings of 2010
1. Alain Johannes' "Spark." (Rekords Rekords) The former 11 anchor's first-ever solo album -- and truly solo, as he played and sang every note -- would be a tour de force even not knowing the story behind it. That it's a personal journey through and beyond the loss from cancer of his wife and musical partner Natasha Schneider two years ago makes it intensely compelling.
2. Jazz Mafia's "Brass, Bows and Beats" Composer Adam Theis' sprawling "hip-hop" symphony brings more elements than we can count into an exhilarating whole. The jazz, classical and hip-hop implied by the title is only part of the story, with soul vocals, rock energy and more all in the mix. It's almost as if Theis corralled any musician he encountered on his way to the concert at which this was recorded no matter what they played (kitchen sink, possibly included) and found a way to squire their individual talents into a work of remarkable ambition and vision. Enough with the inadequate descriptions. You have to hear it for yourself to really get it.
3. OFF! "First Four EPs" Keith Morris reconnects with the lost days of early L.A. punk, with help from Redd Kross' Steve McDonald and a couple of other punk-veteran pals. 16 songs in 17 minutes, the way it was meant to be. Loud, to the point -- and yet catchy and witty. Oh, and in case there was any doubt, there's the name: A wink at the pest-control companion Black Flag, the band Morris co-founded and fronted nearly (gulp) 35 years ago! Not to mention the cover art, by Raymond Pettibon, who did a lot of the Black Flag artwork too.
4. Joanna Newsom "Have One On Me" (Drag City) In which over the course of three (three!) discs the harp-wielding Nevada City-native's inner sprite matures into an inner Kate Bush. Okay, Bush was pretty spritely (English-style) in her early years too, so maybe it's not a surprise. But it's a big step continuing a path Newsom has set out from quirky eccentric to, potentially, major artist. And perhaps not coincidentally, she puts down the harp in favor of piano for some key songs. Though the former remains signature, perhaps even now more than her voice, nicely transitioned from odd to attractive in music at once increasingly ambitious and increasingly appealing.
5. Kristian Hoffman "Fop" (Kayo Stereophonic) The titles as succinct (and pointedly sarcastic) as the album is sprawling, capturing perfectly the dazzling display of winks, hubris, imagination, accomplishment, ambition, pop savvy, glam decadence and operatic reach -- all powered by an entertainer's determination to please and an artist's ability to impress. Hoffman's been a fixture on the L.A. scene for ages, serving as musical director/foil for outsized art-mongers from Anne Magnuson to Rufus Wainwright and Prince Poppycock (the outlandish and, yes, foppish near-winner of the most recent "America's Got Talent). But this opus is his career statement. How to really describe it? Gilbert & Sullivan doing a jig with Elton John? David Bowie wrestling with Sparks? Nah, but that will have to do.
6. Jesca Hoop "Hunting My Dress" (Vanguard) Several years' buzz (and a solid debut album a few years ago) are fulfilled with a set of ditties that are as eccentric and idiosyncratic as they are deep and attractive. Twists and turns abound in her writing -- both in the melodies and the lyrics -- and it's worth following every one into territories sentimental and sensual. She used to be known best for having been the nanny for Tom Waits' family. And she learned well from him, which isn't to say her music resembles his in the least. But like him, she sounds like nobody else. And it's working very well for her.
7. Warpaint "The Fool" (Rough Trade) These four young women in L.A. can sound like an entirely different band from track to track. They seem to willfully have no sound or style in particular, but want to try them all over time. Opener "Set Your Arms Down" is airily atmospheric in its pleading. The band theme "Warpaint" is edgy and anxious. "Composure" undermines just that with nervous rhythms and early PiL skitter. And yet there's always a sense of identity at the core, a sense that they are just getting started and that the world could be theirs. Very much a band to watch in 2011.
8. Fistful of Mercy "As I Call You Down" (HOT Records) Hard to call a trio of a rock star, a cult favorite and the son of a Beatle "obscure," but this collaboration of Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison has stayed a bit under at least the pop mainstream radar. That's fine, and in perfect keeping with the understated and even humble nature of the project. Perhaps too understated at times. There can be a bit of sameness in the mid-tempo melancholy and the all-for-one approach may temper some potential showcases for the considerable talent. But the communal spirit and, well, love coursing through the songs -- recorded in quick, casual sessions at a cozy Silver Lake studio -- is irresistible. And the group's "theme" song, "Fistful of Mercy," is a gorgeous, righteous plea which ought to rise as the much-needed anthem for our troubled times.
9. Charming Hostess "The Bowls Project" (Tzadik) Ostensibly the soundtrack companion for group leader Jewlia Eisenberg's sensational Yerba Buena Center art installation -- recreating the concept of Babylonian crockery meant to contain and protect the wishes and dreams of women in a modern context -- this album released in John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series contains, and in some ways protect, its own set of dreams. From a fittingly radical reworking of Blind Willie Johnson's "In My Time of Dying" (via and beyond Led Zeppelin's classic interpretation of the song) to the despairing, disturbing "Bound and Turned Aside" to mystical Jewish incantations, this encompasses an almost-impossible range of art and emotions both ancient and modern.
10. Black Dub "Black Dub" (Jive) "Another sound is dying," sings prodigious Trixie Whitley -- a true "find" with her powerful pipes -- on the super-charged "Ring the Alarm," a highlight of the debut from this quartet. But in Daniel Lanois' galaxy, more and more sounds are born every day, as his production work with U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel and this past year on Neil Young's reinvention "Le Noise" (the title itself a play on the producer's name and talents) has made clear on a grand scale. With his own quartet (in which he's joined by Whitley, daughter of the late Texas blues re-constructionist Chris Whitley, and long-time associates Brian Blade on drums and Darryl Johnson on bass), Lanois' found a mix of power and grace that matches his best, whether his own past solo albums or those stellar-level collaboration. The combo of soul-blues and dubby sonic experimentation the group name promises is all here, but with the personal stamps of the musicians' providing unpredictable spin with every sound, dying or otherwise.
Andrew Gilbert's 10 Favorite New Jazz Recordings of 2010
1. James Moody, 4B (ICP) A consistently inventive straight-ahead session by one of the jazz's most eloquent improvisers. Moody, a longtime San Diego resident who died on Dec. 9 at the age of 85, infused every note he played with joy. This is a fitting send off for the beloved bebopper.
2. Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh, Radif Suite (Pi Recordings) Iranian-American San Jose tenor saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh's collaboration with Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffer's "Radif Suite" is a fascinating synthesis of Arabic and Persian modes and the gutbucket blues of Ornette Coleman. While ElSaffar hails from Chicago, the album features a powerhouse California band with commanding San Diego bassist Mark Dresser and resourceful Los Anglees drummer Alex Cline.
3. SambaDa, Gente! (Megaforce) Inspired by Afro-Brazilian percussion music, Santa Cruz's SambaDa evolved from a dance troupe into a high-energy nine-piece band led by vocalist and Brazilian-born capoeira master Papiba Godinho. The group boasts the powerful vocals of Dandha da Hora, whose family helped found Ile Aiye, Salvador's pioneering all-black percussion society.
4. Charles Lloyd Quartet, Mirror (ECM) The Santa Barbara tenor saxophonist and flutist sounds more soulful than ever with his New Quartet, a superlative rhythm section featuring pianist (and new McArthur "Genius" Fellowship winner) Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and SFJAZZ Collective drummer Eric Harland.
5. Charles McPherson, What Is Love (Arabesque) Despite more than a decade with bass legend Charlie Mingus, San Diego alto saxophonist Charles McPherson remains an underappreciated treasure. He's at his most searingly lyrical exploring a program of standards backed by pianist Randy Porter, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Carl Allen and the strings of the Lark Quartet.
6. Howard Wiley and the Angola Project, 12 Gates to the City Berkeley tenor saxophonist Harold Wiley has spent several years delving into gospel, chants and spirituals recorded at Louisiana's notorious Angola Prison in the 1950s, translating the melancholic and defiant sounds into a jazz context. The second installment of his Angola Project liberates the long-buried voices and reveals the bountiful soul, while providing an ideal vehicle for the remarkable singer Faye Carol.
7. Sarah Wilson, Trapeze Project (Brass Tonic Records) Northern California trumpeter/vocalist Sarah Wilson has developed a strange and beautiful book of songs and tunes that slide from haunting confessionals to dance-inducing New Orleans grooves. While collaborating with some of jazz's most expressive instrumental voices (clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Myra Melford, drummer Scott Amendola and bassist Jerome Harris), Wilson has followed her muse into uncharted territory, a realm where mystical Persian poetry sits comfortable next to her sorrowful crooning of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
8. Mary Stallings, Dream (HighNote) The veteran San Francisco jazz singer made her recording debut with Cal Tjader back in 1961 and she's collaborated with the music's formidable figures ever since, including Dizzy Gillespie, Wes Montgomery, Count Basie and Billy Eckstine. Her latest release reunites with ace pianist Eric Reed, who produced and arranged the album. Their musical partnership inspires some of Reed's most sensitive work, while Stallings sounds inspired throughout, whether interpreting standards or contemporary R&B.
9. Sameer Gupta "Namaskar" (Motema Music) Bay Area percussionist Sammer Gupta is best known for his dynamic work in The Supplicants, an Indo-jazz power trio with bassist David Ewell and reed player David Boyce. On "Namaskar" he and his fellow Supplicants join forces with a dazzling cast of Indian artists, including sarangi great Ramesh Mishra and tabla master Amindo Chatterjee, for an expansive session of tunes inspired by the madcap juxtapositions of Bollywood scores, classical Indian ragas and post-bop jazz.
10. Denise Donatelli, When Lights Are Low (HighNote) With her supple phrasing, beautifully burnished voice and effervescent sense of swing, Denise Donatelli delivers everything one hopes for from a jazz singer, including an incisive self-knowledge of what material works best for her sound. Working closely with the brilliant pianist Geoff Keezer, the Los Angeles vocalist finds surprises in even the most familiar standards.
Historical Releases of Note
Wadada Leo Smith and Eddie Blackwell "The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer" (Kabell Records)
Irene Kral "Second Chance" (Jazzed Media)
John Carter and Bobby Bradford "Mosaic Select: John Carter & Bobby Bradford" (Mosaic)
Art Pepper "Unreleased Art, Vol. V, Stuttgart" (Widow's Taste)
Richie Kamuca and Lee Konitz "Live at Donte's" (Cellar Door Records)
Bay Area Jazz Archives series (Jazzschool Records)
Most Promising Debut
Adam Schroeder "A Handful of Stars" (Capri Records)
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