As I stated previously in my tally of the year’s most memorable live music events, no one list of the year’s “best” anything amounts to all that much. It’s not just that no one stands even the slightest chance of hearing everything there is to be heard; it’s also that listening to music is at its core a subjective enterprise, and any listener can rest assured of not responding in the same way to all of another listener’s selections. But by reading and comparing a number of lists from trusted writers and media, a reader can glean some sense of what recordings are worth tracking down and spinning… or streaming, or whatever.
This year, I picked 10 records representing the classical-music tradition – composers, interpreters, and so on – and 10 that represented everything else I spent time with: art pop, free improvisation, sound art, whatever. Even so, I noticed that many of my picks wouldn’t sit neatly on one bench or the other. If Tyshawn Sorey is listed among the composers, why should Myra Melford (in whose band Snowy Egret Sorey plays) go into the other set? Isn’t Stine Janvin a composer? How do you solve a problem like Gabriel Kahane? In each category I’ve also nodded to a further 10 albums. It could have been a whole lot more.
Each section includes a #1 record for the year, indicated by placement, a nice little star, and a handsome photo—and both proclaimed their status to me pretty much on arrival. Beyond those, all recordings are alphabetized, not ranked. Surprisingly, in a year that brought a newly rediscovered Coltrane session and a plus-size edition of the obligatory Dylan masterpiece, I wasn’t sufficiently engaged with old recordings to warrant a list at all this year.
For obvious reasons I omitted National Sawdust Tracks releases, some of which I singled out for praise in a previous list. There were four further excellent records I couldn’t cite because I’d written the liner notes: Kate Soper – Ipsa Dixit (New World), Ingrid Laubrock – Contemporary Chaos Practices (Intakt); Laurie Anderson/Kronos Quartet – Landfall (Nonesuch); and Michael Gordon/Kronos Quartet – Clouded Yellow (Cantaloupe).
My 2018 Label of the Year is New Focus Recordings, whose every release this year represented a journey of discovery worth anticipating and savoring. My 2018 Label Debut of the Year is Elsewhere, now five for five in issuing fascinating, engrossingly beautiful projects.
And with that long preamble out of the way…
☆ Alex Mincek – Images of Duration (In homage to Ellsworth Kelly) – Yarn/Wire (Northern Spy)
Anna Thorvaldsdottir – Aequa – International Contemporary Ensemble (Sono Luminus)
Wang Lu – Urban Inventory – Third Sound Ensemble, Holland Symfonia, Alarm Will Sound, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Intercontemporain (New Focus)
Wet Ink – 20 – compositions by Eric Wubbels, Katherine Young, Sam Pluta, Anthony Braxton, Kate Soper, and Alex Mincek (Carrier)
More noteworthy releases:
Du Yun – Dinosaur Scar – International Contemporary Ensemble (New Focus); Suzanne Farrin – Dolce la Morte – Eric Jurenas, International Contemporary Ensemble/David Fulmer (New Focus); Morton Feldman – For John Cage – Aisha Orazbayeva, Mark Knoop (all that dust); Christopher Fox – Topophany – Axel Dörner, Paul Lovens, John Butcher, Thomas Lehn, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov (hatNOWart); Jürg Frey – 120 Pieces of Sound – Ordinary Affects (Elsewhere); Thrainn Hjalmarsson – Influence of Buildings on Musical Tone (Carrier); Cassandra Miller – Just So – Quatuor Bozzini (Another Timbre); Nordic Affect – he(a)r (Sono Luminus); Linda Catlin Smith – Wanderer – Apartment House (Another Timbre); Jeff Snyder – Concerning the Nature of Things – Wet Ink Ensemble, Jason Treuting, Susan Alcorn, Mivos Quartet, Sideband (Carrier)
☆ Matthew Revert/Vanessa Rossetto – Everyone Needs a Plan (Erstwhile)
Lea Bertucci – Metal Aether (NNA Tapes); Andrew Cyrille – Leroba (ECM); Anne Guthrie – Brass Orchids (Students of Decay); Julia Holter – Aviary (Domino); Gabriel Kahane – Book of Travelers (Nonesuch); Okkyung Lee – Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird) (Tzadik); Mach-Hommy – DUCK CZN: Chinese Algebra (self-released); Kelly Moran – Ultraviolet (Warp); Dan Weiss – Starebaby (Pi Recordings); YOB – Our Raw Heart (Relapse)
Steve Smith is director of publications for National Sawdust and editor of National Sawdust Log. He previously worked as a freelance contributor to The New York Times, and as a staff writer and editor for the Boston Globe and Time Out New York. www.nightafternight.com
This week in On the Record, a chat with Nate Cross, whose ecstatic-jazz and experimental-music imprint Astral Spirits is celebrating its fifth anniversary in fiery style. Plus, dozens of listings for new and upcoming releases.
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This week in On the Record, the violinist Jennifer Koh turns a pair of boundary-defying recitals into a compelling new album. Plus, dozens of listings for new and upcoming releases.
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