Best Live Creative Music of 2013

Despite being urged by several musicians in the community to put together a best of 2013 list, I initially resisted doing so for two reasons. I set out for Jazz Right Now to be supportive of the community as a whole, to highlight the work of an entire generation (or two) of musicians who are emerging or who have recently become established, rather than promote a few individuals. This website is also the sole product of one person–me–unlike many other collaborative sites. I cannot possibly attend all of the concerts that I want to see, and there are even a few significant albums released this year that I have not yet tracked down. That said, I would like to offer my thoughts and observations of a year in review, a musical memoir so to speak. Rather than to be read as “this is good” and “that is bad”, I have organized my thoughts here around live music this year that compelled me to think and listen differently.

Jazz Right Now went live quietly in January, but did not hold much substantive content until April 2013. I began reviewing concerts as early as February and increased the frequency of such work in June. Since then, I have aimed to maintain a steady review of concerts and records each month. The year opened with the Mary Halvorson Jazz Fest at Cornelia Street Cafe, featuring diverse projects including her trio, Thumbscrew, Reverse Blue, and other lineups. These are very dynamic bands, led by Halvorson’s groundbreaking guitar work and edgy compositions. There is a hunger in her writing, one that keeps exploring, pushing the boundaries, challenging her own capacities and those of her bandmates as they create.

In early February, Kris Davis‘ debut of Capricorn Climber at Cornelia Street was stunning, a challenging, multi-layered, cutting edge performance (and album) that made me think a lot about sonic interdynamics. Mat Maneri is such a transformational presence in every ensemble he inhabits and his involvement here seems truly remarkable. I found that only after numerous returns to the album did I gradually get a sense of what was going on, a tribute to the complex and deep ideas involved in the work.

In March and numerous other times this year, Josh Sinton’s Ideal Bread really challenged me as a listener. This is complex music. So in the live setting I have sat transfixed listening to them play a number of times, trying to hear all of the moving pieces. In the sonic universe, this may be as close as I’ve come to hearing four dimensions: there are so many ways to hear their songs. The whole, of course, offers some unity in sound, harmony, and so forth, but the truly fascinating part of their playing (for me) comes when you concentrate more upon the inter-relationships. There is nothing stationary, nothing fixed from which to position the listener, there are four moving parts in constant motion.

The April performance (and other appearances this year) by Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up really spoke to me. This band just keeps getting better. Fujiwara has put together pieces that are tight without being rigid, such that they flow and bend, yet are held together. There is also a warmth in his compositions, due to the personal stories he tells through his songs, that really connect with audiences. The band members also have a deep understanding, connecting on all levels both live and on record. I can’t wait for their next album.

Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys performance in May at Greenwich House Music School opened up all sorts of new possibilities. The spontaneity he shows in the moment of improvising is truly unique and his compositional ideas are of equal measure. I found his play on space very interesting, the use of sound and the absence of sound to really open aural possibilities in such a setting. He is, perhaps, the most unpredictable player I have encountered live, one who closes no doors in the process of his sonic explorations.

In early June, I had the pleasure of hearing Nate Wooley lead his Seven Storey Mountain project at Issue Project Room. It was a performance of a lifetime. It connected personally, spiritually, intimately and one that had such a profound emotional impact on me that I found myself in an altered state of consciousness for about four days after the concert. During that time, I kept returning to the sounds, playing them over again and again in my mind. I felt almost cut off from the outside world, as if enclosed in a sanctuary, while I moved around in the world, looking at everything differently. I really have only had 3 or 4 other musical experiences in my life that affected me so deeply. Thankfully, a live recording has been made and released on Wooley’s Pleasure of the Text Records that documented the concert. In my review of the show (which I don’t think did full justice to the performance since I’m not sure words could really encapsulate this moving work, but here’s a video link), I called Wooley a visionary. It’s not that he’s on the road less traveled, he’s not even on a road. He’s bushwacking into completely uncharted territory with quite a lot of what he does (including his numerous duo performances). What will he do next?

I unfortunately was unable to attend Vision Fest for personal reasons, certainly my greatest disappointment of the season, but I explored all manner of other things during the summer. The most intriguing series was the Out Now Music Nights series, curated by Yoni Kretzmer, held on Monday nights in June and July at Muchmore’s in Williamsburg (and, after a hiatus, revived recently at the Legion). He brought together a great mix of experienced veterans and many young up-and-coming musicians at these shows. Though I was not able to attend all of the shows, I really enjoyed seeing Denver General, a fully improvised, collaborative trio made up of Kirk Knuffke, Jonathan Goldberger, and Jeff Davis (June 10), Jonathan Moritz’s Secret Tempo (with Shayna Dulberger and Mike Pride, June 24), Carlo Costa Quartet (with Moritz, Steve Swell, and Sean Ali) and Kretzmer’s 2 Bass Quartet (with Sean Conly, Reuben Radding, and Mike Pride, both on July 8).

Stepping outside of the Out Now series, two performances by Ingrid Laubrock‘s groups really grabbed me: Sleepthief at Korzo (June 18) and Anti-House at Cornelia Street (July 18 and again in December). The sheer immediacy in her playing in what I called in my review the “hyper-moment” of improvisation coupled with great confidence and decisiveness make her so effective when performing live. Her release of Strong Place this year was a great follow-up for her self-titled album for Anti-House. Another stand-out performance from the summer was Harris Eisenstadt’s September Trio at Cornelia Street Cafe. His new release is surprisingly lyrical, even pastoral, while maintaining a necessary edge.

In August, the Mary Halvorson residency at the Stone occupied much of my concert-going time. She unveiled her septet with a debut release expanding the quintet with Finlayson, Jon Irabagon, John Hebert,and Ches Smith, by adding two additional horns Jacob Garchik on trombone and Laubrock on tenor). She also co-led the trio of Thumbscrew (with Michael Formanek and Fujiwara) in one of their most riveting and captivating performances to date. The trio has a rare energy and I cannot wait for their upcoming debut record.

Peter Evans‘ Stone residency in September showcased all of the various new and old projects this brilliant musician is leading. In the live setting, Evans’ energy envelopes the crowd by sheer force of will–the level of engagement he musters is a rare thing, both in terms of accessibility and the physical feats he exhibits. But beneath all of that, his music is very complex, and he has formed some very exciting and cutting-edge groups that are pushing forward in all sorts of ways.

I opened October by seeing Matana Roberts‘ Coin Coin at the Jazz Gallery. She is a legend in her own time–an artist with great clarity of vision with a unique ability to connect with her audience. She is, all at once, a musician, a storyteller, a memory-maker, a myth-generator, a historian . . . all folded together seamlessly. Her music has little precedent and is utterly genre-defying, fascinating especially in the live setting. She released chapter 2 in what we are told is a twelve-part series. I also enjoyed Matt Pavolka’s Horn Band residency at Seeds later in the month.

Again at the Jazz Gallery in November, I had the pleasure of catching the Taylor Ho Bynum sextet. Here’s a player with old-time entertainer-swagger combined with forward-looking new ideas! Regardless of how abstract he gets in his playing or composing, I always find that his music connects with me directly because he is clearly having so much fun performing it. His group, which includes old friends as well as former teachers, often swings even as they plunge deep into the unknown of sonic possibilities.

This year has been incredible, but I should offer a disclaimer that there are many musicians that due to the limitations of my own schedule I wish I had been able to see more. If I didn’t mention you above, look for me in the audience in the coming year, because I plan to be there. Thanks to the entire community of musicians here in Brooklyn and greater NYC for all that you do. Looking forward to an even better 2014!

–Cisco Bradley, 19 Dec 2013

Cisco BradleyBest Live Creative Music of 2013

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