As l look back at the albums I loved most this year, I realized the importance of being swept up. There's intellectual noodling and the need to keep attention; there's creating new ideas and reforming old ones; there's high and lows in energy, but what I loved the most this year wasn't just the creating of interesting artistic work but if that work is done so well, the music made so compellingly, that it melts this cold, robotic heart and sweeps me up, or sweeps others up just as much. There's been all this talk this year about the Year of the Drummer or how this year is better or worse in music than the year before, but ultimately, the connection the music makes -- whether or not you get swept up -- makes all the difference. Here are the ten albums that took me out of my everyday this year and made each day something a little bit more.
I must admit, there's a lot of music this year,even music that I may be praising in this very list, that I may forget some time later. Next year, or two years from now. There's just so much to keep track of nowadays. But for now, in this moment at the end of the year, I would like to feel confident saying that I enjoyed these albums the most.
In 14 years together as a group, rhythms get to be familiar. This thematically was what I was getting at in the preview piece I wrote for the San Antonio Current of The Bad Plus' show last night at San Antonio's Aztec Theater. There's a sense of familiarity in the rhythm, a knowledge of direction. When I asked them how they do what they do, for example, in Reid Anderson's composition, "Physical Cities" off 2007's Prog (a song the trio unfortunately didn't play last night, something just a tad too complicated and a little too far back in their catalog to perform with the level of precision these guys are proud to demonstrate in every show), while I expected some sort of breakdown of specific counting, a lesson of polyrhythms that couldn't possibly have been conveyed to such a tender-minded admirer in the span of time of the tail end of a dinner break, Iverson jokingly answered they did so through telepathy. One might over 14 years of playing together and building such a body of work, most recently with Inevitable Western on the Sony-OKeh label, seriously consider that as a possibility.
I had reservations at first. Any album that integrates a string section must do so with care. Are the strings the main attraction? An accent? A layer of a greater sound or something flashy that pulls away from the central musician? Most importantly, when adding strings, is this album going to get Capital S Serious? Yet one run through 26-year-old saxophonist Mario Castro's new album, Estrella de Mar, dispelled all worries. The album features his quintet, a group of string musicians, and a cadre of contributors who fully wring everything out of his compositions to marvelous effect.
I've spent quite a bit of time mulling over whether or not to write this post. In the years in which I've edited Nextbop, I've learned how to present the work of talented musicians to the public around the world and have had to contend with those who have not necessarily learned the skills necessary of dealing with the press, establishing a good web presence, and most importantly the fundamental notion of presenting one's work to another human being in a way that is appealing. I recognize that this is all part of the job-- I'm an editor, self-made at that, of a website that deals with artistic types with various skillsets, artists young and old of different experiences and different perspectives. Not everyone is going to know everything. Making music is a different skill set than promoting music, than writing about music for journalists to write about it, than writing about music for fans to get intrigued, than discussing it in an entertaining fashion over the air. Working as an editor continually gives me insight into the ever-spreading and ever-morphing tendrils of the music industry; it's also driven me slowly insane explaining to the yet-initiated how best to send music. I considered writing a column like this to be too inside baseball-- a general readership may not find this particular subject helpful. It may have been too negative-- the Nextbop mission of positivity runs directly against the idea of writing a rant about the appropriate way to send information while I'm boiling over inside and not revealing every invective I'm spewing at my computer's & smartphone's screens. However, with every spammy tweet and every two lined, info-less email I receive, the more I realize for my own peace of mind, I had to spread the word. Musicians, journalists, and random fan alike, these suggestions for submitting work may not be universal, they may not always work, they may not always even work for submitting to Nextbop, but they'll certainly give whoever you're sending things to a hell of a lot fewer headaches.