* Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610) (La Capella Reial, et al./Savall) (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Biber: Missa Salisburgensis (Musica Antiqua Koln, et al./Goebel/McCreesh) (Archiv Prod. SACD)
* Ravel: Bolero, La Valse, etc. (Boston Symphony Orchestra/Munch) (RCA SACD)
* Charlie Parker: Charlie Parker With Strings: The Master Takes (Verve CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Night Dreamer (Blue Note CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Juju (Blue Note CD)
* Wayne Shorter: The Soothsayer (Blue Note CD)
* Anthony Braxton & Gerry Hemingway: Old Dogs (2007) (d.1-2) (Mode/Avant 4CD)
* Myra Melford’s Happy Whistlings: Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT 4-09-10 (AUD 2CDR)
* Mary Halvorson: Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Pool School (Clean Feed CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock’s Anti-House: Anti-House (Intakt CD)
* Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: Heeltop Home Studio, Kingston Springs, TN 12-27-10 (2CDR)
* Nina Simone: Anthology (d.2) (RCA/BMG Heritage 2CD)
* The Beatles: Rubber Soul (1987/2009 stereo) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Revolver (2009 stereo) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Grateful Dead: Rockin’ The Rhein With The Grateful Dead (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, Long Island, NY 4-04-93 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, Long Island, NY 4-05-93 (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Sports Arena, San Diego, CA 12-12-93 (SBD 2CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Warner Theatre March 18, 1978 (Pure Jerry 2CD)
* Chicago: X (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: XI (Columbia LP)
* Rickie Lee Jones: Girl At Her Volcano (Warner Bros. 10”EP)
* Can: University of Essex, Colchester, England 5-08-72 (AUD 2CDR)
* Can: Waldbuhne, Berlin, W. Germany 5-22-72 (AUD CDR)
* Genesis: Selling England By The Pound (Charisma LP)
* Genesis: A Trick Of The Tail (Atco LP)
* Genesis: Wind And Wuthering (Atco LP)
* Peter Gabriel:  [a/k/a “Security”] (Geffen LP)
* Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (Reprise LP)
* Sonic Youth: Sonic Youth (Geffen CD)
* Guided By Voices: Live in Daytron ?6° (CDR1) (Rockathon 3LP/FLAC)
* Robert Pollard: Crickets: The Best of The Fading Captain Series (d.1)(FCS 2CD)†/‡
* Radiohead: Hail To The Thief (Capitol CD)
* Radiohead: “Go To Sleep” (Capitol CDEP)
* Radiohead: “There There” (EMI CDEP)
* The Flaming Lips: Christmas On Mars (soundtrack) (Warner Bros. CD)
* The Flaming Lips: Embryonic (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* The Flaming Lips: At War With The Mystics 5.1 (stereo) (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Animal Collective: Sung Tongs (Fatcat CD)
Looking back at the past year’s playlists, a few themes are apparent: First, 2010 was the year I finally “got” Animal Collective and set about obtaining their complete discography. It took me a while to come around on them, but now I think they’re brilliant. They didn’t release anything this year except for a strange hour-long music video called Oddsac, which didn’t really do much for me the first time through and it’s unclear what their plans are for 2011. But that’s OK as I am still absorbing the recordings I already have. Each one is very different than the others—an unusual approach for a “pop” band—but these guys are more ambitious than even Radiohead when it comes to making brainy yet appealing rock music. I anxiously await whatever comes next.
The second theme is prog-rock from the 1960s and '70s: from Soft Machine to Frank Zappa; from Chicago (who are not really prog) to Genesis (who abandoned prog for pop in the '80s). This was not a mere nostalgia trip: there was also a serious attempt to get into Yes, a band I had long dismissed as the lightweight antithesis of my ultimate art-rock heroes, King Crimson. I’m still unconvinced of their magnum opus, Tales From Topographic Oceans, but the series of records from The Yes Album through Relayer are mostly great—and even Going For The One and Tormato have their moments of glory. My relationship with Zappa remains fraught, but I have enjoyed periodically dipping into the discography now and then. What I love about this kind of music is the sheer virtuosity of the players and the elaborate (if sometimes overly-pretentious) compositional structures orchestrated for a humble rock band’s instrumentation (augmented with Mellotrons, synthesizers, and occasionally a full-blown orchestra). I’m now curious about some of the more obscure groups from this era, such as Gong, Amon Duul (I & II), Gentle Giant, Hawkwind, etc. Perhaps this is something I’ll look into in 2011. Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments section.
Third, there are the chronological surveys: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, The Beatles, Can, Zappa, etc. (not to mention Sun Ra Sundays). Sometimes I start from the beginning, sometimes in the middle. Sometimes I listen intently, sometimes my efforts flag and I abandon ship. Sometimes I pick up where I left off, sometimes I don’t. Listening this way can be extremely rewarding, particularly for artists whose catalogs are immense and far-flung. Progress is rarely strictly linear and the byways and backwaters of a musician’s oeuvre can offer rich rewards and seemingly lesser efforts can offer profound insights into the artist’s acknowledged masterpieces when heard in context. Some artists I hope to delve into in 2011 include the early jazz giants, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Django Reinhardt. The sound quality of these pre-War 78s severely diminishes my enjoyment of these recordings, but I am going to try and get beyond that and appreciate the music for what it is and be grateful for the miracle of technology which brings these masters to life in my living room. The JSP CDs sound as good as this stuff ever will.
Finally, there are new records. For me, 2010 is notable for the emergence of Mary Halvorson as both innovative guitarist and creative composer with not only the release of her second Firehouse 12 CD, Saturn Sings, but also a spate of appearances on a bunch of spectacular recordings by her peers in the Downtown New York (now Brooklyn) scene, including Tom Rainey’s Pool School, Ingrid Laubrock’s Anti-House, and Ches Smith’s These Arches. She toured Europe with Anthony Braxton in the spring and returned with Marc Ribot in the summer while also performing with the collective Thirteenth Assembly, with Taylor Ho Bynum's Sextet and as part of Myra Melford’s Happy Whistlings, among other groupings. Saturn Sings is the Record Of The Year as far as I’m concerned: an almost perfect realization of Halvorson’s unique vision of post-modern jazz. Listeners who might take exception to the avant-skronk of Anti-House or Pool School will still find much to enjoy in the tasteful horn arrangements and sprightly soloing—while also opening the door to the more adventuresome side of Mary’s musical concept. For there is plenty of ear-challenging music here: the compositions are thoughtful and sometimes oblique and Halvorson’s guitar playing is a miracle of all-encompassing inventiveness. While limited distribution means it is somewhat hard to find, the release of Saturn Sings makes me hopeful for the future of jazz. Not since the hay-day of “fusion” has such demanding music been so immediately likeable. This is a record everybody needs to hear, despite its limited distribution. I hereby, once again, sing my praises. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
Otherwise, there is the usual onslaught of music from Robert Pollard and 2010 has been an especially good one with Moses On A Snail being an especially solid solo album and Our Cubehouse Still Rocks showing Boston Spaceships’s potential as a viable band. Of course the big news was the reunion of the “classic” line-up of Guided By Voices for a massive tour and the launch of GBVDigital. GBV is making one final appearance in Nashville on January 14 and I’m thinking seriously about going. The year ended with a deluxe “official bootleg,” Live In Daytron ?6°, which captures the Isolation Drills-era band in full-flight in their hometown. The triple-gatefold three-LP-only package (on colored vinyl!) also includes a lossless FLAC download of the whole thing. Nice!
Then there’s reissues, re-packagings, and archival releases from old favorites like Bob Dylan and, of course, the Grateful Dead. I have not picked up The Whitmark Demos yet, but I will probably pass on the mono editions of Dylan’s first seven albums. After all, I already have the Sundazed LP issues from a few years ago and I’m happy with them (although I wouldn’t mind having this stuff on CD) (yes, the mono mixes are as significant as with The Beatles’ first records). Meanwhile, the Dead’s quarterly Road Trips series continues to be hit-or-miss but the annual box-set extravaganza was absolutely stellar this year, consisting of the entire two-night run from Hampton Virginia in 1989. These are perhaps the most highly-regarded concerts of their later years, stunningly well-recorded and mixed from multi-track masters and presented in a lavish, cigar-box-style package. Crimson, White & Indigo, recorded that summer, seems lackluster by comparison.
Audiophile labels such as Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Audio Fidelity, and Music Matters continue to push the envelope of high-fidelity sound reproduction and while the repertoire is limited and the price of admission steep, these are some of the best-sounding records ever made. The two-45RPM pressing of Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch is absolutely phenomenal but the fifty-buck price-tag prevents me from purchasing any more of these lavish Blue Note reissues no matter how tempting they may be. But Mobile Fidelity’s SACD of The Band’s Rock of Ages is a revelation, one of the finest examples of this sadly neglected format and is a bargain by comparison. But so is Steve Hoffman’s remaster of Phil Collins’s classic Face Value, which single-handedly proves that Redbook CD can sound stunningly good if done right. As physical product gives way to the ephemera of downloads, audiophile labels have found a niche providing high-quality sound and packaging for those of us who still care about such things. Mobile Fidelity’s vinyl reissues of Elvis Costello’s early records have garnered high praise. I may try to save my pennies in 2011 and pick these up before they go out of print forever.
So it’s been a good year in music! I’m looking forward to sharing my obsessions and new discoveries with you all in the New Year!