Saturday, December 29, 2007

Favourite Albums of 2007

So its that time of the year again... Every year I ask myself if I should be doing this or not, but what the hell its just a bit of fun, and if you can't have fun this time of year when can you? Like last year this list does not include any Cathnor releases. Despite only putting out two discs this year I am very proud of both of them, and if someone else had released them they would both have made the top five. MIMEO's sight may even have been pushing The Room for the top slot as I really think its that special, but fortunately that isn't a choice I have to worry about. The list also does not include any re-releases, so as to truly reflect the music that was made in 2007. I'll probably do some kind of list of older music that has affected me this year soon, there's quite a bit of it! Anyway, here you are, my top twenty after considerable consideration. Feel free to argue!

1. Keith Rowe - The Room

Yeah the predictable choice, but really this wouldn't be here if it wasn't so damned good. The Room manages to pull together so many of the loose ends that have inhabited Keith's music over the past decade or so. It includes big references to each of his solo albums, Cardew's Treatise, Rothko, AMM, the list is endless. Its also an incredibly powerful, passionate piece of music that bristles with anger and frustration. There are patches of sheer beauty, others that confront you with their awkwardness, moments of complete surprise and that ending, with the last few moments recorded outside, an all together calmer state of mind putting the album to rest?

Yes I consider Keith a friend, yes I'm probably too close to his music to be completely objective (this is why I haven't written anything about this album all year) but I can only be honest, and when compiling a list of the albums that affected me the most this year The Room has to be number one. Buy it if you haven't already. Erstwhile

2. Taku Unami - Malignitat

Perhaps a slightly controversial second place, but when I listed all the CDs I'd played this year and ranked them by how often I'd played them, and how much impact they had had on me Malignitat couldn't be ignored. I wrote about this album here so I won't go into more detail, but I will say that right now Unami strikes me as one of the most interesting (if not always consistent) musicians working today. Hibari

3. Sachiko M - Salon de Sachiko

A late arrival, so a CD that hasn't had the time to affect me that some of the others here have, but has made an immediate impact. I have long admired Sachiko's music, but when considering her solo music I wasn't alone in wondering where on earth she could go after the finite minimalism of Bar de Sachiko. Salon takes a sidestep from the sinewaves yet retains the austere intensity of her previous work, small twittering sounds, scratches and bleeps spaced apart, seemingly without any kind of progression through the album, making careful listening an arduous, yet ultimately rewarding experience. Close focus allows you into the acute soundworld Sachiko is investigating, almost foraging into it as if seeking something hidden amongst the musical undergrowth. Given the right time and attention (sorry Mattin!) Salon is an engaging, captivating album.Ftarri

4. Lucio Capece, Toshimaru Nakamura - iJ

Since the release of between I've sensed that Toshi Nakamura's duo recordings have been judged (perhaps subconsciously) by many with his duo with Keith Rowe used as some kind of benchmark. This seems a little unfair to me. Toshi's work with Rowe is something special, perhaps unsurpassed in this area of music, but his duo work with other musicians each have their own qualities and concerns quite different again. Lucio Capece has been one musician to really impress me this year. His sensitivity as a collaborative musician really shines through on iJ, particularly at the start of the first track, as the duo allow their understated sounds to brew and simmer before they are allowed to bubble over. Nakamura's ability to control the wild unpredictability of feedback is probably better displayed on this disc than any before as well. Overall this is just a great CD that captures a musical conversation between two great players. I can't wait to someday hear the fruits of their recent trio work with Rowe. Formed

5. Klaus Lang - einfalt.stille

I wrote about this release here, so again little more to say. This CD is quite different from those listed above, choosing to project calm rather than tension onto the listener. I just find Lang's work immensely, stunningly gorgeous, and sometimes thats more than enough to win me over. Definitely the most beautiful music released this year, Robert Zank's support of Lang through his Editions RZ label is further testament to the man's exceptional taste.

6. Axel Dorner, Toshimaru Nakamura - Vorhernach

Another duo from Toshi Nakamura, this time with trumpeter Axel Dorner on the Ftarri label, wrapped up in a typically nice sleeve. Vorhernach is a million miles from iJ though. Again, my thoughts on it are here. Vorhernach seems to me to be more about the collision of two great musicians' contributions rather than the close interplay of iJ. Whilst iJ sucks the listener in, Vorhernach is a tough nut to crack, but its well worth the effort persevering. Ftarri

7. Radu Malfatti - Rain speak soft tree listens

One of the twelve CDR releases put out by Mr Malfatti during 2007. This is easily my favourite, and also somewhat ironically the most unusual of them all. A quiet, contemplative piece for string quartet, piano and massed whispered voices, I first heard Rain speak... played on the Wandelweiser radio stream and was immediately intrigued. The composition sets the slowly spoken words of a Robert Lax poem to a background of overlapping folds of dry strings, single piano notes and long silences, creating a room-filling atmosphere of eerie warmth.  B-boim

8. Klaus Lang - Missa beati paperes spiritu

More from Lang, this time his virtually ignored mass on the Col Legno label. Lang reclaims the beauty of the mass form from religion, keeping the structure of the form intact, adding modern instrumentation and slowing things down to create a richly beautiful piece of music. As with einfalt.stille, this release merits its place purely as a stunningly gorgeous thing to behold. Designed to relax the listener rather than challenge them, Lang's music succeeds in an area where most other music fails. I wrote about this one in this post.

9. Angharad Davies, Tisha Mukarji - endspace.

Another late arrival, released only in early December, but one I had been waiting for. Violinist Davies has probably been the most consistently interesting improvisor in the UK for over a year now, but has been underrepresented on disc. This album, with another remarkably talented and under-recorded young improviser Mukarji (acoustic inside piano) goes some way to fill that gap. Precise, simple chamberlike structures, all very fragile in their construction. Restrained and made up of only the essential elements, but never really disappearing into silence. This probably hasn't been heard by too many people yet, that really should change soon. Another Timbre

10. Eric Carlsson, David Lacey, Martin Kuchen, Paul Vogel - Chipshop Music

Unsettling, muscular music from Ireland's two finest musicians in collaboration with Swedes Carlsson and Kuchen. This CD formed the soundtrack for my drive to work every day for several weeks. Engaging, demanding music with a real spark of vitality and joy at its heart. Self released by Lacey and Vogel on Homefront recordings. No website yet, drop me an email and I can put you in touch to buy a copy.


11. Mark Wastell - Come Crimson Rays

The third and final in Wastell's series of solo tam-tam releases, and easily the best of the bunch. This time a degree of silence finds its way between the swathes of agitated metal, breaking up the rolling washes of sound, leading to a solemn, haunting piece of almost ritualistic music. Late night music. Kning Disk



12. Bhob Rainey, RLW - I don't think I can see you tonight

The end result of months of swapping reworked, edited and added-to soundfiles, this album slipped out right at the start of 2007. A finely sculpted concrete collage of bits of improvisations, field recordings and other odds and ends, I don't think... manages to retain a vibrancy and originality despite its elongated method of creation. Sedimental


13. Ryu Hankil, Jin Sangtae, Taku Unami, Mattin – 5 Modules III

There seemed to be a never ending stream of releases in 2007 from just a handful of musicians in South Korea. Most were worth hearing, but this one stood out from the rest as something different, slightly unsettling and somewhat confusing. Its far from coincidence that the names Unami and Mattin are involved. I wrote about this release here back in September and to be honest I'm still not even sure that I like the CD, but its certainly one I've played over and over in an attempt to fathom it all out. Manual

14. The Sealed Knot - Live at the Red Hedgehog 29th October 2006.

One of my favourite groups in full flow, here in quite raucous, energetic mood. Its rare that a CD release of a concert I attended comes out sounding as good as I remember it being, but this is one such case. Ironically I saw the group play again a few months later in Ireland and they sounded very different, quieter, more sparse and perhaps even more to my liking, but that show didn't get recorded. Such is life. Top quality acoustic improvisation. The Confront website is temporarily down.

15. Annette Krebs, Robin Hayward - sgraffito

Chosen particularly for the great opening track on the album, sgraffito is a self released CDR of duets from two of Berlin's most established improvisers really coaxing the best from each other. Not your everyday call-and-response improv, with Krebs in particular playing in a fractured, erratic manner, bursts of radio and samples fly in and out of the music as commonly as the scrapes and fizzes from her guitar, all wrapped around Hayward's equally unpredictable tuba playing. There might eventually be a website for Annette's releases here, but drop her an email to purchase this release.

16. Radu Malfatti, Jurg Frey, Michael Pisaro – Three Backgrounds

Another from the glut of releases from Radu Malfatti's B-boim label. I wrote up all twelve discs here. This was an easy second choice from Malfatti, perhaps again as it sounds quite different from the other releases he put out. The room noise definitely becomes the foreground to the three backgrounds performed by the musicians on this one. A great release that I hear new things in every time I play it.


17. Taku Sugimoto, Mitsuhiro Yoshimura - Not BGM and so on

Yoshimura's appearance with his strong debut release And so on on his own (h)earrings label early in the year set people talking in hip circles. His duo with Taku Sugimoto released later in 2007 essentially captures the same kind of performance from Yoshimura, but this time with added curious interventions from Sugimoto to give the music an additional dimension. Yoshimura has certainly been one of the finds of 2007 with more promised for the coming year, and I could have chosen either of his releases as they show his music in equal light, but the duo disc gets the nod. My review is here


18. Takefumi Naoshima, Hirozumi Takeda, Utah Kawasaki, Toshihro Koike, Takehiro Kawauchi, Yasuo Totsuka - Septet

Writing these brief descriptions here I've actually surprised myself at how much I actually managed to write this year about the music I really enjoyed. A write-up of this disc is here. What happens when music is played so quietly that you can't tell the accidental shuffling of the musicians trying to remain still from the music itself? You discover a strange, alien soundworld for one, but how much was intentional and how much pure chance? Only you, the listener can decide...! Meena

19. Axel Dorner, Lucio Capece – s/t

Two of Toshimaru Nakamura's collaborators on disc this year together in a duo. Acoustic bass clarinet and trumpet duets full of writhing, bright interplay between two fine improvisers. These two also released a trio disc with the addition of Robin Hayward that could easily have made this list on another day, but tonight in a head to head battle this duo release won through. Rarely a year passes without at least one great release from the l'innomable label. This year was no exception.

20. Tomas Korber, Katsura Yamauchi, Christian Weber – Signal to Noise Vol.2

Swiss improv received an awful lot of (in my opinion largely unjustified) bad press in 2007, and this situation wasn't helped by the other two no-so-great releases in the Signal to Noise series on the For 4 Ears label. This release however, the second in that series blows the others away with its understated on/off structure of short blasts, tones and bass throbs. Guitar and electronics, (Korber) trumpet, (Yamauchi) and double bass (Weber) combine in an unusual and very satisfying manner. Tomas Korber's second best release of the year! ;)

So there you go. Sorry to anyone I've forgotten. I don't doubt that there will be numerous releases I will suddenly think of now that I've published this that I should have included, but hey ho, such is life. Writing this, a couple of interesting things occurred to me. Firstly the top three in the list are all solos. this is something that I hadn't noticed until now, and I don't know what that signifies (if anything) but its interesting to note. Also, six of the twenty are CDR releases, really highlighting to me that its the music that really matters, irrelevant on how much it cost to release the CD...

Lets hope 2008 is just as strong a year.

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