Not for the first time, I am behind the times. Wrapped up in dead operatic sopranos, I managed to miss the entire 1980s. Probably my most played record this year, bought on a whim at Luke’s Drug Mart in a luxurious triple-gatefold vinyl package, was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was released on November 22, 2010. Kanye may be all kinds of fucked up but I belatedly realize that he’s a musical genius.
The most carefully (and repeatedly) listened to music in our household this year was undoubtedly the 3-CD set Miles Davis Quintet Live in Europe 1967. This is because of our very discerning standard poodle Luci, who would listen to Miles every night if she could.
These are my top ten albums that were actually released for the first time in 2017. In no particular order after #3.
Lovingly put together by Denardo Coleman, who made his debut at the age of ten drumming on Dad’s 1967 Blue Note album The Empty Foxhole (Charlie Haden played bass), this lavish box set of 3 CDs, 2 DVDs and four vinyl LPs contains all the music from the June 2014 “Celebrate Ornette” tribute concert at the Prospect Park in Brooklyn and the memorial service for Coleman on June 20, 2015 in Riverside Church in Manhattan. In what turned out to be his last public performance, Ornette himself opened the Brooklyn show with “Ramblin'” and “OC Turnaround.”
Others performing at “Celebrate Ornette” included saxophonists Henry Threadgill, Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Joe Lovano, and Ravi Coltrane; trumpeter Wallace Roney Jr; guitarists James Blood Ulmer, Thurston Moore, and Nels Cline; keyboardists Geri Allen and Bruce Hornsby; the Patti Smith Group; bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; the “Ornette Reverb Quartet” made up of Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Stewart Hurwood; and the Master Musicians of Jajouka. The celebrations ended with a 20-minute rendition of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman” by Geri Allen, Lovano, Marsalis, Coltrane, Murray, Roney, and the Denardo Vibe house band.
Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Henry Threadgill, David Murray, Joe Lovano, Geri Allen, Jack DeJohnette and the Prime Time Band were among those who gave Ornette a rousing harmolodic send-off at the Riverside Church a year later.
Sadly, Geri Allen herself passed away this year at the untimely age of 60. It is a great loss to music. Her 1988 album Études, with Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian on drums, opens with one of the loveliest renditions of Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” ever recorded.
Yoke-Sum and I felt privileged to have helped crowdfund this glorious memorial to the Texan with the white plastic horn who forever changed the shape of jazz to come—while never forsaking its roots in the blues.
2. Kendrick Lamar Damn. Insidious and hypnotic. Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?
3. Lucinda Williams This Sweet Old World
You think you know these songs until you don’t. The queen of alt country—or whatever else you want to call it—has not just re-recorded her 1992 album, she has reinvented it. Every last note of every song makes you realise (again) that Lucinda Williams is one of the greatest songwriters alive today. The voice is cracked and worn, but it wears so very well. Like Mr Dylan, Lu’s a great singer. One for the ages. Favorite tracks: all of them.
4. Ambrose Akinmusire A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard
Two hours of wildly inventive, genre-bending music from a fabulously imaginative trumpeter. A worthy addition to all those other great “Live at the Village Vanguard” recordings from way back when … John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Joe Lovano. Not to forget Geri Allen.
5. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice
Who could resist such laid-back lyrical quirkiness, not to mention the mesmerizing guitar work? Eagerly awaiting Ms Barnett’s next solo album. Favorite track: Blue Cheese.
6. Vic Mensa The Autobiography
The shape of rap to come? Sure it’s an uneven album, but as a debut it’s a compelling statement of intent. Try the devastating Heaven on Earth.
7. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit The Nashville Sound
Doug Jones is not the only good thing to come out of Alabama this year. With the ironically-titled The Nashville Sound, Isbell (who performed free on behalf of Jones) maintains the high standards set by his last two albums Southeastern and Something More than Free. A great singer-songwriter (with a great band too in the 400 Unit—it’s nice to see them credited). Can’t get out of my head: Anxiety
8. Neil Young Hitchhiker
More gold dust from Neil’s ever-generous vault, this time an acoustic studio album, just Neil and his guitar, recorded in a single night on August 11, 1976 and not released until now. There is a haunting, melancholic quality to these old–new songs, in which Neil hangs out with Pocohontas and Marlon Brando, Big John’s been drinking since the river took Emmylou, and even Richard Nixon has got soul. Favorite track: Powderfinger
9. Alice Coltrane The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
I’m not a religious man, but then nor was Leoš Janáček (“No believer, no old man”), and he wrote the Glagolitic Mass. Sublime.
10. Colter Wall Colter Wall
Straight outta Saskatchewan. Canadian country. Gotta hear Colter, y’all.
Margo Price All American Made
Chris Stapleton From a Room 1 + 2
Conor Oberst Salutations (with the Felice Brothers as his backing band)
Tyler Childers Purgatory
Blue Note All Stars Our Point of View Another in a legendary series of great albums, this time with young guns Robert Glasper on keyboards, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone, Lionel Loueke on guitar, Derrick Hodge on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter add old mastery.
Steve Earle, Ian Felice, Mavis Staples, the Rural Alberta Advantage, and Angaleena Presley all released very good albums this year and the BBC dropped the nostalgia bomb of the Rolling Stones On Air performances from 1963-5. Great to cook to and played many times over already. They didn’t make the cut. We live in tough times.