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Listed: Dave Douglas + Natural Snow Buildings

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Dusted Features

Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists determined by our favorite artists. This week: Trumpet master Dave Douglas and French drone duo Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte.

Listed: Dave Douglas + Natural Snow Buildings

Dave Douglas

After logging time in inside-out combos like New and Used in the late 1980s, trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas broke out in the early 1990s “downtown” NYC jazz/improv scene (most visibly as a longtime member of John Zorn’s Masada) and has never looked back. From the beginning, he struck listeners with a dazzling virtuosity and an occasional puckish sensibility to his playing. But what stood out perhaps even more was the vast range of his interests as a composer, improviser and bandleader. Whether leading his strings-heavy chamber group, his rocking Balkan-influenced Tiny Bell Trio, the wistful Charms of the Night Sky, or tributes to under-heralded composers like Booker Little and Mary Lou Williams, Douglas brought to his first wave of records a committed exploratory sense and a catholic taste. Over the last decade or so, these tendencies have only deepened (abetted by Douglas’ decision to document his music on his own Greenleaf imprint), as he has explored fusion with The Infinite, pursued multimedia work on Witness, and put together an ever-expanding group of ensembles from his Brass Ecstasy to his latest singer-songwriter effort, Be Still.

1. Joni Mitchell - Mingus
I was a child of the 1970s who read the players’ names on the backs of albums. Wayne Shorter was the link for me between Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Weather Report, Milton Nascimento, Herbie Hancock, and um, what’s his name…. oh yeah, Miles Davis. This record is such a classic… Brings together Jaco Pastorius, Herbie, Peter Erskine, Wayne, and of course Joni Mitchell with deep words and music. Great horn charts to boot. Seminal. If you haven’t heard this, or haven’t listened in a while, it’s good medicine. Joni’s delivery of the songs is so pure and direct, and the subject matter personal.

2. Weather Report - Heavy Weather
I got turned on to Weather Report by friends in Spain during a high school year abroad and memorized every note of this one. This record may have been the band’s best seller and spawned countless high school marching band arrangements of “Birdland,” but nonetheless the whole album is crafted with brilliance. Each of the members, as composers, contribute their finest work, and I think more than the virtuosity, that is what stands out for me. Wayne’s pieces are so finely detailed and it’s amazing to think about how much they differ from his work of just a few years earlier and a few years later. Zawinul had a way of personalizing synthesizers--it still sounds like Joe and still sounds fresh all these years later.

3. Steely Dan - Aja
You could argue that this is not the best Steely Dan album--Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, Can’t Buy A Thrill, and Countdown To Ecstasy were big for me. But the Wayne Shorter solo on the title track melted my face. For many years after this, pop groups didn’t seem allowed to have long instrumental digressions. I’m happy to hear that coming back now. Donald Fagan and Walter Becker put so much into this music, and still do.

4. Herbie Hancock - VSOP
This record came to me at a time when I was just about ready to encounter the incredibly broad vision Herbie presents. This was an unusual double LP in that there were three different bands on the different sides: the sextet, the electric group, and a classic quintet. Hearing all that different music presented side by side with such sincerity and profundity was a revelation and not at all normal at that time. I love all three bands and Herbie is playing great as ever (man, he’s STILL playing great as ever). When I heard him in an interview refer to "the way we used to play back in the ‘60s" I was like, huh? So I went back to find out.

5. Miles Davis - Miles Smiles
This album is a gateway. I couldn’t figure this out first. At all. It just seemed incomprehensible. Then one day it was the deepest thing I had ever heard. I practiced it and sang it and thought about it, and I am still learning from it. If you want to pick one ‘second acoustic quintet’ Miles Davis record to begin with, this (in my opinion) feels like the one where the band figured out how to play this vision. I’m only saying that as an outsider, but I can safely say that the influence of the playing on this record is as pervasive today as almost anything I can think of.

6. Wayne Shorter - Native Dancer
All of Wayne’s records are worth owning. Every single one is different and has its own story to tell. There is an absolute unity in all of his work and yet it changes and progresses and diverges with every release. Native Dancer brings us Wayne with Milton Nascimento and songs with words. The way Wayne mixes free-ish playing with tunes and forms is a special blend on this record and foreshadows a lot of Brazilian hybrids that have grown up through the years.

7. Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key of Life
Talking Book, Inner Visions, and this one bring together words, music, feeling, story and passion so fully. There’s a joy inside his tears. As well known as this record is, I don’t see it often remarked how many instrumentalists model parts of their style on Stevie Wonder’s phrasing. Not that that is what makes this record so great, but it’s hard not to give it up to Stevie for pure expression, for pure delivery of emotion and feeling through music.

8. Talking Heads - Remain in Light
I love David Byrne and Talking Heads and Brian Eno’s productions. My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, More Songs About Buildings and Food, Speaking In Tongues all introduced this shimmering, spooky, groove-based thing that is as elusive as it is infectious. It is a sound world all its own and yet it remains essentially at the service of the song.

9. Charlie Haden - Liberation Music Orchestra
This first release is a church. Carla Bley is one of my favorite composers and arrangers, and the way she works with the incredible cast on this record is a monument to freedom within directed group expression. “We Shall Overcome” alone is worth the price of admission. So heartfelt and passionate and yet calm and stately. Charlie’s commitment to these ideals over the years is inspiring, and on this release he gets to the heart of it in a very organic and ‘felt’ way. This recording is an uncanny blend of players and writing.

10. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk – s/t
Johnny Griffin, Bill Hardman, Monk, Spanky DeBrest, Blakey. This is really a must have, because the playing is perfect and at the same time there are "mistakes" all over the place. It’s honest and it’s (in my opinion) one of the clearest examples of Monk playing his music in an unusual, for him, setting. A great place to go to learn these tunes. Blakey and Monk had a long term relationship as players, so there’s an understanding between them that sometimes threatens to throw the whole band off a cliff. In a good way.

11. Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um
Had to put this in because it is essential, but as I am over my 10 I will be brief. The meeting of arrangements and players on this record represents the pinnacle of the form, I think. There are lots of voices in the band, but the clarity of Mingus’s writing and of his vision make a unity out of what could have been chaos. Incidentally, the tenor sax solo by Booker Ervin on “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” was set to words by Joni Mitchell on her album Mingus.

Natural Snow Buildings

On their 2008 CD Night Coercion Into the Company of Witches, the French duo Natural Snow Buildings conjure up epic layers of ritualistic percussion, intertwining drones, melodic loops, and crushing distortion that slow time to a mesmerizing crawl. You won’t even realize that three hours has gone by. Originally released in an edition of 22 copies, the recording has gotten the loving reissue treatment by Brooklyn’s Ba Da Bing Records and was released last week as a set of three CDs or four LPs. It’s a relatively high-profile outing for a gang that mostly keeps to themselves. Playing and recording together since the late 1990s, Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte also go solo as Twinsistermoon and Issengrind, respectively.

1. GrouperAIA: Alien Observer (Yellowelectric)
It’s like her music comes from some mysterious remote place in the universe, channelled, crossing veils of grey matters, and you just can’t keep asking to yourself, “How did she get there?” And the artwork is amazing.

2. Les Rallizes Denudes - Heavier Than a Death in the Family
Yeah, we know, they always play the same seven songs, but what songs! A great example of regeneration through repetition...

3. Dead MoonDefiance (Mississippi)
Tense and dry, fevered and tortured. Dagger Moon is a hell of a song. Picture from the sleeve is beautiful, they look like wood figures carved out of darkness…

4. Weyes Blood and the Dark Juices - The Outside Room (Not Not Fun)
It’s pretty rare to find a record that you would describe as part of your musical primitive scene. This one could have been recorded in some dark corner of rural France 40 years ago by a Catherine Ribeiro’s devotee.

5. Cosey Fanny Tutti - Time to Tell (Flowmotion)
Electronic witchcraft, the pulse from Time to Tell, the song, could easily go on for ten hours, we would ask for more...

6. Amen Dunes - Through Donkey Jaw (Sacred Bones)
Lysergic, entrancing…the song Baba Yaga is one of the best song ever, no less.

7. Julia HolterTragedy (Leaving)
Perfect mix between the experimental and the melodic. A modern “Hounds of Love”, sort of.

8. Blues Control - Valley Tangents (Drag City)
Great album, quite different maybe from the others, but no less addictive. Their collaboration with Laraaji from last year is amazing too.

9. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Motion Sickness of Time Travel (Spectrum Spools)
Four mesmerizing suites, conjuring some imaginary land beyond the rainbow…

10. Bridget Hayden - A Siren Blares In an Indifferent Ocean (KRAAK)
Blues from the abyss, and live, she really takes you down there.

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