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The Year In Music (Derek Taylor)

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Derek Taylor lays out his favorite mementos of 2003.

The Year In Music (Derek Taylor)

What 'O3 Meant To Me

I often get hit with the pejoratives of being a musical moldy fig or snob. Makes some sense to me given that the bulk of my listening habits favor music that's decades old and often the product of dead guys.

One of the perils of being a rabid jazz fan is staying abreast of new music while still keeping an ear cocked toward the history, a history that is now over a century deep. Call it the curse of the reissue; I can think of several practicing jazz musicians who do. What this means is that my picks are probably going to stick out like a smashed thumb in the context of the small sea of albums chosen by others in the Dusted bullpen.

Whittling down the years releases to an even 10 or dozen always ends up being a futile exercise. Things get left off that shouldn't. Hindsight occasionally points to others that made the cut that no longer do. Even so, I feel pretty confident that releases listed below will stand my own particular test of time. The focus is on jazz and blues because those are the regions my ears usually take me. I'm almost totally out of the loop when it comes to alternative rock or college radio, though I did pick up the two most recent Lightning Bolt discs this year and have been digging them quite a bit. Anyway, enough of my yammering preamble. On to a dozen *albums* that set my ears to reeling in ’03 and here's to hoping that '04 is just as eventful. Thanks for reading.

Jimmy Lyons - The Box Set (Ayler)
Here's an archetypal example of the DIY aesthetic. Identify a dearth and rectify it, by any means necessary. The debt owed to Jan Ström and the rest of the Ayler Records crew will probably go largely unnoticed by the majority of jazz press. Anyone who's paid attention to this set recognizes its primacy and precedence. Considering his importance and influence, Lyons work as a leader is discographically slight. The telling truth is that this mostly due to the saxophonists own stringent standards. With nearly six hours of music packed onto five discs a number of crucial gaps are caulked. Independent of Lyons own opinions it's a consummate privilege to be privy to this stuff so long after it was laid to tape.

Evan Parker/Joe McPhee - Chicago Tenor Duets (Okkadisk)
Promised and rumored about for over three years this broach in the Okkadisk bonnet is finally on prominent display. Parker and McPhee represent two pinnacles in the current state of the tenor and the fireworks expectant in their meeting do not disappoint. The surprising part is in the level of communication that ensues, each man bending and shaping to the style of the other. There are sections where Parker apes McPhee and vice versa while still adhering to the idiosyncrasies that make each such a salient improvisatory voice. Two saxophones sharing a stage together for an hour plus may seem a chore to some, but based on what's left behind it's more like a blessing.

Frank Lowe - Tricks of the Trade (Marge)
One of the biggest blows of ’03 to my mind was the abrupt passing of Dr. Too Much. Lowe had been fighting the good fight for years, turning out creative, emotionally-forthright albums and struggling against slowly waning health. This reissue, augmented with material that more than doubles the original vinyl edition's playing time, hearkens back to an earlier, but no less restless time in his career. Leading a quartet with Butch Morris, French bassist Didier Levallet and drummer George Brown at curtain end of 76', Lowe blasts through a clutch of nine originals. Threads of Coltrane still cling to his sound and the energy on hand is often breathtaking. It's proof that the man is enjoying a deserved place on high with the other departed doyens of jazz.

Various - Modern Downhome Blues Sessions, Vol. 1 & 2 (Ace)
Link Wray is largely credited as the grandfather of the power chord. These two discs in a projected trilogy cast credit even further back as the basic chords of country blues are transmogrified by caustic amplification and liquor-fuelled primal energy. The results of Ike Turner and Joe Bihari's road trips through Arkansas and Mississippi in the early 50s, these sides are the sounds of rural roadside juke joints and rent house parties. Well known names such as Elmore James sidle up beside lesser-knowns like Houston Boines and Drifting Slim. The sum is an ideal soundtrack for a midnight run down miles-long stretch of deserted asphalt, soul in tow and ready for the taking. The devil's music indeed.

Roscoe Holcomb - An Untamed Sense of Control (Smithsonian/Folkways)
Holcomb remains a cipher. The facts and anecdotes of his life are accessible, but they still don't even come close to explaining away the man's miraculous voice and music. Like his contemporary Dock Boggs, Holcomb had the ability to shear to the emotional quick, paring away pretence and painting a picture of utter desperation or hard-won hope. This is his second Smithsonian compendium & it's on par with his first with murder ballads and old timey lined out hymnody aplenty sung a capella or with lean banjo or guitar accompaniment. The seemingly contradictory disc title captures the conundrum perfectly.

Curtis Amy - Mosaic Select
The Select series is a stroke of genius on multiple levels. Applying the company's reputation for nonpareil reissue product to a budget line, owner Michael Cuscuna has opened up entirely new markets. Eight releases in the can as of the close of ’03 this one stands as the most remarkable of the bunch. All of Amy's rare Pacific Jazz sides are represented, albums that featured the uncommon instrumentation of organ, valve trombone & vibes and early work by such Sixties staples as Bobby Hutcherson & Roy Ayers. Throughout the three discs the leader's tenor and soprano wind a smoky, blues laced trail down the lesser traveled tributaries of the Texas saxophone tradition.

Sonny Simmons - Burning Spirits (Contemporary)
Simmons has long been an outsider in outsider jazz, but as this timely reissue makes clear, the reasons are largely personal rather than musical. The aptly titled double album draws on the spiritualism of its day and funnels the resulting energy to prime free jazz with tethers affixed to logic and form. Simmons' colleagues in the cause include sorely-underrated wife Barbara Donald on trumpet and bass heavyweights Richard Davis and Cecil McBee. Vintage fire music from a pilot light that's still burning brightly today.

Robert Belfour - Pushin' My Luck (Fat Possum)
In this era of vapid jump blues exhumations & former teen phenoms Fat Possum continues to keep things real, narrowly skating the edge of self-parody, but still releasing some of the most vital music in the idiom. Belfour's one in their ever-winnowing stable of geriatric sharecroppers and juke-joint hell-raisers, though he largely eschews the misogyny & violence of his label mates for something deeper and less obvious. I've read the argument that this album is nothing but a handful of spare chords recycled ad infinitum. As with the best blues it's the nuanced simplicity of these skeletal structures that pays back so much to patient pairs of ears.

Dave Holland Quintet - Extended Play (ECM)
Holland's one of those guys who rakes in the awards & accolades but does it in a way that belies pomp & ego. Listening to this double-disc live set (the latest in an unbroken string of critical landslide albums) it's clear that the modesty is more a product of utilitarian consequence than any conscious effort. He and his sidemen love to play music, pure and simple, so much so that all the trappings attendant with their shared excellence register as of distant secondary importance. ECM's sonic clarity coupled with lengthy, intensely inventive cuts makes this one an instant and memorable keeper.

Allen/Drake/Jordan/Parker/Silva - The All-Star Game (Eremite)
Michael Ehlers' Eremite imprint has a near-perfect track record for excellence. The potential for classic free jazz, passionately played & preserved is pretty much a certainty when you peel off the cellophane from one of his label's releases. This summit conference upholds the standard by teaming two flame-belching saxophonists with two gut-punching bassists and capping things off with a drummer considered by many as a paragon in the field of percussion. No holds-barred, just full-on blowing, foibles and all. It's a massively entertaining throwback to the ESP-era of yore when players weren't so concerned with staying ahead of the innovation curve & reveled instead in the sheer cathartic joy this sort of music can offer.

ZZ Top - Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (Warner Bros)
I think the Dusted honchos were a bit surprised when I requested this set for review. Testament to their liberal-mindedness they didn't hesitate in giving the green light. Something the blokes across the cyber pond over at PF wouldn't likely do. Consequently I had a chance to recapture some of my roller-skating, pinball-playing youth by jamming out to the pinwheel guitars and trip-hammer drums of the Top. The Tejas Trio were long-overdue for this sort of royal treatment & the folks at Rhino did it right. Lavish production values and pristine sound all crammed in under a corrugated cardboard roof - a litany of classics from "Just Got Paid" thru "Sleeping Bag" are here. The only stumble being the final disc of remixes & cast-offs. La Grange, baby!

Bad BrainsBanned In D.C.: Greatest Riffs (Caroline) - A Brains comp has been long in coming, but Caroline makes the wait worthwhile. They wisely chose to close the book after 89’s Quickness and while the set runs to a relatively brief hour the 22-track sequencing is nigh ideal. Dr. Know’s gits make like an army of bandsaws buzzing in clamorous unison. Daryl Jennifer locks down a bass groove bridging Stanley Clarke with “Geezer” Butler. Earl Hudson beats the shit out of his traps and H.R. handles throat duties with maniacal glee. Reggae cuts are segregated to disc’s end, though the finale instrumental master of “Riot Squad” takes things out in a roar of aggro Rasta-punk fury. There’s even a video clip of “I Against I” cobbled from concert footage (but no H.R. back flips-damn!). Most of the source albums are essential, but as a single disc distillation this one more than makes the grade.

By Derek Taylor

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