As I do each December when compiling this review, I reached back to see what paths my listening had followed during the year past; what common themes might perhaps be revealed. It was hearing about the death of Karlheinz Stockhausen that quickened my perceptions this December. I felt a chill pass through me at the news. Later that evening I realized what that chill was. It was a recognition of the passage of a true force: a human being wholly committed to the belief that music is reality; that the organization of sound -- audible energy -- into expressions of the brain, heart, soul, and beyond is a way to bring light and its shadows to life in the world. I found aspects of that kind of commitment in the recordings I liked best in 2007.
Susan Alcorn - And I Await (The Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar) (Olde English Spelling Bee)
This LP-only release is Susan Alcorn's deepest, most adventurous --and sometimes darkest-- work to date. Beginning with a steel guitar reading of the Buddhist "Heart Sutra" that sends out sonic ripples like stones dropped into the void, it moves on to conjure moods and possibilities way beyond what most music even attempts. Among the stunning pieces here is a two-part tone-poem dedicated to the visionary big-band arranger Bob Graettinger that, while utterly engaging in and of itself, manages also to find a transformative place where Stan Kenton's elegant cool and Sun Ra's dangerous "Magic City" might intersect. As usual, Alcorn sings with the voice of the pedal steel, conveying a bold and resonant vision of spirit and compassion.
Robert Fripp - At the End of Time: Churchscapes (DGM)
Fripp's devotional works for looped and delayed solo guitar orchestra are quietly personal, harmonically consonant, and, to my ears, just plain gorgeous. They unfurl slowly and spread like light through stained glass windows, graciously leaving room for the listener at their very center.
John Luther Adams - Red Arc/Blue Veil (Cold Blue)
These four pieces by the Alaska-based composer generate great depth of field and textural complexity. This is especially amazing given that they are solo and duo works (for piano and percussion.) Adams--perhaps in part because he is a percussionist himself-- makes masterful use of shifts between density and spaciousness within the flow of time, along with careful attention to overtone relationships and extreme dynamic range, to create variegated sound-fields that are, paradoxically, hushed and thunderous, melodic and rugged all at once.
Sadies - New Seasons (Yep Roc)
I did listen to some pop records in 2007 too, of course, and NEW SEASONS was by far my favorite. The Sadies' unique two-guitar brother-band mix of country twang, folk-rock lilt, psychedelia, spaghetti western atmospherics, and garage band energy has remained intact. Best of all, the songwriting has deepened and the vocal blend has settled in and mellowed. There's a moody, wintry, northern introspection-- songs about love, life, death, and yearning-- to this album as a whole that adds up to something like a song cycle.
Miles Davis - The Complete 'On The Corner' Sessions (Sony)
Now, moving on to reissues and collections … This massive six-disc box set was the flagship for the year's particularly impressive fleet of crucial re-issues. Thanks to growing up in a small town with a library that happened to be part of some sort of Columbia Records subscription service, I was able to stumble upon Miles' prescient and paradigm-shifting On The Corner and Get Up With It when they first came out and live with them for weeks at a time. Now I can do it again, only more.
Tabu Ley Rochereau - The Voice of Lightness (Sterns)
Another important collection, tracing the Congo-Zairean singer-bandleader's heart-lifting music through it's golden years of the 1960s and 70s, in the process providing some thrilling Congo guitar from the likes of Dr. Nico, Dizzy Mandjeku, Bopol Mansiamina, and Maunaka Waku.
King Crimson - The Great Deceiver (Live 1973-2974)
The once-deleted four-CD box set has been reissued now in two double-disc volumes, offering another opportunity to explore the live improv energy of the Fripp/Cross/ Wetton/Bruford team. This line-up found sonic worlds of-- sometimes-- quiet power and-- usually-- crushing beauty.
Pauline Oliveros - Accordion and Voice - The Wanderer (Important)
Never mind how influential these 1980s records have been. Never mind how lovingly they've been re-mastered and re-packaged. Just listen to them as many times as you'd like, and hear them breathe, in all their microtonal glory.
And then, of course, there was Sun Ra's Strange Strings and Night of the Purple Moon (Atavistic); King Sunny Ade - Gems From the Classic Years (1967-1974) (Shanachie)….
By Kevin Macneil Brown