So this is it. The year is nearing its end, and it’s the time when I love to look back a bit at the kind of music I listened to. From some stories flooding Instagram in the last few days, I noticed how Spotify does these reviews of your year in music (or so). Well, the thing is: I have no Spotify. That leaves me no other option than do it by hand and add a few comments here and there.
I will organize this post by genres: start with BAM, go to electronic and ambient music, and finish with pop.
This year has been quite special for me since I re-connected to jazz, which was ultimately initiated by the arrival of a new housemate. Sean L. is a trumpeter from northern Italy who stayed in Groningen for a few months as a visitor at the local conservatorium. And during many down-locked evenings, we listened through exciting developments in creative improvised music. In fact, he opened my appreciation for the term BAM—or black American music—which is a term Nicholas Payton had introduced to kill off the word jazz. There is something beautiful in this term recognizing this music’s cultural and historical origins. Either way, I prefer it and will use it from now on.
I had listened to BAM a lot in the past when in my early 20s. Then I was obsessed with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Charles Mingus. And somehow, I had gotten the idea that the most exciting things in improvised music had already happened in the 60s and 70s. And I have to admit that I was quite wrong. And I am glad to have rediscovered the joy in listening to BAM.
Here’s an example of piano music that is both enjoyable and tickles the brain in a pleasant way, the Vijay Iyer Trio – Uneasy (ECM)
Another album that I couldn’t stop listening to is Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s live album Axiom (Rodeadope). I love the energy in this performance. They are not afraid to stretch the boundaries of what BAM can be. The outcome is an amazingly entertaining listen; here’s just a small taster:
Quite a different part of improvised music is explored by Bendik Giske in several formations. I mainly listened to an album with Pavel Milyakov, published by Smalltown Supersound/Le Jazz Non. Here’s a small sample
To close things off, I want to mention another beautiful album with quite a different style: Shai Maestro – Human (ECM). Here’s a concert streamed by arte (which has become an excellent resource for discovering new music)
Of course, I am omitting many fantastic works such as the Pharoah Sanders/Floating Points collaboration with the London Symphonic Orchestra, stuff by Irreversible Entanglements (love the name), and many more.
More than having listened to BAM I have listened to all kinds of electronic music. It’s hard to list all the things that have gone through my AirPods this year, but I will still try to pick a few things that surprised, entertained, and carried me more than others throughout this year.
First thing I want to highlight is Space Afrika’s Honest Labour (DAIS). It’s an album that is exciting and surprising from beginning to end. (Without being annoying.) Absolutely worth the time. Here’s a taster
The next one is quite a different style but equally worth listening to. It’s Not Waving’s new album How To Leave Your Body (ECSTATIC). Here’s a video with “five tracks from Not Waving’s album of the same name are set to an ’emotive collage of vérité lockdown footage’ compiled and edited by Berlin-based visual artists Michael Amstad and Marte Eknæs.”
A late discovery is Madlib’s Sound Ancestors (MADLIB INVAZION). To be honest I only discovered it in the Wire’s charts. But since then I have been listening to it non-stop. Just so multifaceted and groovy. Might go on top of my list.
Another late discovery is The Bug’s Fire (NINJA TUNE), which is just a firestorm of fantastic collaborations and pure drone. Here’s one of these burners
The last electronica album I want to mention is a collaboration by Aaron Dilloway and Lucrecia Dalt: Lucy & Aaron (HANSON). It is not an easy listen but worth every second you invest in it. Just super rich and ultimately rewarding. Here’s a track picked by the Wire magazine
I have much less to say when it comes to pop music. Of course I have listened to a ton of pop by myself and with my friends. There have been a few albums on heavy rotation on my phone, though. One thing that comes to mind immediately is Altin Gün with their Turkish funk nostalgia, here in an arte concert (in Groningen!)
Another thing I listened to a lot was Dry Cleaning’s New Long Leg (4AD). It made it to all the end-of-the-year best-of lists and I really think deservedly so. Driving music, funny, smart, and just an overall great listen. Here’s Strong Feelings with this amazing bassline in the beginning
(while looking up video bits I also found this KEXP performance which looks fun)
Last thing I want to throw out is a massively late discovery. It is all kinds of things that Paul McCartney has done over the years. Partly this new appreciation comes from my watching the Beatles documentary. But partly from my love for his solo album RAM from 1971. It was originally reviewed negatively. Only later people figured out how ahead of its time it is and gave it highest reviews (see, e.g. Pitchfork). Anyhow, a really fun and rich listen, here’s my favorite: