“Farewell, to the fantastic breakfasts, free every morning and there they were, waiting on you with the papaya, mango, and pineapple like I’d never tasted before. Farewell, to the Thai maids with the king-sized cotton sheets and the big king-sized beds. Farewell, to the fresh meat flown in from America, daily. Roast potatoes, green beans and roast lamb, at 110 degrees under a circus tent, according to British Equity. Farewell to the drivers with the tinted glasses and the Mercedes with the tinted windows. Farewell to the cakes, teas and ices every day exactly at four o’clock. Farewell to those beautiful smiling people. Farewell to that single, fresh rose in a vase on my bureau every day. And just as I was climbing into that first-class seat, and wrapping myself in a blanket, just as I was adjusting my pillow behind my head, and having a sip of that champagne, and just as I was bringing down and adjusting my Thai purple sleep mask… I had an inkling, I had a flash… I suddenly thought I knew what it was that had killed Marilyn Monroe…” – Spalding Grey, Swimming to Cambodia

Once again dear readers, I place the blog on hiatus as I head out for a few weeks of vacation.  For those interested in that other aspect of my blogging my follow along on my Rootless in Place blog.


Frankly my interest in end of year lists is at an all time low. Last year I tried to counter the vacuousness of it all by writing an actual review of each of my favorites in which I’d attempt some actual criticism or at least some contextualization. As I’ve indicated of late, that type of activity isn’t really blowing my skirt up so much anymore so I’m not going to undertake the vast amount of effort required for what I still do think is an appropriate way to attempt to assess ones response to the music that one finds noteworthy. So what I’m I doing here with this post? Well I’ve been pretty much consumed by music for the last ten years and while I don’t see that changing much in some ways, in other ways my relationship to music has changed. Of course said relationship was pretty much always in flux in some way or another as I worked through numerous genres, interests and obsessions. As I outlined in a previous post there has also been some sort of compulsion to put my opinion out there regarding what I’ve been listening to and what I’ve found interesting. That impulse is more or less gone and yet I still feel compelled to do one last list: I’ve made a list, of varying levels of detail every year for the last ten and a list this year would complete the series, close out the aughts as it were. Of course I can’t just type in a bare list so I’ve tried to put together at least a few words for the top ten with perhaps a few “runners up” as it were to follow. But first a few thoughts on the year in general.

In the subset of improvised music that has captivated my interests over the last decade 2009 was I felt an overall solid year. There was plenty of releases that captivated my interest, that I enjoyed on many different levels.  That being said, there was little that I heard that I really found exciting. Now obviously that is a subjective experience, someone just discovering this music would probably by default be a lot more excited then someone who has been steeped in it for the last decade. There are of course those who can perhaps find (or generate) excitement more easily then myself perhaps taking into account varying externalities. Ultimately though all I can do is speak for myself and say that while I enjoyed a lot of music in 2009 there were only a few pieces in the general improvised area that I follow that really intrigued me.  The music in general seems more mature and some of it deeper in way, but a lot of it seems safe, covering well trodden ground, overly familiar. I’m certainly not one that demands constant novelty, endless innovation wanting only constant momentum.  On the contrary I enjoy the natural process of innovation breeding deeper exploration that leads to further innovation and so on. No part of this cycle though demands that risk taking be abandoned, that tropes be developed and then relied upon, that the easy way be taken. So while I do think that there have been those that are doing some deeper exploration I think there has been an increase in those that are taking the easy way, doing what has worked in the past, what the audience wants and while perhaps producing some nice sounding albums just aren’t generating much excitement. At least for me.

This year has been also seen an increase in what I think of as “third wave” musicians.  Big shifts in overarching tendencies can occur in numerous different ways but once they have occurred they tend to follow a familiar pattern: the first wave were those that were pushing away from an existing system and tend to find some of it inescapable (an entirely clean break is exceedingly rare, at least initially) and their “new”  language will be a hybrid of the existing structures and the new directions they are pushing toward.  Of course there has to be breaks with the existing system in numerous quarters and it is the sum toto of all of the changes that eventually seem different enough to distinguish it as a distinct entity.  The second wave then are those that are influenced by the first wave and take more or less as their starting point the hybrid language that had been developed. This is the point where the new system usually really hits its stride. The second wave will often winnow out the innovations of the first wave, add to that and then you have a much cleaner break from the previous system.  There will be those from the first wave who move right along with that, shedding the hybrid language, continuing to push and so on, but then again there will be those that seem to “fall behind”.  The third wave then are those that are influenced primarily by this period of peak activity. They begin with the fully developed language and can be completely free from the vestiges of the previous system.  However this wave is typically the new system in decline: it has all the trappings of genre with its own tropes, its defined limits and dogma.  It is at some point in this stage that the process will repeat, though the third wave can last a long time, becoming increasingly insular, pedagogical and ever narrower. But eventually there will be those who have innovated all along and won’t stop for long, or a new person will come to the scene struggling against what they can only perceive as unacceptable constraints, or innumerable other  circumstances and a new break will be made.  Great music can be made during the third wave, but it does tend more toward the solid and mature on one end and to the superficial and shallow on the other end. The constant innovators will of course still do their thing, but it will seem to be within ever narrowing options and with fewer and fewer collaborators willing to take the same kind of risks.

There were though a couple of improvised records that got me pretty excited which I’ll talk about once I get to the list itself and there were several in that mature and solid category that are great music well worth listening to.  Half of my list though is composed pieces, which really is where I’ve found a lot of my interests and excitement these days. A lot of it older music, that was recorded this year as well as some brand new pieces.  Luckily for me there is such a wealth of composed music out there both old and new that completely does it for me, that I’m still overwhelmed by wonderful music.  As the excitement has left the improvised music I listen to, I have been able to turn more and more to this music and this is part of the change I intimated in the first ‘graph; I’m moving away from what has become more of a consumption based relationship with the aforementioned improvised music toward a more discriminating one. Thus the more reliable music, the composed music I love, with be given more of my time and I’ll maintain more of a distance from the improvised music scene, holding fire on things until they have piqued my interests. Of course there are some old reliables out there and a few up and coming things that I will follow as intently as ever. Anyway look for my reports on the recordings that I really loved this year over the next couple of days.


This week I’ll begin blogging in earnest again (look for a preview on this years SIMF in the next day or so) but before I do I thought I’d clarify my current thinking on this blog.  I began this initially to archive posts that I was making elsewhere but shortly began to shift my online writing focus to here. For me writing about music, especially live music, has been part Aidemémoire and in part wish fulfillment. The first part is easy; I wanted an accessible method of recording which shows I’d attended, when I visited galleries, what CDs I was listening to and the like.  I’ve always kept written journals for this, but they are almost as useless as not if you wanted to see if you attended a show five years ago. Online search excels in this type of recording searching, a quick search by month, artist, venue or whatever would refresh ones memoir.

As for the second, more nebulous desire that will take a bit of explaining. I’ve always written these shows up as I’ve wanted to read about them myself. I want objectivity and honesty: tell us what was good, what was bad as an impartial observer. It should be pretty easy to note when things are not to your taste and thus you aren’t qualified to judge, likewise it should be easy to spare friends feelings when their performance wasn’t up to your standards.  There are risks of course and there are basically no benefits, but I for one don’t understand why one would bother if one didn’t feel that serving ones readers was the goal.  Beyond basic standards I also liked to read about how something sounds and I usually would go to some lengths to try to describe the flow of a piece of music.  Finally I hoped to spur some conversation about ideas in music that I find of interest, ideally beyond mere likes and dislikes.

To me the ultimate goal would be if there were people in every scene blogging like this: objective, descriptive and part of a dialog.  This is because one really only gets to experience the music in ones areas, plus the occasional trip and one would like to experience more.  While reading is no substitute for being there, it does add details to the picture and helps one keep track of what is going on.  There are a couple of other writers that I think have been doing this, but alas most of the scene is “uncovered”. Nothing I can do about this though,  besides keeping up my end and supporting those who are doing this work.

Okay so that’s the background, what is going to change you ask. Basically I’m going to focus this more on the aidemémoire side of things. That is I want to continue to have a record of shows (galleries, film, events, etc) attended with details to bring them to mind. But I no longer feel compelled to be a “reporter” on these events.  I’m not going to drop my unfiltered, honest opinions, no I’m mainly going to adjust the scope of my “coverage”. It has come to light that in general people aren’t that interested in longer descriptive posts and furthermore that they aren’t willing to take a description of an event as a springboard for discussion. We always say that the best music is more about questions then answers so in the future I’m going to raise these questions directly.

I still intend to serve my readers with a record of what is going on (at least in my sphere of interest) but I think I’ll follow the cues of the readers more.  So if you want further information, or clarification or what to address any questions raised feel free to ask.  For this I ask that you use the comments section, I’ve always had a (heretofore unpublished) policy that issues about the blog need to be raised on the blog. I may not make corrections when errors are pointed out (in general I’m recording impressions and that the impressions are wrong doesn’t change the fact that that was my impression) thus a record in the comments is useful addendum to the post.

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