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.