This is my personal tribute to some of the best musical experiences to be found this year. This list is not meant to be all-encompassing, because I obviously can't go out and buy every CD that comes out, or see every concert. This is just my list of really cool things I heard this year. For links to some of these artists, see my links page. Many of them can sell you product right from their web pages.
There was quality this year, but not enough quantity. This is not a ranked list. I am presenting these alphabetically by artist.
Bjork: Homogenic (Electra)
This is the only major label release to make my list. I like Bjork's music a lot, and was eagerly looking forward to this, the first release of new stuff since 1995's "Post". It is a really different kind of record, because of all the strings. The natural sound of the string quartet is blended with the industrial/electronic/dance sounds that we come to expect from a Bjork album. She also blends the natural sound of her voice with vocal electronic processings. My favorite cut is "Joga".
Burning Bus: Greener (Charterhouse 6332-2)
This album is the second from this Lancaster based band. The first time I heard it, I didn't like it all that much, but it turned out to be a real "grower" on me. I mean, it really, really, grew on me. There is a lot to like about Burning Bus. At first, they present themselves as another hippie jam band, but there is a lot more to them than that. They keep their jamming within the structure of their well crafted songs. They like modulation ("E-funk") and off beat rhythms ("Bedspread"). Trixie Greener's accordion lends a nice sentimentality to "Where I Am", I know it took me back to my last time in Paris. I had the pleasure to see them live over the summer in Asbury, and Loretta treated us to the giraffe dance during "Giraffe".
Greg Howard: Sol (Espresso 9751)
Greg Howard is one of the best Chapman Stick® players around these days. This is Greg's third album. The record features the Stick® in the company of other instruments, mainly brass and percussion, in really nice song arrangements. Although some of Greg's ensembles are quite large, the Stick comes out sounding like the bandleader's instrument. In a way, I think of this as a pianistic approach, but Greg also delivers some great bass lines and a few screaming guitar solos. "Guitaresque" is my favorite track. Although Greg did not write it, he has made this obscure composition his own, and it has been a staple of his live shows since at least 1995.
Forward Kwenda: Sviriko (Shanachie 64095)
This is in my opinion, the best mbira CD you can get in this country. Forward Kwenda plays the mbira solo, and in duets with Erica Azim. The highlight for me is Forward's solo rendition of Tadzungaira, which is one of those rare, mind bending, spiritual journeys you don't get every day on CD.
Jeff Pearce: The Hidden Rift (Ancient Sun ASM2005CD) - Special Award - Best 1996 Album That I Discovered in 1997
We live in a time when there are a lot of good space music records coming out, but not a lot of great ones. This, in my opinion, is one of the great ones. I started hearing cuts off of this record in early 1997 on Hearts of Space and Stars End, two prominant space music radio shows. To me, this is a true space music record, not ambient or new age, but music depictive of the massive voids present between galaxies. This is the music of the dark matter which silently but diligently holds our universe together. Like Robert Fripp in his pioneering work with a guitar and digital delay, Pearce is a loop artist. Although he plays guitar, there is not a lot on this record that is easily recognizable as guitar. The long loops and delays sound at times like choral textures, strings, or solo woodwoinds. I ordered my copy through Echodisc (www.echodisc.com).
Presented in chronological order.
Trey Gunn and the Mavis Turkel Orchestra: The Bottom Line, NYC, June 4, 1997
I have seen King crimson twice in recent years, and I enjoyed this show ten times as much. After a brilliant opening set by the California Guitar Trio, Trey and the boys came out and opened with a blistering rendition of "Kaffaljidhma" from his most recent release "The Third Star". After that they rocked through most of the songs on that CD, as well as a song from Trey's out of print windsurfing album "Raw Power". trey and Chris cunningham played 8 string Warr® guitars which enabled either one of them to be playing bass while the other worked in the higher register. Tony Geballe played guitar in a crafty kind of way to flesh out the texture. Bob Muller played the most amazing drums I have seen in a long long time. He did on one kit what two drummers do in a King Crimson concert.
Teed Rockwell at the Ganges Restaurant, San Francisco, CA, July 5, 1997
Teed is a Stick player who plays traditional Indian music. Lately, he has been enhancing this experience with the Oberheim® Digital Echoplex, adigital delay looping device. He creates loops of music over which he improvises. It was amazing to see him get away with all of this technology in a forum where usually a traditional sitar player would be found. The Ganges also has great Indian food and is within walking distance of the historic Haight Ashbury district.
moe.: The State Theater, New Brunswick, NJ, October 31, 1997
I am not the world's biggest moe. fan, and I don't know a lot of their songs, but that wasn't a prerequisate for enjoying this show. moe. are not great songwriters, but they know how to host a party, and many of their songs have cool hooks that make them enjoyable even if you aren't a moe. fanatic. For Haloween, they came out in costume and rocked the house for three hours. They played mostly songs off of their most recent Sony release "No Doy", which made me happy since that is the only one of their albums I am vaguely familiar with. They stretched each of these songs to at least 10 minutes, 20 minutes for some. Lots of good steady grooving led me to dance as I have never noodle danced before in my life. They opened and closed with cover songs, "Godzilla" (BOC) and "The Harder They Come" (Jimmy Cliff).
Broadside Electric: The Mermaid Inn, Philadelphia PA, December 5th, 1997
Maybe I shouldn't include this becasue I am friends with BE, and I go to their shows whenever they are playing nearby, but this show was truly transcendental for me. First of all, I think they are finally hitting their stride with the drums. The whole band sounds tighter than ever, and the drums make them a true electric folk band in the tradition of Fairport Convention and Steelye Span. The second thing that made this concert extra special was the guest appearance of Melissa Demian, former lead singer, who recently returned from an anthropological expedition in Papua New Guinea.