Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Best of 2008, part one - Historical and Reissues

Another year of great music has come and gone, and with each passing year it gets harder and harder to narrow down the best of a given year. With jazz and blues having such a rich and deep history that is continually being reinvented and reissued by record labels, especially European labels not bound by strict copyright, it is difficult to even scratch the surface, but here are the ten (plus one) albums that made a deep impression on me in 2008.

Honorable Mention. Anthony Braxton - The Complete Arista Recordings: I haven't had enough time to absorb this massive seven disc set, but what I have listened to has been very interesting. Drawing on free-bop, classical and modern composition, the music is all over the map from solos to large orchestra. As always Mosaic includes a wonderful booklet and top-notch remastering.

10. Nick Lowe - Jesus of Cool: Funny and intelligent pub rock coming out in the height of punk and disco pretty much guaranteed that it would be ignored, but upon re-release it's a wonder of wit and snide humor.

9. The Clash - Live at Shea Stadium: Blasting out their punk anthems before a massive stadium audience while opening for The Who, the band's populism comes shining through.

8. Bill Frisell - Rambler: Given a budget re-issue as part of ECM's Touchstones series, this is the most distinctive of the guitarist's early albums. Adding trumpet and tuba to the lineup gives the music a distinctive and enigmatic feel.

7. R.E.M - Murmur (Deluxe Edition): Mumbled lyrics, strummed guitars and powerful percussion gave this album a mysterious context, and here it is remastered beautifully with an extra disc of live recordings from the period.

6. Sun Ra - Some Blues, But Not The Kind That's Blue: The Ra archive is nearly bottomless and this rare small group LP from the 70's gets a fine reissue from Atavistic with good remastering and liner notes.

5. Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath - Eclipse at Dawn: An archival live release from this great progressive big band of South African expats and British jazzers. A potent mix of township jive, free jazz and Ellingtonian big band music.

4. Sonny Rollins - Road Shows, Vol. 1: First in what will hopefully be a long running series of live highlights from the great saxophonist. His solos have a supernova like brilliance.

3. John Zorn, et. al. - News for Lulu: Who says free jazzers can't play bop? Zorn leads a respectful and creative tribute to Sonny Clark, Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley.

2. Lester Young - The Lester Young/Count Basie Sessions 1936-1940: This material had been scattered on a number of LP and CD releases, but Mosaic does everyone proud by putting it all in order with stellar remastering and historical notes.

1. Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: It's a little intimidating to think that Dylan's outtakes and unreleased music is better than most people's masters. Bookended by some scalding live blues, this set charts his resurgence in the 1990's with great music and liner notes.

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