Tuesday, December 15, 2015


I contributed to The Wire's year-end roundup, sending them my top 10 albums, my top 10 reissues, and some short thoughts on 2015 as refracted through the prism of culture. Those thoughts are reproduced below, but you should really buy the issue; there's a ton of great stuff in it, including my reviews of the new albums by Apparatus and Nate Wooley, both of which are very good. I recommend getting a digital subscription, which allows you full access to the Wire archives going all the way back to their first issue, plus subscriber-only music downloads and other cool stuff. Anyway, year-end thoughts:
The jazz story of the year was the arrival and rapid ascent of Kamasi Washington. His presence on the most overrated hip-hop album of 2015, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, helped his PR team create significant anticipation for his debut The Epic. Rapturously received, even by critics who couldn't spell jazz if you spotted them the j and one of the zs, it became the music's biggest crossover success story since the 1970s. It was also a really good record, and Washington is one of the most compelling live performers around. I was privileged to review his New York debut for this magazine, and it was the best show I saw all year.

I attended more jazz performances in 2015 than any other type, and that seems likely to continue. Jazz feels like it's revitalizing itself from within, in exciting, unpredictable ways. On the other hand, my other great musical love, metal, seems to be imploding. Formerly extreme styles have become cliches and crutches; bands can either sell records or get positive reviews, but not both, and the state of the US market dictates that tour packages must include a minimum of four bands, which is two too many for an old man to put up with on a weeknight.

No year is complete without a death list, and 2015's included some musicians whose work - even if only a single towering album - permanently altered my personal soundworld: Ornette Coleman, Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese, the Stooges' saxophonist Steve Mackay and Yes bassist Chris Squire all departed this year. Nothing here now but the recordings, in William Burroughs's phrase.

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