21 December 2005

The RIAA may say the world is ending, but despite my embrace of digital music with my Slimp3 I don't see my music budget getting any smaller. Indeed I think I need more of the stuff to keep my ipod's hunger satisfied.

The man I most blame for my musical financial losses this year is a man I've never met called Michael Stone. (My wallet hates you almost as much as my ears love you.) He insinuated his way into my music collection a couple of years ago with a piece on world brass music that led us to Ulixes and above all the wonderful band Amarcord.

This year he caught our eye with a series of articles on planetary jazz. I enjoy jazz, but I admit I find that US jazz can be rather samey, and enjoy listening to Jazz from other parts of the world. For those who are tired of yet another subset of sax, trumpet, piano, bass and drums I'd suggest casting your eye to Okay Temiz. There's not many places you'll find jazz with an oud and kanun. Temiz is Turkish but spent important time in Sweden which is also the home port of the Cerro Esperanza Band which includes guitar, bouzouki, tiple, clarinet, trumpet; trombone, bass trombone, double bass, accordion, percussion, cimbalom, and thumb piano in its line-up.

You'll notice many of the links in this article point to cdroots a small (literally one man) CD import operation specializing in off the wall stuff like this that you (mostly) won't find on Amazon. So far I give him a 10 out of 10 for reliable and friendly service.

Stone's second article focused on Brazilian jazz, of which my favorite was Inverse Universe. Brazil's always had an influence in Jazz, as with the Bossanova craze, and all three of these albums have that distinctive Brazilian twist. His latest article is on Hungarian Jazz, but I won't comment as I'm only starting to listen to those CDs.

But then what if you like your saxophone and rhythm section? I think the first of all of these I warmed to was Gabriele Cohen. Again there's a strong oriental quality to the music that gives the sound more of a lilt than you might otherwise expect.

I still remember when I first starting listening to music from Argentina when I got hold of Zero Hour and got badly distracted from my writing. Recent years saw that work spun into the fascinating techno sounds of Gotan Project and Bajafondo Tango Club. This year my Argentinian fix was Dino Saluzzi, originally via Stone's writing and Responsorium and later with Mojotoro. It's more laid back and less romantic and emotional than Piazolla. As a result I still prefer Piazolla's sound if forced to pick those desert island discs, but I intend to listen to more of Saluzzi.

So have I got any US jazz this year? Indeed I picked up stuff from MJQ, Gerry Mulligan, Mark O'Connor, Jerry Douglas, and Mose Allison but if asked to pick my favorite US Jazz album this year I again gravitate to the weird end of the spectrum and Tin Hat Trio's Helium. The fact that includes a guest appearance by Cindy's favorite singer helps. Actually my choice is really a split decision shared between Tin Hat and "Concert in the Garden" by the Maria Schneider Orchestra - a fabulous big band. It's the only time so far I've been drawn to music via slashdot, it was talked about because the album is only available for purchase over the Internet but still won a Grammy - since then it's picked up more Jazz awards.

All our listening this year hasn't been Jazz. Our earliest new albums were completing a collection of music by Calexico, which is probably Cindy's favorite amongst the music I'm mentioning here. Calexico is, like all the best stuff, hard to describe. I've tried putting it over as a southwestern and less weird form of Tom Waits. I found it interesting that Calexico showed up in the 2003 BBC world music compilation - rare for an American band to be so classified.

On a more folky note, I picked up Ochre by Zither player Andrew Cronshaw due to it winning an award by fRoots magazine in the UK. It's gentle music with a fascinating mix of different instruments and styles that's very much in line with my mixed up tastes these days. The base tunes are traditional English folk songs but the varied treatments are quite otherworldly. Cronshaw is new to me, but my other big folk pick this year isn't - Kila. I rounded out my collection with their album Luna Park and it's every bit as good as I hoped it would be. I seem to be repeating myself here, but again I'm picking out music that has its roots in tradition but throws in a more modern twist. Here there's pretty much a traditional instrumental line-up but produces a 'wall of sound' with an energy that wants to leap out of ipod and jump all over you.

My final pick for the year is something more in the electric lounge music vein - albeit a Colombian lounge - Charanga Cakewalk's Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge. It's a fascinating studio project rooted in Colombian Cumbia music but bringing in lots of colors which, as the liner notes say, "skirt the edge of kitsch" (successfully).

I find it a lot harder to write about music than about software - words don't quite do the job. But I've got used to omnipresent music and these are my favorites of the stuff that's new to me this year. If nothing else you might get a clue as to whether your musical taste is anything like mine.