Artist: Miles Davis
A very strong live recording made in Japan at the tale-end of Miles’ fusion era, Agharta is much lighter and easy to digest than much of his other 70s output. Long, Latin tinged grooves punctuated with searing guitar and Miles wah wah manipulated trumpet make Agharta a cool listen if you’re into patient grooves. Agharta almost sounds like Miles Davis jamming with Traffic and Can at the same time. Nothing wrong with that…
Artist: Steely Dan
Aja will always be tied to the year I spent studying at SOAS in London. My friend Tom, who I was playing a bit of music with, loves Steely Dan and got me heavily into Aja. I became obsessed with the album, trying to devour the arrangements and learning every lick of every song on the album. I used to walk from my digs in Angel to Bloomsbury with Aja on my iPod, sinking into the album’s smoky funk. Listening to Aja on the Beijing Metro whisked me back to my morning walks. The fact that the lyrical and musical content of Aja have next to nothing in common with “noughties” London is reminder of how personal an experience listening to music can actually be. I’m sure Aja doesn’t signify London to very many other people.
3. Al Green: Greatest Hits
Artist: Al Green
I love funk and soul music, but I’ve never really been that into Al Green. I don’t normally like Greatest Hits collections, but with Green his hits are enough. My biggest takeaway was how driving the drums were, much more in-your-face than Motown. Some of the songs had a definite disco or proto-disco vibe. The mix, likely due to compression in iTunes, wasn’t really warm enough to really enjoy the music. I wish I had listened to this on vinyl.
4. Aladdin Sane
Artist: David Bowie
A damn good record. I loved David Bowie in high school but don’t listen to him much anymore. Aladdin Sane was much bluesier than I remembered, with a driving almost mid 60s British Mod feel. People forget that Bowie was an R & B saxophonist and that mid 60s America filtered through Britain vibe is all over Aladdin Sane. There’s also a heavy Stones feel that Bowie acknowledges with a demented but awesome cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
5. An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall
Artist: Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Lots of Indie Rockers, Folkies and the Like
I’m not usually a big fan of the whole “Let’s get a bunch of indie rockers to sing with X awesome old dudes” thing. This album, however, is brilliant. The Pres Hall Band are the real stars here, swinging their asses of while dudes in skinny jeans make their way through “the Dixieland Fakebook.” The Benefit Album is a great introduction to Dixieland and a great way to expose yourself to America’s first pop music cannon if your not familiar with it. Standout performances are a surprisingly effective Annie DiFranco vamping her way through “Freighttrain” and Jim James yowling & yelping delivery of “Louisiana Fairytale.” Tom Waits also gets all Louis Armstrong on “Tootie Ma” which is (not surprisingly) AWESOME.
6. Alive 2007
Artist: Daft Punk
The house album everyone seems to have is very, very good. The dudes in robot outfits mix disco, funk and Kraftwerk very effectively. Alive 2007 functions as “Daft Punk’s Greatest Hits,” and it’s hard not to throw your hands in the air and scream when the beat drops on “Around the World” or basically every song when you get down to it. If you own one Daft Punk record, it might as well be Alive 2007. Not exactly intellectual music but perfect to turn your apartment into a French disco.
Artist: The Slip
Alivelectric is a mostly instrumental live highlights disc taken from a late 90s Slip tour. The Slip sound like Jaco Pastorious sitting in with the Allman Brothers, if the Allmans were just Butch Trucks & Duane. Guitarist Brad Barr is a genius who expertly uses a variety of effects to change his sonic palate and weave his way in and out of slinky modal jams. Drummer Andrew Bar alternates between a dancey hip-hop feel and a driving shuffle (like the Allmans). The Slip’s bassist, Marc Friedman, is criminally under-rated. His tone on the fretless bass avoids the over-wrought saccharine feel of most fretless bass playing, but still manages to be heart-string pulling and supportive at the same time. The Slip never really broke through because they were too jazzy to be a rock band and too rock to be a jazz band. It’s a shame. In terms of songs, Alivelectric isn’t really about incredible compositions but the daftly named “Mr. Meowskers” stands out. A simple model figure serves as a basis to stretch out, with Friedman and Brad Barr alternating between intensity and ambient cool. “Mr. Meowskers” nicely sums up the Slip at their best: modal, ambient and intense.
8. All Hour Cymbals
I liked All Hour Cymbals a lot when I first heard it. I’m not quite so enamored with it now. “2080” is a great song with a massive sing-along dynamic. If only the rest of the album were that good. Unfortunately All Hour Cymbals is very referential, almost like meta-music or a pastiche of “psychedelic rock” signifiers. Listening to it again, I couldn’t help but play the old “spot the influence game.” “Here’s the Popul Voh section, there’s a Pink Floyd CHORUS and wow! it’s all Peter Gabriel up in here!” The guys in Yeasayer are all very good musicians and the fretless bass playing (2 albums in a row: see the Slip) is especially awesome. I’m sure they’ll continue to find their voice and make a stunning album that sounds like Yeasayer. All Hour Cymbals isn’t quite there yet. “2080,” however, is.
9. All Is One: Live in New York City
Artist: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Great band, terrible name. I like to think that there’s an alternate universe where the dudes in JFJO put down the drugs and came up with a name that didn’t make everyone who likes them cringe when they say it. Imagine telling someone, “You should really check out this crazy jazz band. They’re called the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.” “Sure, right. great…” All Is One is a strong live disc featuring wild improvisation and deep grooves. Think Medeski, Martin & Wood but far weirder and a little bit jazzier. Reed Mathis is a very unusual bassist who relies heavily on effects. It’s often hard to tell who’s playing what on All is One, but I like that. Recommended for listeners with a tolerance for “free” music.
10. All is Violent, All is Bright
Artist: God is an Astronaut
I have very little to say about this record. I don’t know where I got it from or why I have it. All is Violent, All is Bright is shoegaze by the numbers. I couldn’t really concentrate on the record and my mind drifted through the murk of reverb and haze. I’m probably being unfair here, but…
11. Almost Acoustic
Artist: the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band
Recorded during a 1987 run on Broadway, Almost Acoustic is just good-ole roots music. The set finds Garcia digging into his bluegrass roots, and with the exception of campfire sing-along “Ripple” there’s no Dead on Almost Acoustic. The dark murder ballad “Oh the Wind & Rain” is a personal favorite. Perhaps the most interesting part of Almost Acoustic is the interplay between Garcia and fellow twangy guitar great David Nelson from the New Riders of the Purple Sage. There aren’t a ton of examples of Garcia playing with another great lead guitarists, so it’s interesting to hear Garcia and Nelson trading licks and giving each other space.