Favorite Music from 2011

My residency with David Behrman at the Atlantic Center for the Arts was an important part of 2011 and its effects trickled into the rest of (and best of) the year. I heard some great recordings as a result of the residency, namely:

Various Artists: Music for Merce (box set)
A massive collection that celebrates the musical legacy of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Great work by Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros, Takehisa Kosugi, Maryanne Amacher, John King, David Behrman and especially David Tudor. It’s astounding (and initially a little frustrating) that even with 10 CDs, many of the pieces are presented as excerpts. But hearing applause at the end of the live recordings reminds me that the pieces often lasted until the dance was over, and then they were over, too.

Ensemble vocal de Girokastër: Albanie – Polyphonies Vocales du Pays Lab
Mesmerizing choral music from Albania.

Otherwise, 2011 was the year of some exceptional music by many of my musician friends. Their work easily stands up against many of the releases from more established labels. In some cases, the work appears on established labels. In any case, the distinction between DIY and “signed artist” seems increasingly irrelevant. So I’m not hesitant to trumpet this work at all. I’m more concerned about leaving out some deserving recordings simply because there’s so much new material to consider. If we’re friends (I hope we are) and I don’t mention your work below, it’s probably because I haven’t listened to it yet. We’re still friends–I can’t wait to finally catch up on what you did in 2011 and hear what’s to come in 2012.

The Black Drumset: The Black Drumset
The crunchiest breakfast cereal.

Brent Fariss: Four Environments…Collapsing
Spooky action at a distance.

Matt Weston: The Last of the Six-Cylinders
A richly textured and surprisingly elegant electrified junkyard.

Jefferson Pitcher: Now the Deer
The quiet surface of a deep deep pool.

Bob Gluck / Joe Giardullo / Christopher Dean Sullivan: Something Quiet
My favorite kind of heterophony.

Here are a few other recordings that left their mark on my ears this year.

  • Various Artists: Music of Indonesia (multiple volumes) Daedalus Books has these on sale. I bought them all.
  • Michael Nyman: Decay Music
  • King Creosote and John Hopkins: Diamond Mine
  • Various Artists: The Friends of Old Time Music (box set)
  • Little Richard: The Georgia Peach
  • Kepler Quartet: Ben Johnston: String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 4 & 9
  • Laura Viers: July Flame
  • Dave Douglas: Keystone

Mike Seeger Gone to the New Lost City

I just heard the news that old-time musician Mike Seeger died on Friday night. Mike was the son of folklorist Charles Seeger and composer Ruth Crawford-Seeger. His other siblings were Penny, Peggy and half-brother Pete Seeger (who recently celebrated his 90th birthday and seems to be going strong). Quite a lineage for a musician, and Mike certainly made the best of it. He was a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers along with John Cohen (see here) and Tom Paley. I think their work in the 1960s represents some of the best of the folk revival movement.

Seeger’s solo work serves as a catalog of old-time banjo styles while also demonstrating his mastery of lesser-known folk instruments such as the quills and the mouth harp. I’m particularly fond of his recordings Southern Banjo Sounds (1998) and True Vine (2003), both released on Smithsonian Folkways.

John Cohen Banjo Workshop on the Down Home Radio Show

I’ve been picking and grinning along to this recording of a banjo workshop led by John Cohen. He covers so much stylistic territory for old time banjo and touches on some of my favorite players. Mentioned repeatedly is Cohen’s classic banjo compilation, High Atmosphere. It’s great to hear Cohen talk about the tunes and the players. Even better is hearing him marvel at the possibilities afforded by different picking styles and tunings. Host Eli Smith has also put together a companion mix tape of the original recordings. Highly recommended.