PRINT December 2009

Music: Best of 2009

Vijay Iyer


1 Anti-Pop Consortium, Fluorescent Black (Big Dada) Beats and rhymes from the year 3009. The group’s comeback album is all chaos and void, somewhere between Metropolis and THX 1138, Sun Ra and David Hammons, great dense alloyed slabs and hot gases of ricocheting atoms. To quote M. Sayyid: “That’s what you get for staring infinity in the face.”

2 Tyondai Braxton, Central Market (Warp) Released by an influential label and designated “rock” by swooning critics, this zany game changer from the leader of Battles (and scion of composer genius Anthony Braxton) is a Frankenstein’s cocktail of Zappa, Anthony Davis, Danny Elfman, and Road Runner cartoons. The world must be ready for art music!

3 Das Racist, unreleased tracks and videos ( Two critical-race-theory prankstas buzzed up a storm in New York last summer with dada party chants and deadpan, rhymethick allusions to pop-cultural flotsam—the most famous example being the corporateproliferation anthem “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” My favorite? “Shorty Said.”

4 Steve Lehman Octet, Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi) Visionary, powerful, unprecedented octet music by this one-of-a-kind saxophonist-composer. Listen as his impossibly intricate orchestrations are crushed and aerosolized by eight daredevil virtuosos. We may never again hear Tristan Murail and GZA cited in the same breath, so relish this deeply hybrid music now.

5 Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, Apti (Innova) One of today’s most innovative alto saxophonists leads a compellingly austere, contrapuntal, at times blisteringly intense trio—saxophone, guitar, and tabla—punctuated by open spaces, dense chromaticism, and subtle allusions to Indian music.

6 Mendi + Keith Obadike, Four Electric Ghosts: An Opera-Masquerade (Mmanwu) (The Kitchen, New York) In this multimedia performance last May, the colorful spirits from Pac-Man navigated Amos Tutuola’s mythic universe while disrupted by an unseen, insatiable imperialist; all was sung/told/danced in the style of Grace Jones, June Tyson, Laurie Anderson, TV on the Radio, Takashi Murakami, and the Urban Bush Women. My jaw was on the floor.

7 Linda Oh, Entry (self-released) Refreshingly rugged, chordless jazz-trio music from a nearly unknown young bass powerhouse from down under, with the freewheeling contributions of two of New York’s finest players: drummer Obed Calvaire and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. The three strike just the right balance of formal and casual, of order and its opposite. I love how Ms. Oh just blew into town and took over.

8 Miles Okazaki, Generations (Sunnyside) The composer-guitarist-illustrator leads an ensemble through a recursively structured, fractally detailed labyrinth of music—the sonic equivalent of Escher and Borges, but with real emotional heft. Download the full score from his website and go even deeper.

9 Tyshawn Sorey, Koan (482) An immensely gifted, real-deal, one-in-a-billion kind of musician, this otherworldly drummercomposer has a fondness for extremes. For this trio project he favors near motionlessness, incremental accumulation, and slowly revolving, Calder-like sonic mobiles: improvised architecture reshaping the space around your head.

10 Henry Threadgill Zooid, This Brings Us To, vol. 1 (Pi) Armed with his searing saxophone, haunting low flutes, and riveting compositions built from autonomous musical languages, the legendary Henry Threadgill is back, with the angular, carnivalesque groove of his band of several years, Zooid (rhymes with fluid)—a low-end-heavy ensemble boasting bass, tuba, cello, drums, and a prodigious melodic foil: the vibrant guitarist Liberty Ellman.

Vijay Iyer is a pianist and composer. He appeared on numerous albums this past year, including Wadada Leo Smith’s Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform) and Talvin Singh’s OK remixes (Island). His jazz trio album Historicity (ACT Music) was released in October. (His selections above are listed alphabetically.)