PRINT December 2012

Music: Best of 2012

Jason Moran

Roy Haynes and the Fountain of Youth Band, Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, Marcus Garvey Park, New York, August 25, 2012.

1 Roy Haynes and the Fountain of Youth Band (Marcus Garvey Park, New York, August 25) At age eighty-seven, drummer Roy Haynes represents the finest that jazz has to offer. During his band’s performance at the 2012 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, the energy percolated to the point that Haynes grabbed the microphone and began to sing the O’Jays chorus “Money, money money mooo-ney.” When he asked for some ladies to step up, six women of different generations rushed onstage to dance with him. This was a master displaying supreme artistry as a drummer, a bandleader, and an entertainer.

2 Björk (Flow Festival, Helsinki, August 12) I (and about 30,000 others) stood outside on a beautiful night to listen to Björk deliver her Biophilia performance, along with something equivalent to a sermon. She dedicated the song “Declare Independence” to Pussy Riot, getting the audience to chant the lyrics with her. I left feeling like an upright citizen.

3 Cecil Taylor (Harlem Stage, New York, May 17) At this solo piano performance, the eighty-three-year-old Taylor began by reciting his poetry. Broken phrases about ancestry and chemistry, spoken in his raspy voice, shattered the air. He proceeded to the piano, his hands working in opposition to each other, using all ten fingers at once, pushing his body back from the piano or leaning his head close to the keys as his arms spread to the lower and upper registers. It was a dance performance as much as a concert.

4 Walid Raad, Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: A History of Art in the Arab World (Documenta 13, Kassel) Walid Raad is a kind of wizard who seamlessly walks the line between actuality and fiction. As part of his project at Documenta 13, he gave what I might crudely call a “lecture,” in which he made grand leaps in logic with a grace on par with the finest improvisers I’ve heard, and his departure at the end of the piece was as mysterious as his entrance. Poof, he was gone.

5 Bill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers (The Village Vanguard, New York, May 15–27) Bill Frisell (who plays with Rudy Royston and Eyvind Kang as Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers) is a regular at New York’s jazz citadel, the Village Vanguard. Frisell is one of the most economical guitarists around, and he treats music as a three-dimensional entity, manipulating phrases with his pedals, making them repeat, or reverse, and folding the sound in on itself. His dynamic range—which stretches from Appalachian folk songs to Sam Cooke—pulls his listeners deep in, and a tiny venue like the Village Vanguard is the best place to see him.

6 Georgia Anne Muldrow (Weeksville Garden Party, Brooklyn, NY, July 14) Muldrow’s performance at this year’s Weeksville summer series was as real as they come. It was thrilling to experience her twilight set on a patch of grass that was originally purchased by a freed slave in 1838. Muldrow’s colorful vocalese is nonchalant, and she muses on the earth—a modern-day soul-electronica Joni Mitchell.

Azealia Banks’s 2012 video 212, directed by Vincent Tsang and Paul Labonte.

7 Azealia Banks, “212” (Interscope) This single is like a great Charlie Parker song, except much more blatantly vulgar. Everything in it is brilliant: the syncopation, the dynamics, the multiple lingos, the melodic release, her brazen delivery. This is pop music done right: It immediately takes over the body. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being fooled by how sexy she is, so I asked my wife, Alicia Hall Moran, to listen, and Alicia confirmed, “She has so many good ideas per second.”

8 Kris Davis, Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed) A freethinking, gifted pianist on the scene, Davis lives in each note that she plays. Her range is impeccable; she tackles prepared piano, minimalism, and jazz standards, all under one umbrella. I consider her an honorary descendant of Cecil Taylor and a welcome addition to the fold.

9 Karriem Riggins, Alone Together (Stones Throw) Riggins is an in-demand hip-hop producer and an equally in-demand jazz drummer. This album, his first solo recording, continues the tradition of important music evolving from Detroit (his hometown), blending multiple histories from Motown to techno to late 1990s hip-hop.

10 Claudia Quintet (Newport Jazz Festival 2012, August 5) This quintet is led by drummer John Hollenbeck, who, having spent many years working with Meredith Monk, is no stranger to experimentation. At Newport, his band was augmented by two phenomenal vocalists: Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling. This performance proved Hollenbeck to be a true master of textures.

Jason Moran, a pianist and composer based in New York, serves as Artistic Adviser for Jazz to the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.