New Sounds Year in Review 2014: 3

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The New Sounds Staff of one finally weighs in with a year-end new music list. It's about time too, since being on tour with a metal band for all of December is only an excuse for so long... Anyhow, the best part about being so tardy to compile an end-of-year list is being reminded of all the stuff I forgot, thanks to so many other stellar lists out there. Special nods to my New Sounds colleague Isabel and our tireless New Sounds Intern Emma and their excellent roundups & my boss John Schaefer, to The Quietus for raising awareness of things not even heard, Q2 Music for eloquent writing on new music releases that we didn't want to duplicate, jazzy discoveries from Bird Is the Worm, and countless other more timely critics from both major and minor publications. Here goes:

Stein Urheim: Stein Urheim (Hubro)
The Norwegian guitarist creates expansive instrumental music for contemplation, while at the same time injecting unexpected doses of playful and weird textures from folk music traditions of all kinds. Comprised of a whole lot of stringed instruments (slide tamboura, charango, bouzouki, gu qin) hailing from the world over, these five goofily spacey tunes can veer from virtuosic runs of a fingerboard to hummable spaghetti western soundtracks.  Overall, the music is a direct descendant of imagined world music rooted in the blues.


Glenn Kotche: Adventureland (Cantaloupe Records)
Drummer and composer Glenn Kotche released a record this past March, featuring Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, and Gamelan Galak Tika.  (Note: Kotche is also a personal drum-hero to the NSAPA.) One of the standout works was “Anomaly,”  a thoughtful, delicate, expressive, and smart seven-part opus, and the first piece he composed outside the realm of percussion.

Kotche and Cantaloupe later released a companion EP, "Fantasyland," in 2014 which features material and performances that went into the making of "Adventureland." The EP includes the 15 minute "Double Fantasy" which provided the basis for his “Triple Fantasy” - an ingeniously spliced suite of performances by Kronos Quartet and Chicago’s eighth blackbird ensemble.


Zion80 plays John Zorn’s Book of Angels Vol. 22 : Adramelech (Tzadik)
Zion80 is a 13-piece horn-driven Jewish Afrobeat party band led by guitarist Jon Madof. Their name is a nod to Nigerian musical pioneer Fela Kuti, but Zion80 explores Jewish music – from Carlebach to Zorn and everything in between-through the Afrobeat looking glass. On "Adramelech," Zion80 sparks it up with Madof’s creative arrangements of 8 tunes from John Zorn’s “Book of Angels” from Masada Book II . Hear "Metatron" live:


Chancha via Circuito: Amansara (Wonderwheel Recordings)
Music by Chancha via Circuito is so far perhaps best known as the soundtrack to which Walter White buries his millions in the desert in the final season of "Breaking Bad."  But on this charming and danceable 2014 release, there's much more South American "folktronica" from the Argentine producer Pedro Canales who merges Brazilian rhythms, Paraguayan harp, and Andean mysticism glazed with a post-dubstep finish.   These creatively sampled, percussion-heavy rainforest dancefloor tracks encourage repeated listens.


The Cellar and Point: Ambit (Cuneiform)
Featuring members of Jack Quartet, Mantra Percussion Ensemble, and other notable new music ensembles,  drummer/producer Joseph Branciforte, and guitarist Christopher Botta, take what they want from Wu Tang, Autechre, LIgeti and Webern in this downtowny garage-chamber jazz-tronica,  in all the best ways.  Angular and appealing combinations of banjo and vibes, or sometimes violin, cello, and guitar with drumkit construct disorienting grooves and melodies while straddling all kinds of genre lines. Win. AND no fusion grimace.
Here's "arc" from "Ambit" embedded in BirdIsTheWorm's review:


John Luther Adams: Become Ocean (Cantaloupe Music)
There is a steady and inevitable pull of John Luther Adams’s "Become Ocean", a forty-two-minute piece for large orchestra, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2014. The three different musical waves, each a huge crescendo, majestically surge and recede, engulfing a listener. In titling the work, John Luther Adams also draws attention to the environmental reality of the melting of polar ice and the rising of the sea levels, and warns that pretty soon, we human animals may find ourselves once again becoming ocean sooner than we imagine.


Erik Friedlander:  Nighthawks (Skipstone Records)
Friedlander's cello swings, aches, ponders, sublimates. He's joined by his roots music-based Bonebridge quartet of slide guitarist Doug Wamble, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin. The record, titled for one of Edward Hopper's most famous paintings depicting four people in a diner late at night, was written during the powerless days following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The music ranges from the eerie quiet of candle-lit solitude, to bluesy country folkiness, to patient wisdom, and back with some jaunty strutting; all is anchored by lovely melodies that carry the weight of the world, yet still manage to be uplifting.


Anna Clyne: The Violin (Via Records)
"The Violin" is a collaboration between British-born, U.S.-based composer Anna Clyne and visual artist Josh Dorman (See VIDEO trailer). Amy Kauffman and Cornelius Dufallo perform Clyne’s seven poignant and arresting compositions on violin with layers of sound and fragments of spoken poetry (written by her mother), performed by Clyne herself.  There's a quote of a Bach violin sonata, hints at traditional Celtic fiddle and/or Appalachian folk fiddling, as well as hints of minimalism, and great elegiac beauty.  Note: "Rest These Hands,"  just had its Carnegie Hall premiere in early December 2014. 


Matt Ulery: In the Ivory (Greenleaf Music)
This double album of American-rooted "chamber jazz" by Chicago-based bassist/composer and bandleader, features new music ensemble eighth blackbird, smoky-voiced singer Grazyna Auguscik, and other guests. Ulery confidently and artfully blends jazz, American minimalism, Eastern European folk music and romanticism. The appeal for me came first from the genre-confounding, then I got swept up in the music's elegantly understated grandeur, whether instrumental or vocal.   Standout tracks for me are the instrumental "Sweet Bitter" and art song-y "There's a Reason and Thousand Ways."   


The Gloaming: The Gloaming (Brassland)
The Gloaming is a collaboration between five extraordinary musicians: gifted Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill, hardanger fiddle innovator Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Irish master singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, and New York pianist Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman).  With simple combinations of instruments and vocals, the Gloaming delivers  spellbindingly beautiful tunes, rooted in traditional reels, jigs and ballads, yet somehow evolved – transformed, really. The band’s goal might well be to captivate, stun, and draw you into their mystical music circle.  This record is a delight, and one I have returned to most often throughout the year. Seeing the band perform live in the Greene Space in June was another musical highlight of 2014.
Watch the entire 2014 concert from the Greene Space:


Covers & Arrangements
From Another World: A Tribute To Bob Dylan (Buda Musique)
Back in February came this most daring and excellent new world music tribute to Bob Dylan, produced by Alain Weber.  Weber is also a founding member of Musicians of the Nile, who are a group of gypsy musicians from Egypt.  His pairings of artists and song choices are especially inclusive, yet well-chosen, creatively bringing together many world religions and cultures. The record is a must-have for Dylan fans and world music explorers alike.
Listen to some audio highlights on this New Sounds show.  
And here's "Mr. Tambourine Man," as covered by Purna Das Baul & Bapi Das Baul:


Asphalt Orchestra Plays the Pixies Surfer Rosa (Cantaloupe)
It's hard to sing more praises for this record, but I can try.  None of the covers is a faithful rendition, and each arrangement improves upon its source material.  The payoffs are rarely instant, but the waits are definitely worth it.  For fans of marching bands, the Pixies, Bang on a Can, and adventurous arrangements.
A few of the tracks premiered on this New Sounds show of Pixies Covers & Arrangements.  But just in case you missed it, here's "Bone Machine" (arr. Peter Hess.):


A special 2013 mention : Aya Nishina: Flora (Tzadik)
Only just discovered by us in 2014 was the The New York- and Sendai, Japan-based composer Aya Nishina’s work, “Flora.” The work is a layered vocal offering of several singers, dedicated to the memory of March 11, 2011 (also called the Great Sendai Earthquake or Great Tōhoku Earthquake) and features the voices of composer/bandleader Becca Stevens, composer Monika Heidemann, vocalist/composer/bandleader Sara Serpa,  and jazz singer Gretchen Parlato.  The serene choral experience is somehow glacial, yet inviting, like a snowy evening landscape lit by a sliver of moon.

Another 2013 special mention: Monika Roscher Big Band: Failure in Wonderland (Enja)
Again, it took us long enough to catch on to the German-based experimental 18-piece Monika Roscher Bigband, known to perform in hoods and masks.  Roscher is a German electric guitarist, singer, and big band leader, of an atypical big band, which sometimes incorporates more exciting, innovative possibilities that might have come from techno or punk, as well as a screaming guitar solo here that is absolutely hall-of-fame worthy: