Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best in Music for 2012

Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney perform at the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief

For me, this past year in music marked the last stand for the old guard of rock ‘n roll, the consistency of pop and the evolving world of jazz. The old guard for the 12-12-12 benefit concert where Mick Jagger exclaimed “This has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled,” signified the so-called staying power of The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Paul McCartney and The Who whose connection with the victims of Hurricane Sandy was as thin as Chinese paper. Even though they played well, I was struck by how disconnected their music was from the event. For instance, it was a rather poor choice for McCartney to include a full-on, pyrotechnical presentation of “Live and Let Die” to an audience who just came through a devastating natural disaster. But that didn’t seem to bother the 40-plus-years-of-age audience or deter people from donating their hard earned money.

Pop music continued on its merry way with Canadian’s Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Bieber racing up the single’s charts. Yet the big seller of 2012 was Gotye’s “Someone That I Used To Know” which spent 24 weeks in the Billboard Top 10. Maroon 5, Fun and Rhiana also made some noise, but this year didn’t have the standout voice of Adele until the end of the year when she released the James Bond movie song, “Skyfall.”

Jazz still lingered large in 2012 with significant records from Ravi Coltrane, Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling who are now becoming the seasoned veterans of the new generation of younger musicians. Students! The faculty is in great form.

Finally, 2012 saw the passing of one of pop’s biggest stars, Whitney Houston, someone who could hold a candle to the fabulous Etta James (she died in January). But we also lost Dave Brubeck, Johnny Otis and Ravi Shankar, Doc Watson and the late-great Levon Helm: musicians who invested their lives in an art form of which we are all the more richer.

The albums I've listed below stood out for interpretation, sound quality, thoughtfulness and the element of surprise. All of them have been previously reviewed in Critics At Large:

Voice of Ages by The Chieftains

It was hard to believe that this record failed to be nominated for a Grammy in the World Music category, but it didn’t make the short list. Pity. It’s a beautiful mix of the new and old featuring a long list of great, young musicians with the very sage Irishmen.

The Grifter’s Hymnal by Ray Wylie Hubbard

One of the most sincere records I’ve ever heard; honest, forthright; in your face like a cold slap and it kicks!

Tempest by Bob Dylan

Some Dylan records are for lying down and avoiding. This isn’t one of them.

Enfant Terribles by Bill Frisell, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron

Spontaneous, thoughtful, humorous and grounded.

The Time Jumpers (self-titled)

Sometimes the most obvious choices are the best ones. This is country swing as it should be played. Nominated for a Grammy, it’s the only “traditional” album of the five in the 2013 category.

Within A Song by John Abercrombie Quartet

Music that breathes life.

Reverie by Joe Henry

Storytelling at its finest from one great producer and songwriter.

Who’s Feeling Young Now? By Punch Brothers

Garage band music set against the Appalachia Mountains.

Ode and Where Do You Start by the Brad Mehldau Trio

A holistic study in musical contrasts. (These guys are good)

Me, Myself & I by Kenny Werner

Earl Hines + Erik Satie = Kenny Werner

Re-issue of the Year:  
Ram by Paul McCartney (Deluxe Box Set Edition)

Macca’s second record gets the full treatment: Ram in stereo; Ram in mono plus the fabulous Percy Thrillington’s instrumental arrangement, courtesy of Richard Hewson.


Music Book of the Year: Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young

Self-penned book of the year by an aging, yet still dynamic rock star who isn’t Pete Townshend.

John Corcelli is a musician and broadcaster. His radio documentary, with Kevin Courrier, The Other Me: The Avant-Garde Music of Paul McCartney will be broadcast December 30 on CBC Radio's Inside the Music.

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