A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.
Peter Margasak, Reader music critic
Yoko Ono, Fly A vital entry in Secretly Canadian’s ongoing Yoko Ono reissue series, this sprawling 1971 double LP with the Plastic Ono Band (including John Lennon, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, and Klaus Voormann) captures Ono spreading her wings, spanning post-Fluxus weirdness and classic rock ‘n’ roll. The nearly motorik grooves of “Mindtrain” propel some of her earliest, wildest vocal experimentation. She also goes deep on the largely a cappella title track, while on “Mrs. Lennon,” she settles into tender piano balladry. A grueling masterpiece.
Pan Daijing, Lack No electronic album has thrilled or creeped me out more than this jarring, richly imagined 2017 salvo from Berlin-based Chinese artist Pan Daijing. She weaves a sumptuous fabric from seething feedback, floor-rumbling bass, internal piano scrapes, operatic singing (from soprano Yanwen Xiong), her own processed screams and guttural vocal fry, and a kaleidoscope of ethereal, harrowing electronic textures. It throbs, floats, and corkscrews in taut, surprising ways.
Sonar Quartett, Helmut Zapf: String Quartets On this 2017 album, German ensemble Sonar Quartett tackles the four diverse works that German composer Helmut Zapf wrote for string quartet between 1984 and 2013. The earliest piece explores intervals and the splay of individual lines, and the most recent, Verschwommene Ränder—Neun Bagatellen, uses brief, richly textured abstract bagatelles to facilitate discrete studies without concern for overarching structure.
Peter is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Tim Stine, jazz guitarist and leader of the Tim Stine Trio
Supersilent, 1-3 Is it jazz? I don’t care. I’m a sucker for Nordic improvising, and Supersilent are my favorite—especially this triple “live in the studio” album from 1997. I knew about their trumpeter, Arve Henriksen, before I’d heard the group: he has several albums on Rune Grammofon that border on being too chill, but Supersilent is anything but. These guys aren’t afraid of being funky while improvising, and to me, that’s really free—in a way most improvisers aren’t. Everything is fair game: backbeats, dubby bass lines, skronk-ass noise, shakuhachi/trumpet howls. Check out Supersilent live with John Paul Jones in Oslo from 2013 on YouTube.
Helmet, Meantime Yes, I know it’s old. I can’t get over it. Like so many midwestern 16-year-olds, I heard this in high school and loved it right away. Page Hamilton’s distorted guitar is my favorite guitar tone ever. It’s super in-your-face, no reverb, mixed way out front. Also the album came out on Interscope, a label that was doing mostly rap at the time, which made it seem more special. Released in 1992, it just turned 25—is Meantime classic rock now?
Michael Gregory Jackson, Clarity On this spectacular 1976 quartet record with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, reedist Oliver Lake, and saxophonist David Murray, bandleader Michael Gregory Jackson plays mostly acoustic guitar. The great compositions (a few through-composed) and interesting improvisations feature lots of flute plus one of my favorite textural combos, acoustic guitar and alto sax. Worth several listens.
Tim is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Matthew Lux, bassist
Bottle Tree, Bottle Tree The soon-to-be-legendary Bottle Tree show at the Empty Bottle last summer was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. Their self-titled record on the wonderful International Anthem label captures all their best qualities. A.M. Frison’s remarkable voice, Tommaso Moretti’s drumming, and the deep, deep constructs of Ben Lamar Gay make for an intoxicating combination.
Justin Walter, Unseen Forces Mr. Walter’s music is what I call rich. Take that however you like. His utilization of the rarely-seen-in-the-wild Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) imbues his soundscapes with phrasing that’s unusual for what is ostensibly “electronic music.” Mr. Walter is from Ann Arbor, where it seems that something in the water has created a generation of some of the best musicians America has to offer these days, including Matt Bauder, Toby Summerfield, Tim Haldeman, and Colin Stetson. This is unique and personal music that I enjoy greatly.
Thollem McDonas, Meeting at the Parting Place Thollem (he seems to prefer using his first name alone) is just about my favorite pianist of my generation. His criminally underappreciated music defies genre. Really. Contemporary classical, jazz, free improv, and rock all coexist happily in Thollem’s hands. I once saw him almost destroy a nine-foot grand piano with just the intensity of his playing. I like pianos by themselves especially, and this is a solo piano record.