I polled myself, and my team of accountants have tallied the following results, in alphabetical order. As in every year, many excellent releases beyond these streaked through my auricles. But you gotta stop somewhere, and I decided on 33, which is a mystical number. I count at least 12 religious references (in either artist name or record title), which may or may not be representative of the industry at large.
THE TOP 11
Blotted Science, “The Machinations of Dementia” (Eclectic Electric). Ron Jarzombek, Alex Webster and Charlie Zeleny resolved to crank the steeliest, most radical metal instrumentals in history. And by gawd, they did it, musically and conceptually.
Amir ElSaffar, “Two Rivers” (Pi). Speaking of concepts, Iraqi-American trumpeter ElSaffar (along with Rudresh Mahanthappa on sax) figured out how to make avant jazz and Middle Eastern tradition flow parallel and together like the Tigris and Euphrates, churning deep and alive with primordial fishes.
Heaven & Hell, “Radio City Music Hall Live!” (Rhino DVD and CD). The best metal tour of the year must’ve made it easier to make the best metal video of the year. Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio, take a bow.
The Jazz Icons DVD series (Naxos). Everyone I know who has seen and heard these performances, collected from European concert stages and TV studios mostly in the 1960s, has tripped over his/her tongue raving about them. As testimonial, I bought a bunch of complete sets of this year’s eight-disc set for my friends. Talkin’ ‘bout John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, Dave Brubeck. I’ve reviewed three here on MetalJazz already, and let me say a few words about the Ellington DVD now. “Holland 1958” preserves 80 minutes of footage from the Concertgebouw. Though I’ve plumbed many live Duke records, the visuals here reveal the slick methodology of an Ellington concert, as the featured performers -- Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves and the rest, all done up in tuxes -- switch places as efficiently as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The arrangements were mutating all the time; in ’58, Billy Strayhorn (not on the stand this night) must’ve been going through a clarinet phase, as you frequently hear three licorice sticks at a time foregrounding wonderfully cruel yet glossy modern harmonies. Favorite transition: “Harlem Air Shaft” into “Sophisticated Lady.” For 40 years, there was never a time when the Ellington ensemble was less than the greatest big band in the world, and this was no exception.
Groundtruther, “Altitude” (Thirsty Ear). A gusher of 1968-influenced fun from Charlie Hunter, Bobby Previte and special guest John Medeski. You will boogaloo.
Marilyn Manson, “Eat Me Drink Me” (Interscope). Layers of gorgeous depression, Crazy Horse rhythms and the skyrocket guitar of Tim Skold. Emotional pain brings out the best in Manson.
Praxis, “Tennessee 2004” (ROIR). Buckethead, Bill Laswell, Brain and Bernie Worrell go nuts, and when dudes like these catch fire, they burn down the tree.
The Red Chord, “Prey for Eyes” (Metal Blade). “It Came From Over There” ranks as one of the year’s top prog-metal epic tracks, but seeing them live at House of Blues deepened the layers of amazement that surround these microcounterpoint masters of metal abstraction.
David Torn, “Prezens” (ECM). Electronic guitar (etc.) music with the graded textures of a Tamayo painting. Pure art.
McCoy Tyner, “Quartet” (McCoy Tyner Music). What a dope I am for letting this wondrous record languish in my bag o’ discs unheard for most of the year. The four corners of Tain Watts, Christian McBride, Joe Lovano and Tyner -- what cosmic balance. Lovano breathes the most effortlessly twisted tenor I’ve ever heard from him, shades of Shepp. Tyner plays piano with spare dignity. I take back everything bad I ever said about him.
WASP, “Dominator” (Demolition). Blackie Lawless has never made a mediocre record. Formulaic, sure -- the ravers, the epics, the big ballads, the same three chords. But rock, real rock, totally committed. Can’t wait to see him do his 1992 opera “The Crimson Idol” next month.
ANOTHER 22 THAT RULED
Sebastian Bach, “Angel Down” (Caroline).
Behemoth, “The Apostasy” (Century Media).
Cephalic Carnage, “Xenosapien” (Relapse).
Cosmosquad, “Acid Test” (Marmaduke).
Danzig, “The Lost Tracks” (Evilive).
Dimmu Borgir, “In Sorte Diaboli” (Nuclear Blast).
Dir En Grey, “Clever Sleazoid” (Warcon).
Dub Trio, “Cool Out and Coexist” (ROIR).
Exhausted Prayer, “Looks Down in the Gathering Shadow” (Dwell).
Gov’t Mule, “Live at Roseland Ballroom 1995” (Evil Teen).
The Haunted, “The Dead Eye” (Century Media).
High on Fire, “Death Is This Communion” (Relapse).
Himsa, “Summon in Thunder” (Century Media).
Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Matt Wilson, “Big Picture” (Cryptogramophone).
Nile, “Ithyphallic” (Nuclear Blast).
Norma Jean, “Redeemer” (Tooth & Nail).
Otep, “The Ascension” (Koch).
“Panzerballett” (Bad Land).
Planet X, “Quantum” (Inside Out U.S.)
Six Feet Under, “Commandment” (Metal Blade).
Leni Stern, “Africa” (LSR).