Occasionally on the record, the roiling comes to the fore, and you have an aggressive, hard-hitting melody. And then the roiling goes back underneath. Living near one of the Great Lakes, I think he’s spot-on: mostly, Lake Michigan is smooth, but if the winds hit it just right, it can wash over Lake Shore Drive.
1. The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring
]. I guess you’re allowed to disagree with my previous four picks. But this is unquestionably the best album of 2014, and here I will brook no dissent.
The Rite of Spring is one of the greatest compositions from the 20th century (and a pretty amazing ballet). If you’re not familiar with it, you need to listen to it, but you also need to read about its premier
to understand how radical it was.
The Bad Plus is a jazz trio (piano, bass, drums). They make pretty interesting and aggressive music, and most of the time it works well. Here, though, they don’t jazzify the song–they play it completely straight. And the three of them (plus, at the beginning, some electronics to replicate the beginning of the song, which sounds like the orchestra warming up) manage to incorporate a whole orchestra in their (not overdubbed) recording. Like, they get every theme, every nuance. There’s no cheating, and nothing is left out. And this is three people playing an orchestral piece.
I said the best album of 2014; I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better 21st century album, frankly.
Possible alternatives; I really like these albums, but haven’t spent the same amount of time with them:
Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
Cecile McLoren Salvant, WomanChild
Jason Moran, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller
Most Interesting (and Supremely Listenable) Album of 2014:
Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Blue
[No Spotify; Miles Davis’s album on Spotify
; one track
]. In 1959, Miles Davis released A Kind of Blue, an album that radically changed the course of jazz (and an album that every household, even those who hate jazz, should own, both for cultural literacy and because even my sister–an avowed hater of jazz–likes it). Basically, Miles said, in the past, jazz songs have changed chords every two to four beats. What if I write songs that keep the same tonality for a lot longer–songs with only a couple chords, that change every sixteen or more measures? He had a stunning band, and they recorded a stunning album.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing decided to remake the album. So they did: each member of the band transcribed (that is, listened to and figured out) every note on the album. Then they rerecorded it, note for note. Also, tone for tone: on “So What,” when John Coltrane comes in, there’s this really interesting echo on his saxophone. MOPDtK has recreated the echo when Irabagon comes in with the solo.
They admit it’s not perfect: there are a couple points where they don’t get the inflection or the tone perfect. But I don’t hear those spots in my casual listening.
So what’s tremendously interesting about this project is a major question it raises: is it jazz to play Kind of Blue note for note? One of the central aspects of jazz is improvisation; Miles’s band was improvising when they recorded the album. Miles claims he didn’t even let them see the music until they were in the recording studio. And clearly Miles’s album is jazz.
But is it still jazz if it’s not improvised?
Whether or not it is, though this album is unnecessary, it’s amazing. It sounds good, and it raises real art-philosophical questions, in the most virtuosic way possible.
[fn] Note that, where an album is available on Spotify, I’ve included a link. If it’s not available on Spotify, I’ve at least included a link to a full review of the album.