We recently posted Jawbox leader J. Robbins‘ year-end list (before he announced a new solo album & tour), and now here’s a list from Jawbox drummer Zach Barocas. As you may know, Zach makes jazz/chamber music as Zach Barocas New Freedom Sound–he released Second Freedom: Every God Needs a Witness this year–and his list leans in that direction, with André 3000, Angel Bat Dawid, Thandi Ntuli, Matana Roberts, and more. Check out his full list with commentary on each pick below.
Zach Barocas’ 10 Favorite Albums of 2023
André 3000, “New Blue Sun”
Each era brings its own stresses and solutions and they always need a soundtrack. Current strains of easy listening harken to spiritual jazz, ambient sounds, new age recordings of the relatively recent past, and “New Blue Sun” is typical of such pursuits. That André 3000 ended up making a record like this isn’t as much of a surprise as one might have thought: his work has always been attuned to the interests of a given moment, his style always somewhere among the past and the future. One of two Carlos Niño productions on this list.
Angel Bat Dawid, “Requiem for Jazz”
Accepting provocation is the purview of a certain kind of listener, one who understands music to be part of an education, a dialogue. Provoking listeners is the purview of a certain kind of musician who seeks acknowledgment and communion more than retaliation. Artistic provocation is a way of securing one’s voice and message. Ms. Dawid is a provocateur of the highest order, devoted, eloquent, powerful. A conjurer of loudness and volume, darkness and light.
Peter Gabriel released this album as singles throughout the year, two mixes of each song. I’ve found some of the songs benefit from the “dark-side” mixes which now make up disc 2 and some from the “bright-side” mixes of disc 1. Some of these songs are up there with his best — not his best, of course, but up there with them. I’m a longstanding and devoted fan of his work, thrilled to have this much new material from him.
Milford Graves (Arthur Doyle, Hugh Glover), “Children of the Forest“ (1976/2023)
The term “free jazz” only went so far, and in most current improvising circles has fallen out of usage altogether. I believe the abandonment of the term began almost at its inception with the work of Milford Graves. He was an inexhaustible and powerful drummer and this set captures his spirit in the midst of one of the many heights-of-his-powers over the course of his decades-long career. Doyle and Glover keep pace but I picked this up for Graves, whose playing I imagine drove his collaborators to their own new levels of play and spirit.
Michael Kevin Jones & Augustín Maruri. “Peking Gate” (2010/2023)
This album consists, as far as I can tell, of arrangements of both Chinese folk pieces and Jiang Wenye’s “16 Bagatelles” (1936). I know virtually nothing else about this set except that a remastered version of these recordings was released this year. I find these performances incredibly rich for duets, resonant, playful, harmonious, emotional, curious.
Thandi Ntuli, “Rainbow Revisited”
I’m not familiar with Thandi Ntuli’s other work but will be soon. Her piano playing and voice lend themselves to a variety of spaces: rehearsed, played through, and polished; an air of extended interludes; the rush of moving between train cars, perhaps; plaintive, simply beautiful. This is the other Carlos Niño production on this list.
Hania Rani, “On Giacometti”
This record distinguished itself to me immediately as a step outside of customary electronic music, contemporary ambient, and new classical music. I don’t know the film this music accompanies, but Giacometti has endured as a favorite artist of mine, for both his art’s immediate recognizability and his emergence as a clear voice in an increasingly impossible time. Rani’s music here is reverent, deferent to the seriousness and beauty of Giacometti’s spirit.
Matana Roberts, “Coin Coin: Chapter Five: In the Garden…”
I’ve been following along with Roberts’s “Coin Coin” journey since the first chapter. Each subsequent chapter has introduced a further look into their history — familial, personal, cultural, musical — with some variation in form and instrumentation. It plays well, too, as a single work, each chapter being a slight kaleidoscopic turn, a variation on the bigger picture. More poetry than straight narrative in all ways. A true inspiration.
Arthur Russell, ““Picture of Bunny Rabbit”
Russell’s fan base has grown considerably in the last decade or so as his estate releases recordings he left behind in various states of completion. It paints an unusual portrait, since it’s not clear what of this work was finished and what wasn’t. I trust his executors have an idea but to me the magic is in the nearly-there quality of these pieces, which might ring like “World of Echo” songs, or just come and go, dreamy, doppler music, seemingly spontaneous utterances and cello bursts, synths, guitars, whatever was handy.
Abdul Wadud, “By Myself” (1979/2023)
All music is experiment and our taste is an expression of how we react to it. Some experiments are more complex than others, some might use unfamiliar elements or familiar ones in unfamiliar ways. This won’t work for everyone but the people for whom it does work, it works quite well. Wadud’s experiments are largely unrivaled, not only for his talent and dedication to the cello, but because until he’d made his mark, there were no other musicians like him, no other notable cellists coming out of the creative/spiritual music or free jazz scenes. He’s the Pablo Casals of cosmic cello, which is a pretty big deal to those of us for whom this sort of thing works.
Zach Barocas New Freedom Sound, “Second Freedom: Every God Has a Witness”
I include my own release here because I’d be remiss not to promote my collaborators. Featured players for this recording were myself on vocals and percussion; Mark Cisneros on tenor saxophone, stritch, flute, and piccolo (his horn arrangements are essential to the piece); Amy Domingues on viol da gamba and vocals; J. Robbins on piano and electric piano; Gordon Withers on cello; and Lenny Young on Oboe. Aiming for something different with this piece. I hope you listen and I hope you enjoy it.