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Part three of this week's countdown:
20. Cairo Gang, Tiny Rebels (Empty Cellar)
My pick for Chicago's best rock band last year released its second straight gem. Leader Emmett Kelly just seems to increase his lush harmonizing with bassist Ryan Weinstein and lead guitarist Sam Wagster, eclipsing the highs achieved in 2011 on Corner Man. The mid-tempo title track opens the record with ringing guitars that recall vintage Byrds, but the vocal harmonies carve out their own gorgeous space. There's an excellent cover of "Shivers," a tune Rowland S. Howard wrote as a member of the Boys Next Door with Nick Cave, but the originals are even better. I'm a little concerned that the Cairo Gang has had a scarce presence for the last half-year or so—I'd hate for a band this killer to vanish. My fingers are crossed for the future, especially with a record like this to remind of what I'd be missing.
19. Peter Evans, Zebulon (More is More)
The superhuman agility and mad-man chops of trumpeter Peter Evans have been well established for years now, but the dude manages to keep knocking me on my ass. This record, named for the defunct New York venue where it was recorded with bassist John Hébert and drummer Kassa Overall in March of 2012, is sort of his straight-ahead record in that the four extended pieces are built on changes—the opener "3625," for example, deploys and is named after one of the most widely used progressions in jazz, but here and on the other pieces, Evans pushes the structures to the breaking point, embracing their use as jazz building blocks, but refusing to be hemmed in by them. He uses some of his prodigious extended technique here and there, but ultimately this is a blowing record on steroids, yet one that never grows predictable.
18. Lucas Santtana, O Deus que Devasta Mas Tambén Cura (Mais Um Discos)
Lucas Santtana is a genuine auteur of Brazilian popular music, using every new album as a kind of stylistic or procedural exercise. He's made deep excursions into funk and dub, and on his previous record all of the sounds were generated by acoustic guitars—including the beats. With his latest record he made a straight-up modern Brazilian-pop record with slick full-band arrangements wrapped around his typically gorgeous melodies and seductive singing.
16. Cave, Threace (Drag City)
Chicago's finest trance merchants moved on from Krautrock reinventions to ultra-lean, dry funk. No one will confuse Cave with Cameo or anything, as the rhythmic propulsion is less about fat bass lines than meticulous guitar licks intersecting in precise constellations. Of course, the machine-like drumming of Rex McMurry gives Cooper Crane and new guitarist Jeremy Freeze plenty of leeway. The band used the 70s recordings of Miles Davis as a reference point, using the studio as a scalpel to pare down to the bare minimum—the results sound nothing like Davis in the end. While the five pieces are fanatically distilled, as each one progresses, an ever-changing array of microscopic details allows the music to suck the listener in beyond its hypnotic power.
15. Samuel Blaser Consort in Motion, A Mirror to Machaut (Songlines)
The first album Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser made with his Consort in Motion was named in part for the participation of drummer Paul Motian in a project that inventively recast the Baroque music of Monteverdi, Marini, and Frescobaldi in a chamber jazz setting—sometimes the pieces were merely rearranged for the quartet, while on other pieces the original material was practically invisible. The group's follow-up features Gerry Hemingway trying to fill the shoes of Motian, with pianist Russ Lossing and bassist Drew Gress joined by new member Joachim Badenhorst on reeds. This time out the repertoire is built around French medieval composers Guillaume de Machaut and Guillaume Dufay with even better results. The group has settled masterfully into this interpretive context, taking more chances.
13. Joe Lovano Us Five, Cross Culture (Blue Note)
Joe Lovano has long been one of the most skilled, tasteful, and versatile saxophonists in jazz, but this excellent quintet has allowed his adventurous side to come out. It's hardly a free-jazz record, but stoked by twin drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, his harmonic genius and rhythmic ingenuity are on full display. The group's original bassist Esperanza Spalding only appears on a handful of tracks, but her replacement Peter Slavov has no problem getting the job done. My favorite mainstream jazz record of 2013.
12. Okkyung Lee, Ghil (Ideologic Organ)
It seems like the Korean cellist Okkyung Lee focuses on a remarkable side of her rich musicality with every record she makes, and this one, a bracing collaboration with Norwegian sound artist Lasse Marhaug, captures her at her most ferocious. Using a primitive old cassette recorder, Marhaug recorded Lee's astringent improvisations in a wide variety of contexts to create shifting levels of ambience, tonal purity, and distortion. You can hear the lines she's playing on her instrument beneath the layers of noise and grime, but the thrill is experiencing the richly varied transformations.
Read about the top ten.
Michael Bates' Outside Sources, Live in New York (Greenleaf)
Hilary Hahn, Bach Concertos (Deutsche Grammophon)
Mills Blue Rhythm Band, 1936-1937 (Chronological Classics)
Alexander Tucker, Dorwytch (Thrill Jockey)
Various artists, Os Ossos do Barão sound track (Som Livre)