Peter Margasak's favorite albums of 2015, numbers 30 through 21

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The countdown continues. Read about numbers 40 through 31 here.

30) Ricardo Dias Gomes, -11 (RVNG Intl.)
On his low-key solo debut, Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Ricardo Dias Gomes—known best, by those who know him at all, as bassist in the excellent band Caetano Veloso has led for the past decade or so—creates a weirdly hermetic sound world, alternating between tender, introspective ballads, rude electronic grooves, and dissonant ambience. I sometimes wish for more follow-through, but I’ve come to love the album's diaristic intimacy and rawness.

29) Olivia Chaney, The Longest River (Nonesuch)
Olivia Chaney made quite a statement with her overdue debut album, which is rooted in traditional British folk but reaches out to make space for influences as diverse as nueva cancion linchpin Violeta Parra, Norwegian singer-songwriter Sidsel Endresen, and Baroque composer Henry Purcell. This variety is less about Chaney’s eclecticism or versatility than it is about a vision that locates common threads in such disparate material (which she complements with impressive original songs). There’s as much Joni Mitchell in her music as there is Anne Briggs, but she’s not biting anyone’s style.

28) Tal National, Zoy Zoy (Fat Cat)
Niger guitar band Tal National have cemented a vital relationship with Chicago recording engineer Jamie Carter, who’s traveled to Niamey multiple times to make three albums with the group, each better than the last. The group amalgamate guitar traditions from across Africa into a bright, energetic, soulful sound, its vibrant lattice of bubbling, ringing lines coalescing into a giddy constellation of rhythm and melody (Tal National use several great singers with varied styles) that's driven by forceful kit drumming.

27) Necks, Vertigo (Northern Spy)
Veteran Australian piano trio the Necks are famous for the way their hypnotic, powerful concerts build slowly from tiny improvised kernels into epic journeys, but they've increasingly been exploring and shaping those impulses in the studio as well, rather than simply attempting to capture the feel of their live performances. The single harrowing track on Vertigo uses plenty of electronics and overdubbing, shaping its churning drone with scatterings of fragile melody, thickets of sludgy texture, and ripples of feedback. The Necks have yet to exhaust their old modus operandi, but now they have a second one they can use for recordings.

26) Ensemble Signal, Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (Harmonia Mundi)
This classic minimalist work by Steve Reich dates from the mid-70s, and plenty of recordings already exist. But New York’s Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman, execute the pulsing masterpiece with such crystalline clarity, rhythmic sharpness, and harmonic cohesion that it feels utterly new, like a jolt of neon electricity that doesn’t quit—until it does.

25) Daniel Bachman, River (Three Lobed)
Virginia guitarist Daniel Bachman maintains a rare devotion to fingerstyle tradition—he long ago absorbed the style's fundamentals from the work of American Primitive don John Fahey, and he keeps drinking in more from our country's folk legacy (to say nothing of traditions from around the globe). River is his best record yet: he doubles down on the music he loves rather than leaving it behind as so many of his cohorts have done.

24) Christian Wallumrød, Pianokammer (Hubro)
On his first solo album, Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød makes a dramatic break from the sui generis chamber-music sound he’s developed with the ensembles he leads. On some pieces he generates gentle clusters of overtones, like shifting clouds that drift and overlap, while elsewhere his playing suggests church music (albeit with judicious electronic processing) or borrows more from folk, colliding left-hand figures reminiscent of boogie-woogie with a patient lyricism that recalls Keith Jarrett. A work of lapidary perfection.

23) Nordic Affect, Clockworking (Sono Luminus)
This Icelandic quartet perform a mesmerizing program of new work by female composers from their homeland, conveying a contemplative patience and a feeling for the natural world. One highlight is “Shades of Silence” by rising Icelandic star Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a rapturous, starkly beautiful concatenation of drones, muted thwacks, and simulated inhalations and exhalations. Decades ago the Sugarcubes proved to the rest of the world that Icelandic rock was its own original creation—now Nordic Affect promises to do the same for the country's new-music community.

22) Steve Coleman & the Council of Balance, Synovial Joints (Pi)
The music of saxophonist Steve Coleman has long relied on tightly interlocking polyrhythms to drive his contemporary variations on bebop phrasing—and to pull this off, he needs nimble musicians who can really click together. That made me dubious about Synovial Joints, for which he assembled a 20-strong orchestra—the odds didn't seem good that so many musicians could maintain such a high level of precision. The album and the four-part suite at its center are named for the kind of encapsulated, self-lubricated joint that's common in the human body, an apt metaphor considering how the layers of Coleman’s compositions make snug yet flexible connections. The large group, named the Council of Balance, knocks it out of the park, providing a dazzling new perspective on his music.

21) Alexander Hawkins Trio, Alexander Hawkins Trio (Alexander Hawkins Music)
British pianist Alexander Hawkins is an erudite improviser who embraces the entirety of jazz history—he's that rare European player who doesn’t need to denigrate or shake off American traditions in order to celebrate his own. He’s incredibly versatile, bringing something special to every context, and I’ve never been more satisfied with his work than on this nimble trio album—he expresses clear affection for Ellington, Monk, and Herbie Nichols, among others, even as he stakes out his own turf.


Today’s playlist:

Tomeka Reid, Soundtrack to Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
Jim Black Trio, Actuality (Winter & Winter)
Sarah Cahill, Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants (Pinna)
Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako (Sterns)
Oran Etkin, Gathering Light (Motema)


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