It’s that time of year, and I’m as susceptible to cornball ideas as the next music lover—and as susceptible to delusions of taste-making value as the next music critic. So, here it is: a list of my ten favorite albums of 2010. I welcome dissent, since I will get it anyway.
1. Jeremy Denk: Jeremy Denk Plays Ives
Piano Sonatas no. 1 and 2 (Concord) played with stunning originality, ferocity, and humor.
2. Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
Loopy utopian Afro-futurist nonsense made sexy and irresistibly danceable.
3. Henry Threadgill: The Complete Novus/Columbia Recordings
Eight CD’s of vintage music from one of the deans of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music. It still surprises.
4. Geri Allen: Flying Toward the Sound
A lyrical piano suite tenuously conceived as an homage to Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock.
5. Ralph Alessi: Cognitive Dissonance
Rigorous but fanciful jazz by a vastly under-appreciated trumpeter and composer.
6. Kayne West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Can his music ever be as magnificent as he says it is? No, but this is scarily close, and the lyrics are strong by any standard.
7. Bill Frisell: Disfarmer
Wonderfully, organically genre-twisting jazz-country-folk music inspired by the genius outsider of portrait photography.
8. Fred Hersch: Whirl
Trio jazz of rare, sometimes dark beauty.
9. Teenage Fanclub: Shadows
Tuneful, somewhat ambitious Byrds-influenced pop by a Scottish band long on the verge of greatness.
10. Irene Kral: Second Chance
Largely forgotten, the late Kral (who died in 1978) sang standards in a style so understated that it scarcely existed. This music, drawn from a recording of a show in a San Diego hotel in 1975, demands close listening.
Karen Oberlin: Live at the Algonquin
The standards of critical practice prohibit me from including this recording from Oberlin’s long run at the Oak Room this year, because I’m married to the artist. So I won’t.