The 2010s have been a turbulent decade, and for me a life-changing one. In the closing months of 2010 I received a kidney transplant that transformed my life. And at about the same time, after a couple of decades of being a serious follower of Americana and alt-country music I began to pay more attention to jazz.
At decade’s end I find my musical interests being dominated by jazz and related instrumental music with a component of improvisation. This includes a hefty dose of music from other cultures, especially from the Middle East and South Asia as well as Scandinavia. I still enjoy a certain amount of Americana-style roots music, but it has to be pretty innovative and solidly written, both lyrically and musically.
As I said, it’s been a turbulent decade. That probably helps explain why so much of my favorite music from the 2010s has been … not comforting, but evocative. Capable of arousing deep emotions of a pensive nature; inviting of contemplation; challenging but at the same time welcoming. Hard to describe, so I’ll let my selections speak for themselves, mostly. With that, my favorite music of the 2010s, first the folk, roots and Americana, then the jazz.
Folk, roots, Americana
- Anna & Elizabeth – The Invisible Comes to Us, 2018
- Anna Tivel – Heroes Waking Up, 2016
- John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness, 2018
- Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker, 2016
- Calexico – Edge of the Sun, 2015
- Dana Sipos – Trick of the Light, 2018
- Y La Bamba – Ojos Del Sol, 2016
- Wussy – Funeral Dress Acoustically, 2011
- Daniel Norgren – Wooh Dang, 2019
- Western Centuries – Songs From The Deluge, 2018
No record gave me more pleasure in the past 10 years than Anna & Elizabeth’s The Invisible Comes To Us. On this masterpiece of a third full-length album, these two young women took a double handful of old songs collected from their home states of Vermont and Virginia and made something new and startling with them. The majority of the songs, though they’re often hundreds of years old, seem to speak directly to current affairs: The lives, loves and griefs of immigrants, refugees and exiles, soldiers and sailors sent to faraway lands and the loved ones left behind, women facing down the crude and cruel graspings of powerful men. Creative manipulation of sounds in the studio – looping, montage, drones, synthesizers – augment the guitar, banjo, and deftly matched voices of this duo.
A close second is Anna Tivel’s Heroes Waking Up. Tivel has a novelist’s eye for telling details that enhance a story, and her hushed delivery makes them all the more poignant. Best of all, she doesn’t oversell her songs or provide too many details, but lets the listener fill them in or sometimes just leaves you wondering.
Here’s my Spotify playlist for this list. It includes many of the below runners-up, too.
All of the items in my two top 10 lists are linked to my reviews of them except for Wussy’s Funeral Dress Acoustically, which I didn’t review. It’s a more or less unplugged version of the Cincinatti, Ohio, band’s debut disc from 2006. These stripped-down arrangements highlight the poignant and sometimes disturbing nature of the lyrics, many of which were inspired by the breakup of the duo who share writing and singing duties, Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker. I encourage you to seek it out. Here’s one of my favorite songs on the album, “Conversation Lags.”
Americana, etc., runners-up in no particular order
Nick Jaina – The Beanstalks That Have Brought Us Here Are Gone, 2011
Sam Amidon – Bright Sunny South, 2013
I’m With Her – See You Around, 2018
Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys – Grand Isle, 2011
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland, 2018
Ryley Walker – Primrose Green, 2015
Jake Xerxes Fussell – Out of Sight, 2019
Lost Bayou Ramblers – Mammoth Waltz, 2012
Dubl Handi – Morning in a New Machine, 2013
Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else, 2014
Locust Honey String Band – Never Let Me Cross Your Mind, 2014
Abigail Washburn – City of Refuge, 2011
Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – Little Windows, 2016
Offa Rex – The Queen of Hearts, 2017
Jazz and World
1. Nils Økland Band, Kjolvatn, 2016
2. Arun Ramamurthy Trio – Jazz Carnatica, 2014
3. Shujaat Husain Khan & Katayoun Goudarzi – Ruby, 2015
4. Anat Cohen – Luminosa, 2015
5. Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams, 2017
6. Elina Duni Quartet – Matanë Malit, 2012
7. Jakob Bro – Bay of Rainbows, 2018
8. Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over, 2017
9. Baba Zula – Derin Derin, 2019
10. Stefan Aeby Trio – Utopia, 2014
More than three years on, I still regularly listen to Nils Økland Band’s Kjolvatn on repeat. The Norwegian hardangar fiddler’s jazz-folk-classical ensemble makes contemporary music that sounds ancient, blending folk and Baroque sources with flights of improvisation, and always with a distinctive Nordic feel to it. When I’m in a certain mood, the droning fiddle, trance-inducing rhythms and chilly atmospherics hit all of my musical pleasure-centers.
Close behind are the Arun Ramamurthy Trio’s Jazz Carnatica and Shujaat Husain Khan & Katayoun Goudarzi’s Ruby. Violinist Ramamurthy plays south Indian ragas with backing from a jazz rhythm section.
Katayoun Goudarzi recites and sings Rumi ghazals to the backing of master sitarist Khan.
A couple of late discoveries this year almost made it into my top 10: Percussionist Rajna Swaminathan’s Of Agency and Abstraction (2019) and trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s Le Saboteuse (2017) both lifted my spirits with their intriguing blend of jazz with the traditions of other musical cultures.
Here’s a link to this playlist on Spotify. (It includes many runners-up including Lumen Drones, Rajna Swaminathan and Yazz Ahmed. Those three were recent discoveries and might have made it to the top 10 given a little more time. Unfortunately it does not include Arum Ramamurthy Trio. That group’s only Spotify presence is their wonderful live set at the Ragas Live Retrospective, which was one of my favorite 2018 releases. I’ve included that in the playlist.)
Jazz & World runners-up
Rajna Swaminathan – Of Agency and Abstraction
Yazz Ahmed – Le Saboteuse
Ethan Iverson Quartet w/Tom Harrell – Common Practice, 2019
Lumen Drones – Umbra, 2019
Ensemble Denada – Windfall, 2014
Dirtmusic – Bu Bir Ruya, 2018
Duende Libre – s/t, 2017
Arto Järvelä & Kaivama – s/t, 2012
Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac – Seinn, 2012
Terakaft – Alone, 2015
Karl Seglem – Nordic Balm, 2017
Nik Bartsch’s Ronin – Awase, 2018
Various artists – Ragas Live Retrospective, 2018
Mats Eilertsen – Then Comes the Night, 2019
Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan – Epistrophy, 2019
The Bad Plus – Inevitable Western, 2014