By Mike Greenblatt
The Best Of 2018
Wildest Woman of the Year
The Midnight Creature on Germany’s Rhythm Bomb Records by Crystal & Runnin’ Wild proves that there still is dangerous rock’n’roll—the way it’s supposed to be—out there. With The Nylon Digger on guitar, The B Flat Cat on bass and The Taco Killer on drums, red hot mama Crystal Dann shimmies and shakes, she crawls on her belly like a reptile, and she spit-sings songs like “Wish You Misery,” “Deadly Day,” “Recipe For Agony” and “I Love My Monsters” in glorious lo-fi mono like a true femme fatale. From their rockabilly to their blues-rock and swing, we can only hope this Brussels, Belgium band hops the Atlantic to play the States.
1) Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill transcends genre limitations on Modern Flows Volume #2 (Black Unlimited Music Group) where he mixes’n’matches hip-hop, gospel, jazz, blues and rock into one cohesive whole.
2) Bassist/Composer/Bandleader Christian McBride’s last six albums have been up amongst the best of their respective years. New Jawn (via Mack Avenue Music Group, shown at left) is no exception. In fact, it might be THE best, especially when you consider the fact that there are no chords on the whole album. It’s a high-wire act with three horns, bass and drums.
3) Lebroba (ECM), by drummer Andrew Cyrille, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Bill Frisell features three masters at the top of their game.
Best Prog Rock (tie)
Don’t let the title of Twinscapes Volume #2: A Modern Approach To The Dancefloor (via London’s RareNoise Records, shown at left) fool you. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. Australian bassist Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree) and Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati have carefully crafted the Progressive Rock Album of the Year. The 10 tracks meander through various soundscapes that take as much from Yes and Can as they do from Gregorian Chants, ELP and Gentle Giant. They’re smart enough not to sing and with added drums, flute and sax, the flow, the groove, the ambiance, is what prog-rock at its finest can achieve.
Drummer/composer Xavi Reija, from Spain, approximates The Sound Of The Earth (MoonJune Records) with King Crimson bassist Tony Levin, 72, and two incredible guitarists: Markus Reuter, 46, from Germany, and Serbian genius Dusan Jevtovic (on a par with Jeff Beck). Progressive Rock the way Reija writes it is a living, breathing creature who can turn on you in a split-second to the point where the music you thought you were listening to has already morphed into another animal without you even knowing it. Surprise, syncopation, chops galore, these instrumentals need no singer and this Prog Rock has given the ailing sub-genre a good swift kick to get it back to where it once belonged.
On The Window (Mack Avenue Records) Cecile McLorin Salvant has but pianist Sullivan Fortner providing the musical palette over which she paints her incredible vocals, recontextualizing the works of Richard Rodgers, Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder and even West Side Story’s “Somewhere.” She wrote and sings “A Clef” in French as if she was Edith Piaf. It’s gorgeous. Throughout, this intimate duo album has the kind of moments that will last over time.
Best Party Band
Nothing is more thrilling than brass. Not electric guitar, not a ukulele nor a Hammond B-3 (although they all have their charms). It’s big, loud, proud, boisterous brass that gets me every time. Especially live. Thus, Black Masala, from Washington DC, is the party band of the year. If their self-released Trains and Moonlight Destinies sounds foreign to the ear, that’s because they take from the gypsies of Romania and Serbia, folkloric Balkan and Romany music, a dash of Punjabi-infused South Asian pop, bring it to a boil, make it their own, and it somehow connects with the chemicals in your body to force you to spasmodically twitch, jump and shimmy. Runner-Up: Put Strong Roots (Endless Blues Records) by In Layman Terms on at your next party and watch what happens.
The two-disc Confessin’ The Blues (BMG).
Best ‘60s Box
- The Beatles (White Album)
- Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix
- ’68 Comeback Special 50th Anniversary Edition, Elvis Presley
Best ‘70s Box
More Blood More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Volume #14, Bob Dylan
Best American Rock
- Anthem Of The Peaceful Army (Republic), Greta Van Fleet
- It’s All Too Beautiful(Stars/No Stars), The Differents
Best British Rock
Young & Dangerous (Interscope), The Struts