Those ubiquitous end-of-year “best of” lists…

I was trying to think of something to write about this week since I’ve been sick and had to cancel some planned concert attendance. The obvious choice was one of those end-of-year best-of lists that all the music writers in the world seem to do sometime in early December. But… I just can’t bring myself to write one! There are a lot of great reasons to make best-of lists, I get that. You want to get the word out about great stuff people might have missed. And people write them in early December so “Santa” can get some ideas for Christmas gifts for music lovers. (Chanukah’s already over, so that’s a moot point for me.) But even when I sit down and seriously try to come up with a list of the year’s best concerts, I can’t do it. Plus, the more compulsive aspects of my personality refuse to let me do a “year end” list when the year hasn’t ended yet. And last, but not least: Art is not a competition! Music is not a game you can win (not even if you’re playing game pieces!). It’s a collaborative effort by everyone involved. That’s kind of nice, isn’t it? Let’s not ruin it by picking winners and losers.

However, for the last few years I’ve written up “concert year in review” posts, with a full list of concerts seen and various commentary/statistics. I’ve also done some “concert moments of the year” posts. I didn’t have a blog to post them on back then, so unless you’re friends with me you probably haven’t seen them. I’ll post the 2013 year in review here in January, when the year is actually over. (You’ve heard the saying “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” well… my motto is “the year ain’t over till Spiritual Unity plays Bells at midnight.”)

Now, all that being said… as I mentioned above, one of the reasons people post these things in early December is to give gift ideas to readers. And I have no problem giving a little extra promotional space to support good music, so here are some Concert Manic gift suggestions for the music lovers in your life. Completely useless to all of my fellow Jews, but we are all distracted by our latke-induced box grater injuries anyway. (…just me?)

I’ll start with a trio of recent John Zorn releases:
In Lambeth: Visions from the Walled Garden of William Blake – This one was released a few days ago, so your favorite Zorn fan probably doesn’t have it yet. It’s also a great place to start for a Zorn neophyte, as it is very accessible. Beautiful, gentle, but still interesting music featuring Kenny Wollesen (vibes), electric guitar (Bill Frisell), and harp (Carol Emanuel).
The Concealed – This one is about a year old, but it’s my favorite Zorn album in quite a while. It reminds me of a cross between the Dreamers and Bar Kokhba, but without the guitar. I love it, check out the samples and see what you think. Also, the artwork on the Amazon page I linked to isn’t accurate – the package is very cool and uses transparent/reflective inks. It would make a neat gift. Here’s a video I shot of this band in April, to give you an idea what they sound like:

If you want to really wow someone with amazing packaging, check out the Dreamers Christmas album from a couple of years ago. The music is a lot of fun and the packaging is a blast – stickers, white vinyl printed with playful designs, etc. (The CD is very nice too, but the vinyl has a lot more impact, artwise.) If you like Christmas music at all, it’s a great one to have in your collection.

A 2013 release that would be perfect for people with slightly less adventurous, but still good taste in music:
Glen Hansard – Drive All Night. I gave this to my mom for Chanukah and I think she’s going to love it. It’s a little bit ‘adult contemporary’ compared to my usual tastes, but he’s a very good singer and a great performer. Maybe something to think about for people who tend to like old-school singer-songwriters like James Taylor or 60s-era Bob Dylan. Here’s the title track:

And here are a couple of 2013 releases for people who like their jazz to be fun, and easy to enjoy:
Jon Madof’s Zion80 – This band is stuffed full of so many great musicians, and they all know how to have a good time. Check out this awesome live track they posted a few days ago:

Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra – Book of Rhapsodies – this is a fun (bordering on slightly wacky and/or weird in parts) retro-jazz album that will appeal to a lot of different people. (Even my dad, who once flat-out told me he doesn’t like jazz, walked by when I was playing this band and said he liked this kind of music.) Their first album, Hothouse Stomp, is a similar concept but a little more straight-forward and a little less weird. I really like both of them. Here’s a tune from the Book of Rhapsodies:

And finally, my favorite rock album of the year:
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – Your Turn. I’ve listened to this album so many times. It’s a ton of fun, and they somehow manage to be completely badass while also being sort of hilarious, and not the least bit posturing or pretentious or taking themselves too seriously. It rocks pretty hard, but is also satisfyingly experimental and full of great improvisation. (If you’re looking for a different aspect of Ribot’s playing, check out the introspective Silent Movies, his most recent solo guitar record. I’d be shocked if this weren’t the best-reviewed record of his career, it’s amazing.) Anyway, here’s one of my favorite tracks from “Your Turn”:

And of course, every Concert Manic reader loves to unwrap one gift more than anything else: concert tickets! Concert tickets are a great gift that give you an excuse to spend time with someone you care about, keeps your spending local, and involves a minimum of environmental impact (no shipping, no packaging, no plastic parts…). You can’t go wrong.

I can’t recommend specific concerts everywhere in the world, but for New Yorkers you might think about tickets to see The Bad Plus at the Village Vanguard, or maybe tickets to Winter Jazz Fest for the more ambitious music fans. Here in the Boston area I might suggest surprising someone with tickets to see the truly awesome Bettye Lavette at Johnny D’s. (She’s actually got a bunch of dates lined up in the U.S., you can see them all by clicking here.) More far-flung readers may wish to check out the Zorn@60 series at the Adelaide Festival in Australia, or some of Marc Ribot’s extended list of dates in New York, Tennessee, California and all over Europe.

I’m aiming to see another 5-10 concerts before the end of the year, barring my respiratory infection getting any worse, so tune in soon to see what’s what in the world of concert mania!

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