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2019: The best bits


It’s a source of lingering personal regret that I haven’t spent more time at the ballet. Over the years, rare outings to see the Nederlands Dans Theater performing Twice (Sock It to Me) to James Brown’s music at Sadler’s Wells in 1970, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland with American Ballet Theatre at the Coliseum in 1977, Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs at the Riverside Studios in 1994 and Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake at Sadler’s Wells in 1996 felt like journeys into a universe where the air was very different. This year’s adventure was another visit to Sadler’s Wells to see Natalia Osipova, the Bolshoi-trained principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, presenting Pure Dance, a programme of seven short pieces from different choreographers.

Among them was Six Years Later, created by Roy Assaf and danced by Osipova with Jason Kittelberger. Over the course of 22 minutes, it depicted the moods and responses of two people meeting after a lengthy estrangement: the range of gestures was considerable, from fond touches and entwinings to pushing, slapping and shoulder-barging. The first music was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, played straight but eventually treated (with great subtlety) by Deefly, twisting into a brief electronic episode that led to a big surprise: the strummed intro to “Reflections of My Life”, the 1969 hit by the Marmalade, the Scottish pop band who loitered successfully on the fringes of psychedelia. That in turn gave way to the final section and a third piece of music: Handel’s Dove Sei, Amato Bene? sung by Marilyn Horne. I found the emotional arc engrossing and the understated fluidity of the dancers’ movements compelling in their fluctuations between intimacy and distance. The real ballet critics were indifferent, so what do I know?

Beyond category

Amazing Grace: Aretha Franklin with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir (dir. Sidney Pollack & Alan Elliott)

Live performances

1 Rhiannon Giddens / The Ensemble (HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, Nov)

2 Royal Academy of Music alumni & soloists: Gil Evans’s Porgy & Bess (St John, Smith Square, Nov)

3 Binker Golding Quartet (Cockpit Theatre, Oct)

4 Nik Bärtsch / Sophie Clements (Barbican, Nov)

5 Soweto Kinch’s The Black Peril (Hackney EartH, Nov)

6 Bill Frisell + Harmony (Cadogan Hall, Oct)

7 Julia Hülsmann Quartet (Purcell Room, Nov)

8 Punkt.Vrt.Plastik (Vortex, Oct)

9 The Necks (Hackney EartH, May; St John, Bethnal Green, Oct)

10 Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes (Cafe Oto, Aug)

11 Lucia Cadotsch’s Speak Low (Purcell Room, Nov)

12 Kim Myhr (Kilden, Oslo, Sept)

13 Zbigniew Namysłowski (JazzCafé POSK, Dec)

14 Thurston Moore (Kick Scene, Oslo, Sept)

15 Erland Apneseth Trio (Spice of Life, Nov)

New albums

1 Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science: Waiting Game (Motéma)

2 Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter 4: Memphis (Constellation)

3 Tyshawn Sorey + Marilyn Crispell: The Adornment of Time (Pi)

4 SEED Ensemble: Driftglass (jazz:refreshed)

5 Christian Lillinger: Open Form for Society (Plaist Music)

6 Kronos Quartet / Terry Riley: Sun Rings (Nonesuch)

7 Solange: When I Get Home (Columbia)

8 Arve Henriksen: The Timeless Nowhere (Rune Grammofon)

9 Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos: Cristal (Sunnyside)

10 Isildurs Bane & Peter Hammill: In Amazonia (Ataraxia)

11 Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Polydor)

12 Giovanni Guidi: Avec le temps (ECM)

13 P. P. Arnold: The New Adventures of P. P. Arnold (e*a*r)

14 Laura Jurd: Stepping Back, Jumping In (Edition)

15 Angélique Kidjo: Celia (Verve)

16 Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are on the Edge (Pi)

17 Que Vola?: Que Vola? (Nø Førmat)

18 Beth Gibbons / Polish NRO / Penderecki: Górecki’s Symphony No 3 (Domino)

19 Allison Moorer: Blood (Autotelic)

20 Gebhard Ullmann’s Basement Research: Impromptus & Other Short Works (WhyPlayJazz)

21 Wadada Leo Smith: Rosa Parks / Pure Love (TUM)

22 Nérija: Blume (Domino)

23 Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem)

24 Lana Del Rey: NFR! (Interscope)

25 Corey Mwamba: Nth (Discus)

Archive & reissue albums

1 Various: This is Lowrider Soul (Kent)

2 John Coltrane: Blue World (Impulse)

3 Various: Further Perspectives & Distortions: An Encyclopedia of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music 1976-84 (Cherry Red)

4 Wes Montgomery: Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (Resonance)

5 John Coltrane: Impressions / Graz 1962 (ezz-thetic)

6 Anne Briggs: Anne Briggs (Topic Treasures)

7 Jan Garbarek / Bobo Stenson Quartet: Witchi-Tai-To (ECM)

8 Various: Yesterday Has Gone: The Songs of Teddy Randazzo (Ace)

9 Bob Dylan: The Rolling Thunder Review / The 1975 Live Recordings (CBS Legacy)

10 Various: Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol 5 (Kent)

11 Johnny Burch Octet: Jazz Beat (Rhythm and Blues)

12 Nat King Cole: Hittin’ the Ramp (Resonance)

13 Various: Sacred Sounds: Dave Hamilton’s Raw Detroit Gospel 1969-74 (Kent)

14 Bob Dylan: Travelin’ Thru 1967-69 (CBS Legacy)

15 Don Cherry / Ed Blackwell:  El Corazón (ECM)


1 Varda by Agnès (dir. Agnès Varda)

2 The Image Book (dir. Jean Luc Godard)

3 The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Music documentaries

1 Country Music (dir. Ken Burns)

2 Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (dir. Stanley Nelson)

3 Hitsville: The Making of Motown (dir. Benjamin Turner & Gabe Turner)

Books about music

1 Booker T. Jones: Time Is Tight (Omnibus)

2 David Toop: Flutter Echo (Ecstatic Peace Library)

3 Emma John: Wayfaring Stranger (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

4 James Pettifer: Meet You in Atlantic City (Signal)

5= Will Birch: Cruel to Be Kind: The Life & Music of Nick Lowe (Constable)

5= Ian Penman: It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track (Fitzcarraldo Editions)


1 Ivon Hitchens (Garden Museum, London & Pallant House, Chichester)

2 Lee Krasner: Living Colour (Barbican)

3 Natalie Daoust: Korean Dreams (Beecroft Gallery, Southend)

4 Ed Ruscha (Tate Modern)

5 Various: Another Me (South Bank Arts Centre)

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Crowe #

    Thank you, Richard, for the year’s contributions and may your wonderful blog continue to inform and stimulate through the Twenties !

    December 15, 2019
  2. mick gold #

    Thanks for a great blog which steered me towards many interesting musical moments. One surprising omission in your list, Amazing Grace, the documentary of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 performance.

    December 15, 2019
    • Oh, golly. Thanks, Mick. Don’t know how I left that out. So I’ve added it, near the top, in a special category all of its own.

      December 15, 2019
      • mick gold #

        Brilliant. And thanks for recognising Stanley Nelson’s Miles Davis documentary which I thought was wonderful but which got a Horrible review from Richard Brody in The New Yorker.

        December 16, 2019
  3. Dennis Muirhead #

    Thanks for all your interesting bits.Very helpful.

    I would really appreciate knowing your recommended “bits” in advance. Could you do that from time to time?

    Best wishes

    December 15, 2019
    • One or two people have said that, Dennis. But then I’d be editing a listings magazine, and that’s a job for which I remember getting paid…

      December 15, 2019
      • Dennis Muirhead #

        I used to be paid to read them too.? Not all helpful activities are paid. Let us know occasionally when a special “bit” is scheduled.

        December 15, 2019
    • John Evans #

      It doesn’t take long to go through a list of venues and sign up for their emails about future events. That was how I discovered that Richard Williams was doing a Q & A session with the director of the Miles Davis film (and with a nephew of Miles) after one of the London cinema screenings. One thing mentioned in passing during that Q & A was Phil Cox’s BBC4 film “Betty Davis: Godmother of Funk”, a very memorable alternate take on events of the time and my nomination for a little gem of music-related TV output in 2019.

      December 20, 2019
  4. GuitarSlinger #

    From the US ( the abbreviated short list )

    Best perfomance ; David Crosby and Friends at the Belly Up Aspen CO . Small intimate venue – the best back up band since Joni Mitchell’s ” Shadows and Light ” your – Topped by the fact that Crosby is one of the last of the 60’s 70’s stars who’s still got IT … from his voice to songwriting

    Best album – There were a few good ones … but nothing that really stands out for me as a best in either rock or jazz .

    Best reissue ; Bob Dylan ; ” More Blood on the Tracks ”

    Best Film ; Hmmm … see best album notes

    Best Documentary ; Country Music ” followed closely by ” Remember my Name ”

    Books on Music ; again … see best album notes

    Exhibitions ; Monet at the DAM

    Best Moment in Music ; The multiple celebrations of ECM’s 50th

    Worst Moment ( in the US ) the rapidly increasing descent into the abyss of irrelevancy of Jazz in America

    So thanks for another great year of coverage and opinions Richard …may we ( US ) be a whole lot smarter in our 2020 elections that y’all just were in yours …… Merry ConspicuousConsumption Mass … and may we all MASA ( Make the World Smart Again )… before its all too damn late

    December 15, 2019
  5. Mick Steels #

    I’ll put forward my most memorable live performance of the past year which, unsurprisingly, was an Evan Parker gig.
    The stunning inventiveness of this fearless and innovative musician continues to demand respect and admiration. At the Huddersfiel Contemporary Music Festival he was celebrating his 75th birthday with ten other equally questing minds in a piece lasting 90 minutes.
    As well as intuitive collected improvisation there was more structured segments of subtle interplay between the acoustic and electronic elements of the ensemble.
    It is invidious to mention any individual in what is essentially very much a group enterprise but trumpet player Peter Evans was outstanding particularly in his fierce duetting with the leader in the climatic closing phase of the performance, both musicians not afraid to throw in the odd blues lick when necessary.
    Parker himself was as always apt and empathetic in his playing, in a pre-concert talk he was introduced as the world’s greatest living saxophonist an arguable claim with Rollins and Konitz still around but understandable.

    December 19, 2019
    • Mick Steels #

      sub collective for collected tho maybe that works as well

      December 19, 2019
      • Mick Steels #

        also climactic for climatic, New Year resolution sorted spell correctly!

        January 1, 2020

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