Despite an increasing number of great recordings coming over my transom, three guitarists, Anthony Pirog, David Torn, and Mike Baggetta, dominated this year’s picks with two records each. In addition to being brilliant players who have produced stellar examples of their work on these albums, all the guitarists featured here are out in the trenches preforming live on a regular basis. In no particular order.
The Messthetics Anthropocosmic Nest [Dischord Records]
Here Brendan Canty (drums), Joe Lally (bass), and Anthony Pirog (guitar) build on a year of extensive touring that has created a fully integrated band sound. Their live appearances, like the one at Big Ears and recently here in Nashville, are becoming the stuff of legend.
Henry Kaiser/Anthony Pirog/Jeff Sipe / Tracy Silverman / Andy West Five Times Surprise [Cuneiform Records]
Pirog returns in a supergroup with one of modern guitar’s pioneers. No live shows but a cool rig rundown, courtesy of my friend Ted Drozdowski.
Dark Star Safari [Arjunamusic Records]
Jan Bang (vocals, live sampling, samples, piano, Dictaphone),
Erik Honoré (synthesizer, samples, synth bass, voice, lyrics), Eivind Aarset (guitar, electronics, bass), and Samuel Rohrer (drums, percussion, keys, electronics, synths) come together to create one of the best David Sylvian/Bowie records they never made. (There is still time Mr. Sylvian).
Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan Epistrophy [ECM]
A second live set of this telepathic duo. Their version of “Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” is a textbook of how to play a standard in the modern age, and enough to place the record on this list. The Jim Hall/Ron Carter duo of the future.
Sonar and David Torn Tranceportation Vol. 1 [Rare Noise Records]
Torn’s textures, stabs, and rampaging fuzz solos sound solidly integrated with Sonar’s interlocking, clean filigrees on this live in the studio recording. A must have for fans of Belew-era King Crimson.
David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith Sun of Goldfinger [ECM]
Maestro Torn has crafted the free flowing, amorphous live jams of these three great musicians into a brilliantly cohesive epic recording.
Mike Baggetta/Mike Watt/Jim Keltner Wall of Flowers [Big Ego]
In addition to an appearance on the new Torn’s Sun of Goldfinger record, Baggetta brought this record out. It speaks to his talent that he is able to enlist these two diverse giants to help him realize his vision. The full combo only appears on half the tunes, sounding so special it leaves you wanting more.
mssv (Mike Baggetta, Stephen Hodges & Mike Watt) Live Flowers [Striped Light Records]
The “more” he delivers is decidedly different, but definitely more. With Wall of Flowers drummer Jim Keltner unavailable to tour, Baggetta and Watt recruited Tom Waits/Mavis Staples percussionist Hodges. They recorded the band live and this is the result. Baggetta’s solos here largely eschew notes for gloriously textured, musical noise. We can’t wait to hear the studio record with this lineup.
Gerald Cleaver/Nels Cline/Larry Ochs What is to Be Done [Clean Feed 500; Portugal]
It is always interesting to hear Nels Cline in a new context. Here he is as untethered as you are likely to hear him.
Fred Frith All Is Always Now –Live At The Stone [Intakt Records]
A three CD audio textbook of modern guitar by one of its progenitors.
Julian Lage Love Hurts [Mack Avenue]
This year Lage strayed from his Telecaster obsession to a Gretsch ’53 Duo Jet, outfitted with a ’58 neck and original DynaSonic DeArmond pickups, and teamed up with The Bad Plus’ Dave King. He continues to somehow meld pre-bebop guitar with a post-modern musical sensibility.