Top 10 albums of 2015: Alexander Varty

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      It’s 2015, so where’s the gender parity? I’m mildly ashamed that only two of this year’s favourites are directly attributable to female artists, although women contribute heavily to most of the rest. Local cellist Peggy Lee is a full member of cooperative trio Waxwing and features prominently on Tony Wilson’s and John Korsrud’s discs. Singer Amy Sacko is an indispensable part of her husband Bassekou Kouyaté’s ensemble, which includes two of their sons. Sam Lee’s band is half female, with violinist Flora Curzon its instrumental standout. Women sing most of Jayme Stone’s archival unearthings, as well as contributing fiddle, guitar, accordion, and percussion.

      Do I get a pass if I promise to dig deeper next year?

      Kris Davis Infrasound

      Save Your Breath

      Your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about the clarinet: there are four of them here, collaborating with a powerful rhythm section and New York–based Canadian pianist Kris Davis on her intricate but vital scores. Think hot-velvet textures shot through with jagged steel.

      Dave Douglas

      High Risk

      Finally, some electronically augmented jazz that’s powerful enough to make one forget about Weather Report. (For a while, anyway.) Trumpet veteran Dave Douglas and his younger allies build their tunes from the beats up, with producer Zachary “Shigeto” Saginaw standing out for his unusually organic-sounding electronics.

      Holly Herndon


      There’s some danger of Holly Herndon’s remarkable disc slipping through the cracks: it’s too tuneful for serious music, too abstract for EDM or electro-pop, and too gentle for rock. But it’s definitely the work of an artist worth keeping an eye on—and a fantastic example of the kind of musical hybridity we can expect to see more of as stylistic barriers crumble along with music-industry infrastructure.

      John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra


      There are actually two ensembles here—John Korsrud’s hard-driving avant-jazz big band and a somewhat more meditative chamber orchestra—but both feature some of the best players in our fair city along with nicely layered compositions from their singular leader.

      Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba

      Ba Power

      High-energy African funk from a family band that builds big, sprawling, rock-inflected structures out of complex rhythms and simple melodic cells. If you haven’t received the memo that Mali is home to one of the world’s great musical cultures, here’s a great and accessible way to get clued in.

      Sam Lee & Friends

      The Fade in Time

      How do you revive a fading tradition? Assemble a few genre-jumping friends and then dig deep into some roots. Broadside ballads and Travellers’ songs from all over the U.K. rarely sound as elegant, or as alive, as they do in the hands of Vancouver Folk Music Festival standout Sam Lee and his exceptional band.

      Jayme Stone

      Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project

      Canadian banjo wizard Jayme Stone’s initial dip into the world’s greatest ethnomusicological archive has yielded wildly inventive reworkings of trad gems from Georgia’s Sea Islands, the Appalachian Mountains, and elsewhere. West Virginia roots curator Tim O’Brien, gutsy singer Margaret Glaspy, and deft jazz guitarist Julian Lage are just a few of the high-powered guests on what, surprisingly, sounds more like a fabulous band than an all-star jamboree.

      David Torn

      only sky

      It’s kind of a two-for-one deal: you get loop master David Torn’s beguilingly dreamy soundscapes, but you also get incandescent rock guitar from the session stalwart who’s animated the best of David Bowie and k. d. lang’s recent work. There are also entire universes in each track.


      A Bowl of Sixty Taxidermists

      Guitarist Tony Wilson, cellist Peggy Lee, and multi-instrumentalist Jon Bentley play in local trio Waxwing, and Bentley’s postsession studio manipulations make for a beautifully layered tribute to his late mentor Ross Taggart. It sounds like nothing Taggart would do, but he’d dig it.

      Tony Wilson 6Tet

      A Day’s Life

      The musical accompaniment to Tony Wilson’s 2012 novella of the same name, this recasts the guitarist’s experiences in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in terms both gritty and radiant. There are few more soulful jazz composers than this local treasure.