tomas fujiwara’s triple double — march
Is “Life Only Gets More” a musical nod to “Everything happens so much“? Is the whole album? The hyper-bent guitar notes, the clacky, creaking percussion—this album is untamed from start to finish. Even when the temperature drops here and there like on “Silhouettes in Smoke,” the trumpets play around with runs and dissonances to avoid real lulls. I didn’t hear anything quite as fiercely engaging as this album all year, and I probably wouldn’t have with any more digging.
wolfram schmitt-leonardy — scarlatti sonatas
Definitely not the Scarlatti of your weekly piano lessons. The repeats receive tasteful ornamentation—never over-the-top showy—that keeps everything fresh the second time through, and (a bit like Simone Dinnerstein has done with her Bach recordings) there’s enough reverb in the production to transform pointy, Baroque notes on the page to something almost early Romantic in the ear. It’s a welcome invitation to think of and appreciate Scarlatti musically, not just pedagogically.
jóhann jóhannsson — drone mass
Inspired by the “Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians,” this album sounds like something sacred-adjacent, with a dash of film score and a pinch of contemporary classical. The sustained “drone” sounds throughout (e.g., on the final track) glue the 45 minutes together, but the mix of glitchy electronics in tracks like “Take the Night Air” make the texture more interesting than just long notes and stable harmonies. I especially enjoyed revisiting this album in December when this oratorio and that mass were back on the radio waves.
danger mouse and black thought — cheat codes
A little reluctant to include this album on my list to avoid pulling a David Brooks, but when it’s good, it’s good. Cheat Codes could have come out of the “conscious hip-hop” of thirty years ago, but even so, it doesn’t force itself to be serious at every turn—has an album ever opened with a reference to Harry Potter? The middle tracks of the album include an appearance by Daniel Dumile who died in 2020, so it really does feel like this one dropped out of an earlier era.
tyshawn sorey trio — mesmerism + the off-off broadway guide to synergism
Cheating a bit here by including two albums, but I hear these two releases as two halves of a single project. Mesmerism includes Great American Songbook standards but all lightly rehearsed, so the tracks still incorporate stretches of adventurous improvisation. Pianist Aaron Diehl builds some really interesting architecture for several minutes on one four-note descent in “Detour Ahead,” a stand-out track. Things are more boldly improvisatory on Off-Off, but the three sets on the triple album nevertheless have a lot of coherence. (Does Sorey float “Jitterbug Waltz” back into several tracks?) String all four of these rich discs together and before you know it, you’ll be in 2023.