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2011 Top Musical Discoveries (a personal list)

Many critics, reviewers, and bloggers end the year with a top ten list of the year’s best recordings, best performances, top news stories, etc. For my record of San Francisco and Bay Area jazz happenings, I want to offer a list of top musical discoveries of 2011. Admittedly, this is a highly personal list and I offer it in the hopes that readers respond with their own discoveries:

Early Music scene in SF
The Bay Area has many noteworthy musical communities, but jazz folks might not realize that San Francisco is a major center for Early Music groups. Some of the country’s leading ensembles – American Bach Soloists, Chanticleer, and Philharmonia Baroque – have their offices in Hayes Valley. New Years resolution: Hear as many of these groups live as possible.

Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, Live from the Met in HD
Attending Satyagraha at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008 was one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of my life. Seeing it in a movie theater 3000 miles from New York City was… um, different, but the power of the show still came through.

Arsenio Rodriguez’s Quindembo (Epic LP LN24072)
This gritty 1963 LP by the legendary tres player and band leader should be an essential item, not a collector’s item. Add a touch of James Brown to the first track, “Canto Abacao,” and it could be Afro-Beat: Is Arsenio the Cuban Fela?

Percussionist John Santos
Exceptional musician, scholar, and educator, John Santos is a Bay Area treasure, not to mention a generous one who gigs here frequently. Check out his website and catch one of his appearances soon!

George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra on LP
Maestro Szell has been gone for 40 years, but his abundant recordings with HIS orchestra are easy to find in thrift store bargain bins. In a down economy there is no better way to get some of the greatest orchestral recordings ever made, usually at 5 for $2.00!

These bizarre, titillating musical shorts from the 1960s are the original music videos. They used to be available on specially designed video jukeboxes in bars, but now dozens are viewable on youtube. I especially like this one by Brook Benton and also Herb Alpert’s Scopitone for Tijuana Taxi.

Lester Young and Nat Cole Sessions
Not sure how I made it to 2011 without ever taking notice of how exceptional the two 1940s studio collaborations of Young and Cole are, but now I know (“and knowing is half the battle”).

Bollywood is fun again
After losing interest for a few years, I found 2011 to be a good year for the musical films coming from India. Though the musical track is not my favorite, DJ Kiran Kamath’s “Zero Hour Mashup” shows Shahrukh Kahn, Katrina Kaef, Aishwarya Rai, and Deepika Padukone returned to their charismatic eminence in many of the year’s best Desi films.

Musical Writings
There were some excellent new music books this year. I especially liked Alex Ross’s Listen to This with its fascinating essays on Björk, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and the Marlboro Music Festival. Also notable were Ricky Riccardi’s What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years and Jens Malte Fischer’s towering biography of Gustav Mahler (the latter not new, but newly translated into English).

Lutheran Accapella Choir Tradition
This year I learned about the great tradition begun at St. Olaf College by F. Melius Christiansen at the beginning of the past century. The refined singing style was carried on at colleges like Gettysburg and Concordia by Christiansen’s disciples and spread around the world via touring college groups. There are rare recordings to be found and a fading American tradition awaits rediscovery.

Looking forward to more discoveries in 2012. What are your greatest discoveries of the past year?

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