erasing clouds

Best Music of 2001

by Joseph Palis

(5 albums not necessarily released in 2001 but they represent the best discoveries in 2001)

1. Sade: Lovers Rock
The smooth operator is as unsinkable as Molly Brown. She swept the world off its feet in the early 1980s with her torch-1940s-voice via Diamond Life, gave us an album with more explicit politics in Promise, achieved new levels of musicianship in Stronger Than Pride and made us palpitate with the intrinsic allure of Love Deluxe. In 2001, Lovers Rock is a brilliant return to form with her trademark vocals. The decidedly guitar-based arrangements may be a departure from their previous studio albums, but it made more people aware of the solidness and virtuosic back-up instrumentation of Stuart Matthewman, Paul S. Denman and Andrew Hale to (Dame) Sade's timeless vocals. This is an album to see how an 80s music icon can be made relevant in the new millennium.

2. Wdouji: Ground Zero
This is the debut album of a Philippine-based jazz band composed of Aya Yuson (guitar), Ron Tomas (saxes), Koko Bermejo (piano), and Simon Tan (bass). The Witch Doctors of Underground Jazz Improvisation's sound recalls the 1955-era Miles Davis when hard bop was the fulcrum between Cool and West Coast. The songs were all original and their deft and confident execution recalls the staccato pianism of Thelonious Monk and the pre-caterwauling John Coltrane. Wdouji's unique mix of versatility, innate jazz feel, and original materials excitingly recall the emergence of brilliant new bands whose first album promised high levels of musicianship in succeeding records.

3. Elvis Costello & Anne Sofie Von Otter: For the Stars
The incomparable songwriter of the punk movement teamed with the acclaimed Swedish mezzo-soprano for a record of original tunes and previously-recorded materials from a wide spectrum of songwriting styles. Anne Sofie von Otter's intelligent approach to singing is once again put to good use as she sings the songs of Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Lennon and McCartney and, of course, Costello. Although considered by many as having the "most gorgeous voice in opera," von Otter seems to understand the musical and lyrical contexts of the chosen songs and she either sings their innate beauty straight, or totally subvert and deconstruct its meanings by way of her vocal power. Although Costello contributed minimally in the vocal aspects, his sure and deft hand at arranging and knack for choosing the right songs, are in evidence. Although the album is not a musical milestone, the superb and interpretative vocal skills of Von Otter when paired with Costello make this a highly enjoyable album no purists can forever resist.

4. Ute Lemper: Punishing Kiss
Ute Lemper is an anachronism. She is a well-known cabaret chanteuse of irreverent Weimar Republic-era songs as well as dark American showtunes this side of Stephen Sondheim. In this album, she endeavoured to sing the songs of songwriters who, at first blush, may traditionally not find their names on her album sleeves. Upon closer examination, one sees the thematic unity of the songs that easily fit Ute Lemper's repertoire of anguish and darkness. Philip Glass melds neatly with Lemper's style of crooning while Nick Cave's harrowing song of a girl who found true love while being drowned by her boyfriend had their eerie rightness in Lemper's Stina Nordenstam-like singing. In the end, Lemper's stylized vocal performance and the musical moods the songs are placed, make this album unique and essential. And thoroughly entertaining.

5. Jane Horrocks: The Further Adventures of Little Voice
No one can channel the legendary voices of Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe better than British actress Jane Horrocks. In a program of songs not traditionally associated with the above-mentioned grand ladies of the stage, Horrocks seamlessly flows from Lady Day to the former Norma Jean Baker by capturing these singers' distinctive rasp, slight giggle, baritone belts, etc. Capitalizing on her outsized talent via Mark Hermann's film Little Voice, Horrocks rose to the demands of the big band and sang songs solo or in tandem with Ewan McGregor, Robbie Williams or Dean Martin. This album may prompt others to check out the original albums of the ladies she paid tribute, but if one considers how Horrocks singlehandedly summon them through her perfect singing, then its alright to be catatonic with disbelief for a few weeks.

Issue 8 1/2, February 2002 | next article

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