Let’s step away for a moment from all of the bad that was 2016 – the violence, deaths, and disturbing socio-political movements. In the creative music space, we’ve seen some trends as well. But these tendencies are neither good nor bad per se instead, they may be considered to be imperfect observations on the state of the avant-garde.
None of these trends are necessarily new to 2016 – many have been in various states of incubation for quite some time. Nonetheless, 2016 may have been the year when they have taken hold. Or at least become obvious to this casual observer.
Big Bands are Back
If you follow the styles of music that we feature on this site, chances are pretty good that you’ve at least heard of, if not heard, a few of the new “big bands.” Sixty-plus years ago, Duke Ellington established that the big band can be a conduit of unclassifiable, genre-busting music. This year, large groups led by Darcy James Argue, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Nathan Hubbard, Dan Weiss, Ben Stapp, as well as the late Fred Ho‘s Eco-Music Big Band produced and/or performed remarkable music.
It’s a Game of Drones
Drones are nothing new, but what is new is their ubiquity in 2016. From ambient to metal to classical and jazz, the drone is a style being widely explored. Sure, drones have been around for a while, introduced to various musical communities by Klaus Schulze, John Cale, Sunn O))), and numerous electroacoustic composers and performers (arguably, the use of drones goes back hundreds of years to Southern Asia and Australia). This year’s purveyors include Aram Bajakian, Mats Gustafsson, Merzbow, and a number of dark ambient releases on labels such as Cold Spring Records and Cyclic Law. And this list just scratches the surface. Also, 2016 saw National Drone Day in Saskatoon, and several other drone-based events.
Anthony Braxton’s Students are Everywhere and Doing Everything
A music professor for almost 30 years, Braxton has had his share of students, both formal and informal. The list of names is stunning: Mary Halvorson, Matt Bauder, James Fei, Taylor Ho Bynum, André Vida, Tyshawn Sorey, Steve Lehman, and many others. These individuals are now composers, performers, and bandleaders in their own right. This year, Halvorson, Bynum, Sorey, and Lehman have released critically-acclaimed albums. Still young, the Braxton student cadre have many years to practice their skills and are already influencing a third generation of creative musicians.
Sure, Los Angeles, San Diego and surrounding areas have had their share of interesting musicians – John Cage, Nels and Alex Cline, Vinny Golia, amongst many others. The UC San Diego music department is particularly strong, currently the home of Mark Dresser, Anthony Davis, Roger Reynolds, Steven Schick, and Rand Steiger. UC Irvine faculty includes Michael Dessen, Nicole Mitchell, and Lukas Ligeti. But one label is putting out a consistently strong series of experimental and creative releases: Orenda Records. Run by Daniel Rosenboom, recent releases of note include those from Sound Etiquette, Alexander Noice, Nathan Hubbard, Burning Ghosts, as well as Rosenboom himself.