The Ear-Stretchers of 2017

in no particular order

Kendrick Lamar: DAMN

Juana Molina: Halo

Fabiano do Nascimento: Tempo Dos Mestres

The National: Sleep Well Beast

War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding

Diego Barber: One Minute Later

St. Vincent: Masseducation

Thundercat: Drunk

Moses Sumney: Aromanticism

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound

some others:

Brian Blade Fellowship: Body and Shadow; Ron Miles: I Am a Man; Residente: Residente; Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimultude; Margo Price: All American Made; Cecile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers; Run The Jewels: RTJ3; Big Thief: Capacity; U2: Songs of Experience; Perfume Genius: No Shape;  Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan.

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Who Will Be The Next Clare Fischer?

When the pianist, composer and arranger Clare Fischer died last week at the age of 83, there were the usual laments from the usual places – liner-note-reading oldtimers and music-biz insiders and musicians who regard his “Pensativa” as a classic, alongside a few unlikely mourners (Questlove from the Roots tweeted a link to Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon, which Fischer scored).

The public at large likely never heard of him.

Fischer was another example of a vanishing breed in music – a “significant unknown” whose coloristic brass, flourishes of wild strings and unusual harmonies made countless records better. (For proof, listen to the scenic psychedlia of “I Wonder U” from Prince’s Parade.) Fischer was also a pianist with an original “sound” and approach – his lines were delicate and graceful, his chordal accompaniments richly shaded and delivered in terse bursts. As a pianist, Fischer was another branch on the tree of Bill Evans; the great Herbie Hancock describes Fischer as a “major influence on my harmonic concept.”

Crucially, Fischer was also an omnivore: In the course of his long career, he delved deeply into jazz, Brazilian music, Latin jazz and other styles, while also writing his own classical works and arranging sweeping orchestral accompaniments for countless pop recordings (everyone from Paul McCartney to Celine Dion hired him). He’d studied classical composition and wasn’t afraid to draw on that vocabulary at any time, in any setting. A quote on his website articulates his philosophy: “I relate to everything. I’m not just jazz, Latin, or classical. I really am a fusion of all of those, not today’s fusion, but my fusion.”

That quote got me thinking. In this age of hyper-specialization, when aspiring musicians are trained to gain proficiency at one bankable skillset, who will become the next Clare Fischer? Is it possible to be curious and conversant the way he was? To enter a room and engage with whatever music is happening and lift it up, just on ears and wits and broad experience? Is there even a place for that kind of renaissance man anywhere in current musicmaking?

A Few Highlights from Fischer

Cal Tjader Plays The Contemporary Music Of Mexico and Brazil (1962), piano and arrangements.

Dizzy Gillespie: A Portrait of Duke Ellington (recorded 1960). piano, arrangements.

Joao Gilberto: Joao (1991), arrangements.

Prince: Parade (1986), arrangements.

Clare Fischer: Salsa Picante (1978), piano, arrangements.