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The best classical music, jazz, and beyond from the Bay Area in 2022
Our final year-end list!
In celebration of all the great music released by Bay Area artists over the past year, we’ll be sharing daily wraps of our favorite releases of 2022. Starting today, every day we’re publishing a new list highlighting the best music from the Bay Area across a wide variety of genres, including dance, downtempo, folk, hip hop, metal, and rock.
Read on for our favorite classical music, jazz, and beyond from the Bay in 2022, or shuffle the playlists:
Passage - Mia Pixley
Passage. I was sitting on waves in the middle of a rocking ocean and I looked as far as I could see in many directions, and all there was was sky. And I sent myself into each noticed thing—the ocean and its rocking, the waves, the distances, the sky. I did this to make myself whole. I did this to survive what otherwise would sink me.
Beginning with this recitation by poet, scholar, psychologist, mentor, and Black psychoanalyst Forrest Hamer, Ph.D., Passage is a profound piece of chamber music by Mia Pixley. Completed by the artist while on residency at Lucid Art Foundation in Inverness near Point Reyes—that little strip of land wedged between Tomales Bay, Drakes Bay, and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean—the work is a concept album of sorts, with each track sending the listener into “each noticed thing.” Bringing together keys, voices, stringed instruments, and percussion, it sometimes sounds explicitly classical (“The Ocean”) while other times more like indie rock (“The Distances). It’s short—under 20 minutes—but seems as vast as the sea.
— Ronny Kerr
Dual Piano - Headboggle
“If you listen to most of what Derek Gedalecia has performed or published previously, you will always find an undercurrent of devotion to melody and the well-ordered truths of conventional music.” Gedalecia, who releases music as Headboggle, recorded himself playing a Steinway Grand Piano at SFMOMA in 2019, mixed it, and published it this year as Dual Piano. It’s a shift from the artist’s typical experimental electronic sounds, though the promotional material assures us that this should come as no surprise. But one thing is certain: You don’t need any specific background to appreciate the stunningly lovely, strikingly bare piano pieces contained here.
— Ronny Kerr
Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings - The Pyramids
“Music is everything to me, it’s also very much a part of my spiritual beliefs. It occupies a lot of my life, even in how I celebrate, how I worship; I worship with music. I conduct rituals on stage with my band, with community, with audience members. Music is about my life.”
— Idris Ackamoor in an interview with Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie Zine
Time travelers, spacetime benders, soul gardeners, psychonauts, and cosmonauts alike, take heed: British label Strut Records gave us another outstanding reissue, this year the complete 1970s recordings by SF avant-garde jazz ensemble the Pyramids led by saxophonist Idris Ackamoor. A four-LP box set, Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings compiles the group’s fully restored and remastered studio albums—Lalibela (1973), King of Kings (1974), Birth / Speed / Merging (1976)—as well as their ecstatic live performance on KQED in 1975.
Originally founded by Ackamoor as part of free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor’s Black Music Ensemble, the Pyramids persist as one of the Bay Area’s most significant participants in the long, rich Afrofuturist tradition most often associated with Sun Ra. This is space jazz knowingly made on planet Earth—conscious of African ancestors, conscious of Indigenous stewardship, conscious of the healing power of music when its makers are free to dance and create.
— Ronny Kerr
Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered - Lara Downes
No matter what you think of ragtime, no one can deny the influence and staying power of Scott Joplin, whose music has permeated pop culture over the past century and been performed by many of the world’s greatest pianists. Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered is a well-deserved tribute from Lara Downes, who serves as Resident Artist for Classical KDFC in SF and Classical KUSC in LA. In addition to performing the obvious (“Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer”), Downes covers Joplin’s wide range, from waltzes and tangos to an excerpt from Treemonisha (1911), considered to be the first opera by a Black composer. Featuring small wind ensembles that would have been standard in Joplin’s time, the performances are far less stiff than typical ragtime performances. This is old music made new, dynamic, and full of life.
— Ronny Kerr
“Lullaby of the sea - Havets voggesang” - Mahsa Vahdat
A year after the body of 15-month-old toddler Artin Iran Nezhad was found in Norway, Bay Area-based Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat offers “Lullaby of the sea - Havets voggesang”, a duet with Norwegian singer Solveig Slettahjell. Nezhad and his family were refugees from Iran who traveled through Turkey, Italy, and France in seek of a better life, but died attempting to cross the English Channel. Vahdat’s new piece is a meditation on this too-common, tragic story of our modern world. All income from streams go to the nonprofit A Drop in the Ocean, supporting refugees in Greece.
— Ronny Kerr
I Just Want to Be a Good Man - Pastor Champion
“I want to say what I mean. Be practical, precise, to the point, and, at the same time, diplomatic.” Born in 1946 and raised in Louisiana, Pastor Champion didn’t have an easy life. Between his mother being accosted by the Klan, his father’s gambling, and his own 90-day stint in jail for using a “whites-only” bathroom, the pastor had many sad stories of pain and injustice to tell, but he didn’t want to talk about those things. Instead, it seems, he preferred to sing of the good things, preaching the word of God. I Just Want to Be a Good Man, out on David Byrne-founded label Luaka Pop, captures a recording of Pastor Champion (who served at the 37th Street Baptist Church in Oakland) singing and playing simple gospel songs on a two-track Nagra reel-to-reel before he died at the end of 2021. Honest music, a heart laid bare.
— Ronny Kerr
“Sehr langsam” (“Very slow”) - Robert Nance
“This piece is slow. Very very slow. And quiet. With a bounty of time and space as it draws your ear to the time around the played notes. Every gesture feels like a supernova happening ages away.” Armed with tape delay and an electric guitar, Oakland artist Robert Nance rearranged and performed the 90-second sixth movement “Sehr langsam” (“Very slow”) from Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg’s Sechs kleine Klavierstücke (“Six Little Piano Pieces”) into a cosmic experiment with time, space, and sound.
— Ronny Kerr
Elysia Marginata - Saxreligious
“One day I read an article about a type of sea slug called ‘Elysia Marginata’ that decapitates itself and grows a new body. The article caught my eye because ‘Elysia’ is my birth name. Having had several gender affirming surgeries, I resonated with the concept of growing a new body and was really astonished by the name coincidence. I also love how weird nature can be. What an amazing little muse!”
Elysia Marginata, Eli Maliwan’s buoyant debut album, is a jazzy woodwind-focused electro pop record that sounds as if it was played through an early 90s Sega Genesis. Recorded in his home studio, the one time Salami Rose Joe Louis bandmember plays soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, flute, clarinet, trumpet, keyboard, voice, and EWI. Eli programmed most of the drums, a skill picked up while working on cruise ships. The album was written as a self-care love letter during a time of historic anti-trans legislation and violent anti-Asian reports all over the country. But those heavy topics are treated with lighthearted humor, reflected in punny song titles, bubbly production, and the adorable sea slug muse album artwork.
— Elliot Engel
USER ILLUSION 2 - VAGUETRACKS
From what I know of the VAGUETRACKS discography—ranging from late night rave music to hypnagogic vaporwave—this one is some anomaly. USER ILLUSION 2, produced and engineered by Raven, features 10 solo piano performances of famous classical pieces, from the first movement of Vivaldi’s “Winter” concerto to Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess” to the more modern “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” by Ryuichi Sakomoto. These are not precise and crisp Deutsche Grammophon recordings, and that is part of their joy. They are human. But they are not just that either; they are also clearly produced by someone with an ear for the wide possibility of modern music.
East Side San Jose “Back in the Day in ESSJ” - Discos Resaca
“This one’s for the abuelos, the abuelas, toda la familia. Big shout out to the homeboys, homegirls, the working class gente, the estudiantes, and everybody locked down. Los músicos, los taqueros, los cocineros, the low riders, the east siders, the lovers and the haters, and everybody in between. Until we meet again, stay brown and proud. With love y respeto desde East Side San Jose, Califas!”
With bright and sunny intros and outros by legendary radio host and DJ Chuy Gomez, East Side San Jose “Back in the Day in ESSJ” by Discos Resaca is a dazzling new full-length tribute to California Latinidad, with special attention to East San Jose. Switching from freestyle to soul to funk to cumbia before it’s even halfway over, the album brilliantly illustrates the diverse styles of Latin music from the Bay, California, and beyond. Featuring contributions by Mariposas del Alma, Brian Rivera, Yosimar Reyes, Sunny Ozuna, and more, it’s a joyous work, a family affair, a must listen.
Important! You can still get tickets to see Mariposas del Alma y Discos Resaca performing at the Chapel with opening performances by Louda y los Bad Hombres and Chulita Vinyl Club. Wednesday, January 18, 2023 in San Francisco.