20 Best Avant Albums of 2014

The year's best in noise, out-jazz, contemporary classical, ambient, drone and more

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Africa Express, 'Terry Riley's In C Mali'
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16/20

16. Africa Express, 'Terry Riley's In C Mali'

An idea so obvious that the results shouldn't be nearly this good. On the 50th anniversary of Terry Riley's minimalist hallmark In C, a handful of musicians cycle through its 53 repeating and interlocking patterns on traditional Malian instruments like the kora, balafon and calabash (plus some kalimbas wandering over from nearby Niger). In composing the original piece Riley was inspired by the repetitive circles of music coming from Saharan Africa, ultimately imbuing their hypnotic feel with his own ideas of chance, interplay and melody. Fifty years later, we live in a smaller world — Tinariwen plays Coachella, NPR spins Ballaké Sissoko and pretty much anyone who's walked across a college quad has heard a djembe. Despite being a blend of American minimalism, African percussion and British musicians (Brian Eno and Damon Albarn lend a hand on vocals and melodica, respectively), this one-of-a-kind interpretation ends up sounding mostly familiar.

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