20 Best Avant Albums of 2014

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

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Wadada Leo Smith, 'The Great Lakes Suites'

7. Wadada Leo Smith, 'The Great Lakes Suites'

Smith's meditation on the "restrained, yet explosive" formation of North America's five Great Lakes isn't as grand in scope as 2013's Occupy the World (with a 22-piece orchestra) or 2012's four-disc, 19-part Civil Rights miniseries Ten Freedom Summers — but the 90-minute bustle of his stripped-down all-star quartet still stands as 2014's jazz epic. With a track for all five lakes (and one for Lake St. Clair, the Pluto of lakes), the drums of Miles Davis veteran Jack DeJohnette constantly clatter and chatter like foam over rocks (his rim-click solo in "Lake Michigan" is particularly inspired). Tip-tapping rides and hi-hats match bassist John Lindburg while Smith's trumpet and Henry Threadgill's saxophone join forces and play in sharp blasts of anguish and silence. Smith and Threadgill intertwine and play in triumphant blasts that often have cracks in the notes, balancing confident majesty with jagged brokenness.

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