The exceptional, the provocative and the affirmative have been found in abundance at many extraordinary concerts in the past year. To pick out just a few of them is not to exclude the rest, but to give a flavour of the range and the world-class standards that we are fortunate to be able to experience on our doorstep - mostly in the confines of north-east London at trail-blazing venues Vortex and Cafe Oto, but also in the centre of town at concert halls - Barbican (drawing above in negative of Charles Lloyd Quartet- credit Geoffrey Winston), RFH, Kings Place and the Wigmore Hall.
So with a few guide-words, let's hear it for:
Raw Creativity: Bad Plus with Django Bates at Kings Place (November); an unparalleled whirlwind of ingenuity, inspiration and interplay, defying categorisation
Power and Glory: Hairy Bones at Vortex (March); the sensitivity of Peter Brötzmann's long-standing quartet with trumpeter Kondo, Nilssen-Love and Pupillo came through on both nights, even though their meal-ticket is power-play
Ensemble Extraordinaire: Vandermark 5 at Vortex (September); breathtaking dynamics, awareness and intelligence from Vandermark, Rempis and co; a few days later at Cafe Oto, Ken joined Brötzmann's Full Blast Trio for two sessions which never stood still for a moment
Delight: Martial Solal at the Wigmore Hall (November); this quasi-sacred space proved to be the perfect setting for pianist Solal's exceptional virtuosity, creativity and gentle musical wit
Joy: Han Bennink at Pizza Express, with Coxon and Thomas (May); master drummer Bennink sparkled, switching gleefully from utter precision to contained mayhem; at Vortex (October) the smiles from trombonist Ray Anderson said it all, with Bennink mucking in, away from the limelight this time
Another Plane: David Toop at the Whitechapel Gallery (September); a remarkable two-hours of tremulous sound explorations from Toop, Butcher, Durrant and Kolkowski
Class (I): Vijay Iver Trio (link is to Patrick Hadfield's review) at Vortex (August); with Crump and Gilmore, Iyer's sets had quality written all over them; solo, also at Vortex (December), Iyer's intensity and range were absorbing
Class (II): Charles Lloyd Quartet (link to Alison Hoblyn's review) at the Barbican (November): Lloyd's flow was perfectly complemented by the accomplished trio of Moran, Rogers and Harland
Co-operation: Leo Wadada Smith 's two nights at Cafe Oto (July) showed how the sensitivity of a key musician can bring out the best in his collaborators
Invention: Mats Gustafsson at Cafe Oto (April) created evocative soundcapes with Thomas and Wachsmann, and gave an outing to his vintage slide sax; at Vortex (November) he was equally inventive in The Thing's sets, which showed a welcome disrespect for musical boundaries
The Extreme: Lou Reed's Metal Music Machine Trio at The Junction, Cambridge, heard again at the RFH (April) were uncompromising and challenging - the bunker and the concert hall presented different ribcage-vibrating options and Reed, Calhoun and Kreiger battered the walls at the edge of the musical universe
Illuminating Interview: Seb's interview with Matthias Winckelmann (link to Neal Richardson's review)at King's Place (April); hearing Matthias tell his story helped give form to a label that one almost takes for granted. This could be the forerunner of a series - maybe other labels, producers, musicians ...
Great music, too, from, among others, John Tchicai, Mary Halvorson, Chris Abrahams, Andrea Belfi, The Necks, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, Paul Lovens, Tony Marsh, Steve Noble, John Edwards, Joe McPhee, Monty Alexander, Georgia Manci0, Norma Winstone, Brad Mehldau, Phronesis, Toshimara Nakimura, Rhodri Davies, Tyft, Buffalo Collision, Max de Wardener, Bad Plus on their own ... and averaging 8 or 10 quid to see world class music in its best format - the live performance - often in a tiny venue - this represents incredible value.
Thank you musicians, thank you promoters and venues. And best wishes for 2011.