Sunday, January 02, 2005

2004 Favourites

Given the tragic events in this part of the world I hesitated before posting this review of personal favourites from the old year. But the list was compiled a little while ago and I thought it should get an airing.

Favourite CD
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, The Out-Of-Towners (2004). The estimable piano trio at the top of their form. The new album mixes standards with Jarrett originals, and the concluding track "It's All In The Game" is simply delicious.

Favourite Gig
Jun Cadiz Trio at Silungan, Manila. I missed 2004's North Sea Jazz Festival for the first time in a while and Kuala Lumpur is not exactly a hotbed of live jazz. So this is a very personal choice - a tribute to the infectious musicianship of three stalwarts of the lively Philippine jazz scene performing in a favourite venue.

Favourite Theatre Performance
"Ramakian" at the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre, Bangkok. An enthralling performance by puppeteers of a Thai version of the Indian epic, Ramayana, full of stunning choreography and witty characterisation.

Favourite Exhibition
"Picasso: War And Peace" at the Museu Picasso, Barcelona. A magnificent tribute to Picasso's lifelong engagement with the horrors of war. The centrepiece was a room devoted to the making of Guernica. But Picasso's paintings from the second world war are equally moving.

Favourite Museum
Museum Of Musical Instruments, Brussels. Housed in one of Brussels's lovely art deco buildings this unqiue museum not only exhibits musical instruments from round the world but also allows visitors to listen to hundreds of musical extracts through infra-red headphones. Great view from the roof cafe.

Favourite Film
I saw a lot of films this year but none was better than the re-issue of Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle Of Algiers (1965). Both in terms of cinematic technique and language, as well as the moral questions he poses about war and resistance, nothing has surpassed Pontecorvo's unalloyed masterpiece.

Favourite Novels
A year of re-reading as well as catching up. In the first category there was William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. No other modernist work better captures the tensions between isolation (the interior monologues of each of the characters) and mutual identity. I also read each of Philip Roth's masterful trilogy of American history, life and politics - the so-called Zuckerman books. I most enjoyed American Pastoral (1998), his epic account of the inter-generational clash spawned by the political turbulence of the late 1960s and 1970s. This is how Roth himself puts it: "
History is a very sudden thing ... I'm talking about the historical fire at the centre and how the smoke from that fire reaches into your house".

Favourite Poetry
Electric Light by Seamus Heaney (2002). Another great collection from a poet at the height of his powers - it
uses images of air, light and water and reflects of how different elements meet or mingle or come into conflict. Heaney has written on the making of the collection here.

Favourite Non-Fiction
After a break I went back to reading Southeast Asian history. There was nothing better than Victor Lieberman's Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830 (2003). It's a really fascinating and original study of the longue dur
ée Eurasian connections which should set the terms of historiographical debate for the next decade. A second volume is promised.


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