TOP JAZZ RELEASES OF 2011


There was an Autobot named "Jazz?"
He's got nothing on this year's Best Of winners.

Last year, author, journalist and jazz critic, Francis Davis invited me to submit my top ten favorite jazz recordings in his annual compendium for The Village Voice. It was an honor for me (and for ICON) to be regarded in a group that included roughly 100 of the best music writers in print, radio and new media. The invite came again this year along with a new venue.  Given the evolution of the music biz and the way one listens to music, 2011’s list will be featured on Rhapsody’s website (www.rhapsody.com) -- which is wonderful since Rhapsody’s reach is way greater than the Voice.


If you don’t see your favorite (or “best”) record listed, it’s because there will always be recordings I didn’t hear or have time to. But generally, 2011 was a great year for jazz with a crop of marvelous debuts and scintillating work from both established vocalists and instrumentalist.

1.  Joe Lovano/Us Five, Bird Songs (Blue Note)
Saxophonist Lovano has made many records for Blue Note as a leader and “Bird Songs” is his 22nd.  Us Five is his current group, a cross-generational collective which includes two drummers, a great pianist, James Weidman, and the remarkable bassist Esperanza Spalding. Sure, there have been a thousand tributes to Charlie Parker but Us Five has a canny ability to take tunes that once defined bebop and render them anew through deft interplay and joyous creativity.

2.  Ambrose Akinmusire, When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
Trumpeter Akinmusire keeps getting a lot of good press and that’s for a good reason. He’s young but you’ll be astounded by his facility and maturity of tone and tempo. Akinmusire’s original tunes are gnarled and seared with his lightning bolts of sound; they crackle with invention thanks to saxophonist Walter Smith III and the music is probably meant to be played as loud as you can stand it. You’ll think of 60’s Miles and Freddie Hubbard, too, but the leader ricochets back to the future with a righteous sincerity. The rhythm section is the dream team of pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown and this amazing effort was co-produced by Jason Moran.

3.  Ben Allison, Action-Refraction (Palmetto)
Bassist Allison gives his 10th recording a twist by offering up an album of covers – songs by PJ Harvey, Neil Young and “We’ve Only Just Begun,” a tune that’s owned by The Carpenters.  Except here he reboots them in wild and wonderful ways with his “electro-acoustic orchestra” – saxophonist Michael Blake, guitarists Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook, drummer Rudy Royston and pianist Jason Lindner who rocks the sonic trance arrangement of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” At a trim 40 minutes, Allison’s team beautifully networks the concept and its aural pleasures sustain multiple spins.

4. Gilad Hekselman, Hearts Wide Open (le Chant du Monde)
Guitarist Hekselman arrays eight seriously great originals that gracefully expand the horizons of jazz guitar with melodious folk and rock influences. Saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Joe Martin and the powerful drummer Marcus Gilmore do justice to Hekselman’s silky arrangements with nimble bass notes, percussive rhythms and a dexterous sense of swing. A nice surprise, the guitarist adds a power ballad (“Understanding”) that heaves under a sturdy backbeat and emotive melody that signifies the leader’s cool confidence.

5. Noah Preminger, Before The Rain (Palmetto)
Casting aside any doubt about his ambition and strength as a composer, the young saxophonist Noah Preminger devotes his sophomore recording (and first for the Palmetto label) to the ballad form. The lead track is the beloved standard, “Where Or When,” and Preminger blows low notes with a honeyed edge over a lush rhythm conjured by pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Hébert and drummer Matt Wilson, a team of top flight musicians. The recording itself is sumptuous and spot-on, and it pulls you into the music as if Preminger and company is playing exclusively for you.

6. Giacomo Gates, The Revolution Will Be Jazz, The Songs Of Gil Scott-Heron (Savant)
For a singer, Giacomo Gates’ baritone is unmistakable, like blue label scotch and just as fine. His terrific concept album, “The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs Of Gil Scott-Heron” (Savant Records) risks a bittersweet listen since Scott-Heron passed away during Gates’ recording of the album, but with Gates at the helm the experience proves to be willfully celebratory. “Revolution” is this singer’s tour-de-force, a self-assured combination of words and music that Gates treats like lost classics, permeating them with verve. With potent musicians in tow – pianist John Di Martino, guitarist Tony Lombardozzi, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Vincent Ector and a fine Clare Daly on baritone sax – Gates swings (“Show Bizness”,) croons (“This Is A Prayer For Everybody To Be Free”) and gets his groove on (“Lady Day and John Coltrane.”)

7. Miguel Zenon, Alma Adentro, The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music)
A 2008 MacArthur Fellow and founding member of The SF Jazz Collective, saxophonist Miguel Zenon’s 6th recording pairs his longtime group – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole – with a 10-piece woodwind ensemble conducted by Guillermo Klein for a sterling set of passionate tunes from his native Puerto Rico. The recording is deeply authentic and engages with its polyrhythmic and melodic hooks. There’s a sweep of emotion that accompanies the woodwinds but Zenon plays front and center, reflecting on the music he’s heard all his life and giving it new wings to make it fly high.

8.Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 2 (Doxy/Emarcy)
Words are flimsy when describing saxophonist Sonny Rollins, now 80 years old yet listening to him continues to evoke great joy. His discography charts a musician full of ideas but it’s the concert stage where Rollins’ alchemy speaks truth to power. It’s a fact that Rollins can play for two hours and never repeat a phrase or lick and the second edition of “Road Shows” makes for a transfixing experience, since most of the recording docs his 80th Birthday concert at the Beacon Theater with Ornette Coleman, Roy Haynes, Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone and Christian McBride.  A recipient of the 2010 Medal of Arts, terms like colossus, titan and legendary don’t fit this one-of-a-kind man either, but they will come to mind when listening to this classic date.  

9. Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Faithful (ECM)
As an acoustic trio, pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz choose harmony over conflict, cultivating endless possibilities as they improvise their way through lyrical passages and peaceful interludes. The group doesn’t abandon the atmospherics or the indelible rapport for which they are acclaimed, and the title track (written by Ornette Coleman) sums up what the MW trio does best, which is to coerce sophisticated improvisations out of the subtlest of melodies, sometimes a note at a time. 

10. Jake Saslow, Crosby Street (14th Street)
Saxophonist Jake Saslow does a terrific job on his debut album, “Crosby Street” (14th Street Records) which sounds like the work of a confident veteran. He has a relaxed sound, tuneful yet conversational and the recording spotlights a leader with an extraordinarily empathetic band. Saslow doesn’t play loud, never showboats by reaching for the high notes or confuses proficiency with theatrics, which in the end defines his playing as grounded and self-assured. Saslow’s also a persuasive balladeer, closing the album with “Until Next Time,” a heartfelt track that begins with Trane-like licks over a gentle groove and carries you out under a blanket of swing courtesy of Martin’s walking bass, Gilmore’s sleek beats and Moreno’s gorgeous licks.




11. Dominick Farinacci, Dawn Of Goodbye (Eone Music)

Artful and beautifully played

12. John Escreet, Exception To The Rule (Criss Cross) +  John Escreet, The Age We Live In (Mythology)  


13. Bruce Barth Trio, Live At Smalls (Smalls Records)



14. Sam Yahel, From Sun To Sun (Origin Records)


15.  3 Cohens, Family (Anzic Records)





16. J.D. Allen, Victory (Sunnyside)
17. Gretchen Parlato, The Lost and Found (ObliqSound)
18. Tierney Sutton, American Road (BFM Jazz)
19. Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott, Ninety Miles (Concord)
20. Deep Blue Organ Trio, Wonderful! (Origin Records)
21. Jim Snidero, Interface (Savant)
22. Ben Williams, State Of Art (Concord Jazz)
23. Marcus Strickland, Triumph Of The Heavy (Strick Records)
24. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, Forever (Concord)
25. Lee Konetz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Jason Moran, Live At Birdland (ECM)
26. Opus 5, Introducing Opus 5 (Criss Cross)
27. Aaron Goldberg/Guillermo Klein, Bienestan (Sunnyside)
28. Terri Lyne Carrington, The Mosaic Project (Concord)
29. Karrin Allyson, ‘Round Midnight (Concord)
30. Gerald Clayton, Bond: The Paris Sessions (Emarcy)

BEST REISSUES OF 2011:
Stan Getz, “Quartets: The Clef and Norgran Studio Albums" (Hipo-Select/Verve)
Ron Carter, “All Blues” (CTI/Sony Masterworks)
Miles Davis Quintet, “Live In Europe 1967” CD/DVD set (Columbia/Legacy)

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JAZZ IN SPACE: TOP JAZZ RELEASES OF 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

TOP JAZZ RELEASES OF 2011


There was an Autobot named "Jazz?"
He's got nothing on this year's Best Of winners.

Last year, author, journalist and jazz critic, Francis Davis invited me to submit my top ten favorite jazz recordings in his annual compendium for The Village Voice. It was an honor for me (and for ICON) to be regarded in a group that included roughly 100 of the best music writers in print, radio and new media. The invite came again this year along with a new venue.  Given the evolution of the music biz and the way one listens to music, 2011’s list will be featured on Rhapsody’s website (www.rhapsody.com) -- which is wonderful since Rhapsody’s reach is way greater than the Voice.


If you don’t see your favorite (or “best”) record listed, it’s because there will always be recordings I didn’t hear or have time to. But generally, 2011 was a great year for jazz with a crop of marvelous debuts and scintillating work from both established vocalists and instrumentalist.

1.  Joe Lovano/Us Five, Bird Songs (Blue Note)
Saxophonist Lovano has made many records for Blue Note as a leader and “Bird Songs” is his 22nd.  Us Five is his current group, a cross-generational collective which includes two drummers, a great pianist, James Weidman, and the remarkable bassist Esperanza Spalding. Sure, there have been a thousand tributes to Charlie Parker but Us Five has a canny ability to take tunes that once defined bebop and render them anew through deft interplay and joyous creativity.

2.  Ambrose Akinmusire, When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
Trumpeter Akinmusire keeps getting a lot of good press and that’s for a good reason. He’s young but you’ll be astounded by his facility and maturity of tone and tempo. Akinmusire’s original tunes are gnarled and seared with his lightning bolts of sound; they crackle with invention thanks to saxophonist Walter Smith III and the music is probably meant to be played as loud as you can stand it. You’ll think of 60’s Miles and Freddie Hubbard, too, but the leader ricochets back to the future with a righteous sincerity. The rhythm section is the dream team of pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown and this amazing effort was co-produced by Jason Moran.

3.  Ben Allison, Action-Refraction (Palmetto)
Bassist Allison gives his 10th recording a twist by offering up an album of covers – songs by PJ Harvey, Neil Young and “We’ve Only Just Begun,” a tune that’s owned by The Carpenters.  Except here he reboots them in wild and wonderful ways with his “electro-acoustic orchestra” – saxophonist Michael Blake, guitarists Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook, drummer Rudy Royston and pianist Jason Lindner who rocks the sonic trance arrangement of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” At a trim 40 minutes, Allison’s team beautifully networks the concept and its aural pleasures sustain multiple spins.

4. Gilad Hekselman, Hearts Wide Open (le Chant du Monde)
Guitarist Hekselman arrays eight seriously great originals that gracefully expand the horizons of jazz guitar with melodious folk and rock influences. Saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Joe Martin and the powerful drummer Marcus Gilmore do justice to Hekselman’s silky arrangements with nimble bass notes, percussive rhythms and a dexterous sense of swing. A nice surprise, the guitarist adds a power ballad (“Understanding”) that heaves under a sturdy backbeat and emotive melody that signifies the leader’s cool confidence.

5. Noah Preminger, Before The Rain (Palmetto)
Casting aside any doubt about his ambition and strength as a composer, the young saxophonist Noah Preminger devotes his sophomore recording (and first for the Palmetto label) to the ballad form. The lead track is the beloved standard, “Where Or When,” and Preminger blows low notes with a honeyed edge over a lush rhythm conjured by pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Hébert and drummer Matt Wilson, a team of top flight musicians. The recording itself is sumptuous and spot-on, and it pulls you into the music as if Preminger and company is playing exclusively for you.

6. Giacomo Gates, The Revolution Will Be Jazz, The Songs Of Gil Scott-Heron (Savant)
For a singer, Giacomo Gates’ baritone is unmistakable, like blue label scotch and just as fine. His terrific concept album, “The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs Of Gil Scott-Heron” (Savant Records) risks a bittersweet listen since Scott-Heron passed away during Gates’ recording of the album, but with Gates at the helm the experience proves to be willfully celebratory. “Revolution” is this singer’s tour-de-force, a self-assured combination of words and music that Gates treats like lost classics, permeating them with verve. With potent musicians in tow – pianist John Di Martino, guitarist Tony Lombardozzi, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Vincent Ector and a fine Clare Daly on baritone sax – Gates swings (“Show Bizness”,) croons (“This Is A Prayer For Everybody To Be Free”) and gets his groove on (“Lady Day and John Coltrane.”)

7. Miguel Zenon, Alma Adentro, The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music)
A 2008 MacArthur Fellow and founding member of The SF Jazz Collective, saxophonist Miguel Zenon’s 6th recording pairs his longtime group – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole – with a 10-piece woodwind ensemble conducted by Guillermo Klein for a sterling set of passionate tunes from his native Puerto Rico. The recording is deeply authentic and engages with its polyrhythmic and melodic hooks. There’s a sweep of emotion that accompanies the woodwinds but Zenon plays front and center, reflecting on the music he’s heard all his life and giving it new wings to make it fly high.

8.Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 2 (Doxy/Emarcy)
Words are flimsy when describing saxophonist Sonny Rollins, now 80 years old yet listening to him continues to evoke great joy. His discography charts a musician full of ideas but it’s the concert stage where Rollins’ alchemy speaks truth to power. It’s a fact that Rollins can play for two hours and never repeat a phrase or lick and the second edition of “Road Shows” makes for a transfixing experience, since most of the recording docs his 80th Birthday concert at the Beacon Theater with Ornette Coleman, Roy Haynes, Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone and Christian McBride.  A recipient of the 2010 Medal of Arts, terms like colossus, titan and legendary don’t fit this one-of-a-kind man either, but they will come to mind when listening to this classic date.  

9. Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Faithful (ECM)
As an acoustic trio, pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz choose harmony over conflict, cultivating endless possibilities as they improvise their way through lyrical passages and peaceful interludes. The group doesn’t abandon the atmospherics or the indelible rapport for which they are acclaimed, and the title track (written by Ornette Coleman) sums up what the MW trio does best, which is to coerce sophisticated improvisations out of the subtlest of melodies, sometimes a note at a time. 

10. Jake Saslow, Crosby Street (14th Street)
Saxophonist Jake Saslow does a terrific job on his debut album, “Crosby Street” (14th Street Records) which sounds like the work of a confident veteran. He has a relaxed sound, tuneful yet conversational and the recording spotlights a leader with an extraordinarily empathetic band. Saslow doesn’t play loud, never showboats by reaching for the high notes or confuses proficiency with theatrics, which in the end defines his playing as grounded and self-assured. Saslow’s also a persuasive balladeer, closing the album with “Until Next Time,” a heartfelt track that begins with Trane-like licks over a gentle groove and carries you out under a blanket of swing courtesy of Martin’s walking bass, Gilmore’s sleek beats and Moreno’s gorgeous licks.




11. Dominick Farinacci, Dawn Of Goodbye (Eone Music)

Artful and beautifully played

12. John Escreet, Exception To The Rule (Criss Cross) +  John Escreet, The Age We Live In (Mythology)  


13. Bruce Barth Trio, Live At Smalls (Smalls Records)



14. Sam Yahel, From Sun To Sun (Origin Records)


15.  3 Cohens, Family (Anzic Records)





16. J.D. Allen, Victory (Sunnyside)
17. Gretchen Parlato, The Lost and Found (ObliqSound)
18. Tierney Sutton, American Road (BFM Jazz)
19. Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott, Ninety Miles (Concord)
20. Deep Blue Organ Trio, Wonderful! (Origin Records)
21. Jim Snidero, Interface (Savant)
22. Ben Williams, State Of Art (Concord Jazz)
23. Marcus Strickland, Triumph Of The Heavy (Strick Records)
24. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, Forever (Concord)
25. Lee Konetz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Jason Moran, Live At Birdland (ECM)
26. Opus 5, Introducing Opus 5 (Criss Cross)
27. Aaron Goldberg/Guillermo Klein, Bienestan (Sunnyside)
28. Terri Lyne Carrington, The Mosaic Project (Concord)
29. Karrin Allyson, ‘Round Midnight (Concord)
30. Gerald Clayton, Bond: The Paris Sessions (Emarcy)

BEST REISSUES OF 2011:
Stan Getz, “Quartets: The Clef and Norgran Studio Albums" (Hipo-Select/Verve)
Ron Carter, “All Blues” (CTI/Sony Masterworks)
Miles Davis Quintet, “Live In Europe 1967” CD/DVD set (Columbia/Legacy)

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