Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Favorite Jazz of 2011

Coming in a mere 2.5 months later than your average jazz critic, I'm presenting my very own list of favorite 2011 jazz albums. The list has already been available in channel form for a few days, on my Staff Picks channel (listen now), but now I'm finally presenting it in numerated list form.

When looking for themes in my picks, I'm slightly (but only slightly) embarrassed to see that the top-10 is heavy on long-established personal favorites: Ben Allison [pictured], The Claudia Quintet, Dave King, Roy Haynes. This might suggest that I was biased to like these albums before I ever listened to them. What's more likely is that these bands and musicians are consistently excellent and didn't fail in 2011. Also, my 2nd favorite album of the year is by a little-known DC-based musician of whom I had no previous knowledge. So maybe I did give everyone a fair shake.

I just want to take one moment to highlight that album, Secret Handshake by Brian Settles. I was hooked from the first few seconds of the lead-off track, and it has remained in steady rotation on my iPod, computer and car stereo ever since. It's a seemingly low-budget, humble affair that nonetheless creates a very distinct and disciplined sound-world unlike anything I've heard in a long time. I didn't even receive a press release about the CD; it managed to make its way to the forefront of my listening habits with zero hype or back-story preceding it. That's unfortunately not as common as you'd think. But still, the much more hyped and more expensive-sounding Action-Refraction by Ben Allison did eke out a close 1st place finish in my list.

Below, I've listed all 30 albums that are playing on the Staff Picks channel: an ordered top 20 plus 10 honorable mentions. I hope you enjoy listening to the channel and discover a new favorite album or two for yourself.

Top 20

1. Ben Allison - Action Refraction
2. Brian Settles and Central Union - Secret Handshake
3. Ambrose Akinmusire - When the Heart Emerges Glistening
4. Miguel Zenón - Alma Adentro: the Puerto Rican Songbook
5. Claudia Quintet - What Is the Beautiful?
6. Dave King Trucking Company - Good Old Light
7. Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman and Eric Harland - James Farm
8. Mike Reed's My Silence - It Only Happens at Night
9. Roy Haynes - Roy-Alty
10. Rez Abassi - Suno Suno
11. Starlicker - Double Demon
12. Chris Speed's Endangered Blood - Endangered Blood
13. JD Allen Trio - Victory!
14. Gretchen Parlato - The Lost and Found
15. Gerald Cleaver, William Parker and Craig Taborn - Out of This World's Distortions
16. Amir ElSaffar - Inana
17. Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo - Songs of Mirth and Melancholy
18. Benny Green - Source
19. Darius Jones Trio - Big Gurl (Smell My Dream)
20. The Four Bags - Forth

Honorable Mentions:

Led Bib - Bring Your Own
Jason Adasiewicz - Spacer
Chris Dingman - Waking Dreams
Steve Coleman - The Mancy of Sound
Brad Mehldau, Kevin Hays and Patrick Zimmerli - Modern Music
Carlo De Rosa's Cross Fade - Brain Dance
Josh Nelson - Discoveries
Deep Blue Organ Trio - Wonderful!
Colorlist - The Fastest Way to Become the Ocean
Noah Preminger - Before the Rain

Listen to the Staff Picks channel now!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Best Jazz of 2011, According to the Critics

Click here for our Best Jazz of 2011 Channel.

The best jazz album of 2011, according to the 122 people who participated in this year's Rhapsody Jazz Critics' Poll (formerly the Village Voice Jazz Critics' Poll), was made by an artist who first came to prominence in the 1950s. Road Shows, Vol. 2, by Sonny Rollins, won in a landslide. Rollins also received recognition from much higher powers than jazz critics, receiving the Kennedy Center honors from the president. Interestingly, the Rhapsody poll's No. 2 spot belongs to one of the youngest musicians on the list, 29-year-old trumpet phenom Ambrose Akinmusire. Akinmusire's exhilarating Blue Note Records debut, When the Heart Emerges Glistening, seemed to appeal to more traditional- and progressive-minded voters alike.

The rest of the list is typically diverse, ranging from quintessential New York free improvisation (David S. Ware's Planetary Unknown) to R&B-inflected modern jazz (Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project) and many well-conceived experiments in fusing jazz with ethnic musics from around the globe (Amir ElSaffar's Inana Suite, Vijay Iyer's Tirtha and Miguel Zenon's Alma Adentro). There are also an eye-opening six-and-a-half solo piano discs (the half being one disc of Matthew Shipp's double-disc Art of the Improviser).

To bring you, the listener, the best of what jazz had to offer in 2011, we're continuing in our annual tradition of creating a channel based on this definitive crtitics' list. Just click here to start listening. Our channel is playing 42 out of the 60 albums on the list, with programming weighed more heavily towards the highest-ranking albums. Therefore, you'll hear more Sonny and Ambrose than Starlicker (a great Chicago trio that came in 58th place).

As for my personal favorites, you can listen to my Staff Picks channel to hear my top 30 albums. I'll be posting a blog soon about the selections.

What were your favorite albums released in 2011? Do you agree with the critics? Do you think important albums got snubbed? Leave your opinions in the comments, or talk to me on Twitter.

Again, click here to start listening to the Best of 2011 Channel.