The Nextbop staff is compiling its lists of the best albums of 2011 in jazz and all other genres. We’ll release our mass lists during the last week of December but we want to make sure everyone’s individual lists have the chance to shine.
10. Austin Peralta – Endless Planets (Brainfeeder)
This album is heavy, and it takes stomach to digest it. But it is this kind of “dirty” that has always been a favorite for jazz listeners. From strong downbeat rhythms to catchy, muddy bass lines, Austin Peralta has got it all when it comes to dirt. In a good way. I might add that the rest of the band is totally in tune with Peralta’s style. This album also marks an interesting and most likely landmark change of direction in Brainfeeder, who are not used to releasing any completely acoustic jazz like this.
9) Ben Williams – State of Art (Concord Jazz)
Ben Williams had been working as an acclaimed sideman previously, most notably with Jacky Terrasson’s trio with Jamire Williams, and so was finally able to shine on this debut solo album. It is a strong album considering, first of all, the band, including Marcus Strickland, Matthew Stevens, Jamire Williams, Gerald Clayton and Etienne Charles. With such a pool of great talent, it is no wonder that this album should be a classic. And, indeed, it is an instant classic, if such a thing exists. The solid rhythm section provides for intriguing melodies, and vice-versa. In fact, it really carefully weaves these musicians’ styles into a fabric of beautifully lyrical and provocative music. This album shows promise in Williams as a bandleader.
8. Roy Haynes – Roy-alty (Dreyfus Jazz)
Roy Haynes is literally the single most influential jazz drummer alive, with a career lasting over 60 mighty years. And yet, he is not one of those “young cats can’t swing” types. His distinct open-minded attitude is clearly displayed in a youthful album. The band features several strong talents including John Carver Sullivan, Marcus Strickland, and Martin Bejerano. Roy Hargrove and Chick Corea also make appearances. This album is a testament to the fact that a living legend is still going strong.
7) Dan Tepfer – Goldberg Variations/ Variations (Sunnyside)
This album, above anything else, is one the most interesting albums released over the past year. Academic music and jazz have co-existed for a while, but nothing of this sort was ever really made: Dan Tepfer plays all of Bach’s original Goldberg Variations, a collection of small pieces for harpsichord. He then performs his own improvisations based on the basic structural elements of each variation, from harmony to rhythm or form. This album deserves a place in my top ten because it emphasizes the importance of improvisation in jazz and in any music.
6) Ibrahim Maalouf – Diagnostic (M’Ister Productions)
Maalouf grew up in an environment of many different cultures. And you can hear how he takes advantage of many different styles in his own music, reaching from the traditional Arabic (see his microtonal trumpet) to rock and to French pop. This album is such powerful album because of his skillful use and manipulation of said styles and traditions. “Maeva in the Wonderland”, especially shows how he uses different traditions, from something with more Arabic sounds to a Latin big band jazz sound, to create a beautiful blast of sounds and energy. In any case, his musical language is one that is so fluent and animated that the sound of his trumpet shines in any music he plays.
5. John Zorn – The Satyr’s Play/ Cerebus (Tzadik)
John Zorn, a leader in atonal music and free jazz, released several clean jazz records over this past year. But “The Satyr’s Play/ Cerebus” is a reminder of his almost violent expression in composition. With a first half of the album exploring rhythms, and the second as a harsh interaction between three horns, this composition is among one of John Zorn’s most powerful and complete in terms of the different moods explored. Read more about Zorn’s records over 2011 in a recent post of mine.
4) Vijay Iyer feat. Prasanna and Nitin Mitta – Tirtha (ACT)
Although it has been pointed out that this album is only a reference to and not essentially Carnatic music, this album is an exploration into Iyer’s heritage in India. This can be heard in the tabla, and in the harmonies of the piano and the guitar. The album is important because it takes jazz to further levels, beyond the borders of the United States and Europe, where you more normally hear jazz. It outlines the idea that jazz is really just an approach to music; anything can be played with jazz, really, even a variation of traditional Indian styles.
3) Tigran Hamasyan- A Fable (Verve)
Hamasyan’s Armenian childhood can be heard in these song-oriented melodies and supporting harmonies. This mostly solo album is of a poetic beauty, each piece short and straight to the point, appealing to the emotions. This album reminded me of how jazz is not only that mess of sounds and energetic solos, but also a simple but controlling expression of emotion. It is this catharsis that can be heard in the album.
2. Gerald Clayton – Bond: The Paris Sessions (Emarcy)
Clayton is an extremely versatile and expressive pianists, and this trio, with Justin Brown and Joe Sanders, really puts his talent into a perfect framework It perfectly complements his work, and yet, it leaves him all the space he needs. The spirited repeated choruses and long, lyrical solos left me impressed by the skill and sheer expressive capacity of Clayton.
1) Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
This album is one that deserves first place, in my eyes, because it so ambiguous in terms of its genre. This only to say that any limitations set by standard instrumentation or form, for example, were completely ignored, for the sake of making a great album with great music. It is this view on jazz that is healthy for the evolution of the jazz aesthetic. In any case, the young bassist shows his fluency in a very distinct stylistic language. People often say that it is by making your own voice that you will get heard in jazz. This is very true in this case, simply because the fact that his voice is so clearly personal makes it so that the music is apparently much truer to himself as well as to the listener.