Compiling a top ten list for an entire year is a difficult thing to do…especially for a year like 2011, with so many diverse releases to choose from. For this list, I tried to choose records that are worth owning, and listening to – in their entirety. If you’d like to hear a sample of these recordings, tune in to Touchstones on Thursday, Dec 29 – for a sample track from each of these records.
3 Cohens – Family
The three Cohen siblings (Anat, Avishai, and Yuval) second album is yet another stellar effort from this group that has been playing together, well…since they could play, I guess. There’s something about the harmonized sound of three different horn players who really get each other’s improvisational sensibilities. Each sibling contributes their own compositions to this record…and a special standout is Avishai’s “Shufla de Shufla.” Oh, and Jon Hendricks also makes an appearance.
Julian Lage Group – Gladwell
Many critics have attempted to describe Julian Lage’s guitar style as a sort of “neo-flamenco” spin on Jazz. I’ll just say that his playing is unique, and different than most guitarists we hear play these days. Recently, Lage has spent time playing and touring as the primary guitarist in Gary Burton’s new Quartet…but I especially like his playing on this album, with some of his own compelling compositions. This is his second album as a leader, and the former child prodigy fits the role well.
Warren Wolf – Warren Wolf
It’s always nice to hear a new vibes player. Beyond Stefon Harris and Mike Dillon, Warren Wolf might be the youngest high-profile vibraphonist on the scene right now. His new release on Mack Avenue records finds the Baltimore-born vibes player channelling post-bop sounds that are upbeat, melodic and bouncy. It’s a refreshing record that provides for a solid listen the whole way through.
Stefon Harris, David Sanchez, Christian Scott – 90 Miles
Speaking of Stefon Harris, he put a new album out this year, too (beyond his other excellent release with the SF Jazz Collective). This three-way feature for trumpeter Christian Scott, saxophonist David Sanchez and Harris finds them interpreting a new sort of Afro-Cuban sound. The three traveled to Cuba (hence the title, 90 Miles) to record this record, which is very accessible and (as you’d expect) heavy on clave. Once again, a very interesting listen – from start to finish.
Ben Williams – State of Art
Bassist Ben Williams debut is a strong one, and for good reason…For one, he’s got superstars like Christian Scott, Jamire Williams, Jaleel Shaw, and Gerald Clayton playing with him. But it’s not just about the celebrity sidemen here. Williams jazz-meets-R&B ethic (without losing the Jazz) translates well. To me, this feels like a record that will age well…as I’m sure Williams career will.
Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found
It’s tough to pick a vocal record for one of the top 10 albums of the year. If you didn’t already know, vocal albums are the most recorded sub-genre in Jazz. I’d estimate that at least 15 new singer’s CDs show up in my mailbox each week. So, with all that competition – how does one pick a singer for the top ten of 2011? My criteria is pretty simple – do something different, make something unique – and stand out. This is, after all, Jazz. Parlato’s soft singing style is intimate, and her choice of material (ranging from standards, R&B hits, and her own compositions) seems to be perfectly selected to suit her unique voice.
Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, Eric Harland – James Farm
This new quartet features four accomplished band-leaders, and each contributes compositions to this recording. Perhaps the most interesting thing to hear when listening to this record is how the dynamic works with this quartet. These player’s comfortability with each other means that they’ve developed a heightened ability for soloing and improvisation on each of the disc’s 10 tracks. But it’s not just about chemistry for James Farm, there’s also an accessibility about this top 10 pick. It’s worth a listen, and also exists as my current favorite “gateway” album – when I want to turn someone on the the new sound of Jazz.
Jeff “Tain” Watts – Family
Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts has released several recordings over the past decade, but his new record finds him in a sentimental mood. Often a bombastic, post-bop interpreter – Watts is more content to sit in the pocket on this new release than to toss explosions from behind the kit. The result is a pleasing new effort (and a surprising one, for me) from one of the world’s great Jazz drummers. Also, the entire CD consists of originals written by Watts.
Vijay Iyer – Tirtha
This new trio is a continuation of Vijay Iyer’s trajectory into the realm of melding Jazz with classical south-indian music. For Tirtha, the pianist chose the tabla of Nitin Mitta and the guitar of Prasanna to explore odd time signatures, mathematics in music and world-jazz grooves. The project was born in 2007 and will be one of the headliners at this year’s Portland Jazz Festival. I, for one, am very excited to experience it live.
Andrew Boscardin – Zubatto Syndicate
Hailing from Seattle, guitarist/composer Andrew Boscardin is infatuated with science fiction culture. This is evident on the new release from his 12-peice ensemble called the Zubatto Syndicate. For one, the names of the compositions, like “The Arrival”, “Saturn 9″, and “The Trouble With Earth Women” bear this out, as well as the cover art – produced by legendary sci-fi artist Franco Bambilla certainly lends a futuristic feel to the record’s overall aesthetic. But it’s the music that’s truly futuristic. The album’s carefully crafted compositions lead the listener on a sort of “fourth-stream” faster-than-light jump through Jazz, Ska, Funk, and more…
-Matt Fleeger, Program Director