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TOP TEN JAZZ CDs of 2011

Here are my choices for Top Ten Jazz Releases of 2011. Obviously, I didn’t hear everything, but of what I heard, this is the stuff that I came back to again and again throughout the year, the stuff I recommended to friends and listeners, the music I think will endure. A great year for the trumpet and for women! Some newcomers and some old favorites. Some highly arranged projects, and a solo improvised recital. Dig in and enjoy!

Peruvian vocalist Susana Baca cooks with fire on this strong recording. She stirs in a little N’Awlins flavor at one point, but the main ingredients are South American. Her ability to work a groove is reminiscent of some of the great soul singers of the 1960s.

The ghost of Miles hovers over this double disc set by trumpeter Smith, espescially on the badass back beat opener (dedicated to Don Cherry). Between the blues and the funk there is some old fashioned AACM style avant garde.

8) ROBERTA PIKET – SIDES, COLORS (Thirteenth Note Records)
Brooklyn pianist and composer Piket has one of the freshest releases of the year. At turns pretty (Laurie) and complex (check out the deconstructed gospel dedication to Sam Rivers, My Friends and Neighbors), Roberta is a force to be reckoned with and one to watch.

Jarrett has built a career not just on his superlative trio recordings, but on his solo improv recitals as well. The newest, recorded in Rio (naturally) is maybe his best. Hard to believe that this fountain of ideas is conceived in the moment, so coherent and certain is Jarrett’s playing. Whereas in some of his earliest solo offerings there are extended and roiling sequences, here the pieces are compact and dense. Jarrett has astounding facilities as a pianist, and this may be his best work yet.

Karrin has recorded a string of wonderful albums over the past decade or so, but this one stands alone. Like Frank Sinatra’s “Only The Lonely” or Joni Mithcell’s “Blue”, this recording relentlessly builds a mood for those with a need for expression of the ennui of love lost and longing. A heartbreaker of an album, from a heartbreaking singer.

Like a previous project (Miles From India), Belden collects a small army of musicians (this time of the Hispanic persuasion) to interpret the Gil Evans / Miles Davis collaboration, Sketches of Spain. The double disc allows the conception to expand even further, utilizing some alum from Davis’ groups to romp cross cultures. And such delightful colors, utilizing exotic percussions, strings (Oud! Harp!) and even bagpipes. Not to be missed.

4) ETIENNE CHARLES – KAISO (Culture Shock)
Trinidad trumpeter Etienne Charles combines straight ahead with calypso to create a new and diverse dish. Sure, Blue Mitchell or Sonny Rollins have shown an influence from the isles, but Etienne goes the full monty here, including guest shots from Lord Superior, Ralph MacDonald and Monty Alexander. Another very young talent to watch.

This is a birthday party and a victory lap for octogenarian and living legend Sonny Rollins. Buoyed by a great band (Christian McBride, Roy Haynes and Russell Malone) Rollins is joined at turns by old friends Jim Hall and Bob Cranshaw, with a special guest appearance by Ornette Coleman. This document is a cherry that tops a stellar career.

Imagine Donna Lee as a ballad, or Dewey Square as a percussive rhumba, and you get the notion behind Lovano’s set of Charlie Parker music. Yet another entry in the book of Lovano, who is a perennial in the ‘best of’ lists at year’s end. One of the great sax players of our time, but also has the imagination to consistently find new ways to arrange and display the music of jazz.

1) LAURA KAHLE – CIRCULAR (Dark Key Music)
Laura has been known to refer to this album as ‘my little project’ (see Facebook), such is her modesty. This year may have been devoted to raising twin girls of she and husband Jeff “Tain” Watts, but the creation of this music is also more than noteworthy. This one seemed to get by most critics, but to my ears it’s the best thing I’ve heard in 2011. Why? First of all, the blend of Kahle’s pocket trumpet set against the uber powerful drumming of her husband creates a dynamic that reminds me of Miles and Tony Williams, or Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. Her ideas are pithy, his funk is furious. This is music not to be missed. Claudia Acuna’s singular contribution is a rose in the forest. Beautiful.

This is the playlist for this week’s Vinyl Side of Midnight, which can be heard on 89.7 FM WLNZ in the Greater Lansing area, or you can tune in internationally on the web on – hosted by Mike Stratton, Sunday nights, 9- midnight, Eastern Standard Time.
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