Your Picks, And More Picks, For The Best Jazz Of 2011 (So Far)

The band on saxophonist Noah Preminger's Before The Rain. L-R: John Hebert, Matt Wilson, Preminger, Frank Kimbrough. i i

The band on saxophonist Noah Preminger's Before The Rain. L-R: John Hebert, Matt Wilson, Preminger, Frank Kimbrough. Fran Kaufman/Palmetto Records hide caption

itoggle caption Fran Kaufman/Palmetto Records
The band on saxophonist Noah Preminger's Before The Rain. L-R: John Hebert, Matt Wilson, Preminger, Frank Kimbrough.

The band on saxophonist Noah Preminger's Before The Rain. L-R: John Hebert, Matt Wilson, Preminger, Frank Kimbrough.

Fran Kaufman/Palmetto Records

Two weeks ago, we asked for your picks of the best jazz records of 2011 so far. We even provided a list of 25 critically-acclaimed albums to kickstart the discussion.

I've looked over all of your picks, and have a few comments to add. Plus, I'd like to submit a few personal picks I haven't mentioned yet. And at the end, I've compiled all the records you nominated. Ready?


First, here are the albums that received more than one nomination:

  • Mostly Other People Do The Killing, The Coimbra Concert (four votes)
  • Colin Vallon Trio, Rruga (three votes)
  • Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Faithful (three votes)
  • Donny McCaslin, Perpetual Motion
  • Tom Harrell, The Time Of The Sun
  • Miles Davis, Bitches Brew Live
  • Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel
  • Wadada Leo Smith's Organic, Heart's Reflections
  • Harris Eisenstadt, Canada Day II
  • Peter Evans Quintet, Ghosts
  • Darius Jones and Matthew Shipp, Cosmic Lieder
  • Nate Wooley Quintet, (Put Your) Hands Together
  • Brad Mehldau, Live In Marciac
  • William Hooker and Thomas Chapin, Crossing Points
  • Gerald Cleaver, Be It As I See It
  • Joe Fiedler, Sacred Chrome Orb

The primary observation I make here is that so-called free jazz is represented well. Albums on major labels (ECM, Nonesuch, the Miles Davis historical issue via Columbia/Legacy) did well too, but of the independent releases, there's a lot more in the experimental vein than straight-ahead jazz.

Not a scientific poll, and not a large sample size, I know. Also, the long list of all records nominated (below, as an appendix to this post) mixes it up a bit more. But I've long observed that free jazz has a fairly healthy Internet community — that its fans represent themselves quite well online. I wonder why this is?

On the other end of the chronological spectrum, nobody recommended any traditional jazz. (I didn't put any in the critical consensus list, I know.) It's hard to find people who don't like early jazz, but it's hard to find people talking about its current incarnations online.

Finally, when was the last time trumpeter Tom Harrell made a less than excellent record? I can't think of any.


The two discs by trios led by pianists Colin Vallon and Marcin Wasilewski both got three mentions. Vallon is Swiss, and Wasilewski is Polish.

Both albums are out on ECM Records, and despite their different compositional sensibilities, they also feel somewhat like typical ECM jazz albums: Lots of open space, slow-developing tunes, piano that sounds like it was recorded in an cavernous church in the Arctic. Here's a taste of Colin Vallon's trio live:

I like the build of that YouTube clip quite a bit, and I generally like the clean atmospheres and trio interactivity of these two discs. But I don't find myself reaching for multiple plays either, and I wonder if seeing them live would clarify my interpretation of these bands' musical priorities. If these trios toured the U.S. more, would they gain public recognition as emotionally gripping units, as E.S.T. once did? Or, accustomed as we are to bluesy melodies and post-bebop swing and standards, would U.S. audiences find them boring, or distant, or unfamiliar? What about U.S. musicians?

Perhaps the reception to American pianist Craig Taborn's solo album Avenging Angel, also on ECM, will be telling. He got two nominations in this informal survey, and I imagine others might have mentioned it if it hadn't come out so recently (early June). Critics and sharp observers know Taborn from many bands, but his own solo recording is mysterious, non-idiomatic stuff. Maybe it's jazz, maybe not; who cares. As The New York Times' Ben Ratliff says in a review, "I've heard days and weeks of Mr. Taborn's playing in my life, but I haven't heard him sound quite like this before."


I have a few picks which nobody mentioned. Before The Rain, the sophomore album by the 24-year-old saxophonist Noah Preminger, might pass as an ECM album in a blindfold test. It concentrates largely on slow-to-medium tempo tunes, and the rhythm section (Frank Kimbrough, John Hebert, Matt Wilson — all 15-20 years older than Preminger is) paints with a full palette of colors.

But there's something to the way Preminger plays the standards on this record that feels like it belongs to the lineage of American masters. Where so many musicians, especially those his age, seem to learn standards well enough to execute perfunctorily at jam sessions, he seems to understand these inside and out; they feel like putty in his hands. He occasionally makes reference to familiar phrasings and patterns, but it's all laundered to feel untraceable. Here's a clip of him playing "Until The Real Thing Comes Along," which is on Before The Rain. It's with a different rhythm section, but with the same feeling.

There's a lot of attention here to expressing a melody, whether standards, originals or tunes by Kimbrough. Ornette Coleman's "Toy Dance" is here too; Ornette found a certain freedom in strong melodies, and I hear it here. (You can stream this album through Palmetto Records.)

I'll also mention two very different "little big bands" — one nonet, one ten-tet — both comprised of musicians who mostly live in Brooklyn, N.Y. Trumpeter Brian Carpenter started from the music of four mostly-forgotten jazz bands of the 1920s: Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Tiny Parham and His Musicians and Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra. Commissioned by a vaudeville revue, Carpenter dug deep into their recordings, transcribed a few, then re-scripted them for a 10-piece band that includes strings and musical saw. Hothouse Stomp, from Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra, documents these arrangements. Here's a sample:

This stuff swings for sure — as Carpenter told Terry Gross earlier this year, this late '20s music "kept that visceral, bluesy sexual energy of early New Orleans jazz." It also has a natural weirdness to it, or at least unfamiliarity — it feels like something you've heard before in a documentary film score, but have you actually paid attention to all the twists and turns?

My other pick is Noneto Ibérico, by bassist Alexis Cuadrado. (It was actually mentioned by journalist David Adler in the comments, but I started writing this before I saw it, and I'm making the rules here, so Calvinball.) Cuadrado is from Spain, and a few of the musicians on this record are too — including a few special guests who contribute flamenco handclaps. You can hear the clapping on this tune:

Like so many of the musicians in the New York area who hail from foreign countries, Cuadrado is using jazz vocabulary to tap into music of his heritage. Cuadrado never really investigated the inner workings of flamenco until embarking on this project, and then he had to translate those forms in ways jazz musicians would understand — he keeps it all in perspective. His are crafty arrangements, with liberal applications of percussion. Give a mouse a polyrhythm ...


I have other records from 2011 I quite like. You folks mentioned some of them, and recommended others I need to listen to. Here are the rest of your collected picks.

  • Todd Delguidice, Pencil Sketches
  • Anthony Wilson, Campo Belo
  • Thomas Borgmann, Boom Box Jazz
  • James Carter, Caribbean Rhapsody
  • Pee Wee Ellis, Tenoration
  • Beegie Adair, I Love Being Here With You
  • Jason Parker Quartet, Five Leaves Left: A Tribute To Nick Drake
  • Nicole Mitchell, Awakening
  • Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers!
  • Matt LaVelle, Goodbye New York, Hello World
  • Inzinzac, Inzinzac
  • John Surman, Flashpoint: NDR Workshop - April '69
  • Wolfert Brederode Quartet, Post Scriptum (July)
  • Steven Lugerner, Narratives
  • Taylor Haskins, Recombination
  • Matthew Halsall, On The Go
  • Alex Sipiagin, Destinations Unknown
  • Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein, Bienestan
  • The Cookers, Cast The First Stone
  • Mansur Scott Harlem Quartet, Sometimes Forgotten, Sometimes Remembered (2010)
  • Mary Stallings, Dream
  • Brian Lynch, Unsung Heroes, Vol. 1
  • T.K. Blue, Latin Bird
  • Houston Person, Moment To Moment
  • Herb Alpert & Lani Hall, I Feel You
  • Louie Belogenis Trio, Tiresias
  • Ralph Alessi and This Against That, Wiry Strong
  • Rebirth Brass Band, Rebirth of New Orleans
  • David Binney, Barefooted Town
  • David Binney, Graylen Epicenter
  • Fred Hersch Trio, Everybody's Song But My Own (Japan import)
  • Bill Dixon, Intents and Purposes (reissue)
  • Charlie Haden, Sophisticated Ladies
  • Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuaria, Lagrimas Mexicanas
  • Corea, Clarke & White, Forever
  • Lynne Arriale, Convergence
  • Jeremy Pelt, The Talented Mr. Pelt
  • Pat Metheny, What's It All About?
  • Eldar Djangirov, Three Stories
  • Carlo De Rosa's Cross-Fade, Brain Dance
  • Alexis Cuadrado, Noneto Iberico
  • Steve Coleman & Five Elements, The Mancy Of Sound (July)
  • Brass Jaw, Branded
  • Jeremy Udden's Plainville, If The Past Seems So Bright
  • The Mattson 2, Feeling Hands
  • KLANG, Other Doors
  • Gwilym Simcock, Good Days At Schloss Elmau
  • Other Dimensions In Music Feat. Fay Victor, Kaiso Stories
  • Resonance Ensemble, Kafka In Flight
  • Joseph Daley Earth Tones Ensembles, The Seven Deadly Sins
  • Honey Ear Trio, Steampunk Serenade
  • Marcus Miller, A Night In Monte-Carlo
  • Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two, Live At The Village Vanguard Vol. III (2010)
  • Thomas Heberer & Clarino, Klippe/One
  • Muhal Richard Abrams/Fred Anderson/George Lewis, Sound Dance
  • Taylor Ho Bynum/Sara Schoenbeck/Joe Morris, Next
  • Howard Riley, The Complete Short Stories 1998-2010 (reissue)

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