Top Five for 2011 + 25


Here’s my annotated Top Five for 2011, followed by 25 runners-up:

Karrin Allyson: ‘Round Midnight Concord Jazz

Allyson has a rare gift for blending wry insouciance and emotional depth, and she's blessed with flawless pitch and timing.  Highlights here include a duo with bassist Ed Howard on the Monk title track, a spry take on the late Fran Landesman’s ennui-riddled “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” and a haunting rendition of "Goodbye," the Gordon Jenkins ballad that's poised for return as a jazz standard. Superb arrangements, mostly by Allyson, who’s at the piano, and sensitive accompaniment by her regular guitarist Rod Fleeman and guests Matt Wilson and saxophonist-clarinetist Bob Sheppard.   This may be a career best, certainly a worthy complement to her decade-old masterpiece, Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane.

Scott Hamilton: A Splendid Trio Arbors

Hamilton was notoriously prolific early in his career, and he’s become ubiquitous all over again with releases on a variety of labels and as a sideman on another of the year’s best by Larry Vuckovich.  The tenor man’s superb sound and easeful sense of swing have only improved with time, and his tune selection is impeccable.  As with his now-deceased New England guides Ruby Braff and Dave McKenna, the Providence native worships at the altar of melody.  Here he’s joined by like-minded acolytes Howard Alden and Frank Tate.

Christian McBride: Conversations with Christian Mack Avenue

Have bass, will take care of business! Who’s having more fun than McBride on the jazz scene today? This year saw the release of his hard-swinging big band debut, The Good Feeling, and this collection of duets.  McBride’s stunning command and huge sound are showcased here in Afro-Pop, J.S. Bach, tango, montuno, r&b, and ballad settings; conversation partners include Angelique Kidjo, Chick Corea, Eddie Palmieri, and the wonderfully sassy Dee Dee Bridgewater. 

Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol. 2 Doxy

This second volume of personally-selected live performances by the Saxophone Colossus draws on his 80th birthday concert in New York, and a date in Japan a month later.  It opens with an extended workout on “They Say It’s Wonderful” that builds to a series of spirited exchanges with guitarist Russell Malone, the most inspiring front-line partner Rollins has toured with in years.  Birthday guests include Jim Hall, Roy Hargrove, Roy Haynes, and Christian McBride, plus a surprise appearance by Ornette Coleman, with whom Sonny played his most adventurous solo of the night. 

Terell Stafford: This Side of Strayhorn Max Jazz

Further evidence of Billy Strayhorn’s supremacy as a composer, and of trumpeter Stafford and saxophonist Tim Warfield as one of the most formidable front line partnerships in years. (See also Warfield's One for Shirley.)   Credit goes to pianist Bruce Barth for the arrangements on this well-balanced program of ballads “Lush Life” and “My Little Brown Book;” blowing vehicles, “Johnny Come Lately,” “Raincheck;” and lesser known gems, “Smada,” “Multicolored Blue” and “Lana Turner” (aka “Charpoy”). 


Bruce Barth Trio Live at Smalls Smalls Live

T.K. Blue: Latinbird Motema

Uri Caine Trio Siren Winter & Winter

Etienne Charles: Kaiso Culture Shock

Giacomo Gates: The Revolution Will Be Jazz Savant

Roy Haynes: Roy-alty Dreyfus Jazz

Nick Hempton: The Business Positone

Rebecca Kilgore/Harry Allen: Live at Feinstein’s Arbors     

Brian Lynch: Unsung Heroes Hollistic Music

Tom McDermott/Evan Christopher: Almost Native Threadhead

Rene Marie: Black Lace Freudian Slip Motema

Tim Mayer: Resilience Jazz Legacy

Miles Espanol: New Sketches of Spain eOne

Sophie Milman: In the Moonlight eOne

Jeremy Pelt: The Talented Mr. Pelt High Note

Noah Preminger:  Before the Rain Palmetto

Houston Person: So Nice High Note

Joshua Redman: James Farm Nonesuch

Reeds’n’Deeds [Eric Alexander/Grant Stewart]: Tenor Time Criss Cross Jazz

Claudio Roditi: Bons Amigos Resonance

Poncho Sanchez/Terence Blanchard: Chano Y Dizzy Concord Picante

Alex Sipiagin Destinations Unknown Criss Cross Jazz

Joan Stiles: Three Musicians Oo-Bla-Dee

Dave Stryker Blue Strike Steeplechase

3 Cohens: Family Anzic

Larry Vuckovich: Somethin’ Special Tetrachord


Honorable Mentions go to four excellent releases by musicians with local ties:

Chet Williamson Chromatic Noir

The Curtis Brothers Completion of Proof

Paul Lieberman ibeji

Jay Messer Sly Exit



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