Music

The Best Jazz of 2011

John Garratt and Will Layman
Keith Jarrett

Jazz is ready to go just about anywhere these days, and our list this year travels a good distance from free playing to fusion, controlled singing to daring solo piano.

Keith Jarrett and more...

Artist: Keith Jarrett

Album: Rio

Label: ECM

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/rio.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number:

Keith Jarrett
Rio

The prospect of yet another solo recital -- a fully improvised “jam” if you will -- by the fussy but brilliant pianist Keith Jarrett may not seem like a headline in 2011, 36 years after The Koln Concert became a college dorm staple. But Rio is a glorious double disc of short and astonishing piano solos. Spanning ballads, free playing, blues, groove tunes, gospel, and classical structures, this concert is direct and breathtaking. Jarrett’s ability to spin arcing, soaring improvise melodies has never been more compelling or effective. It seems time to admit that Jarrett is one of the music’s most consistently great players.

 
Artist: Travis Laplante

Album: Heart Protector

Label: Skirl

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/t/travis_laplante.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number:

Travis Laplante
Heart Protector

Being a member of the indie-jazz outfit Little Women, Laplante is used to being on year-end lists. This, however, is a different beast altogether. The art of the solo album, in the tradition of only one person performing, is not new in jazz. Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Joe Pass, and many, many others have been there and done that. But as far as saxophonists go, those albums aren’t as prevalent. Travis Laplante has joined the ranks of David S. Ware and Anthony Braxton with Heart Protector, the main difference being that Laplante takes his time and lets the overtones do the talking. If Brian Eno or Harold Budd were to take up the sax, it would sound something like this. Heart Protector is proof positive that a lonesome saxophone can be an emotional performer in its own right.

 
Artist: John Scofield

Album: A Moment’s Peace

Label: Emarcy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/scopeace.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number:

John Scofield
A Moment’s Peace

John Scofield is probably the most legit “popular” jazz guitarist of the moment, thanks to some jam band fame that hasn’t always been the best friend to Sco’s art. But A Moment’s Peace is the most complete and nuanced recording by Scofield in years -- and it’s neither a truly “traditional” record nor any kind of glance to the past. It is a bit quieter than his recent releases, but that doesn’t make it retrograde or safe. In fact, as lovely as it sounds, this is Scofield’s boldest statement in over a decade. Standards such as “I Loves You, Porgy” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” get utterly fresh takes, with Larry Goldings (piano and organ), Scott Colley (acoustic bass), and Brian Blade (drums) forming a band of jazz musicians who play both within and beyond tradition.

 
Artist: Matthew Shipp

Album: Art of the Improviser

Label: Thirsty Ear

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/p66780ylt2x.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number:

Matthew Shipp
Art of the Improviser

When you are one of jazz’s most daring pianists and have proven yourself time and time again with a wide variety of circles, what do you do to commemorate your 50th birthday? You can do a variety of things, I suppose. You can abruptly switch styles, calmly stay the course, or ride out your sunset years playing alone at home. But the option that makes the most sense is to distill a little bit of everything you’ve done into a double album. This includes playing some original compositions, some brand new, and some kind of new, then split the music between a small jazz combo disc and a solo disc. Art of the Improviser is what you get, and it’s a cool, collected representation of Shipp’s strengths as a writer and performer. With albums like these, who needs compilations?

 
Artist: Jamaaladeen Tacuma

Album: For the Love of Ornette

Label: Jazzwerkstatt

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/tacuma.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number:

Jamaaladeen Tacuma
For the Love of Ornette

Tacuma is a deeply melodic electric bassist whose fame is tied to the time he spent playing in Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band. Here, it’s Coleman playing in Tacuma’s band, even if it is a tribute to the great free pioneer of the alto saxophone. Coleman is joined by another saxophone player and by flute in the front line, while Tacuma makes room for a pianist and two percussionists. The result is not a copy of Coleman’s own sound, but something related and wonderful: funky freedom that is complex and layered. The addition of several strong soloists and some rich harmonic coloring makes For the Love of Ornette a stunner even among recent Coleman recordings, a recording that has joy at its very heart.

 
Artist: Greg Ward

Album: Greg Ward’s Phonic Juggernaut

Label: Thirsty Ear

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/q/q46781ly41x.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List number:

Greg Ward
Greg Ward’s Phonic Juggernaut

At a relatively young age, Greg Ward has created a synthesized form of jazz that most musicians are only able to hone after wandering through the trenches for many years. But somehow early on, Ward came to reconcile some pretty disparate elements with his straightforward approach to the saxophone -- one shining example being the use of a (gulp) Manchester beat to propel Greg Ward’s Phonic Juggernaut’s final track “Sectionate City”. As a unit, the album is impressive in its ability to please and challenge the listener in equal measure, from start to finish in an hour, without dipping in quality. The road’s wide open for Ward, and we hope he takes it for all its worth.

Phonic Juggernaut by Thirsty Ear Recordings

Prev Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Television

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.

Music

Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.

Music

Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.

Television

Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman
Music

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.

Music

Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.

Music

The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.

Music

Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.

Books

The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.