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Dan McClenaghan's Best Releases of 2011


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It was a very good year, and whittling it down to the customary ten won't do it. So, without regard to an arbitrary number, here are the top jazz recordings of 2011.

Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian

Live at Birdland

ECM Records

If ever there were an all-star session, this is it. And the stars were aligned this night at Birdland. Veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz fronts this highly interactive group. In his eight decade, he sounds more inspired than ever, and so does the rest of the big name quartet. A magical, malleable music that reveals something new with every listen.

Adam Pieronczyk

Komeda—The Innocent Sorcerer

Jazzwerkstatt Records

Polish saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk explores his countryman, Krzysztof Komeda's, music in all its off-center, haunting beauty. Komeda was a pioneer of European jazz scene, and a writer of the soundtracks of many of filmmaker Roman Polanski's movies, including Rosemary's Baby. Pieronczyk and his superb quintet unwrap hidden facets of the Polish jazz man's music.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio


ECM Records

Pianist Marcin Wasilewski's trio came to fame backing Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. They've truly found their own voice on Faithful, their third trio release on their own, a subtly and unremittingly gorgeous set from a top shelf piano trio.

Denny Zeitlin


Sunnyside Records

Pianist Denny Zeitlin is powering into a prolific late career surge with back-to-back solo CDs, with 2010's Precipice (Sunnyside Records), and in 2011 with perhaps the finest and most inspired music of he has created, with Labyrinth. Both sets were recorded in front of live audiences, where Zeitlin thrives, but Labyrinth has a more intimate feeling.

Fred Hersch

Alone at the Village Vanguard

Palmetto Records

This solo piano outing in recorded in the hallowed halls of The Village Vanguard is Fred Hersch's most intimate and inspired music of a long and distinguished career. This mix of familiar standards and Hersch originals is extraordinarily beautiful.

Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya

Sotho Blue

Sunnyside Records

Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who came out of a vibrant South African jazz scene in the late fifties, has recorded solo sets and big band outings, but his work with his mid-sized ensemble, Ekaya, may be the best vehicle for his artistry. Ibrahim and the band revisit some of his earlier compositions with haunting reed harmonies grounded by the trombone, rhythms that are by turns meditative or ebullient, and a music that is full of spirituality and life.

Westchester Jazz Orchestra

Maiden Voyage Suite

WJO Records

Pianist Herbie Hancock's early masterpiece, Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965) is revisited in a majestic fashion by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra.

Joe Mullen Quartet

Lost World Tango

Vectordisc Records

Trumpeter Joe Mullen put a stellar quartet together to create an improvisatory set that is tranquil and gorgeous, a fluid, in-the-moment recording that defies comparison.

Ron Thomas

Two Lonely People

Vectordisc Records

Pianist Ron Thomas is better known for his freer work, but he went back to his earlier jazz influences for this superb solo outing.

Bill Carrothers

A Night at the Village Vanguard

Pirouet Records

A complete night's music, two disc's worth, recorded by pianist Bill Carrothers and his "European Trio" at the hallowed Village Vanguard, featuring lots of Clifford Brown bop along with Carrothers' own distinctive, freewheeling compositions.

Augusto Pirodda

No Comment

Jazzwerstatt Records

Pianist Augusto Pirodda's spare approach to the piano trio format is mesmerizing. Living legends, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian are exquisite in their contributions.

Sam Yahel

From Sun to Sun
Origin Records

Sam Yahel made his name as an organist, but this piano trio set—with a bit of B3 seasoning—is his most gorgeous outing.

Miguel Zenon

Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook

Marsalis Music

Virtuosic alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon explores the music of his homeland with a jazz quartet and a ten piece wind ensemble. Magnificent!



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