Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rest of Best of 2011 + Recap

The Holiday Season is a swirl of activities, new beginnings and endings, so much to do.  I'd like to be a bit more expansive in this final part of the list but life, in its glorious mash of good and bad, is in the way.

Therefore, here's a "shout-out!" to more of the most exciting music from the past 12 months (including several "smoking" live shows.

 So Percussion - Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting - has been a creative unit  since its inception 12 years ago at the Yale School of Music.  Over that span, they recorded music by Steve Reich (this year, they perform his "Mallet Quartet" on the "WTC 9/11" CD), Paul Lansky, David Lang, Bjork and many others.  In 2011, they released  Steven Mackey's "It Is Time" , Lansky's "Threads", Yale Professor of Composition Martin Bresnick's "Caprichos Enfaticos" ( a collaboration with pianist Lisa Moore (all issued by Canteloupe Music), and "Bad Mangos" a collaboration with trumpeter Dave Douglas issued on his Greenleaf Music label. If I had to pick one to recommend over the others, I'd say "it depends on the day."  Each program is absorbing and challenging, especially if you pay attention.  So Percussion does not create background music, they change the world around you. For more information, go to

Several piano trios caught my ear this year.  Jean-Michel Pilc-Francois Moutin-Ari Hoenig released "Threedom" (Motema Music), a series of in-studio improvisations that revolve around the musicians' magical interactions.  Cuban-born pianist Fabian Almazan issued his debut CD, "Personalities" Biophilia Records), utilizing the talents of bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole to create music that shimmers and soars.  The Trio (with Kendrick Scott sitting in for Cole) opened the Fall 2011 Concert Series at Firehouse 12 in New Haven and shone brightly.  Posi-Tone Records issued a slew of fine CDs this year including "Noble Path" by Art Hirahira and "Freedom" by Orrin Evans.

The saxophone, bass and drum ensemble known as Honey Ear Trio (Erik Lawrence, Rene Hart and Allison Miller) issued its debut CD, "Steampunk Serenade" (Foxhaven Records) while pianist Joan Stiles got together with drummer Matt Wilson and saxophonist Joel Frahm to produce the joyous "Three Musicians" (Oo-Bla-Dee Records). FAB Trio (bassist Joe Fonda, drummer Barry Altschul and violinist Billy Bang) created "History of Jazz in Reverse" (TUM Records), arguably its best recording and sadly issued just after Bang's passing.

BJU Records also issued "Mulberry Street", the delightful and pleasingly detailed big band recording by trombonist/composer Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori.  Featuring (among others) the hearty baritone saxophone work of Fred Ho, the music reflects the myriad influences the composer hears on the street where he resides plus what he has encountered in his relationship with his wife, cellist Heun Choi Fairbanks (a native of South Korea.) One other large ensemble, bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra makes the list with its expansive and highly musical "Cordoba" (ZOHO). 

Drummer John Hollenbeck continues to mature as composer, arranger and musician. This year, his Claudia Quintet released "What Is The Beautiful" (Cunieform Records), a collection of songs paired with the poems of Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972). The CQ - Hollenbeck, Chris Speed (reeds), Ted Reichman (accordion), Matt Moran (vibraphone) and Drew Gress (bass) - expands to include pianist Matt Mitchell as well as the voices of Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann. This is one of those recordings that each time I play it, something new is revealed either in the words or music that frames the poems.

Hollenbeck, a student of the late Bob Brookmeyer (as well as a frequent collaborator), also wrote a touching elegy for his teacher and mentor - you can (and should) read it by going to

Earlier this year, I wrote about journalist/pianist/composer Peter Hum's excellent CD "A Boy's Life" (self-released). It remains a favorite as does "Across the Sky", a sparkling CD from bassist John Geggie's Trio plus saxophonist Donny McCaslin.  And, although the music was recorded in 2009, "MY Duo - Andrew McCormack & Jason Yarde (Joy and Ears) was a pleasing find this year.

Finally, I had the good fortune to attend a number of excellent concerts this year including the Charles Lloyd Quartet (Wesleyan), Janus Trio (East Haddam Congregational Church), and a slew at Firehouse 12 in New Haven. One of the most exciting was Jeff Lederer's Sunwatcher, his quartet with Matt Wilson, Jamie Saft and Avery Sharpe - my, o my, there was spirit in abundance on that evening. Most recently, I was knocked out by the wonderful melodicism, interplay and fire of Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day.  The band's second CD (issued this year on Songlines ) is really strong but the quintet's live show was transcendent.

Here's the recap of the recordings that made this (expansive) list:
David Binney - "Barefoot Town" (Criss Cross)
Ernesto Cervini Quartet - "There" (Anzic)
Marcus Shelby Orchestra - "Soul of the Movement" (Porto Franco Records)
Dan Tepfer - "Goldberg Variations/Variations" (Sunnyside)
Ben Kono - "Crossing" (Nineteen-Eight)
Captain Black Big Band - self-titled (Posi-Tone Records)
Fred Hersch - "Alone at The Vanguard" (Palmetto Records)
Miguel Zenon - "Alma Aldentro" (Marsalis Music)
Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra -  "40 Acres and a Burro" (ZOHO)
Tom Harrell Quintet - "The Time of the Sun" (HighNote Records)
Chris Dingman - "Waking Dreams" (self-released)
Noah Baerman - "Know Thyself" (Lemel Records)
Noah Preminger - "Before the Rain" (Palmetto)
Alexis Cuadrado - "Noneto Iberico" (BJU Records)
Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori - "Mulberry Street" (BJU Records)
Jean-Michel Pilc, Francois Moutin & Ari Hoenig - "Threedom" (Motema Music)
Honey Ear Trio - "Steampunk Serenade" (Foxhaven Records)
FAB Trio - "History of Jazz in Reverse" (TUM Records)
So Percussion -  "It Is Time" (Canteloupe) + "Caprichos Enfaticos" (with Lisa Moore, also on Canteloupe) + "Bad Mangos" (with Dave Douglas, on Greenleaf)
Peter Hum Quintet - "A Boy's Journey" (self-released)
Geggie Trio + Donny McCaslin - "Across The Sky" (Plunge)
Andrew McCormack + Jason Yarde - "My Duo" (Joy and Ears)
Claudia Quintet - "What Is the Beautiful" (Cunieform)

Have a happy and safe Holiday Season - here's to a peaceful and creative 2012!

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