Michael Stratton has one of the great jazz shows in the States, the "Vinyl Side of Midnight." Sunday nights on WLNZ out of Lansing Community College in Michigan. You can listen live from 6 to 9:00 pm Pacific Time on the web.
Here's his list of the top 20, which is also the playlist for tonight's broadcast. This is a great list of one of biggest set of ears in jazz music.
TOP TWENTY 2011
20) WARREN WOLF (Mack Avenue Records)
In a great year for vibraphones (check out Gary Burton’s New Quartet) Warren Wolf’s debut demands attention. Functioning as one fifth of Christian McBride’s Inside Straight band, this album almost sounds like a continuation of that band.
19) MICHAEL DEASE - GRACE (Jazz Legacy Productions)
The best pure “straight ahead” album I heard this year, Dease proves to be a virtuoso of the trombone, his tone burnished and expressive. Add a crackerjack band with numerous ‘guests’ (Cyrus Chestnut, Roy Hargrove, etc.) and fine batch of compositions and you have a very entertaining hour of music.
18) NORDIC CONNECT - SPIRAL (Artist Share)
Nordic Connect features Ingrid Jensen and her sister Christine as a front line. The music reminds me of the ECM sound of the late ‘70s, only a little more melodic.
17) VIJAY IYER with PRASANNA & NITIN MITTA (ACT Music)
The Indo Pak coalition rides again. Piano, guitar and tabla mix improv structure, texture and timbre with sonority. Iyer continues to blaze new trails. His facility with the piano amazes.
16) DARA TUCKER - SOUL SAID YES (Watchman Music)
Some great ingredients of ballads, neo soul, gospel and blues make Dara Tucker’s release a winner, and someone to watch.
15) JOHN HOLLENBECK; ORCHESTRE NATIONAL DE JAZZ - SHUT UP AND DANCE (Bee Jazz)
I’m a sucker for Hollenbeck’s large orchestra; his writing was solicited by this French company. The music blends Bob Brookmeyer Zappa and Steve Reich and something that is uniquely Hollenbeck. The man can write with humor and heart, one of the great composers of our time.
14) KURT ELLING - THE GATE (Concord Records)
In a banner year for vocal jazz, Elling comes up with another strong offering, covering tunes by Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire and Joe Jackson. Laurence Hobgood comes up with some superlative arrangements. Produced by Don Was (!), new head of Blue Note Records.
13) BEN WILLIAMS - STATE OF ART (Verve Records)
Winning the Thelonious Monk competition includes a record contract, and here are the results. MSU alum Ben Williams has made good, and his recording debut is very strong, mixing straight ahead, rap and grooves. Looking forward to a long career from this young bassist and composer.
12) GRETCHEN PARLATO - THE LOST AND FOUND (Obliq Sound)
A singular aesthetic, Gretchen has refined a subtle and sensual approach to jazz vocals. Good mix of originals and covers.
11) FRANCISCO MELA & CUBAN SAFARI - TREE OF LIFE (Half Note)
Percussionist Mela has created a program of (mainly) originals that highlights his working band with a guest shot by Esperanza Spalding, his musical compadre in Lovano’s Us Five. The results are a great assortment of percolating rhythms and tunes.
10) SUSANA BACA - AFRODIASPORA (Luaka Bop)
Peruvian vocalist Susana Baca cooks with fire on this strong recording. She stirs in a little N’Awlins flavor at one point, but the main ingredients are South American. Her ability to work a groove is reminiscent of some of the great soul singers of the 1960s.
9) WADADA LEO SMITH’s ORGANIC - HEART’S REFLECTIONS (Cuneiform Records)
The ghost of Miles hovers over this double disc set by trumpeter Smith, espescially on the badass back beat opener (dedicated to Don Cherry). Between the blues and the funk there is some old fashioned AACM style avant garde.
8) ROBERTA PIKET - SIDES, COLORS (Thirteenth Note Records)
Brooklyn pianist and composer Piket has one of the freshest releases of the year. At turns pretty (Laurie) and complex (check out the deconstructed gospel dedication to Sam Rivers, My Friends and Neighbors), Roberta is a force to be reckoned with and one to watch.
7) KEITH JARRETT - RIO (ECM)
Jarrett has built a career not just on his superlative trio recordings, but on his solo improv recitals as well. The newest, recorded in Rio (naturally) is maybe his best. Hard to believe that this fountain of ideas is conceived in the moment, so coherent and certain is Jarrett’s playing. Whereas in some of his earliest solo offerings there are extended and roiling sequences, here the pieces are compact and dense. Jarrett has astounding facilities as a pianist, and this may be his best work yet.
6) KARRIN ALLYSON - ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT (Concord Records)
Karrin has recorded a string of wonderful albums over the past decade or so, but this one stands alone. Like Frank Sinatra’s “Only The Lonely” or Joni Mithcell’s “Blue”, this recording relentlessly builds a mood for those with a need for expression of the ennui of love lost and longing. A heartbreaker of an album, from a heartbreaking singer.
5) BOB BELDEN - MILES ESPANOL (E One)
Like a previous project (Miles From India), Belden collects a small army of musicians (this time of the Hispanic persuasion) to interpret the Gil Evans / Miles Davis collaboration, Sketches of Spain. The double disc allows the conception to expand even further, utilizing some alum from Davis’ groups to romp cross cultures. And such delightful colors, utilizing exotic percussions, strings (Oud! Harp!) and even bagpipes. Not to be missed.
4) ETIENNE CHARLES - KAISO (Culture Shock)
Trinidad trumpeter Etienne Charles combines straight ahead with calypso to create a new and diverse dish. Sure, Blue Mitchell or Sonny Rollins have shown an influence from the isles, but Etienne goes the full monty here, including guest shots from Lord Superior, Ralph MacDonald and Monty Alexander. Another very young talent to watch.
3) SONNY ROLLINS - ROAD SHOWS VOL. II (Doxy Records)
This is a birthday party and a victory lap for octogenarian and living legend Sonny Rollins. Buoyed by a great band (Christian McBride, Roy Haynes and Russell Malone) Rollins is joined at turns by old friends Jim Hall and Bob Cranshaw, with a special guest appearance by Ornette Coleman. This document is a cherry that tops a stellar career.
2) JOE LOVANO US FIVE - BIRD SONGS (Blue Note)
Imagine Donna Lee as a ballad, or Dewey Square as a percussive rhumba, and you get the notion behind Lovano’s set of Charlie Parker music. Yet another entry in the book of Lovano, who is a perennial in the ‘best of’ lists at year’s end. One of the great sax players of our time, but also has the imagination to consistently find new ways to arrange and display the music of jazz.
1) LAURA KAHLE - CIRCULAR (Dark Key Music)
Laura has been known to refer to this album as ‘my little project’ (see Facebook), such is her modesty. This year may have been devoted to raising twin girls of she and husband Jeff “Tain” Watts, but the creation of this music is also more than noteworthy. This one seemed to get by most critics, but to my ears it’s the best thing I’ve heard in 2011. Why? First of all, the blend of Kahle’s pocket trumpet set against the uber powerful drumming of her husband creates a dynamic that reminds me of Miles and Tony Williams, or Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. Her ideas are pithy, his funk is furious. This is music not to be missed. Claudia Acuna’s singular contribution is a rose in the forest. Beautiful.
This is the playlist for this week’s Vinyl Side of Midnight, which can be heard on 89.7 FM WLNZ in the Greater Lansing area, or you can tune in internationally on the web on http://www.lcc.edu/radio/ - hosted by Mike Stratton, Sunday nights, 9- midnight, Eastern Standard Time.