My year-end contribution to the WOUB Music Blog. You can see all of the top music pics for 2011 here: http://woub.org/tags/best-2011
1. David Budway, A New Kiss Pianist David Budway shows off his chops with sparkling compositions and engaging improvisations. The energy of this recording reflects the intensity and joy that I found as a student of Budway while studying at Duquesne University. Standout selections include the funky “MainTAIN Speed Though Tunnel” and “Sama’i Shat Arabud” which incorporates the sounds of traditional Lebanese music. Also on board for this recording are bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff `Tain’ Watts. Special guests include saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Marcus Strickland, guitarist Ron Affif and accordionist Joe`Sonny’ Barbato. (davidbudway.com)
2. Miles Davis, Miles Davis Quintet Live In Europe 1967 A previously unreleased series of live recordings of Miles’ “second great quintet,” featuring Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. This is probably not a disc for the casual jazz listener, but for those that have followed the career of Miles and the other members of the group, it is a marvelous look at how the group transformed themselves and the music night after night.
3. Sarah Jarosz, Follow Me Down Sarah Jarosz’ second release sits comfortably in the center of bluegrass, blues, and folk. The songs here are smart and catchy, but the instrumentation is rootsy and acoustic. In addition to her fine singing, Jarosz does a great deal of playing, showing off her skills on guitar (using an unusual alternate tuning on the title cut) and octave mandolin.
4. Julian Lage Group, Gladwell On this concept album, jazz guitar prodigy Lage takes the listener on a tour of the imaginary town of Gladwell. In addition to cello, the group features saxophone, bass and percussion and seamlessly synthesizes jazz, classical, folk, bluegrass and world music influences into their compositions.
5. Delfeyo Marsalis, Sweet Thunder: Duke & Shak Trombonist Delfeyo Marsalis revives and expands upon Duke Ellington’s suite “Such Sweet Thunder” with a group of all-star musicians. The work is inspired by Shakespearean themes and characters. The great balance of ensemble and solo work is reminiscent of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.
6. Pat Martino, Undeniable The 67-year-old jazz guitarist proves that he is as strong as ever in this smoking live set recorded at Blues Alley in 2009. Martino’s original compositions are reminiscent of a 1960s Blue Note-era style that allow him to easily spin his extended hard-bop lines. The recording also features the unrestrained playing of organist of Tony Monaco, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.
7. Pat Metheny, What’s It All About? Pat Metheny’s latest release is one of his friendliest ever: a cover collection of pop songs from the 1960s and 1970s played on solo acoustic guitar. Metheny’s approach to arranging utilizes not only his idiosyncratic harmonic devices but also a unique baritone tuning that doesn’t sound quite like anything else. Despite breezy titles like “Cherish” and “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” the nostalgic interpretations make these songs wistful and poignant.
8. Adam Rafferty, I Remember Michael Guitarist Adam Rafferty has focused solely on acoustic fingerstyle playing over the past few years and is quickly becoming recognized as one of the best in the world. With this release, Rafferty pays tribute to his childhood inspiration Michael Jackson. The tunes here are all instantly recognizable and Rafferty brings each one to life with an emphasis on keeping the original grooves funky and intact, despite the limitations of the instrument. The quality of the recording is immaculate and intimate enough to capture Adam as he occasionally beat-boxes under his breath. (adamrafferty.com)
9. John Scofield, A Moment’s Peace John Scofield seems to manage a new release of mostly-original material every year. This year the focus is on quiet, bluesy ballads. Each tune feels like it could be the final tune in the last set of a late-night session where the players have finally abandoned their hot licks for purely emotive playing. Also contributing to the recording are pianist/organist Larry Goldings, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade.
10. Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What At 70, Simon is still among the best American lyricists. His recent compositions lack the melodic strength that he had in the 1960s, but he has a lot more to say now and a completely different approach to composing. The instrumentation and production are so unique and varied that they may be a bit of a distraction at first listen, but the songs are so personal that they quickly grow on you.