2011 was the year that I truly fell in love with jazz. In the main, jazz made between 1955 and 1970 – when the fidelity was spot on, ahead of the 70s onslaught of slicker (horrible) production and the beast that is fusion.
I’ve listened to jazz more than anything this year, so with all that in mind, I’ve had to do two best of 2011 lists. The first consists of records released this year; the second is the top ten jazz albums I heard for the first time this year (with one exception.)
As ever, nothing work related. If I picked one, I’d have to pick them all… Picking your favourite child is bad parenting and all that.
Also as ever, I have to make some honourary mentions of the artists and bands who have ruled my ears this year but did not necessarily release new records. I have listened to and been obsessed by these folk more than many of my 2011 top ten artists: Neurosis (still reeling from the set I saw at ATP last year – jaw-droppingly powerful), American Music Club & Mark Eitzel (especially their live album, “A Toast To You”), Rachel’s, Neil Young (read “Shakey” this year, a fascinating book that inspired a thorough delve into the parts of his catalogue I did not know), Scott Walker (Scotts 1 thru 4 brought me endless joy all year), Boo Radleys, The La’s, Shack, Michael Head & The Strands (had my own personal Liverpool revival…not sure why but damn that’s some great music!) and The Doughboys (second band I ever saw live, made a lot more sense to my ears this year than in 1991!)
With no further ado……
1) The Men “Leave Home” (Sacred Bones)
I can see this being at the top of a lot of people’s lists this year. What a record! Intriguing, addictive, heavy and kinda all over the place (in the best possible way!) this had everyone in our office hooked. Kickass indie rock melody, crazy noise, a bunch of Spacemen 3 lyrics, some shouting, a surf-rock dance tune or two…MAGICAL!
2) A Winged Victory For The Sullen “A Winged Victory For The Sullen” (Erased Tapes)
Sublime drone and piano pieces. My favourite late night album this year.
3) Christoph Heemann “Rings of Saturn” (Robot Records)
Like the soundtrack to a dream in which you travel through a surreal, rural Europe, this is a beautiful and evocative trip.
4) Surgeon “Breaking The Frame” (Dynamic Tension)
A perfectly formed techno / drone masterpiece.
5) Andy Stott “Passed Me By” & “We Stay Together” EPs (Modern Love)
Gold Panda put me on to the first one of these, saying the vinyl sounded incredible…and he was right! Fuzzy, strange and deep as hell. The best house (?!?) music I heard this year by far.
6) Jim O’Rourke & Christoph Heemann “Plastic Palace People” (Volumes 1 and 2) (Streamline)
Two collections of early musique concrete and drone work by these two favourites of mine.
7) Jim O’Rourke “Old News #5″ & “Old News #6″ (Editions Mego)
And two collections of early solo work by my favourite musician of all time. Seeing him perform in 1992 changed my life, so it was a real pleasure for these pieces to finally surface.
8) Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto “Summvs” / Alva Noto “Univrs” / Cyclo “iD” (Raster Noton)
Another year where Carsten Nicolai could do no wrong, whether solo or incollaboration with Sakamoto or Ikeda. Honorable mention for his fantastic mix for Resident Advisor too.
9) Hans Koller “Cry, Want” (Psi)
Lucky enough to catch Hans Koller with a 13 piece band early in the year, this further cemented the jazz obsession and introduced me to the magical music of the Jimmy Giuffre 3.
10) All Pigs Must Die “God Is War” (Southern Lord)
Punishing and compulsive metal. So good.
1) John Coltrane “Live at the Village Vanguard – The Complete Recordings” (Impulse)
Reading Ben Ratliff’s brilliant book “Coltrane” over xmas and new year started me on a mission to hear anything and everything Trane ever recorded, and of them all, this was the highlight. The classic quartet (Trane, Tyner, Garrison & Jones) with guests such as Eric Dolphy recorded over 4 nights in 1961. It’s jaw-dropping stuff and worth the price of entry for “Spiritual” alone. My favourite piece of music this year.
2) Charles Mingus “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” (Impulse)
Mingus was a musical genius, nuff said.
3) Miles Davis “A Kind Of Blue” (Columbia)
Have owned this for a long time but reading Richard William’s “The Blue Moment” led to repeated listening and a greater appreciation of just how important this album is in the history and progression of modern music.
4) John Coltrane “Africa / Brass” (Impulse)
The album that Steve Reich says inspired him and the likes of Terry Riley and La Monte Young to experiment with the modal forms that led to minimalism, as well as being one of very few big band recordings Trane ever made. Absolutely essential.
5) Charles Mingus “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus” (Impulse)
See number 2!
6) Curtis Fuller “Bluesette” (Decoy)
The trombone is a legendarily tough instrument to play soulfully. Did anyone ever do so better than Curtis Fuller? Rich and beautiful late night jazz perfection.
7) Eric Dolphy “Last Date” (Limelight)
Recorded in Europe with a set of Euro players who really seem to understand his idiosyncratic style, the reed playing legend shines. The last live recordings captured before his tragic and untimely death in Germany later that same year (1964).
8) Yusef Lateef “Eastern Sounds” (Prestige)
A beautiful, beautiful album. Got a lot of listens on the way to and from work.
9) Jimmy Giuffre 3 “1961″ (ECM)
Combining clarinet, bass and piano uniquely in gorgeous, sparse arrangements, this double LP collects together the group’s two 1961 Verve releases “Fusion” and “Thesis”.
10) Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers “Moanin’” (Blue Note)
A classic I went back to very often. Another popular one to soundtrack the cycle ride to and from work!
Fucked Up – David Comes to Life (Matador)
The best thing you could possibly, possibly say is that it’s nothing like The Who’s ‘groundbreaking’ Rock Opera, Tommy. The next best thing you could say is that it’s really great.
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Turnstile / Matador)
In order for Girls new album to be a shoe-in for an AOTY spot, they’d have to make ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’ half as good as their debut. It was almost as good. So, pretty wonderful.
Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo. (Turnstile)
Gruff is The Greatest Living Welshman. This is my favourite record from the SFA family since Rings Around the World, so, that good. And seeing him play it live has been a total pleasure.
The Field – Looping State of Mind (Kompakt)
Basically picking up where he left off with ‘Yesterday and Today’, by making that sublime, fuzz-love propulsive electronica that’s both blissful and involving.
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Rock Action)
George Square Thatcher Death Party. That is all.
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (deluxe edition) (SPRC)
Yeah, it’s a re-issue, but a proper good reissue. Stuffed full of brilliant demos and alternative versions, and its a genuinely good addition to the best rock album of the 90s. (sue me). The live DVD kicks seven bells of rock out of most badly-put together cash grab archives, and… it’s better than sodding Pearl Jam
Remember Remember – The Quickening (Rock Action)
Sad that it’s a bit of a lost jewel already. Happy that I get to keep it to myself in a selfish kind of way. Probably the most consistent soundtrack of my late evenings of the year.
Tom Williams and the Boat – Too Slow (Wire Boat recordings)
A record that just makes me happy. Carefully and lovingly put together, but carefree and honest to a fault. And just great songs. The fact that it was entirely self made and released increases it’s homespun beauty. I’m very excited for their next album.
The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)
Everyone else seemed to bang on about the (also good) Kurt Vile solo record, rather than this, but for my mind, TWOD is a better album. And I’m not just saying that to be contrary.
Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)
Didn’t get nominated for a Mercury, even though it’s better than the last one which did. But that’s not really too important, and I doubt that the WBs care, what with them being a proper grown up band that everyone likes, who put on fancy shows now. Their gig at Shepherd’s Bush was one of my favourites of the year. Pretty sexy for a bunch of northern lads singing in falsetto.
ASAP Rocky – livelovea$ap
Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (Polydor)
Darondo – Listen To My Song (Beat Goes Public)
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Turnstile)
Matana Roberts – Coin Coin (Constellation)
The Men – Leave Home (Sacred Bones)
Peaking Lights – 936 (Weird World)
Silky Johnson – Hater Of The Year
The Stepkids – The Stepkids (Stones Throw)
The Weeknd – House Of Balloons
EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain transmissions) (ALBUM OF THE YEAR)
Zola Jesus – Conatus (Souterrrain Transmissions)
The Men – Leave Home (Sacred ones)
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Island)
tUnEyArDs- w h o k i l l (4AD)
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts (Matador)
No Joy – Ghost Blonde (Mexican Summer)
Slow Club – Paradise (Moshi Moshi)
Zola Jesus @ Toynbee Studios
Talk Normal @ XOYO
Galaxie 500 @ XOYO
Big Boi @ Primavera
EMA @ Botanique
Warpaint @ every show I saw them play
PJ Harvey @ Troxy
Electrelane @ Brighton Komedia
Pulp @ Reading Festival
Wild Flag @ The Lexington (breaking the no Wichita rule, but WILD FLAG!! at THE LEXINGTON!!)
We made a Spotify playlist featuring our favourite albums of the year which you can listen to here.