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Best CDs of 2011
Miguel Zenon, "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook" (Marsalis Music) -- A revelatory homecoming, featuring arrangements by the brilliant Guillermo Klein.
Miles Davis Quintet, "Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series" (Sony Legacy) -- The quintessential modern jazz group at the height of its powers.
Rez Abbasi and Invocation, "Suno Suno" (Enja) -- A bit of a cheat, it could as easily have been Vijay Iyer's "Tirtha" (ACT) or Rudresh Manhanthappa's "Samdi" (ACT) -- but all three are here.
Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri, "Athens Concert" (ECM) -- A lyrical detour -- in Greek -- for one of the best current bands
Bon Iver, "Sing" (Jagjaguwar) / K.D. Lang, "Sing it Loud" (Nonesuch) -- A tie for best band featuring breakout Richmond players -- Reggie Pace and Daniel Clarke, respectively.
Old and New Things, "Ghosts" (self released) -- There were a lot of very good local albums this year. It's a close call, but this is the best.
Keith Jarrett, "Rio" (ECM) -- Transcendent playing by the master of free jazz piano.
Sonny Rollins, "Road Shows, Volume 2" (Emarcy) -- An undiminished giant, featuring a guest appearance from fellow legend Ornette Coleman.
Rene Marie, "Voice of My Beautiful Country (Motema Music)" -- Fiercely patriotic iconoclasm and more from the former Richmond singer.
Ambrose Akinmusire, "When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note) -- The debut of the year from a trumpeter full of promise.
Best Jazz (Etc.) of 2011
What makes something the best of the year? Is it sustained contribution from the likes of Brian Jones, Daniel Clarke or No BS Brass? Is it innovation, as in Spacebomb's launch, the breakout of the Scott Clark 4tet, or the bloody good fun of Glows in the Dark's Italian movie soundtrack project?
Is it the great moments? Like Samson Trinh's big band collision of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" with Jobim's "The Waters of March" at Dogwood Dell; the Bon Iver (with Reggie Pace) sing-along to "Wolves" at the National; Gretchen Parlato's Modlin Center vocal solo on Wayne Shorter's "Juju"; the Bach-like interplay of UTV Chamber on a Sunday afternoon at the Black Hand; or the mesmerizing conch shells solo by Steve Turre at a Richmond Jazz Society concert.
Could it be the things everyone missed, such as Clay Ross' exuberant, criminally under-attended Matumbo gig at Balliceaux? Or the well-attended successes such as the Claudia Quartet sets at the Camel?
If the focus is on the best local albums, "Old and New Things" was the standout. But what about Ombak's "Fan Bricks," or Bryan Hooten's trombone solo CD? How can you judge Lydia Ooge's delicate "Lux Vacancy" against Beast Wellington's debut featuring the blowtorch vocals of Samantha Hewlett-Reed? How can you leave out Bio Ritmo? Or not pay attention to major label greatness from Vijay Iyer, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins or two brilliantly individual CDs from Rene Marie?
It was a full year, and every choice obscures something possibly equally worthy. The best of the year is a moving target; a shotgun is more useful than a rifle. Even better would be the opportunity to reload.
Listening Locally in 2011
Noise ordinance be damned, local musicians inspired us with sheer volume doused in melodic attitude. A big nod to post punk was exhibited by bands such as Lost Tribe, Canary Oh Canary and Dead Fame, as well as the monthly No Richmond DJ nights at Balliceaux. Emphasizing the punk was Lost Tribe, whose self-titled LP and fog-shrouded shows were dark, dank delights. The jaw-dropping epics of Canary Oh Canary stretched into shoe-gaze territory on its debut, "Last Night in Sunway Knolls," while Dead Fame updated new wave for the 21st century.
The Snowy Owls swapped acoustic pop for electric fuzz and wrote some of the tastiest hooks this side of '90s alt rock. Their live sets were accentuated by stunning visual backdrops from Dave Watkins, who by day was creating a spectacular audio collage of experimental folk, psych, and post-rock for his album "When No One Else Is Here and Everyone Is Asleep." Hip-hop producer Ohbliv mish-mashed his own artistic influences into a head-bobbing brew of beats (and sometimes rhymes), including the "Yellow Gold" album with rapper Nickelus F and a stack of collaborations with the Just Plain Sounds collective.
The glorious Double Rainbow successfully bridged hip-hop with folk on its first release, "Fuck the Internet." Patrons of greatly missed venue Sprout were bathed in beer at its last show, an impromptu response to minimalist scuzz punks Nervous Ticks. Don't say you never got the chance to catch pop-punk band the Haverchucks, because they played shows literally every month in 2011.
Metal fans solemnly rejoiced when Forcefield Records released the self-titled debut of doom stalwarts Windhand and "Crimes of Faith" by the not-to-be-pigeonholed Balaclava. If any event embodied the do-it-yourself spirit of Richmond music, it was this summer's all-acoustic Island Power Jam. After practicing to live Led Zeppelin videos, Travis Tucker mastered the pipes, poses, and tight pants of Robert Plant while Zepp Replica brought down the house at the WRIR Under the Covers benefit. Finally, it's rad seeing local champions Chrome Daddy Disco and Kepone gigging again on the regular.