Best music of the year? I'll hedge and say only this: Here's a list of ten of my favorite albums of 2011, in no particular order.
Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys! (Downtown/Cooperative Music)
Seriously wonderful grown-up pop on the theme of growing up from a British band that sees no shame in charm or beauty. (Video below.)
Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra: Trilogy (Mosaic Select)
Rivers, the jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist who was a leading voice of the postwar avant-garde, died at age 88 on December 26, within weeks of the deaths of several other important figures in jazz: the composer-arrangers Bob Brookmeyer and Russell Garcia, and the singer Barbara Lea (about whom I'll be writing more next week). Best remembered for his free but rigorous work in small groups, Rivers also composed some dizzying orchestral music that I had never heard until the release of this three-CD set this year.
Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
Dense and clever, sexy Nordic art-pop suitable for dancing, listening, and occasionally even thinking.
Hilary Hahn, Valentina Lisitsa: Charles Ives: Four Sonatas (Deutsche Grammophon)
Hahn, the young violinist, brings out the hope and wit of Ives’ odd, sweet violin sonatas.
Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)
Lyrical and droll, Simon's rumination on aging and mortality has none—or very little—of the glib smugness that has tainted so much of his work. This is one Paul Simon that actually deserved a Grammy nomination.
Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (Matador)
An impeccable mess from a hardcore band so imaginative and rangey that it subverts its own genre.
Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol. 2 (Emarcy)
Four of the six tracks on this collection of live performances were recorded at the great New York concert Rollins gave to celebrate his eightieth birthday last year, and one of them— "Sonnymoon for Two," the only duet Rollins and Ornette Coleman have ever played together— is historic, and not only for its novelty.
Tyshawn Sorey: Oblique 1 (Pi)
Sorey, a deeply musical percussionist, has fully emerged now as a major voice in contemporary jazz. The only problem with this album is the misleading title of this bright, clear music.
In One Wind: How Bright a Shadow (Primary)
Appealingly erratic, genre-smashing chamber pop from a new band out of Brooklyn.
Terri Lyne Carrington: The Mosaic Project (HCM)
Carrington, the jazz-funk percussionist, brought together some of the most gifted musicians in jazz, including the pianist Geri Allen; the bassist Esperanza Spalding; the trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; and the singers Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, among others.
If I had more than ten titles on this list, the next few would be these:
Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow (ANTI)
Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto)
Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glittering (Blue Note)
Allen Lowe: Blues and the Empirical Truth (Music & Arts)
The Divine Comedy: Bang Goes the Knighthood (101 Distribution)