FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The 10 Best Albums of 2011

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Miles Davis Quintet, Live in Europe ’67 (Columbia) 

Long-awaited release of five live gigs (two captured on DVD) by the second Miles Davis Quintet recorded at the band’s creative apogee. The performances are seamless improvisations played with organic intensity by one of the most innovative groupings of musicians ever assembled: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Miles Davis. The driving force here is the polyrhythmic potency of Tony Williams’ drumming. But everyone shines, with Miles blowing triumphantly over the pulsing fervor around him.  A treasure from the vault.

Keith Jarrett, Rio (ECM) 

Two dazzling sets of fully improvised music recorded live in Brazil that rival Jarrett’s very best. The music is bright, sensual and swirling with conceptual currents. But Jarrett never lets the music become abstract or static. The luminous melodies almost always tend to swing. Some of Jarrett’s runs are so fast that they seem to throw off sparks, while other segments burrow down into intensely romantic passages. A landmark of spontaneous creativity.

Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’ (Columbia)

Oakland soul genius plays oblique tribute to Oakland’s maestro of integrated funk, Sly Stone. The record dives into a deep erotic groove and never reemerges. There’s a slightly menacing quality to these songs of obsession and heartbreak that makes the music, especially those hypnotic bass lines, linger deep into the night.

Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)

Heralded young trumpeter states his case to enter the pantheon of jazz giants with a breathtaking debut album that showcases his vast chromatic range. If Akinmusire seems more grounded in the softer registers of after hours blues and sizzling funk that doesn’t mean that he can’t blow out the lights in full Clifford Brown mode whenever he wants. The most moving song here is “My Name is Oscar,” Akinmusire’s haunting tribute to Oscar Grant, the young black man murdered by a Bay Area transit cop.

The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)

An 8-track flashback to seventies blues-funk, featuring powerchords, sleazy basslines, fuzz pedals, chunky keyboards and sassy girl back-up singers. The Black Keys might not be the most innovative rock band around, but they’re surely the most fun. Cribbing riffs from Motown and Stax session bands, as well as Creem and Led Zeppelin, the Black Keys have fashioned a hard-charging blues album that serves as the perfect soundtrack for cruising down a lonesome highway, burning lead all the way.

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant)

Raw and idiosyncratic rock by a post-punk stalwart who sheds arty pretense for a visceral suite of anti-war songs. Usually Harvey is singing about the war between the sexes, but here she zeroes-in on her native England’s obsession with state violence. The album functions as an anti-anthem, a fierce denunciation of imperial ambition and the glorification of bloodshed, built around the carnage of the World War I battle of Gallipoli, where 30,000 English and Australian soldiers perished.  This is music of inspired anger.

Saturn Never Sleeps, Yesterday’s Machine (SNS) 

Space age pop music crafted by a Philadelphia duo brought together by their mutual adoration of  Sun Ra, the pioneering explorer of galactic melodies. These songs sound beautifully alien, weaving lush R&B beats into a sonic-scape of interstellar improvisations.

Mason Jennings, Minnesota (Stats and Brackets) 

Heartland singer-songwriter channels Lennon and Dylan for a folk-funk masterpiece of prairie psychedelia. The music is often austere, featuring simple, but catchy, melodic phrases, which Jennings’ surrealistic lyrics glide over with a dream-like intensity.  Recorded in his home studio, these strange mediations on love and despair unfold with an unnerving intimacy.

The Kills, Blood Pressures (Domino)

Punk blues duo reunite after three-year separation with incendiary results. The Kills generate a brutalizing sound from their minimalist format of vocalist and guitarist. Their voltaic music, powered by Alison Mosshart’s dominatrix cadences and Jamie Hince’s  savage riffs, is dark, dangerous and magnetic. Blood Pressures is an object lesson in how to burn up before you burn out.

North Mississippi Allstars, Keys to the Kingdom (Songs of the South) 

Transcendent countrified blues played by a pair of brothers in tribute to their legendary father, the late Memphis session man and producer Jim Dickinson.  This is elemental music, rooted in place and resonant with deep history. Like the best blues music, these swamp grooves don’t wallow in loss, but blazingly embrace life.

Jeffrey St. Clair’s latest book is Born Under a Bad Sky. He is the co-editor of Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.


Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail