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.


Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”