From young stars following their unique vision to a parting session from a departed master of doing the same, there was no shortage of recordings worth celebrating in 2011. And one sour note.
Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening" (Blue Note): It's one thing to expect great things from an artist's major label debut, it's another pleasure entirely to have those expectations exceeded. Already possessed with his own tone on this evocative recording, this 29-year-old trumpeter-composer's big year gets only better when you consider where he might go next.
Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein, Bienestan" (Sunnyside): Often a duet in name only led by Goldberg on piano and composer-arranger Klein on Fender Rhodes, Bienestan" frequently taps the expert rhythm section of Matt Penman and Eric Harland, incorporating flashes of Cuban jazz and contemporary classical into an album-length exercise in music without borders.
Endangered Blood, Endangered Blood" (Skirl): Though the name sounds like a drive-in horror movie classic, there's nothing to be scared of in this sharply swung collection led by the dueling saxophones of Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega and the constantly shifting rhythmic backbone from avant-garde veterans Trevor Dunn and the octopus-armed drummer Jim Black.
Starlicker, Double Demon" (Delmark): A high-octane Chicago trio featuring Tortoise drummer John Herndon, Exploding Star Orchestra cornetist Rob Mazurek and vibraphone powerhouse Jason Adasiewicz (who released the excellent Spacer" with his own ensemble this fall), this recording takes the vibraphone trio into a new orbit with a relentless drive toward invention.
Jeff Gauthier Goatette, Open Source" (Cryptogramophone): An enduring force for good around the local scene as chief of the Cryptogramophone label and co-producer of the Angel City Jazz Festival, Gauthier's expressive violin has never sounded stronger than on this electronics-shaded album, which features longtime collaborators Nels and Alex Cline and a bracing new addition in trumpeter John Fumo.