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The Best Jazz of 2011

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Craig Taborn The pianist Craig Taborn, at the Jazz Standard, released a rare solo album this year. In the last of three year-end wrap-up shows, the music critics Ben Ratliff and Nate Chinen listen to and discuss some of the best jazz of 2011.

Unlike the fragmented world of pop music, with its mixtapes, iTunes singles and abundant online leaks, jazz continues to embrace the album as the definitive expression of an artist. “It's still a 20th-century metabolism in terms of how we experience the music," Mr. Chinen says on this edition of Popcast.

That said, truly great jazz records seemed to be in short supply this year. There were exceptions, such as “Avenging Angel" (ECM) by the pianist, Craig Taborn, who has been a “perversely reluctant solo artist and bandleader," Mr. Chinen says. The album is notable for reasons beyond the curiosity factor.

“There's jazz there, there's minimalism there, there's classical impressionism," says Mr. Ratliff, the host of Popcast. “It requires careful listening but I got a lot out of this record."

The New York Times's jazz and pop critics pick their favorite stage performances this year, including shows from Beyoncé, Paul Motian, Radiohead and Paul Simon.

Another standout album, “When the Heart Emerges Glistening" (Blue Note), by the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, manages to elegantly fuse kaleidoscopic contemporary influences with jazz tradition.

“Even when he's moving toward a kind of cinematic indie rock-ish sound or atmosphere, it still feels very recognizably like the work of a post-bop quintet in the lineage of Miles Davis," Mr. Chinen says. “It feels of its moment, it feels contemporary, but it's by no means throwing out the traditions that led to him."

The critics also discussed offerings by an array of artists including Miguel Zenón, Jason Moran and Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Starlicker and the Claudia Quintet + 1.

“The point is," Mr. Ratliff says, “whether we're talking about Gilad Hekselman and Orrin Evans using an older template, or these other bands doing something that seems totally new, both options seem to be doing pretty well."

Adds Mr. Chinen: “It's a healthy environment right now for whatever you want to do, whatever path."


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