Best jazz albums of 2011

Songs of Mirth and Melancholy”–Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo

Jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo’s much-anticipated duo album of original music is absolutely marvelous, with a mix of foot-tapping numbers like “One Way” and beautiful ballads like “The Bard Lachrymose.” The result is a wonderful album that shows off what a jazz duo is meant to do.

 

33”–Alex Pangman

Canadian songstress Alex Pangman transports us back to the 1930s with her new album, “33”, full of songs almost exclusively from 1933 in celebration of her 33rd birthday. Pangman updates these old songs for a modern audience while still maintaining an authentic sound that’s true to the era. The albums includes songs like  “Happy As The Day Is Long,” “Shine” and “I Found A New Baby” that are so upbeat they’re sure to wake you up, get you smiling and get you on the dance floor. There are also several ballads to pull on your heartstrings like Pangman’s composition “As Lovely Lovers Do,” which sounds like it could have been written in the 1930s and “I Surrender Dear.”

 

Live in Marciac”–Brad Mehldau

Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau’s new two-disc solo album repeats a bit too much of the repertoire from his trio’s albums, like “Martha My Dear,” “Exit Music (for a Film)” and “My Favorite Things,” but provides a new take on them in this bare bones piano version, where the themes need to be developed more intricately. The few new additions to the repertoire are well worth it, including Mehdlau’s impressive interpretation of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” which takes the great chord progressions and creates a beautifully complex piece of music.

 

Let Them Talk”–Hugh Laurie

In his debut album, “Let Them Talk”, British actor Hugh Laurie proves that he can hold his own in the recording studio almost as well as he can on camera. The album opens with his marvelous extended piano solo on “St. James Infirmary” and the album only continues to surprise and impress with other catchy old blues numbers like “Tipitina” and “Swanee River”. He’s at his best when he’s at the piano: he’s no Brad Mehldau, but he’s got an incredible talent that’s unmatched by many professional musicians. Though the album sits comfortably in Norah Jones-esque pop blues territory, its impressive lineups of guest artists–like Irma Thomas and Tom Jones–make it one that gets better with every listen.

 

Rio”–Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett is perhaps the world’s greatest living jazz pianist, so it’s no surprise that his latest solo album, “Rio”, a recording of his live concert in Rio de Janeiro, should make the list of this year’s best albums. It’s not quite “The Koln Concert”, an all-improvised album and perhaps the single greatest jazz solo piano composition, but it’s well worth owning.

 

About Alexandra Heeney

Alexandra Heeney is the Managing Editor of Arts & Life, and she writes film, theater and jazz reviews. She has covered the Sundance Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival and her favorite, the Toronto International Film Festival. As a Toronto native, the lack of Oxford commas and Canadian spelling in this bio continue to keep her up at night. In her spare time, Alex does research on reducing the environmental impact of food waste for her PhD in Management Science and Engineering.