Ben Ratliff’s Best of 2011 list at The New York Times

1. PISTOL ANNIES “Hell on Heels” (Columbia Nashville) The country singer Miranda Lambert’s side project with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley turned out to be loose, wise, tough, well written, well sung and more in tune with the debt-stricken American moment than her own record this year.

2. JASON MORAN/ROBERT GLASPER DOUBLE TRIO (Live, 1/15/11, streamableat A 54-minute set of two free-form, convulsive, style-shifting songs, performed during the Houston-centric festival at the 92nd Street Y TriBeCa, programmed by the pianist Mr. Moran, and recorded for broadcast by WBGO (88.3 FM). (Mr. Moran on electric keyboard and Mr. Glasper on piano; Mark Kelley on electric bass and Alan Hampton on acoustic; Chris Dave and Eric Harland on drums.) When it ended, I felt that it said so much about where jazz is now — inasmuch as it is black music, popular music, regional music, improvised music and a philosophy of play — that I didn’t need to hear any more for a while. (If we can call it an album, it’s a better extended statement than most I heard this year; hence the inclusion of so many jazz album tracks in my singles list.)

3. TIM HECKER “Ravedeath, 1972” (Kranky) A beautiful and often brilliant dark-ambient record, a 12-part poem of immensity. There’s a real pipe organ at the heart of this album, recorded in a church in Iceland; loops and layers, distortions and fragmentations do the rest.

4. PAUL SIMON “So Beautiful or So What” (Hear Music/Concord) Not just his best record in a couple of decades but also a reminder of how resourceful he is as a composer — and a singer! — and how worthwhile his big thoughts (in this case, on faith and mortality) can be.

5. YOB “Atma” (Profound Lore) Doom metal at its most refined, gnashing and obsessive, with songs that take long stretches to climb their mountains, paying close attention to guitar touch and tone.

6. KRIS DAVIS “Aeriol Piano” (Clean Feed) Not the most representative album for Ms. Davis as a jazz pianist per se, but a solo-piano record of serious organization and thrift, around ideals of jazz and minimalism. (There is an “All the Things You Are” here for the ages.)
7. DEAF CENTER “Owl Splinters” (Type) I guess it was my dark-ambient year. Deaf Center is a Norwegian duo who play piano and cello with long tones, far-reaching sustain, carefully overlapping dissonances and wizardly use of audio space.

8. CRAIG TABORN “Avenging Angel” (ECM) Guess it was my solo-piano year too. Craig Taborn has played in so many contexts around jazz over the last 20 years that he seemed due for a solo record; that it would be this wide and thoughtful still came as a small surprise.

9. KENDRICK LAMAR “Section.80” (Top Dawg Entertainment) Mr. Lamar, a prolix young rapper from Compton, Calif., is neither much of a link to the ’80s Compton rappers before him nor the tricksterish Internet hip-hop around him. Musically, morally and otherwise his first album is all over the road, messing with Southern rap, R&B, spacey funk and fusion jazz, telling cautionary tales and generational observations, extolling natural beauty and keeping his own counsel.

10. MIA DOI TODD “Cosmic Ocean Ship” (City Zen) Redolent of Brazilian bossa nova, South American Nueva Canción and ’70s Los Angeles pop, Mia Doi Todd’s calm voice and simple songwriting illumine a meditative eco-beach record, perfectly poised and out of step.


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