Best albums of 2011 make for optimism about 2012



As the year 2011 ends and 2012 begins, one word comes to mind: optimistic.

Optimistic is how I feel. Kind of like the song “Optimistic,” sung by the Sounds of Blackness and written by Jimmy Jam for his mother. It’s one of my favorite songs. And I’ve told Jimmy so. If the song doesn’t ring a bell, I invite you to take a listen. It’s truly inspiring. Kind of like the way I think about the handful of recordings that I had the chance to check out this year. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, I want to thank you, the reader, for hanging in there, continuing to read the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and “James on Jazz,” sending your thoughtful emails, and for the sincere encouragement to keep up the work. In the beginning, I expressed a concern that the jazz audience lacked Black people and women. Still, this is a concern. I’m not exactly sure what can be done. All I know is that there is a failure to connect to this great Black American art form known to most as jazz.

For one thing, a large number of women are simply not attracted to jazz. This is a problem. What’s the solution? It’s complicated.

All I know is if I wanted to throw a New Year’s Eve party, I would pick sexy, grown-folks music from the following recordings released in 2011:

1. The Light of the Sun, Jill Scott  (Blues Babe  Records)

2. ¡Rumba Mambo Cha Cha Cha!, Various Artists  (Putumayo World Music)

3. Appreciation, Diego Urcola Quartet (Cam Jazz)

4. Talk to Me, Freddy Cole (HighNote)

5. Pinnacle, Freddie Hubbard (Resonance)

6. When the Heart Emerges Glistening, Akinmusire Ambrose (Blue Note)

7. The Talented Mr. Pelt, Jeremy  Pelt (HighNote)

8. Bitches, Nicholas Payton (In + Out Records)

9. Victory!, JD Allen Trio (Sunnyside)

10. NightLife: Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Ernestine Anderson (HighNote)

The list that I’ve mentioned here also appears at Willard Jenkins’ “Ain’t but a Few of Us Best of 2011” poll of African American jazz writers listed at his blog “The Independent Ear,” which I highly recommend reading.

If I had a live stage performance top-10 list, Debbie Duncan’s performance one night in August at the Artists’ Quarter this summer would be at the top of the list. And as I recall, there were a lot of men, and maybe even more women, at the gig.

Congrats to Sonny Rollins, who was recently honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and to Jason Moran for being named the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Advisor for Jazz. I’ll toast to that.

Happy New Year!


Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokes



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