S. Victor Aaron's Top Albums for 2011, Part 2 of 4: Fusion Jazz

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One of the year's best guitar fusion records was led by Black Country Communion's Derek Sherinian. That's right: A keyboard player.

“Fusion jazz” has been harder and harder to classify lately, and that’s a positive development. It means that there’s more artists trying out unique new approaches, mashing together all kinds of music that having been done much or not at all and coming up with some pretty exciting results. Several of those didn’t even make this list, because the bar is being set higher. This year’s cream of the crop is chock full of risk takers, as well as selections who represent well for the old school style of rock-jazz.

And the risk takers who’ve have the most fun with their audacity took home the prize…


ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Dead Kenny Gs – Operation Long Leash

I’ve struggled long and hard with this selection. It’s never been a question with whether it’s good enough or not to make a “best of” list, because it’s plenty good enough for that. I just couldn’t figure out if it goes in the fusion jazz list or the whack jazz list, because it’s really both. In the end, I decided it’s very whacky fusion jazz. And like the non-jazz album of the year, Operation Long Leash gets the nod over a very good group of albums because it’s got the biggest balls.

A band that calls themselves “The Dead Kenny Gs” says much about its honey badger attitude, and it’s an attitude borne out on this record. Tossing a James Brown hand grenade into a German beer hall, interrupting a thrash metal with a psychedelic Indian passage, or rapping Beastie Boys style amidst brain melting speed metal-jazz, the Dead Kenny Gs pulls out all the stops to make the biggest commotion ever to come from just three players (two of them sax players, no less). And on top of it all, they don’t forget that they have chops.

The band and this wonderfully nutty record they put out can be summed up by what I wrote back at the time of release: “There might not be a jazz or otherwise musical outfit whose music so dogmatically opposed to the non-threatening duotones of (Kenny G). They seem to be making the case that on the other side of the musical spectrum, you’ll find art. Art of the party kind.”


THE BEST OF THE REST:

Larry CoryellWith the Wide Hive Players: Who better to lead an album of 1972-style rock-jazz than by someone’s who’s been playing it since 1965?

Claudio Scolari/Daniele CavalcaColors Of Red Island: For an album led by two drummers, the music is mighty delicate, airy and melodious.

Derek SherinianOceana: Black Country Communion’s keyboard player makes a credible companion to Jeff Beck’s Wired and There And Back.

John EscreetThe Age We Live In: Dynamic compositions and a jam-band mentality, Escreet leads a crack band in a consistently solid effort.

Jacob Fred Jazz OdysseyThe Race Riot Suite: Pre-swing jazz, pedal steel, and contemporary rhythms come together in a coherent theme of a dark, overlooked chapter in America history.

ExegesisThe Harmony Of The Anomaly: Organic, advanced jazz with a little technology applied. A jazz record Robert Fripp would love.

Levin Torn WhiteLevin Torn White: Just what you’d expect from these three crackerjacks, a lethal combination of brawn and brains makes it the release of the year for those who crave that in their music.

Brian Landrus and The Landrus KaleidoscopeCapsule: Landrus applies his baritone sax, bass clarinet, bass flute and modern jazz compositions to the electro-acoustic realm, and gets it right the first time trying.

Raoul Björkenheim, Bill Laswell, Morgan AgrenBlixt: A late entry to this list, Laswell has rarely been involved with a project with as much raw but focused power since Last Exit.

<<< PART 1: NON-JAZZ

PART 3: MAINSTREAM AND MODERN JAZZ >>>

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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