When the Heart Emerges Glistening
The best jazz releases in 2011 were the ones that fell between the swinging post-bop of trumpeter Tom Harrell's Time of the Sun and the expansive, avant-garde feel of saxophonist Colin Stetson's New History Warfare, Vol. 2. Neither completely "out" nor straight-ahead, these artists mixed a highly cerebral, modern creative approach with more accessible aspects of the genre, and in some cases, even incorporated some unexpected ethnic and world influences, such as the uses of Arabic maqam melodies on Two Rivers Ensemble's Inana, and traditional Greek songs on Charles Lloyd's Athens Concert. And it wasn't just instrumentalists who caught our attention, with both Kurt Elling and Gretchen Parlato releasing albums that showcased their unique and creative approaches to the vocal jazz tradition. From older veterans such as trombonist Phil Ranelin to younger up-and-comers like trumpeter Shane Endsley, the jazz artists of 2011 delivered some of the most forward-thinking and intriguing albums in recent years.

Ambrose Akinmusire - When the Heart Emerges Glistening
David Binney - Graylen Epicenter
James Carter Organ Trio - At the Crossroads
Gerald Clayton - Bond: The Paris Sessions
Ernest Dawkins' New Horizon Ensemble - The Prairie Prophet
Amir El Saffar/Two Rivers Ensemble - Inana
Kurt Elling - The Gate
Shane Endsley and the Music Band - Then the Other
Tom Harrell - The Time of the Sun
Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott - Ninety Miles
Vijay Iyer - Tirtha
Keith Jarrett - Rio
Charles Lloyd/Maria Farantouri - Athens Concert
Rudresh Mahanthappa - Samdhi
Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo - Songs of Mirth and Melancholy
David Murray Cuban Ensemble - Plays Nat King Cole en EspaƱol
Gretchen Parlato - The Lost and Found
Phil Ranelin - Perseverance
Matthew Shipp - Art of the Improviser
Wadada Leo Smith's Organic - Heart's Reflections
Starlicker - Double Demon
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges
Craig Taborn - Avenging Angel
Kenny Werner - Balloons: Live at the Blue Note
World Saxophone Quartet - Yes We Can