On the Turntable — The “Best Of the ‘Best Of'” in 2020 jazz recordings

January 2nd, 2021

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Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Brian Blades’  Round Again is among the recordings consistently named by jazz critics as a top album of 2020

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…..December has brought the tradition of year-end “Best Of” lists, and the consensus among critics is that – as difficult as it may be to understand given the challenging circumstances – 2020 was a banner year for new jazz recordings.

…..Perusing through an eclectic list of ten publications’ “Best of Jazz, 2020,”  several recordings were mentioned consistently throughout.  While this hardly constitutes an accurate assessment of the “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” lists, it at least provides some guidance about 2020 recordings critics seemed to agree about, and suggest we  check out.

…..In no particular order, the list follows, which also features a brief review from one of the ten publications, and a track from the album.   For more details about the recording, click on the artist’s name and you will be taken to their website, record company page, etc.  Click on the reviewer’s name and you will be taken to a more complete review of the album.  (The lists utilized to compile this list are found at the conclusion of this post).

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Aaron Diehl; The Vagabond

“At age 35, Aaron Diehl is the most elegant young pianist on the scene, equally accomplished with Ellington, Gershwin, Philip Glass, jazz standards, and the blues.”

Fred Kaplan, Slate

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Shabaka and the Ancestors; We Are Sent Here By History

“Not a year goes by without something from the consistently fantastic London saxophonist/composer Shabaka Hutchings — be it Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors, or one of his various other projects — and 2020 brought yet another stunning Shabaka-led album, the sophomore album by the Ancestors.”

Andrew Sacher, Brooklyn Vegan

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Joshua Redman; Round Again

“Some of the most highly respected players in jazz, these four have ventured all across the genre and beyond in the 26 years since their last joint album Mood Swing. Much like that 1994 disc, their new  RoundAgain plays like a sampler of everything they do well, from snappy uptempo postbop to searching free-time balladry.”

Hank Shteamer, Rolling Stone

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Immanuel Wilkens; Omega

“Produced by Jason Moran, “Omega” features Mr. Wilkins’s working quartet of Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass and Kweku Sumbry on drums, gliding and diving with a telepathic synergy through tunes that he composed with the nation’s racial ills in mind, and that thrive thanks to a buoyant, up-to-date sense of swing.”

-Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times

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Blue Note: Reimagined

“One of the reasons jazz continues to be so innovative and exciting is that today’s artists are not just regurgitating the same old standards; they’re making their own forward-thinking music that rivals the greats of the genre’s mid 1900s golden age. Still, that doesn’t mean today’s artists can’t do some creative reinventions of that era too. Enter Blue Note Re:Imagined, a compilation of artists in or adjacent to today’s UK jazz scene  reinventing classic material from the historic Blue Note catalog…”

Andrew Sacher, Brooklyn Vegan

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Carla Bley; Life Goes On

Life Goes On  is a brilliant expression of the camaraderie developed by Carla Bley’s longtime trio with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.”

-Paul de Barros, Downbeat

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Charles Lloyd; 8: Kindred Spirits

 

“This glorious live recording, made in his hometown of Santa Barbara, is an account of Lloyd’s 80th birthday celebrations last year and finds the tenor guru still on transcendental form.”

Garry Booth, Barry Witherden and Roger Thomas, BBC Music Magazine

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Maria Schneider; Data Lords

“No one writes better for jazz orchestra than Maria Schneider. This programmatic two-disc set pits “The Digital World” against “Our Natural World,” with the need for human connection as the through-line, and eloquent soloists as the searching protagonists in the deftly drawn orchestral narratives.”

 

Jon Garlick, Boston Globe

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Pat Metheny; From This Place

“Metheny’s 2020 album…showcases his famously cinematic compositional muse, shrewdly balanced with the group’s off-the-leash inventiveness, and for the most part subtly applied synthesised orchestral effects.”

John Fordham, The Guardian

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Aaron Parks; Little Big II

“Parks’ quartet, which deftly combines new jazz tricky composition, indie-rock sonic attitude, and grooving directness, made  Dreams  the jazz I most wanted on repeat while I was laundering my facemasks and watching election results.”

Will Layman, Pop Matters

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Ambrose Akinmusire; on the tender spot of a very calloused moment

“Ambrose Akinmusire’s fifth studio album finds the 38 year-old trumpeter in as reflective a mode as ever, asking questions about black identity and avoiding clichéd pathways just as he opts for musical roads less travelled.”

Jon Newey, Jazzwise

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Ron Miles; Rainbow Sign

“The Denver-based, burnished-glow trumpeter and composer Ron Miles joins an all-star ensemble (pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer Brian Blade) to crank out the craftiest blend of form and improvisation of the past few years.”

Fred Kaplan, Slate

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Webber Morris Big Band; Both Are True

“There’s little terrain that this big band is afraid to step into…Passages of long, open harmony are common; sometimes those become lengthy stretches of collective improvisation, musicians conversing at a low simmer, resisting the typical urge to raise the temperature or set a course.”

-Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times

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Nubya Garcia; The Message Continues

“Countless other players turned up both as both sidemen and leaders this year. Nubya Garcia, who guested on drummer Moses Boyd’s sleek electro-jazz-meets-Afrobeat set  Dark Matter,  married a robust old-school tone to a contemporary rhythmic palette on her own debut LP  Source.”

Hank Shteamer, Rolling Stone

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John Scofield; Swallow Tales

“Accompanied by Bill Stewart on drums on nine Swallow pieces, the pair often take off in gleefully driving extended solos – Scofield in particular sounds as if he’s having a ball from the off.”

John Fordham, The Guardian

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Tigran Hamasyan; The Call Within

“The Call Within  marks a more daring interplay of extremes where the slamming intensity of high energy contemporary groove-metal meets the celestial-bound melodies and metrically-complex folk music traditions largely sourced from his Armenian heritage. “

Jon Newey, Jazzwise

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Bill Frisell; Valentine

“Even though the selections on  Valentine  hail from a range of styles, the performances represent jazz playing at its most sublime. And music seldom gets more “together” than that.”

-J.D. Considine, Downbeat

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Kamaal Williams; Wu Hen

“It contains some of the year’s most remarkable jazz and some of the year’s most remarkable electronic music, not to mention funk, R&B, and more.”

Andrew Sacher, Brooklyn Vegan

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…..Clearly, there is a ton to listen to and discover…The lists utilized for this feature can be accessed by clicking on the link:

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The New York Times

Jazzwise Magazine

BBC Music Magazine

Pop Matters

Slate

Rolling Stone

Brooklyn Vegan

The Guardian

Downbeat

Boston Globe

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