Friday, December 4, 2020

Notes on Jazz : Best of Jazz 2020

The year 2020 will go down as a stressful, disappointing, and even a dangerous year for this country. Since March and the outbreak of Covid 19-undoubtedly the worst viral pandemic since the Spanish Flu took the world to its knees back in 1918- society has been endangered, quarantined, and generally stifled from any semblance of normality. It has also been an ugly and trying time. A time where we witnessed a string of racially motivated deaths that created reactive multi-racial protests demanding responsibility. These events stirred up intermittent riots across the country that vented frustration, destroyed property, and conjured up the appearance of a loss of law and order. It was a mess of a year.

Through it all, we have had to adapt to a world that demanded severely restrained travel and social intercourse. Work has been relegated to remote digital contact. These restrictions have economically beggared many previously active and engaged artists. Live concerts have been veritably obliterated. Many venues that allowed social connection between musicians, music, and their public have been stymied. Even the most natural of things for musicians, shedding, collaborating with peers, or performing for audiences,have become relegated to video engagements or zoom collaborations. Despite all these formidable physical and monetary obstacles, artists and musicians have found a way to still create, record, and share their endeavors with us, enriching our lives and bringing the light of creativity and passion to all us in these otherwise difficult times.

As the year is rapidly starting to close I am proud to have had the opportunity to carefully listen to, marvel, and enjoy the works of many artists, some new to me and others reliable masters who continue to create amazing work.

Here are my picks, in no particular order, for some of the best of jazz for 2020 The selections come from diverse categories that include Big Band and large ensemble jazz works, modern small jazz groups, chamber/theatrical jazz, Latin/Brazilian jazz, vocal jazz, and notable historical releases for jazz in 2020. As with any list of favorites, these are purely subjective choices, and they do not include many fine albums that for one reason or another I have not personally had the opportunity to listen to in the past year.  Where possible, I have included links to sample music from the albums selected. Check these musicians out, listen, and enjoy.

Best of Jazz 2020: Big Band Music

John Hollenbeck with Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, Gary Versace and The Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Song You Like A Lot: Flexatonic Records

Maria Schneider and Orchestra: Data Lords: Artists Share

Dave Stryker with Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band: Blue SoulStrikezone Records

John Beasley: Monk’estra plays John Beasley: Mack Avenue Records

The Ed Palmero Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook Vol III:

 Sky Cat Records



Gregg August: Dialogues on Race Vol 1: Self-Produced

Smaller  Jazz Groups 2020:

Jerry Bergonzi with Renato Chicco and Andrea Michelutti: Nearly Blue: Savant Records

Jeff Cosgrove with Jeff Lederer and John Medeski: History Gets Ahead of the Story: Grizzley Music

Wolfgang Musthspiel with Scott Colley and Brian Blade: Angular Blues: ECM

Grégoire Maret with Romain Collin and Bill Frisell: Americana:

 Act Music

Brian Landrus: For Now: Blueland Records

Ricardo Grilli: 1962: Tone Rogue Records


John Scofield w Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow: Swallow Tales: ECM

Aaron Parks Little Big III: Dreams of A Mechanical Man: Ropeadope Records

Dayna Stephens Trio w Ben Street and Eric Harland: Liberty: Contagious Music



Eric Revis: Slipknots Through a Looking Glass: Pyroclastic Records



Chamber Jazz/ Jazz Opera 2020:

Ryan Keberle, Frank Woeste, Vincent Courtois: Reverso The Melodic Line: Outhere Music


Juliet Kurtzman and Pete Malinverni: Candlelight Love in the Time of Cholera: Self-Produced


John Ellis and Andy Bragen: The Ice Siren: Parade Light Records


Best Debut Jazz Album 2020:

Raphael Pannier Quartet: Faune: French Paradox


Best Jazz Vocal Album 2020:

Somi w John Beasley and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Holy Room Live at Alte Oper:


Best Latin Jazz Alum 2020:

Chico Pinheiro: City of Dreams: Buriti Records


Best Historical Albums Released in 2020:

Thelonious Monk Quartet: Monk: Palo Alto Live from 1968: Impulse Records

Bill Evans with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette: Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s July 1968: Resonance Records

Nat King Cole: Hittin’ the Ramp, The Early Years 1936-1945: Resonance records


Further worthy recordings your consideration from 2020:

Aaron Diehl w Paul Skivie and Gregory Hutchinson: The Vagabond: Mack Avenue Records

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio: Whirlwind Records

Chick Corea w Christian McBride and Brian Blade: Trilogy 2:Concord Records

Edgar Djangirov: Rhapsodize: Twelve Tone Resonance

Steve Cardenas: Blue Has a Range: Sunnyside Records

Amina Figarova Edition 113: Persistence: AmFi Records

Kenny Barron, Dave Holland  Trio w Jonathan Balke: Without Deception: Dare 2 Records

Marvin Stamm and Mike Holober: Live @ Maureen’s Jazz Cellar: Big Miles Music

Denny Zeitlin Trio: Denny Zeitlin Live at Mezzrow: Sunnyside Records

Martin Wind, Philip Catherine & Ack Van Rooyen: White Noise: Laika Records

Rez Abbasi w Neil Alexander and Michael Sarin: Django Shift: Whirlwind records

Chris Dingman: Embrace: Inner Arts Initiative

Jason Palmer: The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella: Giant Step Arts

John DiMartino: Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn: Sunnyside Records

Thana Alexa: Ona: Self-Produced

Sirkis/Bialis IQ: Our New World: MoonJune records

Dave Douglas: Dizzy Atmosphere Dizzy at Zero Gravity: Greenleaf Music

Marcin Wasilewski Trio w Joe Lovano: Artic Riff: ECM

Keb’ Mo’: Oklahoma: Concord Records (Blues)

Craig Taborn: Junk Magic- Compass Confusion : Pyroclastic Records

Jeff Hamilton Trio: Catch Me if You Can: Capri

Guiseppe Paradiso Meridian 71: Metropolitan Sketches: Self-Produced