Dec 20, 2020
As I do every year, this Podcast is "A Few of My Favorite Things" from 2020. It is not intended on being a Top Ten list - I do that for the Jazz Journalist Association - but rather a grouping of recordings that got repeat play in my house, making me take notice among the many recordings I receive. While 2020 seemed to be a cursed year for many reasons, there was much to be optimistic about in jazz recordings that came across my desk during the past twelve months. And while the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic may strike jazz particularly hard – the closing of the Jazz Standard in New York as perhaps the harbinger of things to come in 2021 – here’s hoping that the music and the musicians will return to our stages and clubs soon, and that all may indeed to right with the music world sooner rather than later.
This year, I had the pleasure of hearing and rehearing the following stellar albums:
New Things from Old Friends
Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords
Rudresh Mahanthappa – Hero Trio
Wolfgang Muthspiel – Angular Blues
Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah – Axiom
Artemis - Artemis
Players Coming Into Their Own or Receiving Wider Acclaim
Oded Tzur – Here Be Dragons
Brian Landrus – The Deep Below
Immanuel Wilkins – Omega
Nduduzo Makhathini - Modes of Communication: Letters From the Underworlds
Thana Alexa – Oma
Redman Mehldau McBride Blade – RoundAgain
Chick Corea, Christian McBride & Brian Blade – Trilogy 2
Kenny Barron/Dave Holland Trio featuring Jonathan Blake – Without Deception
Kurt Elling and Danilo Perez – Secrets are the Best Stories
Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes – Heritage of the Invisible II
Archival or Reissue Release
Bill Evans – Live at Ronnie Scott’s
Sonny Rollins – Rollins in Holland
Paul Desmond – The 1975 Toronto Recordings
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’
Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto
Lakecia Benjamin – Pursuance: The Coltranes
Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, Gary Bartz – Bird at 100
Gil Scott-Herron & Makaya McCraven – We’re New Again – A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven
Christian McBride Big Band – For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver
Dave Douglas – Dizzy Atmosphere
For “Player of the Year,” the musician who did the most while appearing on the most different albums in the year, there is a tie. Christian McBride seemed to be on a release every month in 2020, putting out both his Big Band album and the long-delayed The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons, plus appearing on Joshua Redman and Chick Corea’s releases indicated above. You could also find Christian on Diana Krall’s This Dream of You, and even with one of his idols, Bootsy Collins, on the funk master’s The Power of One.
But we must not overlook the presence of drummer Chad Taylor on the long-awaited Good Days from the Chicago Underground Quartet; the rousing duo recording Live at Willisan with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis; and Eric Revis’ outstanding Slipknots Through a Looking Glass. Add to that Chad’s own The Daily Biological from his trio of Brian Settles and Neil Podgurski, and you had an amazing run of top-flight performances.
A welcome trend of the year was the continued diffusion of great jazz coming from locations other than New York and Los Angeles. Chicago continues to produce some of the most cutting edge jazz of the year, from the beat manipulation of Makaya McCraven and Chad Taylor to keys of Greg Spero to the guitar wizardry of Jeff Parker. South Africa began exporting more top notch music than it had in years, and London continues to shine as an incubator for exciting new sounds.
Lastly, let’s give a tip of the hat to musical documentaries that were released this year (mostly directly to streaming) like Michael Murphy’s Up From the Streets about New Orleans musicians and music hosted by Terence Blanchard, James Erskine’s Billie, Alex Winter’s Zappa, Sam Osborn and Nick Capezzera’s Universe, about the orchestral jazz suite by Wayne Shorter—written in 1966 for Miles Davis but never performed—finally brought to the stage by the late Wallace Roney, and the wonderful re-release of the iconic Jazz On a Summer’s Day, the sixty year old film featuring the acts appearing in the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.
Musical selections featuring in this podcast include:
Rudresh Mahanthappa – “Red Cross” from Hero Trio
Immanuel Wilkins – “The Dreamer” from Omega
Redman Mehldau McBride Blade – “Undertow” from RoundAgain
Thelonious Monk – “Ruby, My Dear” from Palo Alto
Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, Gary Bartz – “Bird Lives” from Bird at 100