Favourite Releases of 2020

My choices for favourite recordings of 2020:

Some years, it might be recordings by bassists, other years it was saxophones that dominated, this time around it’s a lot of fantastic drumming goin’ on.  This past year of 2020 was a rich one for great releases. Despite the pandemic and its effects on the music business, lots of great things came in.  Major props to the artists and labels who continue the good fight.  GO BUY SOME MUSIC PLEASE!

Listed by artist / album / label / artist country:

Jim Black Trio * Reckon – Intakt * USA
(Jim Black’s always been recognized as a terrific drummer, but this may be Jim’s finest work. I called it a clinic. Thomas Morgan has never played bass so effusively, and Elias Stemeseder’s growth on piano is evident.)

Jason Robinson, Bruno Räberg & Bob Weiner * The Urgency Of Now – Creative Nation * USA
(I always lean to Jason Robinson’s recordings. He’s a brilliant reed player. Bruno’s work is very under-rated and shines here (check out his “The Prospector”; it was very good also), and Bob Weiner, a new name to me brought this trio together.)

Asher Gamedze * Dialectic Soul – On The Corner * So. Africa
(Another drummer-led album, from one of the rising stars of the South African scene. Didn’t know who he was, now I do. And you should too. Definitely check out this cat! Great recording!)

James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor * Live At Willisau – Intakt * USA
(A most joyous live set from two fabulous players. They imparted their music with respect, reverence, fire, happiness, and all-out balls to the wall passion. Duo recording of the year for me, and another drummer front-and-centre.)

Eric Revis * Slipknots Through A Looking Glass – Pyroclastic * USA
(Another regular on my favourites lists. It’s not just his exceptional talent on bass, but also his compositional skills. It was the tunes and what a great quintet was doing with them. Much unexpectedness. Love it.)

Orchestre Nazionale Della Luna * There Is Still Life On Earth – BMC * Finland/Belgium/France
(I’m two-for-two with this quartet of wonderful musicians. They are skilled, adept at creating music that
is international in scope with the essence of improvisation as its soul. Can’t wait for their next album.)

Sylvain Darrifourcq, Manuel Hermia & Valentin Ceccaldi * Kaijū Eats Cheeseburgers – Hector * France
(Darrifourcq is not just a drummer, he’s a volcano of percussion, driving this most original and offbeat music. Hermia, also a member of the band just mentioned, sizzles, while cellist Valentin Ceccaldi brings down the house with his pizzicato work. So much fun.)

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio * Free Hoops – Intakt * USA
(A fabulous trio recording by a most gifted pianist. She brings all the moods and emotions to her music, and is totally unafraid to go places with it. The contributions of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen are essential to the success of this trio.)

Samuel Blaser Quartet * Moods – Blaser Music * Switzerland
(Two years ago, my favourite trombonist’s recording “Early In The Mornin’” was on my favourites list. The same tunes are back, but with a guitarist (Marc Ducret) replacing piano, the music takes on a whole new twist to the blues-themed improvisation. Oh, a cat named Gerry Hemingway on drums, too.)

Emanuele Passerini * Trio Geometrics – Dodicilune * Italy
(Soprano saxophone with so much sass and fire! Passerini says he’s not a professional player because he has a full-time job. Forget that! It’s relevant. The guy is masterful on this album. The bassist, Tito Mangialajo Rantzer, is a monster, and drummer Tiziano Tononi is brilliant.)

Russ Lossing * Mood Suite – Steeplechase * USA
(A trio that had never played together before? No problem. Lossing had a busy year of releases, but this one was my favourite. The compositions are deceptive, taking you to places you least expect. Eric McPherson on drums. ‘Nuff said.)

Daniel Rosenboom Quartet * Points On An Infinite Line – Orenda * USA
(Perhaps there was a sense of imminent doom behind this powerhouse of an album, since they managed to just finish recording before the pandemic hit, but something inspirational drove this excellent quartet.
Rosenboom’s writing is original, and bassist Billy Mohler returns to jazz with a bang.)

Roots Magic * Take Root Among The Stars – Clean Feed * Italy
(I’m so happy to have discovered this band. Four Italian players who somewhat irreverently reinvent old blues songs and avant garde tunes with reverence. Does that make sense? Another European band that has me anticipating their next recording.)

Ambrose Akinmusire * On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment – Blue Note * USA
(Another perennial on my lists. A most original composer and trumpet player, who takes his music and the listener to the next level. The groove is subtle, the idiom is safe and expanding, in Akinmusire’s hands.)

Raoul Bjorkenheim * Solar Winds – Long Song * Finland/Italy
(Could you go wrong, interpreting John Coltrane’s music? Many have, but Bjorkenheim and his guitar are up to the occasion on this passionate tribute. Blistering runs, sheets of sound, power: all resting in this Finnish star’s hands. Tononi is on hand, playing drums like he must to keep pace with Raoul.)

Anna Högberg Attack * Lena – Omlott * Sweden
(Ever wondered about the avant garde scene in Sweden? It’s damn fine if Ms Högberg is any indication.
Her edgy alto saxophone drives this quartet with a kind of restrained power. I didn’t know who she was, but I sure do now.)

Tim Berne’s Snake Oil * The Fantastic Mrs. 10 – Intakt * USA
(This year was one of quantity and quality for Tim Berne. The much-respected improviser released several albums from his vault of recorded sessions, but his work was released on noted labels too. Mrs. 10 did it for me, with Ducret’s guitar bringing additional flavour to the mix. Ches Smith on drums!)

Mat Walerian’s Okuden Quartet * Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter – ESP Disk * USA
(Somewhat unfamiliar name makes instant impression! That describes Walerian and this fine album with names like pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake join Walerian on a trip that is the epitome of New York improvising bands.)

Ohad Talmor Newsreel Sextet * Long Forms – Intakt * USA
(This set is so smart, so intelligent, so good. Talmor’s saxophone leads an outstanding New York band that contrast beautifully with Walerian’s. They have the same starting points but take different paths.
Drums by Dan Weiss.)

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York * Entity – Libra * Japan
(Another New York ensemble. That’s no coincidence. It’s where the players are. Fujii loves this band of soloing fools. She writes for them and they play for her. An outstanding large ensemble. Ches Smith on the kit. Killer stuff.)

I also really liked these a lot:
Andrew D’Angelo – DNA Orchestra (Self) – USA
Brian Groder Trio – Luminous Arcs (Latham) – USA
Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas – Overseas Live 2002-2012 (Loyal) – USA
Hot Heros with Iro Haarla – Vodjanoi (Karkia Mistika) – Finland
Jason Robinson Quartet – Harmonic Constituent (Playscape) – USA
Martin Kuchen & Landaeus Trio – Mind The Gap Of Silence (Clean Feed) – Sweden
Michael Formanek Quartet – Pre-Apocalyptic (Out Of Your Head) – USA
Pia Hernandez Trio – Lilith (Irazu) – Argentina
Sebastien Amman’s Color Wheel – Resilience (Skirl) – USA
Thumbscrew – The Anthony Braxton Project (Cuneiform) – USA
…. and a whole lot more!