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The Top 10 New Jazz Releases of 2020)(by Jazztimes

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    Posted: 29 Jan 2021 at 5:22am

10. Shabaka and the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here by History (Impulse!)  

Incorporating strains from the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra, and A Love Supreme, London’s Shabaka and the Ancestors lead the U.K. jazz revival, complete with Shabaka Hutchings’ tooting, simmering Caribbean-styled tenor, found sound loops and percussion, rumbling drums, and heaving acoustic bass amid sweltering atmospheres. Though it brings nothing new, the music’s resuscitation/mashup of past jazz glories speaks to everything lost in the heady 1970s, with a nod to a hopeful jazz future. KEN MICALLEF

9. Sun Ra Arkestra: Swirling (Strut) 

If there was ever a year in which the world needed to hear the unparalleled joyful noise that is the Sun Ra Arkestra, 2020 is certainly it. The Arkestra’s first studio album since 1999 captures the full range of zany, awe-inspiring work that has endeared the big band to this celestial blue orb for the last 60-plus years. Under the tireless direction of Marshall Allen, and featuring the cosmic cry of vocalist Tara Middleton, the Arkestra allows us all to glimpse the untold potential available to us should we dare to knock at the door of the cosmos. JACKSON SINNENBERG

8. Nubya Garcia: Source (Concord Jazz)  

The young British tenor saxophonist and composer has described her songs as “sonic mantras,” and that’s an apt summation of the music that her debut full-length album comprises. Garcia and her accompanists start with an innate soulfulness and build from there: seductive, lyrical melodicism meets a thick, bone-rattling bottom; a panoply of subtle, intricacies arrive, swirl around and depart without fanfare. Yet it’s all very cohesive, and warm and welcoming too. JEFF TAMARKIN

7. Gerald Clayton: Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note) 

In 15 years, pianist/composer Gerald Clayton has amassed four Grammy nominations, appointments as musical director of the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour and artistic director of MJF’s Next Generation Orchestra, a Duke University commission, and impressive sideman gigs. Comparatively, Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard is only his fifth recording. In quintet and trio settings Clayton excels through lengthy originals “Patience Patients” and “Envisionings,” along with “Body and Soul,” Bud Powell’s “Celia,” and Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane.” CHRIS J. WALKER

6. Immanuel Wilkins: Omega (Blue Note)  

Even before Omega came out, word had hit the street: There was a new alto saxophone badass in town. Talents like Wilkins are rare. More rare are 22-year-olds with his maturity, commitment, and spiritual depth. Like so many jazz albums in 2020, Omega rages against the past and avows hope for the future. Wilkins creates musical objective correlatives for a sweeping expanse of emotional truths, from naked aggression to soul-baring vulnerability. THOMAS CONRAD

5. Bill Frisell: Valentine (Blue Note) 

A typically Frisellian, typically brilliant mix of down-home and moody, abstract and endearingly direct, cut with regular trio mates Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The benediction is the best part of this particular service; in a move tailormade for days of lockdown, fear, and polarized realities, Valentine draws to a spirited close with touching renditions of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “We Shall Overcome.” MAC RANDALL

4. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio (Whirlwind)  

Perhaps it’s the lack of a chording instrument that encourages this heroic threesome (Mahanthappa on alto, Francois Moutin on bass, Rudy Royston on drums) to see melody not as something to go beyond but as an ever-nourishing well to keep returning to. That the melodies come from both the jazz canon (Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman) and the pop charts (Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash) reminds us of the melodic richness of the former and the improvisatory potential of the latter. GEOFFREY HIMES

3. Ambrose Akinmusire: On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment (Blue Note)  

The widespread critical conviction that Ambrose Akinmusire is the most important trumpet player to enter jazz in the new millennium is based on only six records. From the beginning he expressed raw passion with supreme technical expertise. Over time his recordings have become bolder, wilder, and more free. His newest is a concept album with the ambitious, complex intention of rendering “the pain, beauty and optimism of blackness.” Akinmusire succeeds. THOMAS CONRAD

2. John Scofield: Swallow Tales (ECM)  

The tune’s the thing as Sco and bass guitarist Steve Swallow bring new life to the latter’s distinctive compositions. The longtime collaborators, with drummer Bill Stewart, imbue everything with lightness, vitality, and synchronicity. “Falling Grace” is built on a loop-like structure, while “Eidertown” offers a catchy bluesy-to-bop melody; Swallow brought both to Gary Burton’s groups. Other gems: Ballad “Away,” twisting burner “Radio,” and the now-laidback “Awful Coffee,” featuring one of Swallow’s most melodic solos. PHILIP BOOTH

1. Maria Schneider Orchestra: Data Lords (ArtistShare)  

By now, jazz fans have come to expect marvels from Maria Schneider, but the scale and magnificence of Data Lords is exceptional even for her. A concept album split into two spheres, it wrestles with the key conflict of our time: the alluring, empty promises of “The Digital World” versus the calming, nourishing beauty of “The Natural World.” It’s not hard to guess which side Schneider is pulling for, but this is less a polemic than a portrait, and the soundscapes she paints are as wonderfully detailed as any she’s composed. Even as “Don’t Be Evil” evokes Google’s techno-menace through towering trumpets and growling bass trombone, it’s hard not to be awed by the beauty of the writing. Likewise, it’s both thrilling and horrifying to hear Mike Rodriguez’s electronically altered trumpet solo portray the transformation of AI from useful servant to uncaring data lord. On the second disc, Schneider’s richly colored writing escorts us through the grounds of a Buddhist temple in “Sanzenin” and captures the drama of avian life in “Bluebird.” Whether conjuring forests and fields or circuits and cities, Data Lords stands as a pointed reminder of just how much can be said with a jazz orchestra. J.D. CONSIDINE

Edited by snobb - 29 Jan 2021 at 5:24am
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