THE BEST JAZZ ALBUMS 2020
The Wicked Sound favorite Jazz albums of 2020:
1. Alan Braufman The Fire Still Burns (Valley of Search)
Alan Braufman released his second album The Fire Still Burns 45 years after his debut album Valley of Search (1975 India Navigation). On this album, Braufman reconnects with pianist Cooper-Moore, alongside new collaborators: James Brandon Lewis on tenor saxophone, Andrew Drury on drums, Ken Filiano on bass, and Michael Wimberly on percussions. As he described it: "When I showed the music to the players on this new album, instantly we were heading in the right direction". The effect is a charming collection of sonic collaborations full of passion, great compositions, collective improvisations, and the spirit of New York's loft jazz. Clearly The Wicked Sound favourite (best) jazz album of 2020.
From our Blog: Veteran percussionist Michael Wimberly releases the second part of his new album Afrofuturism
2. Alabaster DePlume To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals vol.1 (Inernational Anthem/Total Refreshment Centre)
Alabaster dePlume To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 released via International Anthem (Chicago), Lost Map (Eigg) and Total Refreshment Centre (London), it's a compilation of instrumentals, taken from early releases, re-mastered, with new some material featuring Sarathy Korwar and Dan Leavers (Danalogue from Comet Is Coming). It's dedicated to the two men with learning difficulties who I worked with for 10 years, who are now my friends. We made these things to help each other be calm. Three labels and I have collected them together, in case they might do you good. Beautiful album. Definitely one of the best jazz albums of 2020. Essential in any collection.
From our Blog: Alabaster dePlume releases new mini EP called “Visit Croatia”.
3. Nubya Garcia Source (Concorde Jazz)
Nubya Garcia debut album Source on Concorde Jazz is a deeply personal collection of sonic mantras to live by offering in which Garcia maps cartographies around the coordinate points of her identity, her family histories, grief, afro-diasporic connections and collectivism. It's about a realization of personal and collective power: the evolution of the saxophonist’s values as she re-connects with herself, her roots and her community. Garcia digs deep to present an album with a global outlook: from London to Bogota, Caura to Georgetown, it's a record drawing inspiration from the many places Garcia calls home. The title track, “Source” is steamy blend jazz, reggae and afrobeat.
From our Blog: Nubya Garcia announces her debut album “Source” with two powerful new singles “Pace” and “Source”.
4. Takuya Kuroda Fly Moon Die Soon (First Word Records)
Takuya Kuroda on Fly Moon Die Soon freed himself from the constraints of standard tracking with a live band and made hearty use of beats, sampling, overdubs, and other studio magic while also inviting musicians into the studio periodically to collaborate, keeping the collaborative and rough-edged spirit intact. After first listen of the album ended up straight on my personal “best albums of 2020”. It’ s great music, from soul-jazz to funk-jazz through beats, great grooves, heavy basslines and unique sound of Takuya’s trumpet. This album is a must.
From our Blog: Takuya Kuroda announces a new album “’Fly Moon Die Soon” and shares his first single “Change” with Corey King.
5. Jeff Parker Suite For Max Brown (Inernational Anthem/Nonesuch)
Jeff Parker Suite for Max Brown is informally a companion piece to The New Breed, Parker’s 2016 album on International Anthem. Suite for Max Brown is very much a solo album of Jeff, who constructs a digital bed of beats and samples, then lays down tracks of his own on guitar, keyboards, bass, percussion, and occasionally voice, and in the end invites his musician friends to play and improvise over his melodies. The album brims with personality, boasting the rhythmic flow of hip hop and the soulful swing of jazz. “In my own music I’ve always sought to deal with the intersection of improvisation and the digital era of making music, trying to merge these disparate elements into something cohesive,” Parker explains. One of the best jazz albums of 2020.
From our Blog: Jeff Parker and the New Breed ensemble announces new album “Suite for Max Brown”
06. Matthew Halsall Salute To The Sun (Gondwana Records)
Matthew Halsall Salute To The Sun features lush wholly improvised tunes inspired by ambient rainforest and jungle field recordings, deeply soulful tunes built around hypnotic harp and kalimba patterns, deep Strata-East inspired spiritual jazz grooves and some of Halsall’s most beautiful playing and inspiring healing melodies yet recorded. A sound that draws on the heritage of British jazz, the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, as well as world music and electronica influences, and even modern art and architecture, to create something uniquely his own.
From our Blog: Matthew Halsall unveils new band and announces ‘Salute to the Sun’ his new album on Gondwana Records
07. Sarathy Korwar & Upaj Collective Night Dreamer Direct To Disc Session (Night Dreamer Records)
Sarathy Korwar and his all-star UPAJ Collective on Night Dreamer Direct To Disc Session gain brand new ground in their mission to rebalance spiritual jazz with authentic Indian classical music. As the artist said: "Recording in one take, direct-to-disc is a unique scenario to be in. I feel very blessed to be presented this opportunity. I decided very early on that in order to make the best use of this scenario, the music had to be completely improvised and spontaneous. That is the only true way to record within the limitations of one take. No regrets, no mistakes, no fear and no judgement. These were the ideals. In a way, this was about creating a utopian vision of a world I would like to live in". And he managed to build an extraordinary world in which I also would like to live. The album came late in the year but easily end up in this list of best jazz albums of 2020.
From our Blog: Danalogue, Sarathy Korwar and Alabaster dePlume unite on a new song “Amoeba’s Dream”.
08. Lakecia Banjamin Pursuance The Coltranes (Ropeadope)
Lakecia Banjamin on her third full-length release as a leader Pursuance The Coltranes pays homage to two of the greatest musical innovators of the 20th century, John and Alice Coltrane. Lakecia has assembled an astonishing cross-generational ensemble of over 40 jazz heavyweights that includes Ron Carter, Gary Bartz, Regina Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Meshell Ndgecello, Steve Wilson, Marc Cary, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger and Jazzmeia Horn. Three generations of musical titans gathered to celebrate and further the message of the great maestros of this improvisational artform, John and Alice Coltrane.
09. Mammal Hands Captured Spirits (Gondwana Records)
Mammal Hands on their new album Captured Spirits takes their influences from electronic music, contemporary classical, world, folk and jazz music, including their heroes Pharoah Sanders, Gétachèw Mekurya, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Sirishkumar Manji. The trio has forged a growing reputation for their hypnotic fusion of jazz and electronica developed their distinctive and polished sound with their meteoric live shows. This time all three members of the band contribute equally to the writing process: one that favors the creation of a powerful group dynamic over individual solos. And the final effect is excellent.
From our Blog: Mammal Hands release a new single “Chaser” from their forthcoming fourth album “Captured Spirits”
10. Laurent Bardainne & Tigre d'Eau Douce - Love Is Everywhere (Heavenly Sweetness)
Laurent Bardainne on the new album Love Is Everywhere with his new band Tigre d'Eau Douce returned to his first love - jazz music. By using melodies, chants, and solos as an escape guide, his tenor saxophone takes us to a higher place, one where John Coltrane and the great figures of jazz reside. These LP tracks bounce between the grooves and soul of the 1970s, where percussion and saxophone pave the way. On this album, we have a nice collection of spiritual jazz with bits and pieces of hypnotic funk, soul jazz, Hammond organs and even elements of hiphop and spoken word.
11. Ilhan Ersahin's Istanbul Sessions Bir Zamanlar Şimdi (Nublu)
Ilhan Ersahin's Istanbul Sessions on Bir Zamanlar Şimdi brings together the sounds of east and west to produce something new and vital, further perfecting a style first introduced with Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions with Erik Truffaz. Now recording as a quartet, Istanbul Sessions’ “Bir Zamanlar Simdi” combines Ersahin’s free-form avant-jazz riffs skillfully and seamlessly with the exotically flavored grooves conjured by Istanbul bassist Alp Ersonmez, drummer Turgut Alp Bekoglu, and percussionist Izzet Kizil to dazzling effect.
From our Blog: Ilhan Ersahin presents “Aslan”, the second single from his internationally praised Instanbul Sessions project’s new album
12. Butcher Brown King Butch (Concorde Jazz)
Butcher Brown on their 8th LP, but first for Concorde Jazz called King Butch represents a bold step forward for the 5-piece group from Richmond, Virginia. Remaining true to the group’s heady fusion of contemporary hip-hop, ‘70s fusion, ‘60s jazz and funk—even echoes of Southern rock and marching band music show up - #KingButch is a powerfully original statement that reaches across divisions of genre, generation, ethnicity, and geography. Significantly, the new recording also reveals a side of Butcher Brown that’s been developing and is now in full flower: a song-crafting, studio maturity on a par with their national reputation as an explosive live act.
13. Tigran Hamasyan The Call Within (Nonesuch)
Tigran Hamasyan The Call Within comprises ten original compositions produced by him. The Call Within is a journey into the artist’s dreamlike inner world, which is as realistic to him as his physical one. The album takes inspiration from Hamasyan’s interest in maps from different eras, along with poetry, Christian and pre-Christian Armenian folk stories and legends, astrology, geometry, ancient Armenian design, rock carvings, and cinematography—blurring lines between historic reality and the imaginary world.
14. Kahil El'Zabar's Spirit Groove ft. David Murray (Spiritmuse)
Legendary multi-percussionist and spiritual jazz master Kahil El'Zabar's described his collaboration with tenor sax colossus, David Murray called Spirit Groove : "(it) intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level. From the mouths of Bebop music masters, who were my mentors and that I also had the distinct honor to play with – such as Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Eddie Harris, Malachi Favors, Jodie Christine, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, they all expressed to me that in the beginning of Bebop, people everywhere danced with Spirit to the music of Charlie Parker! This is the moment to rekindle the motion of social relevance within the legacy of jazz as an improvised people’s movement for social change!” Kahil El'Zabar released another great album last year called America which can easily joins the list of best jazz albums of 2020.
From our Blog: Kahil El’Zabar and David Murray shared two new songs “One World Family” and “In My House”
15. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids Shaman (Strut)
Influential jazz collective Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids return with an epic new opus Shaman! The album takes us effortlessly across moods and emotions through a series of expansive, extended pieces. “I wanted to use this album to touch on some of the issues that we all face as individuals in the inner space of our souls and our conscience,” explains Ackamoor. “The album unfolds over four Acts with personal musical statements about love and loss, mortality, the afterlife, family and salvation.”
16. Ambrose Akinmusire On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment (Blue Note)
Ambrose Akinmusire on his 6th album On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment not only asserts himself as one of the best trumpeters in the world, he’s using his voice to dissect the complexity of black life in America. Akinmusire described his new record as a blues album, partially thanks to conversations he has had with veteran saxophonist Archie Shepp. “We’ve had conversations where I ask Archie: What is the blues? What does that mean in 2020? Like, my blues as Ambrose Akinmusire shouldn’t sound the same as Archie’s blues, and that shouldn’t sound the same as Bobby Bland or BB King. That’s what this album to me is trying to figure out,” he said. “I’m trying to really put [the feeling of blues] in my music, in the same way as these masters.”
From our Blog: Ambrose Akinmusire shared a new song “Mr Roscoe (consider the simultaneous)” promoting his new album.
17. Web Web Worshippers (Compost Records)
Web Web Worshippers is the richest and perhaps best Web Web album so far. It testifies to maturity and is the logical continuation of the two preceding albums. In a way, it is a concept album in Web Web's journey through Afro Jazz and Spiritual Jazz. Web Web adores and bows to the greats of jazz and their spiritual music. Under the sign of the title, profound music was gradually created, with passion and vision. Along with the search for new sounds and soundscapes arose the desire for an extended sound body, which goes beyond band's conventional repertoire.
18. Derrick Hodge Color Of Noize (Blue Note)
Derrick Hodge Color Of Noize reflects a melting pot of influence and experience with jazz flow, hip-hop groove, soulful depth, spiritual uplift, and creative fire — but the concept is best described in more abstract terms. As Hodge lays it out: “It’s the contrast, it’s the beauty, it’s the chaos, it’s the freedom — all of that.” This album also includes a few firsts. It’s the first Hodge record to use a live band throughout. It was that band’s first time playing together, and their first time hearing the songs Hodge wrote for their session. It was also Hodge’s first time bringing in a co-producer: Blue Note president Don Was, who says: “It was powerful to see this group of young, brilliant improvisers set up in a circle. It felt like a throwback to what it might have been like on the floor of a Blue Note session at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in the mid-sixties.”
19. Charles Tolliver Connect (Gearbox)
Charles Tolliver on his first studio album in 13 years Connect presents all-stars band that features top musicians from the New York jazz scene: Jesse Davis on alto saxophone, Keith Brown on piano, Buster Williams on double bass, and Lenny White on drums. The album also bridges together New York and London by featuring leading British saxophonist Binker Golding on two tracks. On recording with Gearbox, Charles said: "with both of our collective recording label expertise a recording of my touring band could and would be done. I chose to CONNECT consummate artists whose performances represent absolutely 'THE' Real Deal in this Artform - Lenny White, Buster Williams, Jesse Davis, Keith Brown. The excellent artistry of Binker Golding was added for some tracks by Darrel."
20. GoGo Penguin GoGo Penguin (Blue Note)
GoGo Penguin on their sixth full-length and third for Blue Note self-titled album, the band draw equally on rock, jazz and minimalist influences, alongside the intricacy of Aphex Twin or Four Tet to create their punchy, experimental, but always beautiful music. In their sound, there have been detectable traces of latter-day developments in jazz, such as Sweden’s free-thinking Esbjörn Svensson Trio (aka E.S.T.), or minimalist classical composers like Steve Reich, John Adams, even Erik Satie. Yet, all in their mid-30’s, you can hear that they have grown up in the golden age of electronica, with echoes ranging from rarefied techno and the emotive melodies and crescendos of European house, through to Roni Size’s jazz-infused drum ‘n’ bass.
From our Blog: GoGo Penguin dropped the single “Kora” from their upcoming album.
This all just my personal list of my favorites, ones which hits me the most and stayed with speakers for the longest time. None of these albums are actually better than others, they all great. it was a fantastic year in jazz music, full of precious sounds and phenomenal records. That's so many others that could easily fit in, the decision process was very hard.
Maria Schneider released excellent Data Lord (ArtistShare); Carla Bley is mesmerizing on Life Goes On (ECM); Gary Bartz & Maisha Night Dreamer (Night Dreamer Record) it's a first-class; both albums from Roy Ayers and Azymuth in Jazz Is Dead series are revelations; Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience To Know Without Knowing is so groovy; Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela Rejoice is fire; jazz avengers Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Brian Blade hits hard on Roundagain; and the list can go on and on: Jasper Hoiby Planet B (Edition Records); Aaron Parks Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (Ropeadope); Avishai Cohen Big Vicious (ECM); Greg Foat Symphonie Pacifique (Strut); Chip Wickham Blue To Red (Lovemonk); Kamaal Williams Wu Hen (Black Focus); JK Group The Young Ones (La Sape); Błoto Kwiatostan and EABS Discipline of Sun Ra are both superb (Astigmatic) and Thijsenterprise made a terrific debut Lahringen (Rucksack Records).
This list includes only full studio albums, not EPs and I separate live recordings in a separate list The Wicked Sound Favourite Live Albums of 2020.