The Best Jazz Albums of 2021

Monday, November 22, 2021

Featuring Sons of Kemet, Pat Metheny, Rosie Frater-Taylor, Julian Lage and more, all of these outstanding albums were reviewed in the 2021 issues of Jazzwise and all were selected as Editor's Choice

Adam Bałdych Quintet with Paolo Fresu



With 10 original compositions of precisely focussed moods plus ‘Hyperballad’ by Björk, the compositions that provide the biggest spaces for improvisation – ‘I Remember’ and ‘Open Sky’ – number among the album highlights, together with pieces such as ‘Grace’ using a Renaissance violin (almost a 7th below a violin, whereas a viola is a fifth below) whose tone adds a sense of gravitas and profundity in Bałdych’s hands. Stuart Nicholson

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

Chick Corea Akoustic Band with John Patitucci & Dave Weckl


Concord Jazz

This album was already in the works at the time of Corea’s sudden and unexpected death on 9 February 2021. On it, Corea contributes liner notes where he refers to a two day whirlwind when the trio was reconvened in January 2018 after a long break for a quick rehearsal and two shows the following evening. This two-CD set is the result. Stuart Nicholson

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Abdullah Ibrahim

Solotude: My Journey My Vision


This is a record to hear in one long sitting, tracing his journey in all its detail, and remembering each of the themes that he weaves past us, as they will surely reappear, changed and rethought, as the journey progresses. A masterly achievement. Alyn Shipton

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Ill Considered

Liminal Space

New Soil 

Ill Considered have pursued an underground course, releasing nine raw improvised albums – including a Christmas LP, natch – in three years. With new bassist Liran Donin (Led Bib and his own 1000 Boats project), Liminal Space is a studio leap forward, with the trio’s wild improv now the basis for added arrangements and musicians. Drummer Emre Ramazanoglu’s production simmers down thickly layered arrangements till star guests such as Theon Cross and Sarathy Korwar become mere ingredients in a multitudinous ferment; yet the sense of space is still sharply defined, like claustrophobic dub. Nick Hasted

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David Linx


Be My Guest: The Duos Project

Cristal Records

By turns visceral, touching, transporting and illuminating, this set of 15 duets featuring the Brussels-born, Paris-based vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist David Linx is a collection that stays with you long after the final bar of the extraordinarily powerful ‘Como La Cigarra’ fades away. Penned by the Argentinean writer and composer, Maria Elena Walsh, Linx is accompanied on this particular song by the gorgeous playing of pianist Gustavo Beytelmann. Peter Quinn

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Christian McBride & Inside Straight

Live at the Village Vanguard

Mack Avenue

As well as demonstrating the continuing vitality of the tradition in the right hands, this album also celebrates Inside Straight’s longevity, proudly underlining their annual appearances at the Vanguard since 2007 – a run only interrupted in 2020. McBride only solos a couple of times, but the strength of the other soloists (including Allen) is such that you’re hardly aware of the head-solos-head structure of these vibrant originals. Brian Priestley

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Eric Bibb (g, v), Selwyn Arnold (org), Eric Galesk, Staffan Astner (g), Chuck Campbell (lapsteel), Christer Vandola (mand), Billy branch (hca, v), Ron Carter (b), Tommy Sims (b, v, g), Steve Jordan (d), Shaneeka Simon, Lisa Mills, Big Daddy Wilson, Andre De Lang (v) with Glen Scott (ky, syn, f, g, b, d, perc, v). Rec. date not stated

“Without haranguing the listener, Bibb draws deep on a hundred years of American gospel, blues and 1960s righteous soul to ask profound questions of why so little has changed between the Civil Rights era and the Trump error.” Andy Robson

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Blue Note 

Terence Blanchard (t), plus The E-Collective: Charles Aktura (g), Fabian Almazan (p), David Ginyard (b), Oscar Seaton (d) + Turtle Island Quartet: David Balakirshnan (vn, dir), Gabe Terracciano (vn), Benjamin von Gutzeit (vla) and Malcom Parson (clo). Rec. date not stated

“A dazzling homage to saxophonist Wayne Shorter that combines the interactive flow of the E Collective band he formed in 2016 with the finesse of the Turtle Island String Quartet. Merging his grasp of composition with the small-group Terence Blanchard skills he honed with Art Blakey, the album captures Shorter’s freewheeling spirit, dramatic narratives and oblique harmonies in full.” Mike Hobart

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Andrew Cyrille (d), Bill Frisell (g) David Virelles (p, syn) and Ben Street (b). Rec. 2020

“Cyrille’s often painterly textural invention has always been outstanding, and here he shows a consummate command of low tempo on daringly spacious, sparse material where he chooses every strike of snare or crash of ride cymbal with the utmost care, as if the notes were punctuation in a letter or exclamation marks in an intimate conversation.” Kevin Le Gendre

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Whaling City Sound

Gerry Gibbs (d), Chick Corea, Patrice Rushen, Geoff Keezer, Kenny Barron (p), Larry Goldings (kys), Ron Carter, Buster Williams, Christian McBride (b) and Kyeshie Gibbs (d). Rec. 2020

“This fine and devotedly-crafted double album is a vehicle for much thrilling jazz-making by a superb cast, but it has a rich stream of backstories running through it too. Songs From My Father is New York drummer Gerry Gibbs' personal tribute to his 96 year-old father and bop-vibes legend Terry, involving 10 months work and 15,000 miles of driving and pandemic-restricted meetings for Gibbs Jnr to involve four star-packed versions of his nine year-old Thrasher Dream Trio across the US.” John Fordham

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BMG/Modern Recordings

Pat Metheny (g, g syn, el b), James Francies (p, org, syn) and Marcus Gilmore (d). Rec. 2019

“Our received notions of Pat Metheny is that there is not one, but two Pat Methenys. There’s the Pat Metheny that loves jamming, be it on his memorable 80/81, or with his trio on albums such as Trio 99 > 00, Trio > Live and Pat Metheny Dave Holland Roy Haynes, and there’s the Pat Metheny formerly of the Pat Metheny Group and now custodian of its sound, as on 2020’s From This Place. Having set the bar incredibly high with the latter album (and more recently with Road to the Sun), an album of acclaimed classical compositions and arrangements, his current project/band Side Eye features young musicians making waves on the current NYC jazz scene.” Stuart Nicholson

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Adam Fairhall (org), Mark Hanslip (ts) and Johnny Hunter (d). Rec. 1 and 2 August 2018

“This eponymous debut by Adam Fairhall, Mark Hanslip and Johnny Hunter bristles with ideas, delivered with a sly wit and unruffled confidence. Save for a mellow reading of Carla Bley’s ‘Ida Lupino,’ every track here is an original, ranging from Hanslip’s gospel-tinged ballad ‘Day of Rest’ to the fractured boogaloo of Hunter’s ‘April.’” Daniel Spicer

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Brandee Younger (hp), Maurice Brown (t), Chelsea Baratz (ts), Anne Drummond (fl), Rashaan Carter, Dezron Douglas, Ron Carter (b), Allan Mednard and Marcus Gilmore (d). Rec. November 2020–February 2021

“From the inventive comping in the striking album opener ‘Reclamation’ to the heavy ostinato of the final track, ‘Tickled Pink’, which irrevocably calls to mind ‘The Creator Has A Master Plan’ from Pharoah's iconic Karma, Brandee Younger’s major label debut on Impulse! Records is a work of enormous imagination and mesmerising artistry.”  Peter Quinn

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“Cole has selected some of the most adventurous and exciting players from his Birmingham hometown to present a compelling exploration of what jazz means to him...” Eddie Myer

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“Braxton and his band, which could not be more different to the great 2003 quartet (with ace guitarist Kevin O'Neil), show the thread of expression binding the Simons and Monks of this world is an understanding of the triumphs and travails of the human condition, from sunlit hope to the somber despair...” Kevin Le Gendre

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“This session, with sometime Robert Glasper bassist Vicente Archer, John Scofield drummer Bill Stewart, and the exquisitely lyrical and understated young saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins (a stunning protege of Ambrose Akinmusire and Jason Moran) is all the stronger for vaulting so subtly and economically beyond its deceptively familiar antecedents in the 1950s Cool School, and Monk/Cedar Walton/Tyner piano postbop...” John Fordham

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“Although half a dozen vocalists are featured, they are invariably used to colour the music from within with sustained tones that add body and greater textural shape to the ensembles. Garret comes up with eight originals, each quite different and each with programmatic origins...” Stuart Nicholson

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“Throughout, the duo show how they can take a kernel of a musical idea and develop and burnish it into a spontaneously conceived work that grows and evolves with organic logic...” Stuart Nicholson

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“From the Sun Ra-evoking opener ‘Prelude’ onwards, there's an upbeat and affirmative tone to her music, both in style and content. Meyerson has chosen like-minded collaborators too, each showcased in turn across this six-part suite...” Tony Benjamin

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“‘The Big Push’ by Shorter has a shuffle beat and exhibits fusion-ish touches while ‘Creole Love Call’ gets a rather startling, blues-groove reading. BB King would surely have approved...” Peter Vacher

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“You could compare it to Albert Ayler's attempt to find pure humanity in untrammelled sound, an atavistic, abrasive avant-garde. Silva and Zetterberg too are digging beneath academic European jazz, improvising towards half-grasped meanings deep in the space, soil and soul...” Nick Hasted

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Tales From The Jacquard is a very powerful belated big-band debut for an artist who sounds in fine shape to make an enthralling habit of it...” John Fordham

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“The 15 improvisations here, spread across almost two hours, have a pleasingly cosmic quality to them, with Kuepper helping the trio create a kind of swirling celestial skronk...” Kevin Whitlock

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Jaimie Branch – Fly Or Die Live

International Anthem Records

Jaimie Branch (t, v, vibraslap), Lester St Louis (clo, v, tiny cymbal), Jason Ajemian (b, v, egg shakers) and Chad Taylor (d, v, mbira). Rec. 23 January 2020

By the time of the recording, Branch and her band had reached that perfect point when the material had been honed to near-perfection but had not yet become overly familiar; and even better, this isn’t just a presentation or recreation of two albums in a different (non-studio) environment, it’s an organic dialogue with them – so new ideas bubble up spontaneously and the band run with them. Kevin Whitlock

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James Francies – Purest Form

Blue Note

James Francies (p, ky) Joel Ross (vib) Immanuel Wilkins (as) Elliott Skinner, Bilal, Peyton (v) Burniss , Traviss (b) and Jeremy Dutton (d). Rec. 2020

What stands out the most on Purest Form is the beguiling beauty of some of the textures, particularly ballads such as ‘Melting’ and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, where Francies has chosen exactly the kind of disturbingly vaporous synth sounds to resonate with a voice as singular as that of Bilal. Kevin Le Gendre

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Fabia Mantwill Orchestra – EM.PERIENCE


Fabia Mantwill (s, v, comp, arr, cond), 26 piece orch with guests Kurt Rosenwinkel (g), Nils Landgren (tb) and Ben Wendl (s). Rec. date not stated

Yes, the majority of her orchestra may come from the classical world, but they are given pieces of conceptual and programmatic originality that makes genre distinction irrelevant – it was Duke Ellington, after all, who said, “There are only two types of music, good and bad,” and this most assuredly is of the former variety. Stuart Nicholson

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Michael Mayo – Bones

Artistry Music/Mack Avenue

Michael Mayo (v, perc), Andrew Freedman (kys, p, el g), Nick Campbell (el b, el g, synth), Robin Baytas (d), Eli Wolf (prog), Scott Mayo and Valerie Pinkston (v). Rec. August–September 2019

Cut at Figure 8 Recording, Brooklyn, with Grammy-winning producer Eli Wolf (Al Green, Norah Jones, The Roots) at the controls, Bones, Mayo’s debut album, is a work of startling originality, presenting a musical sound-world which references everything from The Beach Boys to J Dilla. Peter Quinn

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John McLaughlin – Liberation Time

Abstract Logix/Mediastarz

John McLaughlin (g, p), Julian Siegel (ts), Oz Ezzeldin (p), Gary Husband (p, ky, d), Étienne M'Bappé, Jerome Regard, Sam Burgess (b), Ranjit Barot, Nicolas Viccaro and Vinnie Colaiuta (d). Rec. Autumn 2020

Other than his two reflective solo piano pieces, ‘Mila Repa’ and ‘Shade of Blue’, all tracks are the product of multi tracking. But you’d never guess ‘Lockdown Blues’ by McLaughlin’s group The 4th Dimension was made this way, such is the group interplay. Stuart Nicholson

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Ulysses Owens Jnr Big Band – Soul Conversations

Outside In Music

Ulysses Owen Jnr (d), Stefon Harris (vib), Walter Cano, Benny Benack III, Summer Camargo, Giveton Gelin (tpts), Eric Miller, Gina Benalcazar, Wyatt Forhan, Chris Glassman, Seth Weaver, Michael Dease (tb), Alexa Tarantino, Erena Terakubo (as), Diego Riviera, Daniel Dickson (ts), Andy Gatauskas (bs), Takeshi Ohbayashi (p), Yashushi Nakamura (b) and Charles Turner III (v). Rec. December 2019

The repertoire mixes jazz classics with band-member originals and the accent is on uplift and joyful harmonies laced with the blues. Arrangements are focussed, solo strength high and the showcase brass is as tight as a nut. Mike Hobart

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Matt Ridley – The Antidote


Matt Ridley (b), Ant Law (g), Alex Hitchcock (ts), Tom Hewson (p) and Marc Michel (d). Rec. October 2019

The guitarist Ant Law adds a fresh electric flavour to Ridley’s organic mix of classical, jazz and rock but it’s steered well clear of any jazz-rock hybrid by Ridley. It’s one of the strongest releases by homegrown jazz talent in 2021 so far. Selwyn Harris

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Rubén Blades y Roberto Delgado y Orquesta – Salswing!

Ruben Blades Productions        

Ruben Blades (v), Robert Delgado (b, bv), Juan Berna (p), Juan Carlos ‘Wichy’ Lopez (t), Alejandro ‘Chichisin’ Castello (t, tb, bs), Francisco Delvecchio, Avenicio Nunez (t), Carlos Ubarte (f, saxes), Carlos Agrazal (as), Ivan Navarro, Luis Carlos Perez (ts), Ademir Berrocal, Raul Rivera (perc), Carlos Perez Bido (timb, perc) plus guests. Rec. March 2021

Here the multi-faceted Blades presents as a Latin-minded big band crooner, giving his swaggering (if high register) Sinatra-esque all on standards including a gloriously horn-cocky ‘Pennies From Heaven’ and Nelson-Riddle-style ‘The Way You Look Tonight’. Jane Cornwell

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Archipelago – Echoes To The Sky

New Jazz & Improvised Music Recordings 

Faye MacCalman (ts, cl, syn, v), John Pope (b, v, effects) and Christian Alderson (d, perc). Rec. December 2020

Tyneside trio Archipelago introduced their unique sound on their 2017 debut Weightless: a heady mix of post-rock drumming, free-bop saxophone and punchy bass guitar riffing spiced with electronica, like 1970s mavericks (and fellow North Easterners) Back Door thoroughly updated with an infusion of the indie-jazz sensibility of Polar Bear or Trio VD. This new record expands their musical horizon still further to include the songs and singing of saxophonist MacCalman. Eddie Myer

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Rosie Frater-Taylor – Bloom

i2i/Bridge the Gap/Bandcamp 

Rosie Frater-Taylor (v, g, uke), Chris Hyson, Matt Piper (p), Conor Albert (ky), Hugo Piper, Seth Tackaberry (b) and Steve Taylor (d, perc)

Bloom is differently edged from her debut, On My Mind, which by her own description was “folky” in texture. The singer-songwriter mode remains, but now the melodies are celebratorily poppy as on the opening ‘I Think About You’. The vocal range is richer too, a soulish feel having joined with those Joni style higher registers. Andy Robson

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Dave Holland – Another Land


Dave Holland (b, el b), Kevin Eubanks (g) and Obed Calvaire (d). Rec. 2020.

This marks Dave Holland’s return to bass guitar on some tracks (notably a piece called ‘The Village’ that opens out into a long almost stream-of-consciousness development) along with some of his best recent work on double bass. His solos on tracks such as ‘Grave Walker’ and ‘Gentle Warrior’ are exemplary. Alyn Shipton

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Nigel Price Organ Trio – Wes Reimagined


Nigel Price (g), Tony Kofi (as), Vasilis Xenopoulos (ts), Ross Stanley (org), Joel Barford (d), Snowboy (perc), Callum Au (arr, tb), plus the Phonograph Effect Strings: Kay Stephen, Anna Brigham (vn), Elitsa Bogdanova (vla) and Chris Terepin (clo). Rec. 7-8 September, 30 September, 20 October 2020

As its title implies, this is Price looking afresh at compositions by his hero Wes Montgomery, and re-casting them in ways that he feels Wes might well have considered. Or welcomed. Add to that, Price’s decision to enlist Au to create discrete string arrangements for three of the 10 numbers and then to enlist Snowboy to splice in percussion effects, and you can see that this surpasses anything else that he has done up to now. Peter Vacher

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Lars Danielsson Liberetto – Cloudland

ACT Music 

Lars Danielsson (b, cl), Grégory Privat (p), John Parricelli (g), Magnus Öström (d, perc) with guests Arve Henriksen (t), Kinan Azmeh (cl). Rec. 2019 & Sept 2020.

On this fourth album by the group, Danielsson again comes up with a collection of well crafted original songs, not just vehicles for improvisation, but songs in their own right that demand the improvisor respect the songwriter’s intentions in terms of mood and melody. Each musician is tuned-in to Danielsson’s wavelength with players responding to the challenge the context of Danielsson’s music imposes on them. Stuart Nicholson

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Roxana Amed – Ontology

Sony Music Latin

This seventh album from the Buenos Airesborn, US-based singer-songwriter Roxana Amed presents a supremely atmospheric collection of 14 songs. As evidenced by album opener ‘Tumbleweed’, which vibrates between sweetness and edgy abstraction, what Amed does exceptionally well is to draw the listener in by creating very specific sound-worlds... Peter Quinn

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Belmondo Quintet – Brotherhood

B Flat Recordings

The Belmondo brothers have been luminaries of French jazz for several decades now, busy in any number of musical situations. Their quintet came into being in the late 1980s and this is just the latest of their many albums, albeit with variations in the line-ups. Lionel, born 1963, is the senior partner, some four years older than his brother; both were tutored by their late multi-instrumentalist father Yvan, to whom they dedicate their final pair of pieces. Fittingly, these have an elegiac quality, the prosaically titled ‘Song for Dad’ like a sublime lament... Peter Vacher

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Graham Costello’s Strata – Second Lives

Gearbox Records 

On this, their second album, Graham Costello's Strata temper their most turbulent raw-noise excursions with ambient hums, infectious minimalist loops, alternations of lyrically meditative short interludes and chord-punching rock, thrilling drumming from the leader, and arresting improv, notably from piano star Fergus McCreadie, and guitarist Joe Williamson... John Fordham

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Jihye Lee Orchestra – Daring Mind

Motéma Music 

Bursting with ingenious ideas throughout (some might feel even a few too many), Daring Mind sounds like one of 2021’s real standouts, and confirmation of Jihye Lee’s big future in the front rank... John Fordham

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Julian Lage – Squint

Blue Note 

Older and wiser, Lage has now been signed to the Blue Note label by Don Was, and he has surrounded himself with his regular working group which debuted on Mack Avenue’s Love Hurts in 2019. Wise decision. On ‘Bloo’s Blues’ and ‘Saint Rose’, two standout tracks in an album of exemplary originals, Lage, Roeder and King demonstrate the all important group empathy to the extent his “guitar trio” has a group sound that somehow exceeds its individual component parts... Tony Benjamin

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Anaïs Reno – Lovesome Thing

Harbinger Records

It’s astonishing to think that Billy Strayhorn was just 16 when he began to write what was to become his signature tune, ‘Lush Life’ – a song whose chromaticism and large leaps make it one of the trickiest standards to sing. Recorded in 2020, when she was similarly aged 16, this debut album from Swiss-born, NYC-resident vocalist Anaïs Reno celebrating the music of Strayhorn and Duke Ellington offers a remarkable introduction to a singular talent... Peter Quinn

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Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future


With their borders-down aesthetic, fierce social conscience and sax, tuba and two-drum-kit combo, the Kemets have always packed a punch. But with opener ‘Field Negus’ and closer ‘Black’, both featuring lyrics written and spoken by poet Joshua Idehen, sparked by Black Lives Matter protests, and with guests ranging from Angel Bat Dawid and Steve Williamson to grime MC D Double E – Black to the Future has the tightly coiled righteous fury of opuses such as Attica Blues and Freedom Suite... Jane Cornwell

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Paul Towndrow – Deepening the River


Conceived as a suite to run continuously, this 57-minute composition falls into eleven sections, each of them to some extent following the maritime history of the Clyde since the 17th century. It is a piece to be listened through in order many times to catch all its nuances and its overall power, and it is a fine achievement for Paul Towndrow and the excellent band he drew together to bring it to life... Alyn Shipton

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Dara Tucker – Dreams of Waking

Green Hill Music

While every song covered on vocalist, songwriter and bandleader Dara Tucker’s Dreams of Waking: Music For a Better World is a bona fide classic that has long since been imprinted on our musical consciousness – from the beautiful recasting of James Taylor’s ‘Secret O’ Life’ to the stripped back piano-vocal arrangement of Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today’ – the brilliance and subtlety of the arrangements, together with Tucker’s remarkable storytelling gift, combine to make each one sound bracingly fresh... Peter Quinn

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Nik Bärtsch – Entendre


Nik Bärtsch feels a long way from jazz, but a lot closer to a freewheeling rhythmic spontaneity on this unexpectedly action-packed set... John Fordham

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Airelle Besson Quartet – Try

Papillon Jeune

Laid down after just two days rehearsal, Try feels effortless, liberating. The exchanges between Besson’s clean but colourful playing and Sorling’s wordless singing unfurl over a firm foundation of barely there keys and drum sticks applied just so... Jane Cornwell

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Vijay Iyer Trio – Uneasy


Iyer continues to document the contemporary American experience, with its catalogue of inconvenient truths and dehumanizing facts, with music that deftly sidesteps convention while staying true to all manner of far-reaching traditions in Black music... Kevin Le Gendre

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James Brandon Lewis – Jesup Wagon

Tao Forms

This album provides further confirmation of Lewis’ growing artistic stature, as he clearly has important things to say socially, culturally and politically, as well as a creative drive that keeps resulting in one notable recording after another... Kevin Le Gendre

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Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints – Other Worlds

Greenleaf Music

Sound Prints’ music may reference the classic free-collective innovations of Shorter, Ornette, and the mid-60s Miles quintet, but their audaciously sophisticated refinement of all that rich history makes them a truly contemporary jazz band... John Fordham

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Chris Potter Circuits Trio – Sunrise Reprise

Edition Records

Their second CD for Dave Stapleton’s Edition Records sounds like it has a freshness of purpose; a playfully inventive flood of ideas seem to organically and spontaneously flow out of Potter’s ear-catching new themes... Selwyn Harris

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Wollny/Parisien/Lefebvre/Lillinger – XXXX


The undertows are often fiercely, abstractly and sometimes caressingly electronic (Wollny plays electric keys throughout), from the chain-dragging sounds and detonations of ‘Somewhere Around Barstow’, to the choirlike echoes and huge, chugging grooves of ‘Too Bright In Here’ or the dreamy harmonies of the only composed piece, Wollny’s closing ‘Nostalgia for the Light’... John Fordham

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Thumbscrew – Never Is Enough


This formidably talented trio entered the studio to record Anthony Braxton material to celebrate the master’s 75th birthday. But they'd also brought songs of their own and these now emerge as Never Is Enough... Always is never enough to have this band (and Braxton) generating the new, the hopeful... Andy Robson

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Susanna Aleksandra – The Siren

Eclipse Music

Here’s something to warm the heart in these dark, sad times. A new CD from an Estonian singer I’d never previously heard of (apologies to Ms Aleksandra – that really demonstrates the shameful gaps in my musical knowledge, rather than saying anything about her reputation or talents) falls through my letterbox one gloomy January morning and… guess what? It’s an absolute corker!
Kevin Whitlock

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Gary Bartz – JID 006

Jazz Is Dead JID006 

Much excitement surrounds JID 006, another new studio album (following on from last year’s acclaimed Night Dreamer Direct-to-Disc Sessions with Maisha) by octogenarian saxophonist Gary Bartz, whose late-life career has morphed and flourished thanks to such UK-based champions as Gilles Peterson and the production duo of A Tribe Called Quest DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammed and the hip hop composer/producer Adrian Younge. It’s on their Jazz Is Dead label that the much-sampled Bartz releases this new eight-track collection, having featured on last year’s inaugural Jazz Is Dead 001 alongside other living legends including Roy Ayers and Marcos Valle, all of whom subsequently released studio albums in collaboration with Muhammed and Younge. But while JID006 showcases Bartz’s mighty chops more extensively than the Maisha collaboration, this is still very much a collaborative project. Jane Cornwell

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Elephant9 – Arrival of the New Elders

Rune Grammofon

Welcome to an acid-free altered state. The fiery onslaught of 2019’s twin double-live albums, Psychedelic Backfire I and II, has become a simmer, as Elephant9 find space, slow, and strengthen their songs’ subliminal architecture. They had previously typified a Norwegian scene inspired by Motorpsycho’s prog-jazz sprawl and Supersilent’s impro-noise (with Ståle Storløkken the linking, omnipresent eminence). Now Elephant9 deal instead in increment and atmosphere. Each tune is an immersive room of its own, misty tendrils curling round the listener. Nick Hasted

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Will Glaser – Climbing in Circles


This completes an unusual trilogy of releases, following Glaser’s duo albums with saxophonist Matthew Herd, then pianist Liam Noble on Climbing in Circles Part 1 and 2, whose near identical tracklists tried to tease out how players’ personalities impact material. The MO is loosened here, letting the combined trio relax into musical friendship, playing covers and originals. ‘Mood Indigo’ is dismantled for inspection, in a thankfully less extreme version of Douglas Gordon’s Hitchcock art installation deconstruction 24 Hour Psycho, as Noble slows and delays the melody, only to find it indestructible. Nick Hasted

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Shai Maestro – Human


Witnessing a performance by Israeli composer/bassist Avishai Cohen at London’s Union Chapel in 2011 left abiding memories – not just of Cohen’s celebrated bass power and the communal invitations of his songwriting, but of the participation of the 24 year-old Shai Maestro, by then his pianist for four years. Maestro seemed to anticipate the band’s every move, and he was close to bringing jazz’s elastic momentum to Latin-dance vibes as dynamically as Cohen’s former boss Chick Corea. Nine years later, with Maestro a much-followed leader of his own ventures since 2012, comes the captivating Human – the second of the pianist’s sessions as a leader on the ECM label.  John Fordham

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Alexander Hawkins ft. Evan Parker + Riot Ensemble – Togetherness Music For Sixteen Musicians


So industrious and productive (his discography is prodigious) is British pianist Alexander Hawkins that it’s remarkable to note that he’s not yet celebrated his fortieth birthday. Released to commemorate the big four-o (on 3 May this year), this remarkable new album is proof positive that Hawkins is a major figure in the global improv scene, both as a composer and instrumentalist. The roots of this latest project – a lengthy single 50-minute piece of six wildly different ‘movements’ – lie in two commissions, from Peggy Sutton for BBC Radio 3 and from Aaron Holloway-Nahum for the Riot Ensemble. Togetherness Music consists of reworkings of that material, with the addition of new compositions, played live and recorded in one day. Kevin Whitlock

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Branford Marsalis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Milan Records

This is the official soundtrack to George C. Wolfe’s excellent recent Netflix film based on the play of the same title by August Wilson that’s set in a music studio in the 1920s. One of the first things that comes to mind is that Branford’s younger brother Wynton would be the more natural choice for the job. But Wolfe chose the older Marsalis instead and the saxophonist went about exploring a side of jazz relatively unknown to him previously. The recording is split between Marsalis’ authentic period music, scene-setting incidental music and a few signature songs of the ‘Mother of the Blues’ Ma Rainey, sung by Maxayn Lewis. Maxayn Lewis is as good as it gets when it comes to approaching Ma Rainey’s growly, earthy, erotically-charged vocal on just a few songs including the well-known ‘Hear Me Talking to you’ and the bawdy title track. Selwyn Harris

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Pat Metheny – Road to the Sun

Modern Recordings/BMG 

Pat Metheny’s fascinating odyssey through music continues. Perspicacious as ever, his change of record label to Modern Recordings/BMG presented the opportunity to put forward a project unique in his discography that features two major works he composed and arranged, performed by five of the world’s leading classical guitarists; a solo guitar performance by Jason Vieaux of Metheny’s four part suite ‘Four Paths of Light’; the album centrepiece ‘Road to the Sun’, a six part suite, performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and a solo performance by Metheny on 42-string guitar of Arvo Pärt’s ‘Für Alina’ by way of a ‘bonus track’. Stuart Nicholson

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Veronica Swift – This Bitter Earth

Mack Avenue

Veronica Swift’s second album for Mack Avenue is an eclectic, unforgettable delight, with the singer’s out-and-out virtuosity perfectly matched by a band that can take the music in any direction they please. The 13-track collection kicks off with Swift’s intensely moving take on the Robbie Robertson arrangement of ‘This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight’, a mash-up which originally featured on the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. A quartet of show tunes follows which include a dazzling, gear-changing take on ‘How Lovely To Be A Woman’, with a wonderfully OTT introduction courtesy of pianist Emmet Cohen. Peter Quinn

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Georgia Mancio & Alan Broadbent – Quiet Is The Star

Roomspin Records

A follow-up to their outstanding Songbook album released in 2017, Quiet Is The Star presents a further nine beautifully crafted songs from the dream pairing of pianist/composer Alan Broadbent and vocalist/lyricist Georgia Mancio. Produced once again by Andrew Cleyndert, highlights include ‘When You’re Gone From Me’, a song that features music originally penned by Broadbent at the tender age of 16 which – over half a century later – takes on a new lease of life here courtesy of Mancio’s poignant lyrics... Peter Quinn

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Menagerie – Many Worlds


This Melbourne-based ensemble, whose last album, 2017’s Arrow of Time, picked up plenty of plaudits over here (Gilles Peterson, Jamie Cullum, Courtney Pine and Don Letts are all fans), take as their starting point on their third long-player the 1970s sounds of the Black Jazz and Strata-East labels, as well as UK contemporaries like Maisha and Nubya Garcia. The result is a bubbling spiritual jazz stew that doesn’t break any new ground, but which is so well – and lovingly – executed that it’s ultimately impossible to ignore... Kevin Whitlock

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Yoko Miwa Trio – Songs of Joy


The new release from Japanese pianist Yoko Miwa has an appealing lockdown title. Who couldn’t do with a little joy right about now? And this 11-cut disc certainly delivers on its titular promise. The recording comes out of Miwa’s response to the pandemic, which, the Berklee professor explains, was to compose every day. Accordingly there are five new originals, paired with six covers. ‘The one emotion that unites all the songs is one of JOY,’ Miwa says, not at all misleadingly: there’s a splendid, irrepressible energy about these tracks... Robert Shore

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Adrian Younge – The American Negro

Jazz Is Dead

Ambitious in reach, unapologetic in stance, insightful and deeply nuanced, The American Negro is a critique detailing the systematic racism that affects people of colour and a tracing of the evolution of freedom. Delivered across multiple art platforms – as a film, a four-part podcast and this 26-track album – the project is the magnum opus of Adrian Younge, the LA-based producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, erstwhile law professor and with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammed, the co-boss of label du jour, Jazz is Dead... Jane Cornwell

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Gretchen Parlato – Flor


In her first recording as leader since her Grammy-nominated 2013 album Live in NYC, Flor sees vocalist, songwriter and producer Gretchen Parlato stepping with delight into an entirely new sound-world created by her core trio of guitarist and musical director Marcel Camargo, percussionist Léo Costa and cellist Artyom Manukyan... Peter Quinn

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Archie Shepp & Jason Moran – Let My People Go


In saxophonist Archie Shepp’s lengthy and illustrious career, he has had a string of esteemed piano partners: Horace Parlan, Joachim Kuhn, Siegfried Kessler and Mal Waldron. Each duo has set a high artistic bar, but the latest incumbent, Jason Moran, is more than able to pass muster, as well he might given his own extensive experience of working with horn players as gifted as Charles Lloyd, Sam Rivers and Greg Osby. Above all this new work is a significant encounter across generations as 83-year-old Shepp and 45-year-old Moran have had different life experiences and career paths... Kevin Le Gendre

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Charles Lloyd & The Marvels – Tone Poem

Blue Note Tone Poet

The absence of vocals places Lloyd and his ensemble centre stage for a more detailed update on their direction of travel. What becomes clear – if it was not clear already – is the addition of the guitar ‘choir’ provides unexpected depth and resonance to the time honoured configuration of sax plus piano, bass and drums... Stuart Nicholson

Hedvig Mollestad Trio – Ding Dong. You’re Dead

Rune Gramophon

That Mollestad would love to have played on Miles’ Live/Evil recordings is the giveaway. This is a guitarist whose writing and playing has such intensity, you fear she may spontaneously combust. Her colleagues in the coven, Bjornstad and Brekken, joyously collaborate in the highly organised mayhem... Andy Robson

James Brandon Lewis – Molecular


"For many years now, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has impressed in piano-less trios, and here he maintains high standards in a piano-full quartet. The man at the keyboard is the very talented Cuban Aruan Oritz, and he proves to be an essential component of the group insofar as the wiry counterpoint that he and the leader weave around each other is spellbinding on occasion. Having said that this is a strikingly articulate, interactive ensemble in which drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Brad Jones are doing more than hold down the central rhythm of the material, which veers from the fluid riffing that is part of the broad vocabulary of the avant-garde to the hard metronomic thrust associated with hip-hop..." Kevin Le Gendre

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De Beren Gieren – Less Is Endless

Sdban Ultra

"There was a justifiable buzz on the live European circuit (remember that?) about the young Belgian-based cosmic piano trio De Beren Gieren especially in the first half of this decade. Now onto their fifth album Less is Endless proves they're still delivering the goods with a lot of verve and freshly imaginative ideas..." Selwyn Harris

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William Parker – Migration Of Silence into and out of the Tone World

Centering / AUM Fidelity

"The dominant strand that runs through the work is the human voice, which features on the bulk of the music, with a brilliantly daring solo performance by Lisa Sokolov standing as a peak in the vast landscape of sounds presented. Although mainly associated with the avant-garde Parker has never been stylistically limited and the forays into blues, post-bop, funk, reggae and African inflected sounds speak much of his identity as a New Yorker liable to reflect and celebrate the immense richness of both African-American culture and a very broad cosmopolitanism.As William Parker told Jazzwise in 2020, he had in the years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic been through a period of sustained creativity during which material for whole albums was produced in short order. Already an artist with a mammoth discography, Parker assembled enough for this sumptuous 10-CD box set that adds to a number of previous multi-disc packages..." Kevin Le Gendre

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Junk Magic – Compass Confusion

Pyroclastic Records

"Sixteen years after his debut release as Junk Magic, pianist Craig Taborn returns with this remarkable follow-up, which continues his experiments fusing improvised music and electronic production. Each of the tracks (or “sound chambers” to quote the liner notes) is as beautiful, strange and surprising as the last. We hear murmuring reeds and fragile acoustic piano; electronics like tuned medical equipment; over-driven viola shredding and machine-gunning snare drums; fizzes and glitches, abstract rhythms, ancient rattles and gongs hazy with reverb. There are moments of blissful ambience, but there are also beats that hit you hard in the stomach..." Thomas Rees

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Janne Mark – Kontinent


"Impressive in conception, deft in execution, this is highly creative Nordic contemporary music. Diverse conceptually yet thematically strong in construction, Janne Mark knows a thing or two about melody, aware that age-old themes have a reason for surviving – it's because they connect with humanity, so are handed down the ages to coexist alongside new ones that equally have the power to move the human spirit..." Stuart Nicholson 

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Vinson-Hekselman-Sanchez – Trio Grande

Whirlwind Recordings

"The same New York-based line-up stated above assembled in 2018, and at short notice recorded It's Alright With Three for the Criss-Cross label under the UK-born saxophonist Will Vinson's name. But all three knew there was more to come from the collaboration that hadn't fully transpired on that pretty conventional postbop jazz recording of mostly standards. So it was decided on a joint leadership and equal share of the writing of all-original material for a new album..." Selwyn Harris

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Kathrine Windfeld Big Band – Orca


"The Danish pianist Kathrine Windfeld has a burgeoning reputation around Europe as both leader and composer. This is the third album by her multi-national big band; in addition, she leads a sextet that performs regularly around Scandinavia and appeared here last year as a follow up to the well-received UK visit by this ensemble in September 2018.

Backed by plentiful support from home-land arts organisations, Windfeld's new album of eight original compositions mostly evokes her relationship with the sea, a not uncommon Danish fixation.

I'm trying to resist the idea that she is Denmark's equivalent to Maria Schneider but there are obvious similarities: a personal approach to repertoire, sudden shifts in musical moods and intensity, the skillful deployment of soloists and distintive voicings. All this is evident first on ‘Undertow’, the surging ebb and flow of the ocean mirrored in the writing, with quick motifs and rushing movements, Thueland's grainy alto surfing over an ostinato rhythm and Oseth's ethereal flugel heard over the piece's resolution..." Peter Vacher 

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