The best new jazz albums: Editor's Choice, March 2021

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Editor's pick of the best new albums reviewed in the March 2021 issue of Jazzwise, featuring Branford Marsalis, Veronica Swift, Pat Metheny, Susanna Aleksandra, Gary Bartz, Shai Maestro and more

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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database


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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

Shai Maestro



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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

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

Read the review in the Jazzwise Reviews Database

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