by Scott Yanow
Despite Covid, the tumultuous election, and the lack of live performances, 2020 resulted in a large assortment of very good jazz CDs being released. Do not let anyone try to convince you that CDs are extinct or passé. Even with all of the difficulties, CDs continued to pour out on a regular basis. Relatively few recordings were actually made after February 2020 (other than one-man band efforts, trio dates where everyone kept their distance, or overdubbed sessions) but luckily there was a big backlog of recordings from 2019 to contend with and enjoy.
Here are the 33 new releases (covering many different approaches and styles) and 20 sets of reissues/historic music CDs that made the biggest impression on me in 2020, listed in alphabetical order by artist. Every one of these recordings is highly recommended. Of course there are scores of other worthy releases from all over the world that could have made this list; I could have easily listed 100 in each category. No matter how much one tries to listen to every possible jazz recording, it is impossible to hear them all, but I’m doing my best! Suffice it to say, get these recordings and then argue over what was left out. I’ll look forward to hearing them in 2021.
Peter and Will Anderson – Featuring Jimmy Cobb – Outside In Music
Susannah B. – Girl Gone Wilder – Self-Released
Alan Barnes + Eleven – 60th Birthday Celebration – Woodville
Jeff Barnhart and the Galvanized Jazz Band – The Joint Is Jumping! – GJB
Bean Soup – Odidrep – Camille
James Carney Sextet – Pure Heart – Sunnyside
Sharel Cassity – Fearless – Self-Released
Brian Charette – Beyond Borderline – Steeplechase
The Dime Notes – Daylight Savin’ – Lejazzetal
Kat Edmonson – Dreamers Do – Spinerette
Josie Falbo – You Must Believe In Spring – Southport
The Fat Babies – Uptown – Delmark
Champian Fulton – Birdsong – Self-Released
Tania Grubbs Quintet – Live At Maureen’s Jazz Cellar – Self-Released
Connie Han – Iron Starlet – Mack Avenue
Eddie Henderson – Shuffle And Deal – Smoke Sessions
Christopher Hollyday – Dialogue – Jazzbeat Productions
Keith Jarrett – Munich 2016 – ECM
Rebecca Kilgore Trio – Just Imagine – Blue Swing
Tim Laughlin – New Standards – Gentilly
Harold Mabern – Mabern Plays Mabern – Smoke Sessions
Susie Meissner – I Wish I Knew – Lydian Jazz
Jason Miles’ Kind Of New – Black Magic – Ropeadope
New York All-Stars – Burnin’ In London – Ubuntu Music
Brooks Prumo Orchestra – This Year’s Kisses – Self-Released
Dan Rosenboom – Points On An Infinite Line – Orenda
Carl Saunders – Jazz Trumpet – Summit
David Sills – Natural Lines – Gut String Records
Paul Bocciolone Strandberg’s Narcisse Jazz Band – Look At The World And Smile – Narcisse
Rachel Therrien – Vena – Bonsai Music
Charles Tolliver – Connect – Gearbox
Bobby Watson/Vincent Herring/Gary Bartz – Bird At 100 – Smoke Sessions
Stephane Wrembel – The Django Experiment V – Water Is Life Records
Charlie Barnet – The Charlie Barnet Collection, 1946-50 – Acrobat Music
Chris Barber – A Jazz Club Session – Lake
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Live At The Café Bohemia, November 1955 – Acrobat
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’ – Blue Note
Joe Castro – Passion Flower: For Doris Duke – Sunnyside
Paul Desmond – The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings – Mosaic
Ella Fitzgerald – The Complete Piano Duets – Verve
Ella Fitzgerald – The Lost Berlin Tapes – Verve
Tubby Hayes – The Complete Fontana Albums 1961-1969 – Fontana/Decca
Woody Herman – Complete Decca, Mars and MGM Sessions (1943-1954) – Mosaic
Fapy Laftertin – 94-96 The Recordings – Lejazzetal
Howard McGhee – The Classic 1960s Albums – Enlightenment
Hank Mobley – Complete Blue Note Sessions 1963-70 – Mosaic
Thelonious Monk = Palo Alto – Impulse!
Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Jazz Band – Live In Amsterdam 1960 – Dutch Jazz Archive Series
Rita Reys – I Got Rhythm – Nederlands Jazz Archief
Horace Tapscott – Ancestral Echoes – Dark Tree
Lennie Tristano – The Duo Sessions – Dot Time
Various Artists – At A Tangent, Vol. 10 – Lake
Various Artists – L’Age D’Or Du Jazz Belge, 1949-1962 – Fremeaux & Associates
A TRIBUTE TO ART BLAKEY
The masterful drummer Art Blakey led the Jazz Messengers during 1955-90, a type of finishing school for a large number of young jazz artists who went on to greatness. Since Blakey was born on Oct. 11, 2019, there have been quite a few tributes to him during his centennial year. One took place recently as a LiveStream put on by the Houston Jazz Festival that was called Message From Bu.
The opening group consisted of tenor-saxophonist Shelly Carrol (a Texas legend), organist Bobby Sparks, bassist Tim Ruiz, and drummer Mark Simmons with guest
trombonist Andre Hayward (who took solo honors). Their strongest moments were during the first two instrumentals including a medium-tempo blues that featured the horns riffing and some heated organ playing from Sparks. Veteran singer Horace Grisby was featured during “Four” (which had some solid scatting) and “What A Wonderful World” (a song long overdue to be retired) and then the instrumentalists (without Hayward) played an overly long funk/fusion piece that seemed like a wasted opportunity.
However the performance by Bu’s Messengers was on a higher level. Four alumni of the Jazz Messengers were in the sextet (trombonist-leader Frank Lacy, trumpeter Valery Ponomarev, altoist Bobby Watson, and bassist Curtis Lundy) along with Shelly Carrol (who held his own with the others), pianist Michael Palma, and drummer Jerome Gillespie. The septet mostly played lesser-known songs from the Blakey years rather than the hits including Lacy’s “Aquarius Rising,” Watson’s “Pamela,” and Wayne Shorter’s “Hammerhead.” The horn players each expressed plenty of energy and showed that they are still very much in their prime. Lacy was boisterous and took J.J. Johnson’s “Lament” as his feature, playing the first half unaccompanied. Ponomarev hit many powerful high notes and created a variety of intense and inventive solos. Watson showed that he has not lost a thing during the past 45 years while Shelly Carrol took a hot and boppish solo on “Falling In Love With Love,” clearly impressing the others. Pianist Palma also had many fine solos in the hard bop tradition and Gillespie found a balance between emulating Art Blakey and displaying his own promising style.
The enjoyable performance closed with an infectious version of “Moanin’” that certainly gave the virtual audience a smile.
British pianist Gabriel Latchin has been compared style-wise to Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones and the comparison fits. His third release as a leader, I’ll Be Home For Christmas (available from Alys Jazz, www.geraldlatchin.com) is a traditional jazz trio album. With fine support and occasional solos from bassist Dario Di Legge and drummer Josh Morrison, Latchin swings his way through such standards as “Winter Wonderland,” a sophisticated version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “White Christmas,” and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” also playing quietly emotional versions of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman” while contributing the likable original “A Toast For Christmas.” While his liner notes say that he approached specific Christmas songs as if he were Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock, Phineas Newborn, Barry Harris, Cedar Walton or Thelonious Monk, the results are not derivative or an imitation of anyone. Gabriel Latchin has his own jazz style within the tradition. This is an easy set to enjoy and, while ideal for the Christmas season, it fits the cliché that it is worth hearing all year round.
Famous as one of the top vibraphonists around today, Warren Wolf is an equally talented pianist. On Christmas Vibes (available from www.mackavenue.com) through overdubbing, Wolf plays both piano and vibes plus occasional electric keyboards (for seasoning and color). He is joined by bassist Jeff Reed and drummer Carroll “CV” Dashiell III. The set begins with six instrumentals including a happily swinging “O Christmas Tree,” a slower version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” that recalls the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating” (an inspired choice). The mood and style
changes a bit after that because five of the last seven numbers on this set have vocals which make the music more spiritual and sometimes a bit r&b-oriented. Best of the singers is Christie Dashiell on “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” Overall, this is a nice tasteful and melodic set.
Keyboardist-producer David Garfield’s Holidays Outside The Box (from www.creatchy.com) is much more on the commercial side of jazz, crossing over into pop, r&b and a bit of funk but still containing many Yuletide favorites. Recorded with several different rhythm sections and spots for such horn players as saxophonists Ernie Watts, Bob Mintzer and Brandon Fields (who sounds excellent on “The Christmas Song”), trumpeter John Fumo and trombonist Arturo Velasco, most of the pieces have vocals (14 different singers make appearances) with Amy Keys (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”) faring best. The infectious “Jezus Malusieski (An Afro-Cuban Christmas),” Robert Greenidge’s steel drum feature on “Sleigh Bells,” and an unusual version of “Ave Maria” are among the highlights.
Simone Kopmajer’s Christmas (Lucky Mojo) is an enjoyable place to spend an hour. The Austrian singer has a very nice voice and a versatile style that is very much in evidence on these 16 selections. After a properly sensuous “Santa Baby,” she scats quite well on a swinging “Jingle Bells,” interacts with singer Viktor Gernot on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” which also includes some fine swing clarinet from Terry Myers, and is passionate on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Her CD also includes a few more pop-oriented performances that are easy to take, several Austrian songs, a spirited version of “Feliz Navidad,” classy ballad singing on “My Grown Up Christmas,” and vocal duets with Anna Catharina, Ina Regen, Allan Harris and Willi Resetarits. Unfortunately the CD cover does not bother to include a listing of the personnel (which is a rather inexcusable omission), but from other sources I was able to find that pianist John DiMartino, bassist Boris Kozlov, trumpeter Dominik Fuss, and Terry Myers on reeds are in the supporting cast. This is an easily enjoyable release that is available from www.luckymojorecords.com.
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Happy Holidays! Hopefully the live jazz scene and the world that we love will return in 2021. Be well and safe everyone.