My favorite 40 (20+20) albums of 2020: Jazz

• “Be Water” by Christian Sands: The gifted young pianist continues to meld styles in satisfying and memorable ways; the cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” is especially memorable.

• “Who Are You?” Joel Ross: This excellent follow-up to the 24-year-old vibraphonist’s remarkable “Kingmaker” (2019) is full of sensitive ensemble playing that is both restless and introspective.

• “Spirit Song” by Simon Moullier: This promising release by another young vibraphonist has a dreamy, mystical quality about it, with a focus on multi-layered ensemble interplay.

• “RoundAgain” by Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade: Four giants in their prime reunite for one of the best releases of the year. Highly recommended.

• “Fearless” by Sharel Cassity: A warm and delightful release from the Chicago-based saxophonist, played with obvious energy and drive—despite doing so while fighting the effects of Lyme disease.

• “Toys / Die Dreaming” by JD Allen: Allen’s 2018 “Love Stone” was one of my favorite albums of 2018, and his latest release, while not a ballads album, has a similar sense of immediacy and intimacy, but with more urgency.

• “Angels Around” by Kurt Rosenwinkel Trio: One of my favorite guitarists, regardless of genre, Rosenwinkel’s unique tone, warmth, and dynamic melodicism are all present in spades here.

• “Rhapsodize” by Eldar Djangirov: The former prodigy has blossomed into a full artist, and this set demonstrates his full array of impressive talents. His 2020 EP “Key Madness Duo”, also worth seeking out, delves into more funky, prog-gish territory.

• “Dance” by Tingvall Trio: “Cirklar” (2017) by this international trio (from Sweden, Cuba, and Germany) is an all-time favorite, and “Dance” is quickly catching up: melodic and romantic, but also sophisticated and subtle, with a hint of melancholy shot through the proceedings.

• “The New Beginning” by B/Y Organism: This release from a keys-guitar-drums trio from Prague is my surprise of the year: wildly eclectic and yet completely cohesive, with far more sounds and layers than one would ever expect from a trio.

• “Life is the Dancer” by Rob Luft: An album so understated that it takes a few listens to appreciate how much is going on–and how perfectly crafted it is. A slow-burner that rewards in a big way.

• “Iron Starlet” by Connie Han: Think Hiromi-meets-Herbie Hancock and you’ll have a sense of the dynamic “old vibe in a new bottle” approach presented in masterful form by a virtuoso pianist.

• “Big Vicious” by Avishai Cohen and Big Vicious: The Israeli trumpeter goes electronic and experimental (on ECM! with two drummers!) and succeeds wildly, with smashing originals and covers of Beethoven and Massive Attack. A sonic delight.

• “Reality Check” by Theo Hill: The restless pianist brings vibraphonist Joel Ross to his trio and the result is one of the best keyboard albums of the years, as the interplay between the two is mesmerizing.

• “Source” by Nubya Garcia: This exceptional album brings to fruition the promise of “Nubya 5ive” (2017), delving even deeper into a very satisfying mix of Brit-jazz-meets-worldbeat, with an emphasis on beat.

• “Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man” by Aaron Parks: Parks has long been a favorite, and his second Little Big album is at turns sprawling and raw, reflective and anthemic—and never boring.

• “There is a Tide” by Chris Potter: Limited by the pandemic, the brilliant saxophonist played every instrument on this album (as well as recording it at home); it often brings to mind Wayne Shorter’s 1995 fusion-y, catchy “High Life” at times, which suits me just fine.

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