It’s that time of year when magazines and blogs are publishing their round up lists of best jazz albums of 2020.
Rather than put together an article of music we’ve been enjoying this year, we instead asked the Jazzfuel community to share their favourites of 2020.
What follows is a collection of these recommended albums – in no particular order – with some comments about why they were so special to the musicians and industry folk who took part.
We’ve included videos and embedded players where possible, but if you discover music you like consider supporting them on Bandcamp or their website!
If you’re a Jazzfuel subscriber and you didn’t yet add your pick, check your inbox for the survey link!
(And, if you’re looking for more great music to check out, we’d of course suggest you take a look at some of these brilliant albums we’ve been working press for this year!)
Table of Contents
To The Earth by Dinosaur
Sander Grande (Mojo & NSJF, NL)
Unravel by Nikol Bóková Trio
“Nikol combines masterful interpretation of demanding classical piano repertoire (Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Novák, Korngold and Svoboda) with her own pieces inspired by the classical composers. Check out how beautiful it is!” – Magdaléna (Czech Republic)
A Rite for All Souls by The Mark Harvey Group
“A Rite for All Souls is a rare opportunity to hear a recently-rediscovered recording of 1971 concert by The Mark Harvey Group, a force in the avant-garde. The 2-CD set, a powerful and important historic recording, reaches across nearly 50 years from a time of great social turbulence in the US to deliver a timeless message of peace and healing that resonates today. The album has garnered widespread critical acclaim and stands out as a long-lost treasure brought to the fore in 2020.” – Rebecca DeLamotte (Americas Musicworks, US)
Kites & Strings by Benjamin Rosenblum Nebula Project
Ben Rosenblum is a passionate pianist, accordionist, composer, arranger, accompanist worth adding to your jazz playlist.” This album dives deeply into Rosenblum’s jazz and world-infused original compositions, exploring the intersection of jazz and improvised American music with global styles ranging from Bulgaria to the Caribbean.
Bricoleur by Jakop Janssønn
“The drummer Jakop Janssønn has created a stunning and magical universe, with the unusual combination of violin, tuba and drums.” – Ola Asdahl Rokkones (Norway)
Fig Tree by Przemysław Strączek Quartet
“Fig Tree” is the sixth album of Polish guitarist Przemysław Strączek. The music on the album is characterized by a contemporary approach to the sound of the quartet with the use of instrumental and sonoristic colors.” – Przemysław Strączek Quartet (PL/IT)
Data Lords by Maria Schneider
“Something that will stand the test of time, from one of the greatest living arrangers.” – Alex Webb (Copasetic Foundation, UK)
Zaļš by Andris Buiķis
“One of the talented Latvian session jazz drummers at the age of 37 suddenly releases his debut, stating it’s “Green”, raw and yet unready, just a bunch of sketches he’ll develop later on – and keeps working on them.” – Aleksandra Line (JAZZin.lv, Latvia)
The Call Within by Tigran Hamasyan
“Tigran is developing his own music language in a deep way for quite a few years now. Maybe the only new album that I listened quite a few times in 2020.” – Billy Pod (UK/Greece)
Totem by Ferdinando Romano
“Wonderful album. Ferdinando and his band have created a very distinctive sound with this release. They manage to capture my imaginations!” – Felix Biller (PRIM, Austria)
Warna by Joey Alexander
“Not very often a young jazz artists coming from Asia has Grammy Awards nomination. A young and inspiring one!” – Agus Setiawan Basuni (WartaJazz, Indonesia)
Reflections of the Eternal Line by Florian Arbenz & Greg Osby
“A high-level meeting of two greats from opposite sides of the Atlantic”
Viscera by Brian Krock’s Liddle
“Innovative music and great interplay.” – Iordache (Romania)
Butterfly by Julius Rodriguez
“Fresh imaginations on standards with a killing New York band.” – Mike Casey (UK)
Lost Suite by Gediminas Karkauskas
“An expressive, emotional debut that echoes the solitary experience while being completely right with the universe.” – Debbie (US)
ON/OFF by Bachar Mar-Khalife
“It’s such a perfect modern sound with oriental traditional flavour.” – Claudia Eva Both (Transilvania Jazz Festival, Romania)
Suspended by Antoine Pierre URBEX
“This album was recorded live in January 2020, in front of more than 600 people. It was released in September, in a changed world. It brings back the energy of live experience and I just can’t listen to it without feeling my body moving by itself!” – Paméla Malempré (Aubergine Artist Management, BE)
Bullfrogs Croon by Aoife O’Donnovan
“I find the combination of beautiful poetry and outstanding string arrangements fascinating and addictive. A brilliant album from one of my favourite cross-genre singers.”
Here Be Dragons by Oded Tzur
“Strong spiritual music, innovative sound of saxophone, interesting compositions.” – Lenny Sendersky (moon strings, Israel)
Ever Open Door by John Helliwell
“Ensemble of colors, sounds and good arrangements.” – (Gianmarco Scaglia, bassist, Italy)
Monday Nights by Bancroft & Lyne
“A great album of both originals and standards, by the Scottish vocalist and guitarist Sophie Bancroft alongside the double bass of Canadian Tom Lyne. These two fine musicians give an assured and inventive duo performance that sits well alongside any of the genre released this year.” – Jim Burlong (Jazz Views, UK)
Oleś Brothers & Piotr Orzechowski – Waterfall: Music of Joe Zawinul
“Original choice and interpretation of Zawinul’s music.” – (Krzysztof Komorek, Donos kulturalny, PL)
All The Little Things You Do by Rebecca Hennessy
“It’s refreshing and classic, timely and needed.” – (Aimee-Jo Benoit, Canada)
Acceptance by Billy Childs
“High-level thought-through modern compositions for an unusual ensemble, extremely strong line-up of high-level players with utmost respect to jazz tradition.” – Daniel Bulatkin (B/Y Organism, Czech Republic)
Hug! by the Matt Wilson Quartet
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Matt’s, so it’s no surprise that his new album would be my favorite.
Hug! takes Matt’s exuberance, humor, and gift for melody and creates a genuinely engaging album from start to finish. Some songs are heartbreakingly beautiful (Every Day With You), some are absurdly hilarious (Space Force March), and some are both (Man Bun).
In this age of crossing genres, electronics, and experimentation (all of which is great by me!), it’s nice to be reminded of how much you can still do with a traditional acoustic jazz album.” – Lucas Gillan (Lucas Gillan’s Many Blessings, USA)
Untitled (Black is) by SAULT
“Listen to the Gilles Peterson show which featured SAULT, the anonymous collective, who dropped two albums in short order this summer. It is clear that the album has made a huge impression and captured the moment perfectly. Music of the moment with lush and funky pop production and a hard-hitting political directness addressing black experience in the BLM era. No album more perfectly captures 2020.” – AJ Dehany (Freelance, LondonJazz, UK)
‘Songs and Stories’ by Callum Au + Claire Martin
“It’s just spectacular. Stunning orchestrations, incredible vocals. The perfect album to feel that little bit better about 2020.” – Nadja von Massow (nadworks, UK)
Rainbow Sign by Ron Miles
“Great compositions with constant conversations between trumpet and guitar, wide range of colors, great vintage feel production and masters lineup.” – Saso Popovski (Jazz Factory Festival, NMK)
Been Down This Road Before by Clifton Anderson
“This album is very timely and manages to capture the essence and emotion of many of the issues the world is facing today. It’s filled with awe-inspiring compositions and musical performances by many top players on the NYC jazz scene, including Wallace Roney on trumpet who died of covid19 earlier this year and the incomparable vocals of Andy Bey on the title track.” – Mala Waldron / USA
We’re New Again by Gil Scott-Heron & Makaya McCraven
“Fresh and groovy” – Sharron McLeod (The Sharron McLeod Fauxtet, France)
Atlântico by Mário laginha, Julian Argüelles, Helge Andreas Norbakken
“First off Mário Laginha is THE best know improvising musician in Portugal and, sad to say, hardly recognised outwith. These guys have been on the European scene, playing together in various groups for over 30 years.” – Cathie Rae (manager, Portugal)
Alive in the Wilderness by Endless Field
“I reviewed it for London Jazz News and I loved it at first listen.” – Mary James (UK)
Lo Sagrado – Silvana Estrada & Charlie Hunter
“Just discovered this album during lockdown and absolutely love it! Great grooves, captivating vocals.” – Joy Ellis
The Question by Glenn Zaleski
“Imaginative compositions, outstanding playing by all and a great sound to the album.” – Duncan Fraser (Trumpeter, UK)
Life Stories by Mary Coughlan
“The album is another great example of telling personal stories can that reach beyond allowing listeners to identify and reflect. Musically it brilliantly illustrates the range of emotions from sad and sorrowful to curious to joyful. Track 6 ( I Dare You To Love Me ) has an international go-to anthem feel with its rhythm & lyrics.” – Simone Rudolphi (Musicphotograp, UK/Germany)
Straight on Til Morning by Natalie Williams
“Great feel good music. Great grooves, happy tunes, if perhaps it’s not jazz. I’m finding a lot of jazz quite intellectual at the moment!” – James Pettinger (Stablefolk, UK)
We Speak Luniwaz by Scott Kinsey
“I love both Joe Zawinul’s music and Scott Kinsey’s work. I think Scott was absolutely able to put together a production that Joe would have been proud of…” – Matteo Finali (Final Step, Switzerland)
High Heart by Ben Wendel
“Really original and heartfelt.” – Patrick Naylor (musician, UK) [note: check our interview with Ben Wendel here!]
Peace by Greg Spero and Spirit Fingers
“Great playing and strong tunes with arrangements that leave plenty of space for improvisation but never lose their footing in the groove.” – Adam Sieff (UK)
Thanks for reading and listening!
Feel free to share this article – or just your favourites – with friends and colleagues on social media. And, if you’re looking for more great music, take a listen to our New Jazz Releases playlist.
International jazz booking agent, manager and host of Jazzfuel.
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