With so many amazing musicians in the jazz world, putting together a list of the best jazz albums of 2021 is probably an impossible exercise. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t shine a light on some top record tips that might have slipped under your radar…
We don’t review jazz albums on the Jazzfuel site, but we’re in contact with many great jazz magazines, websites, podcasts, radio presenters and blogs around the world who do.
So, to mark the end of the year, we reached out to a handful of those who are usually publishing in a non-English language and asked for one of their favourite album reviews of 2021 to include here, translated.
The result: a selection of some fascinating releases from some jazz websites and writers you might want to discover ahead of 2022!
Note: Wherever possible we’ve included a Bandcamp player so you can listen and buy directly from the artist or their record label…
Dans Dans: Zink
via Jazz Mania (Belgium)
Reviewer: Yves Tassin
Dans Dans does not care about genres and conventions.
Bert Dockx (guitar, Flying Horseman frontman), Fred “Lyenn” Jacques (bass, synthesizers) and Steven Cassiers (drums, synthesizers) demonstrate this again by instinctively playing the eight new songs (all original) placed on “Zink.”
Eight interstellar tracks located on the borders of sticky blues or broken jazz, tinged with improvised rock.
We already unanimously acclaimed the trio when “Sand” (2016) came out, so what superlatives will we find to describe this one to you?
With “Cinder Bay”, Zink begins as a song that Chris Isaak would have entrusted to David Lynch.
“Undoubtedly one of the most essential records of this transitional year”
Sound and mystery… The landscapes follow one another according to a similar principle. The roads taken seem to be comfortable and safe, but at every turn danger can arise from an unexpected flight! Loss of control, counter-steers and again, solid asphalt under the wheels (“Naiad”)…
We dream of the presence of Tom Waits on these roads. He would invite himself as a stowaway on “Blues Silver” …
We note the presence of other pearls on this well polished album.
The quiet strength of “Sleeper” and its hypnotic bass, highlighting a sound system that we owe to Christine Verschorren (who is taking over from Koen Gisen here), “Ravine” and its vertiginous falls, “Shell Star” with its haunting rhythmic and a solo that Bert Dockx clearly borrowed from David Gilmour…
Between our fingers and in its beautiful pastel pink cover, this is undoubtedly one of the most essential records of this transitional year.
The Generations Quartet
via la Habitacion del Jazz (Spain)
Reviewer: José Ramón
The origin and name of The Generations Quartet represents a tradition of the jazz world, which is to learn directly from the masters and thus train new generations of musicians.
In this group there are several generations that fulfil this principle.
Dave Liebman is the mainstay of this line-up. Drummer Ian Froman, who has a thirty-year working relationship with Liebman, was a student of Elvin Jones, who in turn played alongside Liebman. Bassist Gregor grew up near Liebman’s home in the Pocono area, but he wasn’t always an aspiring musician; he was going to be a computer scientist.
He met Liebman in high school, who became his musical mentor.
One of the first live performances Gregor saw was with Froman and Liebman playing together. He then went on to study at Berklee (as an electric bass player) where Froman was one of his most important teachers.
While that was happening, pianist Billy Test was about to start studying for a master’s degree with Liebman and Markowitz at the Manhattan School of Music.
In 2015 Liebman conducted a concert at Side Door in Connecticut, where Test and Gregor first played together and soon after began playing with Gregor and Froman.
Again the connections between the members of The Generations Quartet were evident. But despite this, the quartet had never shared the stage before collectively organising a date at the Deer Head Inn.
The chemistry came about immediately and that’s where the live and studio recordings of this group are derived.
Three generations come together in this quartet.
The album begins with a bold version of “Maiden Voyage” where Liebman once again demonstrates his mastery of the soprano, supported by Froman’s drums and the rest of the rhythm, Liebman rises above good and evil, reaching soaring notes.
Next, a version of the excellent Hancock theme that they reinvent in some way.
Test’s piano introduces this melody, “Bye Bye Blackbird”, which, after Liebman’s participation on the soprano, takes up the controls again and makes a great performance, including dissonant winks; Froman and Gregor are loyal squires in this adventure.
Liebman returns to the scene twisting the melody to his liking, offering us another great version of this classic, under his subjective gaze.
The title that gives name to the album, “Invitation“, is composed by Bronislaw Kaper, also author of “On Green Dolphin Street“. A great interpretation by Liebman and the rest of the group who maintain the tension that the subject requires. Fantastic!
To recover from the previous high, “My Foolish Heart” gives us seven long minutes of relaxation with Liebman on soprano once again, and a Gregor that delights us with a plucking, accompanied in the background by Test, with Liebman always attentive. Delicious.
“Village Blues”, from John Coltrane’s “Coltrane Jazz” (1961), takes on a new dimension, lighter and more rhythmic, where Test especially shines. A particular highlight is the work of Froman, Gregor and Liebman in their solos.
The quartet borders on perfection. What intensity!
A soft and delicate start to “Yesterdays” by Gregor and Test takes on a more transgressive character thanks to Liebman’s notes. Test performs a great solo backed up by double bass and drums, and Liebman closes this cut with his innate genius.
Next, a dizzying version of “Speak Low” in which Test and Liebman share the limelight.
Meanwhile, Gregor and Froman maintain the tension without fading for a moment. The wonderful “Summertime” could not be missed, a song covered over and over again, in a thousand different styles.
Test perfectly expresses the feeling of this song in a lengthy intervention with Liebman on tenor again, very successful. Gregor and Froman are perfect, too. A great, very Coltranian version that goes deep.
The album ends with the longest track, “You and the Night and the Music”, recorded live at the Deer Head Inn.
This beautiful composition by Arthur Schwartz, covered by greats like Keith Jarrett’s, is unforgettable.
Being performed live, you feel that special strength that live shows have. The quartet borders on perfection. What intensity. Again our spirits are flooded with great jazz.
Liebman is thanked for leading this project and we can enjoy his music a bit removed from his more avant-garde adventures. This quartet and jazz as a musical style show that the generation gap that exists in other areas of life does not exist in jazz. Jazz unites without distinction of age or colour.
Dave Liebman – tenor sax, soprano sax
Billy Test – piano
Evan Gregor – double bass
Ian Froman – drums
via Jazzport (Czech Republic)
Reviewer: Jan Hocek
When the JANOUŠEK-WRÓBLEWSKI QUARTET’s debut recording, the double album “Weddings / Balls” was released two years ago, it was extremely clear that a group of European greats had appeared on the domestic progressive jazz scene.
Trombonist Štěpán Janoušek and alto saxophonist Michal Wróblewski, with rhythms composed by Miloš Klápště (double bass) and Jan Chalupa (drums), released another album a month ago, on the Ma Records label entitled “Vystresovaný medvídek koala na pokraji sil se hledaje štěstí náhodně upálí v lesním požáru” [which translates to “A stressed out koala bear on the verge of power, looking for happiness, accidentally burns herself in a forest fire”]
This time it was released not only in digital form, but also on a unique orange vinyl.
The album was recorded by the quartet at the Pardubice Theater this year from the 15th-17th of April during a residency as part of the Jazz Connexion project (with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the city of Pardubice).
Musicians usually thrive on the stage of this theatre, and JWQ fully confirmed this.
The four instrumentalists managed to transfer the live energy and their way of spontaneous creation to the recording. It consists of a combination of composed material from the pen of the frontmen, and improvisation, in which the protagonists are definitely at home.
JWQ burns the listeners with its music, but it doesn’t stress!
So the listener is ruthlessly drawn into two roughly twenty-minute songs, in which there is so much depth to them that they could be listened to repeatedly until the end of time!
Rhythmic, dense, playful, warm and squeamish; the bass abounds with distinctive riffs, the drums literally bloom.
Agile variable expressions from bar folk, dance, swing, be bop, free jazz, power-jazz in sharp repetitions to non-idiomatic relaxation, all of which in unexpected moments lead to solo choruses, over which the breath is hidden.
As a reviewer, I can only express my boundless enthusiasm, words are not enough for me. Only your ears will be enough!
RGG “Mysterious Monuments on the Moon”
via Donos Kulturalny (Poland)
Reviewer: Krzysztof Komorek
Trio RGG celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
These two decades were marked by spectacular events: original albums released by Okeh Records and the prestigious Polish Jazz series, phonographic collaborations with Verneri Pohjola, Samuel Blaser, Trevor Watts or Evan Parker, and finally a two-year concert cooperation with the icon world stage, Tomasz Stanko.
The team managed to celebrate the jubilee visibly and significantly. Concerts, premiere projects, and of course, there was also a new album that I will focus my attention on in this text.
I will follow the trail that the band gave the audience by naming the album and individual recordings just like that.
I do not think this question is left to chance, especially in the case of the RGG trio, which always attached great importance to the entire non-musical background of their own projects.
Like looking through a different porthole on a spaceship, allowing you to discover new and sometimes twinkling objects somewhere far away
I believe that the artists themselves, through their compositions, encourage us to direct our imagination into certain regions, almost ‘seeing’ the music in this case.
Inspirations for improvisation, which make up the majority of the album, are clearly indicated in the album description and it should also be mentioned that the ensemble itself developed the dedication to polish writer and philosopher Stanisław Lem which is contained in the song “Planet LEM” into separate project.
The music on “Mysterious Monuments on the Moon” is just cosmic excellence. The musical journey to the Moon is divided into fifteen stages.
An interesting fact is that the vinyl version, which is still waiting for its premiere, will (rather unusually) be enriched with additional tracks.
They are mostly shorter forms – only a third of them exceed four minutes. In addition to ten improvisations – including eight of the title Monuments – in the program, the album included three compositions by Łukasz Ojdana (Planet LEM, Son of a Prince & Urantia), and in addition, the musicians also reached for works by Erik Satie (“Vexations”) and Artie Shaw. The entire journey takes fifty-two minutes.
I had the privilege of hearing Mysterious Monuments on the Moon quite early, quite a long time before the official premiere.
Each subsequent interrogation was like looking through a different porthole on a spaceship, allowing you to discover new and sometimes twinkling objects somewhere far away, and sometimes only marking their presence with a single flash.
The record has – as I mentioned – separate the songs, but the whole story is very coherent and fluid; a narrative in which you hardly feel the transition between tracks.
You can’t just listen to the album piece-by-piece: the thought to stop exploring the album does not appear in your mind, not for a moment, and the daze stays with the listener long after the last notes have sounded.
Łukasz Ojdana – piano
Maciej Garbowski – double bass
Krzysztof Gradziuk – drums
Srdjan Ivanovic Blazin’ Quartet
via JazzBuzz (Greece)
Reviewer: Vangelis Aragiannis
The journey of drummer Srdjan Ivanovic from Bosnia reads like a small odyssey.
When the war broke out, he left his homeland with his father and settled in Athens. He went to study in Amsterdam, continued with a scholarship in New York and since 2014 has been based in Paris.
The band he formed about a decade and a half ago is called Blazin ‘Quartet, and “Sleeping Beauty” (Moonjune records) is his fourth album.
“My first thought was to say that beauty is asleep in everything. But the more I think about it, the more I would say that everything is beautiful and because we sleep we do not understand. But sometimes someone creates something that touches us, wakes us up and for a moment we see everything shining with their true light. I hope this happens to you with this album”, says Ivanovic on the cover of the CD, explaining its title.
As a drummer, he uses his instrument with a subtle, poetic touch, with sporadic outbursts, only to serve the dramatic style of his slow, mostly low-pitched compositions. Compositions that, although still carrying elements from its Balkan roots, are increasingly directed towards northern Europe.
And that is exactly where the trumpet of Andreas Polyzogopoulos, who has known Ivanovic for a long time, comes in; Ivanovic joined Polyzogopoulos in his tribute to Pink Floyd, while the trumpeter participated in the drummer’s previous album.
In this ‘familiar’ land, the Greek musician with beautiful melodic phrases and extended crowns, reaches moments of high lyricism and really shines in pieces such as the cover of the famous “The Man With The Harmonica” by Ennio Morricone.
The guitar of the Italian Federico Casagrande is also extremely melodic. The multinational quartet is completed by the Bulgarian bassist Mihail Ivanov, while in some parts the agile and expressive flute of Magic Malik from Ivory Coast is added.
Eyolf Dale – Being
via Jazzenzo (Netherlands)
Reviewer: Mathijs van den Berg
‘Being’ is the first trio album by pianist Eyolf Dale (1985). This is special for several reasons.
The Norwegian has been musically active since 2008 and made albums in various line-ups. He gained most fame with his Wolf Valley Octet, but his intimate duo album with saxophonist André Roligheten also attracted the attention of the international press.
Dale also played on the albums of tuba player Daniel Herskedal. So experience enough. Yet only now did he feel ready for a trio album, which places the highest demands on instrument control and interplay.
Dale asked two good acquaintances for his trio: Per Zanussi on double bass and drummer Audun Kleive. The latter is a legend in Norway. He played with almost all Norwegian jazz artists and regularly recorded records with big names such as Terje Rypdal, Arve Henriksen and Jon Balke.
Zanussi and Kleive are therefore ideal accompanists for Dale, although they are of course more than that: bass and drums provide, apart from the subtle grooves, interesting, idiosyncratic lines, through which Dale’s playing weaves itself.
The tone of the songs is predominantly reflective. The music is based on personal experiences from childhood to adulthood. The cover shows a picture of a boy who has climbed a fruit tree, most likely the young Eyolf.
According to the cover text, the title refers to ‘being in the moment, about living and being present’. It is therefore not surprising that music sounds, apart from being a little melancholy, above all cheerful and optimistic. Both the opening and closing numbers are written in G major.
Dale shines with lyrical and delicate playing. Despite the classical slant, the music is mainly pure jazz brimming with improvisations.
The album offers just enough variety. The opener ‘The Lonely Banker’ is a somewhat traditionally calmly constructed song around a simple piano melody.
On the following ‘Northern Brewer’ the music swings and flows from the first note. The compositions sometimes manage to surprise. Such as ‘Behind 315’ – the title refers to the office number of Dale’s teacher Misha Alperin – with overdubs of Per Zanussi on musical saw.
Or ‘Forward From Here’, written in an unusual 5/4 time.
Every note on ‘Being’ sounds balanced and the sound is kept nice and small. Kleive’s play is an important added value. With his light-footed, varied and intense drumming, he provides extra liveliness and complexity. Zanussi plays the connecting role of the bassist with verve and dives into the closing ‘How could it be?’ for a while as a soloist.
‘Being’ is a trio record that hits the spot right away and makes you hope for a sequel.
Eyolf Dale piano, ampli-celeste
Audun Kleive drums
Per Zanussi double bass, musical saw
Released: February 5, 2021
Label: Edition Records
Double Standards – Roby Lakatos
via Jazzma (Hungary)
Reviewer: Duka László
What can I say about such great musicians as Roby Lakatos and his band?
Straight away, in the first track of the first album, they play with such amazing virtuosity! I would like to highlight the fiery, virtuosic, and brilliant dulcimer playing of Jenő Lisztes, the piano playing of Róbert Szakcsi Lakatos, and last but not least Kálmán Cséki, who also plays the piano, and arranged the whole album.
There is ingenious orchestration and unique style to be heard on this record.
Roby created a whole new world of music style by reforming and merging Hungarian gypsy and classical music with orthodox Jewish, jazz and Balkan music. No one has done this before him, so he is definitely an epoch-making artist who has a huge impact on every generation of musicians.
The second album was also arranged by Kálmán Cséki and he also plays the piano on all of the songs.
I liked the second record better, if I may say so, because that’s where Roby plays with his old band, and for me that was the original Roby Locksmith sound.
Overall, anyone who buys this record will enjoy a wonderful stand-alone quality music experience.
Roby Lakatos (violin)
László Bóni (third violin)
Kálmán Cséki (piano)
Oszkár Németh (bass)
Ernő Bangó (dulcimer)
Attila Rontó (guitar)
A Wind Invisible Sweeps Us Through the World – Rembrandt Trio
via Jazzflits (Netherlands)
Reviewer: Sjoerd van Aelst
You really have to sit down for this CD. Turn up the volume until it’s just right and then… Your room becomes a stage in a beautiful church filled with great musicians.
The audiophile music label Just Listen Records has recorded a CD with the Rembrandt Trio in Het Orgelpark in Amsterdam. This former church is famous for its acoustics and organ collection. These beautiful acoustics come in CD format with the fairytale title “A Wind Invisible Sweeps Us Through the World”.
For the Rembrandt Trio, the corona period is, as for many, a time of contemplation and reflection.
A time to take stock of many years on tour, many musical adventures and impressions. It has resulted in a CD filled with little gems sculpted with the music that is dear to the musicians, be it a Chinese folk tune, a Bach chorale or another melody picked up during the many tours.
The musical language that the trio has developed is introspective and well thought out, but with room for improvisation. Rembrandt Frerichs was responsible for the majority of the compositions, but in the execution the three musicians are completely equal.
The trio breaks the line between classical, jazz and improvised music. They do this in their own unique way.
They are never just classic melodies with a jazz sauce, their musical baggage is too broad for that with their thorough knowledge of music from the Arab and Indo-Chinese countries.
The organs, present in the Orgelpark, which has been converted into a recording studio, also play a role. In the wonderful song “Fay Maria”, which Frerichs wrote for his daughter, the organ intro gives the composition a unique, serene atmosphere.
Vinsent Spanjer’s percussion work comes into the room very nicely due to the recording quality. The cymbals, the bells, but also the vibrating drum heads; you sit in the front row as Vinsent plays his Whisper Kit. You will also hear Tony Overwater in full regalia. His playing on the strings of the violone in “Leaves of Green” is extremely beautiful and poetic.
This CD comes with a booklet with a short explanation and beautiful photos for each song. It gives this CD release just that little bit more cachet than just a CD in a bare envelope.
The music doesn’t get any better, it’s fantastic in itself, but the combination makes it complete.
Rembrandt Frerichs (piano, organ)
Tony Overwater (violone, bass)
Vinsent Planjer (drums, percussion)
Thanks for joining us for this round up of some great album releases from 2021 in the jazz world – if you have other suggestions, please feel free to use the comments section below!
If you’re a jazz musician with release plans in 2022, you might like to check out our content on that topic here.