Friday, December 25, 2020

Twenty Recordings for 2020 (Pt. 2)

There was a lot of very good-to-excellent music to listen to and write about this year; so much so, that I'll play catch-up through January 2021. Here's the rest of the recordings (in no particular order) I believe made this year so much better.

Brian Asher – "Brian Asher's Skrontch Music" - (Sinking City Records) – Even though this large ensemble album was issued in October of 2019, I did not create a review until late January of 2020. Asher has created a fascinating recording illuminating how the Black music that grew up in New Orleans permeates much of what we listen to.  The 5-song "suite", created for a 10-piece ensemble, combines the issues of anti-Jim Crow activism with the growth of jazz from the turn of the 20th Century forward.  Considering the craziness of this year, the music is hardly dated but right on target.  
For more information, go to  Go to to hear more and purchase the album. 

Rudy Royston – "PaNOptic" - (Greenleaf Music) – Mr. Royston is one of the finest drummers playing at this time.  He is the supersonic engine beneath numerous Posi-Tone Records recording sessions yet can play gently and melodically when working with people such as Bill Frisell and Dave Douglas.  When the pandemic hit, the drummer decided to release these solo tracks he made several years before.  It's a percussive "autobiography" with Mr. Roystron paying tribute to the blues, to influences Max Roach and Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock, Prince, and Jack DeJohnette, to dancing and more.  100% of the proceeds from the sale of the album goers to the Music Cares COVID-19 Musicians Fund.  To listen to and purchase this splendid project, go to
And, here's a video:

Jorge Roeder – "El Suelo Mio" - (Self-released) - Bassist Roeder, who has regular gigs with guitarist Julian Lage as well as trombonist Ryan Keberle's Catharsis, created this musical gem before the pandemic struck yet it's a perfect example of an artist making creative statements on an instrument that often is overlooked for its versatility. Like a snifter of Cognac, aged single-malt Scotch, or vintage Port, this is music to be savored in the quiet moments of the day, early morning and late evening.  Thoughtful, melodic, soulful, exciting and more, this music shines!  For more information, go to To hear more and purchase, go to  Take a look:

The Dayna Stephens Quartet – "Right Now! Live at The Village Vanguard "- (Contagious Music) - Listening to this album for the first time five months into the pandemic made me long for live venues and for groups such as this who are musical explorers. Stephens (saxophones, EWI), joined here by Aaron Parks (piano), Ben Street (bass), and Gregory Hutchinson (drums), dances, swings, and sings his way through pieces from throughout his expanding catalogue.  What a treat!  Stephens work on the EWI has always been fascinating and the two tracks on this 2-CD set are excellent. To find out more, go to  To hear more and purchase, go to

(Honorable mention––Dayna Stephens Trio "Liberty" (Contagious Music),  

Here's a piece from the Quartet:

Chris Dingman – "Embrace" & "Peace" - ( - Vibraphonist Dingman issued two projects this year, "Embrace", a trio recording with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tim Keipers plus the solo project "Peace" that he created for his father during his time in hospice.  Both albums are infused with melodic invention, with hypnotic sounds, and with love. The trio disk is mesmerizing yet has moments of great excitement.  "Peace" is a five-CD, nearly five hour project that is concerned with soothing and healing the body and mind. "Beautiful" is the word that comes to mind when this music is playing––it's not about technique or flash but all about how one person can help others when they are vulnerable, ailing, and in the last days of their life.  For more information, go to

Here's a trio track:

Kurt Elling with Danilo Perez – "Secrets are The Best Stories" - (Edition Records) - Elling's debut for the British-based Edition Records is a fascinating reminder just how wide-ranging his creative mind can be. Teamed up with pianist Danilo Pérez, the material combines jazz compositions that the vocalist adds his poetry to. Social conscious works sit comfortably next to tributes to Toni Morrison and Robert Bly. Percussionist Rogerio Boccato is on the majority and there are appearances by bassist Clark Sommers, drummer Johnathan Blake, and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón but the work of Elling and Perez is exemplary––this music gets better and deeper with each listen.  For more information and to purchase the album, go to  

Here's the video for powerful "Song of the Rio Grande":

Dave Douglas – "Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity" - (Greenleaf Music) - There are few people busier in the music world than Dave Douglas. The trumpeter-composer runs Greenleaf Music, hosts a monthly podcast, seems to be composing all the time, and teaches as well. 2020 saw three releases, tow initially for Greenleaf Music subscribers only, and this delight-filled tribute to John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie.  Joining him are Dave Adewumi (trumpet), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano), Carmen Rothwell (bass), and Joey Baron (drums).  While only two of the nine pieces are Gillespie compositions, one can hear the Master's influence throughout the album.  To find out more and to purchase the recording, go to 

(Honorable mention:  Dave Douglas – "Overcome" (Greenleaf Music) – This six-song album, released in December, was recorded "in quarantine" with each musician adding his or her part to the "blueprint" tracks that the trumpeter sent. What a lineup––Fay Victor and Camila Meza (vocals), Jorge Roeder (bass), Ryan Keberle (trombone), and Rudy Royston (drums)––playing music that ranges from "protest" songs to "prayers" to "free improvisation." The recording is now available at  Check it out!)

Orrin Evans and The Captain Black Big Band – "The Intangible Between" - (Smoke Sessions Records) – Pianist, composer, and sometime arranger Evans has managed to keep this large ensemble going for nearly a decade. For this album, it's more of large-ish band, down to nine members from its usual 16-18.  But, as always, these pieces are noisy, raucous, emotionally powerful, and chock-full of excellent soloists.  There's Monk ("Off Minor"), there's gospel ("This Little Light of Mine"), a tribute to Roy Hargrove (the late trumpeter's "Into Dawn"), and a statement of power and against police brutality in these uncertain time ("Tough Love", music by Andrew Hill plus several poems).  This music sounds better the more you listen!  For more information, go to

Take a listen:

Raphaël Pannier Quartet – "Faune" - (French Paradox) - As debut albums go, this effort from French drummer and composer Pannier. Now based in New York City, Pannier enlisted Miguel Zenón as "music director", co-producer, and alto saxophonist for these sessions. From the opening moment of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", the music is exciting, exploratory, and interactive.   Besides the drummer and saxophonist, the ensemble includes François Moutin (bass) and Aaron Goldberg (piano); there are also two "classical" pieces, one composed by Olivier Messiaen, the other by Maurice Ravel, both featuring pianist Giorgi Mikadze.  Great playing all around as well as inventive arrangements!  To hear more and to purchase this delightful album, go to

Check out the classic Coleman piece:

The Awakening Orchestra – "vol. II: to call her to a higher plain" - (Biophilia Records) – The long-awaited sequel to 2014's "vol. I", this album, composed (most of it), arranged, and conducted by Kyle Saulnier for this 18-member (plus guests) ensemble, continues in the vein of the earlier album in that there is a strain of "protest music" running through these works.  The program includes two four-part "suites" plus rearrangements of songs by Nine Inch Nails, Nick Drake's mother, Bill Frisell (in the style of the Liberation Music Orchestra), and choral composer Eric Whitacre. The four-part title track features the powerful violin of the composer's wife Brooke Quiggins. The album, nearly two hours in length, is quite impressive for the intricate arrangements, often-stunning musicianship, and the breadth of the compositions.  To find out more about this orchestra and its creator, go to  To listen to and purchase the digital-only album, go to

Give a listen:

This year's most wonderful "Historical Release" comes, no surprise here, from Resonance Records. "Sonny Rollins: Rollins in Holland" is a combination of tracks from three different sessions, one for a radio program and two in concert. Mr. Rollins met his rhythm section––bassist Ruud Jacobs and drummer Han Bennink–moments after stepping off the plane.  Sound quality ranges from very good to okay but the music shines nonetheless.  On the longer tracks, the great tenor master rarely comes up for an extended breather.  Kudos to the rhythm section as they really spurred Mr. Rollins on to such inspired playing.  For more information, go to  Be sure to check out the mini-documentary!

Actually, it was quite impossible to stop after 20 (my list, including reissues and "historical releases", comes closer to 44) but, as I wrote at the top, over the next month I will attempt to catch up with 2020 releases that are well worth your attention.  

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year!  Thanks for reading!

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