Monday, December 16, 2019

2019: Rough & Tough But Musically Blessed

Okay, no political screes or rants against the Government in this column. Plain and simple, what follows is the list of my favorite recordings from the past 12 months.  The first 10 are the ones I chose for the NPR Jazz Critics Poll, the next 30 are albums that could have gone into the poll, and the last five are the Reissues or Historical Documents with the last one listed, the Kenny Barron & Mulgrew Miller Sunnyside masterpiece that actually could have been in the New Releases (the third concert of the three on the recording comes from 2011). Twelve of the New Releases are large ensembles (that's 30%) and any one of those choices could have led off the list. You'll notice Jonathan Blake - "Trion" at the top of the list – there was a month after I was released from my January hospital visit that that album and Jason Palmer - "Rhyme & Reason" were among the only albums I listened to. Both albums come from the debut of Deena & Jimmy Katz's Giant Step Arts label and both are infused with the interplay and excitement that makes contemporary music so enjoyable.

First, the list:

Jonathan Blake - "Trion" (Giant Step Arts)

Brian Lynch Big Band - "The Omni-Americans Book Club: My JourneyThrough Literature in Music" (Holistic MusicWorks)

Remy Le Boeuf's Assembly of ShadowsSelf-Titled (SoundSpore Records)

The Art Ensemble of Chicago - "We Are On The Edge" (Pi Recordings)

Alex LoRe & Weirdear - "Karol" (Challenge Records)

Fabian Almazan Trio - "The Land Abounds With Life" (Biophilia Records)

Wadada Leo Smith - "Rosa Parks: Pure Love" (TUM Records)

Camila Meza & The Nectar Orchestra -"Ámbar" (Sony Masterworks)

Zach Brock/Matt Ulery/Jon Deitmeyer - "Wonderment" (Woolgathering Records)

Nature WorkSelf-Titled (Sunnyside Records)

Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra – Hiding Out (ZOHO Records

Los Guachos – Cristal (Sunnyside Records)

Miho Hazama m_unit – Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside Records)

Sara Gazarek – Thirsty Ghost (self-released)

Miguel Zenón – Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (Miel Music)

Jason Palmer – Rhyme and Reason (Giant Step Arts)

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade – Stompin’ Off From Greenwood (Greenleaf Music)

Lucas Gillan’s Many Blessings – Chit-Chatting With Herbie (JeruJazz Records)

Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble – Forward (self-released)

Samuel Torres – Alegria (Blue Conga)

Blood Drum Spirit – Time Changes (self-released)

Branford Marsalis Quartet – The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (OKEH Records)

Linda May Han Oh – Aventurine (Biophilia Records)

Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New (Cuneiform Records)

Melissa Aldana – Visions (Motéma Music)

Remy Le BoeufLight as a Word (Outside In Music)

Fred Hersch & the WDR Big Band – Begin Again (Palmetto Records)

Denny Zeitlin – Remembering Miles (Sunnyside Records)

Ben Kono Group – Don’t Blink (self-released)

Garzone, Erskine, Oles, & Pasqua – Three Nights in LA (Fuzzy Music) 

Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn – The People I Love (Pi Recordings)

Jason Yeager – New Songs of Resistance (Outside In Music)

Yes! Trio – Groove du Jour (Jazz and People)

Florian Hoefner Trio – First Spring (ALMA Records)

Brenda Earle Stokes – Solo Sessions Vol.1 (AllSheNeeds Music)

Ashley Daneman – People Are Fragile (self-released)

Dave Douglas – Engage (Greenleaf Music)

Marta Sánchez Quintet – El Rayo de Luz (Fresh Sound New Talent)

Ola Onabule – Point Less (Rugged Ram Records)

Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy Band – Legacy Live Volume 6, Live at The Side Door (Onyx Productions)


Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake - "The Newest Sound You Never Heard (1966-67 European Recordings)" (A-Side Records)

Bill Evans - "Evans In England" (Resonance Records)

Nat "King" Cole - "Hittin' The Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943)" (Resonance Records)

Johnny Griffin & Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis – Ow! Live at The Penthouse (Reel to Real)

Kenny Barron & Mulgrew Miller ­– The Art of the Piano Duo: Live (Sunnyside Records)


I have been lax in reporting the October 31st passing of Gerry Teekens from CrissCross Records. The Netherlands-based 83 year-old was one of the more fascinating "hands-off" producers and rarely, if ever, produced a dull album. Musicians and listeners around the world mourn his passing.

Speaking of labels, kudos go to Sunnyside Records: they always issue great albums but seemed to outdo themselves the year!  ECM and Blue Note often win the Critics and Readers Polls (deservedly so) but Sunnyside deserves more attention!

Let's not forget the slew of fine releases from Pi Recordings and Whirlwind Recordings as well as Biophilia Records.

I have to say it's a pleasure to see my long-distance writing buddy Ralph Miriello back writing again after a long hiatus.  Check him out at

Another long-distance friend, Jason Crane, continues to do great work with his interview show "The Jazz Session" – Just posted episode #501 and you can help him keep going by clicking on

Don't forget the great podcast of Dave Douglas "A Noise From the Deep" – always informative.

I always enjoy who Leo Sidran chats with on "The Third Story" podcast – you just might as well. I recommend a subscription also through Patreon

In the next few weeks, I'll try and catch up on my backlog of reviews – in the meantime, have a Great Holiday (whichever one you celebrate), a very Happy New Year, and on to 2020! Thanks for reading!


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