Friday, December 24, 2021

2021 – Music That Moved, Soothed, Educated, and Inspired (Part 2)

 Since I began this blog in 2009, I realized that every Top Ten list has a number 11, 12, and so on. When hundreds of recordings are released every year, it's physically impossible to give every one of those albums the time it deserves to be heard but I believe that every reviewer/ critic has favorites that could quite easily replace several, if not more, of the recordings listed 1-10.  Ergo, here's Part 2.

Fergus McCreadie – "Cairn" (Edition Records) – The young Scottish pianist and composer has proven himself to be a technical wizard but this album shows he has a delightful and potent lyrical side. Wit an equally impressive rhythm section, this music sings.

Go to

Joe Fiedler's "Open Sesame" – "Fuzzy and Blue" (Multiphonics Music) –  Trombonist, orchestrator, and composer Fiedler has the music director of "Sesame Street" for over a decade embraces his playful side. Along with trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, bassist Sean Conly, drummer Michael Sarin, and (occasional) vocalist Miles Griffith, he takes this "kids music" and brings out the funky, jazzy, side. 

William Parker – "Migrations of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World" (AUM Fidelity) – 10 albums, 10 different ensembles, hours of fascinating music: released early in 2021, this collection continues to display/ uncover the bassist's endless springs of  creativity each time you play one or more of the recordings. In those hours when the despair in the world has tried to overtake the days/ nights, Mr. Parker's music reminds one that music is a welcome oasis.

In 2021, the Finnish label TUM Records celebrated Wadada Leo Smith's 80th birth year by releasing four projects, three in multi-disk boxed sets that the trumpeter, composer, and conceptualist recorded in the past six year. All four deserve to to be listed in Part 1 of these posts and in any "Best of" list. The picture on the left is the cover of "A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday" featuring Wadada with drummer/ percussionist Jack DeJohnette and pianist/ organist/ synth player Vijay Iyer.

"Trumpet" (pictured left) is three albums of solo trumpet music recorded in St Mary's Church in Pohja, Finland. Before you shake your head and walk away, know that this is an amazing journey filled with introspection, joy, feistiness, freedom, and more, never failing to satisfy the adventurous listener. One can hear the spirits of Louis Armstrong, Lester Bowie, Booker Little, and Clifford Brown shaking their collective heads and shouting "Amen"!

"Sacred Ceremonies" is also a three-CD set, one with Wadada and percussionist Milford Graves, one with the trumpeter and bassist Bill Laswell, the third with all three artists.  The sound quality of these albums is stunning, one feels as he or she in the middle of a room watching the the musicians creating in the moment.  Music without borders played by musicians who love and respect each other so they create without ego.

Go to to find out more and also to check the 38-minute video of Wadada's 80th Birthday tribute.  

Gabriel Vicéns – "The Way We Are Created" (Inner Circle Music) – Puerto Rican-born guitarist and composer Vicéns strikes gold with his third album as a leader. His mature, intelligent, and playful compositions are performed by a splendid sextet including Roman Filiú (alto sax), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), E.J. Strickland (drums), and Victor Pablo (percussion). One can get lost, entranced, in the flow of this wonder-filled collection.

Roxana Amed - "Ontology" (Sony Music/Latin) – The Argentinean-born, Miami, FL, vocalist, composer, and educator has had a long and distinguished career in Latin America. Since moving to the US, Ms. Amed has created alongside Guillermo Klein, Frank Carlberg, Leo Genovese, and others – this album runs the gamut from introspective ballads to performances in a "freer" style and a voice that move one to the edge of his seat.

Go to

Jen Shyu – "Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses" (Pi Recordings) – There are albums and artists whose music enters my brain and soul yet I cannot really describe why. Ms. Shyu, an amazing composer, musician, and performer has the innate ability to make "foreign" sounds feel familiar; in the case of this album, much of which is inspired by the loss of her father, it's because she is telling a story mostly all of us live through, facing pain with the need to create music that "frees" feelings. Her ensemble – Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Dan Weiss (drums, percussion), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Mat Manieri (viola) –  aids in her quest with creativity and dignity for the subject matters.

Lorraine Feather – "My Own Particular Life"  (Relarion Records) – Ms. Feather has proven herself time and time again to be one of the finest lyricists of the past 20 years. Over the past decade, her albums have become even more personal even as she displays quite a love for science as well as more arcane subjects. This may be her most personal album as there are songs that address her former husband's battle with dementia, how one lives a real life during the pandemic, and a few more.  But there are also new examples of her delightful humor. The band, all recorded remotely (including the late percussionist Michael Shapiro who recorded his work in the Philippines!), is her usual band of suspects including the wondrous violin of Charlie Bisharat.  

Art Hirahira – "Open Sky" (Posi-Tone Records) – Over the past decade, pianist and composer Art Hirahira has issued six albums as a leader for the Los Angeles-based Posi-Tone Records: he started out strong in 2011 with "Noble Path" and his music has only gotten stronger and more delightful since.  Here, he is backed by Posi-Tone's "pandemic" rhythm section (bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Rudy Royston with guests vibraphonist Behn Gillece and tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover performing on selected tracks) and the results are exciting, lyrical, exploratory, and so much more.

Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge – "Within Us" (MAMA Records/ Summit Records) – Composer, arranger, and educator Owen (who retired this year) has produced one fine large ensemble album. The lyricism, the musicianship, the delightful violin of guest artist Sara Caswell, and a 19-piece band that is so responsive that the music flows seemingly without effort, Mr. Owen has kept this band together for 25 years (this album celebrates that longevity), continuing to produce music filled with ideas, possibilities, dreams, and realities.  

As I look back over this list, all of them deserve top 10 status so I'll call them #11 A-L.  I'll unveil a list of #12s next week.  

Be safe!

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