Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2021 | Jazz
10. Emile Parisien / Tim Lefebvre / Christian Lillinger / Michael Wollny – XXXX
This international quartet of contemporary jazz mavericks was invited by German virtuoso pianist / composer Michael Wollny to perform four evenings of unheard free jams at the A-Trane club in Berlin and to massage a studio album from the best takes. It is sometimes on horn and jazzy (influence of saxophonist Émile Parisien), explosively abstract, avant-funky or gracefully choral, but there is no cliché within earshot.
9. Ruth Goller – Skylla
Bassist Ruth Goller has played breathtaking punk jazz, harmonically mysterious Ghanaian ritual music, improvisation and avant-bop, but this unclassifiable adventure, inspired by Greek mythology and aided by singer Lauren Kinsella and Alice Grant, joined the iconoclastic ideas on guitar tuning and intonation (reminiscent of Derek Bailey) to ethereal and multi-layered vocal sounds sometimes reminiscent of Laurie Anderson of the 1980s, for a surprising effect.
8. Anthony Braxton – Quartet (Norms) 2020
Sixty-seven tracks in a gigantic box set recorded live by unique multi-reed virtuoso Anthony Braxton, one of the most prolific, exploratory and open-minded artists in all of jazz. Recorded with a UK touring group including Braxton-listening pianist Alexander Hawkins, it focuses on a courageous forensic reexamination of Broadway standards, jazz classics and popular songs. Read the full review.
7. Tim Berne / Chris Speed / Dave King / Reid Anderson – Broken Shadows
New York violist Tim Berne is famous for his gnarled originals, but this set of punchy covers with fellow saxophonist Chris Speed and the bass / drums duo Bad Plus of Reid Anderson and Dave King, pays a rousing tribute to the music by Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Dewey Redman and Julius Hemphill. The songs are succinct and memorable, the play fair for the money.
6. Jihye Lee Orchestra – The daring spirit
South Korean Jihye Lee was first an indie pop singer and then a jazz prodigy songwriter whose work has been compared to the legendary Gil Evans and Maria Schneider. Daring Mind, a contrasting big band set produced by Darcy James Argue with Lee, shows why in its dizzying sweep from bebop to 21st century rhythm bends and haunting Schneider-style harmonies.
5. Gretchen Parlato – Flor
Its song can be as calm as a sigh or as catchy and melodious as the calls of the most trendy birds. New Yorker Gretchen Parlato is a vocal adventurer, but also a delicately ingenious performer of slippery Brazilian dances and side swing. This wonderful comeback, taking place after a parental break, mixes touching originals and covers by composers from David Bowie to Joao Gilberto and Bach.
4. Shai Maestro – Human
Israeli pianist / composer Shai Maestro, once mentored by famed bassist and composer from this country Avishai Cohen but a rare-character conductor over the past decade, made his best small group recording to date at this session with Lima-born bassist Jorge Roeder, Israeli drummer Ofri Nehemya and brilliant New York trumpeter Philip Dizack – cinematic, eclectic and deeply human music.
3. Charles Lloyd and the Wonders – Tone Poem
The music of Charles Lloyd – an octogenarian reed player from the 1960s John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman but with his own poignant voice – comes in many forms. His country-oriented Marvels band, featuring guitarist Bill Frisell, join songs by Coleman, Leonard Cohen, and the Beach Boys on an ensemble that sounds seductively like a vocal album with no singers. Read the full review.
2. Pat Metheny – Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV)
Guitarist Pat Metheny, one of the most daring updates to contemporary jazz traditions, from freebop to country music and hard rock, chose the classic format of the funky guitar / Hammond organ / drums trio of the 1960s for its Side-Eye project – here with young multi-genre keyboard player James Francies and fiery drummer Marcus Gilmore. This captivating live recording mixes classic Metheny evergreen leaves and new works. Read the full review.
1. Ches Smith and We All Break – Chemin des sept couleurs
Ches Smith, the New York drummer and composer equally devoted to avant-garde jazz and ancient Haitian-centric voodoo culture and drums and vocals, took on the fascinating challenge of interweaving these threads. The result was this exciting blend of haunting folk vocals, conversational multi-instrumental percussion, and the rhythmically complex jazz genre favored by its frequent conductor, Tim Berne. Read the full review.