2021 overview: trends and directions based on albums of the year

Good jazz can come from anywhere. With musicians recording remotely more than ever the whole notion of location in an online world is a bit old hat and the parameters for collaboration are set wider than ever. Look at the first 10 artists in our …

Published: 12 Dec 2021. Updated: 46 days.

Good jazz can come from anywhere. With musicians recording remotely more than ever the whole notion of location in an online world is a bit old hat and the parameters for collaboration are set wider than ever. Look at the first 10 artists in our list the first is a South African veteran, the second a reinvented vocalist resident of Los Angeles, the third another American and the fourth an Anglo-American collaboration followed by an American trio of jazz grandees, Brazilian pianist, New Orleanian trumpeter-pianist, US pianist and US singer. Given how isolated we have all been over the past year it's fitting that a solo pianist, Abdullah Ibrahim, sums up the mood by topping the list.

Trends here? What's new most is on Black Acid Soul the splicing effectively as it turns out of torch song deep soul and boomer back catalogue with a credible pared-back jazz sensibility mostly due to Chris Seefried's consummate knack as a producer and guitarist, Deron Johnson in the harmonic infrastructure but even more so in that powerhouse voice of Lady Blackbird. Also novel this year is the way Floating Points has redefined the merging of electronica and spiritual jazz through the method of wrapping the still shattering sound of Pharoah Sanders in a symphonic arrangement drawing on minimalism and the world classic prowess of the London Symphony Orchestra's strings.

The piano trio also has been redefined by Gonzalo Rubalcaba who takes up the mantle of the retired Keith Jarrett by working with Jarrett's drummer Jack DeJohnette and utilising the titanic sense of timing and beat of Second Great Miles Davis Quintet bassist Ron Carter.

The internationalism of the list continues in its second half 10-20 with the presence of more Brits in newcomers Revival Room, singer Jo Harrop keeping world class company with Christian McBride and Andy Davies again in a retro mould, saxist Xhosa Cole again going antique which suits him well, pianist Ivo Neame with one of the big band statements of the year, pianists Matthew Bourne (making the ultimate avant statement of the year in a solo setting) and Fergus McCreadie in trio mode. And in a rare sighting, an Irish leader making a world class album in drummer Kevin Brady making 1970s jazz-rock seem relevant again. With icons like Pat Metheny making the list with perhaps the best live album of Metheny's long and distinguished career turbo charged by James Francies and Marcus Gilmore youth is not necessarily the ingredient the scene needs, in fact with jazz youth is often well down the pecking order given that like the finest wine jazz needs time to age and players need to grow and learn on the bandstand and find wisdom in the studio. The piano trio makes its presence more than felt throughout the list with notable albums by Vijay Iyer, Marcin Wasilewski and Fergus McCreadie. Final thought: a case of taking solace in the solotude sums the year up in one.

Tags: Opinion

One that got away, catching up on The Magic of Now

There are a few albums we missed listening to or were unable to review from earlier in the year that we regret not having heard about at the time or written about. So to make amends a few words on Orrin Evans' The Magic of Now released back in July …

Published: 12 Dec 2021. Updated: 47 days.

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There are a few albums we missed listening to or were unable to review from earlier in the year that we regret not having heard about at the time or written about. So to make amends a few words on Orrin Evans' The Magic of Now released back in July that we have been enjoying over the past few weeks. Pianist Evans, who it was announced earlier in the year was leaving The Bad Plus, already had a firm identity as a leader in his own right before joining Dave King and Reid Anderson on Ethan Iverson's departure certainly with his Captain Black big band who are, without any fear of hyperbole, one of the world's best big bands but still with nowhere near the profile of say any of the formidable resource-laden German big bands. Hear what Captain Black can do on the excellent recent Posi-Tone Wayne Shorter-themed compilation. Live album The Magic of Now (Smoke Sessions) was recorded at the end of last year. Among its delights are the mellifluous Kenny Garrett-like lines of shooting star of the alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins (also on the record are erstwhile Robert Glasper bassist Vicente Archer and the Scofieldian drummer Bill Stewart who provide considerable heat and interest). Some of the tunes are by Evans, some by Wilkins. Engrossing throughout the whole thing burns and the live energy adds another dimension to the release that you just can't bottle. The Magic of Now is also added to marlbank's overall albums of the year, the album landing in the top 10.