Of Note In 2020: Jazz, Latin, And Global
Wayne Escoffery - The Humble Warrior
Makaya McCraven and Gil Scott-Heron - We're New Again: A Reimagining
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan - Navarasa : Nine Emotions
BLK JKS R BK
BLK JKS - Abantu/Before Humans
Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? I've decided to stop trying to keep track of the myriad activities of Moor Mother (born Camae Aweya) and just grab hold of the ones that stick quickly - like this stellar outing from her jazz quintet. Collaborating with Keir Neuringer (saxophone, percussion), Aquiles Navarro (trumpet, percussion), Luke Stewart (double bass, percussion), and Tcheser Holmes (drums, congas), leads to some of her most focused work in a setting in which she is comfortable being both contemplative or enraged. The credits also tell a story, as many tracks here are rooted in percussion jams for a funky, polyglot vibe reminiscent of Kip Hanrahan's great American Clavé recordings. But there's no doubt that Moor Mother's gift for language and the power of her voice are key factors in elevating Who Sent You? above a plethora of recent contemporary jazz releases. For more, don't miss her "afrofuturist song cycle," Circuit City, which includes many of the same players.
Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - Free Hoops Fleet of finger and of an analytical bent, Courvoisier's pianism once again finds new heights of avant jazz delight with Drew Gress (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums) on their first album since 2018's excellent D'Agala. They are obviously her perfect foils as I found the two albums she made with others since then to be slightly too cerebral, i.e. dry. But not here, as the creativity and interaction of the rhythm section keeps Courvoisier both down to earth and as dazzling as a star-filled sky. For proof, check out Just Twisted, a neo-noir chase scene that will leave you breathless.
Mark de Clive-Lowe - Dreamweavers While this trio record, with the keyboard/production maven accompanied by Andrea Lombardini (bass) and Tommaso Cappellato (drums), is very stripped down for him, it's quite a different proposition from what Courvoisier is doing. Skywriting analog synths soar over rich acoustic piano, while the rhythm section pushes and recedes intuitively, from dense rhythms to airy accents. Slickness is also part of the picture, harkening back to an earlier time when jazz reentered the pop firmament on the wings of electricity and bright melodies. It's also wonderful to see MDCL pay tribute to the late, great Ras G with a cover of his Strolling Down Degnan.
Mike Sopko, Bill Laswell & Tyshawn Sorey - On Common Ground It's hard to imagine players of less stature than bassist/producer Laswell and drummer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Sorey being able to find common ground with Sopko, whose coruscating guitar is an unstoppable force on this trio date. There's an almost evil thrill in hearing Sorey - essentially capable of anything on drums - pound away in Oracle. I can picture a cinderblock attempting to hold his bass drum in place and crumbling to dust as he builds an almighty groove. Parascience, another standout track, moves from reflective to eerie to full on skronk with frightening facility. Can I be greedy and ask for a residency at The Stone when concerts come back? I'd go every night.
Sun Ra Arkestra - Swirling Beyond the surprise of the mere existence of the first album under the Arkestra name in over 20 years is the shock at how good it is. It also remains true to the master's vision of a cosmic yet soulful music which draws as equally from outer space imaginings as it does from Ellington, Mingus, and Monk. Beautifully recorded, with fervent performances under the direction of Marshall Allen, who at 96 shows no sign of losing the thread he picked up with Sun Ra back in 1958, Swirling is an end-to-end triumph. But don't get the idea that Allen and Co. are taking their legacy too seriously - there's even a romp called Unmask The Batman, which rips through the TV theme song, paying homage to the 1960's session that resulted in Batman And Robin, credited to The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale. Sensational indeed!
Jahari Massamba Unit - Pardon My French This full-length debut from the collaboration between DJ/producer/multi-instrumentalist Madlib and percussionist/producer Karriem Riggins has been a long time coming - and exceeds expectations in its epic sweep and deeply involving jams. No surprise, the drumming is especially spectacular, but working with Madlib has enabled Riggins to stretch beyond the occasional sketchbook feel of his (fantastic) solo albums, Alone Together and Headnod Suite. If whatever they do next is this good, I say take your time, gentlemen.
Thiago Nassif - Mente Fascinatingly fragmented no-wave Brazilian, assisted by producer Arto Lindsay, who knows all there is to know about both sides of that coin. Simpatico guest vocalists like Ana Frango Elétrico and Gabriela Riley smooth things out a little, but the true pleasure is in letting these burnished and brittle bits and pieces assemble in your head.
Jungle Fire - Jungle Fire Concision and conviction are the keys to success for this LA-based octet's "Tropi-funk," as this 30-minute album blasts through a blend of Afrobeat, Afro-cuban, boogaloo, and other sonic signatures of the diaspora. It's all fun, but it's on Emboscada where they truly go beyond pastiche with some astonishing 3D guitar riffage.
The Mavericks - En Español After In Time, which hit not only my Best Of 2013 but also my Best Albums Of The 2010's, these Tex-Mex-Americana experts seemed to lose their footing. Mono (2015) felt like a rush job, Brand New Day (2017) was forgettable, and the less said about their Christmas and covers albums the better. Now, with their first album in Spanish, they've roared back again. Singer Raul Malo sounds fully engaged and avoids any showboating, the sound is rich, with layers of live instruments, and the energy never flags. I'd rather play this at a party than any of the forced disco retreads that got so much acclaim last year. As for how "authentic" their takes on old school Conjunto and Tejano actually are, I'll leave that to the scholars. I'm just happy to go along for the ride.