I've had a real hunger for Jazz ever since I inadvertently stumbled into a local jazz night back in the late 90's. The power and joyfulness of the music grabbed hold of pretty tightly and I've spent the last 20ish years exploring the many facets of the genre.
2020 was a really exciting time for Jazz. I think it comes from Hip-Hop, though I'm no scholar on the matter. Hip-Hop's use of Jazz samples seems to have fed back into the listening habits of musicians, the influence of those sample sources becoming alluring for younger ears. A whole raft of new, adept players has seemingly sprung from nowhere, creating some beautiful, powerful music. Here's some words on some of my favourite Jazz records from 2020.
Yussef Davis, Charlie Stacey, Rocco Palladino
Welcome To The Hills (Cashmere Thoughts)
This is, simply, a power-Jazz trio. It's a real whirlwind. Recorded live across a number of European shows in 2019, it's a snapshot of how good we had it in those plague free days. The playing is intense and light in equal measure. The sound of a band listening and vibing off each other in a fluid state. No notes feel wasted. Every musician has their moment to shine but it's when they're all in the pocket where the real magic happens.
Track to try: Odyssey
Blue Note Re:Imagined (Blue Note)
The UK, especially, is now a real hotbed for Jazz talent. A great way to discover some of that volcanic talent can be found in this compilation. Sixteen acts dive into the treasure vault of Blue Note Records to reinterpret some stone cold standards. It's a wild mix of more traditional band configurations, electronics and wild experimentation. I was blown away by the subtle interpolation of Poppy Ajudha's Watermelon Man, as it weaves in references to Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters version of his own tune. Alfa Mist's Galaxy slides in like the slinkiest electric Miles Davis song and builds with some fantastically spangled electric guitar. And, man, if Melt Yourself Down's Caribbean Fire Dance doesn't make you want to lose yourself to dance in the wee hours at a music festival, then your lust for life got left behind in 2020. I can't elucidate the essentialness of this release enough. Get on it.
Track to try: ALL OF IT
Continuation (On The Corner)
Tamar Osborn's electric septet stretches out their modal explorations into the cosmos with this record. The opening track, Deep Peace, smokily unfurls through your speakers as if it's a mythic beast coming back into the world. Saxophones call and answer from the ether. Slowly, the music pulls you in. Track by track, it snakes out of your speakers. Each track grows in intensity. There's an innate use of space and contrast in the band's arrangements. Always questing forward into the unknown. By the time we embark on the Angry One, we're in the maelstrom. The beast is wrought real and it's ready to really Jazz you up. There is a freeness displayed on this album that allows for squonking brass, mind melting time signatures and plenty of discordance. Not to everyone's taste, sure, but there's plenty of fuel for a truly celestial journey.
Track to try: Lost And Found
Moving Forward (DeepMatter Records)
Moving Forward is a fleeting debut record from the Brighton-based trio. Coming in at 35 minutes, it's efficiently written and arranged and does not waste a note. This album is unabashedly *whispers* Jazz Fusion. It reminds me of Touchdown era Bob James and Yellowjacket's Top Secret. It's production style isn't weighed down by those records clinical sounds. It's a very warm sounding album that lets the combination of keys/bass/drums really pop. Infectious grooves carry you to sun filled vistas. This is easily your daily recommended dose of vitamins.
Track to try: Too Many Kicks
Sage Secrets EP (DeepMatter Records)
DeepMatter Records most definitely had their shit together in 2020. This release from PYJÆN plays across some very subtle genre change-ups. The more I've listened to this record, the more I've been amazed of the ground it covers across its short running time. From the opening lazy beats of opener, Sage Secrets, a hand is played to trick you into thinking this is another jazz tinged hip-hop record. A slight left curve into UK Soul with Gold Plated throws in some hazy vocals from Odette Peters, herself a rising star on the UK Jazz scene. Diversions into Azymuth influenced Latin pulses then give way to monolithic heavy Jazz-Rock in Bittersweet. You end the EP in a very different headspace to where you started. Those moves can only be praised and lauded. I'm anticipating a big album release from this band in the near future and I can't fucking wait.
Track to try: Sugar Rush