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These are the 2021 "Best of Jazz" lists and commentaries compiled by Members of the Jazz Journalists Association. They are displayed in the order received, with the most recent on top. 

It's up to each member to decide what to include in his or her post -- recordings, books, live performances or whatever -- how many choices to include, and how the post will be formatted.

Click the member's underlined name after the date to view that member's profile. You are invited to comment on the posts.


  • 01 Jan 2021 10:17 AM | Stephen Feeney
    1. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Hero Trio (Whirlwind)
    2. Thumbscrew, The Anthony Braxton Project (Cuneiform)
    3. James Brandon Lewis Quartet, Molecular (Intakt)
    4. Tani Tabbal Trio, Now Then (Tao Forms)
    5. Kenny Barron-Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake, Without Deception (Dare2)
    6. Tomas Fujiwara, 7 Poets Trio (RogueArt -19)
    7. Maria Schneider Orchestra, Data Lords (Artists Share)
    8. Fred Hersch, Songs From Home (Palmetto)
    9. Rich Halley-Matthew Shipp-Michael Bisio-Newman Taylor Baker, The Shape of Things (Pine Eagle)
    10. Ron Miles, Rainbow Sign (Blue Note)
  • 31 Dec 2020 9:48 PM | Travis Rogers Jr.

    Favorites of 2020

    The year 2020 belied all expectations and defied all predictions. Nevertheless, this annus horribilis was met with unabashedly remarkable music that flew in the face of dashed hopes. He was speaking of violence but Leonard Bernstein said, “This will be our reply…to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

    This is exactly what the following artists have done. In the face of pandemic, cultural distrust, incompetent political leadership and, yes, violence, these wonderful people have created intense, beautiful, and devoted music.

    I cannot categorize the music between formats and styles this year. All I can say is that this is the music that inspired me and gave me hope. I love these artists as people as much as musicians and composers.

    AJOYO – War Chant

    Do not let it be said that Jazz has nothing to offer in this present time. The glory days of jazz are not over, far from it, and if you need proof of it, all you need to do is listen to AJOYO’s new album War Chant. This is their second release following their 2015 eponymous album.

    War Chant is a spiritual call-to-arms against oppression, greed, fear of others, and isolation—national and individual. AJOYO does it with grace and strength, intelligence and wit, and—most of all—a love and acceptance of who we are and who we should be.

    Markus Reuter Oculus – Nothing is Sacred

    Markus Reuter is one of the most extraordinary musicians and composers of this or any other century. In the wake of so many brilliant and innovative releases, Reuter presents his first Oculus project, featuring equally remarkable musicians who fit like a fist in glove in their presentation of Nothing is Sacred.

    Markus Reuter Oculus’s Nothing is Sacred is everything we have come to expect, respect, and admire from Markus Reuter. No idea is left unexplored, no question unanswered, in this brilliant album of shadow and light.

    Alex Wintz Trio – Live to Tape

    Alex Wintz decided to go old school with his trio and record his latest album Live to Tape on analog equipment in a successful attempt to recapture the warmth of the Blue Note era recordings. It was the perfect set-up for the guitar trio format, made more perfect with the artistry of bassist Dave Baron and drummer Jimmy Macbride, his longstanding comrades in arms.

    Antonio Adolfo – BruMa: Celebrating Milton Nascimento

    Antonio Adolfo breathes new life into the work of the maestro in a time when Milton Nascimento’s vision and voice should not be forgotten.

    David Cross & Peter Banks – Crossover

    David’s violin brilliance and Peter’s guitar work is more beautiful than ever and the support of these astounding musicians with Peter and David make this album feel as monumental as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Bravo, David Cross, for finishing what you and Peter Banks started over seven years ago. It has truly been worth the wait.

    David K. Mathews – The Fantasy Vocal Sessions, Vol. 2

    David K. Mathews has taken a delightful collection of songs from several genres and has given us a masterwork of favorite vocalists interpreting these moving and inspiring and reflective songs in ways that do honor to the originals. Mathews’ playing is incredible and his assembly of supporting artists is appropriate and well-conceived.

    I can’t wait for Volumes 3 and 4.

    Sarah Elizabeth Charles & Jarrett Cherner – Tone

    Toneis the inevitable evolution of the talents, skills, and hearts of Sarah Elizabeth Charles and Jarrett Cherner. Like lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids combing to make life, these two amazing artists have created something unique that the world has awaited since the beginning. It’s that good.

    Jasnam Daya Singh and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble – EKTA: The Unity Project

    EKTA: The Unity Project is not about Utopia—it is not the absence of division but the overcoming of it. Nor is it simply a hope for the future but a vision that begins with coming together, followed by acceptance, and ending in oneness and walking forward together.

    Jasnam Daya Singh is not only a national treasure. He is a global one.

    Gary Husband & Markus Reuter – Music of Our Times

    Gary Husband and Markus Reuter were on tour in China and Japan with Stick Men. They had finished their one and only performance in Nagoya, Japan, at the famed Blue Note. Then the world changed. The Stick Men Tour (with Tony Levin, Markus Reuter, Pat Mastelotto and special guest Gary Husband) was abruptly canceled. Producer and MoonJune Records owner Leonardo Pavkovic quickly booked studio time in Tokyo before the return flights of Reuter and Husband. The results—Music of Our Time—are something extraordinary.

    LP and the Vinyl – Heard and Seen

    I’ve been a fan of Danny Green for quite some time now. His trio’s Altered Narratives was on my Favorites of 2016 list and 2018’s One Day It Will ranks as one of my all-time favorites. In the review of One Day It Will, I wrote, “And just when I thought Danny Green’s Trio had outdone themselves with 2015’s Altered Narratives, they release One Day It Will, their third album on OA2 Records. It is the very same brilliant trio of Danny Green on piano, Justin Grinnell on bass, and Julien Cantelm on drums. In fact, they have been together since 2010.”

    On One Day It Will, Danny & Company added a string quartet from the San Diego Symphony. The latest project brings a return of that great trio with the remarkable addition of Leonard Patton on vocals. That assembly is called LP and the Vinyl and their album is Heard and Seen.

    Susan Tobocman – Touch & Go

    Now this is a good album. Susan Tobocman has chosen a fine collection of standards, classics, and originals and a band of dedicated and interpretive artists that can give life to the instrumentation and can give her space for her own vocal expressions to make her album Touch & Go a work worthy of great attention and praise.

    Susan Tobocman is a Jazz lover’s dream. Her vocals are beyond compare but her arrangements and compositions are beyond description. She is talented and brilliant beyond measure. Touch & Go does not describe the power and beauty of the album; she was full on, right on, every step of the way.

    Spanish Harlem Orchestra – The Latin Jazz Project

    The Latin Jazz Project is what we have been waiting for from Spanish Harlem Orchestra. With six previous recordings, they have given us glimpses and splashes of Latin jazz. Thanks to Artistshare, a fan-funded project program, SHO have given us a full-length recording of pure Latin jazz. Their last album, Anniversary, was the Grammy winner for Best Tropical Latin Album. A wonderful album.

    But Musical director Oscar Hernandez, with two brilliant Latin Jazz albums under his belt, has brought his full creative force to bear with SHO for another album of wonder. The Latin Jazz Project will certainly be a Grammy contender.

    Rudresh Mahanthappa – Hero Trio

    I've always enjoyed about Rudresh Mahanthappa is the way he never settles on a given expression or style. Ever since I began listening to him, he has pushed his own boundaries to new places and always finds fertile soil for his musical imagination wherever he ventures. Such is the case with his new album entitled Hero Trio.

    Hero Trio is exactly what it says it is. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Franςois Moutin, and Rudy Royston have created a powerful, precise, and—okay—perfect album. There’s no Kryptonite on this album.

    Lauren Henderson – The Songbook Session

    Lauren Henderson continues to thrill, comfort, and amaze with every album she has released. Whether YouTube live performances, EPs, or full-length albums, Lauren never disappoints. Her 2020 CD The Songbook Session is no different.

    The Songbook Session is Lauren’s third full-length album and it is her best to date. She takes standards from the 30s and 40s and breathes sweet life into them all over again, almost as if we had never heard them before. When an artist can make you forget everything that has gone before, it is something amazing. Such is this album.

    Jesse Fischer – Resilience

    It has been an excellent year for Jesse Fisher. First, he participated in the phenomenal War Chant album by Ajoyo. Now he releases his latest project as a leader called Resilience. Resilience incorporates the influences of modern Jazz, African music, and Near Eastern music reflecting Jesse's own Jewish heritage.

    Jesse Fischer has not only envisioned and composed a beautiful album, he has brought together the right players for the right job. It is executed with power and precision and—dare I say—purity. Resilience does not lose its way once. It is focused and is a frontal assault at what life throws our way, and how we can overcome.

    Gato Libre – Koneko

    Koneko is the eighth album from Gato Libre and the first since 2017’s Neko. Since 2015, Gato Libre (Spanish for Free Cat) has been a trio comprised of Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Yasuko Kaneko on trombone and Satoko Fujii and accordion. Unlike Kaze (Japanese for Breeze), the other band with Tamura and Fujii, Gato Libre is more informed by tone and texture than in frenetic virtuosity.

    Koneko (Japanese for Kitten) is a further exploration into the far reaches of said tone and texture. It is music to be heard with intent—not background music while making breakfast.

    (Live Streaming Performance) Farofa – Jazz on YOUR Green; Live at the Omaha Performing Arts

    In the days of limited access to live music, innovative promoters and artists are finding a way to still bring the joy and magic of the live performance. God bless Jazz on YOUR Green, Omaha Performing Arts, Manager Marian Liebowitz, and the band of extraordinary artists called Farofa.

    It was a joyous romp that was energetic, spirited, fascinating, and leaving you wanting more. Farofa is a new band with original compositions and original takes on old songs. Farofa pulls the listener up to their level and makes you crave their understanding of life in the world we live.

    I am thankful for all the beautiful work offered in 2020 by all of these beautiful people.

    ~Travis Rogers, Jr. is the Jazz Owl

  • 30 Dec 2020 3:05 PM | Anonymous

    Jazz Artistry Now - JAN Best of Jazz 2020

    MMXX was the centennial year of Charlie Parker’s birth in 1920. Although the coronavirus pandemic inherently muted the magnitude and scope of celebrations marking such a momentous occasion, artists released a wide variety of music that Bird would surely appreciate as a legacy to his own efforts. As with earlier works, the music today continues to inculcate the avant garde but it’s also grounded in the innovations of the modern jazz pioneers like Mr. Parker. Jazz Artistry Now presents our “Best of …” list for 2020 of recordings that reflect the positive evolution of the music and the premium state of the art in our times. Check out our list. Listen.

    Jazz Artistry Now - JAN Best of Jazz 2020

  • 28 Dec 2020 10:27 AM | C. Andrew Hovan

    A Dozen Top Jazz Picks for 2020

    1. Connie Han- Iron Starlet  (Mack Avenue)

    2. Redman/Mehldau/McBride/Blade- Round Again (Nonesuch)

    3. Joe Farnsworth- Time to Swing (Smoke Sessions)

    4. John Scofield- Swallow Tales (ECM)

    5. Peter Bernstein- What Comes Next (Smoke Sessions)

    6. Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy- Onward & Upward (Onyx)

    7. Christian McBride Big Band- For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (Mack Avenue)

    8. Wayne Escoffery- The Humble Warrior (Smoke Sessions)

    9.  Paul Desmond- The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings (Mosaic)

    10. Thelonious Monk- Palo Alto (Impulse)

    11. George Coleman- In Baltimore (Reel to Real)

    12. Bill Evans- Live at Ronnie Scott's (Resonance)

    SPECIAL MENTION- Blue Note Records' Tone Poet Series brought over two dozen choice titles from the vaults delivered in pristine sound and deluxe gatefold packaging complete with Frank Wolff photos.

  • 27 Dec 2020 1:31 PM | J Hunter

    TOP 10 JAZZ2K DISCS OF 2020:

    1. Maria Schneider Orchestra - Data Lords (ArtistShare)
    2. Shabaka & the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here by History (impulse!)
    3. Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science - Waiting Game (Motema)
    4. Orrin Evans / Captain Black Big Band - The Intangible Between (Smoke Sessions)
    5. Lakecia Benjamin - Pursuance: The Coltranes (Ropeadope)
    6. Bright Dog Red - Somethin' Comes Along (Ropeadope)
    7. Dave Douglas - Dizzy Atmosphere (Greenleaf Music)
    8. Dan Loomis - Job's Trials: A Jazz Song Cycle (Self-released)
    9. Jimmy Greene - While Looking Up (Mack Avenue)
    10. Nduduzo Makhatini - Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds (Blue Note)

    2020 JAZZ2K AWARDS:

    • BEST PARTY DISC: Funk Shui NYC - SharkNATO On A Plane (Zoho)
    • BEST VOCAL DISC: Karrin Allyson Sextet - Shoulder to Shoulder: Centennial Tribute to Women's Suffrage (eOne)
    • BEST SOLO OR DUO DISC: Brian Charette - Like The Sun (Self-released)
    • LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Randy Brecker / Eric Marienthal - Double Dealin' (Shanachie)
    • ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Nubya Garcia - Source (Concord Jazz)
    • LOCAL HERO AWARD: Dylan Canterbury - Going Places (Self-released)
  • 24 Dec 2020 12:05 PM | Anonymous


    1. Thana Alexa, ONA (self-released)
    2. Jyoti, Mama, You Can Bet! (SomeOthaShip)
    3. Webber/Morris Big Band, Both Are True (Greenleaf Music)
    4. Ron Miles, Rainbow Sign (Blue Note)
    5. Liberty Ellman, Last Desert (Pi)
    6. Lakecia Benjamin, Pursuance: The Coltranes (Ropeadope)
    7. Susan Alcorn Quintet, Pedernal (Relative Pitch)
    8. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Transparency (Dafnison Music)
    9. Joel Harrison + 18, America at War (Sunnyside)
    10. Jason Miles & Kind of New, Black Magic (Ropeadope)


    1. Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto (1968, Impulse)
    2. Sonny Rollins, Rollins in Holland (1967, Resonance)
    3. Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You (1965, Verve)

  • 21 Dec 2020 1:38 PM | Rick Mitchell

    On December 19, 2020, from 2-5 p.m., I reviewed the top tracks from some of the best jazz albums that came my way this year on the radio program The Motif: Reimagine a Jazz Sensibility on KBOO, 90.7 FM in Portland, Oregon. Many of these tracks also have been or will be featured on my national program, Jazz In the New Millennium, syndicated through the African American Public Radio Consortium. The aesthetic core of these programs is to help define a modern mainstream for the 21st Century. It does not represent the full range of what I listen to, both within the jazz world and beyond. Here is the playlist:

    Set one

    Christian McBride, "Sister Rosa," The Movement Revisited (Mack Avenue)

    Warren Wolf, "For Ma," Reincarnation (Mack Avenue)

    Gregory Porter, "Dad Gone Thing," All Rise (Blue Note)

    Christian Sands, "Can't Find My Way Home," Be Water (Mack Avenue)

    Set two

    Tim Ray, "Paint It Black," Excursions and Adventures (Whaling City Sound)

    Charles Lloyd, "La Llorona," 8: Kindred Spirits (Blue Note)

    Bill Frisell, "Baba Drame," Valentine (Blue Note)

    Tony Allen/Hugh Masekela, "Coconut Jam," Rejoice (World Circuit)

    Set three

    Joel Ross, "After the Rain," Who Are You? (Blue Note)

    Immanuel Wilkins, "The Dreamer," Omega (Blue Note)

    Lauren Henderson, "Day by Day," The Songbook Session (Brontosaurus)

    Aaron Diehl, "Polaris," The Vagabond (Mack Avenue)

    Set four

    Doctor Michael White, "Summertime," Live (Basin Street)

    Maceo Parker, "Hard Times," Soul Food: Cookin' with Maceo (The Funk Garage)

    Christian McBride Big Band, "Road Song," For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (Mack Avenue)

    Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, "Hammer Head," The Music of Wayne Shorter (Blue Engine)

    Set five

    Derrick Hodge, "The Cost," Color of Noize (Blue Note)

    Ndudzo Makhathini, "Saziwa Nguwe," Modes of Communication Letters from the Underworlds (Blue Note)

    Gerald Clayton, "Rejuvenation Agenda," Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)

    Ambrose Akinmusire, "Yessss," On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment (Blue Note)

    Set six

    Maria Schneider Orchestra, "The Sun Waited for Me," Data Lords (Artist Share)

    Billy Childs, "Leimert Park," Acceptance (Mack Avenue)

    John Beasley, "Monk's Mood," Monk'estra Plays John Beasley (Mack Avenue)

    Pat Metheny, "Same River," From This Place (Nonesuch)

    Set seven

    Artemis, "If It's Magic," Artemis (Blue Note)

    Rudresh Mahanthappa, "Ring of Fire," Hero Trio (Whirlwind)

    Harold Lopez Nussa, "Van Van Meets New Orleans," Te Lo Dije (Mack Avenue)

    Derrick Shezbie, "Didn't He Ramble," The Ghost of Buddy Bolden (Clubhouse)

    Set eight

    Fred Hersh, "Wichita Lineman," Songs from Home (Palmetto)

    Warren Wolf, "Do You Hear What I Hear?," Christmas Vibes (Mack Avenue)


    Robert Cray Band, "This Man," That's What I Heard (Nozzle/Thirty Tigers) 

  • 19 Dec 2020 11:00 PM | Rob Shepherd
    Here are my top eleven for 2020. I also list another 14 albums that greatly impressed me- along with comments on these 11- over at PostGenre.

    New Releases

    1. Jennifer Curtis & Tyshawn Sorey, Invisible Ritual (Tundra/New Focus)

    2. Alabaster Deplume, To Cy & Lee: The Instrumentals Vol. 1 (International Anthem) [Much of this album was previously released, so often doesn't count on new releases lists]

    3. Kahil El'Zabar, Kahil El'Zabar's Spirit Groove ft. David Murray (Spiritmuse)

    4. Lakecia Benjamin, Pursuance: The Coltranes (Ropeadope)

    5. Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise (Northern Spy)

    6. Carla Bley - Andy Sheppard - Steve Swallow, Life Goes On (ECM)

    7. Charles Lloyd, 8: Kindred Spirits (Live from the Lobero) (Blue Note)

    8. Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell, How to Turn the Moon (Pyroclastic)

    9. Susan Alcorn Quintet, Pedernal (Relative Pitch)

    10. George Burton, Reciprocity (self-released)

    11. Lionel Loueke, HH (Edition)


    1. Dudu Pukwana, Dudu Phukwana and the "Spears" (Matsuli Music)

    2. The Heshoo Beshoo Group, Armitage Road (We are Busy Bodies)

    3. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Just Coolin' (Blue Note)

    4. Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins in Holland (Resonance)

    5. Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto (Impulse!)


    Norah Jones, Pick Me Up Off the Floor (Blue Note)


    Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise (Northern Spy)


    Aruan Ortiz with Andrew Cyrille and Mauricio Herrera, Inside Rhythmic Falls (Intakt)

  • 14 Dec 2020 9:40 AM | Marcela Breton
    • 1.       Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow “Life Goes On” (ECM)
    • 2.       Muriel Grossmann “Reverence” (RR Gems Records)
    • 3.       John Santos “Art of the Descarga” (Smithsonian Folkways)
    • 4.       Lakecia Benjamin “Pursuance : the Coltranes” (Ropeadope)
    • 5.       Sasha Berliner “Azalea” (eponymous?)
    • 6.       Carolina Calvache “Vida Profunda” (Sunnyside)
    • 7.       Ingrid Laubrock & Kris Davis  “Blood Moon” (Intakt)
    • 8.       Allegra Levy “Lose My Number : Allegra Levy Sings John McNeil” (SteepleChase)
    • 9.       Eva Cortés “Todas Las Voces” (Truth Revolution)
    • 10.   Jason Yeager “New Songs of Resistance” (Outside In)
    • 11. Luedji Luna "Bom Mesmo e Estar Debaixo D'Agua" (album visual, 23 min. youtube.com)
    • 12. Ingrid Laubrock "Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt" (Intakt) (2 CDs)
    • Reissues:

      • 1.       Bill Evans “Live at Ronnie Scott’s” (Resonance) (2 CDs)
      • 2.       Nina Simone “Fodder on My Wings (Verve)
      • 3.       Ibrahim Ferrer “Buenos Hermanos” (World Circuit)
      • 4.    Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers "Just Coolin'" (Blue Note)
  • 12 Dec 2020 2:11 PM | John Szwed

    Keith Jarrett     Budapest      ECM

    Charles Lloyd    8: Kindred Spirits   Blue Note

    Maria Schneider   Data Lords   Artist Share

    Matt Shipp    Unidentifiable   ESP-Disk

    Susan Alcorn     Pedernol     Relative Pitch

    Carla Bley     Life Goes On      ECM

    Ron Miles    Rainbow Sign   Blue Note

    Sun Ra   Swirling   Strut

    The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound      Soundpath.  Clean Feed

    Jeff Parker.  Suite for Max Brown.  Nonesuch


    Charles Mingus    Mingus at Bremen  1964 and 1975    Sunnyside

    Sonny Rollins     Sonny Rollins in Holland     Resonance Records

    Thelonious Monk     Palo Alto   Impulse


    Leïla Martial     Warm Canto    Laborie Jazz


    Raphaël Pannier    Faune     French Paradox


    Poncho Sanchez    Trane’s  Delight   Concord Picante

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