BEST OF 2020: Best in Jazz2K, Part Une – 2020 Jazz2K Awards, and (The Rest of) The Best of 2020!

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It’s pretty simple, really: 21st-century jazz was one of the few things that made 2020 remotely bearable, even when Siena College’s limit on on-site staff at WVCR put “Jazz2K @ The Saint” on the shelf for over three months. Then again, all I lost was some airtime; too many musicians on my Facebook feed lost gigs and revenue, and jazz clubs around the world closed either temporarily or permanently – and that’s not even counting the players whose lives were taken by the Big Invisible Something.

While a general drop in new releases never really occurred, I did have to do a little juggling when putting together the multi-part ridiculousness that is The Jazz2K Holiday Extravaganza, picking four older tracks to fill the playlist of the opening show “Women in Jazz2K 2020.” It wasn’t that I didn’t have four new releases to play, but three of those four releases made this year’s Top 10, while the fourth release won Rookie of the Year! Even without those four, “WIJ 2020” was still a monster, featuring powerful artists like Amina Figarova, Sharel Cassity, Brenda Nicole Moorer, Alexa Tarantino, and the towering supergroup Artemis. The podcast is out there. Please act accordingly.

I’ll do the usual countdown thing in the next episode, but for right now, I’ve got a few socially distant bowling trophies to hand out:

BEST PARTY DISC: Funk Shui NYC, SharkNATO On a Plane (Zoho)

Prior to COVID kicking the city’s jazz scene in the crotch, NYC had big bands playing clubs all over town, many of them contributing vibrant new creations to a sub-genre many people thought was gone for good. But no big unit I know does more with the form than Dave Morgan & Rob Susman’s strapping outfit Funk Shui NYC. In addition to great new compositions by multiple members, SharkNATO also features wild takes on everything from George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and the theme from Barney Miller to George Harrison’s space cruise “Blue Jay Way” and Cream’s iconic war cry “I Feel Free.” Like Dave Cowens said: If its not fun, don’t do it. Funk Shui NYC has the MOST fun, and now we can experience that fun while we wait for the scene to re-shape itself.

BEST VOCAL DISC: Karrin Allyson Sextet, Shoulder to Shoulder: Centennial Tribute to Women’s Suffrage (eOne)

Vocalist Karrin Allyson rarely does anything small, so it made perfect sense that she would be the jazzer to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. What crosses the eyes is the sheer scope of the project she’s created: Along with fronting a killer sextet featuring two members of Artemis (trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and drummer Allison Miller), Allyson also brings in a HUGE cast of characters to reboot songs from the 19th and early-20th century that showed both sides of a passionate, multi-decade debate on the correct place for a woman’s voice. If you think the tRump Error fired up political “dialogue”, wait til you hear venom-soaked compositions like “Anti Suffrage Rose”, “Elihu Root”, and “I’ll Be No Submissive Wife.”

BEST SOLO OR DUO DISC: Brian Charette, Like the Sun (Self-released)

If you’re on Facebook and/or Instagram, you may have seen Brian Charette building bubbling, layered keyboard creations inside a space that looks like Rick Wakeman’s broom closet. In the spirit of social distancing, Charette has created a scintillating solo recording that has definite echoes of his righteous 2017 trio release Kurrent. While there are points where the lack of a rhythm section stands out, Charette’s well-established sense of whimsy lifts Like the Sun far above other COVID-era solo/duo releases that are either hamstrung by a depressive vibe or tripped up by a creative vision that falls flat at the finish line. In a year that took perverse pleasure in taking away things we love, Charette has proven once again that less can be so much more.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Nubya Garcia, Source (Concord Jazz)

It’s always heartening to see a fellow deejay make good: In addition to her insane skills on tenor sax and her razor-sharp ear for what works in a composition, Nubya Garcia hosts a monthly residency on the London-based online station NTS Radio. Garcia is part of the stellar English jazz scene led by fellow reed monster Shabaka Hutchings, who Garcia has collaborated with in the past, but Garcia doesn’t have to lean on who she knows to make an ear-catching project. The UK Breakthrough Artist at the  2018 Jazz FM Awards incorporates jazz, soul, and even a little dub (on the title track, my favorite cut) to create music that enthralls and excites. I said 21st-century jazz has gotten me through COVID, and one reason is bright new stars like Garcia that have the potential to light this genre for decades to come.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Randy Brecker / Eric Marienthal, Double Dealin’ (Shanachie)

Great jazz doesn’t have to sound like it just appeared last week; retro jazz is fine as frog fur, provided it’s got the pop and punch it did back in the day. Double Dealin’ is all that and a raspberry lollipop, bringing Old School jazz fusion just like Mama used to cook. Part of the credit obviously goes to two guys who have brightened my musical world for multiple decades: Randy Brecker’s trumpet was a key ingredient in the original Blood Sweat & Tears, while Eric Marienthal’s sax brightened the front line of the awe-inspiring Chick Corea Elektric Band. The lion’s share of the credit should go to producer George Whitty, whose drums, bass and keyboard programming provides a tight canvass for Brecker and Marienthal to paint on. Throw in cameos by John Patitucci and Dave Weckl, and we’re partying like it’s 1989!

LOCAL HERO AWARD: Dylan Canterbury, Going Places (Self-released)

Given the variety of projects horn player Dylan Canterbury has been involved in since graduating from SUNY Purchase, it was always a crapshoot as to what kind of music he’d be playing if & when he ever put out a disc as a leader. Much to my enjoyment, Going Places is a delightful collection of originals that may have roots in the Old School Blue Note releases Canterbury grew up with, but has branches that fan out into this century to provide cool shade and vibrant color. Having an old friend & collaborator like tenorman Brian Patneaude on the front line gives the horn charts a wonderful chemistry, but it’s the combination of Rob Lindquist’s keyboards (both acoustic and electric) with Matt Hoffmann’s vibes that makes this music literally ring like bells. They grow up so fast, but occasionally, they grow up well!

Like many of my compatriots in the Jazz Radio Conspiracy, I find that limiting myself to a Top 10 is extremely frustratiing. As such, I came up with “(The Rest of) The Best” – not only to give other releases that just fell short of that Top 10 rubric some credit, but also to give me one more chance to play music I really dig. So, along with the award winners listed above, here is some more cool stuff to check out (including a couple of graduates of the Greater Nippertown jazz scene):

  • Aaron Parks, Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (Ropeadope)
  • Benjamin Boone, The Poets are Gathering (Origin)
  • Chicago Yestet, Not There Yet (Tiddlywinks Records)
  • Christian Sands, Be Water (Mack Avenue)
  • Ernesto Cervini, Tetrahedron (Anzic)
  • Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group, Earth (Whaling City Sound)
  • George Burton, Reciprocity (Inner Circle Music)
  • Gilfema, Three (Sounderscore)
  • GoGo Penguin (Blue Note)
  • Matt Wilson Quartet, Hug! (Palmetto)
  • Matty Stecks & Musical Tramps, Long Time Ago Rumble (Ropeadope)
  • Michael Olatuja, Lagos Pepper Soup (Whirlwind Recordings)
  • Rajiv Jayaweera, Pistils (Outside In Music)
  • Ryan Cohan, Originations (Origin)
  • Theo Hill, Reality Check (Positone)
  • Wayne Escoffery, The Humble Warrior (Smoke Sessions)

We count ‘em down next time. Be there. Aloha!

“Women in Jazz2K 2020” and “(The Rest of) The Best of 2020” are both available as podcasts at www.mixcloud.com. “The 2020 Jazz2K Awards” and “The Top 10 Jazz2K Discs of 2020” can be heard Saturday, January 2nd @ Midnight on WVCR 88.3 / Albany, NY, with a repeat broadcast airing Monday, January 4th @ 9pm.

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