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2020 Releases Deserving Recognition

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Pandemic or no pandemic, there were a lot of worthwhile jazz CDs released in 2020, more than could be covered within the year. Here are quick reviews of six of them.

Benny Rubin Jr. Quartet
Know Say Or See
Self-Produced
2020

Benny Rubin, Jr. is a young saxophonist with a rich, old school sound. He plays with impressive assurance on this, only his second album as a leader. He blows heavy blues on "Know," funky turbulence on "Flint Water Crisis" and hard bop soul on Horace Silver's "Kiss Me Right." He also shows a feel for lush ballads on "Darn That Dream" and tears through "NYC Urge,." a variation on Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," at breakneck speed. His quartet is manned by three equally exceptional young players who really come into their own on the powerful spiritual jazz rumblings of "Down They Go" and "Or See." Pianist Lex Korten is especially impressive.

Bruno Raberg
The Prospector
Orbis Music
2020

This trio release is led by bassist Bruno Raberg with Allan Chase playing various saxophones and Austin McMahon on drums. All three men contribute compositions of considerable thought and structure. Chase flies on twinned high and low sax lines over a complex bass and drum path on "Isometric Rotation," plays hypnotic soprano over carefully measured beats on "Lockleigh" and intricately weaves soprano, alto and baritone parts together over a funky groove on "Dissipating Clouds." "Triloka" mixes lively Latin rhythms with piercing soprano swagger and "Rockside Haiku" is a mournful trio flight with soprano, arco bass and mallets prominent. These musicians have worked together for years and the ease with which they maneuver these complex pieces proves it.

Dave Glasser
Hypocrisy Democracy
Here Tiz Music
2020

Dave Glasser's CD is a careening broadside about the current state of the world. His saxophone rides high and wild over an excellent rhythm section of pianist Andy Milne, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson, sounding notes of tension and alarm. The shrill soprano funk of "It's Nothing New," the intense alto bellowing of "Freedom" and the brisk pace of "Justice" all sound in line with the work of past firebrands like Archie Shepp and Charles Mingus. Not everything is pure anger however. "Coffee, Dogs and Telelogs" is a brisk duet for alto and bass where Glasser shows a debt to Lee Konitz, and on "Deep Dark" the leader moans hauntingly over Milne's drifting piano lines.

Julian Shore
Where We Started
Tone Rogue Records
2020

On this subtle but strong effort, pianist Julian Shore works in a variety of instrumental combinations on music that encompasses introspective classical moods and atmospheric jazz-rock. Shore's compositions often surge and recede in waves with saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Carolyn Davis adding body to the overall sound while guitarist Ben Monder folds evocative lines into tracks like "Tunnels, Speed" and "O Vos Omnes." Stephens is particularly affecting on the simple melody of "Marshes, Amphibians" and blows through "Oh Bess Where's My Bess" like a warm breeze. The soundscape created by the mix of guitar, piano and Oded Tzur's tenor sax on the title track is also very moving.

Marvin Stamm / Mike Holober Quartet
Live At Maureen's Jazz Cellar
Big Miles Music
2020

In contrast to all the production on the preceding CD, here is the simple pleasure of a live jazz recording, namely Marvin Stamm and Mike Holober co-leading a quartet at Maureen's Jazz Cellar in Nyack, New York. Pianist Holober is known for his work with large ensembles but he shines in this smaller setting alongside Stamm on flugelhorn, Mike McGuirk on bass and Dennis Mackrel on drums.

The music is consistently lively and fun. The tunes are mostly familiar jazz and pop standards with a couple of Holober originals thrown in. Stamm glides serenely through "All The Things You Are" and Holober's quiet ruminations on Horace Silver's "Peace" are magical. Bill Evans' "Funkallero" sounds prickly and hard-charging as the piano and drums dominate. The pianist's two compositions, "Dear Virginia" and "Morning Hope" are both small gems built on classical foundations with quiet but powerful flugelhorn work.

Tom Ranier
This Way
Self-Produced
2020

Veteran studio musician Tom Ranier plays all the reed and keyboard parts on this disc relying on others only for guitar, bass and drums. The music sounds very professional throughout with Ranier showing how well he can play Brazilian and funk melodies, even when some are weighed down with heavy synth sweetening. The best parts of the CD come when he displays his acoustic piano talents. That happens on the classical impressionism of "Circle," the Bill Evans vibe of "Trio Vision," the grand orchestral swell of "Rhapsody" and a classy twirl through the Bossa Nova evergreen, "Desafinado" with a sax section supporting the piano.

Tracks and Personnel

Know Say Or See

Tracks: Know; Say; Darn That Dream; NYC Urge; Kiss Me Right; Flint Water Crisis; Down They Go; Or See.

Personnel: Benny Rubin Jr.: tenor and alto sax; Lex Korten: piano; Adam Olszewski: bass; JK Kim: drums.

The Prospector

Tracks: Prospector; Isometric Rotation; Lockleigh; Triloka; Rockside Haiku; L'Etranger; Deimos & Phobos; Dissipating Clouds; In Motion; Duo Rotation II.

Personnel: Bruno Raberg: acoustic bass; Allan Chase: soprano, alto and baritone saxophones; Austin McMahon: drums and percussion.

Hypocrisy Democracy

Tracks: Knit Wit; Justice; It's Nothing New; Dilemonk; Coffee, Dogs and Telelogs; It's A Small World; Freedom; Glee For Lee; Revolver; Deep Dark; Minor Madness.

Personnel: Dave Glasser: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Andy Milne: piano; Ben Allison: bass; Matt Wilson: drums and percussion.

Where We Started

Tracks: I Preludio; II Winds, Currents; III Tunnels, Speed; O Vos Omnes; Nemesis; IV Marshes, Amphibians; Oh Bess, Oh Where's My Bess; Where We Started.

Personnel: Julian Shore: piano, synths; Dayna Stephens: tenor & soprano saxophone, EWI (except 8); Ben Monder: guitar (1,3,4,8); Caroline Davis: alto saxophone (1,4); Oded Tzur: tenor saxophone (8); Edward Perez: bass; Colin Stranahan: drums.

Live at Maureen's Jazz Cellar

Tracks: Out Of The Night Came You; Invitation; Dear Virginia; Morning Hope; All The Things You Are; Peace; Funkallero.

Personnel: Marvin Stamm: flugelhorn; Mike Holober: piano; Mike McGuirk: bass; Dennis Mackrel: drums.

This Way

Tracks: Blue Aria; Circle; This Way; Yes Kloose; Secret Heart; Trio Vision; Rhapsody; Desafinado.

Personnel: Tom Ranier: piano, synthesizers, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinets, bass and contra alto clarinet; Trey Henry: acoustic and electric basses; Ralph Humphrey: drums; Thom Rotella: guitars.

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