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Geno Thackara's Best Releases of 2020

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However strange the year has gotten, the urge to create clearly hasn't lessened at all—either that or the circumstances have left us more appreciative of art where we find it. Most likely it's some of both. Whatever the case may be, 2020 has still seen no shortage of musical treats good for the soul.


Jazzrausch Bigband
Beethoven's Breakdown
ACT Music

Jazzrausch pulls off something wonderful here, adapting revered material with house-shaking brass and hard-hitting electronics, excitingly audacious and still keeping a timeless streak of classy romanticism underneath—even if the techno-jazz sound is something Beethoven couldn't have possibly envisioned, the underlying spirit couldn't be more authentic.


Derek Brown
All Figured Out
Self Produced

Speaking of bands big enough to populate a whole house party, this is another happily swinging reminder of things that have been impossible in social isolation. But if that reminder is a sad one, it's outweighed by the sheer joy packed into almost every minute here.


Gilfema
Three
Sounderscore

Even with only three players, there's enough rhythm and interplay here to almost make you think it's an entire Afrobeat ensemble. It all sounds effortless, though, in the hands of a trio concerned less with style than with challenging themselves in the most fun and stimulating ways.


LRK Trio
Memory Moment
Losen Records

They remain a delight every time out, and LRK's characteristic restlessness again has free rein on their third mini-opus as a trio—now with a wider palette than ever in both sonic textures and sheer ambition.


GoGo Penguin
GoGo Penguin
Blue Note

The distinct not-really-jazz sound that's been brewing over five albums hits a defining peak here, marking another step in the unclassifiable trio's development and a (figuratively) electrifying summation of what they're all about.


Gregoire Maret and Romain Collin with Bill Frisell
Americana
ACT Music

Although the trio is only one-third American, that fact affects this recording's authentic heartland beauty not at all. Simple and perfectly charming.


Eivind Austad New Orleans trio
That Feeling
Losen Records

While the format and general style could hardly be more familiar, the execution couldn't be more vital and fresh. The blues, soul and boogie are bright and irresistible as a N'awlins street parade.


Chris Gall and Bernhard Schimpelsberger
Myriad
GLM Music

There's a small world of color and sound packed into the simple piano/percussion format here—an exceptional complement between both players and instruments.


Maria Baptist and Jan von Klewitz
Facing Duality
Self Produced

It's a compelling meeting of long-familiar collaborators here, actually recorded in person (albeit socially distanced) for the best direct communication, and the exciting yet classy outcome proves to be worth the extra trouble it must have taken.


Siril Malmedal Hauge and Jacob Young
Chasing Sunsets
Oslo Session Recordings

This is another duo that finds deep beauty in simplicity, here offering a lovely slow grower much like their debut (and another argument for playing in the same room if circumstances allow). The two go together like, well, wine and sunset.


Fred Hersch
Songs from Home
Palmetto Records

It could hardly represent the circumstances of 2020 more fittingly—left at home with imperfect equipment and constant uncertainty—and yet Hersch and his piano still stay in touch with something real and even sublime.

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