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Geno Thackara's Favorites of 2021

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Insert the usual cliches here as you see fit: strange times, "new normal," all that stuff. Still, even while some of us give up on terms like "normal" and get used to the idea that there may never be a post-Covid world, great music and art never stops. Amidst another bumper crop of more things than I could properly cover, these are the picks that have personally grabbed me the most.

Sachal Vasandani (featuring Romain Collin)
Midnight Shelter
Edition Records

It began as a form of therapy for social isolation and came out as something quietly uplifting. The simple piano/voice format is perfect for an introspective work of emotional depth and beauty—hopefully just the beginning of what this terrific partnership might produce.

Snowpoet
Wait for Me
Edition Records

Lauren Kinsella's one-of-a-kind voice and evocative poetry make for a quasi-chamber-folk experience that's always enchanting. With Chris Hyson further expanding the production flavors with strings and electronics, Snowpoet's third release is their most bright, bold and devilishly smart to date.

Joachim Kuhn
Touch the Light
ACT Music

A subtly radiant solo piano recital whose material crosses decades (even centuries), yet all fits together in a program full of simple eloquence.

Fergus McCreadie
Cairn
Edition Records

You could hardly find another jazz combo this year (or any other band, for that matter) capering with such zest and joy. The young trio takes us on a romp through their native Scotland that's downright effervescent.

Bear Garden
Sunshine Fruit
Bolero Recordings

Martin Wiren's massive psychedelic-fusion sound takes a turn for the bright and snappy on this EP that happily delivers on its title. Bear Garden's interlocked horns have never cried so loud or sounded so fun.

Haeun Joo
We Will Find
Outside In Music

Between an evocative compositional voice and some expressive wordless singing to enrich the tonal palette, this is a short but richly sweet meditation which says a lot more than it first seems.

Daniel Herskedal
Harbour
Edition Records

The cleverest tuba player in Norway (if not the world) continues his ongoing musical travelogue, still using his familiar backing of piano and percussion to paint a different bunch of vivid pictures each time. If the theme of sanctuary makes this one feel more settled than some of its exploratory predecessors, it's no less colorful and emotional.

Slowly Rolling Camera
Where the Streets Lead
Edition Records

If Slowly Rolling Camera's physical world was limited while crafting this sensory experience, their scope and imagination certainly weren't. Their cinematic blend of jazz and trip-hop is as sweeping and understatedly intense as ever.

Portico Quartet
Terrain & Monument
Gondwana Records

Portico Quartet ended up showing both sides of their electro-ambient-jazz coin here; while Terrain first made a bewitching yin in the spring, reflecting the time's strangeness and uncertainty, its late-year counterpart Monument is a refreshing yang full of warmth and (cautious) optimism for whatever's still to come. Together they make a beautifully immersive portrait redefining and further expanding what the outfit can do.

Mulo Francel
Mountain Melody
Fine Music

Climbing several mountains throughout the eastern hemisphere was a marvelous geographical tour for Mulo Francel and a mix of friends. Fortunately for the rest of us, the musical tour that results is a sheer delight that takes us on an expansive and exotic journey of its own.

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