Ian Patterson's Best Albums Of 2021


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The great musical feast continues unabated, despite everything the world can throw at it. It is the buffet with no horizon. You might get very big eyes surveying all the goodies before you, but you can only consume just so much. This list represents but a personal cross-section of some of those albums that stood out. Thank you all.

Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi
Garden Of Expression
ECM Records

Joe Lovano's second outing with Trio Tapestry—a lithe chamber-esque ensemble featuring the estimable talents of Marilyn Crispell and Carmen Castaldi— sees the veteran saxophonist further explore the rich vein of minimalism that has marked his relatively late-career elevation to ECM leader, having first recorded with for Manfred Eicher's label with Paul Motian back in 1982. Consistently poetic, though with bursts of fire, the trio's subtle interplay occasionally touches upon the sublime.

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra
Luaka Bop

Few could have seen this one coming. English electronic whiz Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) and octogenarian free-jazz icon Pharoah Sanders combine on an epic suite-like journey that is by turns meditative, soothing and uplifting. The intervention of the London Symphony Orchestra is a powerful masterstroke that crowns the adventure in majestic style. Defies categorization, which may explain the universal acclaim.

Makram Aboul Hosn
Self Produced

Beirut is well hardened to difficult times, but 2020 was a particularly tough year, with the catastrophic explosion in the port area heaping further woes on the city's beleaguered citizens. Refusing to surrender to the pessimism and misery, bassist/composer Makram Aboul Hosn went into the recording studio just three days after the trauma— though not before helping with the clear-up—to do what he knows best. Marshalling some of Beirut's finest jazz/improvising musicians to give life to his music, Aboul Hosn emerged with a joyous, swaggering work full of swing, blues, Afro-jazz, bop and a healthy dose of defiance.

Larry Coryell
Larry Coryell's Last Swing With Ireland
Angel Air

Larry Coryell's last studio album saw the influential guitarist in Dublin alongside two of Ireland's finest purveyors of rhythm. Bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Kevin Brady were Coryell's go-to rhythm section in the guitarist's fairly regular trips to Ireland in his latter years, and the trio's deep chemistry is evident throughout this swinging, energetic set from 2016. Coryell plays on both acoustic and electric guitar and in truth, he has never sounded better. A stirring last hurrah with which to crown a fantastic career.

Unscientific Italians
Play The Music Of Bill Frisell
Hora Records

The long simmering project of pianist Alfonso Santimone came to fruition in convincing and quite singular style on this sophisticated homage to Bill Frisell. As hard to pin down as the subject of its devotion, the Unscientific Italians don the robes of unorthodox big band, chamber-esque provocateurs and swinging combo as they navigate Frisell's compositions from the '80s and '90s with just the right mixture of repsect and free license.

Dave Holland
Another Land
Edition Records

Dave Holland's new trio for his Editions Record debut has in fact been kicking around since 2016, though his associations with both guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire go much further back. Holland dusts off his electric bass for several numbers on an album of marked contrasts. Whether exploring slow-burning blues, getting down 'n' dirty on some gritty funk or dialing it down on more refined and lyrical fare, the trio's play is never less than absorbing.

Dave Liebman & Richie Beirach
Jazzline Records

Half a century of collaborations has enabled Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach to forge uncommonly deep channels of communication. This five-album set features the veterans in solo, duo, trio and quartet settings. There are numerous highlights, though the trio session with Jack DeJohnette, an old sparring partner from Liebman's tenure in Miles Davis's early '70s bands stands out. The five albums cover a vast range of moods and textures, culminating in a brooding fifty-minute suite of composed, improvised and overdubbed parts, colored by Van Volxem's Buchla synthesizer and Leo Henriche's modified percussion.

Andrew Cyrille
The News
ECM Records

Andrew Cyrille, who cut his first album as a leader in 1971, has long been one of the central figures of avant-garde/free jazz, call it what you will. His late-career albums for ECM, all of which feature Bill Frisell, foreground the drummer/composer's more lyrical and nuanced side. The News features three typically melodic Frisell compositions, and indeed the guitarist casts a strong spell throughout. But it is the interplay between Frisell, pianist David Virelles and bassist Ben Street, subtle at one pole, completely free at the other, steered quietly but resolutely throughout by Cyrille, that makes this such a rewarding listen.

Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O
Mushroom Hour Half Hour

Malcolm Jiyane Xorile is a respected figure on the Soweto jazz scene. His debut, with the band Tree-O, is a richly rewarding affair. Steeped in African rhythms and the blues, and inspired by his mentors, Xorile's music carries real emotional clout. The leader's trombone playing is rationed, and in fact, one of the strengths of his arrangements lies in the judicious juggling and juxtaposition of the instruments at his disposal. A beautiful and powerful calling card from an exciting talent.

Skúli Sverisson With Bill Frisell
Newvelle Records

Icelandic guitarist/composer Skuli Sverrisson and Bill Frisell may live on other sides of the world to each other, but they are bound by their eclecticism and open-mindedness towards music-making, something which is perhaps less common than it seems. These are two musicians who steadfastly refuse the limitations of genre classification. Strata, a vinyl-only release in 2018, finally gets the digital treatment, which will surely entice many more listeners to this totally sublime encounter. Frisell leads throughout but Sverrisson is a wonderful accompanist who brings just as much juice to the dialogue. Melodically, harmonically and rhythmically beguiling from first note to last.

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