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John Pietaro's Best In Jazz And New Music 2021


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Artists will make art—and have. The outcome of this year's anxious output has been something special, and this much we can revel in. And should.
This year in which we celebrated the return of live performance and simultaneously foresaw a rise in virus numbers and the resumption of show and venue closings, the pervasive issue remains on the anti-vax know-nothings affecting the lives of the careful, caring and compliant. Health regs and advisories as simple as getting a lifesaving vaccine are not too much to ask for, yet conservative talking heads retain their manipulative stronghold over the frightened Right, conveniently confounding vaccine mandates as anti-liberty. That's a rancid swill of "states' rights," xenophobia, guns-lobbies, white citizens' councils (spelled with three Ks), sexist old boys' clubs and corporate dollars. While the effects of this on the creative community shouldn't be first in the complaint line, the fact is, artists and arts institutions have been decimated and the prospect of yet another lockdown has already seen tours cancelled and records labels rethinking contracts. Still, artists will make art—and have. The outcome of this year's anxious output has been something special, and this much we can revel in. And should.

And then going forward, let's simply close out anyone who selfishly risks YOUR life and the lives, health and lifestyles of everyone around us. The arts are about healing and such ignorant, self-centered arrogance should not be tolerated by artists and art-lovers of conscience.

Now then, the following is my personal best by category.


alto saxophone: David Lee Jones / Darius Jones / Devin Brahja Waldman
tenor saxophone: James Brandon Lewis / Andrew Lamb
baritone saxophone: Claire Daley / Dave Sewelson / Gary Smulyan
flute: Nicole Mitchell / Cheryl Pyle
trumpet: Kirk Knuffke / Mac Gollehon / Ingrid Jensen
trombone: Steve Swell / Chris McIntyre
violin: Sam Bardfeld / Sarah Bernstein / Gwen Laster
viola: Melanie Dyer / Joanna Mattrey
cello: Lester St Louis
acoustic guitar: Stephane Wrembel
electric guitar: Aurelien Budyack / Vernon Reid / Bill Frisell
upright bass: Ken Filiano / William Parker / Cameron Brown
electric bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma / Bill Laswell / Steve Swallow
piano: Vijay Iyer / Helen Sung / Mara Rosenbloom
drums: Ches Smith / Hamid Drake / Cindy Blackman-Santana
percussion: Warren Smith / Bobby Sanabria
vibraphone: Joel Ross
multi-instrumentalist: Elliot Sharp / Daniel Carter
vocals: Sheila Jordan / Fay Victor
spoken word: Anne Waldman / Patricia Smith / Ngoma Hill

Miscellaneous Instruments

banjo: Brandon Seabrook / Arnt Arntzen
harp: Zeena Parkins
washboard: Newman Taylor Baker
laptop: Ikue Mori


Lee Odom (soprano saxophone)
Luke Stewart (upright and electric bass)

Large Ensembles

Mingus Big Band / Afro-Yaqui Music Collective / Maria Schneider Orchestra

Small Groups

Three Layer Cake / Ceramic Dog / The Fringe

Concerts of the Year

  1. Mingus Big Band, November 19, the Django at the Roxy Hotel, NYC
  2. Anne Waldman (with William Parker and James Brandon Lewis), September 30, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Brooklyn
  3. Andrew Lamb's Circadian Spheres of Light Project, December 1, Roulette, Brooklyn NY
  4. Ceramic Dog/the Messthetics, October 2, the Bell House, Brooklyn NY

    Comebacks of the Year

    Bush Tetras, November 13, Le Poisson Rouge / Ivan Julian-new album and performance

    Lifetime Achievement

    Warren Smith / Sheila Jordan / Dick Griffin / Legs McNeil


    Manhattan: Le Poisson Rouge, Clemente Soto Velez Center, The Django
    Brooklyn: Roulette, Barbes, Mama Tried

    Record Labels

    ESP-Disk / Rare Noise / 577

    New Album Releases

    Ceramic Dog, Hope (Northern Spy)
    James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet, Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
    Three Layer Cake, Stove Top (Rare Noise)
    Benjamin Boone, The Poets Are Gathering (Origin)
    New Muse 4Tet, Blue Lotus (Muffymarie)
    Sarah Bernstein, Exolinger (577)
    Francisco Mela featuring Matthew Shipp and William Parker, Music Frees Our Souls (577)

    Solo Album

    Sarah Bernstein, Exolinger (577)

    Unearthed Gem

    Sheila Jordan: Comes Love (Capri)

    Boxed Sets

    Bush Tetras, Rhythm and Paranoia (Wharf Cat)

    Radio Station (broadcast)


    Radio Station (streaming)

    Give The Drummer (WFMU.org)
    Sheena's Jungle Room (WFMU.org)
    Maker Park Radio (MakerParkRadio.NYC)

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