Home » Jazz Articles » John Sharpe's Best Releases of 2021

11

Year in Review

John Sharpe's Best Releases of 2021

By

Sign in to view read count
Whether due to pent up creative energy or release schedules making up for lost time, more terrific music has come my way than for several years, in spite of the last twelve months. From the 200 or so discs that I heard in 2021, here are ten new issues (in the order I came across them), plus two unearthed gems, which gave me the most pleasure. It's particularly invidious to pick and choose between honest artistic endeavours, this year more than many others. Perhaps it's better to view these selections as a chance to pick up on something that you might otherwise have missed. As a fan I always look forward to the annual year end lists for precisely that reason. If you share my taste (that's the key bit), then something here might just be for you!

Wadada Leo Smith / Douglas Ewart / Mike Reed
Sun Beans Of Shimmering Light
Astral Spirits

Three significant forces spanning two generations of the forward-thinking Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians meet in a poised 2015 recital. Setting aside the question of whether the title is a typo (it appears often enough on the sleeve to imply intent), its suggestion of an organic entity growing out of something ineffable is an apt metaphor for the consummate invention contained within.

Ivo Perelman
Special Edition Box
SMP

Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman's partnership with pianist Matthew Shipp already encompasses some 17 discs, but this latest chapter of their craft ranks among their most profound exchanges. It comes sumptuously documented in Special Edition Box, released to celebrate Perelman's sixtieth year, which unites a January 2019 studio album with a Blu-Ray disc containing concert footage from Sao Paulo in July the same year.

Ahmed
Nights On Saturn (communication)
Astral Spirits

Multinational co-operative أحمد [Ahmed] once again proves that a tight focus on unlikely material is no obstacle to artistic triumph on the band's third release. Like its predecessors the inspiration is the music of American bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The outfit's modus operandi remains unchanged. They take elements from Abdul-Malik's works—a bass-line, a melodic fragment, a rhythmic feel—and put them under the microscope, examining them from every angle, teasing out unanticipated wrinkles in extended renditions. Thereafter things get pretty hairy. This is music to exorcise your inner headbanger.

Rachel Musson
Dreamsing
577 Records

If the solo album is a rite of passage for a woodwind player, then adventurous British saxophonist Rachel Musson passes with flying colors. She exploits the lexicon of the modern reed armory, including the use of multiphonics, alternate fingerings, buzzes, airy exhalations, key clicks, overblown notes, and the like, but deploys technique as an unselfconscious means to wonderful ends.

Nate Wooley
Mutual Aid Music
Pleasure Of The Text

With Mutual Aid Music, trumpeter Wooley supercharges the ideas that underlay his Battle Piece series, (heard on three albums on Relative Pitch Records from 2015, 2017 and 2019) to produce a double album set which absorbs and enthralls. To the original cast of accomplished improvisers, Wooley drafts four additional players—who hail from contemporary classical backgrounds—for eight pieces, each possessing a distinctive character, more cohesive than improvs, but considerably looser than compositions.

Judson Trio
Light And Dance
Rogue Art Records

The second release by the egalitarian Transatlantic threesome Judson Trio, reunites dazzling improvisers. bassist Joëlle Léandre, violist Mat Maneri and drummer Gerald Cleaver, on a double-album set which presents one disc of live performance along with a subsequent studio session. The inclusion of Cleaver, who shares a deep history with Maneri, was an inspired choice as he supplements a self-professed affinity for chamber music with an unorthodox rhythmic attitude, and is key in elevating proceedings beyond the norm.

Borderlands Trio: Stephan Crump / Kris Davis / Eric McPherson
Wandersphere
Intakt Records

The threesome luxuriates in the wide open vistas of four expansive improvisations of between 19 and 42 minutes on this double disc set. The decision to play and present entire pieces rather than excerpts, as they did on some of the shorter numbers on their debut Asteroidea (Intakt, 2017), pays rich dividends, as it allows opportunity to appreciate the daredevil creation on-the-fly as they invent structure, spawn tension, and uncover resolutions in unforced natural developments.

David Leon
Aire De Agua
Out Of Your Head

The attention grabbing opening track of Cuban-American alto saxophonist David Leon's first leadership outing, Aire De Agua, begs the question: can the rest of the disc live up to that start? Well, although nothing else is quite as striking, in terms of the intrigue and cohesion of the remainder of the program, the answer must be a resounding yes! Leon, who arrived in New York City in 2018, has assembled a group of his peers who thoroughly inhabit this diverse set of eight charts, as they interweave, step forward, support and solo, finding the space to express themselves as an integral part of the written material.

Rodrigo Amado
The Field
NoBusiness Records

Tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado is one of a number of unique voices to have emerged from the vibrant Portuguese scene to stake their claim in the wider international arena. The Field forms the latest in a series of collaborations he has undertaken with his longstanding Motion Trio comprising compatriots cellist Miguel Mira and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. But where previous recorded encounters have featured a garrulous second horn in either trombonist Jeb Bishop or trumpeter Peter Evans, which furnishes a potent contrast to Amado's burly probings, here he hooks up with veteran German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach whose approach is more complementary. By so doing he demonstrates that it's not only opposites that attract.

Wadada Leo Smith
The Chicago Symphonies
TUM Records

Among a dizzying range of superlative music released in honor of trumpeter Smith's 80th birthday year, the four-disc The Chicago Symphonies stands out. Smith reconvenes his stellar Great Lakes Quartet with Henry Threadgill (replaced by Jonathon Haffner on the final album), Jack DeJohnette and John Lindberg for a program in which finely sculpted phrases convey a sophisticated simplicity, apportioning silence and sound in tight embrace, somehow blurring the distinction between melody and abstraction.

Julius Hemphill
The Boye Multi-National Crusade For Harmony
New World Records

Although Julius Hemphill, who died in 1995, is best known as a co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, that was only one facet of an enormously talented composer and improviser. This seven-disc collection lovingly curated from the reedman's archive by saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, sheds light on some of his other activity. It's a stunning set. It took me a while to get beyond the quartet pieces on the first disc as they're just so good, but happily I did as a whole treasure trove awaits.

Joel Futterman
Creation Series
NoBusiness Records

Pianist Joel Futterman recorded this outstanding five-volume solo set over a six-month period between June and December 2008, but it has only now been issued. Futterman's favorite mode is an atonal rollercoaster stream of rapidly repeated figures which evolve and spread out, embodying all sorts of digressions, flourishes and snags on the way as inspiration trumps direct travel, as allusions to spirituals, stride, bebop and more surface as part of an unforced flow. Each installment can be enjoyed on its own terms, but taken together the impact is intoxicating. Whether due to pent up creative energy or release schedules making up for lost time, more terrific music has come my way than for several years, in spite of the last twelve months. From the 200 or so discs that I heard in 2021, here are ten new issues (in the order I came across them), plus two unearthed gems, which gave me the most pleasure. It's particularly invidious to pick and choose between honest artistic endeavours, this year more than many others. Perhaps it's better to view these selections as a chance to pick up on something that you might otherwise have missed. As a fan I always look forward to the annual year end lists for precisely that reason. If you share my taste (that's the key bit), then something here might just be for you!

Post a comment


FOR THE LOVE OF JAZZ
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Tags

More

Jazz article: Tony Ozuna’s Best Albums 2022
Jazz article: Popular Jazz Songs: 2022
Year in Review
Popular Jazz Songs: 2022
Jazz article: Most Read Album Reviews: 2022

Popular

Read David Crosby: A Revitalized Creativity
Read Ten Essential Keith Jarrett Solo Recordings
Read Most Read Articles: 2022
Read Leonard E. Jones: Taking Control Of Destiny
Read 2023 Winter JazzFest Marathons: A Survival Guide
Read Popular Jazz Songs: 2022
Read ECM Records Touchstones: Part 1
Building a Jazz Library
ECM Records Touchstones: Part 1

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.