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Mark Corroto's Best Recordings Of 2021

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Another year in jazz, and another year in global pandemic jazz. When we look back on these times, I believe we will refer to them much like the designations BC and AD (or BCE and CE, if you like). We'll ask, what was music like before masks and social distancing; and, remember when we squeezed together in that small club to catch the duo Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love? For many, adventurous music listening has morphed into a solitary activity, and that's not necessarily a negative. It can lead to a deeper experience and appreciation for improvised music. I for one have spent quality time engaging with notable boxsets of music, from the massive 13-CD Quartet (Standards) 2020 by Anthony Braxton (New Braxton House) to the 8-CD Lee Morgan The Complete Live At The Lighthouse (Hermosa Beach, California) (Blue Note) and the beguiling 6-CD Snark Horse (Pi Recordings) from Kate Gentile and Matt Mitchell.

Below is a list of notable releases (in no particular order) and although maybe not your 'best of 2021,' it is music that has been in constant rotation on my various music devices.

Archie Shepp & Jason Moran
Let My People Go
Archie Ball Records

This intergenerational duo is a most excellent example of cooperative music making. For years (ok decades) Shepp has revealed, almost confessed, a vulnerable sound from his horn. With Moran at his side, this becomes his superpower and a real comfort to listeners.

Matthew Shipp
Codebreaker
Tao Forms

A funny thing happened with this release, it is one of nine titles this past year that have Matthew Shipp's piano included. I discovered a completely new experience listening to the great man at a low volume. With guests in our living room, I lowered the volume so as not to distract from conversation, but to my ears I heard new sounds and a nuance in the recording. I later tested it at differing volumes and heard several different recordings! Quite the revelation.

Friends & Neighbors
The Earth Is #
Clean Feed

One of the finest compliments you can give someone is to classify them as a 'solid citizen.' That's exactly what the quintet Friends & Neighbors are, solid jazz citizens. This Scandinavian ensemble has produced a handful of excellent recordings in the past ten years, and they are getting better with each outing.

Il Sogno
Graduation
Gotta Let It Out

This may be the soundtrack to the pandemic. The music by Il Sogno trio, made up of Polish bassist Tomo Jacobson (now living in Denmark), Danish drummer Oliver Laumann and Italian keyboardist Emanuele Maniscalco draws inspiration from Ennio Morricone and doom electronics wrapped in a sideways organ trio.

Muriel Grossmann
Union
RR Gems

Saxophonist Muriel Grossmann doesn't shy away from her Coltrane influences. I use influence in the plural, because her music reminds me of both John and Alice Coltrane. Both sonically and spiritually, she has that certain special extra we crave from our musicians.

Hafez Modirzadeh with Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey and Craig Taborn
Facets
Pi Recordings

Saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh chose three innovative musicians in Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey, and Craig Taborn to play duos and solos on a piano he retuned for this recording. The Iranian-American musician has created a domain that reminds you of Thelonious Monk's world. And to prove it, he even covers two Monk compositions "Pannonica" and "Ask Me Now."

William Parker
Mayan Space Station
AUM Fidelity

While this may be William Parker's first electric guitar trio recording, it is a coming out party of sorts, for guitarist Ava Mendoza. Along with everybody's favorite drummer Gerald Cleaver, the improvising trio blasts off into a heavy rock and psychedelia jazz realm.

Wadada Leo Smith with Milford Graves and Bill Laswell
Sacred Ceremonies
TUM Records

There's an energy to Wadada Leo Smith that, without fail, flows through his music. His various projects of late focus on the big concepts like national parks, presidents, and civil rights. Even when he is operating on a smaller scale, as he does here in duos and trios with both Laswell and Graves, there is a majesty in his sound.

Anna Webber
Idiom
Pi Recordings

Anna Webber is kinda like the candy Reese's Cups. Some listeners like her composing, some her playing. Some dig small ensembles, others large. With this two-disc release we get both chocolate and peanut butter goodness with a trio (Matt Mitchell and John Hollenbeck) and a 12-piece ensemble. All her great tastes, taste great together here.

Umlaut Big Band
Mary's Ideas
Umlaut Records

Umlaut Big Band's tribute to the pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams (1910—1981) was developed from compositions and arrangements thoroughly researched from her personal archive at the Institute of Jazz Studies in Newark, NJ. The band transforms what was and what might have been had Williams not been a female toiling in the male dominated era of jazz music.

Mario Pavone
Blue Vertical
Out Of Your Head Records

This past year, we learned of the passing of the great bassist Mario Pavone. His final output, this disc and Isabella (Clean Feed), hold a special place in his discography. Always creative, Pavone knew his time was near. This disc though, with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and pianist Matt Mitchell and trumpeter Dave Ballou, is anything but dour, and it ranks up there with Pavone's finest work.

Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed
The Ritual And The Dance
Astral Spirits

The brief 37-minute performance taken from a duo tour tells you everything about the fitness of improvised music today. Born nearly 35 years apart, the communication between generations, Mitchell born 1940 and Reed 1974, is flawless. If you're a fan of Roscoe Mitchell you surely will become one of Mike Reed, and vice versa.

Kuzu
All Your Ghosts In One Corner
Aerophonic

The trio of Dave Rempis, Tashi Dorji, and Tyler Damon recorded these live dates on the eve of the 2020 COVID—19 lockdown. The band, like everybody else, was heading into unknown territory and that was reflected in the music heard here. Sonic chaos is coupled with tranquility, and unlike our lives, all within the control of this amazing trio.

Ivo Perelman
Brass And Ivory Tales
Fundacja Sluchaj

Ivo Perelman's boxset is the gift that keeps on giving this year. Its nine discs are an adventure of discovery as the saxophonist performs in duo with Dave Burrell, Marilyn Crispell, Sylvie Courvoisier, Agusti Fernandez, Vijay Iyer, Aruán Ortiz, Aaron Parks, Angelica Sanchez, and Craig Taborn.

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