TOP 12 OF 2020

DISTILLING a year’s music into just a few highlights isn’t easy! But during 2020, when (perhaps for all of us) emotions have been unpredictable, the wonderful creativity of much-valued jazz artists, alongside classical and folk interests, has been instrumental in ‘holding it together’. So, below are a dozen reviewed albums that I have frequently returned to for solace, for joy, for introspection, for escapism, and to accompany an eventual reacquaintance with ‘the great outdoors’. Presented in no particular order, I encourage you to follow the links to sample, purchase and enjoy these treasures.

Season’s greetings. Stay safe.

🎹 AP

Going Down The Well – MoonMot
Dee Byrne, Simon Petermann, Cath Roberts, Oli Kuster, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 14 February 2020 (Unit Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/02/13/going-down-the-well-moonmot/

Tributes – Marius Neset
Marius Neset, Danish Radio Big Band conducted by Miho Hazama
Release date: 25 September 2020 (ACT Music)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/22/review-tributes-marius-neset/

By And By – Graham South Quartet
Graham South, Richard Jones, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 18 September 2020 (Efpi Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/18/review-by-and-by-graham-south-quartet/

Tenacity – Django Bates
Django Bates, Petter Eldh, Peter Bruun, Norbotten Big Band
Release date: 2 October 2020 (Lost Marble)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/30/review-tenacity-django-bates/

Rickety Racket – Martin Pyne
Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham, Martin Pyne
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/05/08/rickety-rackety-martin-pyne-quartet/
(see also Spirits of Absent Dancers)

Mór – Agnar Már Magnússon
Agnar Már Magnússon, Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson, Matthías Hemstock, Stefán Jón Bernharðsson, Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun, Frank Hammarin, Nimrod Ron
Release date: 1 September 2020 (Dimma)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/05/review-mor-agnar-mar-magnusson/

While Looking Up – Jimmy Greene
Jimmy Greene, Reuben Rogers, Kendrick Scott, Aaron Goldberg, Lage Lund, Stefon Harris
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Mack Avenue)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/03/30/while-looking-up-jimmy-greene/

Another Kind of Soul – Tony Kofi
Tony Kofi, Andy Davies, Alex Webb, Andrew Cleyndert, Alfonso Vitale
Release date: 24 April 2020 (The Last Music Company)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/04/23/another-kind-of-soul-tony-kofi/

Flow – Maria Chiara Argirò + Jamie Leeming
Maria Chiara Argirò, Jamie Leeming
Release date: 16 October 2020 (Cavalo Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/12/review-flow-maria-chiara-argiro-jamie-leeming/

Totem – Ferdinando Romano
Ralph Alessi, Tommaso Iacoviello, Simone Alessandrini, Nazareno Caputo, Manuel Magrini, Ferdinando Romano, Giovanni Paolo Liguori
Release date: 24 April 2020 (Losen Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/05/04/totem-ferdinando-romano-feat-ralph-alessi/

High Heart – Ben Wendel
Ben Wendel, Shai Maestro, Gerald Clayton, Michael Mayo, Joe Sanders, Nate Wood
Release date: 30 October 2020 (Edition Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/26/review-high-heart-ben-wendel/

Humble Travelers – Floating Circles Quartet
Aidan Pearson, Matt Hurley, Jonny Wickham, Arthur Newell, Johanna Burnheart
Release date: 12 September 2020
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/10/review-humble-travelers-floating-circles-quartet/

REVIEW: ‘High Heart’ – Ben Wendel

A BIG HEART… and a big impact! Saxophonist Ben Wendel’s new sextet release, featuring the superbly adroit voice of Michael Mayo, was an immediate ‘ear grab’ on its first hearing and has since gone on to prove itself as an album which occupies a quite distinct contemporary jazz groove.

Canadian-born, raised in Los Angeles, and now residing in New York, Wendel’s career has seen him work alongside artists including Tigran Hamasyan, Eric Harland, Joshua Redman, Linda May Han Oh, Prince, and is a founding member of Kneebody.



For High Heart, his fifth recording as leader, Shai Maestro and Gerald Clayton interchange piano and Fender Rhodes (a masterstroke), supported by the fiery, industrious rhythm section of double bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Nate Wood. The tenorist’s neat band integration (rather than static, upfront soloing), plus a precise melodic pairing with vocalist Mayo, defines this abundant exploration of his clearly well-crafted music; and what sets it particularly ‘high’ is the almost outrageous technique, synchronicity and rapidity of these players’ performances, delivering frissons of excitement reminiscent of 1970s fusion bands.

This is, however, emphatically a recording for the here and now, described as a statement on society’s ‘increasing complexity, oversaturation and social imbalance’ in an ‘increasingly impersonal time’. The album’s ‘cover heart’ interprets designer Oli Bentley’s son’s simple line drawing, which the five-year-old slipped under the door for him during a digital meeting with Wendel – and as Bentley says, The simplicity and innocence of the symbol, its link to the title we had just been discussing, and the human connection it made through a closed door – I knew there wasn’t anything I could possibly bring to this project that was more personal or contained more humanity than this”.

Eight original numbers draw the attention in, more and more deeply, the pensive title track’s swirling motion introducing Wendel’s and Mayo’s close partnership. Burning Bright (inspired by William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’) unlfurls the band’s wondrously agile interaction as shared vocal-and-sax phrases and keyboard improvisations pull in and out of focus across its constantly skittering rhythm (witness Nate’s Wood’s fabulous composure in the videos, linked below). Wendel’s compositional diversity is impressive, the mechanically angular piano and Rhodes intro of Kindly contrasting well with its legato (even soporific) repeated figure from sax and voice; and lofty hymn, Less, takes Mayo’s gentler, wordless tones up into the firmament, carried on waves of piano and effects.

Up there in the album’s highlights, with hints of Pat Metheny and Weather Report, is positively bustling Drawn Away, complete with bluesy, Latinesque piano break. But more than anything, it’s the busy, combined weave of each individual contribution which elevates it – a real repeat-player, and a true feel-good. A sense of urgency, perhaps reflecting the album’s warning of ‘impersonality’, is heard in disquieted Fearsome, with Wendel’s sprawling tenor the orator. Similarly, the dazed soundtrack vibe of Darling – dedicated to a dear friend – feels ominous, as if to suggest the theme of sleepwalking into dispassion, before Traveler’s effected piano and percussion lead away to vocally harmonized meditation.

In High Heart, Ben Wendel’s music appears to progressively ‘commentate’ on the need for greater societal empathy. Above all, though, it’s the zeal of this band which shines through in gloriously exhilarating fashion.

Released on 30 October 2020 and available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Edition Records and Bandcamp.

Videos: Burning Bright and Drawn Away.

 

Ben Wendel tenor saxophone, EFX, piano, wurlitzer, bassoon
Shai Maestro piano, Fender Rhodes
Gerald Clayton piano, Fender Rhodes
Michael Mayo voice, EFX
Joe Sanders double bass
Nate Wood drums

benwendel.com

Edition Records – EDN1162 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: October 2019 (1)

Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade – Trilogy 2 (2CD)
Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade
Release date: 18 October 2019 (Concord Jazz)
propermusic.com/catalog/product/view/id/94748/s/cja00183-trilogy-2/

Hiromi – Spectrum
Hiromi – solo piano
Release date: 4 October 2019 (Telarc)
propermusic.com/tel00081-spectrum.html

Scott Kinsey – We Speak Luniwaz (The music of Joe Zawinul)
Scott Kinsey, Katise Buckingham, Hadrien Feraud, Gergo Borlai with Bobby Thomas Jr, Arto Tunçboyaciyan, Steve Tavaglione, Jimmy Haslip, Michael Baker, Danny Carey, Cyril Atef, Brad Dutz, Naina Kundu
Release date: 25 October 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
scott-kinsey.bandcamp.com/album/we-speak-luniwaz

Jazzrausch Bigband – Dancing Wittgenstein
Jazzrausch Bigband directed by Roman Sladek
Release date: 25 October 2019 (ACT Music)
actmusic.com/en/Artists/Jazzrausch-Bigband/Dancing-Wittgenstein/Dancing-Wittgenstein-CD

Gareth Hughes – Some Folk Say (EP)
Gareth Hughes, Pete Jeavons, Elliot Smith, Lucky Oceans, Adam Springhetti
Release date: 20 September 2019
garethhughes.bandcamp.com/releases

Kneebody – Chapters
Ben Wendel, Shane Endsley, Adam Benjamin, Nate Wood with Michael Mayo, Becca Stevens, Josh Dion, Gerald Clayton, Gretchen Parlato, Kaveh Rastegar
Release date: 18 October 2019 (Edition Records)
kneebody.bandcamp.com/album/chapters