Article Best of Jazz Editors’ Picks Review

David R. Adler’s Favorite Albums of 2021

Here are 10 of David R. Adler’s favorite album releases of 2021 along with his review commentary. Albums are not ranked in any particular order and are embedded into the article as a reference for listening.

By David R. Adler

Here are 10 of David R. Adler’s favorite album releases of 2021 along with his review commentary. Albums are not ranked in any particular order and are embedded into the article as a reference for listening.

Ches Smith and We All Break, Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic)

Traditional Haitian drumming and Creole lyrics meet modern, relentlessly grooving jazz ensemble work from the drummer-composer and an inspired band including jazzers Miguel Zenón and Matt Mitchell. With Haitian tanbou drummers/singers Daniel Brevil, Fanfare Jean-Guy Rene and more.

Various Artists, Kimbrough (Newvelle)

Bandmates, students and friends of the late piano master Frank Kimbrough team up in varied combos to play wall-to-wall Kimbrough compositions, some five dozen of them. In their beauty and wry wit, these songs capture the essence of their creator. Donny McCaslin, Dave Douglas, Immanuel Wilkins, Rufus Reid, Joe Lovano, Fred Hersch, Ted Nash and a host of others participate in this deeply emotional remembrance, a fitting companion to one of Kimbrough’s final projects, Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk.

Pino Palladino & Blake Mills, Notes With Attachments (Impulse!)

Having spent decades amassing a miles-long pop session discography, veteran bassist Pino Palladino makes his first proper outing under his own name. He shares billing with cutting-edge producer and multi-instrumentalist Blake Mills, cooking up seductive and gritty groove textures with a team that includes Larry Goldings, Chris Dave, Sam Gendel, Marcus Strickland and more.

Gregg Belisle-Chi, Koi: Performing the Music of Tim Berne (Screwgun)

A companion piece of sorts to FØRAGE, Matt Mitchell’s 2017 solo piano readings of Tim Berne compositions, Koi is guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi’s answer, a valiant effort to translate Berne’s ultra-dense writing to the wholly unaccompanied steel-string acoustic, which sounds marvelously resonant and rich on this impeccable recording.

Johnathan Blake, Homeward Bound (Blue Note)

An indefatigable drummer with Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell and many others, Blake makes his well-deserved Blue Note debut with a quintet called Pentad, featuring labelmates Joel Ross (vibes) and Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax) along with pianist David Virelles and bassist Dezron Douglas. From the beautiful yet bittersweet title track to the closing treatment of Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” Homeward Bound blends lyrical breadth, driving swing and global groove into a compelling summative statement.

Vijay Iyer Trio, Uneasy (ECM)

The pianist grapples with asymmetric rhythmic concepts and forms in the company of a new trio with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Politics and protest rise to the surface on “Children of Flint” and “Combat Breathing,” while “Configurations” from 2001’s Panoptic Modes gets a new coat of paint, as does the Joe Henderson/McCoy Tyner reharmonization of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.”

James Brandon Lewis, Jesup Wagon (TAO Forms)

The tenor saxophonist applies his hearty tone to a set of pieces inspired by agriculturalist and inventor George Washington Carver, in a quintet with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, cellist Christopher Hoffman, bassist (and guembrist) William Parker and drummer (and mbirist) Chad Taylor. In an erudite booklet essay, Robin D.G. Kelley elucidates the deep historical themes.

Esperanza Spalding, Songwrights Apothecary Lab (Concord)

This unusual set of songs or “formwelas,” created in three different locales with various collaborators, speaks to Spalding’s continued interest in music therapy. The tracks with vocalist and cowriter Corey King are glowing and intimate; those with guitarist Matthew Stevens, keyboardist Leo Genovese, tenor saxophonist Aaron Burnett and drummer Francisco Mela bristle with a funky, angular invention.

Matt Mitchell & Kate Gentile, Snark Horse (Pi)

A six-CD set of wonderfully perplexing pieces co-conceived by the pianist and drummer, brought to life by what they call the Snark Horsekestra, featuring the likes of Jon Irabagon, Mat Maneri, Ava Mendoza and Brandon Seabrook.

Pat Metheny, Side-Eye NYC V1.IV (BMG)

In an oblique take on the organ trio format, the guitar legend enlists James Francies on keyboards and Marcus Gilmore on drums for a gripping live set. Material ranges from new long-form pieces to head-turning revisitations of Metheny evergreens “Bright Size Life” and “Sirabhorn.”