Best of Jazz Editors’ Picks Review

JAN Best of Jazz 2020

As with earlier works, the music today continues to inculcate the avant garde but it’s also grounded in the innovations of the great modern jazz pioneers like Mr. Charlie “Bird” Parker. Jazz Artistry Now presents our “Best of …” list for 2020 recordings that reflect the positive evolution of the music and the premium state of the art in our times. Listen.

Charlie Parker Memorial Monument (Burnett)

MMXX was the centennial year of Charlie Parker’s birth in 1920. Although the coronavirus pandemic inherently muted the magnitude and scope of celebrations marking such a momentous occasion, artists released a wide variety of music that Bird would surely appreciate as a legacy to his own efforts. As with earlier works, the music today continues to inculcate the avant garde but it’s also grounded in the innovations of the modern jazz pioneers like Mr. Parker. Jazz Artistry Now presents our “Best of …” list for 2020 of recordings that reflect the positive evolution of the music and the premium state of the art in our times. Listen.


Bobby Watson

“Listening to the Bobby Watson Blue Note release ‘The Inventor’ with his Horizon ensemble of 30 years ago and listening to his 2020 Smoke Sessions Records release ‘Keepin’ It Real,’ his adventurously innovative approach to modern jazz was obvious then and it is still obvious now. Among the elite of our jazz composers, arrangers, educators and performers, Professor Watson remains a model for artistic balance between passion and technique. This record belongs in every serious collection. Period.”

Keepin’ It Real (Smoke Sessions)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Jeremy Levy Jazz Orchestra

“The Planets: Reimagined is a superbly done project on all accounts with stellar creativity and craftsmanship highlighting the writing and fine performances by the musicians. These creatively conceived jazz variations on the well-known classic movements by Holst are artfully done and listening fun. Outstanding indeed.”

The Planets: Reimagined (OA2)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Logan Richardson

“There’s another musical genre-busting breakthrough set for everyone to enjoy on alto saxophonist, composer, producer, Logan Richardson’s AFROFUTURISM that is at once urgent and calming; innovative and yet familiar; serious and fun. Mr. Richardson is arguably the state of the art in jazz today much in the same way Charlie Parker and John Coltrane were several generations before him.”

AFROFUTURISM (Whirlwind Recordings)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Patrick Cornelius

“A uniquely exciting compositional voice and modern jazz saxophone virtuoso is Patrick Cornelius who’s been releasing engaging music for ensembles of various sizes and instrumental configurations for over a decade. His latest offering ACADIA: WAY OF THE CAIRNS is no less a musically prophetic and tangible portrayal of jazz artistry now. State of the Art, indeed.”

Way of the Cairns (Whirlwind Recordings)

— Jazz Artistry Now


“I’m usually not a fan of so-called ‘jazz super groups’ whether they be all male or all female. I think jazz music sounds more organic when produced by ensembles that are integrated ethnically, cross-generationally, as well as by artist gender. As Dr. Martin King once stated “… Jazz speaks for life.” Life includes all of us interacting. Nonetheless I really love the individual (and now collective) work of all of the artists on this recording. They’re musical badasses each one, regardless of being females. I have a daughter and granddaughters, so I get why it’s IMPORTANT and positive to make a supergroup of musical monsters who also happen to be women. But, the work of ARTEMIS is exceptional by any standard – period.”

Artemis (Blue Note)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Pasquale Grasso

“Italian-born, New York-based guitarist Pasquale Grasso has developed an uncanny mastery of solo jazz guitar, a challenging discipline exemplified by the likes of Barney Kessel, Bucky Pizzarelli and Joe Pass. But Mr. Grasso has his own way with articulation and harmony, a fully formed language brought about through pick and fingers in ways both technically astounding and supremely swinging and musical. His riveting series of solo albums and EPs was well underway before COVID-19, but 2020 has seen its continuation, and Solo Bud Powell ranks as one of the finest installments to date.”

Solo Bud Powell (Sony Masterworks)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Bill Crain

“The legendary Kansas City-based woodwind artist, recording engineer and educator, Bill Crain finally released his own self-titled album in 2020 of nine Bill Crain original compositions and arrangements featuring his band of stellar musicians. Each selection on the album is a sonic adventure that paints a picture for listeners that is both contemporary and classic jazz at once. Mr. Crain’s work deserves wider recognition for sure.”

Bill Crain (ARC)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Joana Queiroz

“Joana Queiroz is a Brazilian improvising musician and composer whose intriguing work is grounded in classic aspects of performance that encompass multiple genres. Her latest release, Tempo Sem Tempo is no less brilliant. Featuring compositions that effectively utilizes the technique of looping herself playing various motifs is an integral part of both the creative compositional and improvisational processes on this album. The results produce interesting creative musical elements on a broad pallet at her disposal. Brilliant. Worthy of repeated listens.”

Tempo Sem Tempo (YP Music)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Fred Hersch

“Under the self-explanatory title Songs from Home, the great Fred Hersch ventures a solo piano set ranging in song choice from Duke Ellington to Jimmy Webb and Kenny Wheeler, from Cole Porter to Joni Mitchell and the Beatles. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” is the leadoff track, a song less often played but rich in opportunities for Mr. Hersch’s inimitably poetic lyricism. “After You’ve Gone” and “When I’m Sixty Four” conjure the spirits of Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson and remind us that with this pianist, the history runs deep.”

Songs from Home (Palmetto)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Roger Lin

“Mr. Lin contributed all six compositions to this set. He plays three songs with a quintet also featuring trumpeter Phil Grenadier, pianist Ryosuke Tsutsui, bassist Soso Gelovani, and drummer Nick Groat while the other three numbers are played by his trio with Gelovani and Groat. Whisper Of The Isolated Ones is a strong start in the career of Roger Lin, a guitarist and composer who has great potential for the future.”

Whisper of the Isolated Ones (Self-Released)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Michael Thomas

“Grammy-winning saxophonist, composer, and arranger Michael Thomas an active member of the New York City jazz community since 2011, presents a breathtaking album of modern jazz. ‘EVENT HORIZON‘ (Giant Step Arts) showcases Mr. Thomas in a chordless quartet that features the great trumpeter, Jason Palmer, stellar bassist Hans Glawischnig, and the master percussionist Johnathan Blake on drums.”

Event Horizon (Giant Step Arts)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Arthur White and MERGE

“Composer, saxophonist, and educator Arthur White is director of jazz studies at CalPoly where he continues to positively impact our future generations in the music. Dr. White is the real deal and his latest release WHEN YOU FIND IT… is a brilliant showcase for his ensemble MERGE.”

When You Find It… (ARC)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Immanuel Wilkins

“The latest alto saxophone prodigy to emerge from the Philadelphia jazz scene is Immanuel Wilkins. It is immediately clear on his Blue Note debut release that Mr. Wilkins is well versed in modern jazz language and also grounded in the tradition as well. His tone is engagingly beautiful but flexible enough to deploy various timbres within the context of contemporary saxophone techniques too. ‘Omega‘ is a great start to what looks to be a long and promising career for this 22-year old artist. More!”

Omega (Blue Note)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Steve Lehman

“Rather than Songs from HomeSteve Lehman’s solo EP Xenakis and the Valedictorian might be aptly subtitled “Songs from My Car,” which is where the alto saxophonist made it: in his Honda CR-V, where he took an hourlong break from parenting and teaching every day to practice during the first month or so of the pandemic. He recorded these solitary car sessions on his iPhone, and when his mother turned 80 while unable to see her son in person, Mr. Lehman culled some selections into an EP as a gift.”

Xenakis and the Valedictorian (Pi)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Jorge Roeder

“Bassist Jorge Roeder, originally from Lima, Peru, is a vital contributor to bands led by Julian Lage, Ryan Keberle, Sofia Rei, Shai Maestro and many others. On El Suelo Mío he brings his artistry to the fore with an audacious solo bass debut (conceived well before the pandemic, released during it). The album pairs interestingly with The Gleaners, Larry Grenadier’s 2019 solo bass album for ECM, and Mr. Roeder’s South American heritage lends a unique dimension, with pieces like “El Plebeyo” by Peru’s Felipe Pinglo Alva or “Silencio De Um Minuto” by Brazil’s Noel Rosa.”

El Suelo Mío (T-Town)

— Jazz Artistry Now

David Berkman

“While he has mostly been heard at the head of medium-size combos, David Berkman’s new release is only the second solo piano album of his career. He remembers that some of the songs associated with John Coltrane and Pete Seeger were among the tunes that made a major impression on him while growing up, so he alternates his repertoire between songs that they played. Never mind that Coltrane and Seeger never performed together and that they come from two very different areas of music. Mr. Berkman does not form a bridge between the pair but instead finds fresh ways to interpret their songs. Mr. Berkman’s solo recital is a thought-provoking set of moody music with enough variety and unusual interpretations to keep listeners guessing throughout.”

Plays the Music of
John Coltrane and Pete Seeger

(Without Records)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Fernando Huergo Big Band

“The music is modern mainstream jazz but filled with subtle surprises. The ensembles are often dense, complex polyrhythms occasionally are utilized (particularly on the opening title cut), and the musicianship of the sidemen is consistently excellent. It is an international band, with players from the U.S., Ecuador, Japan, Turkey, Venezuela, Italy, Russia and Argentina (the leader). Unfortunately the soloists are not identified but in most cases the emphasis is more on the group’s sound and the development of the compositions than on individual heroics. The ensembles are mostly cool-toned, never quite exploding, but there is plenty of inner heat felt just beneath the surface.”

The Possibility of Change (Next Level)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Pat Metheny

“Pat Metheny has sustained such a ridiculously high level of excellence and musical artistry for over a half century. He is so great that it is easy to take his overt brilliance for granted – somewhat. His 2020 release ‘From This Place‘ paints an intensely hopeful soundscape as Mr. Metheny’s ensemble masterfully navigates tumultuous changes with confidence. Arguably one of his best albums among many great releases.”

From This Place (Nonesuch)

— Jazz Artistry Now

Jazz Artistry Now is an arts magazine. JAN began publishing online in 2007 to fill a media coverage void that existed in jazz journalism then. JAN is local and global. Featured writers include jazz journalists: Christopher Burnett, Scott Yanow, and David R. Adler. Jazz Artistry Now is proud to be a voting professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association.