By Scott Yanow
Even during the pandemic, thousands of worthwhile jazz recordings were released in 2021. Some are cutting edge and seek to move the music ahead while others are creative within the context of established styles. Here are ten that remained in my memory long after I played them. Next month I will list ten equally rewarding recordings that are reissues or historical recordings from earlier times.
The Cookers – Look Out – Gearbox
A post-bop septet, the Cookers feature five masterful musicians who are as brilliant today as they were back in 1970: tenor-saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. They are joined by the slightly younger trumpeter-leader David Weiss and veteran altoist Donald Harrison in a set of new music that is quite stirring.
Eliane Elias – Mirror Mirror – Candid
This very enjoyable CD is split between piano duets by Elias and the late Chick Corea, and ones teaming Elias with Chucho Valdes. Whether playing standards or rich Cuban melodies, Eliane Elias holds her own with the two immortals.
Benito Gonzalez – Sing To The World – Rainy Days
The superb pianist, who is most inspired by McCoy Tyner and worked with Kenny Garrett for eight years, mostly performs his energetic originals in trios with bassist Christian McBride and either Sasha Mashin or Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton is a welcome guest on four songs.
Vincent Herring – Hard Times – Smoke Sessions
Always a soulful straight ahead jazz player, altoist Herring is joined by such notables as pianist Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Russell Malone, and trombonist Steve Turre on a set of modern hard bop played with plenty of honest feeling.
Julian Lage – Squint – Blue Note
A former child prodigy who is now 33, guitarist Lage explores a wide variety of material with his trio that includes a classical-oriented waltz, the eccentric “Boo’s Blues,” some free bop, the rollicking “Twilight Surfer,” a melodic folksong, and a beautiful rendition of “Emily.”
John McLaughlin – Liberation Time – Abstract Logix
Although he has claimed several times that he is retiring, John McLaughlin is not done yet. the guitarist is quite fiery on several of these numbers with his quartet, supplies a pair of brief and surprising unaccompanied piano solos, and shows on the rapid and explosive “Liberation Time” that he is still at the top of his game at age 78.
Anais Reno – Lonesome Thing: Sings Ellington and Strayhorn – Harbinger
Listening to this set of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn pieces, it is very difficult to believe that Anais Reno was 16 at the time of the recording (2020). Her voice is lovely and full, she swings, uses space very well for dramatic effect, and shows impressive maturity during the sophisticated ballads. Anais Reno certainly has a great future.
Veronica Swift – This Bitter Earth – Mack Avenue
A superior young swing, bop, scat and ballad singer, Veronica Swift performs a wide variety of material on this set with the Emmet Cohen trio and occasional strings. Highlights include “How Lovely To Be A Woman,” the saucy “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” a charming version of “Getting To Know You,” and the hard-swinging “You’re The Dangerous Type.”
Angela Verbrugge – The Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night – Self-Released
While there are a fair number of singers who revive swing era favorites, few can also write songs that sound like they are vintage standards. On her debut, Ms. Verbrugge contributes four very good originals and comes up with fresh interpretations of nine mostly underplayed standards, even turning turns “A Night In Tunisia” into a touching ballad.
Terry Waldo & Tatiana Eva-Marie – I Double Dare You – Turtle Bay
The revival of 1920s and ‘30s jazz in New York City has been largely overlooked by the jazz magazines but it is a major movement. This very enjoyable set teams veteran pianist Terry Waldo, the up-and-coming singer Tatiana Eva-Marie, and an impressive group of young sidemen (including cornetist Mike Davis) in fresh versions of vintage standards and delightful obscurities.