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Friday, December 25, 2020

Free Jazz Blog's 2020 Top 10s


No doubt, there is a lot to be concerned about this year; however, 2020 has also been quite a year for recorded music. Let us focus on the positive and take a time out from the everyday to enjoy the nearly impossible task of ranking the "best of" 2020. If you have ever made one of these lists you know how difficult it is and how it is really just a blurry snapshot of the exact moment the list is submitted. A minute later you listen to that album that has been in waiting and the whole thing can shift. So, take these lists as a suggestion of some of the music you could check out as you wait for your spot in the vaccine line. 

Below is the top 11, it will be voted on this week by everyone who contributed a top 10 list. On January 1, we will share our Album of the Year 2020. We look forward to your comments as well to what we missed or what you vehemently disagree with, or the other way around! 

Your friends at the Free Jazz Blog

Top 11 (the album's listed here landed on three or more of the collective's top 10 lists below)

  • Evan Parker & Matthew Wright Trance Map - Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (Intakt)*
  • Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra - If You Listen Carefully the Music Is Yours (Odin Records)
  • Ingrid Laubrock – Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt (Music for Chamber Orchestra and Small Ensemble) (Intakt)
  • Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (International Anthem)
  • Kaja Draksler Octet - Out for Stars (Clean Feed
  • Rich Halley, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio & Newman Taylor Baker - The Shape of Things (Pine Eagle)
  • Webber/Morris Big Band - Both Are True (Greenleaf Music)
  • Anna Högberg Attack - Lena (Omlott)
  • Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic)
  • Susan Alcorn Quintet - Pedernal (Relative Pitch)
  • Various - Not Two...But Twenty (Not Two)

* Correction, 3-13-21: The first album on this list was miscounted. Two recordings with Evan Parker as a primary artist were combined. This was accidentally done while compiling the lists and the recording thus should not have appeared in the top listing.  

Paul Acquaro

  • Stringers & Struts - s/t (Aerophonic)
    The latest from David Rempis (or maybe not the latest, he has been very productive this year!) is a barn burner featuring Dave Rempis, Jeff Parker, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Jeremy Cunningham

  • Susan Alcorn - Pedernal (Relative Pitch)
    Shimmery and weird, Alcorn knows how to handle the pedal steel guitar like none other. Jazz, country, folk and more mix on this pick of the year. 

  • Tim Berne and Nasheet Waits - The Coandă Effect (Relative Pitch)
    It's hard to decide which Tim Berne duo to go with ... this one or the saxophonist with pianist Matt Mitchell, Spiders, on Out of your Head records.

  • Rich Halley - The Shape Of Things (Pine Eagle)
    Great album. Matt Shipp's trio with Bisio and Baker really push the saxophonist to a new level. 

  • James Brandon Lewis Quartet - Molecular (Intakt)
    A number of years ago, Eric Stern told me, "I try to see James Brandon Lewis as much as I can, he's fantastic." Excellent tip, Eric, thank you! 

  • Paul Flaherty - Borrowed From Children (577 Records)
    Paul's unfettered saxophone playing is always a joy, but a real revelation is guitarist Mike Roberson.

  • Luis Lopes & Humanization 4Tet - Believe, Believe (Clean Feed)
    I was waiting for a new Humanization 4Tet album. A bright spot in a bleak year. 

  • Terje Rypdal - Conspiracy (ECM)
    The Norwegian guitarist does what he does best, soaring over the Fjords and even rocking out a bit. 

  • Vandermark - Drake - Trovalusci - Ceccarelli - Open Border (Audiographic)
    A difficult album in some ways ... but one that sticks with you. 

  • Various - Not Two...But Twenty! Festival Wlen, Poland - September 21-23, 2018. (Not Two)
    So much goodness captured in this box set. While I wish I was there, this is the next best thing, all wrapped up tidily in a balsa wood box!


  • Modern Jazz Quintett Karlsruhe / Four Men Only - Complete Works (NoBusiness)
  • Lol Coxhill & Olaf Rupp - Poschiavo 2003 (s/r)
  • Black Unity Trio - Al Fatihah (Gotta Groove Records)
  • Rashied Ali / Frank Lowe - Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions (Survival Records)
  • Terumasa Hino ‎– Journey To Air (Octave Lab)

Daniel Boeker

  • Mars Williams / Tim Daisy - Live in Vienna (relay records)
  • The End - Allt Är Inet (RareNoise)
  • Susan Alcorn Quintet - Pedernal (Relative Pitch)
  • Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI  (Pyroclastic)
  • Vandermark, Drake, Trovalusci, Ceccarelli - Open Border (Audiographic)
  • Paul Lytton, Nate Wooley - Known/Unknown (Fundacja Słuchaj)
  • Peter Evans - Being & Becoming (More is More)
  • Bonjintan - Dental Kafka (Trost)
  • McPhee, Rempis, Reid, Lopez, Nilssen-Love - Of things beyond thule Vol.2 (Aerophonic)
  • Susana Santos Silva - The Ocean inside a Stone (Carimbo Porta-Jazz)

Stuart Broomer

  • Thurston Moore, John Edwards, Terry Day, John Butcher, Steve Beresford ‒ Stovelit Lines (Weight of Wax)
    Given the pandemic’s impact on regular distribution channels, Bandcamp became exclusive home to much of the most interesting music I heard this year: recorded at Iklectik in 2017, this CD is tribute to the depth, breadth and collective genius of great free improvisation.

  • Sylvia Hallett - Tree Time (s/r),
    Extraordinary solo music and pandemic reverie, this celebrates and creates a garden with bowed branches and guitar pedals.

  • N.O. Moore - Dreamt Across Tangled Electron (s/r)
    More great pandemic solo music that sounds like a collective of the human and electronic by a guitarist deserving of far wider recognition.

  • Yves Charuest - Le Territoire de l’anche (Small Scale Music, 2020)
    A sustained program of solo music by a genuinely original Quebecois saxophonist who is also deserving of much wider recognition.

  • Jubileum Quartet - A UIŠ?  (Not Two, 2020)
    A quartet of masters ‒ Joëlle Léandre, Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández and Zlatko Kaučič ‒ turn in a superb set at Slovenia’s Cerkno Jazz Festival in 2018.

  • Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic, 2020).
    The sixth installment in 13 years of Wooley’s masterfully structured maelstrom is a further expansion, this time with a choir and 14 musicians, including a dream trio of guitarists: Susan Alcorn, Julien Desprez and Ava Mendoza.

  • Red Trio/Celebration Band - 10th Anniversary Concert (No Business, 2020)
    The brilliant trio of Rodrigo Pinheiro, Hernani Faustino and Gabriel Ferrandini puts together a tripartite orchestra suite (one part per trio member) involving international partners (John Butcher and Mattias Ståhl) and several distinct components of the Lisbon community—from Ernesto Rodrigues’ free improvisation to the intense free jazz of Rodrigo Amado.

  • Pedro Melo Alves - In Igma (Clean Feed, 2020).
    The young Portuguese composer/percussionist fuses composition and improvisation, voices and instruments, with crucial input from Mark Dresser, Eve Risser and Abdul Moimême.

  • Susan Alcorn Quintet – Pedernal (Relative Pitch, 2020)
    A triumph of lyricism, space and mood with the pedal steel wonder creating orchestral breadth with Mark Feldman, Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorson and Ryan Sawyer.

  • Anthony Braxton/ Eugene Chadbourne ‎– Duo (Improv) 2017 (New Braxton House, 2020).
    Two unique musicians combine a century of experimentation and improvisation to create an eight-hour personal Odyssey through American musical culture.

Best Historical Albums:

  • Horace Tapscott & The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra - Ancestral Echoes - The Covina Sessions, 1976 (Dark Tree, 2020)
  • Barry Guy - London Jazz Composers Orchestra That Time (Not Two)
  • Sam Rivers - Ricochet (No Business)

Tom Burris

Weirdly, I didn't listen to as much music during the pandemic as I had predicted. An early onslaught of creativity took hold in March & I began working on my own music, which was a welcome surprise. So rather than list “the best” of 2020, what follows is a list of discs I listened to the most – primarily for solace and escape – in this horrible, terrible year.

  • Jeff Parker & The New Breed – Suite for Max Brown (International Anthem / Nonesuch)
    At 53, Parker is better than ever. His greatest & most cohesive work to date.

  • Susan Alcorn Quintet – Pedernal (Relative Pitch)
    Nothing can quite prepare you for this stunningly rich and gorgeous debut of Alcorn's quintet. Simply jump in and surrender to the mountains and the shooting stars.

  • Matthew Shipp Trio – The Unidentifiable (ESP-Disk)
    Shipp celebrated his 60th year on the planet by releasing more great albums than some artists produce in a lifetime. I haven't heard half of them yet but of the ones I've heard, I've returned to this one the most. Having said that, his double-LP solo record on RogueArt is due out any day now.

  • Rob Mazurek / Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem / Nonesuch)
    Weaving a patchwork of music from a mostly Chicago-based band of all-stars, Mazurek composes a major work mashing up free jazz and avant classical music that dazzles on the surface & still manages to provide as much depth as a listener could possibly desire.

  • Quin Kirchner – The Shadows and The Light (Astral Spirits)
    Whoever stuck the young Kirchner in front of a television that aired a ton of bad 1970s cop shows deserves some credit for turning him onto an unlikely sound source for inspiration. That's only a small piece of this diverse and often brilliant work, but it's the piece from which I have yet to recover.

  • Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon - To Catch A Bird In A Net Of Wind (Trost)
    For those of us who will never tire of free guitar n drums energy, this is an absolute monument to all that is good still left in the world. May these guys spawn a legion of superheroes worthy of the title.

  • McPhee / Rempis / Reid / Lopez / Nilssen-Love – Of Things Beyond Thule (Aerophonic)
    An almost impromptu all-star group, the result of a magical night of musical creativity was released in two volumes, one on LP and another on CD. Both are essential.

  • Charles Rumback – June Holiday (Astral Spirits)
    Rumback's trio with Jim Baker & John Tate again casts the criminally underrated Baker in the starring role, providing us with a dreamy landscape onto which we could project our collective 2020 melancholy. Now that's what I call a public service!

  • Threadbare – Silver Dollar (No Business)
    Threadbare, the result of two whippersnapper musician/composers named Ben Cruz & Emerson Hunton tapping lauded old-timer bass clarinetist Jason Stein on the ear, straddles the line between free jazz and guitar rock better than anyone since the Stooges had the L.A. blues. And that's just the title track! And this is their first and only recording!

  • Joe McPhee & Fred Lonberg-Holm – No Time Left For Sadness (Corbett vs Dempsey)
    Containing infinitely deep listening and truly empathetic & illuminating responses from both musicians, which are surely the result of working together in various combinations for decades, this recording stands as one of the finest representations of the duo format I've heard in quite some time. I've craved more ever since viewing that streaming outdoor show they did earlier this year – and this disc scratches the itch every time.

Troy Dostert

  • Eric Revis - Slipknots Through a Looking Glass (Pyroclastic Records)
  • Natsuki Tamura, Satoko Fujii, and Ramon Lopez - Mantle (Not Two Records)
  • Ivo Perelman with Arcado Trio - Deep Resonance (Fundajica Sluchaj)
  • Webber/Morris Big Band - Both Are True (Greenleaf Music)
  • Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra - If You Listen Carefully the Music Is Yours (Odin Records)
  • James Brandon Lewis Quartet - Molecular (Intakt Records)
  • Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl - Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12)
  • Pedro Melo Alves - In Igma (Clean Feed)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - Free Hoops (Intakt Records)
  • Rich Halley - The Shape of Things (Pine Eagle Records)

Lee Rice Epstein

  1. Mary Halvorson's Code Girl - Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12, 2020)
  2. Kaja Draksler Octet - Out for Stars (Clean Feed, 2020)
    Hearing Robert Wyatt sing Halvorson's words over the tangled lushness of her Code Girl ensemble was a listening experience only matched by Laura Polence and Björk Níelsdóttir's harmonies offsetting Ab Baars and Ada Rave's rich improvisations on Draksler's spiritually potent settings of Robert Frost poems.

  3. Rachel Musson - I Went This Way (577 Records, 2020)
  4. Wendy Eisenberg - Auto (Ba Da Bing, 2020)
    Musson and Eisenberg entrusted their hearts to listeners, and these albums are sometimes hard to hear, for all the naked sincerity and personal exploration. And yet, each of them is a master on their instrument of choice, sax and guitar, their songwriting equally addictive, and their supporting players as fully devoted to their purpose.

  5. Webber/Morris Big Band - Both Are True (Greenleaf, 2020)
  6. Spike Orchestra - Splintered Stories (Tzadik, 2020)
    Anna Webber, Angela Morris, and Sam Eastmond took tremendous leaps forward this year with these big band albums. For Webber and Morris, it was the debut heard around the world, and I've been pleased to see it represented on so many lists. For Eastmond, it was an overdue return to his own compositions, full of joy, anger, humor, and swing.

  7. Sarah Gail Brand/Paul Rogers/Mark Sanders - Deep Trouble (Regardless, 2020)
  8. Polyorchard (David Menestres & Jeb Bishop) - Ink (Out and Gone, 2020)
    For a year when the public intimacy of duo and trio improvisation was projected, if at all, through cameras and screens, these albums exemplified the beauty of that experience IRL. Each small group draws from the long years of improvising together, with Brand, Rogers, Sanders, Menestres, and Bishop creating some of the most radical and forward-thinking freely improvised music this year. Heartbreaking reminders of what we've nearly lost completely.

  9. Anna Högberg Attack - Lena (Omlott, 2020)
  10. Sloth Racket - Exabout: Live In Ramsgate (Luminous Label, 2020)
    Högberg and Roberts lead two of the most exciting groups around, and these albums, Lena from April and Exabout from November, more or less started and ended 2020 with a full-strength blast of fire music.


  1. The MacroQuarktet - The Complete Night: Live at the Stone NYC (Out of Your Head, 2020)
  2. Willem Breuker & Han Bennink - New Acoustic Swing Duo, I.C.P. 001 (Corbett & Dempsey, 2020)
  3. Sonny Rollins - Rollins in Holland (Resonance Records, 2020)

    Each of these reissues transformed legendary sessions, capturing them from the depths of dubiously circulated sessions, and presented as finely mastered deluxe albums.

Colin Green

Top Ten albums of 2020 (alphabetical order by album title)

  • Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton – Concert in Vilnius (NoBusiness, 2019)
  • Larry Ochs / Aram Shelton Quartet – Continental Drift (Clean Feed, 2020)
  • Last Dream of the Morning (John Butcher, John Edwards, Mark Sanders – Crucial Anatomy (Trost, 2020)
  • Ivo Perelman & Arcado String Trio – Deep Resonance (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2020)
  • Ingrid Laubrock – Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt (Music for Chamber Orchestra and Small Ensemble) (Intakt, 2020)
  • Various Artists – Not Two…But Twenty (Not Two, 2020)
  • John Edwards – Oslo Solo (22.10.19) (s/r, 2020)
  • Matthew Shipp – The Piano Equation (Tao Forms, 2020)
  • From Wolves To Whales (Dave Rempis, Nate Wooley, Pascal Niggenkemper, Chris Corsano) – Strandwal (Aerophonic, 2019)
  • Daniel Carter, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Gerald Cleaver – Welcome Adventure! Flight. 1 (577, 2020)

Historic/Reissue albums of 2020 (alphabetical order by album title)

  • Horace Tapscott with the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra – Ancestral Echoes - The Covina Sessions, 1976 (Dark Tree, 2020)
  • Bobby Bradford, Frode Gjerstad, Kent Carter, John Stevens – Blue Cat (NoBusiness, 2019)
  • Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe / Four Men Only -- Complete Recordings (NoBusiness, 2020)
  • Han Bennink & Willem Breuker ‎-- New Acoustic Swing Duo (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2019)
  • Stephan Keune, John Russell, Hans Schneider, Paul Lovens – Nothing Particularly Horrible (Live in Bochum '93) (FMR, 2019)

Stef Gijssels

  • Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura - Pentas: Tribute to Eric and Chris Stern (Not Two, 2020)
    Wonderful piano trumpet duo, composed and improvised, who create their own style of music with superb musicianship and musical vision. They released two more albums as a duo this year.

  • Peter Evans - Being & Becoming (More is More, 2020)
    A brilliant virtuosic and complex album, created with a unique musical vision, and performed by a band of stellar musicians.

  • Jeremiah Cymerman - Systema Munditotius, Vol.1 (5049 Records, 2020)
    One more musician with a strong voice. This album is a carefully crafted work of art, a deep and emotionally overpowering expression of solitude and loneliness.

  • Pak Yan Lau & Darin Gray - Trudge Lightly (By The Bluest Of Seas, 2020)
    Piano and bass as they're rarely heard together, and they open new possibilities for future exploration. Intense and welcoming.

  • Luis Vicente - Mare (Cipsela, 2020)
    A solo trumpet performance of rare emotional depth and quality.

  • Magnus Granberg & Skogen ‎– Let Pass My Weary Guiltless Ghost (Another Timbre, 2020)
    A tentet of virtuosi creates the most fragile piece of musical lace.

  • Lina Allemano - Glimmer Glammer - Solo Trumpet (Lumo Records, 2020)
    A rich solo trumpet performance, leading us through various moods from playfulness to sadness, expressed through deep understanding and exploration of her instrument.

  • Susana Santos Silva, Zetterberg & Lindwall - Hi! Who Are You? (Matière Mémoire, 2019)
    An unusual ensemble of trumpet, bass and church organ, that creates a strange sonic world, that is at once brutal, haunting, reverent and riveting.

  • Hwyl Nofio - Isolate (Self, 2020)
    A Welsh quartet creates music that is unique in its sound: expressive, disciplined and balance, dark and welcoming at the same time.

  • From Wolves To Whales - Strandwal (Aerophonic, 2019) & Dead Leaves Drop (Dropa, 2019)
    I called both albums "Free jazz at its best", with an all-star quartet consisting of Dave Rempis on sax, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Chris Corsano on drums.

Stephen Griffith

  • Big Bad Brötzmann Quintet - Karacho! (Euphonium)
  • Kuzu - Purple Dark Opal (Aerophonic)
  • Evan Parker & Paul Lytton - Collective Calls (Revisited) (Jubilee) (Intakt)
  • Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra - If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours (Odin)
  • Rich Halley, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio & Newman Taylor Baker - The Shape of Things (Pine Eagle)
  • Various - Not Two...But Twenty (Not Two)
  • Spike Orchestra - Splintered Stories (Tzadik)
  • Alexander Hawkins & Tomeka Reid - Shards and Constellations (Intakt)
  • Evan Parker & Matthew Wright Trance Map - Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (Intakt)
  • Cecil Taylor & Tony Oxley - Birdland, Neuberg 2011 (Fundacja Sluchaj)


  • Han Bennink & Willem Breuker - New Acoustic Swing Duo (Corbett vs Dempsey)
  • Axel Dörner & Agustí Fernández - Palynology (Sirulita Records)

Eyal Hareuveni

  • Anna Högberg’s Attack - Lena (Omlott)
    Mats Gustafsson promised that this band will “melt your brain as we know it”. Mine was already melted with Attack’s debut album from 2016.

  • Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic)
    Magnificient, ambitious and most important, compassionate work that calls for social justice.

  • Susan Alcorn Quintet - Pedernal (Relative Pitch)
    There are very few musicians with such fantastic musical horizons and imagination as Alcorn.

  • Jürg Frey - l'air, l'instant - deux pianos (elsewhere)
    A fascinating realization of the Swiss composer’s Architecture of Silence compositional approach.

  • Vilde & Inga - How Forests Think (Sofa)
    Immersive listening experience, recorded by the duo in four different locations around Oslo.

  • Polwechsel / Klaus Lang - Unseen (ezz-thetics)
    The experimental quartet and Austrian composer-organist explore ambiguous layers of acoustic and electronic sounds.

  • Hermione Johnson - Tremble (Relative Pitch)
    Would love to hear more from this singular pianist-composer. I think you should too.

  • Kaze & Ikue Mori - Sand Storm (Circum Disc/Libra)
    Mori is a perfect match for the fearless, forward-thinking Kaze.

  • Ernstalbrecht Stiebler - Für Biliana (Another Timbre)
    Violinist Biliana Voutchkova presents the music of the German minimalist composer.

  • Tania Giannouli Trio - In Fading Light (Rattle)
    Most beautiful music for piano-oud-trumpet trio by the Greek pianist.


  • Sun Ra Arkestra - Egypt 1971 (Strut/Art Yard)
    3 rare albums + tons of live material of the Arkestra from its trip to Egypt.

  • Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra - Ancestral Echoes - The Covina Sessions, 1976 (Dark Tree)
    A second excellent album of Tapscott and the Arkestra by a label named after one of his compositions.

  • The Thing & Joe McPhee - She Knows… (ezz-thetics)
    Did you know that the original name of the now-defunct trio was Trans Love Airways?. The only trio that can match Don Cherry, P.J. Harvey and the great McPhee. I still cherish my original copy of this album.

Nick Metzger

Another great year for recorded music, if there is an upside to it. There have been lots of great online shows and festivals, but it's not been the same. I'm looking forward to the day that we're all able to share music out in the wild again, whenever and wherever that might be. Here's my Top 10 sorted by release date:

  • Zlatko Kaučič/Tomaž Grom – Τhe Ear is the Shadow of the Eye (Sploh, 2019)
    My one carryover from December 2019. A tremendously inventive and consistently interesting album that I keep returning to.

  • Steve Beresford & John Butcher - Old Paradise Airs (Iluso Records, 2020)
    A couple of masters getting weird with it, that's all one can really ask for. Complimentary tangles of sound that evolve/resolve in unexpected ways.

  • Evan Parker & Paul Lytton - Collective Calls (Revisited) (Jubilee) (Intakt, 2020)
    Telepathic improvisations for the golden jubilee of one of the great duos in free music history. Essential listening.

  • Kaja Draksler Octet - Out for Stars (Clean Feed, 2020)
    This is an extraordinarily touching album that brought me a great deal of comfort this year. Draksler's Octet composes a far-away meadow for Robert Frost's flowers.

  • Kang Tae Hwan, Kang Hae Jin - Circle Point (Dancing Butterfly Records, 2020)
    A completely unexpected release that still blows me away with it's confident power and expressiveness. Incredibly good, a must listen.

  • Various ‎– Not Two...But Twenty (Not Two, 2020)
    An entire festival's worth of material featuring combinations of Brötzmann, Fernandez, Gustafsson, Guy, Holmlander, Homburger, Kaučič, Leandre, Mazur, Nilssen-Love, Swell, Trzaska, and Vandermark in honor of Not Two's Twentieth year. Tremendous.

  • Anna Högberg Attack - Lena (Omlott, 2020)
    We were all highly anticipating this release and Högberg delivers in a big, big way. This is her best album thus far and easily made the list. If you haven't heard it yet, you must.

  • Reiner van Houdt - Pieces for AMPLIFY 2020
    The Dutch composer/pianist's contributions masterfully capture the unprecedented moods and feelings of early quarantine. Musical journals from a very strange time. It will be interesting to see what emotions these conjure during better days. Incredible work.

  • James Brandon Lewis Quartet - Molecular (Intakt, 2020)
    A wonderful album of compositions by one of the most intriguing saxophone players in jazz. His Willisau release with Chad Taylor (also on Intakt) is equally amazing, but the songcraft here begs inclusion. Sophisticated and snappy while remaining expressive and soulful.

  • Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic, 2020)
    This is the best album yet from Nate Wooley. A forceful condemnation of violence against women performed by an extraordinary ensemble of musicians. Innovative and powerful.


Again, sorted by release date:

  • Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra - Ancestral Echoes, The Covina Sessions, 1976 (Dark Tree, 2020)
    A phenomenal archival release from a too-oft overlooked pianist and composer. Of the Ark, Stuart says it best in his review "That lack of celebrity sidemen testifies only to the degree to which jazz is, in some dimensions, an almost anonymous art, a creative force outside celebrity that is, at many of its higher harmonics, a transformative, extra-personal force, an archetypal expression."

  • John Coltrane Quartet - My Favorite Things, Graz 1962 (ezz-thetics, 2020)
    Pair with 2019's Impressions, Graz 1962 for the full set. No matter if you take issue with the resequencing or not, these are the best sounding versions available of this defining concert from the classic quartet's 62' European Tour.

  • Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe / Four Men Only - Complete Recordings (NoBusiness Records, 2020)
    NoBusiness delivers again with a wonderful collection from this obscure German group. A wonderful package altogether and a great addition to our music collections.

  • Thelonious Monk - Palo Alto (Impulse, 2020)
    Enough has been said about this one since it's release in September so I'll keep this lean for those that somehow missed all the fuss. This is Monk's Quartet playing a concert for racial unity at Palo Alto High School in 1968 at the invitation of a 16 year old student (reportedly recorded by the janitor), and it still sizzles after 52 years on ice. Buried treasure of the highest order.

  • Bergisch-Brandenburgishes Quartett & Fred Frith - Free Postmodernism / USA 1982 (SÅJ, 2020)     
    The BBQ (Rüdiger Carl, Hans Reichel, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, & Sven-Åke Johansson) captured in their prime with Fred Frith joining in on the back half of the set. An incredible release from the scarcely documented German supergroup.

Gregg Miller

  • Whit Dickey - Morph (Esp-Disk)
  • Matthew Shipp - The Piano Equation (Tao Forms)
  • John Butcher, Thomas Lehn, Matthew Shipp - The Clawed Stone (RogueArt)
  • Ingrid Laubrock with EOS Chamber Orchestra and Small Ensemble - Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt (Intakt Records)
  • Lori Goldston - On a Moonlit Hill in Slovenia (Eiderdown Records)
  • Bernard Santacruz & Michael Zerang - Cardinal Point (Fundacja Słuchaj)
  • Whit Dickey Trio - Expanding Light (Tao Forms)
  • Various - Not Two, But Twenty (Not Two Records)
  • Darragh Morgan and John Tilbury - For John Cage (Diatribe Records)
  • Okuden Quartet - Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat is Getting Fatter (Esp-Disk)

Historic Recording:

  • Jack Wright and Michael Taylor - Kryptischgassa (Right Brain Records)

Fotis Nikolakopoulos

As the vinyl market becomes bigger by the day and a lot of people are profiting from this, even in dystopian 2020, we have to be really careful on where we spend our money. A lot of the "new" musics is not so new, but, mostly packaged and presented like it is. Beware, consume less and listen more.

In no particular order, apart from one: I chose duos and small groupings, as they seemed -during pandemic times- more appropriate and realistic

  • Talibam! With Silke Eberhard And Nikolaus Neuser - This Week Is in Two Weeks (ESP Disk)
  • The No-Neck Blues Band – Gitanjali + The Nascent Stigma (Ri Be Xibalba)
  • Costis Drygianakis – The Approach (Hxoi Kato Apo to Spiti)
  • Bertrand Denzler/Antonin Gerbal - Sbatax (Umlaut)
  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon - To Catch A Bird In A Net Of Wind (Trost)
  • Whit Dickey Trio - Expanding Light (Tao Forms)
  • Tim Berne/Nasheet Waits ‎– The Coandă Effect (Relative Pitch)
  • Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (International Anthem)
  • Graham Dunning / Colin Webster ‎– Terrain (Raw Tonk)
  • Gerrit Hatcher/Jakob Warmenbol - Sublime Again (No Index)


  • Akio Suzuki ‎– Zeitstudie
  • New Direction Unit ‎– Axis/Another Revolvable Thing 1+2 (Blank Forms)
  • Rashied Ali / Frank Lowe - Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions  (Survival Records)
  • Company - 1983 (Honest Johns)

Nick Ostrum

Here are some of the releases from 2020 that stuck out the most to me listed in no particular order.

  • Anthony Braxton/Eugene Chadbourne – Duo Improv (2017) (2020)
    Just finally got a copy of this one. Had high expectations and it still blew me away.

  • Anna Höstman and Cheryll Duvall – Harbour (Redshift Records, 2020)
    A sleeper hit from the beginning of the year. Slow, spacious, and beautiful.

  • Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow - Safar-e-Daroon (Songlines, 2020)
    Infectious Middle Eastern-rooted music. Entrancing.

  • Susan Alcorn Quintet – Pedernal (Relative Pitch, 2020)
    Susan Alcorn has really crescendoed over the last couple of years. Still, this seems a new high for her. Love the Americana, love the freer excursions.

  • Kaja Draksler Octet – Out for Stars (Cleanfeed, 2020)
    Stunning examination of the avantgarde potentialities of Robert Frost’s meticulous and rather conservative approach to poetry. An inspired marriage of two poles of art.

  • Roscoe Mitchell With Ostravaska Banda – Distant Radio Transmission (Wide Hive, 2020)
    I thought I had heard more than enough renditions of Nonaah to satisfy the most fervid Mitchell devotee. Apparently, I was wrong. This version, and really this album, opened Mitchell’s compositions to me in new ways.

  • PEK - Solo, An Orchestra of PEKs: Some Truths are Known (Evil Clown, 2020)
    Over three hours of one man with 100+ instruments at his disposal, recording himself over and over and plumbing the pipes of the musical cosmos. (NB: This makes an especially interesting companion/counterpoint to the similarly collaged but much less “musical” The French Drop and This and the Other Place by Lance Austin Olsen, which also deserve at least honorable mentions.)

  • Jeremiah Cymerman – Systema Munditotius, Vol. 1 (5049 Records, 2020)
    Similar to the PEK release in that it is a solo effort of layered and augmented recordings. It is, however, much darker, more forbidding, and more intimate.

  • Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson, Balasz Pandi – Cuts Open (RareNoiseRecords , 2020)
    The latest installment of the Cuts series. This one maintains the ear-bleed aggression of the previous releases, but also opens spaces for more “musical” elements. A pleasant (?) surprise.

  • Ernstalbrecht Stiebler – Für Biliana (Another Timber, 2020)
    What a wonderful release. Spacious, deep, incremental, and solitary.

Archival releases and reissues:

  • The MacroQuarktet – The Complete Night: Live at the Stone NYC (2020)
    A document that captures an era.

  • The New York Contemporary Five – Consequences Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)
    Brings me back to what attracted me to free jazz and improvisational music in the first place.

  • Charlie Parker – Savoy Recordings (ezz-thetics, 2020)
    An impeccable remastering of an absolute classic.

  • Willem Breuker/Han Bennink – New Acoustic Swing (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2020)
    Another one that captures the playfulness and excitement of a very specific time and place. One of my favorite releases, new or old, of the year.

Antonio Poscic

  1. Ingrid Laubrock - Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt (Intakt)
  2. J. Pavone String Ensemble - Lost and Found (Astral Spirits)
  3. Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brothahood - LIVE (International Anthem)
  4. Susana Santos Silva Impermanence - The Ocean Inside a Stone (Carimbo Porta-Jazz)
  5. Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic)
  6. Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (International Anthem)
  7. Dan Weiss Starebaby - Natural Selection (Pi)
  8. Matthew Shipp Trio - The Unidentifiable (ESP-Disk)
  9. Webber/Morris Big Band - Both Are True (Greenleaf Music)
  10. Quin Kirchner - The Shadows and the Light (Astral Spirits)

Reissues & archival releases:

  1. Muhal Richard Abrams - Celestial Birds (Karlrecords)
  2. Pharoah Sanders - Live in Paris 1975 (Transversales)
  3. Joe McPhee - Black Is the Color (Corbett vs Dempsey)
  4. Sun Ra - Egypt 1971 (Strut/Art Yard)
  5. Rashied Ali & Frank Lowe - Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions (Survival Records)

Keith Prosk

Beyond these nice and neat recordings, I would like to recognize the experience of AMPLIFY 2020: quarantine, through which I’m still wandering, happy as a clam.

  • Kang Tae Hwan, Kang Hae Jin - Circle Point (Dancing Butterfly)
    The saxophone master returns after a long recording hiatus, his tone and overtones still rich, his soulful outflow still snaking to ascendant spiral curves, finding a fine foil in the authoritative Jenkinsesque violin of Kang Hae Jin.

  • John McCowen - Live @ ISSUE Project Room (DAAANG)
    Solo Contra rended live and exhibiting the guts of contrabass clarinet sound, known better than none other than McCowen at this point.

  • Judith Hamann - Music for Cello and Humming (Blank Forms)
    Just one part of Hamann’s awesome work released this year, but vital in its investigation into the many resonant frequencies of the cello and the human voice, among other waveforms.

  • Sergio Merce - en lugar de pensar (Edition Wandelweiser)
    In circles, sines, and cycles, microtonal saxophonist Merce examines the intuitive unconscious in musicmaking.

  • Ellen Fullman & Theresa Wong - Harbors (Room40)
    With Wong’s cello, Fullman and her Long String Instrument find the most compelling companion to their rainbow of harmonics since the Deep Listening Band.

  • J. Pavone String Ensemble - Lost and Found (Astral Spirits)
    Two string duos survey counterpoint and the spectrums of false dualisms and Pavone continues to scale new peaks in composition with this ensemble.

  • Sarah Hennies - Spectral Malsconcities (New World Records)
    What happens when something should falter or break, but does not? Hennies finds fresh methods to explore failure in two pieces that are not just conceptually gripping, but musically so too (performed by Bearthoven and Bent Duo).

  • Macie Stewart & Lia Kohl - Recipe For a Boiled Egg (Astral Spirits)
    The strings of the violin and cello and the cords of Stewart and Kohl harmonize, playfully, raucously, magically.

  • Joanna Mattrey - Veiled (Relative Pitch)
    Mattrey shreds the viola and folk melodies and mournful tunes fall out of the multiphonic maelstrom like gifts from a paper surprise ball.

  • Angharad Davies | Klaus Lang | Anton Lukoszevieze - unfurling (Another Timbre)
    The gasping pump and warm throb of the harmonium swirled with rich strings. Simply enchanting.

Favorite historical release or re-issue

  • Charles Curtis - Performances & Recordings 1998-2018 (Saltern)
    A compendium of one of the finest cellists around and their relationship with sound. Perhaps “too classical” for the blog, but Curtis’ interpretations of Messiaen, Feldman, and Radigue, among others - music that still informs various spheres of improvisers - and practice as composer/performer should appeal to listeners here.

Martin Schray

  • Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic Records)
  • Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Patchouli Blue (PIAS)
  • Cecil Taylor / Tony Oxley - Birdland, Neuburg 2011 (Fundacja Słuchają!)
  • Anna Högberg Attack - Lena (Omlott)
  • Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (International Anthem)
  • Various - Not Two…But Twenty (NotTwo)
  • ROPE - Open Ends (Trouble in the East Records)
  • Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra - If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours
  • Makaya McCraven - Universal Beings E&F Sides (International Anthem)
  • Xenofox - Macondo (Farai Records)

Historic Releases:

  • Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe / Four Men Only: Complete Recordings (No Business) 
  • Rashied Ali / Frank Lowe - Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions (Survival Records)

Sammy Stein

  1. Sothiac feat Paul Jolly - Superluna ( Sotrhiac/33Jazz)
  2. Ivo Perelman/Gordon Grdina - The Purity of Desire (Not Two)
  3. The End - Allt Ir Intet (Rare Noise)
  4. Will Glaser and James Allsop - New River Ramble (self released)
  5. Elliot Galvin and Binker Golding - Ex Nihillo (Byrd Out)
  6. Ensemble C - Small World (self released)
  7. Dinosaur - To The Earth (Edition)
  8. Erodoto Project - Mythos- Metamorphosis (Cultural Bridge)
  9. Tony Kofi - Another Kind Of Soul (Last Music Company)
  10. With N Monk  - Witch 'N Mo (Tzadik)



Since i can add one more in the historical/reissues list ( i really do not know how i omitted it), it should, of course, be this:
Black Unity Trio - Al Fatihah (Gotta Groove Records)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lists! Lots to explore.
One more that deserves mention:
The Swiftest Traveler by Snekkestad / Guy / Fernandez (Trost)

Anonymous said...

I find these lists so important. Even having followed the music closely over the last year there is a lot that I have missed. Thank you to all the team for introducing some great music this year.

Giacomo said...

Hello there!

The End - Allt Är Intet is not published by Trost, but by RareNoise (for Daniel Boeker)


Richard said...

I hope other readers post their lists. Here's mine:

1) Anthony Braxton & Jaqueline Kerrod: Duo (Bologna) 2018. Anthony Braxton & Eugene Chadbourne. Duo (Improv) 2017
2) Sarah Hennies: Spectral Malsconcities. Sarah Hennies: The Reinvention Of Romance
3) Jennifer Curtis & Tyshawn Sorey: Invisible Ritual
4) Irreversible Entanglements: Who Sent You?
5) Mette Rasmussen, MoE & Ikuro Takahashi: Painted
6) Dolphy Kick Bebop: Briefvisit
7) GRID: Decomposing Force
8) Anastasios Savvopoulos OUXPO: Deterritorialization
9) Ozo-Pluto
10) Konsrukt & Otomo Yoshihide: Eastern Saga: Live At Tusk
11) Hung Mung & Luis Vicente: Chaos And Confucius. Hung Mung: Primal Chaos
12) Adiaphora Orchestra: Miniature Paintings and the Impossible Warehouse
13) Luke Stewart & Tashi Dorji
14) Anna Hogberg Attack: Iena
15) Camila Nebbia: Aura
16) Joao Braz: Who? And Other Interrogative Pieces

Thanks to FJC for another great year of music.

Chris said...

Great lists as always guys! Two from me would be the recent archival releases of Gentle Fire - Explorations (1970 - 1973) (Paradigm Discs), and Masayuki Takayanagi- Live at Jazz inn Lovely 1990 (NoBusiness Records). Merry Christmas all!

Pedja said...

Susana Santos Silva Impermanence - The Ocean Inside a Stone [Porta Jazz]
Bastarda - Nigunim [Multikulti]
Ida Toninato - We Become Giants [Dragon s Eye]
Jeremiah Cymerman - Systema Munditotius, vol. 1 [self-released]
Johan Arrias, Angharad Davies,Lisa Ullén - Crystaline [Ausculto Fonogram]
Lisa Ullén & Nina de Heney - Hydrozoa 2cd [Found You]
STHLM Svaga - Bells and whistles [Found You Recordings]
Waclaw Zimpel - Massive Oscillations [Ongehoord]
Waclaw Zimpel - Ebbing In The Tide [Tak Picture]
Huntsville - Bow Shoulder [Hubro]
John Butcher, Thomas Lehn, Matthew Shipp - The Clawed Stone [RogueArt]
Christian Rønn, Aram Shelton - Multiring [Astral Spirits]
Donder and Sigbjørn Apeland - Het Verdriet [W.E.R.F.]
The Necks - Three [Fish of Milk, ReR megacorp.]
Chris Abrahams - Appearance [Room40]
Werner Dafeldecker - Parallel Dark [Room40]
ZAV - Ecstatic Embrace [ILK]
Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain VI [Pyroclastic]
Martin Küchen - Det försvunnas namn [Thanatosis]
Jonah Parzen-Johnson - Imagine Giving Up [We Jazz]
Miles Perkin - Subtones [Socan]
Silence Trio 3 [ILK]
Sly & The Family Drone - Walk It Dry [Love Love_Feeding Tube]
Kwaśny Deszcz - Kwaśny Deszcz [Multikulti]
Sarah Hennies - Spectral Malsconcities [New World]

Richard said...

Glad to see Ida Toninato get mentioned. Her solo baritone sax album is terrific.

Ernst Grgo Nebhuth said...

Here are is some music I found captivating and very enjoyable in 2020.

New releases:
- RED Trio & Celebration Band ‎– Suite 10 Years Anniversary (NoBusiness)
- Ikue Mori, Satoko Fuji + Natsuki Tamura ‎– Prickly Pear Cactus (Libra)
- Agustí Fernández ‎– Selfie (Sirulita)
- Kang Tae Hwan, Kang Hae Jin - Circle Point (Dancing Butterfly)
- Ingrid Laubrock - Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt (Intakt)
- Christian Lillinger's Open Form For Society ‎– Live (Plaist)
- Philip Zoubek Trio ‎– Nonplaces (WhyPlayJazz)
- Cory Smythe ‎– Accelerate Every Voice (Pyroclastic)
- Tim Berne's Snakeoil ‎– The Fantastic Mrs. 10 (Intakt)
- Snekkestad / Fernández / Guy ‎– The Swiftest Traveler (Trost)
- Georg Gräwe & Sonic Fiction Orchestra ‎– Fortschritt und Vergnügen (Random Acoustics)

Reissue / Archive:
- Black Unity Trio ‎– Al-Fatihah (Gotta Groove)
- Modern Jazz Quintett Karlsruhe / Four Men Only - Complete Works (NoBusiness)
- Rempel - Kellers - Weber ‎– Acht Improvisationen (Carbon Edition)
- Masayuki Takayanagi / Nobuyoshi Ino / Masabumi Kikuchi ‎– Live At Jazz Inn Lovely 1990 (NoBusiness)
- Sam Rivers Quartet featuring Joe Daley, Dave Holland, Thurman Barker ‎– Braids (NoBusiness)
- Gentle Fire ‎– Explorations (1970 - 1973) (Paradigm Discs)
- Sun Ra Arkestra - Egypt 1971 (Strut/Art Yard)
- Tony Oxley ‎– February Papers (Discus)
- Marion Brown ‎– Why Not? Porto Novo! Revisited (ezz-thetics)
- Erhard Hirt ‎– Total Music Meeting 1983 (FMP)
- London Jazz Composers Orchestra ‎– That Time (Not Two)

ipsofatso said...

Such a brilliant website.

Thank you for turning me on these releases this year Anna Högberg Attack, Irreversible Entanglements, Kang Tae Hwan & Kang Hae Jin. Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain VI as well, amazing!

I'm glad that you stretch the boundaries covering stuff I love like Brom, The Dwarfs Of East Agouza, The End and Party Dozen.

Against the pervading tide new music continues to delight.

ipsofatso said...

Folks who like free jazz meets psychedelic rock might like Sunwatchers - Oh Yeah. Joyfull punk jazz energy.

Gennaro said...

Great lists, with a lot of great records!!!

I agree with your choices, but I would like to add 10 more records that deserve a mention: 

- Luke Stewart / Ken Vandermark / Ed Wilkerson / Jim Baker / A. Ra “Exposure Quintet” (Astral Spirits);

- Giovanni Di Domenico “Isasolo!” (Canti Magnetici);

- Brandon Seabrook / Cooper-Moore / Gerald Cleaver “Exultations” (Astral Spirits);

- Martin Küchen & Landæus Trio “Mind The Gap Of Silence” (Clean Feed);

- Roots Magic “Take Root Among The Stars” (Clean Feed);

- Marco Colonna “Fili” (Niafunken);

- Peter Brötzmann / Maâlem Moukhtar Gania / Hamid Drake “The Catch Of A Ghost” (Dischi di Angelica);

- Kahil El’Zabar “Spirit Groove” + “America the Beautiful” (Spiritmuse);

- Chicago Underground Quartet “Good Days” (Astral Spirits);

- Bastarda “Nigunim” (Multikulti).


MJG said...

Great music to be found here and lots to investigate but in the year where Black Lives Matter heightened questions of representation it's interesting to look at these lists through that lens, especially the final compiled list.

Paul said...

Nice to see some familiar names here - Ernst, Richard, Gennaro - and other folks, thanks for the lists. Many good, trustworthy recommendations to try out. As for MJG's observation, I don't have a good question to that answer, but I'm thinking about it.

Keith said...

To MJG, I agree that Black representation on these lists seems low for a site based - by name at least - on a Black artform. It's something I noticed while putting together the 101 recordings of the decade last year too, where Black musicians composed a bulk of the very top albums but representation for the total list was much lower than I expected. A good chunk of the reviewers are European which, considering that this is a music that thrives on (often local) live performance and that Black populations in most European nations are relatively small, might explain part of it. I will say that the most apt, overtly political statement, Who Sent You?, from a group formed out of police brutality, Irreversible Entanglements, made the final list (though, counter to my guess above, via all European reviewers). Despite many exceptional musicians and scenes, there's also relatively low representation of southeast Asian and Latinx musicians on these lists, compared to what we cover throughout the year, though I think this is slowly growing. A different demographic marker, but I think you'll find that there's more women represented on these lists than ever before. Not really an answer, but some related observations. I'm confident in saying I don't think any reviewer consciously avoids any demographic, and that this often non-lyrical music can probably allow an almost blind appreciation of sound without knowledge of demographics; it would be interesting to see where potential biases are coming from... for me, who had no Black musicians in their top 10, I suspect it partly has something to do with semi-relict expectations of "jazz" and "classical" traditions and the historic racial and socioeconomic divides associated with them - I don't think I can name, for example, a single Black "reductionist" composer. I'm not quite sure why, though I suspect there's a certain socioeconomic privilege attached to making music no one will listen to that has been historically denied to most Black musicians (especially in the US, with a larger Black population) and is still being overcome. Not to say there aren't excellent avant garde composers operating in noise and extended technique - Marshall Trammell, Lester St. Louis, and Tomeka Reid especially come to mind for me - but not all the odd niches have found substantial representation yet - hopefully they will, with time and social progress.

MJG said...

Thanks Keith, for a very thoughtful response. My post was an observation and in no way meant as an accusation. There's been some interesting Twitter discussion recently around this subject, involving Corey Meamba and Han-earl Park, amongst others and this meant the issue was particularly in my mind when I read the lists.
Coincidentally, the Irreversible Entanglements album is my recording of the year. Is it also the one that wears it's debt to its Free Jazz forebears the most clearly? Maybe.

I, too, noted the female representation something reflecting a very welcome trend generally in these genres of music and was particularly taken by Keith Prosk's list (perhaps that's you?) which eloquently made an important statement in this regard.

Keith said...

I'll be sure to check out that twitter convo. And that is me; thank you for the kind words. I think you'll find Eyal and Lee's lists also feature mostly women.

MJG said...

You'd think I'd get the man's name correct, apologies to Corey Mwamba. Victim of some fat fingering

MJG said...

You'd think I'd get his name correct, apologies to Corey Mwamba. Victim of my fat fingering and a mighty fine musician.

MJG said...

And, yes Keith, Eyal's and Lee's lists do indeed make the same point as yours. I'd missed that on my first read through. Apologies to them both for not including them in my earlier observation.

Chris said...

...also, Tomeka Reid / Joe Morris - Combinations (RogueArt).