I thought I didn’t have a big list of favorites from this year’s listening — until I revisited my six-month survey from back in June and added in the good stuff I’ve heard since then! The listing below incorporates links to full or capsule reviews, or other relevant pieces on Progarchy and elsewhere; albums I haven’t written about yet get brief comments, along with my Top Favorites of the year. Most of these are available to check out online in some form; if you find yourself especially enjoying something, use that Christmas cash and support your choice with a purchase! And the winners are . . .
- The Anchoress, The Art of Losing
- Big Big Train, Common Ground
- Dewa Budjana, Naurora
- Floating Points with Pharoah Sanders and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Promises: still my Top Favorite of the year! 40 minutes of ambient bliss, with just enough grit courtesy of jazz sax legend Sanders.
- Angela Hewitt, Love Songs
- Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey, Uneasy
- Ross Jennings, A Shadow of My Future Self
- Gyorgy Ligeti, The 18 Etudes (performed by Danny Driver)
- Mastodon, Hushed and Grim
- Hedvig Mollestad, Tempest Revisited: Squalling, enthralling chamber jazz-rock that, like 2020’s Ekhidna, integrates Mollestad’s gripping compositions with her keen guitar chops.
- Transatlantic, The Absolute Universe (The link is to my TAU-oriented interview with Neal Morse.)
Live and Archival Recordings:
- Roy Brooks, Understanding: vintage jazz from an underappreciated Detroit drummer, recorded live in Baltimore back in 1970. A thrilling mix of “in the groove” and “out there” playing by Brooks, trumpeter Woody Shaw, sax player Carlos Garnett and a red-hot rhythm section. Jazz archaeologist Zev Feldman unearths yet another gem!
- Can, Live in Stuttgart 1975
- The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert: Fanfare for the Uncommon Man
- Kansas, Point of Know Return Live & Beyond
- King Crimson, Music Is Our Friend: the latest evidence of the current Crimson’s jaw-dropping genius, recorded live at their (possibly) last gig ever in North America. The link is to my review of an earlier, equally inspiriting show on the same tour.
- Tower of Power, 50 Years of Funk & Soul
- Big Big Train, The Underfall Yard (remixed and remastered)
- Discipline, Unfolded Like Staircase (remixed by Terry Brown)
- It Bites, Map of the Past
- Charles Mingus at Carnegie Hall. Titanic music from one of jazz’s greatest conceptualists, recorded live in 1974. This reissue adds more than an hour of deep-grooved workouts on Mingus compositions to the originally issued encores on Duke Ellington tunes. An all-star line-up — the Spirits of Jazz Past, Present and Future, if you will — meet, and jam into the wee hours.
- My Bloody Valentine, Loveless This year’s favorite reissue! A wall of noise so beautiful it hurts.
- Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (remixed and updated). A sentimental Floyd favorite of mine, even though it’s basically a David Gilmour solo album. This latest gleaning from 2019’s Later Years box replaces the 80s flash with more Rick Wright organ and Nick Mason tom-tom fills. Honestly blander than the original, but still an interesting take on the material.
- The Who Sell Out (Super Deluxe Edition)
(Re)Discoveries – albums from previous years:
- Ambrose Akinmusere, on the tender spot of a calloused moment
- Terence Blanchard & the E Collective, Live: slow-building organic fusion that takes flight over cutting-edge modern grooves. Blanchard’s film scores are his calling card; these gritty yet lyrical workouts by his electric quintet deserve equal attention.
- Sam Cooke, Portrait of A Legend
- Chick Corea & John McLaughlin, Five Peace Band
- Peter Gabriel, Secret World Live: Us is my favorite PG album; this is my favorite live PG album. Why did I get rid of it ten years ago? Hopefully, lesson learned.
- Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On
- Maria McKee, La Vita Nuova
- Radiohead, The Bends
- Return to Forever featuring Chick Corea, Where Have I Known You Before
— Rick Krueger