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The best jazz albums released in 2021 so far

A list of the greatest jazz albums released in 2021, as chosen by BBC Music Magazine critics Garry Booth, Barry Witherden and Roger Thomas

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Joshua Jaswon: Octet Silent

Sea Anna Serierse (vocals), Joshua Jaswon, Marc Doffey (saxophone), Miguel Gorodi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jan Landowski (trombone), Johannes Mann (guitar), Sidney Werner (double bass), Aaron Castrillo (drums)
Ubuntu Music UBU 0065

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Today’s jazz musicians seem to be more socially aware than their forebears, tackling injustice and other big issues through their work. Young London saxophonist Joshua Jaswon has created music on themes of the environment and Brexit after reading Silent Sea, a poetry collection collated by Jackie Kay, Scotland’s makar.

The prosaic title for the pieces that form the core of this album – ‘Reduce/Reuse/Recycle Suite’ – suggests a dispiriting listen. But the six movements and their variations make for a thrilling and provocative programme. ‘Silent Sea’, based on a poem by Rachel Boast, introduces singer Anna Serierse, whose soprano lines sheer across the Octet’s surging sound.

Segueing into ‘Extinction’, Serierse joins wailing brass soloists in giving voice to Kay’s angry rejection of populism and climate change denial. Serierse also starts the two-part ‘Still Life with Sea Pinks and High Tides’, reciting and reworking the opening stanza of Maura Dooley’s poem, preparing the ground for the brass section to pick up and expand the pulse of the tune. It’s a powerful soundtrack for desperate times.

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Rob Barron: From This Moment On

Rob Barron (piano); Jeremy Brown (bass); Josh Morrison (drums)
Ubuntu UBU0064

The repertoire of most young/youngish jazz musicians these days consists almost exclusively of their own original compositions. This is entirely commendable, but I sometimes feel nostalgic for the days when certain well-established tunes and chord-sequences were a kind of lingua franca. This treasury of tunes was quarried by almost everybody and you could readily compare performances of the same piece whilst enjoying spotting the origins of litigation-dodging palimpsests of ‘I Got Rhythm’, ‘Cherokee’ or ‘Indiana’.

Barron joyfully plunders some of the greatest, most enduring tunes in the jazz and popular songbooks, from Oliver Nelson’s ‘Butch and Butch’ to Victor Young’s ‘My Foolish Heart’, modestly throwing in a couple of his own exemplary compositions (‘Fortune Green’ and ‘Evidently’) along the way. He plays with incisiveness, sinewy strength and grace, making imaginative use of the melodies and chords, and is well matched with Brown and Morrison. His CV stretches from here to way over there as a sideman and session musician with big names in the jazz and classical fields as well as appearing on film soundtracks – and this is classic piano trio jazz at its best.

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Acadia: Way of the Cairns

Patrick Cornelius
Whirlwind WR4766

Patrick Cornelius’s Acadia takes its name from an area in Maine, the inspiration for much of this music. On Way of the Cairns Cornelius celebrates the beauty, mystery and freedom of National Parks and other tracts of wildness in nine varied, highly-engaging compositions by him and (one each) drummer Paul Wiltgen and pianist Kristjan Randalu.

Cornelius says he wanted the band, rather than his tenor, to be the lead voice, and this has largely been achieved. The title track could almost be called, after Beethoven, ‘cheerful feelings on arriving in the countryside’. The album has an airiness and freshness all too desperately needed. 

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