It’s been quite a challenging year, but fortunately good music continues to come my way as we near the end of 2020. I have been particularly taken by Kristiana Roemer’s debut album House of Mirrors and the lyrics of her songs. I have also been loving a spate of great new releases from ECM, including a live album from Keith Jarrett, who usually rewards his worshipful audiences with beautiful encores after intense and demanding solo performances. Jarrett called this 2016 Budapest concert one of his best, made all the more poignant since Jarrett can no longer perform as a result of strokes he suffered in 2018.
Another famous pianist, the late Dave Brubeck, recorded the music on the new album Lullabies as a gift to his grandchildren. It is comforting music to hear during this most difficult upcoming holiday season. I’m also enjoying the latest from tenor saxophonist Jeff Ellwood, The Sounds Around the House. Ellwood recorded this album to honor a musician friend’s dying wish. He is accompanied on the record by a band of seasoned jazz musicians who know how to “cook” as well as handle a tender ballad with poise and imagination.
We hear a track from a wonderful and moving duet album by vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles and pianist Jarrett Cherner. The new album, Tone, features eight originals in a project that started before COVID and was completed with both musicians in quarantine. I find a quiet urgency in Charles’s vocals and a beautiful synergy with Cherner’s piano. It’s an intimate album that has grown on me and I keep uncovering new beauty with every listen.
Jumping around the playlist, you’ll find an homage to Martin Luther King from Chip Shelton, a 1970’s session with Chet Baker and vibraphonist Wolfgang Lackerschmid in Germany, and a new cool music meditation by Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds and Australian singer RY X, with a song that reminds me of classics from Tranquility Bass and Deep Forest. The four-member vocal group säje performs a piece called “Desert Song,” with beautiful harmonizing.
I love the new solo album Albores from Argentine bandoneon virtuoso Dino Saluzzi, out on ECM Records. The instrument is the soul of the tango and was made famous by the late Astor Piazzolla, who brought his new tango style to the world. Invented in the mid-19th century in Germany to be used in small provincial churches that couldn’t afford or have the space for a pipe organ, the bandoneon went to Buenos Aires for use in the brothels. Saluzzi doesn’t play tango for the most part. He debuted on the ECM label long ago with the solo album Kultrum, recorded in 1983. I love hearing this unusual and difficult instrument, and as a solo instrument…well, only ECM would release something like that. The playlist also features new ECM albums by cellist Anja Lechner with pianist François Couturier, bassist Michel Benita, Polish pianist Dominik Wania, and Swiss-Albanian singer Elina Duni with her version of “The Wayfaring Stranger.”
I had to include a track again from alto sax player Ian Hendrickson-Smith, whose new record The Lowdown has been on heavy rotation at my home. I simply love the recorded sound and the solos. The album was recorded in a music sanctuary—none other than Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey studio—truly a cathedral of sound.
I learned of composer Harold Budd’s death at 84 from complications of COVID just as I was working on this post. His exquisite music influenced many who came after him. The playlist concludes with Budd’s heavenly piece “Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim” from The Pavilion of Dreams. The title is based on the invocation to prayer in Islam. Brian Eno, who worked with Budd and produced some of his albums, once called Budd “a great abstract painter trapped in the body of a musician.” Budd said his music career was inspired by an epiphany that changed his life: an album by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.
- säje / “Desert Song” / sajevoices
- Keith Jarrett / “Part XI – Live” / ECM Records
- Ian Hendrickson-Smith / “Nancy (with the Laughing Face)” / Cellar Live
- Dominik Wania / “Lonely Shadows” / ECM Records
- Elina Duni, Rob Luft / “The Wayfaring Stranger” / ECM Records
- Michel Benita / “Islander” / ECM Records
- Anja Lechner, François Couturier / “Alfonsina y el mar” / ECM Records
- Yoko Miwa Trio / “The Lonely Hours” / Ubuntu Music
- Kristiana Roemer / “House of Mirrors” / Sunnyside
- RY X, Ólafur Arnalds / “Oceans” / Decca Music Group Ltd.
- Papo Vazquez / “Fairmount Park” / Picaro Records
- Chip Shelton Peacetime Ensemble / “Mlk” / Ccm Records
- Dave Brubeck / “Brahms Lullaby – Reprise” / Dave Brubeck
- Jihee Heo / “Dark and Light” / OA2 Records
- Jeff Ellwood / “The Sounds Around the House” / Jeff Ellwood
- David Friesen / “My Faith, My Life” / Origin Records
- Emmet Cohen / “Reflections at Dusk” / Mack Avenue Records
- Wolfgang Lackerschmid, Chet Baker / “Rue Gregoire Du Tour” / Dot Time Legends
- Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Jarrett Cherner / “Stardust” / Baldhill Records
- Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra / “Mood for Max” / Jazz House Productions
- Dino Saluzzi / “Íntimo” / ECM Records
- Harold Budd / “Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim” / Virgin Catalogue