my 2020 picks

Some of you might have seen my recent guest article at the Marlbank blog in the UK and therefore will know some of my favourite albums of 2020 – the complete list in alphabetical order is below – this is from what I have heard throughout the year, as it is impossible to listen to everything … and even then, any list would be subjective in any case … no list of best concerts this year for obvious reasons, but 3 music related books I can recommend.  Otherwise, I’ll look forward to 2021 with the hope of a better year and a return to some kind of normality for everyone. Until then, listen to my picks from this year’s releases:

Thana Alexa / ONA – All songs were composed by Alexa, except her wonderful vocal arrangement for Massive Attacks ‘Teardrops’ and Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, which she totally makes her own. Powerful in their messages they confirm that Alexa is a jazz singer for our times – a masterful performer and writer, relevant in her messages and statements.

Badi Assad / Around The World – Badi Assad at her best – creating intimate atmospheres and touching moments of musical beauty. ‘Around The World’ is connected to Badi’s first book, released in 2018 and titled ‘Around The World In 80 Artists’, as the covers on the record come from artist from all corners of this world.

Lakecia Benjamin / Pursuance: The Coltranes – alto saxophonist extraordinaire Benjamin pays with her third album homage to Alice and John Coltrane. Co-produced with bass player Reggie Workman, who played with both Coltranes, this album is a strong statement of individuality and musical power.

Ketil Bjornstad & Guro Kleven Hagen / The Personal Gallery – Bjornstad composed especially for this cooperation with young classical violinist Guro Kleven Hagen and the music is melodic, touching and beautiful. These compositions have a classical background and a jazzy feel and gorgeous little melodies that make the listener smile. The performances by both musicians are outstanding, telling the stories of the pictures in this gallery with emotion and passion.

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow / Life Goes On – This trio is working together on and off since 1994 and now has developed into one of the most exciting small jazz groups around – and the intelligent and witty compositions by Carla get the best out of the three players. ‘Life Goes On’ is a three-suite album that showcases the trios chamber music qualities, with a bit of blues thrown in.

Julie Campiche / ONKALO – On her first record, Swiss harpist Julie Campiche is creating wonderful soundscapes and spaces for improvisation for her band. Her sound on the harp is very individual and captivating, her music from groovy to contemplative, from ambient to modern jazz, with deep musical content, at the same time accessible and challenging and rewarding when listening closely.

Mino Cinelu & Nils Petter Molvaer / SulaMadiana – Percussionist, guitar player and singer Mino Cinelu and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer created (with the help of some electronics) a wonderful and captivating musical landscape. “SulaMadiana” combines both artists history and present, culturally, and musically, but with an eye on the tomorrow.

Silvia Perez Cruz, Marco Mezquida / MA Live in Tokyo – The musical communication between the two is stunning, the way pianist Mezquida supports her is sensitive and touching and Perez Cruz’ voice floats over the spare notes and emotionally captivates the audience.

Kurt Elling featuring Danilo Perez / Secrets Are The Best Stories – Elling is at his usual best, it seems there is nothing this man can’t do with his voice … and pianist Danilo Perez is giving colour and power to the proceedings. One album that shouldn’t be missed – lyrically and musically essential for our times.

Bill Frisell / Valentine – This first outing of a new Frisell Trio featuring Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums is a lesson in musical communication, creative freedom, and sublime individual performances.

Nubia Garcia / Source – Soulful compositions, energetic performances and a modern approach rooted in the tradition, make this a wonderful jazz record, multicultural and rooted in its time, without losing its focus.

James Brandon Lewis & Chad Taylor / Live At Wilisau – This music is full of dynamics, roughness, and beauty, covers it all and is in a category of its own – free as well as structured, melodic, and full of groove. The raw energy of the performance is even on the recording amazing and captivating.

Rob Luft / Life Is The Dancer – Luft’s compositions are strong and captivating, his guitar playing that of a future star on his instruments and his group an ensemble that is completely at home with the leaders writing and way to tell stories.

Jesse Markowitz & various artists / Palladium 2020 – this 22-track tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter is stunning, as each of the performances just enhances the awe one had already for Wayne Shorter as a composer and musical visionary.  A tribute album that sits comfortably next to some of Hal Wilner’s productions.

Brad Mehldau / Suite April 2020 – This simply outstanding solo piano recording features 15 tracks, 12 are featured in the ‘Suite April 2020’ and the last three are covers of Neil Young’s ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, Billy Joel’s ‘New York State Of Mind’ and Jerome Kern’s ‘Look for a Silver Lining’.  I am sure that this is an album will be one of the great solo piano recordings of our time.

Wolfgang Muthspiel / Angular Blues – This outstanding trio moves beautifully between subtle swing and groovy little numbers as well as pensive ballads. Muthspiel switching between electric and acoustic guitars makes this album more colourful, his clear and beautiful sound is a pleasure to listen to and the musicianship and communication and understanding between the musicians makes the music deeper and touching.

Kasia Pietrzko / Ephemeral Pleasures – Pianist Kasia Pietrzko is for me one of the most interesting young artists to emerge in Europe. She writes with her Polish and European classical background in mind but gives within songs composition and improvisation equal importance.

Rymden / Space Sailors – Their eclectic mix of electronic and acoustic jazz with prog and psychodelia and shots of rock got tighter, more intense, and powerful. A true European power trio! Not to be missed!

Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah / Axiom – Chief Adjuah is in blistering form and his horn wails, calls, and whispers when necessary. You can hear the past as well the present and future of improvised music, performed by musicians who are listening to each other, reacting, and creating on the spot beauty in sound.

Ellen Andrea Wang / Closeness – The closeness between the musicians is evident right from the start: Jon Fält setting the pace, Wang adding the beat and steadiness and Rob Luft’s guitar is flying over their infectious groove and delivering an outstanding performance.


Ben Sidran / The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma – This book is a lovingly told story of a man who made it in music – a book of stories with artists and managers and it has a great human being at its centre. Sidran found the essence of LiPuma in his writings.

Al Schmitt with Maureen Droney/ Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music – Schmitt’s book tells stories about his work in the studio with known and unknown acts, but first of all it is a study of how he works, how he sets up the studio for a recording. Interesting and captivating

Chema Garcia Martinez / Tocar La Vida – This Spanish language book is a collection of articles and other writings by journalist Garcia Martinez, giving evidence what it means to ‘Play The Life’. Chema is a jazzman who writes with passion, insight, understanding and honesty. A wonderful and educating read.

music for the season …

There is music for every occasion and the festive season is no exception. Every year new holiday recordings are added to the vast catalogue of wonderful albums for Christmas and every year we can go back to our old favourites. I will below introduce you to 12 of Christmas and Winter albums I love to listen to – 4 classics, for from recent years and 4 new ones. Enjoy!

The classics

Ella Fitzgerald / Wishes You a Swinging Christmas … is exactly what it says to be: a wonderful and swinging affair, a jazzy Christmas album from 1960 with incredible performances by Ella and the Frank DeVol Orchestra.

The Singers Unlimited / Christmas … a record from 1972 that is showcasing the incredible vocal skills of this group. Great arrangements, partly swinging, partly contemplative and excellent singing by Gene Puerling, Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton and Len Dresslar make this a festive hit.

The Swingle Singers / Christmastime (Noel Sans Passeport) …. One of the best vocal groups of their time and their take on Christmas – the tracks are usually medleys and are covering songs in various languages from around the world. Originally released in 1968, this is still outstanding and beautiful.

Spike Jones / Let’s Sing A Song Of Christmas … if you like your Christmas party to have the songs, but done differently – this one is for you! Jones’s sense of humour is incredible and the album makes you smile from the start (All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth) to the end. Musically impressive and fun.

Recent ones

Sting / If On A Winters Night …. A mix of traditional, classical and own songs, wonderful arranged by Robert Sadin, make this album the perfect record for the cold season, as it warms your heart.

Saxofour / Reindeer Games …. Reindeer Games (2002) is already the second album with Christmas material from the Austrian saxophone quartet featuring Klaus Dickbauer, Christian Maurer, Florian Bramboeck and Wolfgang Puschnig. Collective and individual play is outstanding and so are the arrangements. Instrumental joy!

Bugge Wesseltoft / It’s Snowing On My Piano …. Almost a classic already in Germany and Scandinavia, this 1997 solo piano album is hitting the charts every year – and deservedly so, as Bugge gives us beauty in sound. A perfect present.

Kurt Elling / The Beautiful Day …. As with everything Mr. Elling does, this is an album of touching quality and immaculate vocal performances. Released in 2016 it has become one of my all-time favourite seasonal recordings. Don’t miss this one!

The new ones

Rebekka Bakken / Winter Nights … traditional and modern Christmas songs, mixed with a handful of great originals for the season and as usual outstanding vocals by Rebekka, make this album a more than welcome addition to my collection. Just check out her own ‘Angels Never Sleep’ and her stunning version of ‘Last Christmas’.

Simone Kopmajer / Christmas … Austrian singer Kopmajer invited a few friends to record this traditional jazzy seasonal album and they obviously had fun recording, as the result is uplifting and charming. Check out especially ‘The Christmas Song’ featuring Allan Harris.

Jamie Cullum / The Pianoman At Christmas … Jamie Cullum, singer and pianist, came up with 10 new songs for the season … with big band and all bells ringing, these are great tunes that will enlighten your holidays. Love it!!!

Lauren Henderson / Classic Christmas … this stylish and deeply touching EP was recorded with pianists Issac Wilson and Sullivan Fortner, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Allan Mednard and the included 4 songs is all you need to get into the festive spirit.