by Michael Ambrosino, 33third

Trio Grande, Trio Grande
If Sonny Rollins perfected the Jazz trio, then drummer Antonio Sanchez has perfected its distant electronic cousin. Trio Grande morphs Sanchez’s mastery with the talents of guitar savant Gilad Hekselman and fiery saxophonist Will Vinson, shaping an album that sounds much larger than just a trio. Propelled by this winning chemistry, the band churns out music that defies genres, angling instead for a unique energy that shifts from the pensive Oberkampf  to the frenetic Gotca, and the driving anthem Northbound. Get ready to lose yourself in an album that showcases players who collaborate beautifully, adding just the right ingredients for a  glorious musical journey.

Thana Alexa, ONA
Rarely do musicians leap so far forward in the span of a single album. While Thana Alexa’s first album Ode to Masters  was a thoughtful introduction to her career, ONA is a compelling testament to Alexa’s future as a preeminent vocalist in Jazz. After being rejected by enough Jazz record labels, Alexa self-released ONA, crafting musical styles with a keen ear for producing songs that have a remarkably broad appeal. Croatian for “she,” ONA’s feminist theme gets support from a versatile quartet, and guests Regina Carter, Becca Stevens, Staceann Chin and the ROSA Vocal group, all helping to notch the album two Granny nominations. In front of such artful musicianship, Alexa presents her truth to power moments resolutely, enlightening listeners to be progressive change agents in a time when we need it most.

Regina Carter, Swing States
Of everything that ended up shaping 2020, it was perhaps most critically an election year of historic proportions. Regina Carter’s Swing States capitalizes on this by reimagining classics like Georgia On My MindOn Wisconsin! and Rocky Mountain High, and then utilizes her gift as an ethnomusicologist with guest monologues speaking to the states she’s swinging through. Whether playing with her band or alone on piercing songs like We Shall Overcome,  few play the violin better in Jazz than Regina Carter. At this stage of her career, we get to witness her genius in action. And for 2020 that meant Swing States, an album that makes you feel great while getting out the vote.

Read the full ‘Best Albums of 2020’ article here.

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