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BEST OF 2021

Dear Readers, Support the writers and musicians by buying from their publisher or their label, and better yet, buy directly from the artists. Keep our independent local book stores and record stores like alive. They fertilize our artistic communities.

Steve Koenig

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Beacon, NY
Managing Editor

As it is every year, recordings are a trove of riches. It's always next to impossible to narrow it down ... the first draft gets it down to about 100 recordings. In addition, choosing the best really implies you've heard all the rest. Lifelong record nerd that I am, that was pretty much true in years past, not as much any longer. Of the dizzying myriad choices, these are 20 new releases, along with several historical, that particularly moved me this year. 

Pedro Melo Alves' Omniae Large Ensemble - Lumina. (Clean Feed)

Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language Quartet - Let The Free Be Men. (Trost)

Gregg Belisle-Chi - KOI - Performing the music of Tim Berne. (Relative Pitch)

Tim Berne-Chris Speed-Reid Anderson-Dave King - Broken Shadows.

Samuel Blaser & Marc Ducret - Voyageurs (Jazzdor Series).

Anthony Braxton - 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017. (Firehouse 12)

Michael Formanek - Imperfect Measures. (Intakt)

Jeffrey Foucault - Deadstock: Uncollected Recordings 2005 – 2020. (Blueblade)

Irreversible Entanglements - Open The Gates. (International Anthem)

Marc Johnson - Overpass. (ECM)

Jeff Lederer - Eightfold Path. (LedRose)

James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon. (TAO Forms)

Russ Lossing - Metamorphism. (Sunnyside)

Joe Lovano Trio Tapestry - Garden of Expression. (ECM)

Ben Monder-Tony Malaby-Tom Rainey - Live at the 55 Bar. (Sunnyside)

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions). (Eremite)

William Parker - Mayan Space Station. (AUM Fidelity)

Mario Pavone Tampa Quartet - Isabella. (Clean Feed)

The Warriors Of The Wonderful Sound - Soundpath, Composed by Muhal Richard Abrams. (Clean Feed)

Miguel Zenon - Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman. (Miguel Zenon)


John Coltrane - A Love Supreme Live in Seattle. (Impulse)

Bill Evans - Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956-1980). (Craft Recordings)

Charles Mingus - Mingus at Carnegie Hall. (Atlantic)

Lee Morgan - The Complete Live at The Lighthouse (Blue Note)

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Long Beach, California
Ethnomusicologist, composer, improviser

TOP 33!

Mark BARDEN (born 1980). Anatomy. Wergo WER-64342.

Ras Moshe BURNETT & Music Now (born 1968). 50 Shades of May. Recorded March 24, 2018. Personnel: Dave Ross-guitar, Jason Hwang-violin, Larry Roland-bass, John Pietaro-percussion, Charles Downs-drums, Ras Moshe Burnett-reeds, flute, percussion, birthday. Tube Room Records.

CHINA. Folk Music of China, Volumes 9-20. Naxos World Music.
Wonderful series with good liner notes, documenting musics from speakers of China’s 302 living languages.

Vol. 9 - Folk Songs of the Uzbeks and Tatars of China
Vol. 10 - Folk Songs of the Pumi, Lisu and Nakhi Peoples
Vol. 11 - Folk Songs of the Dai and Hani Peoples
Vol. 12 - Folk Songs of the Bai, Nu and Derung Peoples
Vol. 13 - Songs of the Tibetan Plateau
[“Tibetan tribe”]
Vol. 14 - Songs of the Tibetan Plateau: Monba and Lhoba Peoples
Vol. 15 - Folk Songs of the She, Miao and Li Peoples
Vol. 16 - Folk Songs of the Dong, Gelao and Yao Peoples
Vol. 17 - Folk Songs of the Tujia and Sui Peoples
Vol. 18 - Folk Songs of the Uyghur Peoples
Vol. 19 - Folk Songs of the Lahu, Jingpo, Jino and Achang Peoples
Vol. 20 - Folk Songs of the Hui, Manchu, Xibe, Korean and Gin Peoples

John COLTRANE (1926–1967). A Love Supreme, Live in Seattle.
Recorded at The Penthouse, Seattle, Washington, on October 2, 1965. Personnel: Carlos Ward-alto saxophone, Donald Garrett and Jimmy Garrison-basses, Elvin Jones-drums, McCoy Tyner-piano, Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane-tenor saxophones and percussion. Liner notes by Ashley Kahn and Lewis Porter. Impulse! B0034290-02.

Carlo GESUALDO (1566–1613). Dolcissima mia vita. Madrigali a cinque voci, Libro quinto (1611). Collegium Vocale Gent, Philippe Herreweghe. Phi LPH-036.

Milford GRAVES (August 20, 1941 – February 12, 2021)
A great loss this year. See Wadada Leo SMITH, below.

Georg Friedrich HAAS (born 1953). Ein Schattenspiel / String Quartets No. 4 & No. 7. NEOS 12006.

David Philip HEFTI (born 1975). Light and Shade. NEOS 12101.

Toshio HOSOKAWA (born 1955). Works for Flute. Kairos 0015092KAI.

José Luis HURTADO. Parametrical Counterpoint. Kairos 0015093KAI.

Martin IDDON (born 1975). Sapindales. Another Timbre at179.

JOSQUIN Desprez (circa 1450–1521). I prefer to celebrate birth rather than death dates, but the former are often unknown for composers born before 1600, and I welcome any chance to hear more music by my favorite composers. This quincentenary of Josquin’s death saw many wonderful new releases. Here are three of them, each with a different approach to vibrato, ornamentation, and musica ficta (pitch alterations that composers did not bother to write down).

Rebecca Stewart directing her ensemble Cantus Modalis, Seconda Prat!ca

Josquin Desprez: In memoria mea. Cantus Modalis, Seconda Prat!ca, Maestro di cappella – Dr. Rebecca Stewart. “She received her PhD in ethnomusicology in 1974 after having worked for many years in Hindusthani classical music.” Includes Josquin’s “Missa Mater patris.” 50-page booklet.

“The site gives the full text of this booklet, expanded with additional information and detailed references to the consulted literature.”

Josquin, the Undead. Graindelavoix, directed by Björn Schmelzer. 32-page booklet. Glossa GCDP32117.

Josquin's Legacy. The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park. Hyperion CDA68379.

Georg KATZER (1935–2019), Friedrich Goldmann (1941–2009).
Streichermusik 1
; Drei Klangreden; ... fast erstarrte Unruhe ... 2; Ensemblekonzert II. NEOS 12122.

Koko-Mojo Records. This enterprising label from Germany, self-described as “the dark side of RockStar Records,” issued a slew of 50s and early 60s rhythm and blues reissue compilations in 2021. Begun in 2017 with one-theme per disc, 2021 saw the continuation of several multi-disc, themed series, along with the introduction of three new series. Each album has 24-28 songs from almost as many artists. Southern Bred adds volumes 12-21, Boss Black Rockers continues with volumes 8-10, The Mojo Man Special V2-5, and Motorvatin' (Songs from the Green Book Era) V3-4. New series: Diner V1-4, Popcorn Story V1-2, and Rock and Roll Vixens V1-7.

Ulrich KRIEGER (born 1962). 236 Strings. LST CD-07211.

Catherine LAMB (born 1982). String Quartets (2 CDs). Jack Quartet. Kairos 0018010KAI.

ALVIN LUCIER (May 14, 1931 – December 1, 2021). A great loss this year. Several companies issued albums of his music during 2021, including Bastille Musique, Grand Piano, Sound on Paper Editions, and Dialogo (reissue of his 1975 Cramps Lp, Bird and Person Dyning). My favorite among them is the album of string quartets by Quatuor Bozzini. Navigations. Collection QB CQB-2128.

Guillaume de MACHAUT (circa 1300-1377). The Lion of Nobility.
The Orlando Consort. Hyperion CDA68318.

pygmies MBENZÉLÉ – pygmies AKA. Days Full of Sound - Life in the Rainforest. Roberto Monari field recordings. 40-page booklet (English and Italian). Disc 1 – Mbenzélé; disc 2 – Aka. Rituals, polyphonies, chants, voices, rhythms, games, ceremonies. I Dischi di Angelica IDA-047.

Alberto POSADAS (born 1967). Veredas. Kairos 0015034KAI.

QUASAR quatuor de saxophones. De souffles et de machines III. Works by Jimmie LeBlanc, Georgia Spiropoulos, Annesley Black, Sergej Maingardt. Collection QB CQB-2127.

R&B IN DC. Limited and numbered edition of 1,500 copies. 16-CD box set. 352-page hardcover book (LP format) by Jay Bruder, with biographies and comments on each track. Includes rarities by Little Walkin’ Willie (Willie Hickerson), Frank Motley, and TNT Tribble. Bear Family BCD17052.

Jacob REGNART (circa 1540–1599). Missa Christ ist erstanden & other works. Cinquecento. Hyperion CDA68369.

Adam ROBERTS (born 1980). Bell Threads. New Focus fcr312.

Giacinto SCELSI (1905–1988). Works for violin and for viola. Marco Fusi. Kairos 0015063KAI.

Salvatore SCIARRINO (born 1947). Works for Flute (3 CDs). Kairos 0015074KAI.

SHEPPARD, WHITE, MUNDY, BYRD. The Sweetest Songs: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks III. Contrapunctus, directed by Owen Rees. Signum Classics SIGCD633.

Wadada Leo SMITH with Milford GRAVES and Bill LASWELL. Sacred Ceremonies. Recorded 2015, 2016. CD1 Smith and Graves; CD2 Smith and Laswell; CD3 Smith, Graves, Laswell. 52-page booklet with liner notes by Petri Haussila, poetry by Wadada Leo Smith. TUM Records TUM-BOX-003.

Marcin STAŃCZYK (born 1977). Mosaïque. Kairos 0015108KAI.

Cecil TAYLOR (1929-2018).Three albums from Fundacja Słuchaj Records. Lifting The Bandstand. Recorded live, October 30, 1998. Personnel: Harri Sjöström-soprano saxophone, Tristan Honsinger-cello, Cecil Taylor-piano, Teppo Hauta-aho-double bass, Paul Lovens-drumset, cymbals, gongs. Liner notes (English) Ettore Garzia, John Corbett. FSR-01-2021.

Cecil Taylor’s handwritten score, in Göttingen album

Göttingen. Recorded live at Junges Theater Göttingen, September 15, 1990. Cecil Taylor-piano, poetry, with an 11-piece ensemble. Liner notes-Ove Volquartz. One of Cecil Taylor’s hand-written scores reproduced on inside of double CD. FSR-10-2021

Music from Two Continents: Live at Jazz Jamboree ’84. Personnel: Tomasz Stańko and Enrico Rava-trumpets, Jimmy Lyons-alto saxophone, Karen Borca-bassoon, John Tchicai and Frank Wright Jr.-tenor saxophones, Conrad Bauer-trombone, iconic vibraphone and bass clarinet player Gunter Hampel-vibraphone and bass clarinet, Henry Martinez-drums, William Parker-bass. FSR-16-2021.

New York


Laubrock, Lopez, Rainey. Ingrid Laubrock, tenor sax; Brandon Lopez, bass; Tom Rainey, drums, Yuko Otomo, art. 90-minute concert video:,,,,

Fay Victor Chamber Trio. Fay Victor, voice, compositions; Darius Jones, alto sax; Marika Hughes, cello Jan 7, 2021.,

Shai Wosner, piano, and Friends. Virtual Schubertiade. People’s Symphony Concerts, January 30 and 31.,

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The Belle’s Stratagem by Hannah Cowley. Red Bull Theater benefit reading. February 22, 2021.

The Mystery Of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes. Manhattan School Of Music Musical Theatre. A brilliant production, showing complete mastery of what can be done via Zoom when you have both artistry if ideas, technical ability, and top-notch staging (much in Central Park) and first class singers and actors. February 20, 2022

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George and Ira Gershwin. Porgy And Bess. My one risk-taking adventure to a live performance this year. Conductor David Robertson was spectacular, in both pacing and presenting orchestral colors. Every single one of the leads, minor characters, chorus and orchestra was at the top of their game, making this the best Porgy and Bess I’ve seen live, on film or on disc. The drama was palpable throughout. Metropolitan Opera, NY.

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Once Upon A Time In China: The Complete Films. This films in this collection, conceived by Hong Kong New Wave leader Tsui Hark, include Once Upon A Time In China [I] though V plus Once Upon A Time In China and America, most featuring Jet Li. This genre and its cousin samurai films are new to me. Its a very entertaining, often laugh-aloud funny, and thought-provoking mix of martial arts ballet and sociopolitical aspects of the entry of “Western” military and culture to 1880s China. Criterion usually offer much more in the way of extras; this one has no commentary tracks for any of the six films but it does have a feature documentary on the real-life Wong Fei-hung, martial-arts master, physician, and folk hero. I have the earlier collection on Eureka, which lacks IV and V but has many of the same extras as this set plus all of the films include commentary tracks by martial arts cinema specialists. Criterion Collection 1103, 6 Blu-rays, slipcase.

Potato Dreams Of America. Based on a true story of a young (later, adult) gay kid and his mother in Russia with television fantasies of America. Things get strange when the mother’s dream seems to come true when she becomes a mail-order bride. Very funny, very surreal, very moving. I streamed it three times at this year’s NewFest. Wes Hurley, writer and director. Trailers, clips, and reviews on YouTube.,,

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History / Conversation bout Lauren Redniss & Nicole Krauss: Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West.,

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James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet. Jesup Wagon. William Parker, bass, guimbri; Christopher Hoffman, cello; Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Chad Taylor, drums; Chad Taylor, mbira. George Washington Carver designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers. He called it a "Jesup wagon" after the New York financier and philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, who provided funding to support the program. The record-release (or was it pre-release) concert knocked my socks off. TAO Forms TAO 05 (also on LP).


JD Allen. Queen City. An album of tenor saxophone solos remarkable for its subtlety; no pyrotechnics for its own sake. High Note/Savant SCD 2194.,

Anthology: Forbidden Planet: 37 Outer Space Shock Treatments. No Sun Ra, but 37 tracks with the savor of rocket fuel, by artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Prima (not together) to the other-worldly Nervous Norvus. I had no idea that Judy Garland did a live performance of “Purple People Eater,” and what’s more, it’s good. Bear Family BCD 17617, 2 CDs with a 20-page booklet.

Anthology: It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records: The Singles. Ray Barretto, Joe Bataan, the Fania All-Stars, Larry Harlow, and many other Latin soul artists. Craft Recordings CR 0027, 4 CDs + 7” vinyl; also available is an orange- or black-vinyl double LP (same catalog number).

Anthology: R&B in DC 1940-1960 - Rhythm & Blues, Doo Wop, Rockin’ Rhythm and more. From swing era to the start of soul music, a few popular, but most are undeservedly obscure. Bear Family BCD 17052, 16 CDs with a 351-page 12x12 hardcover book.

The Beatles. Let It Be (Super Deluxe CD/Blu-ray Edition). I’ve seen written that if you want a de-Phil Spectorized version, skip this box and simply get Let It Be .... Naked. There’s much to be aid for that, but as I am an avid collector of alternate takes and out-takes bootlegs, this is a treasure trove. Apple/Universal 0602507138691, 4CDs, 1 CD-EP, 1 Blu-ray, large format book, oversize box).

Bob Bellerue. Radioactive Desire. Brandon Lopez, double bass; Luke Stewart, double bass; Jessica Pavone, viola; Gabby Fluke-Mogul, violin; Ed Bear, baritone sax; Bob Bellerue, electronics. A work for free chamber music in feedback environments. Elevator Bath eeaoa058, 2CD.,

Rubén Blades y Roberto Delgado & Orquesta. Salswing! If you like Rubén Blades, or salsa at all, this has your name on it. The surprise (to me) is that Blades can also croon in English with such panache; there are several standards here on which he is at least as good as any of the Rat Pack. Sample some online if you don’t believe me. Ruben Blades Productions 2-RPB-0021zw.

David Bowie. Toys. Recorded in 2000, Bowie tackles some of his classic, often Music Hall style, songs in new versions which bring back to (de)light some of his charming early 1960-1971 songs. The most fun Bowie album since Pinups. Special props to the yearning “London Boys” track. Also available in a three-CD Toy (Toy:Box) edition I’ve not heard. [Release date: January 7, 2022.]

Cleveland Crochet & The Sugar Bees. Hillbilly Ramblers and Sugar Bees. Cajun music, mostly from the early 1960s. Bear Family BCD 17598, 2CDs with a 40-page booklet.

John Coltrane. A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle. I often do things backwards. A Love Supreme, for many, is the ultimate Coltrane album. I didn’t care for it so much at first, not liking the opening vamp/chant. My first Coltrane breakthrough was with one of the ‘hardest' albums to get into, the LP two-fer, John Coltrane with Pharoah Sanders Live In Seattle (now on CD, with more tracks). When I bought it at 14 years old, I didn’t get it at all; it was noise, but I heard about it and gambled on it from my membership in the Columbia Record Club since it was two albums for the price of one.

Although I didn’t ‘get’ it, I knew there was something there and after two years of playing it every month, one day it broke through and I just couldn’t understand why it didn’t get to me beforehand. Since then, I bought the live French A Love Supreme on the Radio France label, which I rather liked. Now, from the same Seattle residency as above, comes A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle, 75-minutes of total joy, a visceral performance, in fine sound. ¡Impulse! B0034290-02 (also on a double LP).

Cowboys & Frenchmen. Our Highway. Ethan Helm, saxophone; Owen Broder, saxophone;Addison Frei, piano;Ethan O’Reilly, bass; Matt Honor, drums. Exciting jazz quintet with fascinating compositions using many concurrent undercurrents. Outside In Music (no catalog number).

Benoît Delbecq. The Weight of Light. The French pianist —— Pyroclastic PR 13.,

Ellery Eskelin. Trio New York - Live in NYC, 2010. Three extended improvisations by the sax player with Gary Versace on B3 with drummer Ted Poor recorded at NYC’s 55 Bar. Download only.

Futari. Underground. Satoko Fujii, piano, voice, Taiko Saito, vibraphone, voice. A remote collaboration. Saito writes that many of the tracks involved “overlaying sounds or cutting and splicing them like cut-paper pictures.” Every one of Fujii’s albums is unique. Libra 202-069.

Sheila Jordan. Comes Love: Lost Session 1960. Discogs reports, “This music was found by two collectors on a test pressing recorded in 1960. The rhythm section is unconfirmed.” Capri 74164-2.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (Super Deluxe CD/Blu Ray Edition). Apple/Universal 0602507354299, 6CDs, 2Blu-Rays, —-page hardback book in 10x10” box.

Allen Lowe. A Love Supine: Ascension Into The Maelstrom. The bio describes this as “musical examination of jazz modernism.” The soundworlds range from ’50’s style electric guitar to ragged-ensemble pieces which bring to mind everything from New Orleans to Frank Zappa’s and Willem Breuker’s ensembles. It’ a great deal of fun. Another of my treasured Lowe albums is the 8-CD Jews & Roots: Disconnected Works, 1980-2018, ESP-Disk’ 5034. ESP-Disk’ 5044, 2 CDs., espdisk.coms

Philadelphia International Records. Nearly all of the classic soul label Philadelphia International’s albums are being reissued by Epic/Philadelphia International/Legacy for the label’s 50th anniversary, along with several compilations and a few remix sets, such as one of Teddy Pendergrass’s work. Highly recommended is the 48-track anthology The Philly Sound: Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff And The Story of Brotherly Love, which also includes relevant non-PIR tracks such as Joe Simon’s “Drowning In The Sea Of Love,” originally on Polydor’s Spring label.,

Noah Preminger with Kim Cass. Thunda. Noah Preminger,saxophone; Kim Cass,bass. A wide variety of rhythms and compositional styles. Dry Bridge 009.

André Previn. On Contemporary: André Previn. Craft has released a series of artist anthologies taken from Les Koenig’s Contemporary Records (no relation to me, but also pronounced “Kay-nig). The first ones are of Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, André Previn and Shelly Manne. I highlight this one because it’s likely that many don’t know of the delights of Previn’s jazz works. Excellent sonics (Craft bills Contemporary “an audiophile label”). Download only.

R.E.M. Adventures In Hi Fi (25th Anniversary Edition). I’ve come late to R.E.M. and this is just the right thing to satisfy my post-1980s rock need. Newly remastered with 13 very-worthy bonus tracks (try their take on “Wichita Lineman”) on the double CD, containing photos and new liners, postcards, and a poster. Also available on 2 CD + Blu-ray, double-LP, or download.

Craig Taborn. Shadow Plays (Live at Konzerthaus, Wien/2020). Pianist Taborn’s solo concert is a different kind of magnificent from Jarrett’s, despite sharing the ECM label. The seven tracks are sometimes introspective, but one can detect whiffs of Ravel and Debussy, James P. Johnson and a whole panoply of influences/references which all add up to: Craig Taborn. ECM 2693.,

Craig Taborn. 60 x Sixty. “This is not a CD but a concept. Sixty pieces of music… each about sixty seconds in length. Pressing PLAY initiates a run of 60 tracks in randomized order.”

Neil Young with Crazy Horse. Way Down In The Rust Bucket. I suspect you already know what you’re getting, you’ll be right, and you’ll be delighted. Live from The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, CA November 13, 1990. Reprise 093624893684, 2CDs.,

Miguel Zenón. Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman- Live At The Bird’s Eye Jazz Club (Basel). Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone;Ariel Bringuez, tenor saxophone;Demian Cabaud, bass;Jordi Rossy, drums. They navigate the curves beautifully. Miel Musix.

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