Thirty Great Albums In 2020

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose” and this year it was for listening intently to recorded music.  In a time when live music was unimaginable, there was a plethora of terrific albums in 2020.  This annual recap covers my most enjoyable albums released in the last 12 months.  I tried to listen to as many as I could and  crank out reviews at a good pace – many of those reviews are cited here.  Hopefully you’ll be curious enough to listen to some of them and they will bring you joy.

Resonate is the second album in the Lettuce-Russ Elevado trilogy following Grammy-nominated Elevate.  After more than twenty years together, Lettuce is the preeminent funk band on the scene today. Starting with their friendship at Berklee College of Music, they’ve shaped their sound from classic funkers of yesteryear like James Brown and Tower of Power but put their own new fresh spin on things. Going back 10 years or more the band did not tour very much and released a studio album every few years. For the last several years, the band has been touring non-stop (pre COVID-19) and has become much more prolific in jam-funk-jazz improvisation and in recording albums. Resonate is the second in a trilogy of albums the band worked on with producer Russ Elevado. It follows on the heels of Elevate which came out under a year ago and was nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.

As with Elevate and some of the previous albums, Lettuce has played and refined many of Resonate’s tunes on the road. Since I’ve been fortunate to see the band several times a year over the last few years, I’ve “previewed” most of this album in live shows. All of that had my expectations high and I can happily say they were exceeded as I’m blown away by the expansion of their repertoire. I originally got into the band because of their super funky vibes which they still have but they’ve evolved there sound into trippy funk with a darker edge. On this album they extend into Indian sounds (Moksha), house music (House of Lett), classic funk (Good Morning Mr. Shmink), and some very chill trance funk (Resonate).

Man From the Future is another exceptional release from Polyrhythmics on the Color Red label.  This was one of my most listened to albums this year. Polyrhythmics are an eight-piece group with impossibly tight grooves and virtuosic musicianship. It’s hard to believe they’ve been around for 10 years and I just first got to see them live perform a scintillating set at Suwannee Hulaween 2019 in Live Oak, Florida. That set was transcendent and many who saw it said it was the best of the fest.

The group was started by Ben Bloom (Guitar) and Grant Schroff, (Drums) and originally drew heavily on Afro-beat from such notables as Fela Kuti and The Budos Band. Since then, they’ve broadened their style tremendously to incorporate aspects of funk, soul, psychedelic rock, R&B and progressive jazz. I also hear some bits of Lettuce for the funk in the mix and even a bit of Lotus for the electronica aspect. The group is in a class of its own with its mix of multiple music styles — Afro-funktronica?.

Live at Royal Albert Hall was somewhat of a culmination of the Immigrance tour in 2019 in much the same way North Sea was in 2018 for the 2-year Culcha Vulcha tour. At this point the band had tweaked and refined the live performances after the album release earlier in the year.  The sold out performance recording has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. 

The production values are stellar with extra clear engineering nearly on par with studio album. The audience sound is notable in that it is absent from the recording except at precisely the right times – end of solos or end of songs. Not sure if this is part of the mixing or the audience was actually that in tune. The sound was big since there were thirteen band members instead of the usual eight to ten. Some of the personnel callouts are tough based on sound alone but I got great assistance from superfan Steven Haugereid. The songs are all by now familiar yet each one on this two-disc set has its own special aspects, either in the personnel, instrumentation or soloing and they are recapped here:

  • New-new songs from Immigrance (Even Us, While We’re Young, Bad Kids to the Back, Bigly Strictness, Xavi, Chonks)
  • Older new songs (Tarova, Sleeper, Shofukan)
  • Old songs (Intelligent Design, Alma)

Long in the Tooth is the Budos Band’s sixth album and it’s thematic and terrific.  Budos Band has long been one of my top bands to listen to and see live.  Listening to the Budos is always an adrenaline rush.They started out as a superb Afrobeat band on Daptone Records. There always have been dark undertones in their music as you can see from the album covers below starting with the volcano, then scorpion, then cobra. The Budos Band morphed their sound to be especially dark and edgy with their fourth album “Burnt Offering” (the Wizard) and continued on “V”.

Now I typically describe them as dark funk or metal funk. Every time I listen I feel like I’m either on a mystical, epic adventure or in imminent danger. Long In The Tooth’s fully lives up to that with a Western theme, with several of the titles reflecting that throughout.

Our Kind of Movement is a great intro for me to the band Speedometer out of the United Kingdom. It’s a helluva album with everything a funk fan could want. Great playing all around from the horns with some great baritone sax work, B3 organ, plucky guitar and bass and pulsating percussion.

Speedometer has been around for over 20 years at the forefront of the funk & soul scene in Europe. They started out in 1999 playing classic funk tunes by artists such as The Meters and The JB’s in small clubs across the Southeast of England.

Our Kind of Movement is Speedometer’s fifth album release for Freestyle (excluding two compilations of archive releases) and the band lays down a hefty dose of new heavy weight funk and soul tunes, as you would expect. All the tracks are excellent, with Kashmir a personal favorite.

Dansé Dansé from New Cool Collective (NCC) is a nonstop party.   NCC out of The Netherlands, have been around for over 25 years now. Under the leadership of Benjamin Herman (sax), they have put out around 20 albums including a couple of big band albums and several collaborative efforts. The eight-piece band’s sound perhaps is best described by one of their early album titles “Soul, Jazz, Latin Flavours Nineties Vibes”, always with a retro feel but bringing something fresh to each album. On their latest album, New Cool Collective mix all those styles and more with a fast paced jaunt through time and space. They always with a retro feel but bringing something fresh to each album. Check out Bidibidi and you’ll be singing by the end of the song.

Soul Food is timeless as is Maceo.  M-A-C-E-O Parker is the most iconic funk sax player of all time, full stop. He’s had a nearly 60-year career and has been on many of the most famous recordings of all time with James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, The JB’s and since the early 1990s his own albums. He’s one of those rare musicians that can go by one name only, Maceo! I’ve been a fan throughout his career and now he’s come out with his first studio album in eight years. It’s a great 10-track album with a definite New Orleans flair spanning eight covers and two Maceo originals.

He put together a veritable New Orleans all-star team to give it that full authenticity and paired them with a stellar track list that spans most of the timeline of his career. 

Como De Allstars marked the return of GBA after a 13-year hiatus between recordings. It is the fifth studio album and sixth overall from The Greyboy Allstars and it’s terrific from track-to-track. GBA formed over than 25 years ago in San Diego and immediately rekindled the light of “boogaloo” music, a popular Latin form from the 1960s in New York City. Their music has a feel for funk, jazz, beach and soul music.

Since their seminal album West Coast Boogaloo, this group has been hitting us with great but all too infrequent albums and even less frequent live shows. The Greyboy Allstars play together a few times a year now finding perennial respite from their busier gigs. On one such trek, they were in Texas for a rare weekend of shows. In Dallas, though, their set was canned due to raging weather. They found an open rehearsal room and challenged themselves to write their first new tunes in half a decade. They reveled in the same rapport they felt when they first stepped into a practice so long ago. “Getting the physical bodies together is almost impossible, given our schedules,” says Elgin Park (Michael Andrews, guitar). “But it immediately feels like it did back then. We have such a great time.”

Denson captured the Dallas jams with his laptop and passed them around. The Allstars soon reconvened for another writing session in San Diego, the band’s cradle that remains the hometown for half its members. They decided to capture these songs much like they’d done in their earliest days, particularly for West Coast Boogaloo—on the cheap and on the quick, without overthinking a concept or production.

They dubbed the sessions Como de Allstars as a spin on the Spanish phrase como de costumbre, or “as per usual,” since they’ve always been at their best when plowing through tunes without hesitation. The Greyboy Allstars’ dual missions—to preserve the heritage of jazz-funk giants and empower it to grow on their terms—seem timeless now, as witnessed by their return with Como De Allstars.

Free Swim is a fresh album from another long-time favorite, Lotus, know for electronic jams or jamtronica. This could possibly seem like an outlier from the group but if you listen you’ll hear elements of jazz and funk.  They’re always pushing the edges and this album is consistent with that, adding touches of vocals, flute and sax as accent pieces along the way.

Tell Your Friends – Remixed and Remastered marks the 10-year anniversary of this landmark album.  It’s pretty amazing that this early in their careers Snarky Puppy could put out an album with nothing but winners including White Cap, Ready Wednesday, Flood, Skate U and Slow Demon.

Tell Your Friends has a very prescient title, as a bunch of musicians in their mid-20s decided to do something wild – cut a live studio album, with no overdubs, with a small live audience and film crew in attendance. Sound like a plan? Then the band, with Michael League as its leader decided to put all tracks up on YouTube to build buzz and a worldwide phenomenon was launched. It was the beginning of everyone telling their friends about this great band, Snarky Puppy, and led them to make five more albums in this fashion. 

Tell Your Friends is an outstanding album and one that will go down in history as a landmark. Each tune is a gem — there is not one that I would ever skip — and I encourage listening to the album in its entirety. This year is the tenth anniversary of its release and its timelessness is borne out by the fact four of the eight tracks are often played live. As the band resumes touring and they typically revive older tracks, I’m hoping to hear some of the hidden gems here played live too. This is one of my all time favorites amped up with the remix and remastering and will bring hours of listening delight.

Stand Up For Love from the Haggis Horns has a nice blend of funk and R&B. I first became aware of The Haggis Horns from their playing with The New Mastersounds on their debut album Keb Darge Presents (1999). Then I got hooked with their own debut album Enter The Haggis (2007). Both of these then turned me on to Corinne Bailey Rae, the wife of Jason Rae, the original Haggis sax player. So, I was excited to review their fifth album. “Stand Up For Love” which came out on their own label Haggis Records on May 22nd.

This album features singer John McCallum on seven out of the nine tracks making this their most vocal led album to date. He’s also the guitarist on Corinne Bailey Rae’s band and has been a floating member of The Haggis Horns since the beginning, recording their funk anthem “Hot Damn” back in 2007. 

Live At Ronnie Scott’s is a brilliant jazz trio album from Bill Laurance, a longstanding member of Snarky Puppy, and one of the original keys players. Often identified by fans for his sensual and sensitive playing, he also provides some of the band’s most amazing keys solos. In addition, he an accomplished song writer having penned some of the groups most memorable tunes like Ready Wednesday and 34 Klezma.

Bill also has established a very successful career on his own producing four studio albums and three live albums. The trio emphasizes Bill’s virtuosity as well as the other feature players musicianship.

Eight Cylinder Big Band from Matthias Bublath is a jazz & funk roller coaster and a helluva lot of fun.  Although new to me, the 41-year old pianist, organist and composer has cut a number of albums, but never one of this magnitude, with a 17-piece band, most of which are horns. And I love them horns making this one of my favorite albums of 2020. In addition to the piano and keyboard, Matthias is a specialist on the Hammond B3 organ, able to play bass lines with the left hand and pedals simultaneously, and that shines throughout this album.

Matthias has performed at various festivals and events worldwide, including as the Montreux Jazz  Festival, Kora Awards (Johannesburg, South Africa), and the Kennedy Center and toured all over Japan. He got some of his educational training at Berklee and then established his chops as a freelance musician in New York City for over seven years. The genres on this album cruise from big band jazz, blues, funk and gospel to Latin American rhythms.  Takuya Kuroda, a long-time collaborator plays trumpet on three tunes including Matight Intro, Eight Cylinder and Gospel Song.

Step Up is the latest from Tower of Power, funk and soul legends, and the greatest horn band ever. This album is another beauty, following on the heels of 2018’s Soul Side of Town which was recorded at the same time. In that respect, it again follows one of ToP’s original recipes with some new twists as well. As with SSoT, it opens and closes with a split funky ride, this time East Bay! All the Way! coupled with East Bay! Oaktown All the Way! These bookend tunes are always fun to frame the album and were used effectively as far back as the Back to Oakland album (1974).

Step Up‘s production values are strong, with full orchestration and backup singers to accompany Tower’s super tight and funky horns, excellent lyrics and masterful rhythm section anchored by David Garibaldi on skins. The album is a nice mix of funk, soul, and ballads and overall brings back that old school soulful sound.

Atmosphere garnered the Nightcrawlers their first Grammy nomination in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. The Nightcrawlers have been around for more than 20 years and I first got hooked on them with Funknicity in 1997.  Despite their tenure, this is only their fifth album and first since 2009’s Slither Slice.

Although the group credits Dirty Dozen Brass Band as the progenitors of the brass bound sound, I feel the Nightcrawlers have definitely carved their way into the quintessential funk, brass NOLA style sound which they’ve made all their own.  Listen to this album end to end and you’ll be transported right to the center of Congo Square.

About Time is Malcolm Strachan’s his ‘rookie’ solo album.  Malcolm is best known as a founding member and trumpeter with the top UK funk/jazz-funk band The Haggis Horns. The Haggis Horns appeared regularly with The New Mastersounds including their very first album. Malcolm has been performing for over 20 years with such stellar performers as Mark Ronson, Amy WineHouse, Corinne Bailey Rae.

The album is a change of pace for Malcolm, primarily a jazz collection with all original compositions,written and arranged by Malcolm. From full-on latin vibes to beautiful ballads, soul jazz grooves to cinematic soundtrack flavours, all woven together by a great group of experienced musicians.

Malcolm’s love of jazz comes from his parents and at age 7, his jazz musician father gave him a trumpet. He had a formal musical education but also learned from his dad’s record collection listening to Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie records and learning to improvise and solo by ear. While attending Leeds College of Music, he immersed himself in the city’s vibrant acid jazz, funk and soul scene and starting with his recording debut in 1999 with The New Mastersounds. Jazz was always his musical passion but took a back seat to funk/soul/pop which were the day job. Until now. Jazz is back. The wait is over. It really is “About Time” for Malcolm Strachan. 

GoGo Penguin, the eponymous album is super-relaxing and most of the tunes have multiple layers. The band is a unique piano trio formed in 2012 in Manchester, England. Their sound defies any one conventional category as they cross between jazz, classical, funk, electronic, trance and hypnotic. I got hooked on them about four years ago when their third album Man Made Object came out. Now they’ve just released their fifth album with the eponymous title, GoGo Penguin. They’re not really a “power” trio but their work is amazing because at times it can seem “orchestral.” The group is comprised of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner.

Typically, Chris Illingworth leads with an underlying complex melody, often playing the piano with one hand on the keys and one on the string board. Blacka and Turner come in with unusual syncopation and many cleverly timed patterns, starts and stops. It’s great to review another wonderful release from this group. In these turbulent times, this one is like a stress antidote. Although the group had to postpone their 2020 tour, I definitely hope to catch them live whenever our paths cross.

#KingButch is this year’s latest release from Butcher Brown, the Richmond, VA quintet that plays a mix of jazz, funk and hip/hop. Their music is not easy to characterize nor should it be. The group’s been around since the early 2010s but only recently has begun more broad national touring. They recall some of the great fusion bands of the 70s including Weather Report and Return to Forever as well as some great individual players like Ronnie Laws, who they cover on this album with “Tidal Wave.”

I’ve seen them live five times since 2018 including opening for Kamasi Washington at Atlanta’s Buckhead Theatre in 2018.  More recently, I’ve seen them three times in the last year or so, first opening for Lettuce in the Caverns in September 2019 and then two nights opening for The Motet at Terminal West in January 2020.  These most recent shows made a big impact on me and I realized that they were a band that I would be catching every time they come to town.

At those shows this year, Butcher Brown previewed a number of the songs from their recent  release #KingButch and it was clear that this was going to be an outstanding album.

Three-O is Shaun Martin’s third album following 7 Summers and Focus, and naturally is a trio album. Shaun is a six-time Grammy award winner, three with Kirk Franklin and three with Snarky Puppy. That’s a lot of threes. Shaun is an amazing keyboardist and definitely his own man. Yet, one of the things that I enjoy about his music is that he is so versatile in his playing and has an uncanny way of playing new songs in a familiar sounding way. He reminds me of what Joe Sample, another Texas keyboardist know for work with The Crusaders and as a solo performer once said during a live performance, “I’m in demand as a studio musician because I just play what I feel, whatever the music calls for.” Each of the songs on this excellent album are uniquely Shaun, but I can’t help but relating to some of the great keyboardists I’ve listened to my whole life.

There’s a Tide is one of the best jazz albums you’ll hear this year from a 12-piece band. The awe-inspiring aspect is that all twelve pieces are played by Chris Potter. As amazing as that is, the song’s are a superb collection with Chris’ impressive imprint on each track. s expected the woodwinds take the lead on each track here as Chris displays his remarkable dexterity on clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute and of course saxophones. Chris seamlessly switches the lead from one to the next and blends them smoothly so the album is remarkably cohesive. On top of that, the composition of all of the ‘supporting’ instruments is rock solid and that makes each track a winner. For each track there’s at least one lead woodwind, sometimes two or three, and several solos.

PULS is one of this year’s surprises for me. Truth be told, they’re probably my most listened to groups of the last couple of months.  Meute is an 11-piece marching band, all brass and percussion, delivering beat laden, hypnotic, techno-music.  I came across them doing some research for another post and I was hooked.  In fact, I checked and they were in Atlanta in November 2019 on their first North American tour and I missed them for some reason, but I won’t miss them again.  The band has been around since 2016 and this is their fourth album. All the tracks are good but my favorite is probably “What Else Is There?” the one vocal track on the album.  Also check out Live in Paris which came out in 2019.

Tailwinds is Fearless Flyers their first full length album following its two EPS, Fearless Flyers I and II. The Fearless Flyers are a super-group featuring Joe Dart and Cory Wong from Vulfpeck, Mark Lettieri from Snarky Puppy and Nate Smith (Nate Smith, Chris Potter ). Tailwinds

Although the band is an offshoot, they are definitely distinctive in sound and cutting their own path.  They’ve performed a few live shows including opening for Vulfpeck at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.

For this fine effort, they recruited their own horn section, the Delta Force, featuring Alekos Syropoulos (alto sax), Kenni Holmen (tenor sax) and Grace Kelly (baritone sax). 

Live from Amsterdam is one of eight releases this year from the prodigious and prolific Cory Wong including five studio and three live.  “Live” is with the Metropole Orkest from The Netherlands, another favorite of mine after collaborating with Snarky Puppy on the Grammy-winning album Sylva.

Cory as many know is frequently touring with Vulfpeck and is also a member of The Fearless Flyers (who have an album in this favorites list).  He’s got his own touring band (including Kevin Gastonguay who has an album in this favorites list) but this one features his repertoire of songs backed by the full jazz orchestra.  There’s something about hearing tunes you know and love backed by more than 40 musicians.  The album also features Cody Fry on a couple of tunes.  This one is fun to listen to and fun to watch.

Snapdragon was my introduction to Oz Noy, the Israeli virtuoso guitar player.  Although I’ve heard of him and he’s played with literally dozens of musicians I know and this is his 10th solo album, it’s the first I’ve gave a thorough listen and the floodgates have opened.  Oz plays a mix of  jazz, funk, rock, blues, and r&b and the first song here, Looni Tooni, has such a groove that the album is worth purchasing just for that.  On top of it all, the album features an all-star lineup – 

“Among those stoking the fires of the rhythm section are Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Will Lee, James Genus, and John Patitiucci, while Noy trades improvised solos and notated melodies with saxophonist Chris Potter, keyboardists David Kikoski and Jason Lindner, trumpeter John Sneider, guitarist Adam Rogers, and the recently deceased trumpet Wallace Roney, whose subtly blues-tinged solo glides over the nimble rhythmic modulations of “Outer Look.” – Bandcamp

IWear My Face on My Head is a top notch funk/fusion album full stop. It’s a great addition to the collection of any fan of Snarky Puppy, Lettuce, Soulive or any groove oriented band. I saw Kevin touring with Cory Wong few times but connected after the set at Sweetwater 420 Festival set in 2019. Kevin had some killer solos in every show so I was on the lookout when he released this album.

One of the fun things about the album is that each song has its own style and the instrumentation on each track is unique. Regarding how the album came together, Kevin relayed “I recorded the whole record remotely from April- July. I just emailed tracks to friends and then I’d often re-record parts to help make it feel more like we were playing together. Once I got all the tracks ready I met with my mix engineer Jason McGlone who helped put it all together.” 

Kevin moves seamlessly from electronic sounds to classic piano and back to create great vibes.  The textures are very intricate and layered and Kevin described it like this, “Radio 2030 has at least 10 different keyboard tones happening throughout and sometimes up to that many happening at the same time. For example, the breakbeat outro section has 4 lead synths happening simultaneously, synth bass, a layer of Rhodes and piano, and arpeggiator synth, string synth, synth swells, another piano track and probably more. Babar’s Revenge has piano, mellotron, 1 or 2 string synths, 3 or 4 lead synths, synth brass swells, synth bass, a few sound fx tracks…. you get the idea, about every song is like this. Farewell goes up to 6 part harmony…. I recorded them individually, so 6 tracks.”

It dawned on me that artists like Kevin really have to be 3D thinkers with music moving through time and space but the layering adds the thick third dimension.

Refraction is Pickpocket’s third album packed with a fresh take on classic-funk.  One of the coolest things in writing about music is finding out that the funk is alive all over the world. The 8-piece Melbourne, Australia based band plays groove-based instrumental music with a focus on tight, funky rhythms and soaring, singable melodies. Most of the recording for Refraction was completed in Melbourne in 2019 with  the final mixes arriving in early 2020 and the album’s digital release just this past week.

Pickpocket was started way back in 2012 by Craig Strain and went through a few lineup changes before settling on the current personnel for the last 4 years. Craig is the bandleader and composer for the band with writing contributions also coming from Alex Howroyd and Neil Boland over the years. All releases have been self funded and released, and up until Refraction they were all mixed and produced by Craig. Refraction was predominantly mixed by Jason Kingsland (USA) who the band got on board after being impressed with the latest Forq release which he also mixed.
Pickpocket and I connected via social media, a great resource in this otherwise down year.  I heard a clip from the album and immediately got hooked and I think you will too.

Law of Attraction is the latest release from Mike Casey, a young jazz saxophonist yet he’s been around the world and around jazz a long time. Law of Attraction should be widely appealing based on its mix of old and new across several styles. Mike has enchanted a diverse young audience around the world, performing his signature blend of upbeat, accessible, exploratory original music and genre-bending re-imaginations of jazz, pop, R&B, and even hip hop classics with mature lyricism. This album ranges from ‘Unforgettable’ made popular by Nat King Cole, to two reimagined Daniel Caesar songs, to ‘No Church In The Wild’ from Jay-Z.

Mike has been playing sax since the 5th grade and plays mostly tenor on this album with the exception of No Church In The Wild” and “Squeaky Wheel.” Mike explained to me “though I’ve been playing alto way longer I’ve always approached it like a tenor player and do have a “thicker” sound than is common for alto.”

History Gets Ahead of the Story is the sixth album from drummer and composer Jeff Cosgrove. It is  as a homage to his longtime collaborator friend and bassist William Parker. This time he writes the arrangements for an organ trio featuring John Medeski on organ (Medeski, Martin and Wood, Medeski’s Mad Skillet) and Jeff Lederer on sax (Matt Wilson Quartet). Lederer and Cosgrove have played together several times and Lederer and Medeski and John have played together a good bit but the three of had never played together before that first day of recording. Cosgrove said, “There were no rehearsals or anything, we just went for it. Another benefit of working with some incredible musicians.”

Both Cosgrove and Parker are known for their spontaneous composition and this album strongly delivers on that front. Cosgrove explains, “We had lead sheets for all of the tunes but there really wasn’t any pre-arrangement. One of us would have an idea of how to try a particular tune and make a take of it. Sometimes it worked right out of the gate – like Things Fall Apart and other times we went through a few different tries to get it where we wanted. All of the melodies were written but the arrangements were very spontaneous which was one of the most fun parts for me about the recording.”

The recording was done at Applehead studios in Saugerties NY over a two-day period. Most of the recording was done in the first day with the second day for Wood Flute Song, Things Fall Apart, and Purcell’s Lament. “We picked takes and made second passes at a couple of other tunes that didn’t end up making the record. It was a pretty fast process” said Cosgrove and continued, “Most record dates I do are done in a day. We dialed in most of the sounds the night before we started recording which was a huge help so we had two full days to play music. Chris Bittner (the engineer) really knows that space and John’s sound and was incredible at getting us set. Another huge luxury was getting to use my drums. It seems like a strange thing but I rarely get to use my drums on my records, usually it is provided drums at the studio or performance space.”

Each track on the album takes on one or more of three voice types : melodic, where each instrument is flowing together, conversational, where the instruments are bouncing back and forth in a call and response mode and frenzied where they combine to form a cacophony of sound before returning to one of the other two. This makes for a very dynamic album with very interesting combinations and range.

William Parker wrote seven of the ten tracks – with Lederer writing two (Purcell’s Lament, Gospel Flowers) and Cosgrove wrote Ghost. These were compositions from William’s Quartet book featuring Rob Brown, Flip Barns, William and Hamid Drake. Cosgrove says, “I love this band, it’s my favorite of William’s groups and have seen them many times.” Overall, the compositions and improvisations are strong and both Medeski and Lederer are highlighted on different tracks and segments with Cosgrove laying down strong grooves throughout.

Harlem Hipshake is a release that will keep you movin’ and groovin’ all day and night. It’s a full on party with a throwback style to the Latin soul of Ray Barreto and Mongo Santamaria in the ’60s. The Bongolian, multi-instrumentalist Nasser Bouzida, plays all the instruments except the funky horns on the album, and there’s plenty of that. Fans of retro cool bands like The New Mastersounds, New Cool Collective and The Filthy Six should feel Harlem Hipshake’s vibe from the get go. 


Fondue Party is a concept record of tracks recorded during the Polyrhythmics Man from the Future sessions, but deliberately saved for this EP. Polyrhythmics already play a wide range of styles from Afro-beat (their origin) to funk, soul, psychedelic rock, R&B and progressive jazz so I was particularly looking forward to this release. This collection of songs explores the group’s downtempo, chilled-out side with heavy dub influence. While past releases mirror the group’s live performances with diverse and dynamic sets taking you on a journey with lots of twists and turns along the way, Fondue Party fits a vibe of its own and is intentionally different than past releases.The EP also commemorates the band’s 10th anniversary and serves as a special treat to longtime fans while making ears perk up for new listeners.

rEvolve is a solo effort from Robin Clabby, 1/3rd of the front line of the high-energy 8 piece funk outfit Brass-A-Holics since 2010. For a few years now, the Brass-A-Holics have been one of my favorite New Orleans bands, playing that unique GoGoBrass funk style.  Robin has recorded a lot of band albums and been on other people’s records over the years but never found the time to do his own album. Robin probably averaged a gig a day for the last decade or so and was quite happy just playing live for a long time. When his wife completed her PHD a year and a half ago and got a job teaching at Princeton, Robin realized he’d be leaving New Orleans (at least as a full time resident) and figured it was time to collect his thoughts on wax while he still had easy access to musician and engineer friends down there. This album is really meant to be a snapshot of where Clabby is now and what got him there.

With his solo release rEvolve, Clabby’s smaller group playing gets a chance to shine. The tunes are a mix of new material, unrecorded live show staples, and a couple of previously released songs reimagined for a smaller group format.  A solid funk thread connects all eight tunes on the record, but the vibe varies from the head nodding jazz-funk fusion of tunes like rEvolve and ReRoute, to feel good cuts like Elevate and Gratitude or the dreamlike PDX. The two vocal tunes, One Step at a Time and Down In New Orleans provide some nice contrast to the instrumentals. Down In New Orleans in particular could easily become a new Mardi Gras favorite.


Life On Other Planets came out early in the year is a nice addition to the Moon Hooch collection.  Moon Hooch was included as one of my “Twelve Terrific Trios” piece earlier this year.  They are comprised of just two ‘saxes’ and drummer – but Michael Wilbur (tenor saxophone, bass saxophone, synthesizers, vocals) and Wenzl McGowen (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, contrabass clarinet, synthesizers) mix it up so much that they keep every tune interesting.  The band started with busking in NYC but pre-pandemic was a national touring headliner.  Their shows and albums are super dynamic and innovative mixing elements of funk, jazz, hip-hop, house and even classical.  A favorite here is Nonphysical.

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