The 20 Best Jazz Albums of 2020

​Here are six of the key jazz trends of the last 20 years, defined by 20 of the best 2020 recordings that made us see, again, why this music is in midst of such a thrilling patch of creativity.

TREND 6: Concerns beyond the purely musical, particularly the agency of women in the music and the ability of all creative musicians to be paid fairly for their music, are not resolved but are finally being addressed more directly.

Maria Schneider – Data Lords (ArtistShare)


Maria Schneider is one of the unassailable voices in jazz—a Grammy regular who is nevertheless an uncompromising and whose big band is essentially a New York all-star band. Her latest recording is a double-length affair, with a first-half meant to evoke the dark menace of the big tech companies who are harvesting data from consumers and telling musicians (especially creative musicians whose margins are so much thinner) to fuck off and just make more music if they hope to make any music in the digital economy. The second half evokes the beauty of the natural world, allowing listeners to hear an alternative. And Schneider has the incredible players who can give the instrumental colors to paint both portraits. Guitarist Ben Monder is particularly critical to “The Digital World”, using his power and distortion combined with melodic invention. Gary Versace’s accordion plays an equivalent key role on “The Natural World”, though other voices make huge impressions as well: Ryan Keberle’s trombone, saxophonists Steve Wilson and Donny McCaslin, pianist Frank Kimbrough.