#6: Secrets Are The Best Stories on Jazzwise’s Top 20 Jazz Albums of 2020

The ultimate guide to the year’s best new jazz albums as voted for by Jazzwise’s peerless panel of reviewers – including the complete original Jazzwise reviews.

Back in March as lockdown was imposed, things looked bleak. But jazz listens, adapts and improvises, as it always has; and musicians used their voices to help raise spirits and challenge populist regimes.

One such voice is Maria Schneider and her stunning musical rumination on the increasingly invasive digital world, Data Lords, which hit the spot with so many of our writers it bagged a runaway win.

As usual, all writers submit their top 10 choices in both categories, with 10 marks awarded for number one down to one for number 10. Big congratulations to all those who made the cut!

1. Maria Schneider Orchestra, Data Lords (ArtistShare)

2. Django Bates, Tenacity (Lost Marble)

3. Charles Lloyd, 8: Kindred Spirits (Live from the Lobero) (Blue Note)

4. Pat Metheny, From This Place (Nonesuch)

5. Gary Bartz & Maisha, Night Dreamer Direct-to-Disc Sessions (Night Dreamer)

6. Kurt Elling, Secrets Are The Best Stories (Edition)

For its lyrical depth, emotional sincerity, and stellar performances, Secrets Are The Best Stories must be considered one of the most compelling entries in Kurt Elling’s acclaimed discography. Elling partners here for the first time with Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, and the sense of a shared aesthetic sensibility is keenly felt throughout. Based on the classic Jaco Pastorius composition, ‘Continuum’, ‘A Certain Continuum’ returns us to the 2018 Rilke-inspired collaboration with Branford Marsalis, The Questions. Indeed, Elling’s lyrics give a conscious nod to the themes of the earlier album (“Questions linger on until the end”).

Based on a theme by Pérez’s long-time mentor and bandleader, Wayne Shorter, in ‘Stays’ Elling discovers why the elderly neighbour in his apartment block avoids him, in a chilling note from history (“How to endure, when fear and hate is such a lure, at history’s core. The answer’s obscure.”), with the deep sense of unease heightened by Pérez’s use of bitonality. The album’s Pérez/Elling-penned centrepiece ‘Beloved (for Toni Morrison)’ is a tour de force, representing the heart of the album in both a structural and dramatic sense, and featuring an especially powerful contribution from altoist Miguel Zenón. Another Pérez/Elling co-write, the tintinnabulating ‘Songs of the Rio Grande’, introduces the beguiling timbres of a prepared piano. Elling also writes new lyrics for Vince Mendoza’s ‘Esperanto’, and offers big-hearted takes on works by Silvio Rodríguez (the deeply captivating ‘Rabo de Nube’) plus Django Bates/Sidsel Endresen (‘Stages I, II and III’ from Endresen’s 1994 ECM album, Exiles). The Pérez vignette ‘Epilogo’ brings this unerringly fine album to a hushed close. –Peter Quinn

7. Tigran Hamasyan, The Call Within (Nonesuch)

8= Ambrose Akinmusire, On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment (Blue Note)

8= Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow, Life Goes On (ECM)

10. Callum Au & Claire Martin, Songs and Stories (Stunt)

11. Jeff Parker & The New Breed, Suite For Max Brown (International Anthem / Nonesuch)

12= Kate Westbrook & The Granite Band, Earth Felt the Wound (Westbrook Records)

12= Nubya Garcia, Source (Concord Jazz)

14. John Scofield, Swallow Tales (ECM)

15. Wynton Marsalis & Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, The Ever Fonky Lowdown (Blue Engine)

16. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Hero Trio (Whirlwind Recordings)

17= Aaron Diehl, The Vagabond (Mack Avenue)

17= Jyoti, Mama, You Can Bet! (eOne)

17= Aaron Parks, Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (Ropeadope)

17= Chick Corea, Plays (Concord Jazz)