My favorite musical discoveries of 2021
26 December 2021
Last year, I decided to share half-a-dozen of my favorite new-to-me music that year. My tastes are certainly not mainstream, but I hope they jangled your curiosity strings and maybe even led to some enjoyable discoveries. So here's another batch for this year.
Burnheart by Johanna Burnheart
sample track: Forever Dance
Jazz violin usually tends to lead people to think of the Grapelli gypsy jazz style, but Johanna Burnheart takes more influence from the clubs of modern-day Berlin. She describes her music as existing "at the point where modal jazz and techno meet". This kind of music has been one my most favorite areas to explore in recent years. This year also saw me exploring the music of Mammal Hands and enjoy two new albums by Portico Quartet: my gateway to this genre.
Axiom by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
sample track: X. Adjuah [I Own the Night]
As soon as the percussion gets roaring soon after the start of X. Adjuah [I Own the Night], I knew I'd run into a special artist. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah's trumpet has a stark, pure tone contrasting to the rich layers of percussion and rhythm. This produces a sound that feels like it could be one the places Miles Davis might have ended up on the path from his work in the early 70's. I've explored a bunch of his albums this year, and can't really pick out a favorite, so I picked where I started, a live album recorded just before New York closed down in March 2020.
Stari Most by Stefano Saletti, Piccola Banda Ikona
Stefano Saletti plays music rooted in the Mediterranean, not necessarily of a particular country, but of the traffic and travels of that sea. Many of his songs are sung in the forgotten language Sabir, a lingua franca used by sailors and merchants in Mediterranean ports. I've been drawn to much of his music over the years, either under his own name, or that of Piccola Banda Ikona
Sound the People by Red Baraat
sample track: Next Level
Anyone who enjoys interesting rhythms will naturally turn their ears to India. Sunny Jain's Red Baraat takes Indian influences and blends them with "hip-hop, jazz, and raw punk energy". I'm not a dancer, but it's hard to resist the energy and beats of this band. There's a lot of imagination in modern Indian music, and I like seeing it influencing western music scenes.
My Finest Work Yet by Andrew Bird
sample track: olympians
About as close as I get to mainstream these days, Andrew Bird slides between American folk and indie rock with the help of some distinctive violin loops and a remarkable whistle.
Bailalo Duro by Nkumba System
sample track: Bailalo Duro
There's long been a fruitful cross-pollination between Latin American and African music. Guillo Cros brought together musicians from Columbia and West Africa to make a band that lives with this cross current. Latin American melodies and rhythms overlaid with delightful soukous mi-solo from guitarist Simba Daniel Evousa.
I hope these suggestions have given you some new music to enjoy. If so, please toss out a tweet and tell me what you liked. That way I'll know to keep sharing these in future years. As such I'll shout out my appreciation to my best sources: Dave Sumner's monthly columns on best jazz on Bandcamp Daily, and James Catchpole's OK Jazz podcasts from the gritty streets of Yokohama.