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Best Jazz Albums of 2020

The best jazz 2020 in 20 essential albums.

3 solos, 3 duets, 3 quartets, 3 quintets, 3 larger ensembles, 1 artist of the year, and 1 archive of the year.

No rank, no order, just 20 albums and a playlist summing it up at the end of this post to enjoy outstanding music.

best jazz albums 2020

Solo Albums

Keith Jarrett - Budapest Concert

Keith Jarrett

Budapest Concert

This is another amazing solo concert by the virtuoso pianist Keith Jarrett. Recorded live on July 3, 2016, at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, Budapest Concert is after Munich 2016 the second recording of this European tour published by ECM. But Budapest brought some extra inspiration: as his family roots reach back to Hungary he “viewed the Budapest concert as akin to a homecoming, and the context inspired much creative improvisation”.

Discover more with the article Keith Jarrett – Piano Solos (1998-2017)

Keith Jarrett: piano
Released October 30, 2020

Matthew Shipp - The Piano Equation

Matthew Shipp

The Piano Equation
(TAO Forms)

Further honing a singular cosmic musical language, Matthew Shipp began celebrating his landmark 60th year with this new solo piano recording.

Matthew Shipp: piano
Released May 22, 2020

Jyoti Mama You Can Bet


Mama, You Can Bet!

“Acclaimed Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Georgia Anne Muldrow returns with her 3rd studio album as part of her one-woman jazz ensemble Jyoti.”

Georgia Anne Muldrow: everything | Guest Lakecia Benjamin
Released February 13, 2022

Duet Albums

James Brandon Lewis, Chad Taylor - Live in Willisau

James Brandon Lewis, Chad Taylor

Live in Willisau
(Intakt Records)

James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Chad Taylor: drums, mbira.
Released April 17, 2020

Best Jazz 2020 - Anteloper - Tour Beats Vol. 1


Tour Beats Vol. 1
(International Anthem)

Tour Beats Vol. 1 was first self-produced in 2019 as a super limited-edition tour tape (30). We can count it as a 2020 release when International Anthem finally made it available to a larger audience (in a package featuring artwork by Branch, photos by Richard Ross, and liner notes as a poem by Rob Mazurek).

Jaimie Branch: trumpet, synth; Jason Nazary: drums, synth
Released July 1, 2020

Angelica Sanchez Marilyn Crispell How to Turn the Moon

Angelica Sanchez, Marilyn Crispell

How to Turn the Moon

Angelica Sanchez: piano (left channel); Marilyn Crispell: piano (right channel)
Released October 2, 2020

Trio Albums

Peter Brötzmann, Maâlem Moukhtar Gania - The Catch of a Ghost

Peter Brötzmann, Maâlem Moukhtar Gania, Hamid Drake

The Catch of a Ghost
(I Dischi Di Angelica)

“3 names, 3 cultures, 3 continents, 3 different concepts of time and timing – this is the essence of this trio. This is what we have to bring together. I am rather optimistic.”
— Peter Brötzmann

Peter Brötzmann: tenor saxophone, tarogato; Maâlem Moukhtar Gania: guembri, voice; Hamid Drake: drums
Released April 20, 2020


Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow

Life Goes On

“A striking album of new music from pianist/composer Carla Bley, whose trio with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow is now in its 25th year.”

Carla Bley: piano; Andy Sheppard: soprano & tenor saxophones; Steve Swallow: bass
Released February 14, 2020

Rudresh Mahanthappa Hero Trio

Rudresh Mahanthappa

Hero Trio

“I have always wanted to record in the powerful yet intimate trio format. It would be an incomplete venture without somehow celebrating the quintessential saxophone trio work of Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, and Ornette Coleman. Outside of the jazz world, I first saw both Johnny Cash and Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street as a child and have always found their work to be beautiful, humorous, pensive, and utterly joyful. They have played such a strong role in helping me to look beyond the illusory boundaries of genre toward seeing music as a magical force that binds humanity. With this album, we seek to endorse and spread that message widely.”
–Rudresh Mahanthappa

Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; François Moutin: acoustic bass; Rudy Royston: drums
Released June 19, 2020

Quartet Albums

Ambrose Akinmusire - On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment

Ambrose Akinmusire

On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment
(Blue Note)

“With on the tender spot of every calloused moment, Akinmusire not only asserts himself as one of the best trumpeters in the world, he’s using his voice to dissect the complexity of black life in America. Yet he isn’t trying to summon gloom, he’s unpacking it all. Through his trumpet comes the breath of a black man who’s seen the best and worst of the country, and harnesses it into 49 minutes of gorgeous, shape-shifting art.”
–Blue Note Records

Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet, fender Rhodes; Harish Raghavan: bass; Justin Brown: drums; Sam Harris: piano | Jesús Diaz: vocals on track 1; Genevieve Artadi: vocals on track 3
Released June 5, 2020

Magic Spirit Quartet

Majid Bekkas, Goran Kajfeš, Jesper Nordenström, Stefan Pasborg

Magic Spirit Quartet

“Now, with Magic Spirit Quartet, he has taken the boldly imaginative step of building a bridge to connect North Africa and Scandinavia, to align the ancestral with the ambient. It is an inspired move which seems to catch the very spirit of 21st-century jazz.”

Majid Bekkas: vocals, guembri, oud & electric guitar; Goran Kajfeš: trumpet, electric trumpet & percussion; Jesper Nordenström: piano, organ, synthesizers & spinet piano; Stefan Pasborg: drums, percussion & tuned gongs
Released January 31, 2020

Immanuel Wilkins Omega

Immanuel Wilkins

(Blue Note)

“After making a striking appearance on Joel Ross’ KingMaker, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins delivers an expansive opus about the Black experience in America on his own debut album Omega, which was produced by Jason Moran and features a next-generation quartet with pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Daryl Johns, and drummer Kweku Sumbry.”
–Blue Note Records

Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone; Micah Thomas: piano; Daryl Johns: bass; Kweku Sumbry: drums
Released August 14, 2020

Quintet Albums

Ron Miles - Rainbow Sign

Ron Miles

Rainbow Sign
(Blue Note)

“Miles wrote most of Rainbow Sign as his father was passing away in the summer of 2018, and the album is both a loving dedication and a riveting spiritual document that scores the journey from Earth to eternal peace.”
Blue Note Records

Ron Miles: cornet; Brian Blade: drums; Bill Frisell: guitar; Jason Moran: piano, photography; Thomas Morgan: double bass
Released October 9, 2020

Best Jazz 2020 - Makaya McCraven - We're New Again

Gil Scott-Heron, Makaya McCraven

We’re New Again (A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven)
(XL Recordings)

“To mark the tenth anniversary of the release of I’m New Here, the thirteenth – and last – studio album from the legendary US musician, poet and author Gil Scott-Heron, XL Recordings will release a unique reinterpretation of the album by acclaimed US jazz musician Makaya McCraven.”
— XL Recordings

Makaya McCraven: drums; Jeff Parker: guitar; Brandee Younger: harp; Junius Paul: bass; Ben LaMar Gay: multi-instrumentalist | Gil Scott-Heron: voice
Released February 7, 2020

Susan Alcorn Quintet Pedernal

Susan Alcorn Quintet

(Relative Pitch)

Susan Alcorn: pedal steel guitar; Mark Feldman: violin; Michael Formanek: double bass; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Ryan Sawyer: drums
Released November 13, 2020

Larger Ensemble Albums

Anna Högberg Attack - Lena

Anna Högberg Attack


Read our full review here Anna Högberg AttackLena

Anna Högberg: alto saxophone; Elin Forkelid: tenor saxophone; Niklas Barnö: trumpet; Lisa Ullén: piano; Elsa Bergman: bass; Anna Lund: drums
Released April 25, 2020

Nduduzo Makhathini - Modes Of Communication Letters From The Underworld

Nduduzo Makhathini

Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds
(Blue Note)

“an expansive album anchored by Makhathini’s expressive piano in which lyrical, plaintive horns mingle with percussion, pained yelps and urgent lyrics”
— Blue Note

Nduduzo Makhatini: piano; Logan Richardson: alto saxophone; Linda Sikhakhane: tenor saxophone; Ndabo Zulu: trumpet; Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere: bass; Ayanda Sikade: drums; Asanda Msaki, Omagugu Makhathini, Nailah Makhathini: vocals
Released April 3, 2020

Best Jazz 2020 - Shabaka-and-the-Ancestors-We-Are-Sent-Here-By-History

Shabaka and the Ancestors

We Are Sent Here By History

“…it is jazz at its best. If humankind’s extinction is inevitable, as Hutchings fears, then at least we have some extraordinary music with which to play ourselves out.”
Chris May

Shabaka Hutchings: woodwinds; Mthunzi Mvubu: saxophone; Ariel Zamonsky: bass; Gontse Makhene: percussion; Tumi Mogorosi: drums; Siyabonga Mthembu: voice; Nduduzo Makhathini: keyboards; Thandi Ntuli: piano; Mandla Mlangeni: trumpet
Released March 13, 2020

Artist of the Year: Maria Schneider

Named “Artist of The Tear” for composing and conducting certainly the best jazz release of 2020:

Maria Schneider Orchestra Data Lords

Maria Schneider Orchestra

Data Lords

Maria Schneider: compositions, conductor; Greg Gisbert, Tony Kadleck, Nadje Noordhuis, Mike Rodriguez: trumpet, flügelhorn; Marshall Gilkes, Ryan Keberle, Keith O’Quinn: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Dave Pietro: alto saxophone, clarinet, piccolo, flute; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, flute; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson: baritone, Bb, bass & contrabass clarinets, muson; Gary Versace: accordion; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Ben Monder: guitar; Jay Anderson: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums, percussion
Released July 24, 2020

Archive of the Year: Palo Alto

Thelonious Monk Palo Alto

Thelonious Monk

Palo Alto

Thelonious Monk: piano; Charlie Rouse: saxophone, tenor; Larry Gales: bass; Ben Riley: drums
Recorded 1968 / Released September 18, 2020

Best Jazz 2020

  • Solo Albums
    • Keith JarrettBudapest Concert (ECM)
    • Matthew ShippThe Piano Equation (TAO Forms)
    • Jyoti – Mama, You Can Bet! (SomeOthaShip)
  • Duet Albums
    • James Brandon Lewis, Chad TaylorLive in Willisau (Intakt Records)
    • Anteloper Tour Beats Vol. 1 (International Anthem)
    • Angelica Sanchez, Marilyn Crispell – How to Turn the Moon (Pyroclastic)
  • Trio Albums
    • Peter Brötzmann, Maâlem Moukhtar Gania, Hamid DrakeThe Catch of a Ghost
    • Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve SwallowLife Goes On (ECM)
    • Rudresh Mahanthappa – Hero Trio (Whirlwind)
  • Quartet Albums
    • Ambrose AkinmusireOn the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment (Blue Note)
    • Majid Bekkas, Goran Kajfeš, Jesper Nordenström, Stefan PasborgMagic Spirit Quartet (ACT)
    • Immanuel Wilkins – Omega (Blue Note)
  • Quintet Albums
    • Ron MilesRainbow Sign (Blue Note)
    • Gil Scott-Heron, Makaya McCravenWe’re New Again (A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven) (XL Recordings)
    • Susan Alcorn Quintet – Pedernal (Relative Pitch) 
  • Larger Ensemble
    • Anna Högberg AttackLena (Omlott)
    • Nduduzo MakhathiniThe Underworlds (Blue Note)
    • Shabaka and the AncestorsWe Are Sent Here By History (Impulse!)
  • Artist Of The Year
    • Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords (ArtistShare)
  • Archive Of The Year
    • Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto (Impulse!) 

Playlist “Best Jazz 2020”

Listen to our “Best Jazz 2020” playlist with all the monthly new-release selections and excerpts of the above albums (when available) for a total of 120 breathtaking tracks.

Discover next:

Thank you

Thank you everyone for reading this article!

Thank you to all musicians—whether listed here or not—for creating music!

Any thoughts or comments you would like to add to this post?