For our 2020 Year in Review section, we calculated the top 40 new releases and top 10 historical/reissue recordings of 2020 based on year-end lists by our writers. They were asked to choose the 10 best new releases and five best historical titles—i.e., albums and box sets consisting primarily of music recorded 10 or more years ago. To see each voter’s ballot, go here. Albums and box sets released between Nov. 10, 2019 and Nov. 13, 2020 were eligible. Some discs may have slipped through the cracks, however, as official release dates shifted or weren’t available. For numbers 40-31, go here; for numbers 30-21, go here; and for numbers 20-11, go here.
By now, jazz fans have come to expect marvels from Maria Schneider, but the scale and magnificence of Data Lords is exceptional even for her. A concept album split into two spheres, it wrestles with the key conflict of our time: the alluring, empty promises of “The Digital World” versus the calming, nourishing beauty of “The Natural World.” It’s not hard to guess which side Schneider is pulling for, but this is less a polemic than a portrait, and the soundscapes she paints are as wonderfully detailed as any she’s composed. Even as “Don’t Be Evil” evokes Google’s techno-menace through towering trumpets and growling bass trombone, it’s hard not to be awed by the beauty of the writing. Likewise, it’s both thrilling and horrifying to hear Mike Rodriguez’s electronically altered trumpet solo portray the transformation of AI from useful servant to uncaring data lord. On the second disc, Schneider’s richly colored writing escorts us through the grounds of a Buddhist temple in “Sanzenin” and captures the drama of avian life in “Bluebird.” Whether conjuring forests and fields or circuits and cities, Data Lords stands as a pointed reminder of just how much can be said with a jazz orchestra. J.D. CONSIDINE