Jan 17 2020
This is the year I expect outrage. This is the year that will leave some speechless, struggling for the words to express dismay at inexplicable omissions. This is the year that will convince some that this site has lost its bearings. And that’s because this is the year that was the best year ever.
Welcome to the Best of 2019.
It could’ve been one hundred. It could have been two hundred, and it still wouldn’t have been enough. The year 2019 was the strongest year of the decade in new releases, and the way with the numbers was such that some excellent recordings were not going to make this year’s list. That is how these things go. But what began as a general Best Of round-up in 2011, then became a formal countdown with 2012’s Top 30 best of list, then grew to a Top 50 in 2017, has now expanded to a heady Top 70 year-end rundown. It could’ve been 500, and it still would not have been enough.
How does one even measure a particular year’s greatness in comparison to others? With flawed precision, with unerring subjectivity, and an accumulation of first blush impressions that reveal the ultimate patterns that produce an emboldened statement like 2019 cemented the reality of this new golden age of Jazz. And it did. And here we are. And it’s only going to get better.
The introductions to the Best of 2017 and Best of 2018 columns are about as close as I’ll ever come to encapsulating what this Best Of list endeavor is about, what this site hopes to capture, and a good faith effort to give name to the music that is featured. This music we love. These columns spoke of musicians whose work have transcended the jazz classification, of musicians who rose up through the jazz tradition, but are making music that defies categorization as such. And this is how it should be. With each day that passes in their lives, these artists are pursuing new creative paths that allow them to express the person they are today, the person they were before, and the person they aspire to be. It’s only natural that their music would incorporate a mix of something mainstream, something traditional, and something alien and futuristic. These columns also remarked that it’s only natural their music would reflect the diversity of influences, musical or otherwise, that are like waves crashing against their shores each and every day. That diversity symbolizes the jazz scene today. It’s where we’re at.
The language of jazz remains a constant even under the forces of creative evolution, but the creativity that informs the approach to those constants is inevitably influenced by the musicians themselves… their past, present and vision of the future. It becomes obvious that the word Jazz is as all-encompassing, and usefully vague, as the concept of Earth. An argument could be made that the best direction to take in encapsulating the modern jazz scene is to view it through the artists themselves, and view jazz traditions through the foundations of the artists and not the art. Perhaps the perspective should be of the roots of the musicians and not so much via the roots of the music. Because while the latter is the basis for so much sonic joy, it’s the former that is ultimately the source of the inspiration and surprise and evolution that will keep jazz alive and headed down a path into the future, one generation after the next, like a golden age with no end.
Bird is the Worm is a catalog of that evolution. This site documents music from all corners of the globe, and from all types of people. But 2019 wasn’t the year to put names to music or trace the shape of its lineage to the modern day. 2019 was the year to simply immerse oneself in the thick of it all, whatever it is called, all the things it sounds like, and all the different people who give it life. 2019 was the best year of a decade of bests, and more than any other year, the best approach to understanding what it all means was to simply sit back and listen.
The Best of 2019 list is a snapshot of a year in albums. But, truly, these lists never end.
As in previous years, I’m looking for albums that deliver an impact across the board… cerebral, physical and emotional aka head, heart and soul. It’s not enough that they’re simply a very good album. Hell, in 2019, it’s not enough that they were an excellent album. The music had to possess gravitas, had to offer something a little bit different, or, conversely, present the familiar better than anybody else on the scene. Bonus points were awarded for wild creativity and experimentalism.
These albums, released approximately between November of 2018 and November of 2019, were notable for any number of reasons, but each in their own way made a statement. The synopses that accompany the albums are not reviews. They’re last minute thoughts about the albums. However, many of these synopses have a link that’ll take you to another post on this site (or elsewhere), where you can read and hear more about the album and the musicians who created it. The Best of 2019 is a jump-off point to more music and more discovery. And fun. Lots of fun.
That’s it. There’s nothing else. The End. Now, let’s begin.