2020 In Review: Day 10 – Jazz and Blues

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2020 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

2020 saw a colorful selection of jazz albums bubble to the surface, with interdisciplinary efforts into rock, hip-hop and world music meeting excellent traditional fare and takes on standard.

The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name. However, note that as many jazz musicians operate internationally with the given name – surname format, we have tried to adhere to that name order if the artist is known as such.

The 2020 Pop and Ballad Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Jazz and Blues Album 2020

Gray by Silver – Eternal Gray

When you’re a jazz quartet with a daegeum player, a certain break from orthodoxy is expected from you. Gray by Silver’s first album easily cleared that bar and much more. Oriented towards generally free-flowing and sometimes improvised sound, Eternal Gray drew inspirations from ethnic (most prominently, Korean traditional) music to form an unpredictably elegant core. Multiple tracks stretched out for over 10 minutes, as they explored ideas and motifs with patient observance; they weren’t showy, rather focusing on deliberate and muted expression like the album’s title, but these sepia moments turned out beautifully anyway. Lee Han-yul’s performance was essential: often taking a non-lyrical role, Lee’s rich vocalizations – her wordless groaning and emotive humming – were heavy in the album’s best moments, from leading “Ayiya”‘s soul-shaking escalation to becoming the ray of light breaking through “Liberation”‘s barrage of piano and drum.

The Runner-up

Kim Oki Saturnballad – 곽경수 오케스트라 (Kwak Orchestra)

Like the prolific Kim Oki’s work often is, Kwak Orchestra was a curious blend of whimsical and serious: on the one end you had pianist Sooyoung Chin’s playful smashes to close out his solo in “Positive Thoughts”, and on the other the doleful lament of soul-drenched “Blurred Eyes”. Taken together, they made for a starkly original-sounding album. The rousing mood of “Let Us Go”, crafted from Sumin Jung’s steady bass rhythm together with Chin and Kim’s ever-ascending melody, was perhaps the best example of the gorgeous interplay between the trio. But the real distinction of Kim Oki’s discography has come from his unwavering humanity, and Saturnballad’s makeup turned out to be perfect for the lively yet tender explorations and heartwarming simmer that filled out Kwak Orchestra. Without a single spoken word, it may have been the year’s most romantic album.

The First Ten Out

Beck & Fontenot – Akasha

Hyunjung Choi Trio – 시계태엽기억 (Clock Spring Memory)

Jazzflip – Adventure

Kim Oki – 포 마이 앤젤 (For My Angel)

Lee Mi-rae – Romantic Wandering

Malo – 송창식 송북 (Song Changsik Song Book)

Park Hyun Jun – More Lovers Than Haters

Soojin Suh – Colorist

Sumin Jung – 통감 (Sense of Agony)

Sunhyun Yoo – Meanings


Best Jazz and Blues Song 2020

Jazzflip – Adventure
Composed by Lee Sam-soo, Jeon Min-gyu
Arranged by Jazzflip

Perhaps it was their relative youth in a scene where the best work still often comes out of veterans and professors, but Jazzflip’s first album seemed to have a palpable energy that few could match. “Adventure” was the most electric piece of the album: built around a confident and swinging sax melody, the track’s many solo breaks, escalating turns, and eight-minute runtime gave it a sense of constant discovery and an appropriately adventuresome vibe. The whole thing was a near non-stop dazzle, but around the five-minute mark the group kicked into another gear in exhilarating frenzy. Tremendously rewarding.

The Runner-up

Hyunjung Choi Trio – 시계태엽기억 (Clock Spring Memory)
Composed/arranged by Hyunjung Choi

Hyunjung Choi won this category in 2015 with aggressive rhythm akin to the beat-hoppng opening section of “Clock Spring Memory” [our translation], and in hindsight it seems only natural that such rhythm should be deployed to express the turning of gears. The frenzy this time was married to a pensive and emotional middle act, as Choi aimed to construct the sensation of a clock turning in one’s head as memories past come forth and get erased. The breakneck pace and fierce intensity that followed – perhaps a struggle to break out of the clock’s grasp – was a jaw-dropping moment, and a fitting cap to the inventive concept.

The First Ten Out

Black Pasta – The Science of Love

GaYoung Bae – 뱃노래 (Boat Boat Boat) (Ocean Funeral)

Gray by Silver – Eternal Gray

Halim Yi – Anamnesis

Kim Oki – 내 이야기는 허공으로 날아가 구름에 묻혔다. (Story) (Feat. Samuel Seo)

Lee Jin-ah – 꿈같은 알람 (Dreamy Alarm)

Moza – Pappus

Park Hyun-jun – Take This Waltz

Sun Kim – Space City

Yu Han Seong – Befuddle

Honorable Mentions


Brass Monkeys – Guacamole Pie
Eunha So – Reminiscence
Eunhye Jeong & Minki Cho – Abyss
Fucking Madness – Big Picture
Garba9 – Concrete Jazz
GaYoung Bae – Sepia Painting
Gonia – A Tension
Ha In Ae – In My Window
Halim Yi – Straight Project
Hayoung Lyou – Metamorphosis
Heo Soyoung – Celebrate in Paradise
Im Ingun – 랩소디 인 군산 (Rhapsody in Gunsan)
Jang Yoo-jung – 경성야행 (Midnight in Kyungsung)
Kim Oki – Yun Hyong-keun
Lara Ahn – Sanctuary
Lee Jin-ah – 캔디 피아니스트 (Candy Pianist)
Like a Wind – 야간비행 (Night Fly)
NamDalee – 요술캠퍼밴 (Magic Campervan)
Odd Tree – 숲으로 (To the Forest)
Sam Yeol Kim – Get in High Spirit
Seo Bo-kyung – 내면의 영화 (Inner Movie)
Siwoo – First Step
Song Nam-hyun – Low.Slow.Bassforte
Straight Ahead – New Time
Sukyung Kim – Lilac Hill
Sunny Park – Way Back Home
Taeheon Noh – Step Into My Mind
Yu Han Seong – Emotions
Yumi Kim Quartet – Emergence
Yun Seokcheol Trio – Songbook


Beck & Fontenot – New Beginning
Beck & Fontenot – Questions
Bigtiger Group – 지난 겨울, 우리가 남기고 온 것들 (Last Winter, and the Things Left Behind)
Brass Monkeys – Guacamole Pie
Cheon Minkyeong – Question
Eunha So – Swings’ Starlight
Garba9 – Concrete Jazz
GaYoung Bae – Like a Perfume
GaYoung Bae – Sepia Painting
Gonia – A Tension
Gray by Silver – Ayiya
Gray by Silver – Black-hole Blues
Gray by Silver – 새타령 (Bird Song)
Ha In Ae – Fly Up
Haeun – Lonesome
Halim Yi – Idea
Hayoung Lyou – Night Person
Heo Soyoung – Celebrate in Paradise
Heo Soyoung – 잘자요 (Good Night)
Hyunjung Choi Trio – 폭풍 (Storm)
Hyunsun Park – Shall We Dance?
Im Ingun – Rhapsody in Gunsan
Im Ingun – 군산에서 (Prism Gunsan)
Jazzflip – Flurry
Jung Woong-bin – Illusion
Kang Anna – Blue Bird
Kangri Kim – Moon Rise
Kangwon Kim – Groovy Night
Kim Oki – Ultramarine
Kim Oki – 포 마이 엔젤 (For My Angel)
Kim Oki Saturnballad – 고고띵 (Let Us Go)
Kim Oki Saturnballad – 좋은일이생길것만같아 (Positive Thoughts)
Kim See Hyun Trio – Inertia
Lee Jin-ah – 나를 막는 벽 (The Wall Blocks Me)
Lee Mi-rae – Hallstatt
Lee Sung-chan – Gameboy Advance
LSJS – Fall
Maeng Seo-ryeong – Stella by Starlight (Feat. Hwangbo Jong-tae)
Malo – 우리는 (We Are) (Feat. Song Chang-sik)
MeariNam – G_G
Minji Kim – Inspiration
MKS – Good Night
Moon – Let It Flow
More Trio – A Silent Moment
MUTI – Color (Feat. Jung In)
NamDalee – 요술거울 (Magic Mirror)
Oh Seunghyeon – Prayer
Palebabyblue – 닿을 달 (Reaching for the Moon) (Feat. Bamhaneul)
Park Hyun Jun – More Lovers Than Haters
Robiq – Game Over (Feat. Mark Lettieri)
Sarah Sowe – Sailing
Seo Bo-kyung – 나의 꽃 (My Flower)
Solah – Still.
Song Nam-hyun – Nocturne
Soojin Suh – Colorist l – On the Hill (For Andrew Hill)
Straight Ahead – Computer Monitor
Straight Ahead – Kancamagus Highway
Sukyung Kim – Lilac Hill
Sunhyun Yoo – Starting Point
Taeheon Noh – The Creature
Wooyong – Hi Lady
Yun Seokcheol – 과속금지!! (Do Not Speed!!) (Feat. Antonio Zanetti)
웅산 (Woong San) – 오늘은 왠지 (Somehow Today)

All album art from Bugs Music. Hyunjung Choi Trio cover image from Ogam Entertainment YouTube.

Read our past series:

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review