Best records of 2020

Ted PoorYou already know
Impulse!, 2020

You Already Know, the New Deal/Impulse! debut from the acclaimed drummer Ted Poor—“a trustworthy engine in countless modern-jazz settings,” per the New York Times—isn’t your typical jazz drummer’s recording, almost defiantly so. But if you’re at all familiar with the Seattle-based Poor’s explorative career—or the wide-ranging work of his principal collaborators here, the deeply influential guitarist-producer Blake Mills and the saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo—this should come as no surprise.

After all, Poor has proven equally brilliant in bands led by the visionary avant-jazz trumpeter Cuong Vu and the lauded indie singer-songwriter Andrew Bird. Whether he’s on a club bandstand alongside a generation-defining improviser like the guitarist Ben Monder, or onstage at New York’s historic Town Hall, backing Paul Simon as part of Chris Thile’s trusted Live From Here band, Poor is a music-first drummer. His tremendous technical abilities behind the kit are inarguable—and no doubt serve him well as the Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle—but he places color, texture, sound and especially melody atop chops. “The songs that I write, and certainly the songs that appear on this record, are songs you can sing,” Poor says, explaining how his time in the employ of renowned singer-songwriters has informed his own composing. “These are the songs I sing to myself as well.”

For that reason, the minimalist You Already Know is a supremely listenable improviser’s album, with an artful crossover appeal. It’s easy to imagine it existing on the same inquisitive music fan’s record shelf alongside LPs by other Poor collaborators—say, the keyboardist-producer Mitchell Froom, or the singer-songwriter wunderkind Madison Cunningham, whose recent Verve Forecast release, Who Are You Now, features Poor.