Once again, Jazz had a great year! Last year, it was all about the London Jazz Scene, with their experimental projects coming out in wave after wave. This year, they still had some highlights, like the album “Fyah” by Theon Cross, but for me, the story this year was the classic stuff from veterans like Chick Corea, Dwight Trible, Dave Holland, and Brad Mehldau. There were also standout sets from young stars like Kendrick Scott and Sara Gazarek, adding the new textures and flavors that are bringing Jazz back to the Mainstream.
I’ve put together a list of the 25 Best Jazz Albums of 2019 and unlike some of the lists you see all over the internet, I tried to include some more stuff from the smaller and indie labels. I think that’s where the really fresh and innovative stuff is coming from. For my top 10, which are in no specific order, I added blurbs about each one, and for the rest (again in no specific order), I included links to the albums. I also added a playlist of the 25 best albums plus some more of my favorites. Check it out!
Top 10 Favorites: (In Random Order)
1.) Dwight Trible-“Mothership”– No one does jazz vocals like this gentleman. His voice and phrasing are out of this world. Every album is like a trip to another dimension. It doesn’t hurt to have a band of legendary musicians, which includes Kamasi Washington and Mark de Clive-Lowe. A tour-de-force.
2.) Aymee Nuviola-“A Journey Through Cuban Music” – On this album, Latin Grammy Winner Aymee Nuviola puts a new spin on classics from her homeland– and her rapturous interpretations of classics by legendary Cuban artists like Omara Portuondo, Chucho Valdés, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba lift my spirits every time I put it on.
3.) Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade-“Trilogy 2”– There’s just certain guys who you hear their name and you’re all in. When I watch movies, that guy is Denzel Washington. When I listen to Jazz, that guy is Chick Corea. Add in Brian Blade on the Drums, and Christian McBride on the Bass, and it’s all over. Like a lot of recent Corea albums, he leans mostly on oldies but goodies from his past catalog and associations, but I never get enough because he makes them sound new every time. Their rendition of “500 Miles High” is a perfect example
4.) Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter- “Good Hope” This is another Trio project anchored by Zakir Hussain, who’s known as the world’s greatest Tabla (an ancient Indian hand drum) player. He’s backed by Jazz greats bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter, who share production duties with Hussain. The sonics on this recording are insane–the interplay between the instruments captured with immediacy and emotion.
5.) Bill Frisell- “HARMONY” This is Acclaimed guitarist Bill Frisell’s debut on Blue Note Records, and it features Frisell with a wholly distinctive quartet comprising two longtime collaborators—Petra Haden, voice; Hank Roberts, cello and voice—plus a relative newcomer, Luke Bergman. Haden’s atmospheric vocals blend seamlessly with Frisell’s guitar playing for a contemporary ode to Folk/Americana music.
6.) Kendrick Scott Oracle- Drummer Kendrick Scott’s “A Wall Becomes A Bridge” is an uplifting undertaking that uses a contemplative vision of black culture and politics as a backdrop. It’s a wall to wall collection of beautiful compositions that showcase Scott’s elegant drumming. Scott is joined by his longtime Oracle quintet of guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Taylor Eigsti, reedist John Ellis, and bassist Joe Sanders (with the addition of turntablist Jahi Sundance).
7.) Brad Mehldau- “Finding Gabriel” As you may have gathered from the title, this inspirational album from pianist and composer Brad Mehldau is a Bible-inspired project, specifically the Old-Testament. The songs utilize heavy synthesizers and chants to provide a solemn and spiritual soundscape. Vocals are handled by a who’s who of accomplished jazz vocalists, including Becca Stevens and Kurt Elling.
8.) Jon Batiste- “Anatomy of Angels: Live at the Village Vanguard” Short but sweet, this five-track album captures Batiste during his 2018 residency at NYC’s famous Village Vanguard jazz venue. It’s a swinging good time, with a combination of original compositions and reinterpretations of classics like Monk’s “Round Midnight.” My favorite is his rendition of “The Very Thought Of You” with Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price. The sonics are outstanding as well; they did an excellent job of capturing the intimacy of the venue.
9.) Sara Gazarek- “Thirsty Ghost” – This is one of the best Vocal Jazz albums of the year. On this, Gazarek’s sixth album, she draws her repertoire from a bunch of sources, including Stevie Wonder, Nick Drake, and her writing. It’s a divine collection of genres and styles that engage the listener from beginning to end. Her voice is irresistible! Be sure to check out her stunning rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene.
10.) Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom -“Glitter Wolf”– I’ve concluded that this group can do no wrong. That’s probably because, for her band Boom Tic Boom, drummer Allison Miller surrounds herself with some awe-inspiring players: violinist Jenny Scheinman, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Myra Melford, and bassist Todd Sickafoose. On Glitter Wolf, they once again (they also did it on their recording “Otis Was a Polar Bear”) engage in the Jazz equivalent of a fireworks display, playing charming yet dynamic compositions that never fail to move you, no matter the tempo.
21.) Camila Meza -“Ambar”
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