The Best (Our Favorite) Jazz Albums Of 2021: 27 Sensational Projects You Need To Hear!

If you follow Hifitrends, then you know we love Jazz around here, especially Jazz Vocal. So every year, we like to pick out the best (i.e. our favorite) Jazz albums and share them with you! This year, we found a lot of great stuff, including some amazing sounding music from Nina Simone that was previously unreleased, some brilliant albums from today’s foremost jazz vocalists (Patricia Barber, Veronica Swift, Jazzmeia Horn, Gretchen Parlato), as well as some new blood (Samara Joy).

We also have some superb releases from some amazing instrumentalists (Bill Charlap, Terence Blanchard, Charles Lloyd, Sons of Kemet). Just about every style of Jazz is represented, so there’s something on this list for everyone! Dig in and enjoy!

1. Patricia Barber-“Clique”

“The long-awaited successor to Nightclub, her critically acclaimed and fan-favorite first all-standards album, Clique features a tracklist of tunes that Barber has frequently performed as encores throughout her illustrious career…”

2. Sean Khan-“Supreme Love: A Journey through Coltrane”

“I have always been a strange prisoner to my ambition,” says Sean “and most of my recordings bear testimony to this, with this record being the next part of that evolution. I made a conscious effort to represent all of Coltrane’s main artistic periods from hard bop (with Miles Davis), to sheets of sound (Giant Steps, Moments Notice), spiritual jazz (Love Supreme), and finally his last, most experimental and cosmic period (Interstellar Space).”

3. Irreversible Entanglements-“Open the Gates”

“Ethereal, dynamic & expansive free jazz meditations manifest coruscating portals of aqueous regeneration; a collectivist ultra-sonic healing conveyance.”

4. Bill Charlap-“Street Of Dreams”

“GRAMMY-winning pianist Bill Charlap returns to Blue Note with a sublime new album featuring his sterling trio with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. This stunning new set presents the Great American Songbook alongside songs by great jazz composers including Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, and Kenny Burrell.”

5. Diana Panton-“A Cheerful Little Earful”

Diana Panton is an award-winning Jazz vocalist known for her interpretation of standards and more obscure works from the genre. A Cheerful Little Earful is a light-hearted collection of songs for the whole family perfect for kids of all ages.

6. New Orleans Jazz Orchestra feat. Cyrille Aimée-“Petite Fleur”

“The celebrated New Orleans Jazz Orchestra examines the profound relationship of its hometown to the nation of France. The second album under the artistic directorship of drummer Adonis Rose features ten songs, nine of them standards associated with French and New Orleans musicians. The tenth tune is an original by Cyrille Aimée, the acclaimed jazz vocalist who was born and raised in France.

7. Esperanza Spalding-“SONGWRIGHTS APOTHECARY LAB”

“Esperanza Spalding’s new album SONGWRIGHTS APOTHECARY LAB explores how songwriters may incorporate knowledge in consultation with practitioners of music therapy, neuroscience, and more to create music that can have a specific effect on the listener. These 12 new songs were created and recorded with different musicians in her traveling lab over the past several months…”

8. Terence Blanchard-“Absence”

“Trumpeter Terence Blanchard performs music written and inspired by jazz legend Wayne Shorter with his band E-Collective & The Turtle Island Quartet.”

9. Marc Johnson-“Overpass”

“With Overpass, Marc Johnson makes a decisive and intriguing contribution to ECM’s solo bass tradition. Johnson’s experiments with the bass and its potential as a lead voice began during his tenure with the Bill Evans Trio, where his nightly solo feature on Miles Davis’s “Nardis”, inspired him to new ideas.”

10. Julien Lourau-“Power of Soul, the Music of CTI”

Created by producer Creed Taylor, CTI left an imprint in the minds of 70s jazz fans much like Blue Note did in the 60s, and it even ended up releasing work by artists who started out on this mythical label such as Stanley Turrentine and Freddie Hubbard. The two even shared the same sound engineer, the great Rudy van Gelder. Yet CTI, though highly prolific during its 15 years of activity, has not benefitted from the same aura as its predecessor.”

“To breathe life into this album, I listened to a wealth of CTI releases and discovered some I had never heard before. I noticed, oddly, that many of today’s musicians know very little about CTI – a label unfairly considered as minor.” The choice of tracks was determined by Julien’s personal tastes, always keeping in mind a desire to help people discover them yet focusing on the joy of actually playing them too.

11. Brandee Younger-“Somewhere Different”

“Somewhere Different was recorded in New York City and at the legendary Van Gelder Studios. The record evokes nostalgic Black soul, informed by pioneering harpists Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby as well as `90s R&B groups like SWV and Xscape – featuring appearances by legendary bassist Ron Carter, and Tarriona “Tank” Ball.”

12. Emma-Jean Thackray-“Yellow”

“The debut album by Emma-Jean Thackray feels exactly like the sort of thing we’ve been longing for over the last 12 months: a transcendent, human, shared experience. Across its 49 minutes, Yellow draws glowing lines between ’70s jazz fusion and P-Funk, the cosmic invocations of Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane, and the gorgeous orchestration of the Beach Boys. ‘I wanted the whole thing to sound like a psychedelic trip,’ explains Thackray. ‘You put on the first track, it takes you through this intense experience for almost an hour, and then you emerge on the other side transformed.”

13. Samara Joy-“Samara Joy”

Samara Joy is a singing star in the ascendancy: the young vocalist attracted attention in 2019 after winning the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Now, the 21-year-old announces her self-titled debut release, which puts her spin on jazz standards from the Great American Songbook. Produced by Grammy-nominated veteran Matt Pierson, she’s joined by jazz guitar virtuoso Pasquale Grasso and his trio (Ari Roland and Kenny Washington) for a release that furthers Joy’s reputation as one of America’s most promising young jazz vocalists.

14. Bruce Harris Quartet-“Soundview”

“Two great sources of inspiration for me: my roots – the neighborhood in which I was born, Soundview, South Bronx NY, and my current Home Sugar Hill, Harlem. Although it was not a place filled with privilege and opportunity, Soundview was and is rich in artistic excellence and indomitable spirit. Much of the music on this record was either composed and refined here in Sugar Hill. This record is a tribute to my family and community in the Bronx and to the black excellence that began in the Harlem Renaissance. I hope you enjoy!”

15. Cande y Paulo-“Cande y Paulo”

“Cande y Paulo are Cande Buasso and Paulo Carrizo. Like many great love affairs, the scenes of this unusual partnership were sewn long before the couple went to work on “Barro Tal Vez.” Their debut album, recorded and produced in LA with multi-Grammy award winning Larry Klein, is a beautiful collection of reworked songs including, “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Summertime,” “Treaty,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Sugar Mountain,” “Tuyo,” and the song that started it all for the duo, “Barro Tal Vez.”

16. Nina Simone-“Nina Simone: The Montreux Years”

“Nina Simone: The Montreux Years is released as part of a brand new Montreux Jazz Festival and BMG collection series “The Montreux Years”. The collections will uncover legendary performances by the world’s most iconic artists alongside rare and never-before-released recordings from the festival’s rich 55-year history, remastered in superlative audio.”

“Nina Simone’s story from the late sixties to the nineties can be told through her legendary performances in Montreux. Taking to the Montreux stage for the first time on 16 June 1968 for the festival’s second edition, Simone built a lasting relationship with Montreux Jazz Festival and its Creator and Founder Claude Nobs, which uniqueness, trust and electricity can be clearly felt on the recordings. Simone’s multi-faceted and radical story is laid bare on Nina Simone: The Montreux Years.”

17. Gretchen Parlato-“Flor”

“Portuguese for “flower”, Flor is the artistic embodiment of the GRAMMY®-nominated singer’s deep dive into motherhood over the last six years, a metamorphic interval of space that allowed Parlato to discover the fullness of her essence through a new lens. In this season of epiphany, Parlato reaps her most personal harvest yet, which she refers to as, “a blossoming, an opening, an offering, a return.”

18. Charles Lloyd & the Marvels-“Tone Poem”

“Tone Poem is the third album by Charles Lloyd & The Marvels, the genre-straddling quintet that features the master saxophonist with Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. The nine dynamic tracks here include new Lloyd originals along with pieces by Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Leonard Cohen, Gabor Szabo, and Bola de Nieve.”

19. Veronica Swift-“This Bitter Earth”

“Veronica Swift flips the script on This Bitter Earth, the captivating follow-up to her 2019 Mack Avenue Records debut, Confessions. Whereas Confessions played out like pages from her personal diary, on the new album, the 27-year-old singer and master song interpreter looks outward while addressing social ills that plague the world today. This Bitter Earth takes on the song-cycle characteristics of such classic LPs as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and Mary J. Blige’s My Life. For her album, Swift tackles sexism [“How Lovely to Be a Woman”], domestic abuse [“He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”], racism/ xenophobia [“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”] and the dangers of fake news [“The Sports Page”].”

20. Nik Bärtsch-“Entendre”

“A fascinating solo from the Swiss pianist, composer and conceptualist best known as leader of the bands Ronin and Mobile, Entendre offers deeper insight into Nik Bartsch’s musical thinking. As the album title implies Entendre is about hearing as a creative process, referencing the patient unfolding of Bartsch’s modular polymetric pieces, with alertness to the dynamics of touch, finding freedom in aesthetic restriction, serving each piece’s development while also taking the music to new places.”

21. Dr. Lonnie Smith-“Breathe”

“Dr. Lonnie Smith recorded live at the Jazz Standard in NYC during his 75th birthday celebration in 2017, the same week he recorded his acclaimed trio album, All In My Mind. Two additional studio tracks that open and close the album present the unique collaboration between Doc and Iggy Pop, including a cover of Donovan’s 1966 hit “Sunshine Superman.” (Rest In Peace Dr. Smith)

22. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey-“Uneasy”

“Vijay Iyer presents a powerful new trio, in which he is joined by 2 key figures in creative music, Tyshawn Sorey & Linda May Han Oh. “We have an energy together that is very distinct. It has a different kind of propulsion, a different impulse and a different spectrum of colours”. Repertoire on UnEasy, recorded at Oktaven Audio Studio in Mount Vernon, NY in December 2019, includes Iyer originals written over 20 years, plus Gerri Allen’s “Drummer’s Song” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.”

23. Alyssa Allgood-“What Tomorrow Brings”

“Daring and personal, Alyssa Allgood’s What Tomorrow Brings is the vocalist’s most sophisticated declaration yet. On her 3rd studio album, Chicago vocalist Alyssa Allgood wields her instrument with depth, nuance & sophistication. Through refined interpretations of classics and the debut of four stunning originals, What Tomorrow Brings invites listeners on a personal journey of despair, determination and discovery. Featuring Chicago icons Mike Allemana (guitar), Dennis Carroll (bass) and George Fludas (drums).”

24. Vincent Herring-“Preaching To The Choir”

“Vincent Herring battles back from a bout with Covid-19 and career-threatening side effects with a defiant and joyful album, Preaching to the Choir, with swinging help from Cyrus Chestnut, Yasushi Nakamura and Johnathan Blake. Preaching to the Choir, a paean to Herring’s fans and supporters, celebrates real triumph over hardship and challenge with soulful jazz.”

25. Benito Gonzalez-“Sing To The World”

“With propulsive pulse and Afro-Latin percussive drive, Benito Gonzalez places rhythm at the core of his exhilarating new album, Sing to the World. All of the ten songs on his fifth album, and first released on the St. Petersburg, Russia label Rainy Days Records, combine to create a sense of wonder and enchantment as Gonzalez takes a stellar step into the future of his jazz journey. He’s assembled an impressive team of collaborators, including Christian McBride, Essiet Okon Essiet, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Nicholas Payton as well as rising stars Russian drummer Sasha Mashin, trumpeter Josh Evans and saxophonist Makar Kashitsyn.”

26. Sons Of Kemet-“Black To The Future”

“Sons of Kemet returns in 2021 with their new album Black To The Future. This release finds the UK-based quartet at their most dynamic – showcasing harmonically elegant arrangements and compositions, coupled with fierce, driving material that will be familiar to initiated fans. This album features prominent UK vocalists and a strong emphasis on lush compositions and arrangements. Guest artists include Kojey Radical, Moor Mother, & more.

27. Jazzmeia Horn and Her Noble Force-“Dear Love”

“Dear Love marks Jazzmeia Horn’s first big-band effort, a recording that brims with the combination of her assured delivery and spoken word segments, deft arrangements and fiery musical ideas. While the album, released on the vocalist’s own Empress Legacy Records, functions as a platform for Horn to showcase both her perception of the world and her endlessly unfolding talents, it also granted the composer a setting to expound on personal experiences, shuttling them through a sui generis musical prism.”

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