Jazz! We’ll be honest. We love jazz here at Heavy Blog, but due to the crushing pressures of staying on top of all things heavy and other genres we cover here, it can be a bit difficult for some of us to stay on top of the goings-on in the wide world of jazz. And jazz is 100% worth staying on top of as there continue to be a ton of fascinating things going on in all corners of the world and genre.
Thankfully on staff we have one Dave Tremblay, who, as you’ll see below, very much did follow jazz of all sorts and has a ton of great recommendations from 2018 for you all. In addition, the rest of us (Nick, Scott, and Ahmed) all have a short list of our personal favorites. The best thing to do with jazz for those who are intimidated by it is to just start listening with an open mind and find what speaks to you. Here’s to an equally jazzy 2019!
It’s my second year taking part in Heavy Blog’s Jazz Club, for and of which I am grateful and proud. While I began my adoption and taming of the wide and wild world of jazz years ago, with jazz-infused progressive metal and rock, 2018 was an explosion in what I could appreciate and comprehend from the genre, as you can see from the following figure.
You can see here the number of releases I’ve listened to from each month in 2018. Since August, there’s been a near constant rise in jazz albums per month, more than tripling to a summit of 75 releases from November. August and December are, however, historically low months for musical releases overall, so it’s not surprising. Perhaps the more surprising aspect of this graph is when comparing the two high-tide periods: March to June and September to November. In terms of overall releases, these two periods are similar, so I think that the rise in jazz that we see here translates how much more I got into the genre during the course of the year.
From free jazz to noise and other more experimental and avant-garde branches, I’ve also expanded my appreciation of more standard, traditional perhaps, types. Despite that, however, I’ve got to say that the more out-there styles are still what I prefer, and it will probably reflect in my list here.
Since different jazz scratch different itches, I won’t write an overall ranked list, but rather various top-1 picks. Let me start with…
Best Ambient Jazz: Verneri Pohjola & Mika Kallio – Animal Image (Edition Records)
Finnish trumpetist Verneri Pohjola and drummer Mika Kallio joined forces to create a soundtrack to the documentary Animal Image, or Eläimen kuva under its Finnish original title, released on Edition Records. The duo perfectly encapsulates the feelings and emotions emanating from the cold, frostbitten landscapes: the isolation, the silence, the winds, the ice, but also the struggle, the survival, the harshness, and the little pleasures that some animals allow themselves despite the harsh conditions.
Slow and meticulous, Verneri and Mika captured the essence of the Great North and its inhabitants. The album stuck with me since my first listen with it, and hasn’t been dethroned since, even though other ambient jazz albums have been great and fascinating in their own rights (see: Honourable Mentions). Animal Image is a strong album, filled with emotions and meanings, even given its rather minimalistic approach. It is stellar and awesome.
Anenon – Tongue (Friends of Friends Music)
Ben Marston & Hugh Barrett – Unfound Places (Art as Catharsis Records)
Dustlights – In a Stillness (Ropeadope)
Markus Reuter – Winter Solstice (Iapetus Records)
Vainoras and the Altar of the Drill – Maim That Tune Slowly… Soothe the Savage Beast (Independent)
Best Avant-Garde Jazz: Death Drag – Shifted (Iluso Records)
It’s no wonder that this album is this good, considering the history of its members. Namely, Mike Caratti, on drums, led the absolutely mind-altering dMu project, and Luke Barlow, master of the keyboard present on many awesome releases, joined by Santiago Horro and Roberto Sassi on bass and guitar. Death Drag is the project that follows in the footsteps of the aforementioned dMu, by applying some of the sounds and aspects of metal music to jazz—this is different than the “metal jazz” category, which keeps the metal more integral—and by elevating the mix to a level of proficiency and performance unattainable by common musicians. The end result is Shifted, which is going to throw you off in more ways than one. It’s unpredictable and uncanny, and it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.
Garrett Wingfield’s Octopod – Monoliths & Sepulchres (Independent)
Turbamulta – Turbamulta (Clean Feed Records)
Cécile Cappozzo Trio – Sub rosa (Ayler Records)
Eli Wallace – Slideshow Junky I (Iluso Records)
Peter Evans & Weasel Walter – Poisonous (ugExplode Records)
Best Big Band Jazz: Big Heart Machine – Big Heart Machine (Outside In Music)
New York’s Big Heart Machine is an 18-member ensemble playing compositions of Brian Krock, produced by the legendary Darcy James Argue, with the participation of even Adam Neely, famous Youtube musician. The eponymous debut album features almost one hour of creative, modern, progressive, and diversified jazz music for big band, and it truly makes the most out of this formula by highlighting the various instruments at different times and using them skillfully for the many purposes of the songs therein. Of particular note is the five-part suite “Tamalpais”, which goes to the heights and lows, and from the atmospheric to the harsh and complex realities they present. That record is truly something, and I completely endorse it!
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble – All Can Work (New Amsterdam Records)
Graz Composers Orchestra & Claudia Döffinger – Monochrome (QFTF)
Fred Pallem & Le Sacre du Tympan – L’odyssée (Train Fantôme)
Ellen Kirkwood & Sirens Big Band – [A]part (Earthift Music)
Taylor Barnett – Loose Ends (Networth Records)
Best Free Jazz: Patrick Shiroishi & Arturo Ibarra – LA Blues (Public Eyesore/Eh?)
Saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi constantly puts out interesting and at times heart-wrenching releases. On this latest release, he’s joined by guitarist Arturo Ibarra to craft this fascinating album entitled LA Blues. The interplay between saxophone and guitar is highly emotional and at times quite deranging. I have an anecdote where a friend demanded me to stop playing this music because it gave them the same feeling as nails on a chalkboard. I found this quite amusing, and I reflected a bit on what is “good” and what is “bad”, and what is “music” and what isn’t… Well, at the end of my deliberations, I think this album is definitely good music.
Eave – Eave (Astral Spirits)
Harmolodic String Band – The Shape of Grass to Come, Volumes 1 & 2 (Independent)
Extra Large Unit – More Fun, Please (PNL Records)
Jared Burrows/Clyde Reed/Joe Sorbara – Reliable Parts (Oval Window Records)
Erna – Pan (Wetwear)
Best Fusion Jazz: Poline Renou, Matthieu Donarier & Sylvain Lemêtre – Adieu mes très belles (Yolk Records)
Adieu mes très belles is the latest offering of composer and clarinetist Matthieu Donarier, with singer Poline Renou and percussionist Sylvain Lemêtre on Yolk Records. Released in November, this album merges jazz and classical music seamlessly in a record full of beauty. The fusion of genres takes traditional music of European traditions with jazz improvisation, Baroque sensibility, and also hints of contemporary (and traditional) classical music throughout, and crafts this unique amalgamation. Each song is different and very special in its own right. I’ll just name the first two for example: the eponymous first track feels very Baroque, while “La toute petite tribu du début” feels tribal, improvised, and, in that sense, very jazz, very free jazz. You won’t hear two releases similar to this one, and for that reason it deserves this spot.
Anguish – Anguish (Rarenoise Records)
Ukandanz – ይቀጥላል (Yeketelale) (Buda Musique)
Saint Sadrill – Pierrefilant (Dur et Doux)
Théo Ceccaldi Freaks – Amanda Dakota (Tricollectif)
Jacob Collier – Djesse, Volume 1 (Decca Records)
Best Metal Jazz: Albatre – The Fall of the Damned (Shhpuma)
Albatre has been one of the most looked-at jazzcore bands of 2018, and that’s for a reason: The Fall of the Damned is a brilliant release. The Dutch drums, bass and sax trio takes the harshness of metal, the rhythmic complexity of progressive rock, and the timbre and improvisation of jazz to craft a hard-hitting, ear-splitting slab of distorted bass, pounding drums, and swarming saxophone. The album is groovy, harsh, noisy, complex, and quite fearsome. All this makes for a rather memorable experience, and thus it deserves its spot here on my year-end list.
Hago – Hago (Independent)
Five Pound Pocket Universe – Brain Bubble Party (Independent)
Grugrü – 333 (Independent)
Resurrecting Id – Ephemera (Independent)
Thrailkill – Everything That Is You (Independent)
Best Modern Jazz: Bernhard Meyer – Murmuration (Traumton Records)
The modern jazz competition was strong, and I’ve excised many with great pains to reduce the list to one pick and five mentions, but there really never was any threat for Bernhard Meyer’s domination. Murmuration was released in early February, and struck a strong impression with me. Some people called the record “post-jazz”, and I agree with the sentiment, although I placed it into the wider modern jazz category. The album is deliberate, crafted with utmost care and attention, and it truly shows in the end result. Murmuration is soft, quiet, and utterly beautiful. That doesn’t mean it’s at all harmless. Some solos and progressions are fearsome and truly cathartic. All of this makes for such a pristine album; unforgettable!
Omar – *3 (Capsul Collectif)
Tim Garland – Weather Walker (Edition Records)
Pete Lee – The Velvet Rage (Ubuntu Music)
Stuff. – Old Dreams, New Planets (Gondwana Records)
Casey Golden – Atlas (Independent)
Best Solo Jazz: Andrew Bernstein – An Exploded View of Time (Hausu Mountain)
Andrew Bernstein released An Exploded View of Time in September, on Hausu Mountain, and it hasn’t budged from my favourites list since then. The saxophonist gives everything: meditative mindset, physical prowess, mental dedication, and much more. I would easily recommend this album to anyone who enjoys Colin Stetson’s material. It’s pure, unaltered, a challenge to oneself. If you like advanced techniques for saxophone, Andrew has got them all, or, at least, many of them: circular breathing, percussive playing, polyphony, arpeggio playing, and so on and so forth. An Exploded View of Time is going to be hard to top.
Stefan Schultze Solo – System Tribe (WhyPlayJazz)
Dane Rousay – Neuter (Independent)
Isaac Otto – Antiviscera (Independent)
Patrick Shiroishi – Sparrow’s Tongue (Fort Evil Fruit)
La’akea – She Would’ve Been an Acrobat, (Potentially Kinetic Records)
Best Spiritual Jazz: Ill Considered – Ill Considered 3 (Ill Considered Music)
Spiritual jazz is one that I have a hard time with. It seems that, for every ten releases I listen to, only a handful will stick with me. The one that impressed me most, however, is Ill Considered 3, by the paronymous British trio. Their second full-length is hypnotic and mesmerizing, and their musical concoctions are really transcendental, as any good spiritual jazz release should be. There was no other album in the same vein that was strong enough to make this one budge off of its pedestal.
Emanative – Earth (Jazzman Records)
Maisha – There Is a Place (Brownswood Recordings)
Ill Considered – An Ill Considered Christmas (Ill Considered Music)
Kamasi Washington – Heaven & Earth (Young Turks)
Subtle Degrees – A Dance That Empties (New Amsterdam Records)
Best Vocal Jazz: Electric Coconut – Here It Comes (Independent)
The final picks for this category are all equally worthy of the title. Let me therefore pick the underdog and bring some attention to it, which it most deserves. Electric Coconut is a band based in Boise, Idaho, a sextet playing a soul-influenced type of RNB and jazz fusion that is tremendously enjoyable and shiver-inducing. The latter descriptive is mostly thanks to singer Angel Abaya’s crushing melodies and impressive voice, which reaches astounding heights (see the opening track “Golden Hour”). Yes, the production sounds quite “indie”, and you might have to raise the volume a few degrees to match the output of more professional recordings, but this is not at all to the detriment of the music you can find on Here It Comes. It could even be argued that this indie factor adds some charm to it (which it didn’t lack in the first place). Electric Coconut are up to great things, let’s give them a listen!
Snowpoet – Thought You Knew (Edition Records)
Lady Bazaar – Brave (Independent)
Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen (Fat Possum Records)
We Are Leif – Breathe (Independent)
Elizabeth Shepherd – Montréal (Pinwheel Music)
Best Zorn: The Book Ber’iah (Tzadik Records)
John Zorn is the legendary indefatigable composer and saxophonist known for many projects, especially the Masada project, which aims to create “new Jewish music”, using modes, scales, and structures traditionally found in Jewish music, but with a definitely modern sound. The project now adds up to 53 albums, some played and recorded by the eponymous band, but also many consisting of compositions which were sent to and played by other bands. The third book, The Book Ber’iah, consists of 11 such albums, played by as many different entities, from the Spanish-sounding duo of Sofía Rei and Jean-Christophe Maillard to the experimental metal of Cleric. That is a life’s work, and it’s excellent, a true masterpiece of contemporary and traditional musics.
In a Convex Mirror
Even though they don’t necessarily fit within the aforementioned categories, I need to underline the work of two other jazz musicians, whose output is enjoyable, important, and which I appreciate a lot!
Multi-instrumentalist Bill Wurtz has been a favourite of mine for some time now, but, since he usually just puts out singles with videos on Youtube, it’s hard to include him in any capacity within the context of a “best of” list consisting of albums and EPs. Well, here’s my hats off to you, Bill! Your upbeat and silly tunes offer a very enjoyable mix of progressive jazz and pop music that is hardly found anywhere else. In 2018, Bill has put out 15 videos, 12 of which could be labeled as songs, but all of which being musical in one way or another. Go and give a good ol’ subscribe to Bill’s Youtube channel. It’s fantastic and these days gets a new video every two weeks or so!
Another big name for 2018 is bassist Adam Neely, who’s been releasing a video every week for most of the year. Adam’s videos are often times educational, like the one I embedded here, where the goal of the video is for you to learn something new! They are well-documented and Adam’s delivery is interesting and supported by examples. On top of his channel, he’s also creating original music in many ways, one of which being his band Sungazer (which is soon releasing a new EP) that combines jazz, rock, and electronic music into a superb fusion of genres. Thanks, Adam, and here’s to another amazing year!
I’ve had to decide between almost 500 jazz albums that I’ve listened to and tracked this year to come up with the various picks you’ve just read and heard. It was a daunting task, and it was quite painful to have to omit many albums which I’ve loved sometimes as much as those I’ve kept here, but I didn’t want to feel overwhelming, as I often do. I think there’s a greater chance that you readers will be willing to listen to what I am recommending if the number is below 100 albums, which definitely can feel like an impossible task. Here, only 11 albums are listed as essential, and 53 more are available for those who wish to push the discovery a bit further. That number can also be shrunk down if your tastes don’t overlap with all the categories presented here, so feel free to listen to only those to which you find yourself attracted.
2018 has been an impressive and amazing year for jazz, especially since I’ve myself stepped into the genre more than in the past. The genre is, I believe, at an all-time height in diversity and publicity; it’s easier than ever to find something that appeals to anyone in jazz, and to be able to listen to it online and buy it. However, I have to deplore that many jazz labels keep an archaic format that is ill-adapted to the new scene. As such, many albums are hardly accessible online, difficult to find, impossible to stream before buying, or make only some snippets available beforehand. For the future, I wish that more labels open their doors and minds, as did many in the metal, rock, and pop circles. In the end, making music less accessible to the customers ends up hurting everyone: the customer, deprived of a new discovery, or having bought an album ill-informed and that it now regrets; the artist, deprived of new fans and revenue, problems also shared with the label who refuses to enter the modern age of music distribution.
Unlike Dave, I unfortunately (and regretfully) let jazz fall by the wayside for me this past year. 2018 was a year filled with multiple big life disruptions/events and wrestling with some personal struggles that were in dire need of addressing and tuning, and with my increased duties and focus on all things post-rock this year I sort of inadvertently pushed jazz off to the side as a form of musical triage. One of my musical resolutions for 2019 will most definitely be re-committing myself to listening to more jazz of all stripes, but for now, what I can offer you is a shortlist of some of my favorite albums that mostly fall under the greater jazz fusion sphere as that is what I most naturally gravitate towards regardless.
1. Monobody – Raytracing
Will I ever shut up about this album? No, no I will not. The sophomore album from the Chicago post-math-jazz-rock-whatever enclave was the single best example of jazz-influenced music I found anywhere this year. I’ve honestly written about this album enough at this point that I would just encourage you to read those things if you haven’t already.
2. Hago – Hago
Yet another one I’ve been raving about throughout the year (and given that it came out in January I’ve had a lot of time), this one is perfect for people whose primary exposure and appreciation of jazz is through a metal lens. Hago is a masterful blend of djent-influenced instrumental prog, Berklee-style jazz fusion, middle eastern flavors, and other sci-fi weirdness. It’s equal parts brainy and seriously fun and hopefully just the beginning for this young group.
3. Kamasi Washington – Heaven & Earth
Scott and I were joking earlier this month about how nonplussed many mainstream music outlets seemed to be about the modern saxophone colossus Kamasi Washington’s second multi-hour cosmic jazz opus Heaven & Earth when putting together their year-end lists. If the album was mentioned at all, it generally fell startlingly low down. The joke was essentially, “Yeah, Kamasi put out yet another jazz magnus opus, but have you heard this obscure Soundcloud rapper’s mixtape??? Straight fire, bro.” If one were to be cynical (which, if anything, is certainly something I tend to be), one could point to this and say that this is evidence that most mainstream music journalists only gave so much love to The Epic and this album (at least when it first came out) because it gave them the sense of being cool and sophisticated rather than them actually understanding and loving the music for what it is.
Either way, Heaven & Earth definitely has not received the glory it should have, and in some sense I get it. The Epic was a bolt of lightning that crashed through so many different spheres of the music zeitgeist that truly had not been seen in jazz in decades. Heaven & Earth is not a repeat or straight-up sequel, but it doesn’t change the game like The Epic did simply by virtue of The Epic already existing. That said, there is an easy case to make that Heaven & Earth is an even more ambitious, creatively-daring, and straight-up cooler album than the somewhat more classic post-bop leanings of The Epic. It takes the cosmic leanings of that album and pushes out in a bunch of fascinating directions, all the while making even better use of the hugely impressive collective of musicians in Kamasi’s crew.
4. COAST – COAST
Yet another fantastic example of modern fusion, though with the twist of originating from Australia, not a country my mind jumps to when thinking about jazz. Given that friend of the blog and founder of the excellent label Art as Catharsis hails from there and is an avid jazz fiend himself though, perhaps it should. The only minimally disappointing aspect of the breezy debut album from this quartet is that the opening track, “Blackline,” is just so damn cool and sleek that the rest of the album has a little trouble competing, but just only barely because the entire thing is thoroughly great. Imagine the late post-bop to early fusion work of Wayne Shorter combined with the same era work of Herbie Hancock mixed in with some of the modern touches of the likes of Badbadnotgood and others, and you’ve pretty much got COAST.
5. TAUK – Shapeshifter I & II: Construct/Outbreak
For those who complain that jazz isn’t immediate enough, danceable enough, or fun enough to listen to, I counter with this: listen to TAUK, you jerk. Since Eden first brought them to my attention earlier this year I have been near obsessed with the quartet’s near-baffling blend of progressive rock, retro-futuristic synths, hip-hop/trip-hop, funk, and just far more. The Shapeshifter I EP offered a nice taste of things to come this year, but it’s in their second release, Outbreak where the wild eclecticism of Construct really takes off. I put it about as well as I think I could earlier this year in writing it up for this column, so at the risk of unintentionally repeating myself, I will intentionally fully repeat myself:
Everything about this band and the music presented here are so fearless when it comes to embracing every possible cliche of those respective sounds and styles that it simply blows past them back into the realm of unadulterated fun, joy, and coolness. And, much like the album’s title itself, the band always somehow manage to slyly shuffle those sounds and influences around from track-to-track, constantly offering a slightly different and fresh take on whatever pieces they’re combining. Simply put, Shapeshifter II is a constant thrill ride through and through, as close as this kind of fusion can come to music worth throwing a huge dance party to.
Basically, this music is the opposite of a chore, and you should just listen to it, jerk.
I’m not proud to say jazz took a bit more of a backseat in my listening habits this past year (somehow death metal made for a better soundtrack to the grind of graduate school) but that’s not to say I still didn’t find a fair few gems that demanded constant revisits through the year. Below is a shortlist of my favourites out of said gems, and why they stuck out to me the way they did.
1. Monobody – Raytracing
I’ll keep this relatively short, since I figure Nick has already expressed sufficient excitement for this album, but suffice it so say that Raytracing truly is as excellent as it’s been made out to be. While I initially found Monobody’s second full-length to be somewhat more opaque than its predecessor, repeat visits gradually yielded a complex, beautifully constructed jazz fusion record that consistently toys with the listener’s expectations in all sorts of delightful ways. The intricacy of opener “Ilha Verde” alone is sufficient to catapult Raytracing into one of the year’s best jazz fusion records, but it stands that the brilliant songwriting found across the remainder of the record remains unparalleled. An album that takes some time to reveal its subtle magic but which is well worth putting in the time for.
2. Kindo – Happy However After
I’ve written about (The Reign of) Kindo’s latest album for Jazz Club in the past, where I mentioned that it’s a mostly successful pivot away from their established jazz rock sound into a more varied style grounded in indie/pop. Happy However After contains some excellent, creative fare drawn from a wide sonic palette, from the electro-funk of “Human Convention” to the jazzy instrumental midsection of “Smell of a Rose”. Although some of the experimentation admittedly doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped, Happy However After’s eclecticism and willingness to take musical risks is still more than enough to make it one of my favourites of the year.
3. Julian Lage – Modern Lore
With Modern Lore, jazz guitarist extraordinaire Julian Lage’s sound takes a turn into bluesier territory over the sleek modern Telecaster-driven sound of 2016’s excellent Arclight. Perhaps a more mellow affair than its predecessor, Modern Lore has Lage showing his guitar prowess in more subtle ways for the most part here, mostly opting for gentler lead work on this outing.
4. Beats & Pieces Big Band – ten (Live)
This was another “Bandcamp surprise” courtesy of Nick. I’m generally not the biggest fan of big band jazz, but there’s just something about the occasionally guitar-driven instrumental work on this album that I could not get enough of. While the more downtempo cuts on this album are still wonderfully done, it’s the heavier, faster tracks (“Nois”, “Banger”) that steal the show, putting on one dazzling display of virtuosity after another.
5. GoGo Penguin – A Humdrum Star
A Humdrum Star sees jazz trio GoGo Penguin venture further into taking cues from electronic music, infusing their traditional piano and upright bass-driven sound with a newfound sense of ambience and ‘space’, if you will. The fundamentals of the band’s progressive sound are still present, but the compositions sound substantially more cinematic in scope (particularly on album highlight “Reactor”) and demonstrate an exceptional understanding of pacing and sonic tension. Much like Monobody’s Raytracing above, A Humdrum Star takes a bit longer to unveil its intricacies than did preceding albums, but it feels all the more rewarding for it.
If 2018 taught me anything, it’s that there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to being a music journalist. As I prepped my AOTY coverage for the columns I oversee, there were obvious gaps that rose to the surface: I didn’t follow black metal as closely as I should have, melodeath was completely absent from my frame of mind this year and, most pertinently, my jazz explorations came in bursts and never reached the heights Dave outlined above.
In some ways, this was disappointing, as I finding and recommending new music is one of my favorite hobbies. Yet, at the same time, it’s difficult to begrudge myself too severely considering just how much notable music came out this year. And perhaps more importantly, I spent quite a bit more time with the albums I did spin this year, which includes some of the greatest jazz records I’ve heard in recent memory. The selection below may be smaller than I’d like, but it’s still chock full of quality music from all corners of the jazz universe. I hope you’ll find at least one record below that you enjoy just as much as I do.
1.) Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth / The Choice
As both my overall album of the year and top pick for jazz, Heaven and Earth – along with the fantastic hidden EP The Choice – continues Kamasi Washington‘s dominance of modern jazz. The duality of the album’s themes and Kamasi’s continued prowess as a composer makes for one of the most well-written and expertly performed jazz albums I have in my collection. READ MORE
2.) Zela Margossian Quintet – Transition
The fact I only just heard this album last month should tell you something about how spectacular it is. If not for Kamasi, this would easily be my favorite jazz album of the year. Prepare for rhythmic, mystical performances that will make you want to dive into what Armenian jazz has to offer. READ MORE
3.) Monobody – Raytracing
I’ve loved Monobody since their self-titled debut, but hearing the bands exceptional sophomore album made me rediscover everything I enjoy about the band in vivid detail. No other band has blended math rock and jazz fusion as well as these guys do, and I doubt anyone will come close anytime soon.
4.) Subtle Degrees – A Dance That Empties
Travis Laplante has become one of my favorite modern saxophonists in recent years, and albums like A Dance That Empties prove exactly why. The way he and percussionist Gerald Cleaver breathe new life into a multitude of genres and techniques is nothing short of captivating. READ MORE
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5.) Peter Brötzmann & Heather Leigh – Sparrow Nights
This is easily the least “jazz” album on my list, but in all honesty, not much Peter Brötzmann has done really fits comfortably in any one corner of the genre. Following their excellent 2017 collab Sex Tape, the legendary saxophonist once again finds and unusual but ultimately brilliant bedfellow in pedal steel player Heather Leigh. This time around, the duo pull the reins on the free jazz and embrace atmosphere, mood and dark ambient tendencies in a more even musical marriage.
6.) Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window
Vocal jazz is such a hit or miss for me, so I’m pleasantly surprised that I enjoy The Window as much as I do. This is an incredible marriage of piano and voice that finds a way to perfectly skate the line between accessibility and experimentation. And it certainly helps that Salvant is a versatile singer with awing range and talent.
7.) COAST – COAST
This self-titled triumph has remained in contention for my top 10 longer than any album on this list. COAST have such tight chemistry that makes for groovy, catchy and wildly entertaining interplay. Any fan of nu-jazz and/or jazz fusion should jump on this immediately. READ MORE
8.) Masche – Kalvingrad
I can’t tell you how glad I am that this album wasn’t lost in my inbox. Perhaps the most unique album on this list, Masche produce a thrilling combination of jazz poetry, free jazz and electroacoustic effects that I couldn’t help but play on repeat whenever the mood for something strange struck me. READ MORE
9.) Lonker See – One Eye Sees Red
Jazz-rock has never been my favorite subgenre, but maybe that’s because I haven’t found bands as great as Lonker See. Falling somewhere between space rock and jazz fusion, One Eye Sees Red is as easy to get lost in as it is to dissect for every minute detail. READ MORE
10.) Anenon – Tongue
I’m really glad Dave mentioned this album, because it’s such an interesting intersection of styles. Ambient music and jazz are two of my favorite genres, and Anenon merges them seamlessly for gorgeous results.