2018 wasn’t a particularly exciting year for me in Jazz. I wasn’t too much impressed with Cecile McLorin Salvant’s and Shai Maestro’s releases this year, so I didn’t even bother to review then. And overall, this was probably the year of my lowest number of Jazz album reviews since I started this blog.
I also checked out the Top 2018 lists of many other reviewers, and didn’t see anything standing out there (except for the latest Wayne Shorter which I still have to check out).
Nevertheless, here are my 5 favorite Jazz albums of the year. Note a big victory for ECM with 3 out of my 5 albums coming from their great label.
My favorite live album of the year. And no, I didn’t just pick this for the cover. Check it out, Melody is at her best here. See my original review here.
Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Live
A lot of live albums this year. 3 out of 5. I completely forgot to review this. Marcin Wasilewski plays what regular readers by now understood to be my favorite trio style: intimate with beautiful melodies.
Not really a new recording, just a new release. But one really worth having. See my original review here. The only downside is the recording quality which is not on par with the regular ECM pristine sound.
2017 hasn’t been particularly impressive for me in terms of quantity of new Jazz albums that I really loved. I found myself more and more writing about classical music, or older recordings.
Not sure if this reflects a general slowdown of new Jazz releases or simply that my taste is rather particular. In any case, I also checked for reference some of the other top 2017 lists for Jazz, and didn’t find anything particularly exciting that I had missed.
But maybe you disagree? Let me know?
So here we go, here is my list for 2017. Note that while my Top 5 Classical list only had 5 star ratings, I also had to include two 4 star albums in here, just to make the numbers.
If you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you won’t be surprised to see a large number of piano trio albums here, my favorite genre.
You’ll find download links to each album in the original reviews of the albums that are linked.
Cecile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers
Well, let’s start strong anyhow: I’ve already postulated early on that Cécile McLorin Salvant could be the THE Jazz singer of the 21st century. It didn’t take rocket science nor a truffle dog to find this, in spite of her young age, she’s received praise from all over the world, including a Grammy nomination in 2014.
Dreams and Daggers is another masterpiece, with a nice mix of standards and originals, and a must have for any Jazz lover.
I’ve been a great fan of Helge Lien for years, since I discovered Hello Troll. Guzuguzu really confirms that he’s one of the most talented Jazz trio artists out there. As I wrote in my review, it combines “Scandinavian lyricism combined with often extremely complex rhythms”. I think there´s nothing much to add here.
Don’t get deterred by the cover art. Germany´s Triosence is one of the stars of Jazz trio based heavily on beautiful melodies and harmonies. Some would argue this is not Jazz, I don’t even bother to argue, as I simply like it very much.
But for once, you don’t have to take my word for it. Moods has recently installed what they call Moods.digital, basically a platform video streaming and archiving all concerts at Moods.
And I was really lucky, the technology just went live shortly before this concert. So with a subscription fee (you can cancel anytime if you don’t like it) you can now watch the entire back catalog of recorded concerts at moods with outstanding video and very good audio quality. Check out my article about it here. And no, I’m not getting sponsored for writing this.
What do you think?
My list is obviously very biased, very personal, but such is my entire blog.
Did I miss anything? I´d very much like to hear about your personal favorites for 2017.
This young singer has already received so much praise, including a Grammy and a DownBeats critics poll, that I’m hardly presenting you a scoop here, but a new album by such a great artist really needs a blog post!
Dreams and Daggers (MackAvenue 2017)
A couple of initial comments: this is a live album, recorded in 2016 at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York that has given us outstanding live albums already back in the days of Bill Evans. And the recording quality is excellent, you really only notice the live character of this album from the audience´s enthusiastic clapping and her occasional comments to the public.
Second comment: you get a double album here. Some could argue, is this a bit long? Actually not at all, you actually really don’t want this album to end.
Third comment: this album is formally slightly less innovative than the first two ones, you get more Irving and Gershwin standards, and the playing by Aaron Diehl and his great musicians is relatively mainstream. Some of you will take that as a criticism. Actually, not at all!
Because McLorin Salvant manages to put her very personal spin on even old try familiar standards like Devil May Care or You’re My Thrill.
My favorite track is Somehow I never could believe, which starts out as a sensitive ballad where Aaron Diehl already gets to shine in the long intro, but the real hero is Paul Sikivie on bass. And then you get Cecile´s voice, which on this track sometimes is even close to whispering. Amazingly intense.
A note on the title: You have Dreams, representing pretty much what you’d think it means. But what about the Daggers? Well, according to McLorin Salvant, this is about the songs about more complex topics, like feminism, racial identity, self-doubt, that really force you to listen to the lyrics.
This album is a must have for any jazz lover. The year is not yet over, but I´d be surprised if this album doesn’t end up in my personal top Jazz albums for 2017.
Note there are a couple of “only” four star albums here, which means I don’t consider them absolutely essential. That said, I very much like all of the below and would recommend them without hesitation.
Cecile McLorin Salvant: For One To Love (Mack Avenue 2015)
Sarah McKenzie is my other discovery of this year (reviewed here). Less innovative than Cecile McLorin Salvant, she does just old fashioned 1960-style vocal jazz. The thing is, she does it with so much charm and also includes her own originals, I’m convinced we’ll continue hearing from this young artist.
If you can catch her live as I did (see here), go for it, she’s even better live than on this album.
Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth By Day (Legacy Records 2015)
I’ve said it before, I have a love-hate relationship with Cassandra Wilson. Quite often, she just gets too close to a style that I just don’t like. On this Billie Holiday album, all is well from my perspective (see my review here).
Melody Gardot: Currency of Man (Universal 2015)
To be fair, this is more Soul than Jazz, but in any case, I really like this album. See my review here.
Autour de Nina (Verve 2015)
A beautiful Nina Simone Tribute album from a variety of artists. One of my favorite vocal jazz albums of the year, reviewed here.
As you can see from my posting history, I really like young contemporary artists. Too many lovers of Jazz and Classical music live in the past (“Ah, the times of Toscanini…” “Nobody plays like Bird anymore…” etc.).
I disagree. We have so many fantastic artists around us right now, there is no need to live only in the past. That is not to say we should forget the past (case in point, my previous review was about a 1959 album from Oscar Peterson with music mainly from the 1930s), but the much more exciting treasure hunt is to find the contemporary gems, that don’t yet are household name.
Well, to be fair, you really don’t have to be a musical truffle pig to know about the 26 year old Cécile McLorin Salvant. She’s been praised all over the place after she won the Thelonious Monk competition, so if you read any Jazz reviews at all, you should have heard about her great debut, WomanChild.
As you’ve seen from my post on my 25 Essential Jazz albums, I’m not such a big fan of vocal jazz overall. There are many singers out there with great voices, but the musical result is often a bit nondescript.
Not so here. You’ll recognize her voice immediately, she’s already developed a great style, and having the brilliant Aaron Diehl at her side is a great asset, in a way this could become a similar winning combination to Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.
For One To Love
I already liked WomanChild, but this album gets even better. There are intimate piano only ballads like Left Over, songs that could come straight out of a Jacques Brel album (Le Mal de Vivre), and the outstanding 10:33 Something’s Coming (I think I mentioned already that I have a thing for long jazz tracks, this one is no exception). There is no weak track on this album, and unlike many other vocal jazz albums, you really never get bored.
My rating: 5 stars
So to come back to the title of this post, my bold prediction is that in 30 years from now we will list Cécile in the Great Hall of Jazz along with Ella, Sarah, and Billie.
I trusted her enough that I had this album in pre-paid pre-order without even listening to it once, and will certainly do the same for her future releases!