My Top 5 Jazz Albums Of 2018

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.

You may also want to check out my Top 5 Jazz albums from 2017, 2016, and 2015, as well as my Top 5 Classical albums of 2018.

Melody Gardot Live in Europe

Melody Gardot Live In Europe (24/48) 2018 Decca

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

Marcin Wasilewski Trio Live ECM 2018 24 96

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.

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Keith Jarrett Trio – After The Fall

Keith Jarrett Gary Peacock Jack DeJohnette After The Fall ECM 2018 24 44

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.

Tord Gustavsen – The Other Side

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (24/96) ECM 2018

Good to see that Gustavsen is back in trio format. This reminds me very much of The Ground, my favorite Gustavsen album. You’ll find my original review here.

Joey Alexander Christmas

A Joey Alexander Christmas Motema 2018

Joey Alexander is my discovery of the year. Hence the mention of this short EP, which I reviewed here.

You’ll find the download links to the albums in the respective original reviews.

Tord Gustavsen’s The Other Side – Delightful

Tord Gustavsen

I’ve previously written about the rich Jazz scene in Scandinavia, and particularly about Tord Gustavsen, reviewing his album The Ground here.

Gustavsen’s trio has a very particular style, minimal, melodic, and fascinating.

So I was very excited when I saw that Gustavsen’s latest album was just released, and thanks to ECM finally allowing streaming, I could sample it immediately.

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (ECM 2018)

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (24/96) ECM 2018

I wasn’t a universal  fan of some of the albums Gustavsen released in the last years, but with his latest album, I’m fully back on board!

The first thing you notice is the cover art, while still in the typical ECM abstract art style, they’ve changed from the dark blue tones of most of the former albums to a bright orange. Does this mean the music is more orange as well?

Well, actually not. This is very typical Gustavsen style, very much reminding me of what I liked so much about The Ground.  Let’s take as an example urack 3 of the album, Re-Melt. It starts with a syncopated rhythm by Jarle Vespestad on drums, and Sigurd Hole on bass. Gustavsen joins a bit later, weaving a beautiful, subdued melody over the rhythm. None of the music on this album is ever over the top, but it will always be one thing: very atmospheric. It always just unfolds slowly, over time.

Recording quality, as usual on ECM, is very good, actually in this particular case it is again quite spectacular.

Check out this album. It may not be for everyone, but if you like this minimalist Nordics style, you really should not hold back!

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

 

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Ground – Atmospheric Trio Jazz from Norway

ECM

Enough ink has been spilled on Manfred Eicher’s outstanding Jazz label from Munich, Germany. He obviously was smart enough to land a superstar like Keith Jarrett, but they’ve been such an important driving force for contemporary jazz (and classical music) that you owe it to yourself to check out each new ECM release. To be fair, for me their output is hit and miss, on average every 2nd album I just love, every other is not my cup of tea. But I never regret checking them out.

Tord Gustavsen

Like Helge Lien (reviewed here), Tord Gustavsen comes from Norway. That, plus the fact that they both won an important Norwegian Jazz award, is probably the only apparent commonality between the two (plus the fact that they both have played with Silje Nergaard at some point, probably a mandatory rite of passage for Norwegian jazz pianists).

Lien is much more energetic, and experimental. Gustavsen in his arrangements in a way represents the typical ECM house sound, atmospheric, sometimes a bit detached, and extremely well recorded.

He has released a number of albums, mostly in trio, but also more recently with Saxophone, however, this 2004-5 album remains my favorite album of his.

The Ground

The Ground was Gustavsen’s 2nd ECM album, after the equally beautiful Changing Places, which gave him quite some visibility.

His style is really the opposite of what was developed by Esbjörn Svensson Trio, his neighbor from Sweden. It is very minimalistic, laid back. He has been called “the Satie of Jazz”. This is music to savor late at night, with a glass of single malt (I’d recommend a Caol Ila 12).

Critics around the globe mainly loved this album, calling the music “shimmering” (the Village Voice), and quoting the ” liquid, flowing quality of his motion” (AllAboutJazz). You did find some critical voices as well, usually finding this a little bit too laid back, or some even called it boring.

Tord Gustavsen Trio The Ground 24 96 ECM 2005

Well, obviously if you want high energy jazz that brings you to the edges of contemporary creativity, look elsewhere. But if you, like me, appreciate the ECM sound, this album is really worth checking out.

Actually, I’m a big fan of the very minimalistic and modern ECM cover art in general, but on this particular album they really nailed it. The blue, unfocused feeling you get from the cover is exactly what the music will do with you. You’ll get lost in space and time (the Caol Ila certainly helping….).

Note that the recording quality of this album is truly outstanding, so if you have a good hi-fi, you’ll enjoy it twice as much.

My rating: 4 stars

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (Gubemusic)