Thursday, December 7, 2023




Wow, another year has passed again! Time flies, but for those of us who listen to hundreds of offerings in a year, it is the time to look back, reevaluate, and identify those recordings that we feel should be recognized as being among the best of this past year. In my case, that is predominantly in jazz music and its myriad of styles. The music can be cross-genre, world or ethnically-influenced, chamber-type jazz, Latin-infused, modern, traditional, big band, straight ahead, post-bop, blues-oriented, ambient, progressive, or just originally out there in a new exploratory mode. It should never be boring, predictable, or performed without consummate ability and determined effort. Have no doubt that those who have rung the "jazz is dead" bell are not keeping up with the incredible advances and astounding creativity that can be found in today's jazz and beyond music. This music should inspire listeners to enjoy sitting back and exploring the artistry through multiple listens even in these hyperactive times. Music can evoke excitement, inspiration, and kinetic movement. It can get the blood pumping, pull at the heartstrings, and at times provide the listener with an unexplainable magical connection with the musicians. 

My hope is that this thoughtful compilation can open up the reader/listener to some of these new and exciting artists and their music, and inspire them to offer their support to these musicians by purchasing their recordings.

This is a purely subjective compilation of favorites and certainly, these selections are somewhat limited to the new and reissued music that I had the privilege of being exposed to over the past year as a reviewer. I don't believe in rating music in some kind of ascending or descending order of hierarchy. The music is just so diverse. The artistic approaches used are so unique, even in a particular genre, that any attempt to choose the "best," in my opinion, is an exercise in futility. My list for 2023 is, therefore, in no particular order of excellence. There was a great deal of listening and an enormous amount of effort putting this together, and it was a lot of fun. I hope you all find this music inspiring, creative, and as enjoyable and expansive as I do. I will list my favorite Historical Reissues of importance in a subsequent post. Have a great holiday and enjoy this splendid year in creative music.

Billy Childs: The Winds of Change: Mack Avenue Records

Splendid piano trio/quartet work inspired by film noir and growing up as a youth in LA. 

Billy Childs (p), Scott Coley(b), Brian Blade (drms) guest Ambrose Akinmusire (trmpt)

Nick Finzer: Dreams, Visions, Illusions: Outside in Music

Inventive ensemble music led by Finzer's ideas and trombone.

w/Nick Finzer (trmb), Lucas Pino (t sax, bass clarinet). Alex Wintz (g)
Glenn Zaleski (p), Dave Baron (b), Jimmy MacBride (drms) 

Kenny Barron: The Source: Artwork Records  

Superb mastery in the solo piano format.

Kenny Barron, solo piano

Tyshawn Sorey Trio: Continuing: PI Records

The drummer slows the music down to great effect.

Tyshawn Sorey (drms), Aaron Diehl (p) Matt Brewer (b)

Rudy Royston & Flatbed Buggy: Day  Greenleaf Music

Americana music at its best.

Rudy Royston (drms), John Ellis (bass clarinet), Hank Roberts(cello),
Gary Versace (accord), Joe Martin (b)

John Scofield: Uncle John's Band: ECM Records

Guitar master and his trio reinterpret some new classics.

John Scofield (g), Vincente Archer (b) Bill Stewart (drms)

Chris Potter: Got The Keys to the Kingdom: Live at the Village Vanguard: Edition Records

Incendiary saxophone and his group light up the stage at the classic venue.

Chris Potter (ts),  Craig Taborn (p), Scott Colley (b), Marcus Gillmore (drms) 

Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke: Lean In : Editon Records

Enchanting vocals backed by world sounds and infective rhythms.

Gretchen Parlatp (voice/perc), Lionel Loueke (guitar/perc), Mark Giuliana (drms),
Burniss Travis (elec bass), Marley Guiliana (Voice 3,6 & 12), Lisa Loueke (voice 3)

Steve Lehman & Orchestra National De Jazz: Ex Machina: PI records

Avant-garde orchestration of impressionist music with electronics.

Steve Lehman (alto sax/composition/electronics), guest artists Jonathan Finlayson (trpt), Chris Dingman (vibes), the Orchestra National De Jazz under the direction of Fredric Maurin (composition).

Ralph Towner: At First Light: ECM Records

Superlative solo guitar exploring some old favorites and some originals.

Ralph Towner solo ( classic and acoustic guitar) 

Sullivan Fortner: Solo Game: Artwork records

One of the most talented young pianists performs a solo album of great sensitivity and invention.

Sullivan Fortner (solo piano) 

Brad Turner Quintet: The Magnificent: Cellar Music group

A top-notch outing by this Canadian trumpet player and his talented group that includes an homage to flugelhornist Thad Jones.

Brad Turner (trmpt/piano), Cory Weeds (ts), Peter Bernstein (g), Neil Swainton (b), Quincy Davis (drms)

Denny Zeitlin: Crazy Rhythm: Exploring George Gershwin:
Sunnyside Records

This pianist has never failed to find his own unique and inspired ways to reimagine some of the canon's classic gems. Gershwin as you never heard quite like this.

Denny Zeitlin: (live solo piano)

Michael Blake: Dance With The Mystic Bliss: PM Records

A saxophonist who used the passing of his mother,, who was a dancer and a singer, as an inspiration to create and perform this uplifting and optimistic music.

Michael Blake (ts,sop sax, flute, alto fl, composer), Guilherme Monteiro (elec g), Mauro Refosco (per & marimba), Skye Steele (violin, rabeca, gonji), Chris Hoffman (cello), Michael Bates (b).

Champian Fulton: Meet Me at Birdland: Champion Records

A talented pianist/vocalist who brings joy to her live performance at Birdland.

Champian Fulton (voice/piano), Hide Tanaka (b), Fukuski Tainaka (drms)

Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band: Kings Highway: Stoner Hill Records

This band creates cinematic vignettes that are gorgeously executed with melodicity, polyrhythmic drive, sometimes fusion tilting, and spectral artistry.

Brian Blade(composer/drms), Jon Cowherd ( piano/synth/composer), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar/ elect effects), Myron Walden (alto sax and bass Clarinet), Melvin Butler (tenor sax), Chris Thomas (b)

Chuck Owens with the WDR Big Band: Renderings: Mama Records

A composer/arranger who always finds a way to make beautiful music with a big band. 

Chuck Owens (comp/arranger), The WDR Big Band w guest artist Sara Caswell (v)

Art Hirahara: Echo Canyon: Positone Records

An upcoming pianist who plays beautifully with intuitively responsive partners on this wonderful album.

Art Hirahara (p), Boris Kozlov (b) Rudy Royston (drms)

Ryan Keberle & Collectiv Do Brasil: Considerando: Alternate Side Records

The trombonist and his cohort's wonderful modern take on Brazilian music.

Ryan Keberle (trmb), Felip[e Silveira (p), Paulinho Vicente (drms), Felipe Brisola (b)

Pat Metheny: Dream Box:  Modern Records/BMG 

A solo guitar album from a master.

Pat Metheny: Solo guitar with overdubs  "I Always Fall in Love Too Easily"

Sammy Figueroa: Searching for a Memory: Ashe Records

Reclaiming a link to the music of his father Charles Figueroa a one-time famous romantic Latin singer whom his son Sammy didn't know well. 

Sammy Figueroa (per, voice), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (p), Aymée Nuviola (vocals), Miguel Zenón (a sax) John Daversa (trmpt), Felipe Lamolgia (sax), Magalys Herrera (flute), Ricardo Rodriguez (b), Munir Hossn (multi inst) 

Loren Stillman: Time and Again: Sunnyside Records

A powerful modern voice on the saxophone that is influenced by his heroes Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz but has created his own unique style. 

Loren Stillman (ts), Drew Gress (b), Mark Ferber (drms)

Nicole Zuraitis: How Love Begins: Outside in Music

A fresh voice that knows how to deliver a good melody.

Nicole Zuraitis (vocal/piano), Gilad Henkselman (g), Maya Kronfeld (org/Rhodes), Dan Pugh (drms) Christian McBride (b), Billy Kilson (drms) Thana Alexa/Julia Adamy (backup vocals on 2)

Ambrose Akinmusire: Owl Song: Nonesuch Records

The enigmatic trumpeter, who often finds there is more with less in playing his instrument, has camaraderie with the way owls seem to be more quiet observers in this otherwise rapid, frenetic world of oversaturation.

Ambrose Akinmusire (trmpt), Bill Frisell (g), Herlin Riley (drms)

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Dynamic Maximum Tension: Nonesuch Records

Using admiration for people like architect/futurist Buckminster Fuller, code buster/AI conceptualist Alan Turing, and sassy actress/satirist Mae West, composer/arranger Darcy James Argue creates a new suite of music for his Secret Society orchestra.

Darcy James Arge (composer/arranger/conductor), Dave Pietro (a sax), Rob Wilkerson (a sax), Sam Saigursky (a sax), John Ellis (t sax, Bass clar), Carl Maraghi (bar sax) Seneca Black (trmpt), Liesl Whitaker (trmpt), Matt Holman (trmpt), Nadje Noordhuis (trmpt) Ingrid Jensen (trmpt), Brandon Lee (trmpt), Mike Fahie (trombone), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Jennifer Wharton ( bass tromb), Sebastian Noelle (g), Adam Birnbaum (p), Matt Clohesy (b), Jon Wilan (drms), Sara Caswell (viol), Hardanger d'Amore (viol), Cecile McLorin Savant (vocals)

Mark Turner Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard: Giant Steps Arts

Distinctive saxophonist and his quartet captured live at the famous NYC club.

Mark Turner (tenor sax/composer), Jason Palmer (trmpt), Joe Martin (b), Jonathan Pinson (drms)

Claire Daly w/George Garzone: Vu Vu for Frances: Self Produced

Claire Daly (bari sax), George Garzone (ten sax), Jon Davis (p), Dave Hofstra (b),
David F. Gibson (drms)

A nostalgic but modern-sounding trip back to the days in NYC when 53rd Street was the jazz hangout for such fans as Frances, a ninety-year-old fan of Daly's to whom the album is dedicated.

Jim Snidero featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel: Far, Far Away: Live at the Deer Head Inn: Savant Records

This intuitive, well-polished rhythm section propels this live recording giving plenty of room for brilliant interactions to develop between the altoist, the guest guitarist, and the pianist.

Jim Snidero (a sax), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar/electronics), Orrin Evans (p), Peter Washington (b), Joe Farnsworth (drums)

Geri Allen & Kurt Rosenwinkel: A Lovesome Thing: Motema Music

A magical and memorable one-time collaboration between the sensitive pianist and the enigmatic guitarist captured live at the Philharmonie de Paris in 2012.

John Ellis Quartet: Bizet: Carmen in Jazz: Blue Room Music

The prolific multi-reedist and his quartet tackles the music of Carmen, an opera written by  Georges Bizet in the 1800s, and gives the music a jazz and at times New Orleans-like treatment that is inventive and quite enjoyable.

John Ellis (saxophones and bass clarinet(, Gary Versace (p), Reuben Rogers (b) Jason Marsalis (drms)

Cecile McLorin Savant: Melusine: Nonesuch Records

The chanteuse mixes five originals and interpretations of nine other traditional songs most sung in southern French, Haitian Kreyol, and English by this talented, always surprising talent. 

Cecile McLorin Savant (vocals), Sullivan Fortner (p) Weedie Braimah (Djembe), Aaron Diehl (p), Luques Curtis (b), Paul Sikivie (b), Kyle Poole(drms), Obed Calvaire (drms) Lawrence Leathers (drms)

Langren, Wollny, Danielsson, Haffner: 4 Wheel Drive II; ACT Music

A European supergroup plays their own take on popular music by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins. Billy Joel and their own originals. 

Nils Langren(trombone/vocals), Michael Wollny (p), Lars Danielsson (baa/cello), Wolfgang Haffner (drms) 

Michael Dease: Swing Low: Positone Records

The phenomenal trombone artist and educator picks up the baritone saxophone to show he is not a one-trick pony and can swing on the big saxophone. 

Michael Dease (bari sax), Ingrid Jensen (trmpt), Art Hirahara (p), Boris Kozlov (b), Rudy Royston (drms) Altin Sencalar (trombone 7,8, 10) 

Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo: El Arte Del Bolero Vol 2 : Meil Music

Zenon's alto meets with Perdomo's piano in this follow-up duo recording of Latin American Boleros reimagined from a jazz point of view.

Miguel Zenón (alto sax) Luis Perdomo (piano)

J.D. Simo Trio: Songs from the House of Grease: Self-Produced

A roots guitar player who crosses the lines between blues with jazz and greasy blues.

J.D. Simo ( /vocal, vox, guitar), Todd Bolden (vocal, bass), Adam Abrashoff (drms)

Rachel Ekroth: Humanoid: Sam First Records

This talented composer/pianist/vocalist brings her potent quartet to LA's latest jazz club. The album is recorded live and the audience approves.

Rachel Ekroth (piano/composer), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Billy Mohler (b), Tina Raymond (drms)

Blue Cranes: My Only Secret: Butcher Records

A West Coast, Portland-based group that has been together since 2004. They like to meld elements of post-bop jazz with challenging compositions that sometimes avoid definitive structure, can have rock influences, and create vibrant impressions.

Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone, keys, percussion), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone, keys, percussion), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards), Jon Shaw (bass)
Ji Tanzer (drums)

Joshua Redman w/ Gabrielle Cavassa: Where Are We: Blue Note Records 

The tenor master and his group explore new music with a talented new vocalist.

Joshua Redman (t sax), Gabrielle Cavassa (vocals), Aaron Parks (p0, Joe Sanders (b), Peter Bernstein (g), Kurt Rosenwinkel (g), Joel Ross ( vibes), Nicholas Payton (trmpt)

Walter Smith III: Return to Casual: Blue Note Records

A powerful album from an ever-growing voice on tenor saxophone and a new energetic group.

Walter Smith III (t sax) Kendrick Scott (drms), Taylor Eigsti: (Piano/Rhodes), Matt Stevens: (g) Harish Raghavan: (b)

Rob Luft: Dahab Days: Edition Records

A British guitarist who offers an original aerial sound with strings playing his own compositions, as well as his takes on music by Ellington, and Aphex Twins.

Rob Luft (guitar and composer), Joe Wright (t sax), Joe Webb (piano/organ), Tom McCreedle (b), Corrie Dick (drms), Alice Zawadzki (voice/violin), Byron Watson (trmpt), Steve Buckley (alto sax and penny whistle)

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