The Best Jazz Albums of 2018
Posted On January 7, 2019
The Best Jazz Albums of 2018
- Frank Kimbrough – Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Sunnyside) (6-disc-set) Let that subtitle soak in. Best known as orchestra leader Maria Schneider’s pianist but a major force in his own right (he’s also worked with Lee Konitz, a virtual Monk contemporary), Kimbrough carves out the most authoritative and delightful reclamation of jazz history in recent memory. A profusion of groups have covered Monk material in recent years. But nobody’s had the chutzpah and comprehensive know-how to pull this off. The quartet’s superb brass & reed player Scott Robinson is key. Yet Kimbrough can inhabit Monk’s high priest of bop posture like a re-incarnation. The quartet’s easy, relaxed swing with this material recalls Monk’s Columbia label quartet with saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Yet even that long-standing group never recorded all these compositions. Monk once said, “It’s sometimes to your advantage for people to think you’re crazy.” Advantage Monk. Crazy like a genius. The “dreams” are goofball-cool, cubist yet danceable, slide-off-the-page poetry and, amazingly, encompasses the entire Thelonious Sphere.
- Johannes Wallmann – Love Wins (Fresh Sound/New Talent) This album grew on me like the first day of spring, right from roots I didn’t know I had. It felt like the sun giving me a new lease on music-weary ears. No album this year provided the highest grade and most stylistically-rich jazz, with an array of superb vocals addressing the injustice of institutional homophobia and discrimination, and a solution to it all, if you keep the faith, in humanity. You need not be particularly interested in these social issues to enjoy this immensely. But after hearing this album you might just be. Here’s my in-depth review of it. (Due to technical blog problems, all of nearly 100 Facebook likes were erased from the page): https://kevernacular.com/?p=10114
- Harriet Tubman – The Terror End of Beauty (Sunnyside) For me, few other bands face the complex crossroads among jazz, rock and funk’s pathways with more imagination, fearlessness and authority than Harriet Tubman. Influences of note include Hendrix and volcanic jazz-guitarist Sonny Sharrock. The title tune’s majestic shapeliness and explosiveness, and “Unseen Advance of the Aquifarian” blend the power and grace of such a spectrum. Brandon Ross seems to ride his guitar like a WW II flying ace wielding virtuosity in the face of life’s most terrifying and inspiring obstacles. The band’s name (for Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman) and such pieces as “The Green Book Rules” evoke the bracing life challenges of African Americans in America, as per the recent film The Green Book, speaking volumes for their conceptual ambitions. Producer Scotty Hard, a Teo Macero disciple, enhances the sonic scope of a trio that invariably sounds like multiple incarnations of itself. On Bob Marley’s deeply moving “Redemption Song,” Ross’s feedback artistry coalesces Alice Coltrane-inspired spirituality and the band’s own soaring pathway to righteousness.
- Enrico Pieranunzi Quartet – New Spring (CamJazz) My favorite European jazz pianist, Pieranunzi landed in America with this album recorded live at the Village Vanguard with a masterful quartet led by tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. This is modern straight-ahead jazz as powerful and loose-limbed as it gets. The pianist’s mastery of momentum and swing can evoke McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock while evincing his own distinctive force of personality and lyricism. McCaslin conveys a wide scope of emotional and musical nuance and ingenuity. Yet he can tear it up with the best of hard-boppers. The finest recorded sax performance of the year. The rhythm section, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Clarence Penn, crackles with vibrance and authority.
- Miguel Zenon featuring Spectral Quartet – Yo Soy La Tradicion (Miel Music) This is the most musically accomplished recording I’ve heard in quite some time. The great Cuban saxophonist, composer and arranger Zenon takes a strong stand as perhaps America’s premier musician of advanced musical form and creativity. Yet he does this by plumbing the earthy depths of indigenous musical folk traditions in a manner I’ve never quite heard before. This is largely through-composed music for alto sax and classical string quartet, but Spectral Quartet of Chicago is no ordinary musty string quartet. They bring fire and beauty akin to Zenon’s lustrous, bracing alto saxophone playing. The sometimes-overwhelming myriad of nuances in the writing compares favorably to, say, Dvorak’s folk-inspired compositions.
- 6. Keith Jarrett – La Fenice (ECM)
- Edward Simon with Afinidad and Imani Winds – Sorrows & Triumphs (Sunnyside)
- Caroline Davis – Heart Tonic (Sunnyside)
- Dave Holland – Uncharted Territories (Redeye)
- Johannes Wallmann – Day and Night (Shifting Paradigm) Madison-based Wallmann’s two 2017-2018 albums of high merit earn him jazz musician of the year, in my book.
Best Historical Jazz Album
- John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!) Slightly a cut below the vintage Impulse recordings released during Trane’s lifetime. But this was recorded in 1963, during the classic quartet’s prime. Any recording by this vaunted and innovative band (pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones) has immeasurable artistic value.
Best Jazz Vocal Album
- Cathy Segal-Garcia – The Jazz Chamber (Dash Hoffman)
- John Daversa Big Band featuring DACA Artists – American Dreamers: Voices of Hope/Music of Freedom (BFM Jazz)
- Father Sky – Father Sky (previousy published album review):https://kevernacular.com/?p=9039