On the Turntable — The “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” in 2023 jazz recordings

January 8th, 2024

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Jonathan Williger of  Pitchfork describes the late trumpeter Jamie Branch’s album Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)) as one that “brims with joy and righteous anger, and illuminates the communal ties that underpin both.” 

Of the 12 websites researched for the critics’ choices for best jazz albums of 2023, her album was named on eight of them, more than any other.

 

 

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…..It’s time for our annual compilation of “Best of” jazz recordings, this time for 2023.   As always, there are a large number of “Best of” lists to be found on the Internet, and the goal of this post is to present those jazz albums oft-mentioned by a wide range of critics.

…..While these 10 albums hardly constitute a comprehensive assessment of the “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” lists, it does provide some guidance about 2023 recordings critics seemed to agree about, and suggest we check out more thoroughly.

…..The recordings are listed in the order of those receiving the most critic mentions as compiled from 12 websites, and may include a link to an artist or record company website, as well as to a critic’s more complete review of the album. Readers will also discover that a song from each album is available for listening. The websites utilized to compile this list are found at the conclusion of this post.

…..As always, the lists feature an eclectic mix of listening experiences, and  once again prove that jazz music is in good hands…Enjoy!

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Joe Maita

Editor/Publisher

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Jamie Branch

Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))/ [International Anthem]

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“Jaimie Branch had nearly finished mixing this album — the third studio record from her trumpet-cello-bass-drums quartet, Fly or Die — when she  died suddenly in 2022. It would be hard to imagine a more rousing and generous parting gift. Branch was a declarative trumpeter who had only recently embraced her unrefined-but-rewarding singing voice. With it she entreats us to love, to agitate and to put ourselves on the line.”

-Giovanni Russenello/New York Times

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“Midway through ‘burning grey,’ from her riotous third and final album Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)), jaimie branch issues an exhortation that could serve as her artistic mission statement: ‘Don’t forget to fight.’  Whether leading her Fly or Die quartet or working as a prolific collaborator across scenes and cities, the trumpeter, composer, and vocalist, who died of undisclosed causes at 39 last year, made music from a position of joyful defiance.”

-Andy Cush/Pitchfork

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“burning grey”

[Redeye Worldwide]

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Cecile McLorin Salvant

Mélusine/ [Nonesuch]

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“This album is as much cabaret, Renaissance, mystical, and folk as it is jazz, but it features Cécile McLorin Salvant, the greatest jazz singer (one of the greatest singers, period) of our time, so it would top the list of any musical genre (or come close). Inspired by a 14th-century French fairy tale, with songs spanning from the 12th century to vaudeville ditties and Broadway showtunes to a few Salvant originals, it’s adventurous, witty, alternately joyful, tragic, and melancholy, sometimes lush (her pure voice backed by her standard jazz quartet), sometimes lean (just her and a djembe percussionist or a nylon-stringed guitar), and in all cases gorgeous. She sings this almost entirely in French; in other words, she’s so unrivaled in her art, she can get away with anything she wants, and enchantingly so.”

-Fred Kaplan/Slate

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“Anyone who thinks they already know the full extent of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s artistry should listen to  Mélusine  without further delay. Bringing together five new Salvant originals with the most eclectic array of covers we’ve yet heard from the three-time Grammy Award winner, it’s a remarkable recording…

-Peter Quinn/Jazzwise

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“La route enchantee”

[Nonesuch]

 

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Matana Roberts

Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden/ [Constellation]

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“Roberts’s ambitious, multi-part project continues with this deeply personal album. Weaving field recordings, spoken word, and improvisational jazz with themes of nature and healing, it’s a sonic tapestry that speaks to liberation coming out of a traumatic family episode. This album is a reminder that jazz can be a vehicle for personal and environmental healing, offering solace and prompting reflection.”

 

Hi Fi Trends

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“Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden’s  collision of styles, genres, and individual and group voices are not only welcome, but essential to the process of Roberts engendering dialogue, celebrating difference, and communicating emotions, psychologies, and cultures, all testifying to the import and cultural and artistic achievement of her evolving project.”

-Thom Jurek/All Music

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“unbeknownst”

[BWSCD].

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James Brandon Lewis/Red Lily Quartet

For Mahalia, With Love/ [Tao Forms]

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“James Brandon Lewis is on quite a run, and his terrific Red Lily Quintet (Kirk Knuffke’s cornet, Christopher Hoffman on cello, bassist William Parker, and drummer Chad Taylor) is an ideal group for taking simple songs and spinning them into gold. The songs here are all gospel classics associated with or inspired by the legendary singer Mahalia Jackson — material like “Swing Low” and “Wade in the Water”. Lewis and his band are in the tradition and modern at the same time, constantly reinventing the forms and feelings of these powerful melodies.”

-Will Layman/Pop Matters

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“On  For Mahalia, With Love,  saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and his Red Lily Quintet reworked the music of gospel legend  Mahalia Jackson, imbuing it with all the heart of the originals but with a force of will all their own. Back in September, I said this was the sound of raw magic at work. Months later, and that magic still rings with a potency to move mountains, elicit starstruck wonderment.

-Dave Sumner/Bandcamp

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“Wade in the Water”

[Virtual Label LLC]

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Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Dynamic Maximum Tension [Nonesuch]

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“Darcy James Argue, a composer devoted to jazz’s tradition of large-ensemble orchestration, moved to Brooklyn 20 years ago, after earning his masters at the New England Conservatory. His mentor there,  Bob Brookmeyer, is one of the heroes invoked on  Dynamic Maximum Tension,  Argue’s fourth and most ambitious release; among the others are jazz forebear  Duke Ellington, architectural futurist Buckminster Fuller, cryptographer Alan Turing and Hollywood trailblazer Mae West. These figures haunt the complex machinery and political agency of Argue’s music, daringly executed by the  Secret Society, his 18-piece band.

-Nate Chinen/NPR

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“It may be a stretch to say this Vancouver-bred composer and band leader has singlehandedly reinvented big-band music. But not by much, as this dazzling, unfailingly creative album — which last month earned a Grammy Award nomination — vividly attests.”

-George Varga/San Diego Union-Tribune

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“Dymaxion”.

[Nonesuch]

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Tyshawn Sorey

Continuing/[Pi Recordings]

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“When the pandemic drove the MacArthur award-winning African American drummer and composer/improviser Tyshawn Sorey online, he unveiled an astonishing diversity of new works – including violin and cello concertos, string quartets, live-streamed improvisations with chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound. He also recorded a genre-hopping run of albums, of which this latest set by his trio with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer – covering original jazz themes by Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal and others – is a startling standout.

– John Fordham/The Guardian

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“There’s a delicious tension in Sorey’s trio, a sensation of explosive energies pulsing beneath every placid surface. When I caught the band at the Village Vanguard one evening this fall, that push-pull often found Diehl teetering on the far threshold of control (a thrilling thing to hear, from a musician of such exceptional poise). That live experience surely informed my love of  Continuing;  so too does the prescient inclusion of songs by Wayne Shorter and Ahmad Jamal, two masters we lost this year. Pianist  Harold Mabern, who died in 2019, also has a tune in the track list. Sorey pays these masters an homage that feels palpably sincere.

-Nate Chinen/NPR

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Click here to hear music from  Continuum 

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Kris Davis

Diatom Ribbons Live at the Village Vanguard/[Pyroclastic Records]

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“This live version of  Kris Davis‘  Diatom Ribbons  album features drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, guitarists Nels Cline and Marc Ribot, bassist Trevor Dunn, and Val Jeanty on turntables, among others. But unlike that killer album from 2019 (my favorite of that year), the live set covers a wider set of music. Davis works with spoken word recordings of her heroes — “VW” features a herky-jerky theme around the words of Sun Ra, and “Bird Call Blues” finds Jeanty layering various sampled and turntable sounds with birdlike percussion including the voice of pianist Paul Bley talking about the genius of Charlie Parker — but “Alice in the Congo” by Ronald Shannon Jackson is more of a cooker and Geri Allen’s “The Dancer” uses pointillistic subtlety and a loping groove to seduce. There are tone poems, ballads, Latin percussion, and even two versions of Wayne Shorter’s “Dolores” that let the leader and Lage cut loose on the past as well as the moment.

-Will Layman/Pop Matters

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“This double album isn’t just a live recording; it’s a masterclass in the magic of improvisation. Davis’s award-winning project takes on new life through the energy of this legendary venue. Joined by Terri Lyne Carrington and Val Jeanty, their sonic dialogue flows with organic grace, reminding us that jazz is a living, breathing conversation, a continuous dance between players and the audience.”

Hi-Fi Trends

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“Bird Call Blues”.

[The Orchard]

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Brad Mehldau

Your Mother Should Know/[Nonesuch]

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“This may be the only jazz album of Beatles songs that works, in part because Mehldau—a pianist of pristine touch, dexterous rhythm, and a peerlessly colorful harmonic sense who was born in 1970, the year the Beatles broke up—chose lesser-known tunes with odd rhythms or intriguing harmonies (mainly from  Revolver,  Abbey Road,  and  Magical Mystery Tour)  and embellished those elements. It’s for the most part a delight and a triumph.”

-Fred Kaplan/Slate

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“Mehldau’s highly expressive touch and use of rubato and dynamics are nothing less than exemplary and unexpected twists add a new dimension to the material without abstracting the original songs. It’s a recipe that’s likely to satisfy both jazz lovers and fussily dedicated Beatles fans alike.” 

Selwyn Harris/Jazzwise

 

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“Your Mother Should Know”

[Nonesuch]

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Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding

Alive at the Village Vanguard/[Palmetto Records]

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“Two masters, one magical evening — Hersch at piano, Spalding with just her lovely voice.”

Downbeat

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“Much more than simply a lively jazz standards album, Alive at the Village Vanguard captures these two jazz kindred spirits in joyous, creative play.

-Matt Collar/All Music

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“Girl Talk”

[The Orchard]

[Non.

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Yussef Dayes

Black Classical Music/[Nonesuch]

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“A longtime staple of the UK jazz scene, drummer and composer Yussef Dayes released one of the most widely-loved jazz albums of the past decade as one half of Yussef Kamaal (with Kamaal Williams) on 2016’s  Black Focus,  and–following a 2020 album with Tim Misch, a live trio album that same year, and more – he finally released his first proper album as a bandleader with 2023’s Black Classical Music.  It’s one of the most gorgeous, sprawling albums of the year in any genre, with lush, organic instrumentals and forays into electronic music, funk, reggae, R&B, and more. Fleshed out with contributions from Shabaka Hutchings, Chronixx, Masego, Jamilah Barry, Rocco Palladino, the aforementioned Tom Misch, and a handful of others, the 19-song, 74-minute album is a total journey. It’s rooted in both the past and the future. It connects the dots between an array of musical inventions of the African diaspora. Black Classical Music  is the perfect title.

-Andrew Sacher/Brooklyn Vegan

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“…By the time he sat down to record  Black Classical Music,  Dayes most likely had a clear idea of what he could do and where he wanted to go. And boy, does he go places. Armed with 19 tracks and using almost every square inch available on a compact disc, Black Classical Music  takes the listener on a highly groovy and ultimately fulfilling ride through the peaks and valleys inside of Dayes’ musical brain. To say that every stone is overturned would be overselling it. Dayes doesn’t achieve everything, but there are still an impressive number of stones flipped over in the creation of this album.”

 -Will Layman/Pop Matters

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“Black Classical Music” (official video).

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The lists and reviews utilized for this feature can be accessed by clicking on the links below:

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All Music

Bandcamp

Brooklyn Vegan

Downbeat

Guardian

Hi-Fi Trends

Jazzwise

NPR

New York Times

Pop Matters

San Diego Union-Tribune

Slate

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Click here to read “The Best of ‘The Best of’ in 2022 Jazz Recordings”

Click here to read “The Best of ‘The Best of’ in 2021 Jazz Recordings”

Click here to read “The Best of ‘The Best of’ in 2020 Jazz Recordings”

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Click here to read The Sunday Poem

Click here to read “A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Summer, 2023 Edition”

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One comments on “On the Turntable — The “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” in 2023 jazz recordings”

  1. I love On the Turntable — The “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” in 2023 jazz recordings. Eclectic, inspired choices. Kudos to the researcher!

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