The Best Jazz of 2018

Some of the most trusted names in jazz and a host of innovative young disrupters brought cross-media collaborations and fresh approaches to the genre.

1. Wayne Shorter, ‘Emanon’

Here’s a grand reckoning with the most revered compositional voice in contemporary jazz. The first of three discs here is defined by the kinetic synergy between the saxophonist’s quartet and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The album isn’t complete without its accompanying graphic novel, written by Mr. Shorter and Monica Sly, and illustrated by Randy DuBurke.

2. Ambrose Akinmusire, ‘Origami Harvest’

For the past decade, Ambrose Akinmusire has played trumpet with a fresh style: elusive and rarely resolving, but also ruby-red and urgent. His newest album reminds us that his compositions can achieve the same balance of intimacy and vision.

3. Logan Richardson, ‘Blues People’

Thrashing and full of impact but endlessly slippery, Logan Richardson’s two-electric-guitar quintet remains guided at every turn by his alto saxophone. No one plays the instrument with the same sweltering, swooning grace.

4. Esperanza Spalding, ‘12 Little Spells’

Esperanza Spalding took her time on this one, crafting a video album of millennial-size ambition, ranging from orchestral jazz with loquacious lyrics to therapeutic funk. Altogether, it’s a little like experiencing the ecstatic philosophy of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (her writings on, say, the interrelation of language, desire and physical texture) as sounds and moving images.

5. Miles Okazaki, ‘Work’

Thelonious Monk’s 100th birthday in 2017 brought a flood of tributes, but the most monumental statement of devotion came a year late. Across six discs, the guitarist Miles Okazaki covers every known Monk composition, honoring the composer’s crooked style and getting his guitar to sound just as resonant and embodied as Monk’s piano did.

6. Sam Harris, ‘Harmony’

Is it a brilliantly assembled suite of compositions for trio, or a loose, 30-minute improvisation? Either way, it’s low, dark and beautiful. And it feels like a guarantee that we’ll be talking about the pianist Sam Harris for a long time.

7. Andrew Cyrille, ‘Lebroba’

Three masters of improvising minimalism — the drummer Andrew Cyrille, the trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and the guitarist Bill Frisell — convene for the first time. Mr. Smith makes a humongous impact wherever he goes, and this album also works as a cooler companion to his own 2017 album “Najwa,” where he was surrounded by four guitars and two percussionists.

8. James Brandon Lewis/Chad Taylor, ‘Radiant Imprints’

On this duo album, James Brandon Lewis honors John Coltrane by isolating parts of his compositions, diving into the source material with strident, ennobled conviction. Whether charging on the drum set or playing the hypnotic mbira, Chad Taylor knows where to find Mr. Lewis at his best.

9. Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, ‘The Other Side of Air’

On this veteran avant-garde pianist’s second album with Snowy Egret, the quintet moves with tenuous grace. You can easily hear a link between the plucky, migrating sound of this acoustic combo and the state of our imperiled natural world.

10. Justin Brown, ‘Nyeusi’

If Tony Williams is the biggest root influence on jazz drummers today, then more of them should honor his bombastic virtuosity with the same sense of joy and freshness that Justin Brown does. On his debut as a leader, he’s shrouded in synthesizers but never loses touch with hip-hop and gospel.

11. Harriet Tubman, ‘The Terror End of Beauty’

Two decades into its career, this power trio has hit a new stride. As ever, its murky, astringent music is something you can climb inside, a darkened lens through which to see the world.

12. Allison Miller and Carmen Staaf, ‘Science Fair’

The first recorded partnership between this drummer and pianist is an unofficial announcement of Carmen Staaf’s prodigious talent, and an uncommonly good collection of small-group jazz.

13. David Murray featuring Saul Williams, ‘Blues for Memo’

The luminary tenor saxophonist David Murray has long been both an avant-garde pacesetter and a guardian of tradition. That’s the case on this album (recorded live in Turkey), with Murray purring and teasing over a stellar quartet — and savoring his interactions with Saul Williams’s biting poetry.

14. Keith Jarrett, ‘La Fenice’

On this solo performance, recorded in Venice a dozen years ago, the piano icon sounds uncommonly eager and open, while maintaining his poise.

15. Sylvie Courvoisier Trio, ‘D’Agala’

A formidable trio album from one of the more versatile and underappreciated pianists in experimental music.

16. Makaya McCraven, ‘Universal Beings’

Drawn from four (heavily edited) live performances across the United States and Britain, this double album affirms the drummer and beatsmith’s position as a major figure in creative music. And it suggests that his Chicago-bred sound — woozy, glutinous, in medias res — could have an impact on local scenes around the world.

17. Walking Distance featuring Jason Moran, ‘Freebird’

This double-sax quartet pays homage to Charlie Parker by cutting up, slowing down and disorganizing his compositions. There are many forms of interference here: the writing; the quirky recording style and occasional use of effects; the restless incursions of Jason Moran, jazz piano’s doyen.

18. John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, ‘All Can Work’

John Hollenbeck’s composing for large ensemble is ambitious, but not beholden to complexity. This music is about fluidity and enchantment and, on the album’s piercing title track, loss.

19. Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg, ‘Dirt … and More Dirt’

The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer released two compelling albums at once (“Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus” is the other). On this one, he allows each of the 15 musicians in the ensemble to shine, sometimes on their own and often in a feisty tangle.

20. Cécile McLorin Salvant, ‘The Window’

The reigning jazz vocalist of her generation is an intellectual virtuoso, an examiner of songs rather than simply an inhabitant of them. Accompanied by the pianist Sullivan Fortner, Cecile McLorin Salvant trains her magnifying glass on a range of tunes here: midcentury jazz, chanson, Aretha Franklin.



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