CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

The Decade in Review: Best Jazz Albums of the 2010s

Who will be the top artist of the past 10 years?

Kamasi Washington performs a free concert in New York City’s Central Park in June 2016 (photo: Jeff Tamarkin)

As JazzTimes’ fifth decade in business drew to a close, I took a look back at the year-end lists compiled from the votes of our critics and readers over the last 10 years to see if I could establish any consensus on jazz high points of the 2010s. First I consulted the critics’ Top 10s, which follow.

JT Critics
2010

  1. Jason Moran Ten (Blue Note)
  2. Charles Lloyd Quartet Mirror (ECM)
  3. Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green Apex (Pi)
  4. Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden Jasmine (ECM)
  5. Dave Holland Octet Pathways (DARE2)
  6. Vijay Iyer Solo (ACT)
  7. Christian Scott Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord Jazz)
  8. Regina Carter Reverse Thread (E1)
  9. Steve Coleman and Five Elements Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi)
  10. Henry Threadgill Zooid This Brings Us To, Volume II (Pi)

2011

  1. Sonny Rollins Road Shows Vol. 2 (Doxy/EmArcy)
  2. Joe Lovano Us Five Bird Songs (Blue Note)
  3. Ambrose Akinmusire When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
  4. Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian Live at Birdland (ECM)
  5. Miguel Zenón Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis)
  6. Charles Lloyd/Maria Farantouri Athens Concert (ECM)
  7. JD Allen Trio Victory! (Sunnyside)
  8. Craig Taborn Avenging Angel (ECM)
  9. Keith Jarrett Rio (ECM)
  10. Roy Haynes Roy-alty (Dreyfus Jazz)

2012

  1. Vijay Iyer Trio Accelerando (ACT)
  2. Branford Marsalis Quartet Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis)
  3. Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul Reunion: Live in New York (Pi)
  4. Ryan Truesdell Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (ArtistShare)
  5. Ravi Coltrane Spirit Fiction (Blue Note)
  6. Gregory Porter Be Good (Motéma)
  7. Henry Threadgill Zooid Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp (Pi)
  8. Wadada Leo Smith Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform)
  9. Tim Berne Snakeoil (ECM)
  10. Brad Mehldau Trio Ode (Nonesuch)

2013

  1. Wayne Shorter Quartet Without a Net (Blue Note)
  2. Cécile McLorin Salvant WomanChild (Mack Avenue)
  3. Craig Taborn Trio Chants (ECM)
  4. Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran Hagar’s Dream (ECM)
  5. Steve Coleman and Five Elements Functional Arrhythmias (Pi)
  6. Terence Blanchard Magnetic (Blue Note)
  7. Gregory Porter Liquid Spirit (Blue Note)
  8. Jaimeo Brown Transcendence (Motéma)
  9. Pat Metheny Tap: John Zorn’s Book of Angels, Vol. 20 (Nonesuch/Tzadik)
  10. Tim Berne’s Snakeoil Shadow Man (ECM)

2014

  1. Sonny Rollins Road Shows Volume 3 (Doxy/OKeh)
  2. Ambrose Akinmusire The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note)
  3. Jason Moran All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (Blue Note)
  4. Mark Turner Quartet Lathe of Heaven (ECM)
  5. Steve Lehman Octet Mise en Abîme (Pi)
  6. Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden Last Dance (ECM)
  7. Chick Corea Trio Trilogy (Stretch/Concord Jazz)
  8. Kenny Barron/Dave Holland The Art of Conversation (Impulse!)
  9. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band Landmarks (Blue Note)
  10. Yosvany Terry New Throned King (5Passion)

2015

  1. Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder)
  2. Maria Schneider Orchestra The Thompson Fields (ArtistShare)
  3. Rudresh Mahanthappa Bird Calls (ACT)
  4. Cécile McLorin Salvant For One to Love (Mack Avenue)
  5. Jack DeJohnette Made in Chicago (ECM)
  6. John Scofield Past Present (Impulse!)
  7. Charles Lloyd Wild Man Dance (Blue Note)
  8. Steve Coleman & the Council of Balance Synovial Joints (Pi)
  9. Vijay Iyer Trio Break Stuff (ECM)
  10. Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra Cuba: The Conversation Continues (Motéma)

2016

  1. Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi)
  2. Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison In Movement (ECM)
  3. JD Allen Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues (Savant)
  4. John Scofield Country for Old Men (Impulse!)
  5. Charles Lloyd & the Marvels I Long to See You (Blue Note)
  6. Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra Time/Life (Impulse!)
  7. Kris Davis Duopoly (Pyroclastic)
  8. Nels Cline Lovers (Blue Note)
  9. Esperanza Spalding Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord)
  10. Julian Lage Arclight (Mack Avenue)

2017

  1. Vijay Iyer Sextet Far from Over (ECM)
  2. Charles Lloyd New Quartet Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
  3. Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse Morphogenesis (Pi)
  4. Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition Agrima (rudreshm.com)
  5. Cécile McLorin Salvant Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue)
  6. Matt Wilson Honey and Salt: Music Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg (Palmetto)
  7. Hudson (DeJohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield) Hudson (Motéma)
  8. Linda May Han Oh Walk Against Wind (Biophilia)
  9. Craig Taborn Daylight Ghosts (ECM)
  10. Ambrose Akinmusire A Rift in Decorum – Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)

2018

  1. Wayne Shorter Emanon (Blue Note)
  2. Ambrose Akinmusire Origami Harvest (Blue Note)
  3. Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)
  4. Kenny Barron Quintet Concentric Circles (Blue Note)
  5. Cécile McLorin Salvant The Window (Mack Avenue)
  6. Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley, Brian Blade Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)
  7. Bill Frisell Music IS (OKeh/Sony Masterworks)
  8. Brad Mehldau Trio Seymour Reads the Constitution! (Nonesuch)
  9. Sons of Kemet Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse!)
  10. Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet Yo Soy la Tradición (Miel)

2019

  1. Branford Marsalis Quartet The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (OKeh)
  2. Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter Good Hope (Edition)
  3. Chick Corea/Christian McBride/Brian Blade Trilogy 2 (Concord)
  4. Camila Meza & the Nectar Orchestra Ámbar (Sony Masterworks)
  5. Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)
  6. Tom Harrell Infinity (HighNote)
  7. Joel Ross KingMaker (Blue Note)
  8. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah Ancestral Recall (Ropeadope)
  9. Johnathan Blake Trion (Giant Step Arts)
  10. Linda May Han Oh Aventurine (Biophilia)

What can we learn from this? For one thing, our critics are extremely fond of Charles Lloyd, who has the most entries (six) above. If he put out an album in the 2010s, the likelihood was strong that it would end up in their Top 10. Other regular favorites included Cécile McLorin Salvant, Vijay Iyer, Steve Coleman, and Ambrose Akinmusire.

Now on to the readers’ Top 3 lists. Our information is necessarily incomplete at the moment, as their 2019 poll is still in progress, but even so it should give us some further insight into the decade.

JT Readers
2010

  1. Charles Lloyd Quartet Mirror (ECM) 
  2. Pat Metheny Orchestrion (Nonesuch)
  3. Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green Apex (Pi)

2011

  1. Sonny Rollins Road Shows Vol. 2 (Doxy/EmArcy)
  2. John Scofield A Moment’s Peace (EmArcy)
  3. Kurt Elling The Gate (Concord Jazz)

2012

  1. Kurt Elling 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project (Concord Jazz)
  2. Pat Metheny Unity Band (Nonesuch)
  3. Brad Mehldau Trio Ode (Nonesuch)

2013

  1. Wayne Shorter Quartet Without a Net (Blue Note)
  2. Chick Corea The Vigil (Concord Jazz)
  3. Pat Metheny Tap: John Zorn’s Book of Angels, Vol. 20 (Nonesuch/Tzadik)

2014

  1. Ambrose Akinmusire The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note)
  2. Pat Metheny Unity Group Kin (Nonesuch)
  3. Kenny Barron/Dave Holland The Art of Conversation (Impulse!)

2015

  1. Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder)
  2. Various Artists Revive Music Presents: Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1 (Revive/Blue Note)
  3. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Live in Cuba (Blue Engine)

2016

  1. Joey Alexander Countdown (Motéma)
  2. Donny McCaslin Beyond Now(Motéma)
  3. Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison In Movement (ECM)*, John Scofield Country for Old Men (Impulse!)* (*= tie)

2017

  1. Hudson (DeJohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield) Hudson (Motéma)
  2. Vijay Iyer Sextet Far from Over (ECM)
  3. Blue Note All-Stars Our Point of View (Blue Note)

2018

  1. Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)
  2. Wayne Shorter Emanon (Blue Note)
  3. Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band Chinese Butterfly (Stretch/Concord)

2019

TBD

Where our critics loved Charles Lloyd, our readers clearly had a soft spot for Pat Metheny, who showed up four times. John Scofield got three nods. Consensus? None to be found here.

But wait—were there any artists who took the top spot in both the critics’ and readers’ polls? As a matter of fact, yes, there were three: Sonny Rollins in 2011, the Wayne Shorter Quartet in 2013, and Kamasi Washington in 2015. That Rollins and Shorter would achieve such a distinction isn’t surprising, and I’m inclined to discount it. Both musicians are long-proven masters, esteemed elders continuing to show their artistic vitality in the present, but to see either of them as somehow emblematic of jazz in the 2010s seems like a stretch; they’re emblematic of jazz in general.

That leaves us, of course, with Kamasi Washington, whose 2015 triple-disc debut The Epic opened the world’s eyes to not just a new saxophonist and composer but a whole new L.A. scene, full of new players with new ideas—which often seemed closely linked to old ideas that hadn’t always received their due the first time around. Looking back, the past decade seems neatly divided between Before Kamasi and After Kamasi. Emblematic? You bet.

And so, through rigorous scientific reasoning, Kamasi Washington emerges as JazzTimes’ Artist of the Decade. Congratulations!

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.