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The Year in Review: Top 50 Albums of 2018

JazzTimes' critics choose the top 40 new albums and top 10 historical releases of the year

Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter (photo © Alan Nahigian)

  1. Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet Yo Soy la Tradición (Miel)
Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet "Yo Soy la Tradición"
Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet “Yo Soy la Tradición”

All of Zenón’s varied projects have seemed propelled by a singular quest, and with this magisterial chamber music outing the alto saxophonist grabs hold of the grail as never before. Becoming in effect a fifth member of the Spektral (string) Quartet, Zenón derives from the folkloric genres of his native Puerto Rico a strikingly individual musical hybrid, fluid and poetically expressive, yet unrelenting in its technical demands. D.R.A.

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  1. Henry Threadgill Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus (Pi)
Henry Threadgill "Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus"
Henry Threadgill “Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus”

Of the two terrific albums Threadgill released this year (see #16), this one offered the most unusual octet in jazz history: three pianos, two alto saxes, cello, tuba, and drums. Although the composer doesn’t play here, he supplied some of his best writing. Keyboards dominate (with some harmonium mixed in), but the real thrill is how the captivating themes are passed around to all eight musicians, each adding a new variation. G.H.

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  1. Mary Halvorson Code Girl (Firehouse 12)
Mary Halvorson "Code Girl"
Mary Halvorson “Code Girl”

Augmenting Thumbscrew—guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara—with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and singer Amirtha Kidambi doesn’t just make the sound bigger; it also makes it broader. Across the 14 tracks of this sprawling double album, Halvorson and company incorporate elements of guitar pop and noise rock into the rangy expanse of her usual free-flowing style to create an almost perfect balance between conventional song form and improvisation. J.D.C.

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  1. Makaya McCraven Universal Beings (International Anthem)
Makaya McCraven "Universal Beings"
Makaya McCraven “Universal Beings”

Recorded with a cast of characters set across two continents, Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings mixes British and American jazz improvisations via the Chicago drummer/composer’s clever editing finger. Including performances from Shabaka Hutchings, Tomeka Reid, Brandee Younger, and Jeff Parker, to name a few, McCraven’s Pro Tooled jazz cutups hint at a true pan-global jazz (when the seasoning is right), with enough left-of-center processes to make even Sun Ra happy. K.M.


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  1. Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)
Kamasi Washington "Heaven and Earth"
Kamasi Washington “Heaven and Earth”

On the front cover, Washington is standing on water, wearing a gold-hued suit and crisscrossing sashes. The prophetic imagery isn’t unwarranted. His searching tenor solos are alone worth the price of admission, as he navigates gnashing percussion, horn, and synth accompaniment. But this is about more than virtuosity. It feels like the next installment of a deep conversation Washington intends to have with the jazz tradition for some time to come. M.K.

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  1. Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints Scandal (Greenleaf)
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints "Scandal"
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints “Scandal”

For the second Sound Prints recording, Joe Lovano’s beefy tenor and Dave Douglas’ effervescent trumpet are out front on a set of nine fresh originals plus two by Wayne Shorter, including a rambunctious take on “Fee Fi Fo Fum.” The leapfrogging figures and simultaneous soloing of the co-leaders, as on opener “Dream State” and elsewhere, help keep the Shorter-inspired quintet’s music simultaneously heady and emotionally resonant. P.B.


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Originally Published