Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Year in Review: Top 50 Albums of 2019

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

Branford Marsalis Quartet
The Branford Marsalis Quartet (left to right: Marsalis, Justin Faulkner, Eric Revis, and Joey Calderazzo) made the best jazz album of 2019, according to JazzTimes‘ critics. (photo: Eric Ryan Anderson)

We calculated our top 40 new releases and top 10 historical/reissue recordings of 2019 based on year-end lists by our writers. They were asked to choose the 10 best new releases and five best historical titles—i.e., albums and box sets consisting primarily of music recorded 10 or more years ago. To see each voter’s ballot, skip ahead to page 6 of this feature. Albums and box sets released between Nov. 10, 2018 and Nov. 9, 2019 were eligible. Some discs may have slipped through the cracks, however, as official release dates shifted or weren’t available.

Blurbs by Philip Booth, Thomas Conrad, J.D. Considine, Morgan Enos, Steve Greenlee, Geoffrey Himes, Matthew Kassel, Ken Micallef, Mac Randall, Britt Robson, Jeff Tamarkin, and Chris J. Walker

1. Branford Marsalis Quartet The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (OKeh)

That some will talk trash about the Marsalis brothers forever is a given. Wynton and Branford are jazz warriors unafraid to chart their individual courses against trend, against style, against East and West Coast jazz divisions. Branford and pianist Joey Calderazzo live in the South, bassist Eric Revis in L.A., and drummer Justin Faulkner wherever his hat falls; this seeming group dislocation is mirrored in the oddly open-ended but focused splendor of The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. While many pay mere lip service to the idea of free expression, the Quartet raise the creative stakes to incendiary levels, adding classical and operatic influences to the common jazz menu of blues, swing, and solos, with searing group interplay. An hour of envelope-smashing improvisations, the record tilts on Revis’ rowdy “Dance of the Evil Toys” and Calderazzo’s stately “Conversation Among the Ruins,” while Marsalis’ “Life Filtering from the Water Flowers” battles through nearly 10 minutes of nose-diving improvisations and refined instrumental ballistics. Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup” form the opposing poles of this album’s bipolar but beautiful character. K.M.

2. Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter Good Hope (Edition)

Saxophone, bass, and drums make a relatively standard trio—except when the drums are tablas, and the player is Zakir Hussain. But don’t mistake this for raga-jazz, as Hussain meets bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter on their own turf, sparking performances that range from the bass-driven “Good Hope” and the easy, tuneful “Island Feel” to the swirling group improvisation in “Lucky Seven.” J.D.C.

3. Chick Corea/Christian McBride/Brian Blade Trilogy 2 (Concord)

The ever-restless pianist collaborates with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade on a double-disc sequel to their 2013 triple-disc release. Taking a mostly democratic approach to music making, they cook up arresting versions of Return to Forever tunes “500 Miles High” and “La Fiesta,” nod to Monk on “Crepuscule with Nellie” and the rarely played “Work” (also on the first Trilogy), and put creative spins on “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “But Beautiful.” P.B.

4. Camila Meza & the Nectar Orchestra Ámbar (Sony Masterworks)

Rarely has a group been so aptly named; dipping into its bittersweet timbres may leave you drunk as a bumblebee. Over swirling strings and a subtly driving rhythm section, Meza sings and plays guitar with an emotional power that’s all the more compelling for how casual it seems. Eleven gorgeous Latin-inflected alt-jazz art songs are capped by a rendition of “This Is Not America” that’s both a tribute to heroes David Bowie and Pat Metheny and a deeply personal lament. M.R.

5. Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)

A stunning achievement from the inventive pianist whose daring projects keep us guessing. Diatom Ribbons is Davis’ most ambitious yet. She assembles an A-list cast—including saxophonist J.D. Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, guitarists Nels Cline and Marc Ribot, and vocalist Esperanza Spalding—for a post-postmodern, genre-defiant outing that traverses an enormous amount of territory, corralling influences from the avant-garde, electronica, hip-hop, R&B, and rock. S.G.

Originally Published