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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)

11. Tomeka Reid Quartet Old New (Cuneiform)

The title is an apt description. However abstract Reid’s cello gets with its screechy harmonics and clattering bow noise, and despite the Dali-esque droop of Mary Halvorson’s guitar tone, the playing here is grounded by the roots-deep rhythm of bassist Jason Roebke’s straightforward time and Tomas Fujiwara’s New Orleans-spiced drumming. So the blues are blessedly cliché-free and the bop swings with refreshing angularity, while the free blowing is tuneful and inspired. J.D.C.

12. Dave Douglas/Uri Caine/Andrew Cyrille Devotion (Greenleaf)

Jazz is glutted with tribute albums—to Bird, to Monk, to Dizzy—but Dave Douglas’ trio album Devotion is a more personal and nebulous kind of homage. The trumpeter’s compositions, written for pianist Franco D’Andrea (“D’Andrea,” “Francis of Anthony”), composer Carla Bley (“False Allegiances”), and even a Stooge (“Curly”), sound open and egoless, leaving room for pianist Uri Caine and drummer Andrew Cyrille to play off each other both sympathetically and irreverently. M.E.

13. Fabian Almazan Trio This Land Abounds With Life (Biophilia)

The “land” referred to in the title of Almazan’s excellent fourth album is—in most instances—Cuba, where he was born. The pianist traveled to his homeland in 2016 and brought back field recordings of bird song, among other things, which he features alongside his bandmates, bassist Linda May Han Oh and Henry Cole. The record functions as a love letter as well as a warning, as the threat of climate change looms. M.K.

14. Jaimie Branch Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem)

A pugnacious wail amid a polarizing period of American democracy, Fly or Die II is nevertheless more ambitious than it is angry. “Prayer for Amerikka Pt. 1 & 2,” a riveting punk-jazz narrative that channels vintage Patti Smith, deservedly draws the most attention, but there is an ever-twirling array of textures and moods that sashay forth. Trumpeter (and now vocalist) Branch has doubled down on the visceral appeal of her debut Fly or Die while expanding her musical scope. B.R.

15. Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan Epistrophy (ECM)

Yes, it’s more of the same: further recordings from the 2016 Village Vanguard duo engagement that gave us Small Town two years ago, with a similar set list (Motian, John Barry, “Wildwood Flower”). But does anyone really have a problem with a few extra quiet epiphanies? Frisell and Morgan further demonstrate their shared fondness for the surprising pause, as the Vanguard stage becomes a cozy cantina on the border between the expressed and the unexpressed thought. M.R.

Originally Published