2018 was all about change and moving the music forward. Pushing back against the politics of hate with many remarkably unconventional releases, musicians found a variety of ways to shine and inspire in such perilous times. Every aspect of Jazz found ways to excel. Big bands, alternative ensembles, hybrid bands and gifted story tellers all prevailed. Click on the artist's name to go to their website and on the album title to either hear or purchase their music.
This perpetually beautiful album is so compelling, listening to ‘Woven Threads’ will make you forget where you are or what time it is. Each song flows effortlessly into the next as Mindeman folds folk history from his native Chile into sophisticated tracks with arrangements supported by gifted musicians perfectly chosen for the project.
Documenting the life and times of West African Sengbe Pieh, ‘Cingue’ stitches together the broken pieces of history that mark the Caribbean slave trade. This masterwork combines narration, folk music, percussion and smart arrangements to showcase the full scope of the African diaspora’s relationship to the art form.
Sixty years in the making, ‘West Side Story Reimagined’ has one maestro celebrating another. Sanabria’s Multiverse Big Band navigates Leonard Berstein’s compositions with updated arrangements that showcase a Pan Latin re-interpretation of this prolific musical production. If you’ve enjoyed the Broadway score, you’ll love this album!
Detroit’s history unfolds with a series of gorgeous string arrangements perfectly paired to contemporary Jazz. Davis does a superb job of using music to tell the elegant and complicated history of the African-American experience in this storied but too often troubled city. An album best enjoyed listening from beginning to end.
Blackout’s name comes from forgetting about what Jazz should be while never forgetting where it comes from. ‘Sonic Creed’ magically transforms songs by Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln and Bobby Timmons en route to expressing a profound love for a band and culture that supports Black creativity.
Leave it to Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth to toss the script and riff out such a wildly solid album challenging what America has become and everything about what Jazz should be. From top to bottom listeners benefit from an album made with top notch musicianship and a funky, fluid blend of musical styles.
With an unusually enticing recipe of haunting melodies and acoustic / electronic instrumentation, Parks puts ‘Little Big’ on the cutting edge of one of the more promising directions for Jazz. Profound in the paradoxical style of being quiet but bold, Park’s agile creativity has created an album Paul Simon or The Beatles would appreciate.
Even among an elite array of superb Afro-Cuban pianists, ‘The Grand Concourse’ stands out as a major offering in Jazz for 2018. Gonzales wields his long list of gifts, crafting a special work that displays every significant cultural and musical influence that has shaped the power he brings to his art, music and life.
Barron addicts rejoice! ‘Concentric Circles’ revisits a long tradition of this master pianist using a quintet setting to swing in ways that sound delightfully familiar and strikingly new. Nothing broken here as Barron pens swinging hard bop tunes supported by today’s generation of Jazz All-Stars.
Flexing the full force of her musical talent, Fuller’s ‘Diamond Cut’ lifts her into the conversation as one of best alto sax players out there right now. Compositionally, she stretches out with a new band and a new variety of rich sonic textures. Easily her best work to date. It only gets better from here.
Conde has crafted a niche of floating brilliantly between melodies and rhythms that mark the Spanish, American and Latin cultural influences in his music. ‘Origins’ continues that trend while pointing out that we’re all immigrants in this glorious musical melting pot of Jazz.
While the news from her homeland continues to be bleak, Cuevas uses 'Golpes y Flores’ to explore the rich history of Venezuelan rhythms marking her first album of all original work. Moving from one gorgeous song to the next it's the latest example of her creative prowess.