Best Jazz 1997
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Best of jazz – year 1997

Discover the Best of Jazz selection for 1997 with our ten best jazz albums released that year. Once again, the albums are listed in no particular order: all are amazing in their own ways. At the end of the article, you will also find a playlist with a track to represent each of those ten albums, plus ten extra, for nearly 150 minutes of breath-taking music.

The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 1997

Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Blood On The Fields

Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra - Blood On The Fields
Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
Blood On The Fields

A monument – nearly 3 hours of music – Blood on the Fields is a jazz oratorio treating the history of slavery in the USA:

“Telling the story of two slaves, Jesse and Leona, it carries us along on their difficult journey to freedom, a journey in which they, and by implication, all of us, must move beyond a preoccupation with personal power and learn that true freedom is and must be, shared.”

Thanks to this work, Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Wynton Marsalis: trumpet, oratory vocal; Jon Hendricks: vocal; Cassandra Wilson: vocal; Miles Griffith: vocal; Roger Ingram: lead trumpet, oratory vocal; Marcus Printup: second trumpet, oratory vocal; Russell Gunn: third trumpet, oratory vocal; Ron Westray: lead trombone, oratory vocal; Wayne Goodman: second trombone, oratory vocal; Wycliffe Gordon: trombone and tuba, oratory vocal; Walter Blanding: soprano saxophone, oratory vocal; Wes Anderson: lead alto saxophone, oratory vocal; Robert Stewart: lead tenor saxophone, oratory vocal; Victor Goines: tenor, soprano saxophones, clarinet, and bass clarinet, oratory vocal; James Carter: baritone saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet, oratory vocal; Regina Carter: violin, oratory vocal; Michael Ward: violin, oratory vocal; Eric Reed: piano, oratory vocal; Reginald Veal: bass, oratory vocal; Herlin Riley: drums, tambourine, oratory vocal.
Released date June 17, 1997
Contemporary Jazz

David S. Ware Quartet

David S. Ware Quartet - Wisdom Of Uncertainty
David S. Ware Quartet
Wisdom Of Uncertainty
(AUM Fidelity)

“I’ve always been very aware of form. People sometimes say that this type of music is just random notes, that anything goes. That’s just not the case at all. There’s so much information being passed through this music -musical, philosophical and metaphysical -and the motifs and melodies have their own direction about them.”
— David S. Ware

David S. Ware: tenor saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano; William Parker: bass; Susie Ibarra: drums
Release date September 15, 1997
Free Jazz

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove's Crisol - Habana
Roy Hargrove’s Crisol
(Verve Records)

Habana won Hargrove and the band the Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Performance.

“At last, this highly touted, heretofore conservative Young Lion makes his move beyond neo-bop toward something new, fresh, and potentially important. He had to go to Havana to find it, starting with some jam sessions with Cuba’s Los Van Van dance band in February 1996, which led to the formation of an exciting ten-piece U.S./Cuban band called Crisol.”
— Richard S. Ginell

Roy Hargrove: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Bartz: soprano sax, alto sax; David Sánchez: soprano sax, tenor sax; Frank Lacy: trombone; Jesus “Chucho” Valdés, John Hicks: piano; Russell Malone: guitar; Jorge Reyes: electric bass; John Benitez: bass; Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Idris Muhammad: drums; Miguel “Anga” Diaz: congas; Jose Luis “Changuito” Quintana: timbales
Release date June 3, 1997
Afro-Cuban Jazz, Post Bop

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - The Continuum
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
The Continuum
(Delmark Records)

“The material they play, most of it composed by El’Zabar to reflect both African and African-American traditions, has a dramatic sweep despite its simplicity. And the ability to create meaningful music from their small grab-bag of an ensemble…the dark timbres of saxophone and trombone on top, a lone percussionist supplying the foundation, without the benefit of piano or bass, always lends nobility to the proceedings.”
— Delmark

Kahil El’Zabar: drums, percussion, African thumb piano, voice; Joseph Bowie: trombone, percussion; Ernest Dawkins: tenor sax, alto sax, percussion; ‘Atu’ Harold Murray: percussion, voice.
Release date 1997
Contemporary Jazz, Free Improvisation

Tomasz Stanko

Tomasz Stanko - Leosia
Tomasz Stanko
(ECM Records)

“Darker than the darkest Miles” this album even contains a tribute to Lautréamont. This is to say how dark it gets, and as for Les Chants de Maldoror, how beautiful.

Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Tony Oxley: drums.
Release date March 17, 1997
Contemporary Jazz, Avant-garde Jazz, Free Jazz

Terell Stafford

Terell Stafford - Centripetal Force
Terell Stafford
Centripetal Force
(Candid Records)

“Jazz musicians rarely borrow concepts from physics for their album titles, yet Terrell Stafford seems to have gotten it just right in naming this collection. The ensemble settings and the material, though quite diverse, lead the listener directly to the unifying center of Stafford’s horn. He is the centripetal force that drives and directs the music.”
— Candid Records

Terell Stafford: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Clark: flugelhorn; Ron Blake, Tim Warfield: tenor sax; Russell Malone: guitar; Stefon Harris: vibraphone; Stephen Scott: piano; Ed Howard: bass; Victor Lewis: drums; Daniel Moreno: percussion
Release date 1997
Post Bop

Wadada Leo Smith And N’da Kulture

Wadada Leo Smith And N'da Kulture - Golden Hearts Remembrance
Wadada Leo Smith And N’da Kulture
Golden Hearts Remembrance
(Chap Chap Records)

N’Da Kulture is a sextet that combines jazz with Eastern music and Smith’s wife—Harumi Makino Smith—poetry.

“As a result, sound clashes become sonant washes of envelopment, traces of ghost music playing in trance and tapestry. There is no one body to this music because it comes from emptiness, an interconnectedness of approach, technique, conical shape, and sound; they sing a resounding yes to the future.”
— Thom Jurek

Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn, nohkan; David Philipson: bansuri, tambura; William Roper: tuba; Glenn Horiuchi: piano, shamisen; Sonship Theus: drums, percussion; Harumi Makino Smith: poetry
Release date 1997
Jazz, Free Improvisation

Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club

The background of this amazing album is, as often, a succession of setbacks and unexpected opportunities:
“In 1996, American guitarist Ry Cooder had been invited to Havana by British world music producer Nick Gold of World Circuit Records to record a session where two African highlife musicians from Mali were to collaborate with Cuban musicians. On Cooder’s arrival (via Mexico to avoid the ongoing U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba), it transpired that the musicians from Africa had not received their visas and were unable to travel to Havana. Cooder and Gold changed their plans and decided to record an album of Cuban son music with local musicians. Already involved in the African collaboration project were Cuban musicians including bassist Orlando “Cachaito” López, guitarist Eliades Ochoa and musical director Juan de Marcos González, who had himself been organizing a similar project for the Afro-Cuban All Stars. A search for additional musicians led the team to singer Manuel “Puntillita” Licea, pianist Rubén González and octogenarian singer Compay Segundo, who all agreed to record for the project.” (Wikipedia)

See all the musicians here.
Release date September 16, 1997
Afro-Cuban Jazz, Bolero, Danzon, Trova, Son

Matthew Shipp “String” Trio

Matthew Shipp String Trio - By The Law Of Music
Matthew Shipp “String” Trio
By The Law Of Music
(hat ART)

“Shipp’s compositions show a romantic flair, imbued with a spirit of sophisticated discovery and complex relationships, but what makes them so compelling is the manner in which the trio interprets them, each piece ringing with a sense of completeness.”
— Steve Loewy

Matthew Shipp: piano; Mat Maneri: violin; William Parker: bass
Release date 1997
Free Jazz, Free Improvisation

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts - Blues For The New Millennium
Marcus Roberts
Blues For The New Millennium

Blues in jazz classic perfect way, yet looking ahead, Marcus Roberts offers here such an enjoyable album for 1997 and beyond.

Marcus Roberts: piano; Sherman Irby: alto saxophone; Roland Guerin, Thaddeus Exposé: bass; Ted Nash: clarinet, flute, baritone saxophone; Ali Jackson, Jason Marsalis: drums; Isa Abdul-Hamid, Richard Brown: soprano saxophone; Ali Jackson: tambourine; Isa Abdul-Hamid, Richard Brown, Stephen Riley: tenor saxophone; Ronald Westray, Vincent Gardner: trombone; Marcus Printup, Randall Haywood: trumpet.
Release date 1997
Piano Blues, Bop, Post Bop, Contemporary Jazz

Albums’ List

  • Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Blood On The Fields
  • David S. Ware Quartet – Wisdom Of Uncertainty
  • Roy Hargrove’s Crisol – Habana
  • Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – The Continuum
  • Tomasz Stanko – Leosia
  • Terell Stafford – Centripetal Force
  • Wadada Leo Smith And N’da Kulture – Golden Hearts Remembrance
  • Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club
  • Matthew Shipp “String” Trio – By The Law Of Music
  • Marcus Roberts – Blues For The New Millennium

Playlist “Best Jazz 1997”

Here is a link to the Spotify Playlist Best Jazz 1997, with a track for each album listed above plus 10 tracks from 10 other amazing 1997 jazz albums, including Kenny Wheeler, Ruben Gonzalez, Evan Parker, Paul Plimley, Michael Marcus, and many mores.

Any thoughts or comments you would like to add to this post?