The Best of Jazz 2023 (So Far!) says a lot about how strangely good this year has already been.
We say “strangely” because coming out of the COVID-19 years was believed to be a new beginning and the promise of an easier existence. However, for the last few months, everyday life has been exhausting, wearisome, and hard for all of us.
Despite these struggles, jazz musicians did manage to expand their creativity, broaden their horizons, and explore uncharted territories. Additionally, the fact that many of the following releases cannot fit properly into one category, says a lot about the current state of creativity ahead of classification. Last, a large part of this creativity is getting noticed by a broader audience that is younger than the usual crowd of jazz aficionados.
With this in mind, the following releases are certainly the best of 2023 (so far!), as well as the promise of an excellent year for jazz!
Best New Jazz 2023 (So Far!)
From the Dancehall to the Battlefield
From the Dancehall to the Battlefield is a concept album about the life and legacy of American ragtime musician and early jazz bandleader James Reese Europe.
The album opens with words by Jason Moran himself to introduce the hero of the release:
The entire album is astonishing. First, it successfully manages to go back to one of the very roots of Black-American music and to enlighten us with crucial cultural history in a serious but profoundly entertaining way. Second, the music perfectly embodies the greatness of Europe in his approach to music, extending the scope in a constant mix hardly heard before of jazz’s ways and tunes, from before it was even named jazz, all the way to today’s modern jazz.
Jason Moran: piano, voice; Tarus Mateen: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums; Logan Richardson: alto saxophone; Brian Settles: tenor saxophone; Darryl Harper: clarinet; David Adewumi: trumpet; Reginald Cyntje, Chris Bates: trombone; Jose Davila: tuba, helicon
Release date January 1, 2023
Phoenix is as flamboyant as the cover art suggests. This is pure jazz, combined with all the extravagance that American pop and even hip-hop music can produce in a one-of-a-kind release.
“The album was produced by the multi-Grammy-award winning Terri Lyne Carrington and features a star-studded line up of specially curated guests Dianne Reeves, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Patrice Rushen, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, and Wayne Shorter.”
Lakecia Benjamin: saxophone, vocals, synths, sound design; Victor Gould: piano, organ, Rhodes; EJ Strickland: drums; Ivan Taylor: double bass, electric bass; Josh Evans, Wallace Roney Jr: trumpet; Anastassiya Petrova: Rhodes, organ; Orange Rodriguez: synths; Nêgah Santos: percussion; Jahmal Nichols: double bass; Josée Klein, Laura Epling: violin; Nicole Neely: viola; Cremaine Booker: cello | With special guests: Georgia Anne Muldrow, Patrice Rushen, Dianne Reeves, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, Wayne Shorter
Release date January 27, 2023
James Brandon Lewis
Eye Of I
This music showcases modern American jazz in all its beauty and greatness. For those who loved the amazing Jesus Wagon—one of the best, if not the best, releases of 2021—you will find many bridges that connect to Eye of I, such as the melancholic beauty and majestic delicateness naturally embedded into James Brandon Lewis’ playing … but there is more!
Read the full review of Eye of I.
James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Chris Hoffman: cello, pedals; Max Jaffe: drums, sensory percussion
Release date February 3, 2023
Zurich Concert (live)
It certainly takes all the stoicism of the Swiss—whom we envy for all the anthological performances held in their country—to cordially applaud such a performance, but it’s an excellent choice for a recording, as any other place would certainly have seen the audience faint or go into endless standing ovations!
Read the full review of Zurich Concert (live)
Joëlle Léandre: bass
Release date February 17, 2023
Corridors certainly has the most quintessential jazz sound of these jazz releases. For the first time, drummer Kendrick Scott leads a trio–with Walter Smith III on saxophone and Reuben Rogers on bass–and the result is perfectly mastered and comfortably classic, while surprisingly unique.
“One of my strengths is creating a harmonic space for groups, and the trio afforded me even more space so I too could be freer to interpret all the layers. Reuben navigates the world in such a genuine and loving way and his playing is a reflection of that. He’s the glue element — grounding and uplifting. And Walter has this sound that’s always been so beautiful and inspiring to me. Of my peers, Walter’s always been a guiding light in helping me get my stuff together.”
Kendrick Scott: drums; Walter Smith III: saxophone; Reuben Rogers: bass
Release date March 3, 2023
Wadada Leo Smith, Orange Wave Electric
Wadada Leo Smith’s 80th birthday celebration saw the release of some amazing records featured on our blog posts Best of 2022 and 2021, but none of them have been as electrified as Fire Illuminations.
Once you start listening to the opening track, you will quickly be reminded of Miles Davis’ electric years, and as the second and fifth tracks are dedicated to boxer Muhammad Ali, one must acknowledge the intention behind them. But if Miles Davis explored new territory by mixing jazz with everything that rock and world music offered at the time, then Wadada Leo Smith is painting a landscape of electrified art forms, using every possibility of the nine musicians gathered together for this release, as well as the studio:
“That’s why the studio is there. The studio is not just for capturing or sampling sounds, but it’s also an instrument which one can use to not just enhance but build a larger creation.”
–Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Nels Cline: electric guitar; Brandon Ross: electric guitar; Bill Laswell, Melvin Gibbs: electric bass; Mauro Refosco: percussion; Pheeroan aKLaff: drumset; Hardedge: electronics
Release date March 31, 2023
Mats Gustafsson gathered nearly the entire Swedish jazz scene for an exceptional concert during the 2022 Stockholm Jazz Festival, including his “Fire!” (i.e., Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin) and his extended “Orchestra” for a total of 40+ musicians. We talked with some of the audience, and they were all ecstatic about it! This release is the concert, mixed by Jim O’Rourke himself.
It opens slowly and beautifully, with a “Melodie Nelson” inspired orchestration, but Serge Gainsbourg’s vocals are replaced by Mats’ unique saxophone, and so it goes for nearly two hours, with an intensely calm tension, in which chaos is compressed into a tight density, just to explode now and then.
Mats Gustafsson: baritone saxophone, flute, conductor; Johan Berthling: double bass, electric bass; Andreas Werliin: drums; Signe Krunderup Emmeluth: alto saxophone; Anna Högberg, Julia Strzalek, Lars Göran Ulander, Mette Rasmussen: alto saxophone, flute; Dror Feiler: alto saxophone, flute, bells; Niklas Fite: banjo; Alberto Pinton: baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass flute; Daniel Gahrton: baritone saxophone, flute; Andreas Röysum: bass clarinet, clarinet, flute; Christer Bothén: bass clarinet, guimbri, Ngoni; Amalie Stalheim, My Hellgren: cello; Isak Hedtjärn: clarinet; Elsa Bergman: double bass; Martin Hederos: electric piano, organ; Mats Lindström: electronics; Reine Fiske: guitar; Per Texas Johansson: oboe, bassoon, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, flute; Juan Romero: percussion, berimbau; Sten Sandell: piano; Alex Zethson: piano, synthesizer; Per Ruskträsk Johansson: sopranino saxophone, bass flute; Elin Forkelid, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone; Maria Bertel, Mats Äleklint: trombone; Niklas Barnö, Susana Santos Silva, Tobias Wiklund: trumpet; Goran Kajfeš: trumpet; Heiða Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck, Per Åke Holmlander: tuba; Kjell Nordeson: vibraphone, glockenspiel; Anna Lindal, Josefin Runsteen: violin; David Sandström, Joe McPhee, Mariam Wallentin, Tomas Öberg: vocals
Release date April 14, 2023
Everything Is Going To Be OK
When talking about adversity and struggles, Gogo Penguin should be an inspiring model of resilience.
If the album was not convincing at first play, as it lost us in some Ship of Theseus’ thoughts, after three or four spins, we realized that they achieved a lot more than we were expecting. They are clearly ahead and already finished with reinventing themselves, delivering an outstanding album in which the music is as dramatic and melodic as ever. Bravo!
“Emotive, cinematic break-beat trio GoGo Penguin are back […]. Bursting with the optimism of new beginnings, with a new drummer, a new record label, (Sony Music electronica and neo-classical imprint XXIM Records), and a subtly updated and developed sound, the band are ushering in a more sonically liberated era. ”
Chris Illingworth: piano; Nick Blacka: bass; Jon Scott: drums
Release date April 14, 2023
(Out Of Your Head Records)
Oblong Aplomb is an album by pianist Matt Mitchell, a piano-drums duet in two parts: Oblong with Kate Gentile and Aplomb with Ches Smith. Both parts are composed of 12 tracks each—yes, that is more than two hours of advanced music over 24 tracks! It is certainly intense, but it contains so much excitement for the brain and the ears in its strangely diverse scope that at no point will you feel like you’ve had enough; instead, it leaves you craving even more!
(review coming soon)
Oblong (tracks 1-12):
Matt Mitchell: piano, compositions; Kate Gentile: drums, percussion
Aplomb (tracks 13-24):
Matt Mitchell: piano, compositions; Ches Smith: drums, gongs, percussion, vibraphone, glockenspiel, tam-tam, timpani
Release date April 14, 2023
Tim Berne, Auroara Nealand, Hank Roberts
Oceans And offers another unique experience, as described in the introduction. Jazz? Yes, but only partially. Jazz is its foundation and its impulse, but it is expressed in a much broader sense of the word. Of course, what else can you expect from artists that have gathered a saxophone, an accordion, and a cello?
“The breathtaking music, created by Tim Berne, Aurora Nealand, and Hank Roberts can be deservedly and on all accounts deemed: profound, probing, intriguing, distinct, intricate, raw, courageous, mysterious, and thoughtful. The group’s concerted effort to achieve a cohesive blend is a refreshing relief. An honest crusade of in-depth imagination, this music is a beacon of light in an unsettling world. […] It stimulates the brain, animates the imagination, and charms the heart.”
–Baikida Carroll, liner notes
Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Auroara Nealand: accordion, bass clarinet, voice; Hank Roberts: cello
Release date April 21, 2023
Best Jazz 2023
- Jason Moran – From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Self-release)
- Lakecia Benjamin – Phoenix (Whirlwind Recordings)
- James Brandon Lewis – Eye Of I (Anti-Records)
- Joëlle Léandre – Zurich Concert (live) (Intakt Records)
- Kendrick Scott – Corridors (Blue Note)
- Wadada Leo Smith, Orange Wave Electric – Fire Illuminations (Kabell Records)
- Fire! Orchestra – Echoes (Rune Grammofon)
- GoGo Penguin – Everything Is Going To Be OK (XXIM Records)
- Matt Mitchell – Oblong Aplomb (Out Of Your Head Records)
- Tim Berne, Auroara Nealand, Hank Roberts – Oceans And (Intakt Records)
Playlist “Best Jazz 2023”
Listen to our “Best Jazz 2023” playlist (link to Spotify) with all the monthly new-release selections and excerpts of the above albums (when available) for a total of (soon) 120 breathtaking tracks.
2023 – New Releases Month by Month
January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December 2023.