The following selection is our definitive “Best Jazz Albums of 2023” list. The selection is divided into albums featuring solos, duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, and larger ensembles, with three selections per category, for a total of 21 albums. We also added one category for “Artist of the Year”, and one for “Archive of the Year”, thereby adding two albums to the final selection, for a grand total of 23 albums that sum up how great 2023 was for jazz.
I – Solo Albums
The Intrinsic Nature Of Shipp
23 years after his first solo album, Symbol Systems (No More Records, 1995), Matthew Shipp is here with the ambition to mark where he is at now, where all his systems and explorations led to, in a beautiful and extraordinary release that exposes his intrinsic nature–that seems to has become maybe more direct and somehow even more focused–playing the piano.
Matthew Shipp: piano
Released September 22, 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 Zurich Concert (live)
Joëlle Léandre: bass
Released February 17, 2023
Tines of Change
In this breathtaking solo recording by bassist Mark Dresser, he once again uses his innovative approach, distinctive voice, extensive techniques, and unconventional sound production to explore the instrument’s sonic possibilities.
In its own way, Tines of Change is certainly as exceptional as Joëlle Léandre’s Zurich Concert.
Mark Dresser: bass
Released May 5, 2023
II – Duet Albums
(Out Of Your Head)
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 have had enough; instead, it leaves you craving even more!
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
Released April 14, 2023
Fred Frith, Susana Santos Silva
Laying Demons To Rest
On Laying Demons To Rest, the two artists create music that cannot be reduced to a mere guitar-trumpet release. The scope of textures, expressions, and impressions gathered here is just phenomenal; the dance between solo and accompaniment is so blurred and so delectable; the tightness of the music is so very sharp and consistent.
Read the full review Laying Demons To Rest
Fred Frith: electric guitar; Susana Santos Silva: trumpet
Released January 20, 2023
The Garden Was Empty
If you remember and were touched by the excellent Krautrock Faust’s Concerts Vol 1 & 2 (Table Of The Elements, 1994), with their unique industrial sounds framed as sonic events, then you will love The Garden Was Empty. The sound is similar in its uniqueness, but instead of building on short motives and repetitiveness, Olaf Rupp and Rudi Fischerlehner explore the endless possibilities that free improvisation offers. The Garden Was Empty is as raw as it is original.
Olaf Rupp: electric guitar; Rudi Fischerlehner: drums, percussion
Released February 3, 2023
III – Trio Albums
Amadou, Cambien, Rempis
On The Blink
The way these three musicians incorporate electronic elements into their sound is truly amazing. Perhaps it is due to the addition of electronics by two of the musicians–bassist Farida Amadou and pianist Jonas Cambien–expanding the realm of possibilities. It could also be attributed to the electric bass, which seamlessly blends the layers. Or, to their skillful combination of a raw approach to their instruments, resulting in a sound that is both metallic and ethereal.
In any case, this album is mesmerizing and unquestionably one of the most original trio albums of the year.
Farida Amadou: electric bass, electronics; Jonas Cambien: piano, electronics; Dave Rempis: alto, tenor saxophone
Released October 10, 2023
Angelika Niescier, Tomeka Reid, Savannah Harris
Angelika Niescier, one of the most distinguished voices on the European jazz scene, is here with cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Savannah Harris to surprise us with every second of this release. It is intense, dramatic, and never predictable; it is extraordinary musicians perfectly playing together as a trio.
“This is an ensemble with a cohesiveness and empathy, and is an object lesson in the notion that collectivity need in no way blunt the radical individualism of participants.“
–Alexander Hawkins, liner notes.
Angelika Niescier: alto saxophone; Tomeka Reid: cello; Savannah Harris: drums
Released September 15, 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
Released March 3, 2023
IV – Quartet Albums
Rodrigo Amado The Bridge
Beyond The Margins
This live recording captures a 2022 concert at Pardon, To Tu in Warsaw, Poland, featuring The Bridge, Rodrigo Amado’s new quartet with Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and Gerry Hemingway. The talent, energy, freedom, imagination, and clear determination to make every moment count are all present in this album, making it a true gem to listen to.
Rodrigo Amado: tenor saxophone; Alexander Von Schlippenbach: piano; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: double bass; Gerry Hemingway: drums, voice
Released October 20, 2023
Ivo Perelman, Ray Anderson, Joe Morris, Reggie Nicholson
4 long tracks for about 90 minutes of free improvised music with so many layers and inter-layers to focus on, that this Molten Gold will definitly consume a lot more of your time. It really takes these four incredible musicians to make it as exceptionnal and adventurus as it is.
Ivo Perelman: tenor saxopone; Ray Anderson: trombone; Joe Morris: double bass; Reggie Nicholson: drums
Released February 7, 2023
Christian McBride’s New Jawn
Prime swings as no other releases on this list. But what makes it exclusive is how this New Jawn quartet manages to have it so through the entire scope they explore, even all the way to the avant-garde moments, so perfectly mastered.
“I think putting a recording together is not that dissimilar to putting a set together. You want to make sure you start off with something exciting — something that’s going to lock the people in as best as you think you can, and then you just try to shape it so it’s a good listening experience.”
–Christian McBride, Grammy.com
Christian McBride: bass; Josh Evans: trumpet; Marcus Strickland: tenor sax, bass clarinet; Nasheet Waits: drums
Released February 24, 2023
V – Quintet Albums
James Brandon Lewis, Red Lily Quintet
For Mahalia, With Love
With For Mahalia, With Love James Brandon Lewis and the Red Lily Quintet superbly translate Mahalia Jackson’s gospel into jazz, thereby achieving something astonishing.
Each musician in the quintet perfectly transcends this regeneration through their unique voice. It is surely the addition of instruments as singular experiences that if taken in isolation could sound fragile, disorientated, or left alone, but together form a magnificent, poetic, human whole.
Read the full review For Mahalia, With Love
James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; William Parker: bass; Chad Taylor: drums; Chris Hoffman: cello
Released September 8, 2023
Diatom Ribbons Live At The Village Vanguard
Live at the Village Vanguard is Kris Davis’s second release with the Diatom Ribbons band, this time with the addition of Julian Lage on guitar. It becomes in other words a quartet (piano, bass, drums, and guitar) but with a DJ and electronics which completely shake the format.
The music ends up being quite avant-garde while very accessible and even comfortable.
Kris Davis: piano, prepared piano, arturia microfreak synthesizer; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums; Val Jeanty: turntables and electronics; Julian Lage: electric guitar; Trevor Dunn: electric bass and double bass
Released September 1, 2023
With Shimmer Wince, Anna Webber now focuses on ‘Just Intonation,’ an ancient tuning system based on the natural harmonics and resonances of notes. As the music progresses and the tracks unfold, the more you immerse yourself in the album and its concept, the more you fall in love with it. Shimmer Wince is a must-have.
Anna Webber: tenor sax, flute, bass flute; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Mariel Roberts: cello; Elias Stemeseder: synthesizer; Lesley Mok: drums
Released October 20, 2023
VI – Sextet Albums
The Separatist Party
(We Jazz, Astral Spirits)
This album offers a complete avant-garde experience. It contains jazz, spiritual elements, grooves, and spoken words, presented through forms ranging from minimalist to the full force of the sextet. Additionally, while being genuinely original upon the first listen, it remains accessible and highly addictive.
Mike Reed: drums, percussion; Rob Frye: tenor saxophone, flute, percussion; Cooper Crain: guitar, synthesizer; Dan Quinlivan: synthesizer; Marvin Tate: vocals; Ben LaMar Gay: cornet, flugelhorn, percussion
Released October 27, 2023
Flesh and Bones
Flesh and Bones is the third release of William Hooker on Org Music, following Big Moon (2021) and Symphonie of Flowers (2019). The intensity of this one is, again, breathtaking. Even when Hooker is not kicking in, during the—what could have been at least—laid-back moments, it feels like the intensity and tension are present in every single note.
William Hooker: drums; Ras Moshe: tenor sax/flute; Charles Burnham: violin; On Davis: guitar; Hilliard Greene: bass; Luke Stewart: bass
Released November 3, 2023
fLuXkit Vancouver (i̶t̶s suite but sacred)
With Darius Jones on composition and alto saxophone, Gerald Cleaver on drums, and a quartet of strings (violinists Jesse Zubot and Josh Zubot, cellist Peggy Lee, and bassist James Meger), fLuXkit Vancouver (i̶t̶s suite but sacred) perfectly reclaims the Fluxus aesthetic, through its creation (Jones’s score includes visual components), through its release (a collaboration between the Brooklyn-based Northern Spy and Helsinki-based We Jazz Records independent labels), and through the way we will experience it, highlighted by its art cover, where it definitely encourages listeners to reflect on the pieces.
Discover next Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) by Darius Jones
Darius Jones: alto sax, composition; Jesse Zubot: violin; Josh Zubot: violin; Peggy Lee: cello; James Meger: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums
Released September 29, 2023
VII – Larger Ensembles Albums
Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden...
With every Coin Coin release, we reach a point where emotions are torn between a form and a absolutely contradictory substance. The strength of these albums is really linked to this duality where sadness–while touched by the substance–gets mixed with brightness–while touched by the form. Chapter V is no exception, harrowing and unforgettable.
Matana Roberts: composer, horns, harmonicas, aux percussion, vocal, wordspeak; Mike Pride: drums, aux percussion, vocal; Matt Lavelle: alto clarinet, pocket trumpet, tin whistle, vocal; Stuart Bogie: bass clarinet, clarinet, tin whistle, vocal; Cory Smythe: piano, vocal, tin whistle; Mazz Swift: violin, vocal, tin whistle; Darius Jones: alto sax, tin whistle, vocal; Ryan Sawyer: drums, aux percussion, vocal; Gitanjali Jain: text collage; Kyp Malone: synths; Jaimie Branch: (who was due to play on the album) courage.
Released September 29, 2023
Phoenix is as flamboyant as the cover art suggests. This is jazz, combined with all the extravagance that American pop and even hip-hop music can produce entertainingly and cleverly.
“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
Released January 27, 2023
Mats Gustafsson gathered nearly the entire Swedish jazz scene for an exceptional release, 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, 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
Released April 14, 2023
Artist of the Year
The Artificial Intelligence
Yes, AI. Partly as a provocation after all the headlines we saw this year, but also because AI did seriously an amazing performance on the following album, showing the great possibilities that it could offer to music.
The Orchestre National De Jazz (or ONJ) is a French jazz orchestra created in 1986. This state-subsidized formation has the means to produce, distribute, and present its creations worldwide (if you don’t know about it, then you should take the time to discover their previous project, Europa, led by Olivier Benoit).
The current director is Frédéric Maurin. With Steve Lehman and the support of interactive electronics developed at IRCAM (Institut de Coordination Acoustique Musique), they set a new standard for innovation in a large ensemble format, with the soloists interacting with highly nuanced harmonies, propulsive polyrhythms, and computer-driven sound transformations:
“The new work integrates interactive software developed by Jérôme Nika at IRCAM in which abstract electronic sounds react to solo improvisers in real-time while also proposing complex sonorities that augment the music’s existing harmonic structure. At many points throughout the piece, the computer becomes, in effect, a generator of virtual orchestrations and an improvising partner for the musicians.”
Steve Lehman & Orchestre National de Jazz
Beyond the extraordinary musical experience, this creation also draws a lot more questions than answers. What exactly are the electronic sounds? What would result from more freedom being given to the machine? Once recorded, could the machine reproduce the entire composition and enhance it?
Steve Lehman: alto saxophone, electronics; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Chris Dingman: vibraphone | Members of Orchestre National de Jazz: Frédéric Maurin: direction, electronics; Fanny Ménégoz: flute, alto flute, piccolo; Catherine Delaunay: clarinet, basset horn; Julien Soro: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Fabien Debellefontaine: baritone saxophone, clarinet, flute; Fabien Norbert: trumpet, flugelhorn; Daniel Zimmermann, Christiane Bopp: trombone; Fanny Meteier: tuba; Bruno Ruder: piano, synthesizer; Stéphan Caracci: vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, percussion, synthesizer; Rafaël Koerner: drums; Sarah Murcia: double bass; Jérôme Nika: generative electronics creation & artistic collaboration; Dionysios Papanikolaou: IRCAM electronics
Released September 15, 2023
Archive of the Year
The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Live From The Northwest, 1959’
Live from the Northwest, 1959′ captures a historic performance on April 4, 1959, at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland and on April 5th at Clark College. The recordings showcase the quartet in peak form, with the Multnomah tapes providing an intimate late ’50s jazz venue experience, and the Clark College tracks featuring brilliant performances in pristine concert hall acoustics.
At the time, the quartet was gaining popularity for their fresh sound, exceptional musicianship, and remarkable ability to spontaneously improvise contrapuntal passages. This recording session occurred just months before the quartet’s groundbreaking Time Out album, which would later become a worldwide sensation, and beautifully captures the essence of the quartet’s early sound.
Discover next: 1959, The Best Year in Jazz History?
Dave Brubeck: piano; Paul Desmond: alto saxophone; Eugene Wright: bass; Joe Morello: drums
Released date November 3, 2023
Best Jazz 2023
- Matthew Shipp – The Intrinsic Nature Of Shipp (Mahakala)
- Joëlle Léandre – Zurich Concert (live) (Intakt)
- Mark Dresser – Tines of Change (Pyroclastic)
- Matt Mitchell – Oblong Aplomb (Out Of Your Head)
- Fred Frith, Susana Santos Silva – Laying Demons to Rest (RogueArt)
- Xenofox – The Garden Was Empty (Audio Semantics)
- Farida Amadou, Jonas Cambien, Dave Rempis – On The Blink (Aerophonic)
- Angelika Niescier, Tomeka Reid, Savannah Harris – Beyond Dragons (Intakt)
- Kendrick Scott – Corridors (Blue Note)
- Rodrigo Amado The Bridge – Beyond The Margins (Trost Records)
- Ivo Perelman, Ray Anderson, Joe Morris, Reggie Nicholson – Molten Gold
- Christian McBride’s New Jawn – Prime (Mack Avenue)
- James Brandon Lewis, Red Lily Quintet – For Mahalia, With Love (TAO Forms)
- Kris Davis – Diatom Ribbons Live At The Village Vanguard (Pyroclastic)
- Anna Webber – Shimmer Wince (Intakt)
- Mike Reed – The Separatist Party (We Jazz, Astral Spirits)
- William Hooker – Flesh and Bones (Org Music)
- Darius Jones – fLuXkit Vancouver (i̶t̶s suite but sacred) (Northern Spy)
- Larger Ensemble
- Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden... (Constellation)
- Lakecia Benjamin – Phoenix (Whirlwind)
- Fire! Orchestra – Echoes (Rune Grammofon)
- Artist of the Year
- Steve Lehman & Orchestre National de Jazz – Ex Machina (Pi)
- Archive Of The Year
- The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Live From The Northwest, 1959’ (Brubeck Editions)
…and the Playlist:
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.
Thank you everyone for reading this article!
Thank you to all musicians—whether listed here or not—for creating music!