In a year that has seen a continuing decline in CD sales, the resurgence of vinyl gaining momentum and the number of digital only releases growing exponentially there has been an abundance of music to try and listen to.

With so much excellent music on offer, our intrepid contributors have attempted to listen to as much as possible, and below is their selection of some of the best albums of 2023.

Chris Baber

Ezra Collective – Where I’m meant to be (Partisan Records)

Donny McCaslin – I want more (Edition)

Zoe Rahman – Colour of Sound (Manushi)

Anthropology Band – Scald – live 2022 (Discus)

Wandering Monsters – Zenna (Ubuntu)

Charlotte Keeffe – Right Here, Right Now Quartet ALIVE! in the studio (Discus)

Miho Hazama – m_unit: Beyond Orbits (Edition)

Richard Jones Trio – Angle Shades (efpi)

Verneri Pohjola – Monkey Mind  (Edition)

Freysteinn – Í allar áttire n samt bara eina (self released)

Duncan Eagles – Narrations (Ropeadope)

A ‘best of’ list for this year has to begin with Ezra Collective’s ‘Where I’m meant to be’ (Partisan Records).  This is not simply for the album winning the Mercury Prize (after many years of jazz records being the also-ran) but more for their celebration of the mixtures of styles that make-up contemporary jazz and the enthusiasm and bravado with which they play.  Any band that takes jazz to new audiences should be celebrated and encouraged.  Given that I didn’t actually review the Ezra Collective album, I’ve picked 10 albums that I have had the pleasure to review this year.  The best of has been an easy pick.  Donny McCaslin, Miho Hazama, Verneri Pohjola and Zoe Rahman have made tremendous records, arguably high-points of their careers and laying down a marker for even more to come.  I have also selected some artists who are either starting out, moving in new directions, or establishing themselves on the international stage with some marvellous recordings.

George Cole

New Releases

Jeff Cosgrove – Welcome Home (Bandcamp)

Joey Alexander – Continuance (Mack Avenue Records)

Richard Pavlidis – Iconography (Bandcamp)

Noah Stoneman – Anyone’s Quiet – Let it Rain to You (Bandcamp)

Shakti – This Moment

Soft Machine – Other Doors (Dyad Records)

London Brew – London Brew (Concord Jazz)

Neil Yates – Flashbacks/Backflash (Bandcamp)

Jason Miles – Kind of New – Miles to Miles (Ropeadope)

Nora Kamm – One (Duya Music)

 

 

From the Vaults

Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio – Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings (Resonance Records)

Wolfgang Lackerschmid/Chet Baker – Welcome Back (Dot Time Records)

Zawinul Syndicate – Black Water/Lost Tribes (BGO Records)

My goodness – where did that year go? Looking back at my choices, I was delighted by the number of memorable releases from jazz trios, ranging from the standard format of piano, bass and drums to non-standard formations like drummer Jeff Cosgrave’s album Welcome, which featured him with Jeff Lederer on saxophone, and Mark Lysher on bass. A live recording, it captured a band on blazing form. It’s hard making a living as a musician, and even harder if you’re a jazz musician, with the Generation Z cohort believing that recorded music should be free; jazz venues closing or widening their definition of jazz to include other genres, and our national broadcaster – the BBC – offering a pitiful amount of jazz on radio, TV and online.

So it’s heartening to find that there are many young talented musicians opting to play jazz, and this includes twenty year-old keyboardist Joey Alexander, whose album Continuance was a pleasure to savour and featured many of his compositions. Other youthful players with noteworthy releases include saxophonist Richard Pavlidis and his album Iconography, and pianist Noah Stoneman’s Anyone’s Quiet – Let it Rain to You.

It was also a fine year for releases from established jazz acts, including Shakti a band that includes John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein. The album, This Moment, released during the band’s 50th anniversary year, is an intoxicating blend of jazz and Indian music. Shankar Mehedevan’s stunning vocal performances sent shivers down my spine. Soft Machine had to resort to crowdfunding to release Other Doors – a scandalous situation – but it was well worth the effort and a fitting swansong for two of its oldest members, drummer John Marshall (who died last September) and bassist Roy Babbington. The good news is that the music on this album clearly shows that the band’s future is in solid hands with guitarist John Etheridge and saxophonist/keyboardist Theo Travis.

The music of Miles Davis continues to influence and inspire musicians and this includes London Brew, an ensemble of London-based jazz musicians, whose self-named album was inspired by Miles’s Bitches Brew album and really captured the spirit of the original without ever sounding like a cover version or a tribute act. Trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Neil Yates is a fan of Miles’s 1980s music and I really enjoyed his two albums Flashbacks and Backflash, both of which are infused with the sound of Eighties Miles, yet take the music in new and interesting directions. Keyboardist/programmer/producer Jason Miles worked with Miles, including on the seminal album Tutu, and his Kind of New – Miles to Miles has funk and rich aural textures mixed with the essence of Miles Davis and Prince. Back in January, I said that Nora Kamm’s album One would be one of my albums of the year list. She is a highly talented saxophonist and composer, and her album is a great mix of jazz, Afro and funk.

When it comes to archive releases, the Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings was a superb release, with sumptuous packaging, loads of background information, and of course, great music. The Wolfgang Lackerschmid/Chet Baker album Welcome Back was recorded in 1987, barely a year before Baker’s death, and it found the trumpeter in impressive form, his horn blending well with Lackerschmid’s vibraphone and a variety of ensembles. Even after a long period of substance abuse and failing health, Baker

never lost his ability to create sounds which moved you. BGO Records have continued to reissue long-lost or hard-to-find jazz releases, along with excellent packaging and lots of background information. I enjoyed The Zawinul Syndicate double CD release Black Water/Lost Tribes, the band’s second and third albums from 1989 and 1992 respectively. Joe Zawinul was a force of nature and a keyboard innovator, and there’s plenty of evidence to be heard on this release.

Jack Kenny

Darcy James Argue Dynamic Maximum Tension (Nonesuch)

Sylvie Courvoisier and Cory Smythe – The Rite of Spring – Spectre d’un songe, (Pyroclastic Records)

Simon Spillett Big Band – Dear TubbyH (Mister PC)

Mike Osborne – Starting Fires LiveAt The 100 Club 1970 (British Progressive Jazz)

Miles Davis Quintet in Concert at the Olympia Paris 1957 (Fresh Sound Records)

Count Basie And His Orchestra In Concert Copenhagen (SteepleChase)

Marius Neset – Geyser: Live at Royal Albert Hall – BBC Proms (Act Music And Vision)

Tubby Hayes – No Blues: The Complete Hopbine ‘65 (Jazz In Britain )

John Coltrane Evenings At The Village Gate – John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy (Impulse)

Elvin Jones – Revival Live at Pookie’s Pub (Blue Note Records)

Dave Brubeck Quartet Live From The Northwest, 1959 (Brubeck Editions)

 

 

The Darcy James Argue Orchestra album has tracks showing that the jazz orchestra can still surprise, enthrall and be relevant.  The album of the year for me.

The 1957 MIles Davis album was a reminder of how lucid and structured Davis’ playing was at this stage: skills that he either lost or abandoned in later life.

Sylvie Courvoisier and Corey Smythe were brave to play Stravinsky’s  The Rite  Of Spring, one of the key pieces of the last century.  Sylvie’s own piece is a triumph.

The Brubeck album is in great sound and reminds us how intelligent jazz can be, even when it is popular.

Tim Larsen

AKKU Quintet – Kinema (Morpheus Records)

Florian Arbenz – Inland, Conversation #10 (Hammer Recordings)

Arbenz, Kroger, Osby – Targeted, Conversation #9 (Hammer Recordings)

Matthias Bublath & Michi Ruzitschka – Duo Norte Sul (MB Note Records)

Nicole Johänntgen – Labyrinth (Selmabird Records)

Ellas Kapell – For All We Know (Naxos Prophone Records)

Daniel Karlsson Trio – Sorry Boss (Howling Jazz Records)

Gustaf Ljunggren / Emil de Waal – Stockholm København (April Records)

Dominik Schurmann Ensemble – The Seagull’s Serenade (Suisa Records)

Bobo Stenson Trio – Sphere (ECM)

 

 

From The Vaults

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Live From The Northwest, 1959 (Brubeck Editions)

Gary Burton – The New Quartet (ECM)

Ahmad Jamal – Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963 – 1964 & Live at the Penthouse 1965 – 1966 (Jazz Detective)

The Metronomes – And Now, The Metronomes & Something Big (Fresh Sound Records)

Old And New Dreams (ECM)

There were some great albums this year. I had a hard time limiting myself to ten.

I’m a big fan of Florian Arbenz so it was easy to pick the two albums he released.

For a while I thought just about everything that could be done with a piano trio had been done. 2023 showed me I was wrong. There are two piano trio recordings on my list.

Nicole Johänntgen is new to me. I loved her 2023 release, Labyrinth.

Nick Lea

Impossible to list in order of preference my selections are presented in alphabetical order by artist.

New Releases

Sabino de Bari & Diana Torti – It’s All We Have (Self Release)

Eddie Gripper – Home (Ubuntu Music)

Gaz Hughes Trio – Beboptical Illusion (Self Release)

Nigel Price Organ Trio – That’s It. Right There (Nervy Nigel Records)

Zoe Rahman – Colour of Sound (Manushi Records)

Emma Rawicz – Chroma (ACT)

Imogen Ryall – Sings The Charles Mingus/Joni Mitchell Songbook (Rubicon Jazz)

Alan Skidmore – A Supreme Love (Confront Core Series)

Dean Stockdale Quartet – Celebrating Oscar (Self Release)

Christine Tobin – Returning Weather (Trail Belle Records)

 

 

From The Vaults

Bill Evans – Treasures: Solo, Trio & Orchestra Recordings from Denmark (1965-1969) (Elemental)

Joy – Joy (Cadillac)

The Jazz Doctors – Intensive Care: Prescription Filled (Cadillac)

Stan Tracey Quartet – Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood (Resteamed Records)

Stan Tracey Quartet + Kenny Wheeler – Under Milk Wood in Hamburg (Resteamed Records)

ECM

Keith Jarrett – Solo-Concerts Bremen/Lausanne

Sinikka Langeland – Wind and Sun

Nils Økland / Sigbjørn Apeland – Glimmer

John Scofield – Uncle John’s Band

Naná Vasconcelos – Saudades

I have been in the fortunate position of having a lot of new music come my way, and at this point in the year trying to select the best albums is a nigh on impossible task. I have split my list in three sections and taken the liberty of devoting a small segment to ECM releases having been able to listen to nearly all of the labels output this year.

Of my new releases, vocalists featured heavily, and I could happily have included more with Wilma Baan, Jo Harrop and Zoe Francis all releasing excellent albums, and not forgetting the marvellous EP from Natasha Seale. The remainder of my choices have continued to feature UK based artists and show the remarkable diversity of the music being performed on these shores.

From The Vaults is a bit of a grey area, as some of these releases are reissues while others feature music that for one reason or another have been left on the shelf and not previously been made available. I make no apology for devoting two places to Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood as I was astonished to find out when compiling the Inside ‘Under Milk Wood’ feature as to just how many jazz fans were unaware of the recording, or who confessed to not being very familiar with the recording. It goes without saying that the original album is essential listening, and the Under Milk Wood in Hamburg with Kenny Wheeler is a recently discovered gem.

Ed Sapiega

Here, in no particular order, are my favorites for the year:

Ben Winkelman – Heartbeat (Origin Records)

Michael Bisio / Timothy Hill – Inside Voice/ Outside Voice (Origin Records)

Matt Otto – Umbra (Origin)

Andrew Rathbun – The Speed of Time (Steeplechase)

Anthony Branker & Ascent with Ralph Peterson – Spirit Songs (Origin)

Jesse Dietschi – Gradient (JDM)

Franco D’Andrea – Sketches of the 20th Century (Parco Della Musica)

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy – Evenings at the Village Gate (Impulse!)

 

 

My list for 2023 is pretty varied — not unlike the diverse music that came out over the year. Unusual duos, interesting, trios and differently configured bands seemed to have been the rule.

These offered some unique takes on composed and improvised music that captured my ear.

I was particularly taken by the excellent Coltrane release, Evenings at the Village Gate. After hearing the Live at the Village Vanguard album(s), it is good to listen to a band in flux working through music performed in the weeks after at the Vanguard. Hearing Eric Dolphy in a different setting is always enjoyable.