Best Jazz Albums of 2023
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The 17 Best Jazz Albums of 2023

Some of it is conventionally beautiful and some thrills by rubbing against the edges of tonality. But all of the best jazz of 2023 serves a vision.

9. Michael Blake and Chroma Nova – Dance of the Mystic Bliss (P&M)

Michael Blake has been an enchanting reed player unafraid of new settings for strong melody ever since the 1990s. This is a gust of joy, with Blake playing flute for the first time on record and a string band (guitar, violin, cello, bass) joining with Brazilian percussion. Christopher Hoffman plays some gripping cello improvisations that you must hear, and Blake has set up a series of grooves that are propulsive regardless of tempo. The strings sometimes play as a tight ensemble and, at other times, are independent voices that hold their own, displaying a wide variety of textures and tones. This band just sounds different: like a modern tango ensemble, a classical chamber group, a daring freak-folk string band, and a New Jazz outfit all at once or in turns.

10. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Dynamic Maximum Tension (Cercopithecine/Nonesuch)

Darcy James Argue has been a quirky darling, picking up accolades with every recording while never playing it safe. His latest may just be his best. The title Dynamic Maximum Tension could be a review, as the music is in constant flux, not often dissonant but usually hiding any obvious tonal center as different voices and sonorities weave, bob, and vie for attention. His brand of post-modern composition and arranging flows from his studies with Bob Brookmeyer, and so there is some similarity to the large group work of drummer John Hollenbeck, and Argue’s balance of melodic flair and harmonic adventure might bring to mind Maria Schneider  — but Argue has a crack band of long-standing and a sensibility that is his own. Every time he releases something new, ears should go on alert.

11. Alex LoRe and Weirdear – Evening Will Find Itself (Whirlwind)

Alex LoRe boasts a light, beautiful, and fluid sound on alto saxophone, and his quartet (with Glen Zaleski on piano, bassist Desmond White, and Alan Mednard on drums) engages in shifting time signatures, written counterpoint and riveting surges of harmony. So, the effect is both pleasing and surprising. Some tricky playing dazzles you, but the tone of the music is cool and beautiful, making it slippery and dangerous but calm.

LoRe sounded great on Marta Sanchez’s Spanish American Art Museum from 2022 and impresses as part of the collective quartet Kind Folk, but his own music is just as sharp. Three versions of the tune “Radiance” suggest how LoRe’s music is the cousin of the music by Steve Coleman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Steve Lehman — all alto saxophone innovators. These tracks contain swashbuckling modernity that pretzels up conventional tonal systems, yes, but this band spins this style with a fizzy joy. This, in short, is the kind of hard-edged New Jazz that also can seduce you.

12. Linda May Han Oh – The Glass Hours (Biophilia)

The Glass Hours debuts a new band for this first-call bassist, who has always had a knack for writing fresh material that hooks your ears. The veteran saxophonist Mark Turner employs his trademark fluidity, vocalist Sara Sherpa sings both lyrics and wordless lines in the ensemble, Fabian Almazan offers crisp piano and electronics, and drummer Obed Calvaire is an ideal partner to Linda May Han Oh‘s acoustic and electric bass lines. Oh moves them through a series of arrangements that use every voice in an expansive but gentle way. A track like “The Imperative” features a busy piano trio opening that invites Turner and Sherpa in, “singing” a theme that joins Almazan in fluttering play. The complexities of the music are hidden beneath the joy of expression.


Yussef Dayes – Black Classical Music (Brownswood / Nonesuch)

Black Classical Music is drummer Yussef Dayes‘ debut solo studio album, but he is not a rookie by any stretch. Should you search his name across streaming platforms and the like, you’ll see a short live album recorded with friends out in Joshua Tree. Search a little further, though, and you’ll find that he has been a major player in London’s jazz scene for a while, including his collaboration with keyboardist Kamaal Williams – naming themselves Yussef Kamaal – and his appearance on Tom Misch‘s What Kinda Music.

So, by the time he sat down to record Black Classical Music, Dayes most likely had a clear idea of what he could do and where he wanted to go. And boy, does he go places. Armed with 19 tracks and using almost every square inch available on a compact disc, Black Classical Music takes the listener on a highly groovy and ultimately fulfilling ride through the peaks and valleys inside of Dayes’ musical brain. To say that every stone is overturned would be overselling it. Dayes doesn’t achieve everything, but there are still an impressive number of stones flipped over in the creation of this album. – John Garratt

Alabaster DePlume – Come With Fierce Grace (International Anthem)

A key figure in the UK’s now globally recognized jazz scene and a mainstay of the creative hub Total Refreshment Centre, Alabaster DePlume is a unique performer, musician, and bandleader. His live performances can be both artful and arresting, advocating for care and change as much as thrilling with often wildly inventive improvisational music.

Come With Fierce Grace continues this legacy of generous, meaningful music for a chaotic and contested present. Despite being a product of sessions and ideas developed for DePlume’s previous full-length GoldCome With Fierce Grace does not feel like an odd collection of jams or unreleased tracks. DePlume delivers an uplifting yet thoroughly cohesive project that feels, above all else, ecstatically alive.

Come With Fierce Grace is perhaps Alabaster DePlume’s best work to date. It arrives at a difficult time in human history and speaks to that suffering and disconnect in a thoughtful and emotionally poignant way. It is a must for jazz fans and anyone with an appreciation for rich and reflective creative art. – Alex Brent

Samuel Goff, Camila Nebbia, and Patrick Shiroishi – Diminished Borders (Cacophonous Revival)

Lovers of post-bop free jazz will feel a twinge of welcome familiarity when “Chaos Control”, the first track on Diminished Bordersbegins. Drummer Samuel Goff counts off, and soon he’s all over his kit, while saxophonists Camila Nebbia and Patrick Shiroishi trade freewheeling notes and riffs back and forth. It’s beautiful, well-worn territory for fans of free jazz. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg for this terrific, eight-track collaboration, courtesy of Goff’s diverse Cacophonous Revival label.

Recorded in Los Angeles, Richmond, Virginia, and Lyon, France, Diminished Borders brings together these three multitalented, eclectic performers known for creating wide-ranging albums on their own and thus benefit from an even broader artistic canvas as a trio. Nebbia, an Argentinian saxophonist, composer, and visual artist currently based in Berlin, contributes spoken word to the quiet, tense, barely contained “Esperando Que Todo Desaparezca”, as both saxophones squeal in desperation and Goff’s drumming takes a minimalist approach. – Chris Ingalls

Alfredo Rodríguez – Coral Way (Mack Avenue)

Jazz pianist and former Quincy Jones protégé Alfredo Rodríguez has always thrived in brighter hues. Though he’s never shied from sparser or more solemn moments–the haunting title track of 2016’s Tocororo remains some of his most breathtaking work–it’s never at the expense of a vibrant musical palette. 

The new album Coral Way may be his most vivid work to date. Inspired less by his memories of growing up and living in Cuba (as much of his past work has been) and more by his present-day in Miami with a flourishing international career and growing family, Coral Way dazzles from start to finish, never anything less than balmy as Rodríguez brings his signature ease and zest to the keys. As usual, he brings in a few guests along the way, which makes for an even more invigorating mix of sounds. This album radiates positive energy without relying on good vibes, a show of skill and passion that pushes Rodríguez’s career even further forward. – Adriane Pontecorvo

Kassa Overall – Animals (Warp)

Kassa Overall’s music sounds free. On Animals, Overall’s third album and first for Warp Records, the drummer, producer, MC, and bandleader demonstrates the limitless potential of jazz, hip-hop, and beats, exploring and pushing new spaces for improvisation and experimentation. Attempts to blend jazz and hip-hop are certainly not new, but despite the common heritages from which both genres draw, they have often reinforced formal boundaries rather than expanded them. Kassa Overall is part of a newer generation of music-makers who have approached things a little differently, such as Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder label or fellow jazz drummer and producer Karriem Riggins

Similarly to these contemporaries, Kassa Overall’s approach to music is imaginative, expansive, and eclectic. A deep appreciation of and skill with jazz and hip-hop are seamlessly woven together on an album that goes in multiple places with many different voices thrown into the mix. – Alex Brent