With the year’s end fast approaching, JAZZIZ’s digital content editor Brian Zimmerman and website editor Matt Micucci pick their five of their favorite jazz albums of 2019. The list includes a keyboard legend’s celebration of the passionate music of Spain, a rockstar’s impressive incursion into the jazz world, that latest work from one of London’s hottest jazz acts and much more.
Joel Ross, KingMaker (Blue Note)
Release date: May 3
Even if you’re a casual jazz fan, it would be hard to ignore the buzz around Joel Ross. At just 23 years old, the vibraphonist turned heads this spring with the release of his debut album, KingMaker, which came across as a smart and self-assured statement, full of hypnotic grooves and intricate melodic structures. And in joining the prestigious Blue Note label, Ross became part of a storied lineage of vibraphone players that includes Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Ross’ own mentor, Stefon Harris. Elite as that company may be, Ross proved eager and equipped to join it. KingMaker revealed a player possessed of boundless skill and imagination, the type of artist who can push the music forward from the inside, merging tradition with innovation in an effort to arrive at someplace new yet familiar.
Jazzmeia Horn, Love and Liberation (Concord)
Release date: August 23
Vocalist Jazzmeia Horn arrived on the scene with the wind in her sails after winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2015. Her victory led to a record deal with Concord Jazz and the release of her first album, A Social Call, on which she showcased a clarion tone, broad stylistic range and a firm grasp of the jazz vocal tradition (she draws particularly strong parallels to her hero Betty Carter). Her follow-up album, Love and Liberation, shows her evolving as a musician even as she refines her signature style. There’s more zing in her acrobatic lines, more fire in her upper register, more soul in the low notes. “Free Your Mind” and the title track are soulful standouts, and “When I Say” is a fun, stop-and-go swinger that features Horn’s prodigious scatting chops.
Jimmy Cobb, This I Dig of You (Smoke Sessions)
Release date: August 16
Sixty years ago, drummer Jimmy Cobb sat down behind the kit to record the tracks for what would become the best-selling jazz album of time: Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue. He was 30 years old at the time, and remains the only living musician to have appeared on that classic disc. His new recording, with a band of Cobb’s longtime collaborators — pianist Harold Mabern, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and bassist John Webber — pays tribute to that seminal album by channeling its spirit and timeless grooves. Now 90 years old, Cobb swings as hard as ever, guiding his bandmates with a firm but gentle hand. But he can add some serious flash and sparkle when he needs to, making it clear that the leader chair is where Cobb was meant to be.
The Comet Is Coming, Trust In the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Impulse!)
Release date: March 15
The London jazz scene is in the midst of a major revival. But for all the seismic activity currently underway across the pond, perhaps the biggest ripple-maker at the moment is 35-year-old London native Shabaka Hutchings. The saxophonist is at the center of the trio The Comet Is Coming (along with keyboardist Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallet), whose second studio album, Trust In The Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, is a cosmic exploration of jazz, electronica, funk, dubb-step and reggae that lives up to its metaphysical name. The band is capable of generating grooves so deep they’ll move you at a cellular level, affecting your heart and mind alike.
Chick Corea’s Spanish Heart Band, Antidote (Concord)
Release date: June 28
“My genes are Italian, but my heart is Spanish,” keyboard legend Chick Corea told JAZZIZ Magazine back in July. He was describing his latest album, Antidote, which finds him returning to one of his longest-held musical passions: the music of Spain. It was a genre he began to explore in his early days as a pianist growing up in Boston, and one that he would continue to hone throughout his prolific career as a leader and collaborator alongside other legends such as Miles Davis, Paco De Lucía and Herbie Hancock. Fans of Corea will instantly recognize some of the material on Antidote, which includes reworkings of classic tunes like “Armando’s Rhumba” and “Duende” from his previous Latin-tinged albums My Spanish Heart and Touchstone. It’s an absolute must for Chick Corea fans. – Brian Zimmerman
Yazz Ahmed, Polyhymnia (Ropeadope)
Release date: October 11
British/Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, known for her celebrated blend of jazz and Arabic folk music, returns with a more large scale album celebrating female courage. Each of the tracks on Polyhymnia – named after the Muse of poetry in Greek mythology – is a tribute to a different female activist or pioneer. One of them honors the suffragettes of the early 20th century. A hypnotic composition inspired by Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, aptly opens a cinematic program that at times recalls the sleek music of Miles Davis’ classic Sketches of Spain and the works of Maria Schneider. Yet, Polyhymnia is also about the improvisational prowess of individual players, including that of saxophonist Tori Freestone.
Hiromi, Spectrum (Telarc)
Release date: September 18
Hiromi attempts to encapsulate all that she has learned about piano playing in her thirties on her mesmerizing and rare solo LP. In doing so, she appears to showcase the full palette of her instrument of choice, even stretching beyond it at times with her fascinating flurry of notes. Spectrum, as the title suggests, offers a diverse program of tracks ranging from the frantic excitement of its opener, “Kaleidoscope,” to the charming intimacy of her take on The Beatles’ “Blackbird” by way of “Mr. C.C.,” composed for an imaginary Charlie Chaplin movie. Her 22-minute-long reimagining of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” complete with references to such songs as The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” and John Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” feels like a mini-masterpiece in its own right.
David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith, Sun of Goldfinger (ECM)
Release date: March 1
Sun of Goldfinger is the name of the explorative trio made up of guitarist David Torn, saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Ches Smith. Together, they play a compelling hybrid of jazz, post-rock and avant-garde music. On their eponymous debut album, they mix acoustic instrumentation with electronic experimentation to evoke post-futuristic images of a seemingly dystopian world. The record includes three tracks, two of which are fully improvised multi-layered excursions where the group sounds much larger than a trio. The centerpiece “Spartan, Before It Hit” is a kaleidoscopic large ensemble piece written by Torn where the core trio is augmented by the Scorchio String Quartet and two extra guitars.
Marquis Hill, Love Tape (Black Music Group)
Release date: October 11
Trumpeter Marquis Hill fully embraces contemporary soul and R&B to produce a lush, meditative work on the subject of love, aided by his tight quartet, special guests and production assistance from Makaya McCraven. Love Tape is a groove-oriented album constructed in a suite-like manner where tracks blend into one – though songs like “Won’t You Celebrate With Me” and “To You I Promise” are among those quite strong when taken individually. This laid-back project, full of colors and textures, is a follow-up of sorts to 2017’s Meditation Tape and guided by research that Hill culled from a series of interviews with women on the topic of love – including Eartha Kitt, whose recorded statements are among those heard on the album.
Chrissie Hynde and the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble, Valve Bone Woe (BMG)
Release date: September 6
Rockstars’ jazz debuts tend to be snubbed, yet, Chrissie Hynde’s Valve Bone Woe emerges as one of the best of such forays of recent memory. Here, she applies her craft and uncompromising charisma to a project quite different from the norm of her stellar five-decades-long recording career, expressing her love of often heartbreaking melodies via a diverse program of covers ranging from Great American Songbook standards to Brian Wilson and Nick Drake compositions. Backing her, the Valve Bone Woe – a large scale ensemble whose string-laden arrangements are a meeting of 20th-century sophistication and modernity, as exhibited on their take on Charles Mingus’ “Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters.” – Matt Micucci
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