Year By Year: Essential Albums of 2004

Jazz may not have an official yearbook, but it does have a vast and well-documented discography. ‘Year by Year’ is our attempt to bring you the most noteworthy albums of each year, complete with audio samples and fascinating backstories. We hope you join us as we travel through the music’s endlessly fascinating history, stopping every 12 months along the jazz timeline.


Tomasz Stanko Quartet, Suspended Night (ECM)

Trumpeter/composer Tomasz Stanko is one of the most adventurous and acclaimed Polish jazz musicians of all time. On Suspended Night, he aimed to bring large-scale unity to jazz improvisation. Here, he and his cohorts used fragments of an opening sad song – “Song for Sarah” – as a starting point for a series of suspended variations and amazing improvisation. His band is the same of 2002’s Soul of Things, including Marcin Wasilewski on piano, Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michał Miśkiewicz on drums. Stanko had interestingly been mentoring the three musicians since their early teens and Suspended Night marks the group’s creative flowering and maturation.


Medeski Martin & Wood, End of the World Party (Just in Case) (Blue Note)

End of the World Party (Just in Case) was the fifth album by Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW) on Blue Note and arguably remains on one of their most popular releases. It is essentially a positive soundtrack for a hypothetically imminent apocalypse. In retrospect, it is also easy to see it as one of the most compelling works representing the tension that defined the post-9/11 years, not least of all because of its wry humor and soundtrack, as well as the creativity that had come to define their music. John Kind steps in on production duties, assisting the trio on the presentation of their thickest sound yet. Despite this, End of the World Party (Just in Case) came across as a surprisingly graceful and carefully balanced fusion of melody and soundscapes.


Jan Garbarek, In Praise of Dreams (ECM)

In Praise of Dreams was Norwegian saxophonist/composer’s first album in six years under his own name and a collection of eleven new compositions that Stuart Nicholson defined as “a series of movies for the mind.” These are performed with a formidable trio, featuring American-Armenian violist Kim Kashkashian and African-French drummer Manu Katché. Garbarek’s music is wonderfully atmospheric, blending various idioms including jazz, classical, ambient and European folk. He is not only featured here on saxophone but also on percussion and various keyboards. Electronics too enrich the shimmering sonic backdrop of In Praise of Dreams and are central to its overall construction.


Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love (Rounder)

Madeleine Peyroux’s Careless Love stands out among the many great jazz vocal albums released during this period, which marked a reaffirmation of the chanteuse in modern music. This was her first album in eight years – an extended break out of which she reemerged more confident than ever in her vocal skills. The record was produced by Larry Klein and features a great cast of musicians, including Larry Goldings and Scott Amendola, among others. Yet, it is Peyroux’s intimate, world-weary voice and the way in which she is able to inhabit the diverse material on this album – ranging from WWII torch songs to Bob Dylan compositions and an original co-written with Jesse Harris – that makes Careless Love so spectacular. 


Alice Coltrane, Translinear Light (Impulse!)

Translinear Light was the first recording by Alice Coltrane in 25 years and, sadly, her last before she passed away in 2007. It is also one of her finest albums, driven by the same spirituality that defined her oeuvre and featuring her on Wurlitzer organ, piano and synthesizer. Translinear Light was recorded over several sessions between 2000 and 2004 with rotating ensembles featuring her songs Ravi and Oran, as well as Charlie Haden, James Genus, Jeff “Tain” Watts and Jack DeJohnette. The eleven tracks on this LP – five of which are written by Alice Coltrane, three by John Coltrane and three traditional numbers – are performed in duos, trios and quartets.


Honorable mentions: Diana Krall, The Girl in the Other Room (Verve); Brad Mehldau, Anything Goes (Warner Bros.); Wadada Leo Smith, Lake Biwa (Tzadik); Norah Jones, Feels Like Home (Blue Note); Hiromi, Brain (Telarc).

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