2017 was punctuated with so many good Jazz songs – you may follow our monthly playlists – it was a blast of amazing artists publishing outstanding tracks. However, for the Best Jazz Album’s list, we focus on the entire album, its coherence, the pleasure that not one track, but all its tracks give.
So yes, 2017 has been a good year. But during this year some albums have imposed themselves on us. Sometimes immediately, sometimes more insidiously, and ultimately the final selection was not so delicate to do.
These 10 albums are sincerely those who have marked us, who have been played on our stereos and will continue for a long time. These are the ones we will still listen to in 10, 20, 30 years with as much, if not more pleasure.
Here are our 10 Best Jazz Albums 2017. Note that this list is presented without any hierarchical order: they are all so peculiar and singularly good that it is not necessary to make them the offense of an unfair ranking.
(No EPs were picked; those have their own selection)
Ahmad Jamal “Marseille”
Jazz Village / Pias – 2017
American pianist born in 1930, Jazz Master, Ahmad Jamal has more than 60 released as a leader and created a work that inspired not only pianists but also other instrumentalists and artists such as Miles Davis. His masterpiece is considered to be “The Awakening” (Impulse! – 1970), perfectly describes as “[…] a fine example of Jamal’s stately—and understated—elegance punctuated with doodles of whimsy” by Michael J. Agovino
“Marseille” is in the exact same vein but in an up-to-date sound and vibes. A perfect album, with covers and original compositions, for which “elegance punctuated with doodles of whimsy” applies again, as a signature. The album title comes from a track played on three (quite different) variations — one instrumental; one with Abd Al Malik on vocals; and one with the Diva Mina Agossi on vocals (who translated the texts written by Ahmad Jamal) — dedicated to the town of Marseille, France. The entire album was even recorded in France.
The art-cover is meant to be “an instantaneous eye-catching cover representing what the person heard inside”. It is eye-catching, definitely, and feels as light and bright as the music you will hear. At the same time, those little grey and white squares remind me of the pattern used for transparency in editor tools. It feels like it up to us to picture Marseille as we know it or imagine it and add this picture just under the yellow patch, as a die-cut cover. In other words, whatever you think of Marseille, know or fantasize, it will end up sunny, lovely, and delicately sophisticated.
Ahmad Jamal: piano | James Cammack: double bass | Herlin Riley: drums | Manolo Badrena: percussion | Mina Agossi: vocals | Abd Al Malik: vocals
Colin Stetson “All This I Do For Glory”
52Hz – 2017
Colin Stetson is an American saxophonist, now living in Canada (Montreal). He released his first trio album in 2003, and solo in 2008, counting now nearly ten albums on his own and several collaborations with artists in Jazz (Mats Gustafsson, BadBadNotGood) as well as in Pop (Arcade Fire, Tom Waits, David Gilmour, TV on the Radio). Just to say he knows what he is doing, and he is doing it perfectly.
“All This I Do For Glory” has the brutal and incommensurable strength of an archaic music, pre-civilization, which speaks directly not to our emotions but to our instincts, caressing them, massaging them, relaxing them.
The masterstroke of Colin Stetson is to maintain this atmosphere throughout the 7 pieces. He is creating a music so strong that it becomes essential: when a human achievement can rock us out of time, into a non-place, a non-space, where all is just chaos, where life is just a black ocean, without form, without direction, just a movement.
This music is just wonderful.
Colin Stetson: Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Bass Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet
Anouar Brahem “Blue Maqams”
ECM – 2017
Anour Brahem, born in Tunisia in 1957, was 10 when he started playing the oud, first at the conservatory, then with the great master Ali Sriti. His talent was already widely recognized when he signed with ECM in 1989. Since then, he released numerous acclaimed album as “Thimar” (1998), “Astrakan Café” (2000) or Souvenance (2014), playing as a trio, quartet or even more, quite often with different musicians, always having in mind to innovate and fuse music.
“Blue Maquams” is performed as a quartet (clic here if you wonder what a maquam is). The rhythm part is very Jazz with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette; the piano is played by Django Bates… only amazing musicians. The result is even more amazing. Anouar composed all the songs, still letting space for those monsters to give all their talents to serve the songs in the best possible way.
For many years now, Anouar is the one who creates the most poetic music. Even by being more ‘jazz’ he manages to preserve this poetry, creating a delicate and silky state, in which we can only be absorbed. This music is so perfect that it seems impossible to stop it during the audition.
It is perfect.
It is beautiful.
Anouar Brahem: oud | Dave Holland: double bass | Jack DeJohnette: drums | Django Bates: piano
Goran Kajfeš Subtropic Arkestra “The Reason Why Vol. 3”
Headspins Recordings – 2017
Goran Kajfeš is a Swedish trumpeter, with Croatian roots. He is right now the ‘trumpet’ of Stockholm, playing with Angles 9 (and 8), Fire! Orchestra or Oddjob (and their awesome Jazz album for kids). He started to be seriously noticed with his “X/Y” album (winning the Nordic Music Prize), and little after initiated the Subtropic Arkestra project (part of our Best Jazz Albums 2014).
The Subtropic Arkestra has been evolving little since the Vol. 1 but the spirit remains exactly the same. They are looking far out there and choose music from all over the world to interpret it their own way – a post-rock-electronic-cosmic-jazz way – and it is good, very good.
That is all the strength of jazz. It is an opening to others and things. It is, even before trying to understand, something that immediately accepts and integrates. Just as two galaxies merging: as soon as they are close to each other, they must meet. But not without first dancing with each other of course.
Goran Kajfeš: trumpet, synthesizer, electric guitar, percussion | Per “Ruskträsk” Johansson: baritone saxophone, sopranino saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute | Johan Holmegard: drums, percussion | Johan Berthling: electric bass | Robert Östlund: electric guitar | Reine Fiske: electric guitar, mellotron | Jesper Nordenström: organ, electric piano, synthesizer, piano, celesta | Per ‘Texas’ Johansson: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, oboe d’amore | Jonas Kullhammar: tenor saxophone, flute, alto saxophone | Juan Romera: berimbau
Aruán Ortiz “Cub(an)ism”
Intakt Records / 2017
Aruán Ortiz is a Cuban born pianist, now based in Brooklyn. His work incorporates influences from contemporary classical music, Cuban-Haitian rhythms, and avant-garde improvisation; and consistently strives to break stylistic musical boundaries.
He has already released several albums in duo, trio, and even quartet. But this is Aruán first solo recording, focusing on Cuban cubism, adding new influences to his work:
“Cub(an)ism is the result of an in-depth conversation with a range of musical idioms and styles, and various experiences from the phases of Ortiz’ life, in Cuba, Spain, France and the USA, which have formed his eclectic concept of music.”
— Florian Keller, liner notes
A cubic avant-garde jazz – of course – not so much provoking, but rather exploring rhythms, dissonances, and silences. The whole album is fascinating. It has the same strength as Cecil Taylor’s ‘Garden’. A force that attracts, hypnotizes and obliges sensually to remain listening to it entirety.
Aruán Ortiz: piano
Debre Damo Dining Orchestra “DDDO2”
DDDO – 2017
Debre Damo Dining Orchestra is a Danish band based in Copenhagen. They are 6 members with quite diverse backgrounds: rock, afro-beat, jazz, soul, and funk. They released their 1st album one year ago – in 2016 – published on their own label (DDDO).
The art cover is a cut from the oil on canvas “Echo”, by the Alexandre Cabanel. Echo is the nymph that was cursed to not be able to talk first, only being able to repeat the last word said. The reference is on point. Indeed, the purpose of the group is not to revolutionize Ethio Jazz. However, in the original canvas, Echo sits. Here, the extract was flipped. As if Echo fell over, surprised by this music so good her ears would not believe it
Yes, the Ethio Jazz roots are well respected. Still, they manage to add extra layers, sophisticated or dissonant, but always to bring something extra, to make those 6 tracks plain and very special.
The end of the myth of Echo sees her disappear. All that remains is her voice. It will be the same with this music: it will remain for a very long time in our heads, deliciously haunting.
Søren Lyhne Skov: tenor sax | Rasmus Karkov: alto sax | Peder Mertner Vind: keys | Asbjørn Nørgaard: drums | Kasper Saaby: drums | Simon Visti Tang: bass
Aki Rissanen – “Another North”
Edition Records – 2017
Aki Rissanen is a Finnish pianist, born in 1980. He has been studying classical piano for 10 years, then Jazz and improvised music in between Helsinki, Paris, Cologne and New York.
“Another North” is his second release with his trio. The previous one, “Amorandom”, already excellent (it won the Emma Prize for the Best Jazz Album in 2016, the Finnish Grammy) was putting him onto the Jazz radar. But this album is far beyond expectations.
‘There are few characteristic things I wanted to define the sound of the album with. Compared with the more pastoral and lyrical “Amorandom”, the new album concentrates more on hypnotic loops and grooves.’
Aki Rissanen masters rhythms to make complexity accessible, and to balance the imbalance.
The trio works perfectly. A treat for the ears. The entire album will capture your attention, from surprise to surprise, without repetition, without pretension, just perfectly, as Nordic people are known for.
Aki Rissanen: piano | Antti Lötjönen: bass | Teppo Mäkynen: drums
Reflections in Cosmo “Reflections in Cosmo”
RareNoiseRecords – 2017
Reflections in Cosmo is a Norwegian supergroup.
Supergroup? Yes, 4 on-top-of-their-thing-artists, with for each of them a CV longer than the cosmo (being part of Motorpsycho, Monolithic, Møster!, Spidergawd, Bol, Elephant9, Supersilent or Humcrush) playing together as we use to have more commonly in the 70’s and 80’s.
And the comparison with the ‘old time’ is not done yet: the sound and the compositions remind of Frank Zappa’s jazz-rock pieces (this is certainly why I got in so quickly).
Still, Reflections in Cosmo define themselves as ‘rock-jazz’, instead of ‘jazz-rock’, in order to mark the difference with what has been done before while accepting and integrating it. They definitely bring something extra that completely justify the twisted style name. They certainly take it from the jazz point of view, adding some rock feeling, and trash, and noise, and all those elements that make this album so catching and pleasant.
Kjetil Møster: saxophones | Hans Magnus Ryan: guitar | Ståle Storløkken: keyboards | Thomas Strønen: drums
Joana Gama, Luis Fernandes, Ricardo Jacinto “Harmonies”
Clean Feed Records- 2017
Joana Gama is a pianist, focusing on piano performances, and looking towards projects associating music and dance. She released in 2014 a duo with Luis Fernandes, on electronics, and they now extended the group with the cellist Ricardo Jacinto.
“Harmonies” is part of a series of concerts and events around Portugal that celebrated the 150th anniversary of Erik Satie.
“Harmonies was a commission from Teatro Maria Matos, to which other theatres in Portugal joined as co-producers. This was a celebration on its own to Satie´s music and work. The project was originally a stage performance where music and scenography were strongly articulated. Later we decided to record the original music that Joana, Luis and myself wrote for this performance.”
Honestly I do not have the slightest idea of what the scenographic version of this album might look like. But as a book offers more room for imagination than its filmed version, this album is of such strength, sometimes quiet, often tense, it is such an invitation to relaxation that it definitely has an intrinsic unity and beauty. A dark beauty, very dark. Between the hypnosis of an Ash Ra Tempel and an avant-garde production of Clean Feed Records.
Joana Gama: piano | Luis Fernandes: electronics | Ricardo Jacinto: cello, electronics
Vijay Iyer Sextet “Far From Over”
ECM Records – 2017
Vijay Iyer is born in the United States. He has Indian roots, is a scientist (studied at Yale and Berkeley) but above all he is an outstanding musician who plays, composes and has been acclaimed worldwide for quite some years; maybe you were also intoxicated by “Human Nature”. His strength surely comes from this mix of cultures (Indian and American), 15 years of classical violin studies, and his comfort in mathematics and physics.
Vijay is unstoppable. Each new album surprises as much as it pleases. This one responds to a long-term personal search: find an album that will best express a modern city, at night, in which we would walk, wandering randomly. Like a soundtrack that tells us about this city, its stories and its atmospheres.
“Far From Over” is this album. Vijay’s sextet is brilliant. It allows this superposition of layers, these incessant solicitations that a city offers or even imposes on its visitors. The compositions, the complexity, the mix of influences, the rigor, the sound, the impeccable production, everything is here and makes this album an absolute gem; and for me a box ticked.
Vijay Iyer: piano | Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn, electronics | Stephan Crump: bass | Steve Lehman: saxophone (alto) | Mark Shim: saxophone (tenor) | Tyshawn Sorey: drums