Best Jazz Albums of 2015

It's that time of the year again. Here are my picks for the 10 Best New Jazz Albums of 2015 and the 3 best reissued/historical albums, with links to reviews that I wrote in this space over the span of the year.

New Jazz:
1. Maria Schneider, The Thompson Fields (ArtistShare)
2. Steve Coleman, Synovial Joints (Pi).
3. Vijay Iyer, Break Stuff (ECM.
4. Fred Hersch, Solo (Palmetto).
5. Charlie Haden & Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Tokyo Adagio (Universal/Impulse!).
6. Dave Douglas, Brazen Heart (Greenleaf).
7. Erik Friedlander, Oscalypso (Skipstone).
8. Ran Blake & Christine Correa, The Road Keeps Winding (Red Piano.
9. Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project, Lines of Color (ArtistShare).
10. John Zorn, Gomory: Book of Angels, Vol.25—Mycale Sings Masada, Book Two (Tzadik).

1. Errol Garner, The Complete Concert by the Sea (3 CDs, Sony Legacy).
2. Gerry Mulligan, The Emarcy Sextet Recordings (5 LPs, Mosaic).
3. Al Cohn & Jimmy Rowles, Heavy Love (Xanadu Master Editions).

I've written a more descriptive list, including a sound clip from each album (in some cases, an entire track, at least for a couple weeks hence), for Slate, where I write a regular column, usually about foreign policy but sometimes about culture.

My choices are based entirely on musical criteria, with no attention paid to sonics. But as a bonus for this blog's readers, here is how I would rank the 10 new recordings for their sound quality: Schneider, Truesdell, Douglas, Zorn, Coleman, Friedlander, Blake/Correa, Iyer, Haden/Rubalcaba, Hersch. (The first three sound excellent; the next three very good; the next is good, and the final three have problems, but not grave enough to keep you from buying the albums. See the linked reviews for details.)

As for the reissues, the Mulligan—recorded in 1955-56 by an uncredited engineer at Mercury (Emarcy was the label's popular-music division) and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Chad Kassem's QRP plant—sounds very, very good. (I only recently received the boxed set and haven't yet reviewed it, though I still may.)

The other two are, let's say, not sonic wonders. The Garner is one of the most famous live jazz albums (with an extra CD's worth of performances not included on the 1955 LP), but no one at Columbia anticipated that the session might be worth releasing, so it sounds distant and a bit muffled. The reissue sounds better than the original, but still . . . The Cohn-Rowles is a wonderful saxophone-piano duet, recorded in the late 1970s, but again not ear candy.

A short list of the year's best-sounding jazz reissues on vinyl would include Music Matters Jazz's 33rpm pressing of Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage and Mobile Fidelity's 45rpm two-LP master of Miles Davis' proto-fusion masterpiece, Filles de Kilimanjaro. What about the MoFi Kind of Blue? Mmmm, more on that soon.

jtshaw's picture

In keeping with your admiration for large ensembles, I also suggest the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's "Over Time: Music of Bob Brookmeyer." Amazon says it was released in August 2014, so maybe not relevant for a 2015 list; still, I did not learn of it until last spring, and it is my favorite of the year after The Thompson Fields.

Maria Schneider's early study with Gil Evans is often noted as important to her career, but I think her time with Bob Brookmeyer proved just as formative. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's take on Brookmeyer is the finest I can recall other than his own late-career work with the New Art Orchestra. I've been surprised in recent years by how much of my appreciation of jazz can be expressed as two to three degrees of Bob Brookmeyer.

Allen Fant's picture

Another banner year for Jazz- FK.
Keep up the excellent work and here is to more Jazz in 2016!

fetuso's picture

Looking forward to exploring these titles. I recently purchased my first music matters LP, grant green's matador. The sonics are spectacular. Worlds beyond RVG's cd remasters, and much better than the 75th anniversary pressings.