The Best Jazz Albums of 2014

Here, once again, are my picks for the year's best jazz albums:

Best New Releases:

1. Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 3 (Okeh).
2. Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden, Last Dance (ECM).
3. Kenny Barron & Dave Holland, The Art of Conversation (Impulse!).
4. Ambrose Akinmusire, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note).
5. Fred Hersch, Floating (Palmetto).
6. Sylvie Courvoisier Trio, Double Windsor (Tzadik).
7. The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring (Okeh).
8. Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski, Gathering Call (Palmetto).
9. Frank Kimbrough, Quartet (Palmetto).
10. Paul Bley, Play Blue: Oslo Concert (ECM).

Best Reissues:

1. The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions (Mosaic, 9 CDs).
2. Duke Ellington, Masterpieces by Ellington (Columbia/Analogue Productions, LP).
3. Louis Armstrong & the All Stars, Complete Newport 1956 & 1958 (Mosaic, 4 LPs).

Over the past 12 months, I've blogged about all but a few of these albums (the omissions-Courvoisier, the Dial sessions, and Armstrong—more from neglect than design, though I will be writing soon, at some length, about the remarkable Dial sessions, which render Charlie Parker's classic recordings from the 1940s with more clarity than they've ever been heard).

I elaborate on this list in Slate, with sound clips for each new album, ranging from a minute-long to an entire track. But here are some bonuses for you.

The audiophiles among you must be wondering how these albums sound. Well, I didn't select them on sonic criteria, but they won't disappoint by that standard: only a few rise to the status of ear candy, but none detract from the music.

If I re-arranged that Top 10 list according to their sonic merits, top billing would go to the Jarrett & Haden, followed by Barron & Holland, then Akinmusire, Kimbrough, with the rest trailing not far behind.

As for the reissues, those are the sonic stars this time around. I blogged, just this week, about the glories of Masterpieces by Ellington, recorded in 1950 (that's not a typo), by Fred Plaut and Harold Chapman at Columbia's 30th Street Studio. It's my favorite Ellington album, it ranks high among the best-sounding jazz albums ever, and the Analogue Productions LP is jaw-dropping. Just buy it.

The Dial sessions boxed-set, as I said, I'll be writing about soon. Even if you already have most of these recordings in one format or another (as I do), these discs are worth getting, because they finally let you hear the music with stunning clarity. It's not (the source materials are acetates or wax, not Ampex magnetic tape), but it's remarkable for what it is.

The other Mosaic boxed-set, of Armstrong at the Newport Jazz Festival in the mid-to-late 1950s, is a joyous collection, and the sound, taken from the original 3-track tapes, is sensational, but (and, admittedly, it's a big but) for some occasional distortion on Pops' voice.

All in all, then, it's been a terrible year for much of the world, but a very good year for the salve of jazz.

Allen Fant's picture

I concur FK-

another banner year for Jazz!

handler's picture

I just started with the Sonny Rollins album, streaming on Tidal. What great stuff! Wow.