My Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2017

It's that time of the year when I shift away from the world's calamities to some of its finest achievements (for a minute anyway), which is to say, here is my list of the best jazz albums of 2017. Elaborations, with sound clips (often links to entire tracks) can be found in the version that I've written of this for my main gig at Slate, though followers of this blog will note—and will be reminded in some of the links below—that I've covered some of these albums in this space over the year. Also, below the list, I've jotted down a few things of interest for Stereophile readers.

The best (or at least my favorite) new albums:

1. Cecile McLorin Salvant, Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue, 2 CD/3 LP).
2. Jason Moran, MASS {Howl, eon} (Yes Records, CD).
3. Various artists, Celebrate Ornette (Song X, 3 CD/4 LP + 2 DVD).
4. William Parker Quartets, Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity, 2 CD).
5. Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, The Music of John Lewis (Blue Engine, CD).
6. Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse, Morphogenesis (Pi Recordings, CD).
7. Jason Moran's Bandwagon Trio, Thanksgiving at the Vanguard (Yes Records, CD).
8. Vijay Iyer Sextet, Far from Over (ECM, CD, LP).
9. Dave Douglas with The Westerlies, Little Giant Still Life (Greenleaf, CD).
10. Wadada Leo Smith, Solo—Reflections and Meditations on Monk (Tum, CD).

The best (or, again, my favorite) historical albums that have never been released before:

i. Bill Evans, Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (Resonance, CD / LP).
ii. Thelonious Monk, Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records/Saga, CD / 2 LP).
iii. Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly, Smokin' in Seattle (Resonance, CD / LP).
iv. Taj Mahal, Labor of Love (Analogue Productions, 2 LP).
v. Jaco Pastorius: Truth, Liberty & Soul—Live in NYC: The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording (Resonance, 2 CD/3 LP).

The crucial question, though: How do these albums sound? The short answer: They all sound good or better; most of them sound very good.

To get specific: The best-sounding new album is also the best, period: Cecile McLorin Salvant's Dreams and Daggers, especially the vinyl pressings. The best-sounding historical album is the Taj Mahal, available only as a double-QRP pressing. One unexpected note: The 1960 Monk album sounds better on CD than on LP. Go figure.

Happy holidays—and merry listening—to all!

BradleyP's picture

Totally agree about Dreams and Daggers. I've never heard a recording engineered quite like it. The vocals have no discernible reverb and are close miked, but it's all right. The feel and sound of a live jazz venue and performance comes through more palpably in this recording than in any other I can think of. Oh, and Salvant is an extraordinary talent on top of her game. More, please!

Laurence Svirchev's picture

Monk's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960" is not only one of the great recordings issues in 2017. It is also one of Monk's more outstanding works from a guy who simply did not make anything less than amazing music. Furthermore it has more or less escaped the attention of the jazz press. The exceptions are Fred's review and my own extended essay in ""
Every critic has their favorites and mine would include "Ghost Lights" an extended improvisation by Francois Houle, Gord Grdina, Kenton Loewet and Benoit Delbecq on Tony Reif's great sounding Songlines label, and "The Samuel Blaser Trio" on hat art to give readers the idea that jazz long ago became an international music. Happy listening no matter what your favorites are!