A lot has happened in Jazz in 2017, and Jazz feels as fresh and exciting as never before. Kamasi Washington, who got a lot of attention for his 2015 debut records, did a major follow-up release this year. Christian Scott amazes us with a full trilogy, and he continues pushing boundaries for searching the Bop of the future, as do some other members of his band. We also observe a lot of young talent in the London Jazz Scene making an impact in 2017, and I definitively believe that they will be one of the leading forces to further develop Jazz in the years to come.
An amazing year shortlisted for you. This is where Jazz is heading to. Here go the best Contemporary Jazz releases in 2017 in alphabetical order.
Braxton Cook – Somewhere in Between
After several previous EP’s, Saxophonist Braxton Cook, former Christian Scott’s touring member, released a full debut album this year. Brilliant song writing, and Soul-Jazz with R&B undertones. This kind of works is bringing Jazz to a whole new audience.
Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers
No doubt, Cécile McLorin Salvant is one of the best Vocal Jazz artists nowadays. After being awarded a Grammy for her second album Woman Child in 2014, her voice and style have gained even more maturity. Dreams and Draggers is a double album with both own compositions and standards that leave no Jazz fan unmoved.
Ashley Henry - Ashley Henry's 5ive
Ashley Henry is a young breakthrough artist from South-London from whom we are going to hear more often in the years to come. His album under the Jazz re:freshed label is simply outstanding. Piano Jazz has never been such a head-nodding experience, and folks who like Robert Glasper will certainly love this one too.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah - Diaspora
Since the very beginning of his career, Christian Scott has been reinventing Jazz, and yet he never got tired of exploring new approaches to the genre. 2017 has been an extremely fruitful year for him with the three albums forming the Centennial Triology. Diaspora is my personal favourite. There are guest musicians like Braxton Cook or Elena Pinderhughes -from whom Christian Scott said that he would have difficulty to remember how a flute sounded like after he had heard her playing. As always with Christian Scott, you can expect flawless song writing and powerful trumpet solos. This time, as the cherry on the cake, fans get kickass bass vibes and spherical synth background.
Daniel Casimir - Escapee
This year, double bass and bass guitar player Daniel Casimir from Birmingham released an outstanding album under the jazz re:freshed label. Recorded with some of the UK’s best Jazz prodigies, including Moses Boyd on drums, or Shirley Tetteh on the guitar, Escapee is a very mature album with innovative song writing and complex but yet catchy compositions.
Edward Maclean – Me & You
The new album Me & You from double bass player, composer and bandleader Edward Maclean is a very full-fledged statement from an artist who knows the German Jazz Scene inside out. He played with the likes of Jazzanova or Söhne Mannheims, he founded his very own record label r3w records fostering innovative Jazz in Germany, and -last but not least, his tunes just caught my attention this year.
Ezra Collective – Juan Pablo: The Philosopher
After their 2016 debut Chapter 7, the London-based band Ezra Collective established as one of the new wave Jazz influencers in the UK. Somewhere between Afro-Jazz and Hip-Hop, their sound rocks the dancefloor and leaves no one indifferent. Featuring Joe Armon-Jones on piano, Theon Cross on Tuba and Nubya Garcia on Saxophone, this combo brings together some of the most exciting Jazz talent in London.
Gerardo Frisina – Blue Latin
Blue Latin from Gerardo Frisina is a must have on the 2017 short list. Released by Schema records, which produces the new wave jewels of the rich Italian Jazz scene, this album brings Latin Jazz and Afro Jazz to the dancefloor.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Hypnotic Joints
This hypnotic Brass Ensemble from Chicago consists of eight brothers; the sons of trumpeter Phil Cohran. While they have been around for a while under different names, with about 20 albums released, I believe the 2017 album Hypnotic Joins is their most remarkable studio work to date. Solid basslines, robust hip-hop beats on the drums, brilliant solos on the trumpet and saxophone -this album put the notion of a brass ensemble to a whole new level.
Jamie Saft – Loneliness Road
Already on some earlier releases, pianist and composer Jamie Saft from Upstate New York had some guest singers accompanying his piano trio, such as the eclectic Mike Patton from Faith No More and Fantômas. But Loneliness Road with Iggy Pop brings this concept to a new dimension. Iggy Pop’s appearance in three of the albums’ songs leave no doubt of his position as one of the most remarkable and characteristic voices in Rock music whose experience can only add up to a Jazz ensemble. I wish other rock musicians would grow old in such style, hence my deepest respect for Iggy Pop.
Jazzmeira Horn - A Social Call
By many, Texas-born New York-based Jazzmeira Horn is seen as one of the rising vocal talents of these days; and her debut album Social Call, which she has released at the age of 26, puts her definitely on the map. The NY Times loves her "pitched, sassy tone in the highest register". Just listen and love it!
Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference
Only two years after the three-hour masterpiece The Epic, Kamasi Washington released his first follow-up EP. Given the huge success of his debut album, keeping up the level was certainly a challenging task. Harmony of Difference is again a remarkable creative momentum of the Jazz scene in South Central Los Angeles, featuring Miles Mosely or Thundercat, who also released themselves exceptional albums this very year.
Melanie De Biasio – Lilies
Melanie de Biasio from Charleroi, Belgium is the mystic voice everyone wants to hear at a late-night concert. Lilies is her fourth LP, yet its darkness, its simplicity, and its simple bare beauty makes it one of her best studio works to date. Music tastemaker Gilles Peterson praised her as one of the most exciting Jazz artists today; so heads up and listen!
Nubya Garcia – Nubya´s 5ive
Saxophonist Nubya Garcia is a quite active musician in the uprising London Jazz scene. Working with Joe Armon-Jones and Maxwell Owin (check that video here), with Theon Cross and Moses Boyd (check the video there) or with Nérija (excellent live performance here), Nubya Garcia gives stunning live solo performances, no matter the setting she is playing in. Her debut album deserves the highest praise.
Regina Carter - Ella, Accentuate the Positive
A hundred years after the birth of Ella Fitzgerald, Detroit-born violinist Regina Carter created an album with re-interpretation of some of her songs. Having among others Charenee Wade on the microphone and Ben Williams on the double bass, a huge amount of talent has been at work to create this record. I´d describe the album as imaginative, warm and powerful, and I like the positive mood I get when listening to it.
Somi - Petite Afrique
Somi Kakoma, a Harlem-based singer and songwriter of Rwandand and Ugandan descent, recorded a remarkable album this year. Petite Afrique is dedicated to the African-American working class community in Harlem. The record convinces with a remarkable songwriting, and beautiful Afro Jazz arrangements, among others featuring Etienne Charles on trumpet.
The JuJu – Exchange
The Chicago-based quartet The JuJu is a new formation that came together in 2017. None of the band members seems to have any previous roots in Jazz which may be the reason for the surprisingly fresh arrangements. Instead, bandleader Nico Segal was a driving force behind Chance the Rapper and J.Cole. The whole setting feels like a Jazz-HipHop jam session, and that is exactly what is exciting me so much about it. Hear yourself.
Thundercat – Drunk
As one of the new prodigies of the new Los Angeles Jazz scene, following the huge success of Kamasi Washington two years earlier, bassist Thundercat amazes us with his debut album Drunk. He plays his six-string-bass so smooth and fluid like have you never heard it before. And there is such a huge amount of ideas in his compositions, that he could easily have stretched the songs and make a double album out of it. This is clearly one of the best Jazz albums this year.
Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse
Bahraini-British performer, trumpet and bugle player Yazz Ahmed, created a remarkable album that earned the highest respect among Jazz critics this year. She had worked with Transglobal Underground or Radiohead on earlier occasions, and had artists like Kamasi Washington, Yussef Kamaal or Sons of Kemet featuring the recordings of her new album La Saboteuse. It is a must have for fans of forward-thinking Jazz.
Zara McFarlane – Arise
British-Jamaican Soul and Jazz singer Zara McFarlane had huge success with her remarkable 2014 album If You Knew Her. She is one of the most successful artist on Brownswood records, the label of swiss-french-british tastemaker Gilles Peterson. And her follow-up album Arise does not fall short in terms of songwriting quality and deepness. It is great soulful Jazz with world music influences, that will grow on you with each listen.