A Year of Fantastic Jazz Albums for Great Listening Enjoyment
After a few years of constraints by the pandemic, it seems the jazz world made strides in regaining a steady stream of new releases. New albums that are offering jazz fans and listeners spectacularly artistic achievements. An exceptional treasure trove of albums identifies the year 2022 in jazz.
In this latest JazzBuffalo annual look at albums, we remind readers we take a “favorite” approach as opposed to a “best” approach. Using such attributes as enjoyable listening, creativity, and the subjective notion of music you just want to listen to repeatedly.
In no particular order, here are 25 favorite jazz albums of 2022 we especially enjoyed:
Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Mingus
Herwig’s knack for producing “the Latin Side” albums strikes again. In this edition, he takes on the formidable Charles Mingus and succeeds with an energetic and rousing album that is simply a great listen. The band is loaded with top performers who produce great sound and give new life to the music of Mingus.
Harvie S and Roni Ben-Hur with Sylvia Cuenca: Wondering
A swinging jazz guitar trio album with astounding chemistry. Premier bassist Harvie S shines and the duets with the full sound of Roni Ben-Hur on guitar are remarkable. Cuenca’s touch on drums produces a subtle swing that will cause you to listen to this album more than a few times.
Bruce Barth Trio: Dedication
Barth describes this album as a dedication to those who inspired him. Such as McCoy Tyner on the tune “Let’s Go” – and “go” it does! A terrific soloist, his piano mastery jumps off this album with astute clarity. Bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Montez Coleman rev up spellbinding rhythms to create a marvelous jazz piano trio listen.
Amina Figarova Sextet – Joy
Amina Figarova’s music is characterized by sweeping symphonic orchestrations coming from a sextet. A remarkable feat. Joy has several tunes that Figorava tells us are “joyful expressions” coming out of the pandemic. Beautiful music from the Azerbaijani-born pianist. From the title track to the multi-layered but accessible tune “Ruby at Play”, you cannot help but get mesmerized by her compositions. One of the truly terrific composers in jazz today.
Diego Rivera – Mestizo
A fiery album that bridges straight-ahead jazz with Rivera’s descendent Mexico-Chicano roots. You cannot but help embrace the festivity of the music yet equally admire the innovative compositions and arrangements that result from the blend. From the traditional sounds incorporated into “Bracero” to the emotional “Canción De Cuna,” the album evokes relevancy to both yesterday and today for all those who strive to cross the border with hopes and dreams for a better life. Make no mistake though – there are some knock-out straight-ahead tunes such as the title track.
Pete Malinverni – On The Town
The sublime pianist Pete Malinverni subtitled this album “Plays Leonard Bernstein” and it is quite the tribute. We get Bernstein’s Broadway classics from West Side Story as well as On The Town performed masterly by the trio with the superb Ugonna Okegwo on bass and the legendary Jeff Hamilton on drums. The three make for a swinging and rhythmic album Bernstein surely would have appreciated.
PLUME – Holding On
Every year, you can happenstance across an album from someone you have not heard of that gets your attention. I think for many, PLUME, a French-based saxophonist will be the case. On his second album, he presents all originals with the exception of one – Coltrane’s “Naima,” which is a beauty. Featuring drummer extraordinaire Gregory Hutchinson, the album cooks with vibrant sounds and energy. The compositions are creative with elements of the past mixed in with a unique new sound for the future such as in the title track. A good find indeed.
Bill O’Connell – A Change Is Gonna Come
A mix of seven originals and three arrangements, the stellar pianist, composer, and arranger produces an album meant to uplift us out of the COVID blues. Known for his Latin-infused compositions, we find such on “Sun for Sunny.” Yet, we find him swinging and bluesy as in the tune “Covid Blues.” The album came out in early 2022 and earmarked a way for the jazz community to get out of the blues of the pandemic. The tune “Enough is Enough” magnificently performed by the superb ensemble says it all. An uplifting listen it is.
Avishai Cohen Trio – Shifting Sands
From one of the great bassists in jazz comes an exceptionally captivating album. You are drawn into a journey right from the start with the intoxicating melodies floating in the composition “Intertwined.” The Azerbaijani pianist Elchin Shirinov is masterful and the young drummer Roni Kaspi, just 21 years old, makes for a formidable trio. The music has a driving force throughout as Cohen’s bass anchors the entire album with gripping bass lines. A most impressive album.
Marquis Hill – New Gospel Revisited
The rising star trumpeter and composer signals his amazing growth as an artist over the past decade by revisiting his 2011 independently released New Gospel album. The Chicago-based musician collects an ensemble of performers influential to his own rise over the past ten years and showcases the music in a new light. Drummer Kendrick Scott, Vibraphonist Joel Ross, and Pianist James Francies add new twists to tunes like “Law and Order” and “Autumn.” We hear the creativity and improvisation of a live recording that makes for beautiful artistic jazz. Well worth the revisit!
Deanna Witkowski – Force of Nature
Many would agree that Mary Lou Willams was a force of nature in her era. Strikingly powerful compositions. Witkowski, who has studied Williams for several years, produces a true tour de force tribute album. A graceful pianist, she brings grace to hard swing and blues complemented on four tunes by the fine trumpeter Clay Jenkins. Witkowski dives into the classics “Zodia Suite” and “Mary Lou’s Mass” with exceptional artistry, arranging, and trio musicianship.
Miguel Zenón – Música De Las Américas
The multiple Grammy® nominated saxophonist and composer tackles history in his most ambitious project yet. Música De Las Américas is intended to pay homage to how the Americas were before European colonization. Continuing his unique signature of blending cultural music with the essence of jazz. The outcome here is an epic production with his long-standing quartet. Exemplified by the hypnotic rhythm of the outstanding composition “Tainos Y Caribes.” Zenón continues to amaze both as a musician and a composer. Picking up his 10th and 11th Grammy® nominations this year. This just may be his grandest effort to date and certainly worthy of a Grammy®.
Redman, Mehldau, McBride, Blade – Long Gone
After the masterful four jazz artists got together after a long absence to produce Round Again in 2020, the mighty foursome decided to keep the chemistry fresh. Their performances echo a hand-in-glove feel that is made possible by the longevity of their friendships. This time around, the keys to the album were given to Joshua Redman as all of the compositions are his. Redman’s signature modernistic sound can be heard on “Disco Ears.” Fittingly, the album ends with a live recording of their 1994 composition “Rejoice” from the album Moodswing. When these four masters reunite, we can rejoice for sure.
Aimée Allen – Love and the Catalyst
In her follow-up to her excellent Wings Uncaged album, Aimée Allen once again gives a deeply personal effort. Allen is one jazz vocalist who you can say takes time to artfully craft music and lyrics aimed at providing music with meaning. This album has to do with post-pandemic change, love, and relevant topics of the day. A mix of fabulously arranged covers (Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” and a tribute to Chick Corea (“Crystal Silence / 500 Miles High”) with some socially conscious penned originals (for example –“Earth is Waiting” about climate change) make for enjoyable and interesting listening (Allen includes her lyrics on the CD). She assembles a crack A-team to support this work of art – Grammy Award-nominated pianist Toru Dodo, world-renowned bassist François Moutin, drummer Kush Abadey, guitarist Tony Romano, and trumpeter Noah Allen, who happens to be her cousin.
Steve Davis – Bluesthetic
One of the finest trombonists in jazz follows up with another release on Smoke Session Records. An album that literally smokes with a smoking-hot ensemble. The combination of guitar (Peter Bernstein) and vibes (Steve Nelson) gives the tunes a unique sound that surprises and swings infectiously. What sets this album apart are ten terrific originals composed by Davis. Just as the album title and title track suggest, the music is bluesy yet artistic. The stellar ensemble swings. A good toe-tapping listen.
Steve Turre – Generations
The run of great trombonists continues as we note this gem from one of the premier of them all, Steve Turre. In Generations, Turre leads an ensemble of younger next-generation players, including his son on drums, in a lively set of music. Turre begins with “Planting the Ceed,” which exemplifies his way of exhorting the ensemble to rise to a new level. Rise they do with great sound and musicianship. The next-gen players allow Turre to bridge modernistic approaches with an electronic keyboard and blend reggae in the song “Don D.”
Emmet Cohen – Uptown in Orbit
As someone who has followed Cohen’s journey for a few years, this amounts to as close a breakthrough album as you can get. The opening track, “Finger Buster” from the late Willie “The Lion” Smith, gives us the obligatory stride mastery Cohen is noted for. Then he wastes no time in his dedication to Harlem and Duke Ellington with an astonishing arrangement and performance of “Uptown in Orbit.” In his original “Spillin’ the Tea,” Cohen once again takes us to the land of stride with Kyle Poole tapping out tap-dancing-like rhythms on drums. Cohen’s admirable sense of timing shows up in the classic tune “Li’l Darlin” as he takes the song to a slow stroll tempo. A marvelous listen it is.
Andrea Bracfeld & Insight – EVOLUTION
Let me clue you in if you have not heard the name before. Andrea Bachfeld is one of the finest flutists in jazz. Insight is her trio of pianist Bill O’Connell, bassist Harvie S, and drummer Jason Tiemann. Fantastic they are and the four create a captivating album driven by Brachfeld leading the way. Her solo on “Decimation of Transformation” is sublime and a wonder. O’Connell’s piano is superb on “What’s Up” as is the trio’s musicianship throughout. Those who enjoy the beauty of the flute in the realm of jazz will find themselves listening to this album repeatedly.
Michael Weiss – Persistence
The New York City-based pianist Michael Weiss assembles a lively quartet that includes saxophonist extraordinaire Eric Alexander. For fans of a New York City jazz vibe, this album has that feel. The playing is vibrant and you can picture a club filled with people nodding their heads in rhythm. Their version of Monk’s “Epistrophy” edifies the quartet’s fabulous chemistry. Weiss as a pianist is flowing energy that you can hear on “Aprés Vous.” The title track is apt in describing the quartet. They put on display a persistent pace of solos by Alexander and energetic piano trio music with Paul Gill on bass and Peter Van Nostrand on drums throughout the album.
Grant Stewart Quartet – The Lighting of the Lamps
The esteemed tenor saxophonist is joined by the terrific trumpeter Bruce Harris on an album for those who love great horn playing. There is a boldness to their efforts that starts off with Clifford Jordan’s great tune, “Little Spain.” Stewart reaches into the vault of classic bebop/hard bop songs such as Dexter Gordan’s version of “I’m a Fool to Want You.” The tenor/trumpet combination with Bruce Harris is stellar making this one of the favorites of 2022 not to be missed.
Melissa Stylianou – Dream Dancing
A delight that is my personal jazz vocal album favorite of the year. If you are a fan of the yesteryear sounds of Blossom Dearie and Anita O’Day in trio settings, you will enjoy this album repeatedly. Stylianou masters the Great American Songbook with the venerable Gene Bertoncini on acoustic guitar and Ike Sturm on bass. Listen to “Perdido” and marvel at the interplay between Stylianou and Bertoncini. Stylianou stands out in her vocals for the way she excels at being in synch instrumentally. Check out her duet with bassist Ike Sturm on “Time’s a-Wasting'” – a gem it is.
Owen Broder – Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1
In Owen Broder’s latest project, Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1, he taps into the sound of Hodges and pays tribute to his sound as well as adventures with small groups in the 1950s. Broder aims at capturing the unmistakable swing that can be found in the music of Johnny Hodges. Two tunes that exemplify this on Broder’s Hodges: Front and Center album release are “Royal Garden Blues” and “Take The ‘A’ Train.” Close your eyes and listen to “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” so you can catch swing fever and be taken back to an era of when letter writing meant something.
Enrico Pieranunzi – The Extra Something (Live)
Pieranunzi is an Italian piano master, composer, and arranger who has spent most of his jazz journey in Europe. Certainly glad he was recorded live at the Village Vanguard in a fiery concert fronted by the amazing horns of Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone and Diego Urcola on trumpet and trombone. The driving force of Ben Street’s bass anchors the group on the song “Entropy” for what is the kind of live performance you dream about if you are lucky enough to get in the Village Vanguard on a packed night. A great performance by a great quintet and a great piano master.
Antonio Adolfo – Octet and Originals
For the past decade, Antonio Adolfo has released an album a year. The Brazilian Latin Jazz pianist, composer, and arranger winds up on many best and favorite lists each year. For good reason. His music blends a swinging tempo with Brazilian rhythms that has set him apart. In this latest album, he offers us originals after a series of tribute albums in the past few years. “Heart of Brazil” starts off the album and it is a beauty filled with Adolfo’s signature arrangements and amazing horns. The song title tells you what the music is all about.
Michael Dease – Best Next Thing
Another superb trombonist delivers a gem of an album in 2022. Michael Dease gets things started with an uplifting version of Steve Turre’s “Rainbow People.” In this effort, Dease pays homage to lesser-known tunes from the likes of Renee Rosnes, Claudio Roditi, Charles Tolliver, and Rus Reid. Yet, presents originals such as “Parker’s Brood,” which is performed in classic bebop fashion. The ensemble, listed on the album cover, is first-rate and performs magnificently with fervent energy. A good listen this is.
In a year that saw a terrific abundance of fantastic music, there is no shortage of great listening albums for the jazz community. Here is an added quick dozen list of favorite mentions:
Carmen Lundy – Fade to Black
Alan Broadbent Trio – Like Minds
Samara Joy – Linger Awhile
Blue Moods – Myth & Wisdom
Azar Lawrence – New Sky
Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand
John Patitucci Trio – Live in Italy
Jocelyn Gould – Golden Hour
Spike Wilner Trio – Plays Monk & Ellington
Charlie Ballantine – Falling Grace
Roxy Cross – Disparate Parts
Eliane Elias – Quietude