25 Favorite Sensational Jazz Albums Of 2023

Amazing Jazz For The Ears

What a year it’s been for jazz music! We’ve stumbled upon some incredible finds, both from the U.S. and across the globe. Some of these treasures are flying ‘under the radar,’ and I can’t wait to share them with you. Not to mention, today’s established jazz artists have been bringing out fresh works of music that are simply fantastic.

In this annual JazzBuffalo album roundup, we’re once again taking a ‘favorites’ approach rather than a ‘best-of’ one. We’re all about those albums that are not just great but are a joy to listen to, oozing creativity and irresistible blends of harmonies and melodies that keep us hitting the replay button. It was tough to choose but here are twenty-five albums that I found myself coming back to time and time again. Plus a quick mention of fifteen favorite albums and two Buffalo favorites at the end.

In no particular order, here are 25 favorite jazz albums of 2023 I especially enjoyed and found as favorites:

Martina DaSilva: The 1905

Martina DaSilva’s album, The 1905, is a burst of joy, blending classic tunes with a fresh, energetic vibe. Each member of the ensemble brings a unique dynamic, creating a swinging and fun album that’s truly special. Don’t miss the gem that is the rearranged ‘Singing In The Rain,’ and bassist Russell Hall’s vocals on ‘I Cover The Waterfront/My Ship’ are simply exceptional. DaSilva has taken her ‘Living Room’ concept to new heights with this release. It’s definitely one of my top favorites from 2023!

Joshua Redman: Where Are We

In ‘Where Are We,’ Joshua Redman ventures into fresh territory, weaving lyrical compositions alongside the exquisite vocals of Gabrielle Cavassa. This album explores the importance of places, blending genres seamlessly and beautifully. For example, the brilliant cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Street of Philadelphia” brings a whole new perspective. It’s a departure for Redman, showcasing something truly different and exciting.

Shuteen Erdenebaatar: Rising Sun

Shuteen, a Mongolian pianist currently based in Germany, unveils her debut album—an adventurous and captivating journey into musical splendor. Teaming up with her regular ensemble in Germany, the music features hints of traditional melodies from her homeland. Alongside soprano saxophonist Anton Mangold, the music becomes exceptionally enthralling. Take, for instance, the mesmerizing tune ‘In A Time Warp.’ A listen will transport you through a captivating mosaic of musical sounds for the ears.

George Freeman: The Good Life

This album holds a special place on this list, not just because George Freeman stands as one of the revered jazz guitarists of our time, but also because it marks the final recording session for organist Joey DeFrancesco. The tracks echo classic shuffling blues, offering listeners a toe-tapping, yet relaxed, musical experience. It’s a really good listen!

Diego Rivera: Love and Peace

Diego Rivera presents another masterpiece, “Love & Peace,” following his previous acclaimed album, “Mestizo.” Although working as a quartet instead of a quintet in this project, the album resonates with tremendous artistic brilliance. Rivera skillfully merges his Mexican heritage’s sounds with a straight-ahead jazz approach. One particularly magical moment is found in his mesmerizing and riveting solo rendition of John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama.’ Certainly one of my favorite instrumental albums in 2023.

Vanessa Perea – This Is The Moment

Vanessa Perea’s ‘This Is The Moment’ stands out as an exceptional jazz vocal album. Her tone, expansive range, and compelling storytelling illuminate a stunning collection of songs. The album kicks off with a captivating rendition of a rare Kenny Durham vocal song from 1958, ‘This Is The Moment,’ featuring an opening with just drums that immediately draws you in. I revisited this album frequently, captivated by songs like ‘I Could Write A Book’ and ‘It Amazes Me,’ showcasing Perea’s remarkable vocal technique. Her rendition of Charlie Parker’s ‘Anthropology’ exhibits impressive scatting prowess. With support from an outstanding trio, this album emerged as one of my favorite jazz vocal pieces in 2023.

Hailey Brinnel – Beautiful Tomorrow

Hailey Brinnel, a trombonist and vocalist based in Philadelphia, kicks off her second album with enthusiasm by covering the Disney classic ‘There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.’ Backed by a superb ensemble featuring special guest trumpeter Terell Stafford, the album offers a joyful musical journey, highlighting Brinnel’s impressive vocals, masterful trombone skills, and exceptional arrangements.

Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo – El arte Del Bolero Vol. 2

Volume two of this extraordinary concept expands upon the masterful duo musicianship of Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo. Playing traditional songs from the Bolero tradition, they match the beauty of volume 1 and, perhaps, have surpassed it in terms of building upon the intricacy of the music. The melodic nature of each song captures your soul, and it’s no wonder this picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album.

Richard Baratta – Off The Charts

The concept behind this album is to breathe new life into lesser-known songs by masters like Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea through fresh arrangements. Richard Baratta assembles an exceptional quartet to join him on drums, and the result is captivating. Jerry Bergonzi’s saxophone artistry illuminates the entire album with an innovative tone, while David Kikoski’s piano mastery shines, notably in his performance on the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer song, “Out of This World.”

Brandon Sanders – Compton’s Finest

This album is another instance of a drummer assembling an exceptional ensemble and crafting a superb debut. I particularly enjoyed the warmth of Warren Wolf’s vibraphone, resonating throughout the collection of familiar songs like “Softly In The Morning” and “In A Sentimental Mood.” The presence of jazz vocalist Jazzmeia Horn as a special guest adds a beautiful shine to the album.

Cecilia Smith – The Mary Lou Williams Resurgence Project, Vol. 1

Cecilia Smith’s reverential tribute to Mary Lou Williams is an astonishingly beautiful album. It features tunes either composed by Williams or dedicated to her, including an original piece by Smith titled ‘Sketch 1 – Truth Be Told for MLW.’ Smith’s remarkable performance on the vibraphone adds to the beauty of William’s musical legacy, making it an immensely enjoyable listen.

Dan Wilson – Things Eternal

Dan Wilson’s release of ‘Things Eternal’ serves notice to the jazz world that a truly remarkable guitarist has arrived. Wilson skillfully arranges passionate renditions of songs from Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Sting, and Stevie Wonder, including a superb refreshment of the Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ The album holds a dedication to those whom Wilson, and subsequently us, have lost. The first track begins with the voice of Joey DeFrancesco on a voicemail left for Dan Wilson during his tenure as DeFranceso’s guitarist for his organ trio.

Ed Cherry – Are We There Yet?

Fans who revel in the blend of the Hammond B3 organ sound and masterful guitar musicianship will undoubtedly embrace this album. Ed Cherry, offering both originals and familiar tunes, conjures the spirits of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. What elevates the album to an extraordinary level is the addition of Monte Croft’s vibes. A remarkably enjoyable album.

Isaiah J. Thompson – The Power Of The Spirt

In the world of live albums, this one stood out as a personal favorite of mine in 2023. Isaiah J. Thompson takes a notable leap with only his second album, delivering powerful music filled with an infectious spirit, just as the album title suggests. Recorded at Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Club in Jazz at the Lincoln Center, this album embodies classic soul-jazz, boasting toe-tapping, straight-ahead arrangements. Thompson’s talent promises a lasting presence in the jazz scene, and we’re thrilled to have him with us.

Jae Sinnett’s Zero to 60 Quartet – Commitment

Drummer Jae Sinnett delivers a stellar album, enhanced significantly by the presence of the legendary trumpeter, Randy Brecker. Together, they take on several familiar tunes, like Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Skylark’ and Clare Fischer’s ‘Morning,’ infusing them with a straight-ahead feel bound to captivate many. It’s yet another excellent example of a drummer taking the lead in producing and arranging, resulting in a truly cooking album.

Jim Alfredson – Family Business

If you’re searching for a fantastic Hammond B3 album with a stellar supporting ensemble, this one is a must-add to your collection. Alfredson orchestrates and arranges originals as well as classics such as Lonnie Listen’s ‘Peepin.’ Accompanied by a powerhouse horn section comprising Michael Dease on trombone, Diego Rivera on sax, and Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, alongside the complementary guitar work of Will Bernard. Drummer E. J. Strickland and percussionist Kevin Jones keep the rhythm going strong. It’s undoubtedly my favorite Hammond B3 organ album of 2023—what a swing it is!

Joe Alterman – Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann Big Mo & Little Joe

Renowned jazz pianist Joe Alterman crafts a magnificent album paying homage to the soul-jazz legend Les McCann. Aptly titled, the album features a collection of McCann’s songs, delivered with Alterman’s unique touch. This piano jazz trio album is truly soulful, reflecting Alterman’s enduring connection with McCann, which began when he first met him at the age of 17.

Rachael and Vilray – I Love A Song!

For those seeking an album reminiscent of the ’30s and ’40s swing, Rachael & Vilray’s offering is a gem worth extensive listening to. This beautifully crafted album, featuring Vilray’s original compositions except for one, pays homage to the swinging love songs of that era. It’s a remarkable tribute, especially considering the use of original compositions to evoke that timeless musical vibe.

Lakecia Benjamin – Phoenix

Lakecia Benjamin’s talent on the saxophone shines brightly in her impressive album titled ‘Phoenix.’ This album is a captivating journey through soul and jazz, featuring special guests lending their craft on various instruments. It’s a compelling follow-up to her previous tribute album honoring John and Alice Coltrane. A hard-driving jazz album it is!

Robin McKelle – Impressions Of Ella

To tackle the musical legacy of Ella Fitzgerald demands a certain level of courage. Robin McKelle embodies that bravery and more. By interpreting classics typically linked with Ella, such as ‘Old Devil Moon’ and ‘April In Paris’, McKelle infuses her unique style, tempo, and arrangements to modernize these tracks. What adds to making the album exceptional is the trio supporting her, comprising pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Kenny Washington. It’s truly a worthy effort of our listening and one of my favorite jazz vocal albums of 2023.

Louis Hayes – Exactly Right!

Renowned drummer Louis Hayes orchestrates an album that pays homage to the much-beloved sounds of the quintets from the ’60s. The music springs to life, particularly with the addition of Steve Nelson on vibes. At the age of 85 years and an NEA Jazz Master, Hayes delivers an album that unmistakably reflects a master who has shared the stage with legends like Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, and Grant Green. It’s as though Hayes is proclaiming, ‘Listen closely, this is jazz!’

Michael Dease – The Other Shoe: The Music Of Gregg Hill

One of today’s finest trombonists offers an intriguing album that pairs the trombone with the clarinet, creating a distinctive sound with two low-range instruments. Navigating through the remarkable songs of jazz composer Gregg Hill, this album surprises listeners while maintaining Hill’s magnificent compositions, which feature accents of soul and blues found in classic straight-ahead jazz. It’s a musical journey for both the mind and the soul.

Sultan Stevenson – Faithful One

From overseas emerges the amazing talent of the young London-based pianist and composer Sultan Stevenson. His debut album, ‘Faithful One,’ showcases originals masterfully composed that it’s hard to believe Stevenson is merely 22 years old. True to its title, the album embodies reverence and spirituality with tracks like ‘Prayer,’ ‘Thank You, Thank You God,’ ‘He Has Made Me Whole,’ and ‘Faithful One.’ Denys Baptiste’s tenor saxophone further enriches the spiritual essence, making for a listening experience akin to the late McCoy Tyner. It’s an impressive debut, to say the least.

Terry Gibbs Legacy Band – The Terry Gibbs Songbook

Terry Gibbs has traversed a profound journey in jazz, standing as one of its premier vibraphonists as well as composers. At 98, he recently concluded what might be the culmination of that journey through his son Gerry Gibbs and an exceptional ensemble. This album pays homage to the Terry Gibbs Songbook, consisting of his compositions but notably without a vibraphonist. Instead, the album showcases vocalist Danny Bacher and a dynamic duo of saxophonists, Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen. The result is an uplifting compilation that swings and bounces with great songs. Gerry Gibbs and the fabulous ensemble pay a fantastic homage to the Terry Gibbs Songbook, doing justice to his legacy.

Naama – When Flamingos Fly

Another remarkable discovery this year, Naama, presents a captivating voice accompanied by a stellar trio, blending the beauty of the vibraphone with superbly crafted songs. Originally from Israel and now based in New York City, Naama meshes her delivery with a refreshing sense of one with the music. Backed by Bruce Barth on piano and Dave Baron on bass, the music is nothing short of fantastic. Their blend of melody and harmony serves as a canvas for Naama’s storytelling. Steve Nelson’s vibraphone adds a touch of beauty to each song. With superb renditions of tracks like ‘You Don’t Know Me’ and ‘You Do Something To Me,’ Naama leaves listeners captivated, eagerly wanting to return for another listen.

15 Favorite Mentions

In a year overflowing with fantastic music, the jazz community had an abundance of exceptional listening albums. Here’s a quick list of fifteen more favorites:

Mike Clark – Plays Herbie Hancock

The Heavy Hitters – The Heavy Hitters

Noah Haidu – Standards

Emmet Cohen – Mater Legacy Series Vol. 5 Featuring Houston Person

Terell Stafford – Between Two Worlds

Anthony Hervey – Words From My Horn

Behn Gillece – Between The Bars

Veronica Swift – Veronica Swift

Altin Sencalar – In Good Standng

Mike Jones, Jeff Hamilton, Penn Jillette – Are You Sure You Three Guys Know What You Are Doing?

Bob McChesney – Come Sunday

John Stein – No Goodbyes

Benny Benack, III – Third Time’s The Charm

Sean Mason – The Southern Suite

Lezlie Harrison – Let Them Talk

Mike Melito – To Swing Is The Thing

2 Buffalo Mentions

Buffalo continues to grow as a thriving jazz hub, fostering the talents of the next generation of jazz musicians. Notable among the 2023 releases are trombonist Brendan Lanighan’s Octet and bandleader/drummer John Bacon’s Quintet, showcasing some of the region’s top emerging performers:

John Bacon Quintet – Revolution Blues

Brendan Lanighan Octet – A Little Optimism


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