10 Great Jazz Albums from 2022
Jazz is everywhere, and you've probably run into it this year even if you weren't looking for it. It informs so much of the great hip hop and electronic music that comes out all the time, and it finds its way into rock and pop and so many other styles of music too. From Kendrick Lamar to Radiohead offshoot The Smile, jazz was a key ingredient in many of this year's most omnipresent records. It was also an amazing year for forward-thinking jazz albums, albums by jazz musicians that embrace the genre's rich history but aren't content to rehash old ideas and regurgitate standards. So many current jazz musicians have been finding ways to combine jazz with other styles of music and push the genre forward, offering up new interpretations of the genre that are firmly planted in the 21st century. There are way too many albums like that released this year to count, but we've picked 10 that we think every music fan should hear, whether you're a jazzhead or not. They're not necessarily the 10 "best" jazz albums of 2022, just 10 that we really like and wanted to shine an extra light on.
Read on for the list, in alphabetical order, and let us know your favorite jazz albums of 2022 in the comments...
Alabaster DePlume - GOLD – Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love
To make his sprawling, 67-minute, 17-song double album GOLD – Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love, London musician Alabaster DePlume recruited over 20 other musicians for a variety of different recording sessions that featured a different lineup each day. He didn't give the musicians enough time to rehearse, giving GOLD its spontaneous feel, and he ended up with 17 hours of sessions that he cut up and edited down to produce the songs that make up this album. It seesaws between roaming jazz odysseys and more of an art pop/sophisti-pop vibe, with Alabaster embracing baritone speak-singing that falls somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Arab Strap. It's both a great pop album and a great jazz album, and it flows perfectly from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Anteloper - Pink Dolphins
Anteloper, the duo of Jason Nazary (drums, synth) and jaimie branch (trumpet, electronics, percussion, vocals), the latter of whom lost her life at age 39 just two months after their sophomore album Pink Dolphins was released. Jaimie had become one of the most innovative forward-thinkers in modern jazz music, and if Pink Dolphins was her unintended swan song, then she went out on one of her highest notes. Jaimie and Jason made it with help from Jeff Parker, who produced, mixed, and played guitar, bass, percussion, and synth. Throughout the album's five tracks, echoes of traditional jazz blend with avant-garde electronics, noise, and psychedelia, and it's often a loud, body-music album informed by hip hop and soundsystem culture as much as it's informed by jazz. The duo cited Sun Ra, Mouse On Mars, J Dilla, and Autechre as influences, and you can hear all of that coming through in this genre-blurring work. Jaimie contributes her own voice to "Earthlings," which was also released as a single, and the pop-friendly song hits even harder as the album's centerpiece, bookended by all the trippy experimentation that appears on either side of it.
Ben Marc - Glass Effect
Glass reflects and refracts light and images in ways that natural air does not, and London musician Ben Marc's debut full-length Glass Effect does the same thing with sound. Pulling equally from jazz, hip hop, and electronic music, it doesn't "blend" genres so much as it bounces them off of each other, looking at the ways in which these styles of music have already interacted with each other, and finding even more ways for them to do so. Ben incorporates spectacular jazz instrumentals, kinetic beatwork, manipulated samples, guest singers and rappers, and more, resulting in a hypnotic soundscape that bridges the gap between Four Tet and Sun Ra. It's easy to see why Ben's attracted the interest of Ethiopian jazz legend Multau Astatke, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, and members of Sons of Kemet, all of whom he's collaborated with. He's an outside-the-box thinker, and Glass Effect is a shapeshifting album that's hard to pin down but easy to love.
The Comet Is Coming - Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam
Even more so than on their previous albums, The Comet Is Coming--the trio of saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (also of Shabaka and the Ancestors and Sons of Kemet), keyboardist Dan Leavers (Danalogue) and drummer Max Hallett (Betamax)--go full-on trance/rave with their latest album, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam. The trio's rhythm section and penchant for blown-out synths makes it futuristic and danceable, while the inherent jazz stylings in Shabaka's sax give it the flavor and expression needed to fit in with the legendary Impulse! catalog.
Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn - Pigments
Dawn Richard has spent the past decade or so pushing the boundaries of R&B in a variety of different directions, while Spencer Zahn has carved out a space in the venn diagram center of jazz, contemporary classical, and ambient music. On Pigments, their first album together, Dawn and Spencer bring out the best in each other and find the quietly thrilling and often unpredictable ways that their musical paths cross. Pigments exists at the crossroads between the pop music world and the jazz/classical world, appealing to fans of both and never fully falling into either. Spencer's instrumentals are among the most warm, blissful compositions I've heard all year, and Dawn's vocals give the songs an accessible side without taking over; it feels like a very egalitarian collaboration, where both artists' contributions come through loudly and clearly. Pigments is the kind of album where songs segue directly into the next and it just starts to feel like one grand piece of work; you're not snapped out of the album's daze until the thumping bass drums of closing track "Umber" finally kick in.
Ezra Collective - Where I'm Meant To Be
Welcome to Ezra Collective's world. It's a world where jazz, hip hop, reggae, Afrobeat, funk, R&B, and salsa are all on a level playing field, and where you're probably hearing at least two or three of those things at once. It's a world where Ini Kamoze's iconic and much-sampled "World-A-Music" is interpolated and turned into Ezra Collective's theme song ("Out in the streets, they call it Ezra"), a world that references Fela Kuti's 1972 Afrobeat classic "Shakara Oloje" and ropes in Zambian rapper Sampa the Great on the same song. Where I'm Meant To Be is the group's strongest and most fully-realized album yet; it's a thrilling, lively album that finds Ezra Collective defiantly knocking down just about every genre barrier they can find. It's an album where you should always expect the unexpected, but it never gets out of hand. For such an ambitious undertaking, Where I'm Meant To Be is among the most fun, welcoming albums released in any genre of music this year.
Jeff Parker ETA IVtet - Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy
Guitarist Jeff Parker's new live double album Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy is comprised of four 20-ish minute tracks recorded across a few live improv sessions with drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Anna Butterss, and alto saxophonist Josh Johnson at the Enfield Tennis Academy in LA in 2019. If that sounds messy and overwhelming on paper, you might be surprised at just how tight and hypnotizing it is in execution. Both Parker and Johnson employed loop pedals that allowed them to mimic the effects of samples and electronic music in a live setting, and the album's secret weapon is Jay Bellerose, whose playing feels more inspired by boom bap-era hip hop beats than traditional jazz drumming, and who gives Mondays a backbeat that you just can't stop nodding along to.
Kokoroko - Could We Be More
Co-founded in 2014 by trumpeter/vocalist Sheila Maurice-Grey (who also plays alongside Nubya Garcia in Nérija) and drummer Onome Edgeworth, the many-membered London collective Kokoroko made their mark with an appearance on Gilles Peterson's 2018 compilation We Out Here, and this year they finally released their first full-length album, Could We Be More. A concoction of jazz, Afrobeat, Afrobeats, highlife, Caribbean music, and psychedelic funk and soul, Could We Be More connects the dots between a wide variety of eras and regions and styles of music impacted by and derived from the African diaspora. It's a beautiful record, and the occasional vocal turn gives it a little crossover appeal without sacrificing the potency of the jazz instrumentals.
Makaya McCraven - In These Times
The avenue thats jazz most frequently finds its way into contemporary popular culture is through hip hop, and Makaya McCraven is a jazz musician who pays that back, owing as much to artists like Madlib and J Dilla as he does to the classic Blue Note catalog. Rejecting the notion that jazz is a fixed form of music, relegated to the halls of music conservatories, Makaya makes jazz that's thrillingly and defiantly modern. He recorded In These Times with 15 other musicians, and Makaya himself did use a sampler and synths on the album, but even when it's totally live music, Makaya and his band often mimic the sound of cut-up samples. Soaring horn lines, sweeping strings, and twinkling pianos are set against neck-snapping hip hop beats; In These Times is a jazz album that you can really groove to. It's never complex for the sake of complexity, never so calm that it falls into the background. It's music that feels alive, and when you listen to it, you feel the same.
Shabaka - Afrikan Culture
It's been a big year for Shabaka Hutchings. His beloved group Sons of Kemet played their final shows before "closing this chapter of the band’s life for the foreseeable future," his aforementioned trio The Comet Is Coming released a new album, and he also put out his first solo record, Afrikan Culture. While The Comet Is Coming's new album finds Shabaka fusing his jazz roots with rave culture, his solo debut combines jazz with ambient music, not unlike last year's highly-acclaimed Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders album. Shabaka said the album "was made around the idea of meditation and what it means for me to still my own mind and accept the music which comes to the surface," and he achieved its soothing sound by layering together wind instruments, bells, and the occasional humming or guitar or other light embellishments. It's the most calming music that Shabaka's ever made, but it never becomes background music; it's always strangely engrossing.