Jazz Record of the Year 2018: The JJ Critics’ Poll


    Editor’s note:
    Jazz Journal critics were invited to allot 100 points to 10 choices from the albums reviewed in Jazz Journal in 2018, with a maximum of 20 points per choice. After unhurried, seemly and properly thorough reflection, the results, plus critics’ comments on the year (do read those for reflections on their choices and the scene in general), are finally here. Did they arrive at a consensus from the list of 937 CDs from around the world that we reviewed in 2018, with no whittling down or arbitrary filtration through editor or panel “nomination”?

    After much collation and number-crunching, the answer is that the “new” Coltrane was a rather predictable winner with a soaraway 70 points, far above anything else. There were a lot of 20s, so discounting those, the decisive winners were those with 21 points and more, as listed below. Now on to the next year, as CDs continue to flood in.

    John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse) … 70
    Kurt Elling The Questions (Okeh) … 45
    John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension with Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip Live in San Francisco (Abstract Logix) … 37
    Pat Martino Formidable (HighNote) … 35
    Bobo Stenson Trio Contra la Indecisión (ECM) … 30
    Oscar Peterson / Fred Astaire The Astaire Story (Essential Jazz Classics) … 30
    Charles Lloyd / The Marvels / Lucinda Williams Vanished Gardens (Blue Note) … 25
    Gerry Mulligan Four Classic Albums (Third Set) (Avid) … 25
    Michael Wollny Wartburg (ACT) … 25
    Miles Davis Birth of the Cool (Essential Jazz Classics) … 25
    Nils Økland Band Lysning (Hubro) … 25
    Brad Mehldau After Bach (Nonesuch) … 23
    Richie Beirach Inborn (Jazzline) … 21

    Wadada Leo Smith Solo Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM) … 10
    Django Bates’s Belovèd The Study of Touch (ECM) … 10
    Anouar Brahem Blue Macams (ECM) … 10
    Martial Solal Solo Piano: Unreleased 1966 Los Angeles Sessions, Volume 1 (Fresh Sound) … 10
    Nils Økland Band Lysning (Hubro) … 10
    Alina Bzhezhinska Inspiration (Ubuntu) … 10
    Tigran Hamasyan For Gyumri (Nonesuch) … 10
    Fred Hersch Trio Live in Europe (Palmetto) … 10
    Gordon Beck Jubilation! Trios, Quartets and Septets in Session 1964–1984 (Turtle) … 10
    Marcin Wasilewski Trio Live (ECM) … 10

    While I have listened to and enjoyed a lot of new jazz this year, I have not been that inspired. Nothing has really grabbed me by the ears. So my annual list is a tad retro, dominated by piano solos and trios, both old and new, plus some fine outliers. I could have added in the second volume of Solal’s fine Los Angeles sessions or further ECM sets from the Jarrett trio, Elina Duni, and Sinan/Büyükberber, but the rule of 10 must be obeyed.

    Andy Sheppard Romaria (ECM) … 10
    Sons of Kemet Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse) … 10
    Dinosaur Wonder Trail (Edition Records) … 10
    The Nels Cline 4 Currents, Constellations (Blue Note) … 10
    Lorraine Baker Eden (Spark) … 20
    Michel Petrucciani One Night in Karlsruhe (Jazz Haus) … 5
    Thelonious Monk Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records) … 5
    Makaya McCraven Universal Beings (IARC) … 10
    Charles Lloyd / The Marvels / Lucinda Williams Vanished Gardens (Blue Note) … 10
    Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau Long Ago & Faraway (Impulse!) … 10

    I’ve really enjoyed being shaken up by young Britishers Dinosaur frontwoman Laura Jurd, newcomer Lorraine Baker and proto-revolutionaries Shabaka Hutchings’ Sons of Kemet doing their startling thing; ditto the Americans Nels Cline and Makayan McCraven for their energy and attack. In quieter moments I surrendered to the reliably sublime ear balm of messrs Lloyd, Haden and Sheppard respectively.

    Philip Catherine Selected Works 1974-1982 (Warner/Milan) … 10
    John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse) … 10
    Dizzy Gillespie Live at Singer Concert Hall (Fondamenta) … 10
    Dexter Gordon Tokyo 1975 (Elemental) … 10
    Dexter Gordon Espace Cardin 1977 (Elemental) … 10
    Fletcher Henderson A Study in Frustration (Poll Winners) … 10
    Lillette Jenkins The Music of Lil Armstrong (Chiaroscuro) … 10
    Lewis Porter Three Minutes to Four (Whaling City Sound) … 10
    Dean Stockdale Origin (Dean Stockdale Music) … 10
    Various The Savory Collection 1935-40 (Mosaic) … 10

    It’s surely impossible to keep up with all the new names that appeared in JJ in 2018. My own inability to do so is clear from the number of familiar people above. However I’m pleased to be able to say that my choices include three CDs featuring pianists I’d never heard before last year: Lillette Jenkins, Lewis Porter (who’s also a writer) and Dean Stockdale. All are rewarding, but in very different ways. To balance that there’s previously unissued music from four of the brightest stars jazz has known: Coltrane, Gillespie, Gordon (a double ration) and Lester Young (with Basie on the Savory Collection). Amazing.

    Sinne Eeg Dreams (Stunt) … 10
    Till Brönner/Dieter Ilg Nightfall (Okeh) … 10
    Alan Barnes/David Newton Ask Me Now (Woodville) … 10
    Rebecca Kilgore/Bernd Lhotsky This and That (Arbors) … 10
    Ken Peplowski Sunrise (Arbors) … 10
    Daryl Sherman Lost in a Crowded Place (Audiophile) … 10
    Cyrille Aimée Live (Mack Avenue) … 10
    Don Ellis Shock Treatment/Autumn (Beat Goes On) … 10
    Dinah Washington / Quincy Jones The Complete Sessions (Essential Jazz Classics) … 10
    Cecile McLorin Salvant The Window (Mack Avenue) … 10

    My short list of 22 was evenly divided between new releases and reissues, although this breakdown shifted until only two reissues remained. Inclusion here of six vocal albums might well be a reaction against singers being too often overlooked in year-end polls. Victims of the final cut were the Basie-ites with Beverly Kenney, two by Wes Montgomery, Mark Murphy, Jeff Hamilton, another Don Ellis, Susan Krebs, Carmen McRae, Mica Bethea, Erroll Garner, Shirley Crabbe and the Fletcher Henderson box set. The title of the last sums up my feelings at the unjustifiable neglect all too often shown toward singers.

    John Taylor Trio Decipher (MPS) … 10
    Volker Kriegel Spectrum (MPS) … 10
    The Eleventh House Featuring Larry Coryell Level One (Floating World) … 10
    Dinosaur Wonder Trail (Edition Records) … 10
    The Trio Incantation – The Dawn Recordings 1970-1971 (Esoteric) … 10
    John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse) … 10
    Travis & Fripp Between the Silence (Panegyric) … 10
    John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension with Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip Live in San Francisco (Abstract Logix) … 10
    Mike Gibbs Festival 69 (Cherry Red) … 10
    Camilla George The People Could Fly (Ubuntu Music) … 10

    It’s impossible to praise highly enough what Edition is doing for contemporary jazz and Dinosaur’s second album is proof of this, easily ranking as my record of the year. Similarly, Cherry Red and Esoteric stable mate labels are constantly searching for and revisiting some of the true gems of British jazz as with The Trio’s and Mike Gibbs’ brilliant recordings. Also impossible to ignore was Coltrane’s lost treasure which, whilst not perfect, qualifies as a major release, as its joyous opener testifies. Happily, John McLaughlin continues to make outstanding records even in retirement boding well for his 2019 concerts.

    Emmeleuth’s Amoeba Polyp (Øra Fonogram) … 10
    The End Svårmod och vemod är värdesinnen (RareNoise) … 10
    Get The Blessing Bristopia (self-published) … 10
    Maniscalco, Bigoni, Solborg Foil (ILK) … 10
    Mopo Mopocalypse (We Jazz Records) … 10
    Møster! States of Minds (Hubro Music) … 10
    Bobby Previte Rhapsody (RareNoise) … 10
    Run Logan Run The Delicate Balance of Terror (Weizenbaum) … 10
    Jamie Saft Solo a Genova (RareNoise) … 10
    Joshua Trinidad In November (RareNoise) … 10

    As usual, my list mostly consists of “jazz-plus” recordings. Whether the “plus…” is prog rock or electronica or free improvisation or whatever else, for me they tend to result in more interesting and/or unique music. To pick on a few… Maniscalco, Bigoni & Solborg are always an intricate joy, Bobby Previte & Co execute ambitious music with deceptive ease, and The End are literally and figuratively a total blast. And finally, just to underline the subjectivity of music appreciation, both Get The Blessing and Møster! received less-than-generous reviews in JJ this year, and yet to me they are both excellent, possibly unmissable albums. Visca la diferència!

    Various The Savory Collection 1935-40 (Mosaic) … 10
    Teddy Wilson Classic Brunswick Columbia Sessions 1934-42 (Mosaic) … 10
    Ornette Coleman The Atlantic Years (Atlantic) … 10
    Mike Westbrook Concert Band The Last Night at the Old Place (Cadillac) … 10
    Kurt Elling The Questions (Okeh) … 10
    Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette After the Fall (ECM) … 10
    Bobo Stenson Trio Contra la Indecisión (ECM) … 10
    Louis Armstrong The University of Louis Armstrong 1925-26 (HQ Discs) … 10
    Sidney Bechet Essential Original Albums (Masters of Music) … 10
    Nat King Cole The Complete Nelson Riddle Studio Sessions (Music Milestones) … 10

    More reissues than new releases on my 2018 list, possibly reflecting the age-old problem of reviewers never being able to listen to as much contemporary music as they’d like – hence the music we choose often falls into the “these we have loved” category. However it is hard to argue against the inclusion of the Bechet, Armstrong and Coleman discs in any such poll.

    Louis Armstrong All-Stars Live in Vancouver 1951 (Upbeat) … 10
    Miles Davis Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud (State of Art) … 10
    Norma Winstone Descansado: Songs for Films (ECM) … 10
    Gerry Mulligan Four Classic Albums (Third Set) (Avid) … 10
    Mark Cherrie Quartet Joining the Dots (Trio) … 10
    Kurt Elling The Questions (Okeh) … 10
    XPQ Sidekick (Trio) … 10
    Echoes of Swing Travelin’ (ACT) … 10
    Guy Lafitte Quartette & Quintette (Fresh Sound) … 10
    Erroll Garner Night Concert (Mack Avenue) … 10

    Five new, four reissues and one half-and-half. I’ve heard a lot of steel-pan playing over the years, but never anything as immaculately cool as Mark Cherrie’s, and a lot of singers keen to “break the mould”, but none as boldly original as Kurt Elling, nor as gently persuasive as Norma Winstone. Similarly, there’s no other band in the world remotely like Echoes of Swing. Admittedly, there are other tenor-and-guitar partnerships, but few with the sheer brio of Vasilis Xenopoulos and Nigel Price. Louis, Miles, Gerry Mulligan and Guy Lafitte are no longer with us, and we’re lucky to have these examples, each one close to his characteristic best. As for Erroll, the bits of this concert that came out years ago gave no hint of the endless resourcefulness revealed here.

    Richie Beirach Inborn (Jazzline) … 10
    John Coltrane Giant Steps (Green Corner) … 10
    Miles Davis Birth of the Cool (Essential Jazz Classics) … 10
    Kurt Elling The Questions (Okeh) … 10
    Pat Martino Formidable (HighNote) … 10
    John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension with Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip Live in San Francisco (Abstract Logix) … 10
    John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension Live @ Ronnie Scott’s (Abstract Logix) … 10
    Django Reinhardt The Best Of / 24 Classic Jazz Performances (State of Art) … 10
    Spanish Harlem Orchestra Anniversary (ArtistShare) … 10
    Dave Tull Texting and Driving (Toy Car) … 10

    As ever, a wealth of wonderful music was reviewed in Jazz Journal last year, in such volume (937 albums) that barely a human, let alone critic, could hear it all. So here’s a selection that I did hear and were pleasing or even exceptional. The new exceptionals were Elling (as always), McLaughlin (partly for giving platform to the unsung Herring, a fusion guitar master) and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra for riveting versions of old-school salsa, complete with tremendous solos including one from veteran NY salsa sideman Randy Brecker. The old exceptionals are the Miles Davis nonet, ever a landmark masterpiece of modern harmony and arranging, the bebop-changes apotheosis Giant Steps, pathfinder for much that followed in harmonically happening jazz of the 60s and 70s, and Europe’s great individualist, Reinhardt.

    I didn’t vote for much mainstream, but I love loads of it and there is a fantastic selection in the complete 2018 review list – not least the very amusing Dave Tull. It’s just that it is superseded by later developments. Though not as late as much recent “new” output which seems so often to be reinventing the wheel at great volume – volume in both senses from publicists, that is. I’m pleased also not to have voted for everywhere man Gregory Porter – a fine, derivative singer way over-exposed by the establishment, as represented by the BBC. Another branch of the establishment, London’s Southbank Centre, is actually in danger of out-clichéing the Beeb by appointing the groundbreaking but ubiquitous Nile Rodgers as “curator” of its 2019 Meltdown series. On that anti-establishment note, I did enjoy the title of Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen Is a Reptile, if not so much the music.

    Blue Note All-Stars Our Point of View (Blue Note) … 10
    Antonio Sanchez Bad Hombre (Cam Jazz) … 10
    Pat Martino Formidable (HighNote) … 10
    Wolfgang Muthspiel Where the River Goes (ECM) … 10
    Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet Jersey (Motéma) … 10
    Joachim Kühn New Trio Love & Peace (ACT) … 10
    Brad Mehldau After Bach (Nonesuch) … 10
    Ornette Coleman The Atlantic Years (Atlantic) … 10
    R+R=NOW Collagically Speaking (Blue Note) … 10
    Joe Farrell Joe Farrell Quartet/Outback/Moonbeams (Beat Goes On) … 10

    Only two reissues in a strong year for new releases. The Blue Note All-Stars laid down a marker for the new generation with an impressive double CD of fiery brilliance. Mark Guiliana further burnished his credentials in the vanguard of drummers exploring a new percussive language. Brad Mehldau addresses the tradition of improvisation in Bach’s work as a professional organist, and thrillingly applies it to his genius as a composer – had this been a top 20 poll, Mehldau’s trio Seymour Reads The Constitution! would also feature. Joachim Kühn’s follow-up to Beauty & Truth is as concise and succinct as its predecessor, a trio of true equals on top form. Pat Martino’s set swings as it shimmers with some breathtaking playing by the core trio, augmented here by trumpet and tenor sax. Of the re-releases, it was exciting to return to a cornerstone of my jazz upbringing, Joe Farrell’s debut Quartet CD.

    Enemy Enemy (Edition Records) … 15
    Nils Økland Band Lysning (Hubro) … 15
    Sonar & David Torn Vortex (Rare Noise) … 15
    Maciej Obara Quartet Unloved (ECM) … 10
    Michael Wollny Wartburg (ACT) … 10
    Pablo Held Trio Investigations (Edition Records) … 10
    Sigurd Hole Encounters (Elvesang) … 10
    Cuong Vu Change in the Air (Rare Noise) … 5
    Nils Petter Molvaer with Sly & Robbie Nordub (Okeh) … 5
    Splashgirl Sixth Sense (Hubro) … 5

    In the spirit of Louis Armstrong’s critical epithet “If it sounds good, it is good”, Michael Tucker’s review of the spellbinding encounter between Swiss minimalist rockers Sonar and iconoclastic guitar god David Torn played on my mind as I compiled this list. “Is it rock or is it jazz – and, who cares?” Of course jazz is a venerable institution, and one worthy of great respect, but every single item on this list is in some way open to the external influence of other genres. To drop another quote, thank you Cecil Taylor, “It is in the brewing luminous”.

    Don Ellis Tears of Joy/Connection (Beat Goes On) … 10
    Enrico Pieranunzi Blue Waltz (Stunt) … 10
    Azar Lawrence Elementals (HighNote) … 10
    Vic Juris Eye Contact (SteepleChase) … 10
    Jamie Saft Blue Dream (RareNoise) … 10
    Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow Ejdeha (Songlines) … 10
    Patrick Zimmerli Clockworks (Songlines) … 10
    Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids An Angel Fell (Strut) … 10
    Jamie Saft Solo a Genova (RareNoise) … 10
    Arthur Blythe Elaborations / Light Blue / Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk / Put Sunshine in It (Beat Goes On 1304) … 10

    In 2018 I finally discovered the remarkable output of trumpeter, bandleader and composer Don Ellis. BGO are producing some excellent reissues of his wonderful music. Apart from his Tears of Joy/Connection, my other choices are all new issues – though the leading contenders are all from the older generation, with Messrs Pieranunzi, Lawrence and Juris. Azar Lawrence in particular remains a talent deserving of wider recognition – some readers will recall his work with McCoy Tyner. Finally, a special mention for pianist Jamie Saft, whose RareNoise releases are consistently high quality – two of them appear here.

    Johnny Griffin & Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Quintet At Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall (Jazzline) … 5
    Jeff Hamilton Trio Live from San Pedro (Capri) … 5
    Art Pepper Smack Up (Poll Winners) … 10
    Cannonball Adderley/Miles Davis Somethin’ Else (Green Corner) … 15
    Charles Mingus Ah Um (State of Art) … 15
    Frank Sinatra Songs For Swingin’ Lovers (Essential Jazz Classics) … 10
    Gerry Mulligan Four Classic Albums (Third Set) (Avid) … 15
    Stan Getz And the Oscar Peterson Trio (State of Art) … 5
    Ronnie Cuber Live at Montmartre (Storyville) … 5
    Miles Davis Birth of the Cool (Essential Jazz Classics) … 15

    A mixture of classics by Pepper, Cannonball, Mingus, Mulligan, Sinatra and Miles. The others I play constantly especially the Jeff Hamilton, Stan Getz and Ronnie Cuber releases. I would like to have included Art Blakey’s Complete Concert at Club Saint Germain, Oscar Peterson’s Trio with the Singers Unlimited, Shorty Rogers’ Jazz Waltz and Ella’s sublime Cole Porter set if space had allowed.

    Brad Mehldau Seymour Reads the Constitution! (Nonesuch) … 15
    Schneider, Maria/SWR Big Band Big Bands Live (SWR Jazzhaus) … 5
    John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!) … 15
    Lester Young Four Classic Albums (Avid) … 5
    Joshua Redman/Ron Miles/Scott Colley/Brian Blade Still Dreaming (Nonesuch) … 10
    Michael Wollny Wartburg (ACT) … 15
    Julian Siegel Vista (Whirlwind) … 5
    Bobo Stenson Trio Contra la Indecisión (ECM) … 10
    Charles Lloyd / The Marvels / Lucinda Williams Vanished Gardens (Blue Note) … 5
    Kurt Elling The Questions (Okeh) … 15

    Every month of 2018 brought something new and invigorating, enough to make sceptics reconsider whether or not their boundary markers for jazz need repositioning outwards. No matter how much was new, however, any survey that doesn’t include a couple of reissues is in danger of believing that the history of the music is linear rather than stellar. Dave Gelly’s review of the Pres albums reminds us of a musician with his own personal history and how it related to the condition of his performances. New stars may not shine as brightly in 20 years as they appear to now but they have twinkling exemplars in Mehldau and Lloyd.

    Julian Costello Quartet Transitions (33Jazz) … 15
    Pat Martino Formidable (High Note) … 15
    Brad Mehldau After Bach (Nonesuch) … 13
    Michel Camilo Live in London (Redondo) … 13
    Richie Beirach Inborn (Jazzline) … 11
    Ed Jones For Your Ears Only (Impossible Ark) … 8
    Jeff Dingler In Transit (Self-released) … 7
    Alyn Cosker KPF (NYLA) … 7
    Christian Sands Facing Dragons (Mack Avenue) …7
    Walter Smith III Twio (Whirlwind) … 4

    Once again, I found that the best albums were among the least hyped, quietly getting on with the business of quality music-making. Julian Costello’s Transitions is a beautifully played and assembled album, and Martino’s Formidable is just that; Mehldau and Camilo’s very differently styled solo offerings display two pianists in complete mastery of what they’re trying to achieve, with Beirach achieving similarly in ensemble mode. Pianist Ross Stanley featured to great effect on Ed Jones’s Coltranesque offering, and Dingler and Cosker provided two very fine but contrasting contemporary examples of jazz fusion. Sands impresses again, as does Walter Smith III.

    Cannonball Adderley Them Dirty Blues / Cannonball Takes Charge (Jazz Images) … 10
    Chip Wickham Shamal Wind (Lovemonk) … 10
    Roger Eno Dust of Stars (Painted Word) … 10
    Camilla George The People Could Fly (Ubuntu Music) … 10
    Bansangu Orchestra Bansangu Orchestra (Pathway) … 10
    Mildlife Phase (Research) … 10
    Kit Downes Obsidian (ECM) … 10
    Hilary Gardner / Ehud Asherie The Late Set (Anzic) … 10
    Duke Robillard Duke Robillard and his Dames of Rhythm (MC) … 10
    Oscar Peterson / Fred Astaire The Astaire Story (Essential Jazz Classics) … 10

    I spent much of 2018 listening to non-jazz music. Two of my favourite albums came from Idles and B.E.D. but they don’t conform to even the most inclusive definition of “jazz” so they aren’t on the list. My chosen 10 jazz albums cover a pretty wide spectrum, from the old school sounds of reissues from Adderley, and Peterson with Astaire, and the new old school of Gardner and Asherie, through to Camilla George’s powerful creativity and Kit Downes’s often mysterious and occasionally unsettling church organ pieces. The new releases all bode well for the future.

    Nat King Cole The Complete Nelson Riddle Studio Sessions (Music Milestones) … 10
    Houston Person Rain or Shine (HighNote) … 10
    Kyle Eastwood In Transit (Jazz Village) … 10
    Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette After the Fall (ECM) … 10
    Ron Carter with Donald Vega & Russell Malone Golden Striker (In+Out … 10
    Van Morrison & Joey Francesco You’re Driving Me Crazy (Sony Legacy) … 10
    John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse) … 10
    Tony Bennett & Diana Krall Love Is Here to Stay (Verve) … 10
    Houston Percy & Ron Carter Remember Love (HighNote) … 10
    Thelonious Monk Monk’s Dream (State of Art) … 10

    Predominantly new albums rather than reissues this year; but the age of the artists producing great new albums is worryingly high. Nat King Cole and Monk are my only reissues but what classics they remain. How Impulse missed releasing Coltrane back in 1963 is a mystery. The Bennett and Krall album may not be the best but I love each of their voices and hearing them together is special. The venerable Houston Person has been a favourite of mine for many years and he is still my first choice for late-night saxophone. When you add Ron Carter in the mix it just gets better. Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco hit the spot playing a varied combination of jazz, blues and R&B classics. It is great to see Sir Van back on a creative wave with multiple album releases in the last two years. He may not be mainstream jazz but he attracts others to the genre. Last and by far the youngest of my artists is Kyle Eastwood. The fact that he is 50 begs the question as to where is the fresh, new talent? A scan through the last 12 months JJ will show you that it is there and is consistently producing new music. However, these younger/newer artists generally seem to get good rather than outstanding reviews. Does that say something about the artist or does it say more about the pool of reviewers?

    John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension with Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip Live in San Francisco (Abstract Logix) … 17
    John Daversa Big Band Featuring Daca Artists American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom (BFM Jazz) … 15
    Phronesis We Are All (Edition Records) … 10
    Flying Machines New Life (Ubuntu Music) … 10
    Joey Alexander Eclipse (Motema Music) … 10
    Tim Garland Weather Walker (Edition Records) … 8
    Keith Jarrett La Fenice (ECM) … 8
    Dirigo Rataplan Dirigo Rataplan II (Rataplan Records) … 8
    Art Blakey / Duke Jordan Les Liaisons Dangereuses + Des Femmes Disparaissent (Essential Jazz Classics) … 7
    Vince Bell Ojo (Mulatta Records) … 7

    Some great albums to choose from in 2018, particularly on the experimental side of things. UK-based bands Phronesis and Flying Machines released very creative albums, as did Tim Garland and Dirigo Rataplan. John Daversa’s American Dreamers was excellent from start to finish, and is a refreshingly original concept, carried out very well. My record of the year is Live in San Francisco, as John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring demonstrate how superb their bands are, and it is fantastic to hear McLaughlin’s classic fusion tracks played by the man himself.

    Oscar Peterson / Fred Astaire The Astaire Story (Essential Jazz Classics) … 20
    Jacques Loussier Play Bach Vols 1 & 2 (Jazz Images) … 10
    Artie Shaw These Foolish Things: The Decca Years (Sepia) … 5
    Lou Levy I’m Old Fashioned (Fresh Sound) … 10
    Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (Poll Winners) … 10
    Flip Phillips, Bill Harris, Kai Winding Perdido (Sounds of Yesteryear) …. 5
    The Modern Jazz Quartet Fontessa (Atlantic) … 10
    Sarah Vaughan Sings George Gershwin (Essential Jazz Classics) … 10
    Shorty Rogers and His Giants Jazz Waltz (Pure Pleasure) … 10
    Yves Montand Les Feuilles Mortes (Retrospective) … 10

    For an unrepentant vocals advocate, 2018 was a vintage year. If we ignore the two major Sinatra releases, the reissues of Cole Porter and George Gershwin should have witnessed Ella and Sassy duking it out for first place, instead, eclipsing them effortlessly and leaving both a bad nowhere was Oscar Peterson and The Astaire Story. On paper Fred Astaire and jazz is a bad joke; in reality it’s a match made in heaven. Ella and Sassy are unsurpassed at what they do but neither do charm and that’s what Astaire does in spades and what places this album first, second and third best of the year and earns it 50 points going away. Alas, 50 points isn’t an option so we have to mention the MJQ, Shorty Rogers and Yves Montand – as classy as Astaire, albeit in French.

    Bobo Stenson Trio Contra la Indecisión (ECM) … 10
    Sungjae Son Near East Quartet (ECM) … 10
    Charles Lloyd / The Marvels / Lucinda Williams Vanished Gardens (Blue Note) … 10
    Omar Sosa / Yilian Canizares Aguas (Otá) … 10
    Jakob Bro Returnings (ECM) … 10
    John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse) … 10
    André Hodeir “Essais”, Complete Paris & New York Sessions (Fresh Sound) … 10
    Nicole Johänntgen Nicole Jo 20 (Suisa) … 10
    Pierre Dørge Soundscapes (SteepleChase) … 10
    Radka Toneff / Steve Dobrogosz Fairytales (Odin) … 10

    Near misses included Tommy Smith’s Embodying the Light, Close Enough for Jazz from Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco, the Svein Finnerud Trio’s Plastic Sun, Keith Jarrett’s La Fenice, Meg Okura & The Pan-Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble’s Ima Ima, Terje Gewelt’s Wow & Flutter and Frode Haltli’s Avant Folk. Gig of the year? Omar Sosa, Yilian Canizares and Gustavo Ovalles at the LJF. Sadness came with the news of the passing of Poland’s Tomasz Stanko. Over the years, I was fortunate enough to hear and to meet this surpassing poet of European jazz a fair few times. RIP, Tomasz. Your music will always be something else.

    Stanley Turrentine/Grant Green Quartet Complete Recordings (Groove Hut) … 10
    Booker Ervin The Good Book: The Early Years 1960-62 (Acrobat) … 10
    Hank Jones Four Classic Albums (Avid Jazz) … 10
    Wes Montgomery In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording (Resonance Records) … 10
    Wes Montgomery The Complete Montgomery Brothers Quartet Sessions (Essential Jazz Classics) … 10
    Terry Pollard A Detroit Jazz Legend (Fresh Sound) … 10
    Various Oscar, with Love (Mack Avenue) … 10
    Bill Evans Trio The Classic Trio 1959-61 (Acrobat) … 10
    Erroll Garner Night Concert (Mack Avenue) … 10
    Dinah Washington / Quincy Jones The Complete Sessions (Essential Jazz Classics) … 10

    In a partly disjointed year with and without star ratings, my top 10 practically chose themselves. A plethora of pianists certainly delivered the goods. On Oscar with Love 17 of them – including Ramsey Lewis, Michel Legrand, Monty Alexander, Kenny Barron, Robi Botos, Gerald Clayton, Benny Green Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes pay and play their tributes to OP on his magnificent Bosendorfer Imperial Grand piano in his Ontario home studio. A quite remarkable collection.

    My other piano players include Bill Evans at his mid-period and considerable best, an ebullient Garner in Amsterdam offering sheer joy, Hank Jones’s more restrained reflections, and the talented Terry Pollard’s collaborations with Terry Gibbs. The “early” Booker Ervin is impressive – as I tried to convey in my review that (unfortunately) irritated its compiler Simon Spillett. Wes Montgomery in Paris and also in company with his talented brothers, offered good deeds in an increasingly naughty world. Stanley Turrentine and Grant Green and Dinah & Quincy were inspired pairings.

    Not far below the above in quality, the following are warmly recommended: Bill Evans The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (Riverside); Duke Jordan Trio Complete 1954-62 Recordings (Essential Jazz Classics); Lou Levy I’m Old Fashioned (Fresh Sound); Lucky Thompson and His Octet In Paris 1960: Modern Jazz at The Club Saint-Germaine and The Blue Note (Fresh Sound), and Howard Roberts The Swingin’ Groove of Howard Roberts (Fresh Sound). All in all, it was a very good year.

    Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet Jersey (Motéma) … 15
    John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse) … 15
    Blicher Hemmer Gadd Omara (C-Nut) … 10
    Freddie Hubbard Gleam (Beat Goes On) … 10
    Chick Corea and Steve Gadd Band Chinese Butterfly (Stretch/Concord Jazz) … 10
    Trio HLK Standard Time (Ubuntu) … 10
    Wayne Shorter Emanon (Blue Note) … 10
    John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension Live @ Ronnie Scott’s (Abstract Logix) … 10
    Gary Husband A Meeting of Spirits (Edition) … 5
    Steve Hobbs Tribute to Bobby (Challenge) … 5

    With the exception of a live funk-fuelled Freddie Hubbard reissue from 1975, and the highly hyped (and still continuously spun) Coltrane release, 2018’s hot list, for me, was dominated by new releases. Drummer Mark Guiliana’s hard-driving debut with a new quartet was a hat tip to classic Trane and kicked the year off with a bang before saxophonist Wayne Shorter and vibes master Steve Hobbs dropped equally swinging discs of their own. There were also some surprises in the summer from standard-stretching newcomers Trio HLK and also the great Gary Husband, whose solo piano set inspired by the work of John McLaughlin proved a perfect warm up for a fantastic live record from McLaughlin himself. If that wasn’t enough, 2018 also saw a return to form for legendary sticksman Steve Gadd who’s unmistakable groove graced not just a fantastic organ trio outing but also an all-new Latin-licked LP with Chick Corea.