Best jazz albums of 2018

For our best jazz albums of 2017 click here

Before 2017 had closed its door on us, we had received albums by Justin Gray and Synthesis, Julia Biel, Ilios Steryannis, Gili Yalo, Andrew Distel, Toto Bona Lokua, Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Danny Fox Trio, Arnan Raz and a collaboration album from Stoney Lane Records under the banner ‘Live At The Spotted Dog’ featured the likes of Stan Sulzmann, Jonathan Silk, Ben Lee, Sean Gibbs, Andrew Bain, John O’Gallagher and Michael Janisch – and you know how we raved about Andrew Bain in 2017 and Stan Sulzmann in 2016 – It was going to be a crazy New Year for sure. Also through the door were two reissues by way of Victor Assis Brasil, on Far Out Recordings, and Saluki, on the rather delightful Round 2 Records [their Terje Rypdal reissue, Bleak House, was one of our five favourite reissues in 2017]. And as is custom during the New Year, we are exposed to some terrific albums that slipped through our net the previous year. Perhaps the big oversights for us were ‘Basement Sessions Vol.4 (The Bali Tapes)’ on Clean Feed records, Piotr Wojtasik with ‘Tribute to Akwarium’ on Indygo records and ‘Life and Death on the Other Side of the Dream’ from Vuma Levin. Simply Wonderful.

The snow fell, Santa paid a visit, the snow fell again, and the music poured in. Whirlwind Recordings kicked off their 2018 campaign with Walter Smith III and the team revelled in the Stephane Nisol album, ‘Trafic d’influences’. Edition records fired up the Elliot Galvin burner, ‘The Influencing Machine’, before we had chance to crack open Calibro 35, Kathy Kosins, Kristina Koller, Joanna Wallfisch or Emma Frank releases, oh and Menagerie’s ‘The Arrow Of Time’ from Freestyle Records really caught our attentions, and it was only the first week into January! There were other great releases by Camille Bertault and MOPO (our Album of the Month) with Nat Birchall’s ‘Cosmic Language’ grabbing our attentions alongside the stunning Chick Corea and Steve Gadd Band ‘Chinese Butterfly’ release.

And then we lost Hugh Masakela.

As February closed in, Edition records offered up their first wave of releases with Ivo Neame, Verneri Pohjola, Snowpoet and Eyolf Dale, all landing on our doorstep together. We were enjoying a fabulous release from Jazz Family by way of Simon Chivallon plus the wonderful new release by Thandi Ntuli called ‘Exiled’, and talk was that Straight No Chaser issue 99 had an April due date. Oh and the rather important milestone of 25 years was celebrated with the release of Chris Bowden’s ‘Unlikely Being’ on our own UK Vibe label (best mention that!). February also gave us two terrific compilations by way of ‘The Wants List 4’ and ‘Colin Curtis presents Jazz Dance Fusion’. For the team though, the kipper slap around the face moments were Brownswood Recording’s ‘We Out Here’ [Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective etc.], ‘Volume 3’ from the mighty Ill Considered and Salim Washington with ‘Dogon Revisited’. Oh boy did they make an impact. But for out-and-out superiority, Sameer Gupta (founder of Brooklyn Raga Massive) launched upon us the album ‘A Circle Has No Beginning’, which is still on our playlist in December!

March opened with a dreadful cold spell but the warmth from Far Out Recordings with the Sean Khan delight, ‘Palmares Fantasy’ featuring Hermeto Pascoal, pushed the snow aside without much difficulty. Park Jiha had just released her album and the MABUTA release, ‘Welcome To This World’, was getting heavy plays at Vibe HQ, and awarded our ALBUM OF THE MONTH, and so too was BBE’s – instantly sold out on all platforms – ‘J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan’. Another highlight came via Strut records with their latest Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 offering, ‘Black Times’. We were then presented with the new Azar Lawrence album, ‘Elementals’ on HighNote records before the postman delivered the mighty ‘Spiritual Jazz 8 Japan: Parts 1 and 2’ from Jazzman. A non-digital release of huge proportions which kept our ears very busy indeed. March end was also to see the vinyl release, through Matsuli records, of one of our favourite South African albums from Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, called ‘Genes and Spirits’. The team were also deeply moved by Peter Jones’ book ‘This is Hip: The Life of Mark Murphy’ – superb from start to finish.

There was a momentary rustle of chocolate easter egg wrappers before April dawned. We had been listening to Jay Rodriguez’s ‘Your Sound’, Roller Trio with their ‘New Devices’ on Edition Records, Chip Wickham’s incredible album, ‘Shamal Wind’, and repeated plays of EL ECO with Guillermo Nojechowicz, called ‘Puerto de Buenos Aires 1933’ which had a 2017 date stamp but only just sent through from the label. It mattered not, as this was a serious album we were delighted to have received. April was set to be huge, but with it came the sad news of Cecil Taylor passing on April 5th followed by Nathan Davis on April 8th. Benjamin Boone and the late Philip Levine called ‘The Poetry of Jazz’ was playing an awful lot here and the Black Flower EP ‘Intermediate State’ too, and not to mention the Peter Erskine/Dr. Um Band album ‘On Call’. Cellist, Erik Friedlander, was also a big favourite with his ‘Artemisia’ release via Skipstone, with a wonderful 3LP boxset. Excellent music indeed. One other notable mention must be given to hip-hop’s The NONCE, with their ‘1990’ release through Family Groove records – a monumental ‘find’ by the label. A big pat on the back for Daniel Borine and all those involved.

As April faded away, we were revelling in the latest Eliane Elias album, ‘Music from Man of La Mancha’, we were wishing Edition records a Happy 10th Anniversary, and then, oh look… Record Store Day with all its merriment, marvelling at the On-U Sound release of the Creation Rebel 1978 album ‘Dub From Creation’, raising a glass to the Grant Green 3LP album, ‘Funk In France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970’, via the mighty Resonance stables, scratching our heads at the Miles Davis ‘Rubberband’ EP and salivated somewhat at the prospect of ‘Soul Diesel VOL. 2’ on Jazz Dispensary records. International Jazz Day arrived on the last day of April, and then May dawned with our ‘Album Of The Month’ feature, the excellent reissue of Kyriakos Sfetsas’ ‘Greek Fusion Orchestra Vol.1’. There were many other stunning releases in May with news that Ed Motta had a new album due out this year too, having just compiled an album full of Brazilian AOR. Timo Lassy had a new release called ‘Moves’ which had some great moments whilst Hugo Fattoruso Y Barrio Opa out on Far Out Recordings was delightful, with Florian Pellissier Quintet’s ‘Bijou Voyou Caillou’, lovingly absorbed early on in the month beside the Waaju album – a bit special – and Nicola Conte’s MPS release, ‘Let Your Light Shine On’, which included a wonderful set of musicians. Certainly no time for dancing around a Maypole!

Other big sounds were filtering through from our own Haji Mike with ‘XXVIII’, Palm Unit’s ‘Hommage à Jef Gilson’, James Brandon Lewis and Chad Taylor in ‘Radiant Imprints’ and the epic ‘Neo Native’ by Bokani Dyer Trio. We were 4 albums in to the one-per-month from pianist Satoko Fujii, celebrating her 60th birthday through 2018, whilst Cadillac records provided The Mike Westbrook Concert Band’s ‘The Last Night at the Old Place’ recorded in 1968. Oh and Walter Wolfman Washington released ‘My Future Is My Past’, which went straight on to our best of 2018 soul list – and a UK Vibe favourite, Nat Birchall, teamed up with Al Breadwinner for the superior offering ‘Sounds Almighty’, which did indeed. Something that we were being teased with during the build up to the Royal Wedding was the new Chip Wickham album, Shamal Wind, on Lovemonk, with two tracks floating around our promo pool. It was such a delight to finally have the full album through ahead of the wedding, as a strong distraction was in order.

So what else elevated our euphoric state as we drifted through May? Well the warm spells and sunshine helped but it was news of a Dexter Gordon documentary later in the year that worked a treat. On a musical note, something that cleared out the last of the winter cobwebs was Omer Avital’s ‘Qantar’, Idris Ackamoor ☥ The Pyramids’ ‘An Angel Fell’ and Erik Friedlander with his ‘Artemisia’ release – out on 3×10″ vinyl – one of our year’s highlights and still on our playlist in December!

So to the month of June. Well the death of Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, of The Last Poets, was a sad start indeed. The UK Vibe team were privileged to have spent time with him in 2014 and his memory will be a lasting one with us all here. Do feel free to read our three-part interview here.

Music came through from Binker and Moses with their album, ‘Alive In The East’, followed swiftly by other highlights in Slowly Rolling Camera’s ‘Juniper’, Uniting Of Opposites, via Tru Thoughts, with ‘Ancient Lights’, Thomas Bramerie Trio’s super ‘Side Stories’, Emanative’s ‘Earth’ on Jazzman records, Flavio Silva’s ‘Break Free’, and a remarkable release from Martti Vesala Soundpost Quintet called ‘Stars Aligned’. Another album that saw lots of love on social media came from Tenderlonious feat. The 22Archestra, with ‘The Shakedown’ – big plays on NTS Radio we recall. In a contemporary vein, we were listening to some lovely work by Jean Chaumont, Jérémy Hababou, Adi Meyerson and Coherence Quartet, whilst the Modern Jazz delight came in the form of Black Art Jazz Collective with their ‘Armor Of Pride’.

The closing days of June offered up a taster of the forthcoming Thabang Tabane album, news of a worldwide launch of the Wojtek Mazolewski album ‘Polka’, the 5LP/3CD Kamasi Washington, the incredible South African drummer, Ayanda Sikade, with his unreleased 2010 recording, ‘Movements’, a superior offering by the Jamie Saft Quartet in ‘Blue Dream’, and the 2LP ‘Lost’ John Coltrane discovery… Should we just pause for thought for a moment?

July was to open with phenomenal new music by Steve Coleman, in ‘Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. 1’, and Woven Entity with their ‘TWO’ second album. A month for sitting up straight and paying attention? Well it just couldn’t be better with Joey Negro launching his volume two of ‘Backstreet Brit Funk’, after an eight year wait – the very sound of the UK that turned into the underground jazz and soul scene in the early 80s. We lived it. It was exciting.

More big releases came from Children of Zeus, The Lewis Express, William Parker and the Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge beauty, ‘The Midnight Hour’, earmarked as contender for album of the year by the team. How anyone can work a Luther classic and nail it is testament alone.

July closed with sad news of Tomasz Stańko’s death aged 76. A groundbreaking musician.

We were delighted at the start of August by the Betty Davis documentary, ‘They Say I’m Different’, which the wonderful people at Lush allowed us to watch for free. A story that needed to be told. We were listening to new music by Dmitry Baevsky/Jeb Patton, Kobie Watkins Grouptet, Phil Scarff and the remarkable J.P. Bimeni and The Black Belts, and not forgetting the latest from Tony Kofi. Straight No Chaser had issued their 99th edition with a respectful feature on Nat Birchall Meets Al Breadwinner ‘Sounds Almighty’ dub album. We had even been somewhat spoiled by two 45 releases too, in Kalima ‘(Where Is The) Sunshine’ and Insólito UniVerso with their ‘Décima/Vuelve’ beauty.

The pressure was held tight through the month with delightful offerings by way of Angles 3, a never before released 60s set by Jack Sels, out of Belgium, the new Phronesis album and the out-of-the-blue spark that was Sinsuke Fujieda. It was also to be the moment we lost Aretha Franklin. A dark cloud was cast over the world that day. As August faded away, there were celebrations for Wayne Shorter’s 85th birthday, the summer heat seemed to be no more and news of the WE JAZZ FESTIVAL in December was confirmed. A month with wonderful musical highlights from Xavier Davis, Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet, Reginald Chapman, İlhan Erşahin’s Istanbul Sessions and Laurent Salzard.

September rose from the drizzle of rain with the unearthing of what was our UKVIBE ALBUM OF THE MONTH in Sinsuke Fujieda (aka Sound Furniture) and the incredible ‘Hyper Harmony’. The combination of fretless bass, sax, flute, khoomie, electric sitar, drums, piano, bamboo clarinet, djembe and didgeridoo was to set the benchmark for 2018. We then learned the very sad news of Randy Weston passing. We have fond memories of his visit to the UK on several occasions, bringing with him the likes of Stafford James and Alex Blake to a new audience. He was one of the true greats and wonderful to hear live. Missed he will be.

September is renowned for being the last push for releases in the year and what beautiful offerings we unwrapped. The true delight in reissuing Bheki Mseleku’s ‘Celebration’ to vinyl was as close to one could get in shedding a tear for a release. The largest of pats go to Matsuli Music for their love and understanding for music. Web Web, over at Compost records came back with a strong second album and a huge favourite with the Vibe team and BBE Music… Talk about taking control of the reissue game! Could be everyone’s label of 2018. Talking about reissues, the steady quality of releases out of the Pure Pleasure records’ stable is mind-blowing too. 180g vinyl only and every album a must-have in any record collection. September should have come with an obligatory chair to cope.

October came with yet more sad news, the deaths of Charles Aznavour, Jerry González and Hamiet Bluiett hit the press. We witnessed Abdullah Ibrahim live, 84 years of age and ever captivating. The talk of the town was the release of 1000 Kings via Jazz:Refreshed records, with a creative floury of new releases from Ambrose Akinmusire, Abstract Orchestra, Camilla George, Jeremy Pelt, Keith Jarrett, Tord Gustavsen and Wayne Shorter all providing many hours of listening pleasure. And UK Vibe witnessed the truly amazing J.P. Bimeni and The Black Belts live at Ronnie Scott’s. Now that was one way to exit October!

November brought the sad news of Roy Hargrove’s death at the age of 49. The mighty Miguel Atwood-Ferguson popped up on The Putbacks album reminding us of his absence – can we please have more by him in 2019? Insólito UniVerso had released their album on Olindo records and what a breath of fresh air that was – there isn’t a category known to man that we could pigeon-hole that! Adrien Chicot returned with ‘City Walk’ to rapturous applause, having featured in last year’s top 20. Christian McBride’s New Jawn was on heavy rotation, GSI records came strong with Eric Harland’s Voyager CD, ’13th Floor’, and word of Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes ‘Uplift The People’ was rumbling around on the streets with Jason Yarde, John Edwards, Alexander Hawkins and Shabaka Hutchings in the band – UK Vibe has to show their appreciation to all things Ogun records and Cafè Oto related – the free jazz movement is strong in 2018.

November left us with our UKVIBE ALBUM OF THE MONTH for December in Muriel Grossmann’s ‘Golden Rule’. Muriel took us by surprise with her RR GEMS vinyl release. It was somewhat embarrassing to discover a further 9 albums in her discography – just going to show how easily these things can pass under the Vibe radar. Having now listened to all 10 albums, we can but feel a sense of relief in the brilliance uncovered. A name we are going to keep a very close eye on in 2019.

December opened with wonderful sounds from Dominic Egli’s PLURISM and their album ‘Azania in Mind’ from Unit Records and sad news of Jorge López Ruiz, Nancy Wilson and Arthur Maia all passing away. December was to see the release too of the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet official box set ‘The Complete Lansdowne Recordings 1965 – 1969’ from Jazzman Records. Without a doubt THE most sought after release of the year; perhaps only trumped in importance by John Coltrane’s “Lost Recordings” – we will let you be the judge of that. It was also to see the flurry of promos due for release in 2019. Plenty to get us through the holiday season!

So to our Best Of 2018 selections… difficult yes. So much great music and some huge names released albums too. The likes of Norma Winstone, Wayne Shorter, Buster Williams, Gilberto Gil, Azar Lawrence, Dave Liebman, John Scofield were among the many, but is was also a big year for British jazz and what’s was being called the “new UK sound” – regular press pieces over in the States proved the sound was reaching out and every magazine seemed to be covering work by Shabaka Hutchings! High praise.

Two movements stood out more so this year for us; first the quantity of previously unissued material (you will find a separate list below) finding its way to the shops. Most notably the John Coltrane, but Wes Montgomery, Eric Dolphy, Grant Green, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus were ‘uncovered’. And at the time of writing we are made aware of a 2019 release from Cannonball Adderley. It could turn in to an expensive spend next year for sure. The second was the focus and attention on reissues. The bringing back to life on vinyl, with remastering and double vinyl/box sets at times, sought after wonders. Music by Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet, Billy Harper, Bheki Mseleku, Tohru Aizawa Quartet, Marcos Valle and many more were meticulously and lovingly brought to life.

Another change this year for us was the introduction of our ‘Best Album of the Month’ feature. Here were our choices:

JANUARY: Mopo – Mopocalypse (WeJazz)
FEBRUARY: MABUTA (Shane Cooper) – Welcome To This World (Self-released)
MARCH: Ariel Zamonsky – Entre dos mundos . between two worlds (Self-released)
APRIL: Palm Unit – Hommage à Jef Gilson (Super-Sonic Jazz)
MAY: Kyriakos Sfetsas – Greek Fusion Orchestra Vol.1 (Teranga Beat)
JUNE: Wojtek Mazolewski – Polka (Whirlwind Recordings)
JULY: John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!)
AUGUST: Woven Entity – Two (Enid)
SEPTEMBER: Sinsuke Fujieda – Hyper Harmony (SoFa)
OCTOBER: Bheki Mseleku – Celebration (Matsuli)
NOVEMBER: Insólito UniVerso – La Candela del Río (Olindo)
DECEMBER: Muriel Grossmann – Golden Rule (RR Gems)

And that’s why a Best Of 2018 is a hard task. One we need to compartmentalise to even stand a chance. One where our best effort is to concentrate on the brand new. Music made in 2018.

1. Muriel Grossmann – Golden Rule (RRgems)
Review here

2. Ayanda Sikade – Movements (Self-released)
Review here

3. Jamie Saft Quartet – Blue Dream (RareNoise)
Review here

4. Sinsuke Fujieda – Hyper Harmony (SoFa)

5. Web Web – Dance of the Demons (Compost)
Review here

6. Nat Birchall – Cosmic Language (Jazzman)
Review here

7. Ill Considered – 3 (Ill Considered Music)
Review here

8. Woven Entity – Two (Enid)
Review here

9. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings (International Anthem)
Review here

10. Adrien Chicot – City Walk (Gaya Music Production)
Review here

11. Bruno Råberg Trio – Tailwind (Red Piano)
Review here

12. Spirit Fingers – Spirit Fingers (Shanachie)
Review here

13. Trygve Seim ‘Helsinki Songs’ (ECM)
Review here

14. Tenderlonious Featuring The 22archestra – The Shakedown (22a)

15. Maisha – There is a Place (Brownswood Recordings)

16. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)

17. Kamaal Williams – The Return (Black Focus)

18. Snowpoet – Thought You Knew (Edition)
Review here

19. Butcher Brown – AfroKuti: A Tribute to Fela (Self-released)

20. Menagerie – The Arrow Of Time (Freestyle)

Go HERE for our extensive list of promotional albums received at Vibe HQ and purchases made by the team with a 2018 date stamp from which those choices were made.

Astral Travelling Since 1993