BEST OF 2023 The Best Jazz Albums of 2023 By Dave Sumner · December 15, 2023

It wasn’t so long ago I was wrapping up a year in new releases with the statement that 2022 was the best year ever in jazz. Pretty sure I did the same in the Best of 2021’s intro, too. Could I do the same right here for 2023? You betcha. And was my prior year assessment incorrect? Not even a little. Jazz continues to evolve—as much a reaction to changes in music as it is the driving force of transformation. These year-end Best Of columns are merely measurements of that evolution. No one stage is more important than the next, nor are they eclipsed by what’s yet to come. The entire timeline of jazz radiates strength and life and imagination—a single continuous journey through the best music ever. This year’s column is one facet of that journey. And allow me to remind you that this is only the starting point for exploring the best jazz of 2023. Had this column’s inclusions tripled in number, it still wouldn’t have sufficiently captured everything the year in jazz had to give.

And with that preamble out of the way, let’s begin.

Angel Bat Dawid
Requiem for Jazz

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

No 2023 recording conveyed a vision more profound than Angel Bat Dawid’s masterpiece, Requiem for Jazz. Dawid’s compositions thread together the history of jazz and the African American experience with modern and old-school jazz, orchestral accompaniment, chorus and electronics, and studio craftwork. The blues courses through its veins, a whisper into the ear compelling the disparate voices to erupt in song on this majestic, sprawling epic. In a year of exceptional recordings, I keep coming back to the opinion that Requiem for Jazz is the 2023 album of the year.

Rajna Swaminathan

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Rajna Swaminathan’s mridangam (a percussion instrument with South Indian roots) takes a multi-pronged approach to hypnosis—you can either pay rapt attention to every note, or simply kick back and immersing yourself in the totality of the music. Swaminathan’s confluence of modern jazz and Indian music favors both the melodic and the rhythmic potential for unity. Vocalist Ganavya, pianist Utsav Lal, guitarist Miles Okazaki, bassist Stephan Crump, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and tenor saxophonist Anna Webber contribute to the recording.

Illegal Crowns

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Unclosing delivers the most potent musical charge of 2023. The electricity from the ensemble Illegal Crowns, consisting of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, guitarist Mary Halvorson, pianist Benoît Delbecq, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, is potent. It conveys every ounce of the spontaneity, individualism, and togetherness one hopes for from musicians who are immersed in their own actions while also synced into those of their counterparts. Rarely do we encounter a recording that delivers a listening experience that’s just like being there. Unclosing is a reminder of why we treasure them.

Marike van Dijk Nonet

Exceptionalism is the watchword for a melody in the hands Marike van Dijk. But where previous recordings saw those melodies manifest as direct statements (with no better example than the Stereography Project, featuring two different ensembles—one of my very favorite recordings of the past ten years), on Stranded, the saxophonist and composer opens up fields for her ensemble to run through and explore. The result is an endless burst of color, and more than a few breathtaking moments.

Emilio Teubal


Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

The musicians on Emilio Teubal’s Futuro generate energy with a less-is-more approach—using a short fuse as the most direct path to bursts of melody. The impact of those tiny explosions is intense, and belied by how gently they’re delivered. It’s not unlike watching a firework show from far away, the distance blunting their immediacy but amplifying their delicate beauty. It’s an effect that’s typical to Teubal’s personal voicing of modern jazz, Argentinian musics, and chamber. The pianist is joined by bassist Pablo Lanouguere, drummer Chris Michael, percussionist Brian Shankar Adler, guitarist Fede Diaz, clarinetist Sam Sadigursky, and vibraphonist Chris Dingman on this excellent recording.

Kate Gentile | International Contemporary Ensemble
b i o m e i.i

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

No album embraced the unconventional and the daring in 2023 more than Kate Gentile’s b i o m e i.i. The drummer-composer’s International Contemporary Ensemble of Isabel Lepanto Gleicher (flute, piccolo), Jennifer Curtis (violin), Joshua Rubin (clarinet, bass clarinet), Rebekah Heller (bassoon), Ross Karre (vibraphone, percussion), and Cory Smythe (piano) bring an essential humanity to alien sounds, a poetry to the chaos. This isn’t an out-of-the-blue approach for Gentile, but never has it manifested the shared qualities of expansiveness and cohesion the way it does here. The abiding sense is of a musician sharing a vision of their music—and the music, in turn, sharing a vision of itself.

Ricardo Dias Gomes
Muito Sol

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

You can’t turn away from Muito Sol’s beauty. You can’t pull free from the charms of its melodies. The voice of Ricardo Dias Gomes has the most gentle way of compelling you to listen. Gomes teases out the Brazilian, modern jazz, pop, psychedelia, and rock influences that comprise his take on tropicália, and it’s his delicate-touch approach that leaves the listener craving more, coming back to each piece over and again. Contributing to this wonderful recording (and my personal favorite of 2023) include Jeremy Gustin (drums); Will Graefe, Ryan Dugre, Julian Desprez, Pedro Sá (guitars); Gil Oliveira (percussion); Alex Toth (trumpet); Tiago Queiroz (sax, flute); and Jonas Sá and Shahzad Ismaily (synths).

Joe Santa Maria
Echo Deep

Echo Deep’s multifaceted personality continually reveals new and riveting personality traits, as if it’s redefining itself on the fly. Joe Santa Maria’s large ensemble doesn’t restrict themselves to any one ideology or approach, switching between influences at will, and incorporating diverse instrumentation with methodical precision. The grand statements are what knock you over; the transformations are what prop you back up. And on it goes, until it ends, and you’re left wondering what it was you just heard—and immediately take it again right from the top.

Magic Carpet
Broken Compass

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

No album of 2023 brings pure joy quite like Broken Compass. The Magic Carpet ensemble of bassist Parrish Hicks, drummer Makaya McCraven, guitarist Timuel Bey, percussionist Ryan Mayer, keyboardist Tewodros Aklilu, saxophonist Fred Jackson Jr, and clarinetist Kaliq Woods delivers the kind of euphoria that causes a listener to enter a state of happily ever after. The ensemble treats the influences of modern jazz, Middle Eastern, African, and Indian musics, funk, soul, reggae as if individual rivulets of a forest stream, exploring the rhythmic and melodic potential for that unique chattering sound that can spur the body into motion, and in the same breath, extend the invitation to just lay back in the sun and let the music wash over you.

Jaimie Branch
Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

No album will make a modern jazz fan more wistful, more melancholy than Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)). That’s not the way the music plays out—not even a little bit. It has all the positive aggression one would expect from a Jaimie Branch recording. But her latest, all but wrapped up prior to her tragic passing, brought a resurgent melodicism to the affair, one that peeked out from time to time on past recordings, but never with the force and fullness of her latest. The trumpeter gifted us this one final recording, a reason for both celebration and somber reflection. Lester St. Louis, Jason Ajemian, Chad Taylor (and guests) contribute percussion, strings, keys, voices, and their hearts to this poignant send-off.

Matana Roberts
Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden…

Merch for this release:
Vinyl, Compact Disc (CD)

Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden is the epic narrative of 2023 in music. Matana Roberts’s Coin Coin series is both immediate and timeless, an acknowledgment that history, myth, and fiction drink from the same bottle. The saxophonist’s sound collage approach is reflective of that fact—caught within the shifting tides of jazz, blues, avant-garde, gospel, spoken word, and art rock. The album is a combination of fond storytelling, factual documentation, philosophical interludes, and pragmatic reframing of what’s come before and what happens next. Intricate and complex, as the best stories often are.

James Brandon Lewis & Red Lily Quintet
For Mahalia, With Love

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

On For Mahalia, With Love, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and his Red Lily Quintet of cellist Chris Hoffman, drummer Chad Taylor, bassist William Parker, and cornetist Kirk Knuffke reworked the music of gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, imbuing it with all the heart of the originals but with a force of will all their own. Back in September, I said this was the sound of raw magic at work. Months later, and that magic still rings with a potency to move mountains, elicit starstruck wonderment.

Per Texas Johansson
Den sämsta lösningen av alla

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

There was not a more elegant album to hit the shelves in 2023 than Per Texas Johansson’s Den sämsta lösningen av alla. The wind instrumentalist’s heady concoction of modern jazz, Swedish folk, and chamber music is nothing even close to conventional, and yet the music is delivered with an exquisite grace. Pieces are presented as if they’re chapters in an epic saga, but even their sprawling nature flows as naturally and easily as moonlight splashing gently across a room. It’s a feat made that much more impressive when considering the unusual array of instruments, with pedal steel guitar (Johan Lindström), violin (Josefin Runsteen), and vibraphone (Mattias Ståhl), along with the more traditional instruments of piano, bass, and drums (Johan Graden, Petter Eldh, and Konrad Agnas respectively).

Mike Reed
The Separatist Party

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

In a year that featured a number of themed albums, Mike Reed’s The Separatist Party was the most compelling. Inspired by the true story of a hoarder whose life and death were spent in isolation, it’s a theme likely to resonate with pretty much everyone in the pandemic era. The drummer—joined by cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, saxophonist Rob Frye, guitarist Cooper Crain, synthesizer player Dan Quinlivan, and vocalist Marvin Tate—attend to the emotional nuance of a life in isolation, a state of existence that runs the gamut from somber to celebratory, all of it intense and heartfelt.

Rebecca Nash
Redefining Element 78

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Rebecca Nash has an endless array of melodic inspirations at her command, and she does her damndest to put every single one in play, making each resonate like crazy. Joined by saxophonist John O’Gallagher, guitarist Jamie Leeming, trumpeter Nick Malcolm, bassist Paul Michael, drummer Matt Fisher, and both Chris Mapp and Nick Walters guesting with contributions on electronic effects, the keyboardist sets those vibrant melodies as merely the starting point, and launching her ensemble out to explore the endless rhythmic and harmonic possibilities inherent to each.

The Necks

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt

The sound of the Necks is best described by outcomes, not intent. Their music possesses the soft murmur of minimalism, the explorer’s heart of the modern jazz scene, and the cooing melodicism of ambient music. But the vagueness comprising this music is in direct opposition to its distinctive personality. A Necks recording is immediately identifiable—a trait that’s been cemented in place from decades of collaboration between the trio of pianist Chris Abrahams, drummer-percussionist Tony Buck, and bassist Lloyd Swanton creating together. Travel captures a facet of that growth by recording extended sections of studio improvisations that mark the start of each day, a glimpse into the process that has led to so many of past albums.

Read more in Jazz →

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →