Best Jazz Albums of 2023

Best Jazz Albums of 2023

The year’s most thrilling albums were made by artists pushing beyond borders, teaming with new collaborators and making bold statements of their own.

That thing we keep calling “jazz” refuses to stop overrunning its borders, reworking itself, showing up in new forms identifiable only by the most basic strands of their DNA. All of its subcultures churned out inspired work this year; many show up below.

Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah, ‘Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning’

It’s fitting, in this moment, that the hardest-hitting album on this list would be a celebration of Indigenous identity, resilience and resistance. For Chief Adjuah (formerly Christian Scott), “Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning” is also his first hard break from jazz, a category he has been trying to slip his entire career. Here he sits with the other tradition that raised him: the “maroon” community of New Orleans’s Black masking Indians, commonly known as Mardi Gras Indians. This is Adjuah’s first LP without any trumpet. Instead he circles up with a group of family and longtime collaborators, revisiting classics from the call-and-response Black Indian repertoire and adding his own, newfangled rallying cries over plucked kora strings and charging drums.

Jaimie Branch, ‘Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((World War))’

Jaimie Branch had nearly finished mixing this album — the third studio record from her trumpet-cello-bass-drums quartet, Fly or Die — when she died suddenly in 2022. It would be hard to imagine a more rousing and generous parting gift. Branch (like Adjuah) was a declarative trumpeter who had only recently embraced her unrefined-but-rewarding singing voice. With it she entreats us to love, to agitate and to put ourselves on the line.

Kassa Overall, ‘Animals’

Sharing a common ancestor, jazz and hip-hop ought to be a natural fit — but nobody has ever quite made this fusion feel like theirs. Enter Kassa Overall, the soft-spoken drummer, producer and M.C., who plays a different game: He’s asking hard, analytical questions about romance and selfhood; social programming; mental health in an anxious world. He’s also working with an uncanny cast of peers: Danny Brown, Nick Hakim, Laura Mvula, Wiki. That jazz and contemporary hip-hop are at the core of Overall’s style is simply incidental. Which is also why it seems essential.

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