These albums, my favorites of 2017, didn’t merely stay with me. They didn’t just stay in rotation or live on my phone. They were part of my life, the subject of many a moment. They haunted me delightfully. They were the products of artists who made music to make people feel things and were very much successful when it came specifically to me. When it comes to the subject of art, our responses to it is, of course, emotional, subjective. “Best” can’t truly be quantified; “favorite” difficult to explain, but still, we try. It’s what we do.
10. Phronesis, Julian Argüelles, & the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – The Behemoth (Edition Records)
One of the finest piano-bass-drum trios of our time has their infectiously-complex compositions arranged for a large ensemble by a bandleader renown for his vision. You can’t go wrong with this concept, making three dudes with a giant sound actually backed by a giant sound. They’re back playing the hits and it’s totally worth it.
9. Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over (ECM Records)
Ever the recognizable voice, Iyer is fascinating not only as a pianist (which would be obvious) but as a composer and craftsman. His style, his many steps, are present in his compositions, this is more apparent with his work with his sextet with a larger sound, that same complexly-infectious rhythm, and Iyer’s all-too-welcome occasional foray into electric keys. Vijay Iyer albums never disappoint, and this one fits expectations twice over.
8. Dan Tepfer Trio – Eleven Cages (Sunnyside Records)
There’s plenty of reasons to keep this album in rotation, particularly Tepfer’s rendition of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”, but the bouncing interplay and Nate Wood’s outstanding drumming throughout the album are what keeps Eleven Cages a constant banger. It’s not the typical piano trio album, it’s a bit too rambunctious for that, which is just perfect.
7. Psychic Temple – IV (Joyful Noise Recordings)
It’s difficult to really nail down if this truly is a jazz album; it does have a rich folk rock sound that cannot be denied but must always be appreciated. Each Psychic Temple album seems to go further and further into some kind of directions where the music is both new and harkening to something since forgotten. Chris Schlarb continues to be a master architect and more and more the charming vocalist.
6. Miles Okazaki – Trickster (Sunnyside Records)
Everything about this album works. It’s prickly but sumptuous. It leans so much more on rhythm than on over-intellectualizing playing while still having great complexity. Like the name of the album, these songs trick the listener into head nods and replays.
5. Nicole Mitchell & Haki R. Madhubuti – Liberation Narratives (Third World Press)
This album sounds like a hidden Gil Scott-Heron album. It was recorded just after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and feels like black America’s lamentation that they shafted us yet again, but what else is new and we strive on. It sounds like all the best parts of the West End of Atlanta to me, because it comes from that same heart. Madhubuti’s spoken word is perfectly intertwined with Mitchell’s arrangements, making words and music drill into minds and opening consciousnesses.
4. Aaron Parks Trio – Find the Way (ECM Records)
This is a baaaaad trio. Aaron Parks plays with his usual complete beautiful self, and Ben Street is a fantastic anchor, but what more can one say about the thunderstorm over open plains that is drummer Billy Hart. These three aren’t just making music, they’re pulling moods from the stars in the sky and the waves in the ocean.
3. Rotem Sivan Trio – Antidote (Aima Records)
Rotem Sivan is pure magic. He plays the guitar with speed and efficiency. He makes great runs. He’s a smart composer. Particularly notable is the interplay he has with his trio of bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and drummer Colin Stranahan (who has been a welcome adjustment of Sivan’s trio for the last couple albums). Together, their sound is spectacular, evoking multiple listens, and ensuring that Sivan’s guitar trio albums are some of the best in the game, likely to last the test of time, like we’re going to be talking about Antidote thirty years from now in the same lineage as Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life.
2. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Centennial Trilogy (Ropeadope Records)
In a bold strike for artistry, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah released three albums this year celebrating jazz, exemplifying it and so many other tangentially related genres, and crafting an overall collection of sounds that are altogether a display of the best that this music has to offer. The direct Ruler Rebel, the groove-centric Diaspora, and the expansive The Emancipation Procrastination all explore various aspects of Scott and his impressive ensemble’s sound, finding every nook and cranny of this music and giving every moment and player their moments in the sun. It’s a massive effort spaced out just right in digestible bites, like the Apostle Paul preparing the meat for us after spending so many years prior giving us the richest whole milk.
1. Linda May Han Oh – Walk Against Wind (Biophilia Records)
Walk Against Wind is the spiritual sequel of Oh’s previous album, 2013’s Sun Pictures. The songs are just as infectious. Saxophonist Ben Wendel is still very much going there. Justin Brown on the drums kills as usual. Linda May Han Oh is a great player and even greater writer, which every successive album she releases proves time and again. “Lucid Lullaby” is indeed a haunting tune that lingers on the brain for months on end. “Speech Impediment” bounds about as much as it loops. “Ikan Bilis” is a spectacular slow build until it reaches its own looping hymn. So much of the album is in such a groove, it’s hard to escape. This is what Linda May Han Oh has always done in her work, which makes Walk Against Wind another addition to such an exceptional career that continues to build while making some of the finest music in the scene.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.