Best of 2022: The Top 10 Jazz2K Releases of 2022

I think it’s about that time. LET’S COUNT ‘EM DOWN!


THE OSTARA PROJECT – The Ostara Project (Cellar Music Group)

First there was Lioness. Then there was Artemis. Now Canadian label Cellar Music Group brings us another all-women, all-star jazz band in The Ostara Project. (FUN FACT: Ostara is the Germanic goddess of the Spring Equinox.) Led by JUNO Award winning altoist Allison Au, the Project’s eponymous release features killer originals with a wild reboot of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” This may be the best time for women in jazz, in that the major labels are smart enough to see both the attraction and the need for female artists in this genre. We can only hope even more women jazzers get their own chance to shine in 2023!


NDUDUZO MAKHATINI – In the Spirit of Ntu (Blue Note)

A triumphant return to the Jazz2K Top 10 for South African pianist/composer Nduduzo Makhatini, who made the list in 2020 with his Blue Note debut Modes of Communication: Letters from The Underworld. In the Sprit of Ntu is more of the same, and that’s a good thing, for once: The soaring, ebullient Afropop Makhatini specializes in ranges far and wide, both musically and emotionally, and while it doesn’t quite qualify as Trance Music, you will find yourself completely riveted to the intense, multi-layered sound tapestry Makhatini weaves right before your eyes.


WILL BERNARD – Pond Life (Dreck to Disc Records)

Although guitarist Will Bernard can (and does) play anything he wants to, I believe he is at his best when his music lands on the subversive side of the equation: Check out his 2020 Ropeadope release Freelance Subversives, the last time Bernard made the Jazz2K Top 10. For his return to the list, Bernard gathered a group of like-minded musical anarchists: Sax fiend Tim Berne, MSMW keyboardist John Medeski, PHAT bassist Chris Lightcap, and otherworldly drummer Ches Smith. The results are predictably explosive, with muscular originals that don’t just change the game – they make up a wild musical game of their own.


THE COMET IS COMING – Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (impulse!)

You have to love any band that’s named after a BBC Radiophonic Workshop piece. Well, you don’t HAVE to, but in the case of the power trio behind the electronic festival that is The Comet Is Coming, you really don’t have a choice. The chemistry between reedman “King Shabaka” Hutchings, keyboardist Dan “Danalogue” Leavers, and drummer “Betamax” Max Hallett takes your breath away as they fill their second impulse! release with towering instrumental mountain ranges that are breathtaking in their size and majesty. This space cruise is not for everybody, but those who “get it” will get it big-time!


ALEX SIPIAGIN – Ascent to the Blues (Positone)

While horn man Alex Sipiagin records for multiple labels nowadays, his best work has been on Positone, a marque that’s become one of the most consistently delightful jazz labels on the menu. Teaming up with ripping tenorman Diego Rivera and Positone’s “Wrecking Crew” (keyboardist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston), Sipiagin hits it out of the park with originals that are entirely accessible while maintaining a muscular identity of their own. He’s got new music coming out on Criss Cross in 2023, so check that out, but don’t pass Ascent by just because it’s a new year.


AMINA FIGAROVA – Joy (AmFi Records)

Pianist/composer Amina Figarova is one of the reasons why I created “Jazz2K @ The Saint”, in that there were artists I believed in that weren’t getting the on-air representation they deserved. Figarova is Maria Schneider in miniature: Figarova creates complex, pastoral music with a band about a quarter the size of Schneider’s orchestra. With Joy, Figarova and flautist/producer/spouse Bart Platteau brings in saxman Wayne Escoffery, trumpeter/longtime co-conspirator Alex Pope Norris, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and the aforementioned Rudy Royston to take Figarova’s growth curve well beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.


JOEL ROSS – The Parable of The Poet (Blue Note)

A past winner of the Jazz2K Rookie of The Year award, vibes master Joel Ross continues his assault on the genre with his third set of wild originals. A student of Greater Nippertown legend Stefon Harris, Ross’ command of his instrument should be beyond someone his age, but like the young baseball team that doesn’t know it’s supposed to suck, Ross creates righteous original soundscapes that leave your jaw hanging every time. Altoist Immanuel Wilkins, trumpeter Marquis Hill, and tenor player Maria Grand gives Ross a palate of infinite colors to work with, and the results leave you hungry for a LOT more!


J.D. ALLEN – Americana, Vol. 2 (Savant)

Tenor saxman J.D. Allen does more with less than a lot of jazzers: He normally works in a sax trio, one of the most difficult configs in the game, and his last Savant release Queen City was Allen all by his lonesome. This time around, the blues quotient in J.D.’s music goes off like a bomb thanks to the inclusion of guitar legend Charlie Hunter, whose slide work takes “This World is A Mean World” to the nasty level it demands. Bassist Gregg August and the ever-present Rudy Royston build a dance floor that’s tough as a nickel steak, which is the way to represent American musical history: Truthfully!


TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON, et. al. – New Standards, Vol. 1 (Candid)

Blinding dates like this one reassure me about the future of this genre. Drummer/educator Terri Lyne Carrington’s base quintet on New Standards is a pack of hungry lions, both old and young: Pianist Kris Davis, bassist Linda May Han Oh, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and guitarist Matthew Stevens are all leaders in their own right, but they all fall into formation on this showcase of original material by some of the most talented women in jazz, including Abbey Lincoln, Carla Bley, Gretchen Parlato, Marilyn Crispell and Shamie Royston. It’s nice when the future looks bright, isn’t it?


MIGUEL ZENON – Musica de Las Americas (Miel Music)

Truth to tell, this disc and New Standards were trading places between #1 and #2 for the last two months. However, ties are boring, and declaring #1 and #1A seems like a cop-out. I went with altoist Miguel Zenon’s latest self-released quartet date for two reasons: It continues to examine the world through Zenon’s inquiring outlook, and there are moments of unfettered joy throughout this date where you just sit and smile like a fool. It’s also got piano by Luis Perdomo, who paints musical masterpieces as a regular thing. It was close, but Musica de Las Americas wins the race at the line. 

And that was my 2022. Yours may have gone differently, but I hope it went well, and let’s hope for more beautiful music in 2023. Peace!

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