The Best Jazz Albums Released in 2021

How was 2021 for jazz musicians? Let’s reflect back and list out what were, according to me, the five best jazz albums released during the year.

Dear Love – Jazzmeia Horn and Her Noble Force

 September 2021 / Empress Legacy Records ELR001 / US

Dear Love is the third and most ambitious album by Jazzmeia Horn. Her previous albums, A Social Call (2017) and Love & Liberation (2019), both got nominated for Grammy Awards in the category Best Jazz Vocal AlbumDear Love is not only another demonstration of Jazzmeia Horn’s singing ability. The album also spotlights her as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. This orchestral project released on Horn’s label, Empress Legacy Records, has been Grammy nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

Jazzmeia Horn explains that Dear Love addresses three aspects of her existence: her community, her lover, and herself. She infused the album with poetry and spoken word. Her meaningful and intimate vocals have a consistent timbre, a wide range, and an outstanding timing that perfectly communicates with the big band called Her Noble Force.

Bring Backs – Alfa Mist

April 2021 / Anti- 7789-1 / EU

With his third studio album titled Bring Backs, the British producer, songwriter, and pianist Alfa Mist reflects on his sampling and hip-hop days on the streets of London. After self-releasing his two previous solo albums – Antiphon in 2017 and Structuralism in 2019 – Alfa Mist partners with the American independent record label Anti- for the release of his next body of work, Brings Back.

Brings Back blends jazz with R&B, hip-hop, classical, and wistful spoken word. The reflective musical voyage alters between an instrumental atmosphere and vocals. While the instrumental atmosphere is present in each track, the vocal-oriented parts of the album lie mainly in the songs “Mind The Gap” and “Organic Rust“.

Deciphering The Message – Makaya McCraven

November 2021 / Blue Note 00602438144730 / US

For the recording of Deciphering The Message, drummer and producer Makaya McCraven dove into the Blue Note catalog. By rearranging parts, sampling, and adding beats, he presents a contemporary take on jazz classics by among others, Horace Silver, Hank Mobley,  Kenny Dorham, and Art Blakey.

In Deciphering The Message, Makaya McCraven does not celebrate jazz by duplicating the originals. He reimagines and innovates tunes without losing their valued core characteristic. The thirteen songs on the album are an homage to the jazz subgenre from the ’50s and ’60s, hard-bop.

Daring Mind – Jihye Lee Orchestra

March 2021 / Motéma MTM-0385 / US

Daring Mind is the work of the South Korean arranger and composer Jihye Lee. Lee, who had no jazz or classical training, originally became a successful indie-pop singer-songwriter. As she began exploring her own identity, she soon discovered large-ensemble jazz to be more satisfactory. She moved to New York and transitioned into a jazz composer under the guidance of pianist Jim McNeely.

Lee’s experience in pop music gave her a creative view on jazz composition. “Jihye Lee is emerging as a strong voice in the ‘next generation of composers for large jazz ensemble. Her music is imaginative and creative,” Jim McNeely said, “And she’s not afraid to make some exciting changes in her writing.”

Tone Poem – Charles Lloyd and The Marvels

March 2021 / Blue Note – B003313501 / US

Tone Poem, the third cooperation between the 83-year-old Charles Lloyd and The Marvels, is a continuous piece of orchestral music that blends various American music styles such as jazz, blues, and country. 

Lloyd and The Marvels quintet, featuring Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums, present us a full-length album filled with adaptations from Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Ignacio Villa, Gabor Szabo, and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. The album is supplemented with Lloyd originals.

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