Best jazz albums of 2022
By Giovanni Russonello
At the end of the seventh album on this list (no spoilers), the poet and philosopher Thomas Stanley’s voice rises up over a clatter of drums and saxophone, offering a darkly optimistic take on the state of jazz. “Ultimately, perhaps it is good that the people abandoned jazz, replaced it with musical products better suited to capitalism’s designs,” he muses. “Now jazz jumps up like Lazarus, if we allow it, to rediscover itself as a living music.”
Jazz is jumping up, for sure — though not always where you expect it to, and certainly not in any predictable form. Some of the artists below wouldn’t call the music they make jazz at all. Maybe we don’t need to either. Let’s just call these albums what they were, each in their own way: breakthroughs, bold experiments and — despite everything around us — reasons for hope.
1. Cécile McLorin Salvant, ‘Ghost Song’
Known mostly as a brilliant interpreter of 20th-century songs, Cécile McLorin Salvant has never made an album as heavy on original tunes, nor as stylistically adventurous, as this one. Her voice soars over Andrew Lloyd Webber-level pipe organ in one moment, and settles warmly into a combo featuring banjo, flute and percussion in the next.
2. Immanuel Wilkins, ‘The 7th Hand’
With his quartet, Wilkins shows that tilted rhythms, extended harmony and acoustic instruments — the “blending of idea, tone and imagination” that, for Ralph Ellison, defined jazz more than 50 years ago — can still speak to listeners in the present tense.
3. Fred Moten, Brandon López and Gerald Cleaver, ‘Moten/López/Cleaver’
It’s a shame that hearing poet and theorist Fred Moten’s voice on record is such a rare thrill. On “Moten/López/Cleaver,” his first LP accompanied by the quiet, rolling drums of Gerald Cleaver and Brandon López’s ink-dark bass, Moten is after nothing less than a full interrogation of the ways Black systems of knowledge have been strip-mined and cast aside, and yet have regrown.
4. Anteloper, ‘Pink Dolphins’
The creative-music world is still recovering from the loss of Jaimie Branch, the game-changing trumpeter who died in August at 39. “Pink Dolphins” is the second album from Anteloper, her electroacoustic duo with drummer Jason Nazary, and it shows what Branch was all about: unpurified, salt-of-the-earth sound, packed with a generous spirit.
5. David Virelles, ‘Nuna’
Whether foraging into dark crannies of dissonance on the lower end of the keyboard or lacing a courtly dance rhythm into an otherwise scattered improvisation, pianist David Virelles pays attention to detail at every level. He clearly listens to peers: Matt Mitchell, Jason Moran, Kris Davis. He draws from modernism and its malcontents: Morton Feldman, Olivier Messaien, Thelonious Monk. He pulls heavily from Cuban folk traditions: Changüi, Abakuá, danzón. And on “Nuna,” his first solo-piano record, he spreads that across all 88 keys.
6. Samara Joy, ‘Linger Awhile’
“Linger Awhile” is a rite of passage: a by-the-book, here’s-what-I-can-do major-label debut. Fortunately, Samara Joy’s harmonic ideas are riveting enough and her voice so infectious that it doesn’t feel like an exercise. On “Nostalgia,” just try not to crack a smile at the lyrics she wrote to the melody of Fats Navarro’s 1947 trumpet solo while you simply shake your head at her command.
7. Moor Mother, ‘Jazz Codes’
With “Jazz Codes,” poet and electronic artist Camae Ayewa declares her love for the jazz lineage, and registers some concerns. On “Woody Shaw,” over Melanie Charles’ hypnotizing vocals, Ayewa laments the entrapment of this music in white institutions; on “Barely Woke,” she turns her attention to the culture at large: “If only we could wake up with a little more urgency/State of emergency/But I feel barely woke.”
8. Angelica Sanchez Trio, ‘Sparkle Beings’
Stalwart avant-garde pianist Angelica Sanchez steers a new all-star trio here, with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Billy Hart, letting melodies explode in her hand and locking in — closely but not too tightly — with Hart’s drums.
9. Makaya McCraven, ‘In These Times’
Makaya McCraven, the Chicago-based drummer and producer, spent years recording, stitching together and plumping up the tracks that appear on “In These Times.” Mixing crisply plucked harp, springy guitar, snaky bass lines, horns, drums and more, he’s drawn up an enveloping sound picture that’s often not far-off from a classic David Axelrod production, or a 1970s Curtis Mayfield album without the vocal track.
10. Samora Pinderhughes, ‘Grief’
One piece of a larger multimedia work, the original songs on “Grief” grew out of more than 100 interviews that pianist, vocalist and activist Samora Pinderhughes conducted with people whose lives had been impacted by the criminal justice system. Mixing gospel harmonies, simmering post-hip-hop instrumentals and wounded balladry, the music shudders with outrage and vision.