As we cautiously edge more deeply into the 2020’s we’ve decided to reflect on an incredible decade of music. Most elucidating of all is the tidal resurgence of contemporary jazz.
The rebirth of cool has seen a massive spike in young jazz audiences, with Spotify revealing that 40% of jazz listening is done by people under 30. This is all thanks to the daring, urgent, and often politically minded genius of the artists below.
Here are the 25 best contemporary jazz albums of the 2010s.
Riding on the crest of the recent jazz revival are 25 incredible artists. These are the best contemporary jazz albums on the 2010s.
25. Cosmo Pyke – Just Cosmo (2017)
The instant success of Peckham teen Cosmo Pyke is a testament to the power of his songwriting. His debut EP is an introspective insight of a lovelorn mind, proving he belongs amongst the lofty heights of artists like King Krule and Mac Demarco.
24. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution (2016)
The Grammy Award winning upright bassist emerged in 2016 from a two year hiatus with a funk, prog-rock fusion that is splashed with moments of mastery. An understated force in contemporary jazz and soul, Esperanza Spalding has dropped seven studio albums since 2006 and each one is more original and innovative than the last.
23. Nubya Garcia – Nubya’s 5ive (2017)
Nubya Garcia is an artist to watch. The way she frequently packs out London clubs with young audiences is astonishing considering the complex, intense music she is creating. Nubya’s 5ive is an intoxicating combination of vibrant soloing and stay-in-your-head hooks.
It’s also empowering to see London’s jazz scene fearlessly embracing female bandleaders across the board. Something its American counterparts sorely lack.
22. ZOOID – In For A Penny, In For A Pound (2015)
Avant garde music isn’t for everyone. It can be a challenge but it can also be life-changing. The pulitzer prize winning album from Henry Threadgill’s band ZOOID is a brilliant mixture of both. A ethereal statement of contemporary jazz, In For A Penny, In For A Pound goes above and beyond what is expected of musicians.
21. Joe Armon-Jones – Turn To Clear View
While Ezra Collective might be the breakout stars of London’s booming jazz scene, the band’s keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones is undoubtedly its cult hero. Nubya Garcia’s lung busting sax solo on You Didn’t Care, reflects the quality of jazz greats and is a potent album climax.
20. GODTET – GODTET
GODTET is the brainchild and live band project of Sydney legend Godriguez, known for producing Sampa the Great’s The Great Mixtape and his raucous, ever changing live shows. GODTET’s self-titled LP is a standout, the expertly crafted songs dancing between dynamics with grooves so tight it could cut off your circulation.
19. Niechęć – [self-titled] (2016)
In 2012, the Polish jazz outfit Niechęć dropped a bomb on the music scene and then quietly disappeared. Their first album featured some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen but their second is more musically deep, and ultimately revolutionary. Their tendency to devolve into freakout jams is utterly unpredictable and wholly exhilarating.
18. Thundercat – The Golden Age Of The Apocalypse (2011)
As far as debut albums go, Thundercat’s The Golden Age Of The Apocalypse is definitely up there with the greatest. Though there are elements of pop and electronica, it’s not really a song album, more the rambling flow of an insane, pink-haired bassist.
17. Moses Boyd – Displaced Diaspora
Moses Boyd’s Displaced Diaspora is a sure sign that the cultural revolution that has reset London’s jazz world over the last four years has bedded itself firmly into the architecture. Featuring Nubya Garcia on drums it also reveals the incredibly community of the scene.
16. Ezra Collective – You Can’t Steal My Joy (2019)
Another magnificent outfit to establish themselves in the burgeoning London jazz scene, Ezra Collective are steadily ensnaring fans and making a confident assertion of breaking out of the once restrictive jazz enclave. Their 2019 album, You Can’t Steal My Joy, is a patchwork testament to jazz’s enduring diversity.
They even collaborate with Jorja Smith, what’s not to love?
15. Mansur Brown – Shiroi (2018)
Released via Kamaal Williams label Black Focus – a veritable goldmine of progressive, groove jazz – Mansur Brown comes with presence, identity, and flair. Occasionally launching into supercharged solos, his unique, octave tone is mind-altering as Brown never becomes complacent throughout the record.
14. Mildlife – Phase (2017)
Emerging fully formed from Melbourne in 2017, Mildlife created some magnificently genius space goo with their debut album Phase. The jam-kraut-jazz outfit are experts at creating catchy tunes out of long-form pieces. From the first listen of Magnificent Moon you will be sucked into the void and beyond.
13. Matana Roberts – COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (2019)
The fourth volume in a proposed 12-part suite exploring African-American history, the saxophonists fuses elements of free jazz and folk spiritual in an enlightening yet often dark excursion of passion and pain. Matana Roberts is as driven and inspired as they come.
12. The Necks – Unfold (2017)
Australia’s biggest cult band, The Necks can often write an album on one of two hour long movements. Half experimental, half jazz, Unfold plays out like a relentless fever dream and is just the tip of the iceberg, as this insanely prolific trio edges closer to the dawn of a three decade relationship.
11. Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here (2014)
The chameleon talents of Snarky Puppy never cease to amaze. I once saw them live three times at Bluesfest and each set was wholly and completely different. The depth of their talent is damn near frightening and their 2014 album We Like It Here is no different.
1o. Matthew Halsall – On The Go (2011)
On The Go won best contemporary jazz album at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards 2012, and it’s easy to understand why. Matthew Halsall moves effortlessly through each measure and oozes with feeling that will only make you close your eyes and smile.
Album closer, The Move, has one of the best trumpet solos of the 21st Century and showcases Halsall tendency to opt for picking the right notes, rather than all the notes.
9. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV (2016)
Canadian quartet BADBADNOTGOOD have turned some heads over the past few years, and it’s not for their eye-catching name. On their succinctly titled fourth album the outfit have reigned in their jam band impulses to create a stunning portrait of a 21st Century lounge, jazz band.
The smooth production blends well with its R&B and hip-hop elements and features some magnificent markers of future growth. Their most forward thinking record yet, BBNG are on their way to big things.
8. Sons Of Kemet – Your Queen Is a Reptile (2018)
Step inside the music of Shabaka Hutchings, 33-year-old London saxophonist and bandleader of Sons of Kemet. Hutchings is a fixture in many projects, including cosmic jazz trio The Comet Is Coming, Afrofuturist outfit the Ancestors, and occasionally as a guest player with the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Your Queen Is a Reptile tours the history of England as a conduit to memory yet with the intense, sweating energy of those yearning for release, salvation or mass awareness.
7. Alpha Mist – Antiphon (2017)
Rising London jazz pianist, Alpha Mist has collaborated with Yussef Dayes, Mansur Brown and Jordan Rakei. Taking cues from Thelonious Monk, Alpha chooses to create tension with contrapuntal chords rather than flashy solos.
The beat driven gallops and occasional rapping lays everything bare along Alpha Mists artistic road, inspiring insightful conversation about the current state of classism in the UK.
6. Portico Quartet – Memory Streams (2019)
Progressive London outfit Portico Quartet dropped their magnificent fifth album Memory Streams, via Matthew Halsall’s label Gondwana Records, and it’s downright incredible. It’s a cohesive, journey to the edge of ambient jazz without dropping into the void of fusion.
The quartet have honed their craft over the past 10 years to refine a sound that is impressionistic, indelible and ultimately, very hard to pin down. Their finest work to date, Memory Streams utilises their signature hang drum, chiming through their cacophonous chambers of sound.
5. The Comet Is Coming – Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery (2019)
Shortlisted for the Mercury Prize in 2016, rising jazz star Shabaka Hutchings and his cosmic trio dance towards the apocalypse and yearn for humanity before it all crashes down.
The whole album is drenched in a gripping intensity that doesn’t let go from start to finish. Kaleidoscope jazz is the best way I can describe it and beyond that you will have to experience the apocalypse for yourself.
4. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon (2015)
Self described as “future soul,” Hiatus Kaiyote believe their sophomore album, Choose Your Weapon, is a “huge, massive, complex puzzle.” If the ones who wrote it think so, what chance do we have?
Remarkably dense, layered, and mind-bendingly original, Choose Your Weapon, can often impose a feeling of weightlessness. Like some psychedelic jazz fever, Nai Palm’s incredible vocals won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
3. Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus (2016)
The most exciting drummer to emerge in recent years, Yussef Dayes is all sorts of cool and dazzles with flair and insanely tight ghost notes. Wholly immersed in groove, Black Focus, is a collaboration with Kamaal Williams and won the ‘Breakthrough Act’ award at the 2017 Jazz FM awards.
Another act who seems to be paving the way for the future of jazz, Yussef Kamaal have reached the summit and are sharing their tales with a daring urgency.
2. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth (2018)
The robed, jazz prophet that is Kamasi Washington has wowed audiences with his benevolence, presence, and prolific output. Heaven and Earth is a cornucopia of musical ideas ideas and his most sweeping, complete statement yet.
The sprawling two and a half hour epic infuses operatic choir sequences that elevate Washington’s stirring, often heroic motifs. The melodic contour pays respects to traditional jazz while having its eyes set firmly on the future.
1. King Krule – The Ooz (2017)
King Krule has singlehandedly changed the game. A lone leader of the youth jazz renaissance, London downer Archy Marshall has created something immersive, moving, and wholly unique with The Ooz.
Armed with a blood-stopping voice, the troll under the bridge of society creates tense, powerful vocal escapades through a mind that is midnight black. Blending contemporary jazz, rock, hip-hop, and soul into a heady brew that is strong enough to knock you out. Archy Marshall revels in the originality of his sound world as if he has existed there from the second he was born.