The RC Top 50 albums list: first annual with Todd Stewart

Hope you enjoy these top 50 albums! I’m sure that I’ve included something for everyone.

The RC Top 50 albums list: first annual with Todd Stewart

A lot of folks in Vancouver’s music scene know me for my drumming, playing mostly jazz and jazz-adjacent creative music around town. Close friends of mine know that by summertime last year, some chronic health issues got to the point where I had to take a bit of a step back from playing for a while.

Please don't be concerned. Through some routines and treatments I’ve been keeping up, I’ve been able to stay stable and continue playing. I’m now even getting back to practicing the instrument regularly.

One silver lining of the way things went last year was getting into records more extensively than I can remember in any time since becoming a working musician myself. I figured it would be nice to keep up with current releases and compile a list of my personal favourites.

2023 Top 50: Todd Stewart

Jump to albums: 50-31


50: Unknown Mortal Orchestra - V

I personally feel that their album II is one of the best rock albums of the last 15 years, so naturally I really dug the stylistic callback to that record here, with Ruban Nielson’s guitar playing once again at the forefront of most of these songs. The pocket is deep and UMO’s hazy, sample-influenced take on psych rock and lo-fi pop is unmistakable.

49: Myele Manzanza - Crisis & Opportunity, Vol. 4 - Meditations

A very moody piano trio record that brings to mind artists like Aaron Parks and Mark Guiliana with the slight rock influence heard in its direct harmony and hard-hitting grooves. Its appeal to me really lies in Manzanza’s evocative and dynamic compositions.

48: Núria Graham - Cyclamen

Bringing the dreamy Autumn vibes like nothing else in 2023. All of these songs are arranged with a gorgeous and varied mix of acoustic instrumentation. Recommending for all the Adrianne Lenker / Big Thief fans out there.

47: Vicente Archer with Gerald Clayton & Bill Stewart - Short Stories

Such a solid piano trio record. All three musicians contribute tunes to form a remarkably cohesive post-bop body of work, and their sound as a group is totally locked in. 

46: Butcher Brown - Solar Music

BB has easily been one of the world's funkiest bands for a good 10 years now since the release of the incredible All Purpose Music. It’s easy to hear that they had a ton of fun on this album, which is their most carefree release as far as genre-hopping goes. Recommending this to hip hop heads who wanna hear a variety of nice flows over uplifting and summery instrumentals.

45: Irreversible Entanglements - Protect Your Light

A very approachable album considering their style of heated avant-garde jazz which features Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother)’s decolonial spoken word poetry at the forefront. Many of the grooves in this record are infectious and could stick in your head for some time, with strains of modal swing and afrobeat executed beautifully.

44: Meshell Ndegeocello - The Omnichord Real Book 

My introduction to Meshell Ndegeocello, whose extensive discography I definitely need to get familiar with. This is a somewhat unpredictable listen, grounded in afrobeat and psychedelic funk, but filled with many stylistic curveballs into spacey art pop and other things. 

43: Malleus Trio - On/Off 

Definitely one of the best local releases of 2023. Malleus Trio offers a genuinely unique sound with their quirky take on jazz-funk which features no guitar, keys or electronics of any sort – and does not leave you longing for their presence.

42: L’Rain - I Killed Your Dog

I’m a huge fan of L’Rain, with her stunning Fatigue being very close to my favorite album of 2021. Her approach to psychedelia is distinctive and brimming with personality. Although this one somewhat lacks the innovation of its predecessor – it’s her self-proclaimed “basic bitch album” after all – it's a deeply lush and intoxicating album in its own right.

41: Noah Franche-Nolan - Portraits From the Interior World I

2023 saw multiple great releases from Noah Franche-Nolan, one of so-called “Canada’s” finest and most well-rounded musicians. My personal favorite was the first volume of his Portraits From the Interior World project. The collaborative energy between Franche-Nolan and his collaborators here is beautifully dialed-in and made for the most enveloping ambient record of the year, in my opinion.

40: Daniel Villarreal - Lados B

An incredibly laid-back album recorded during a backyard jam during lockdown, October 2020. You can really sense that this trio is deeply grateful just to be playing music again, even for one fleeting moment. Breezy, easy going latin funk all the way through this album.

39: Natural Information Society - Since Time Is Gravity

One of the most hypnotic albums to come out recently. It brings an intriguing large ensemble of Afro-Indian influenced sound to life in a way that is remarkably accessible given the unfiltered and confrontational tradition of the Chicago avant-garde jazz scene. The standout performer here is an elder of the aforementioned scene, Ari Brown, whose soulful tenor playing gracefully rides the groove backdrop NIS delivers, which is easy to lose yourself in.

38: Super Duty Tough Work - Paradigm Shift

For my money, this is the best rap act in so-called “Canada.” MC Brendan Kinley’s laid back flow and topical, sharp lyricism is as alluring as the group's tight live instrumentation. 

37: Hailu Mergia - Pioneer Works Swing (Live)

This live record from living legend of Ethiopian jazz Hailu Mergia is a relentlessly upbeat and funky affair. Anyone who plays or even is just into the drums has to check this, because drummer Kenneth Joseph just goes nuts, playing some super unique grooves. A joyous set of music.

36: Terrace Martin / Alex Isley - I Left My Heart in Ladera

If you like your neo-soul with a 90s tinge, this short and sweet collaboration is definitely worth your time. Lovely production from Terrace Martin, Alex Isley sounds so great all the way through it and it maintains a nice, consistent laid back vibe.

35: Madison McFerrin - I Hope You Can Forgive Me

Madison's skill at arranging, performing and mixing her vocals is something to be admired. Even when going full a capella on probably the best song here, “God Herself,” she’s giving you everything you could ask for. 

34: Brandee Younger - Brand New Life

Brandee Younger’s celebration of 70’s harp legend Dorothy Ashby goes above and beyond the usual tribute album formula. Ashby’s work was heavily sampled in 90s hip-hop, so, bringing things full circle, Younger presents some never-recorded Ashby gems and features those very same hip hop producers, now legends in their own right, on a couple tracks here. She also works some of her own writing into the record. One of the prettiest and most chilled-out records of the year.

33: Angelika Niescier / Tomeka Reid / Savannah Harris - Beyond Dragons

An unhinged outburst of creative playing from these three musicians coming together from Cologne, Chicago and New York to deliver this wild record. It hits that perfect sweet spot in avant-garde music where spontaneity meets precision. Particular shout-out: Savannah Harris, bringing a constant stream of virtuosity and taste, has proven herself as a leading drummer in this music with her performance here. 

32: Aaron Diehl & the Knights - Zodiac Suite

The first ever recording of the legendary Mary Lou Williams’ orchestral arrangement of her “Zodiac Suite” (1945), which unfortunately she didn’t get the opportunity to fully realize in her lifetime. This is such an important project and an essential document of the third-stream era, quite ahead of its time. 

31: High Pulp - Days In the Desert

One of the best fusion albums of the year for sure. A variety of electronic and rock influences come together really tastefully here. Somewhat experimental at moments, but overall it brings super accessible and familiar sounds for anyone into this kind of music. 


30: Koma Saxo - Post Koma

Sweden’s Koma Saxo continues to be one of the most unique bands active today. The textures they get using a blend of saxophones remain as novel as they were on their debut, and no one is incorporating hip hop influenced acoustic bass and drumset sounds into such rhythmically dizzying odd meter contexts as smoothly as they are.  

29: Ben Wendel - All One

One of those musicians who’s almost too talented for their own good, with an incredible level of technical command of various woodwinds on full display on this album. The epitome of a pandemic project, Wendel performed almost everything on this “woodwind choir” album, which he began work on back in 2020. The only other players on the album are the various guest features who get showcased beautifully on each track.

28: Bellbird - Root in Tandem

This Montreal release is definitely an essential listen for anyone into ECM-type music. Claire Devlin and Allison Burik’s respective saxophone (& bass clarinet) tones are so nice on their own, but it’s their ability to blend together with grace that elevates this band’s sound… and nobody in the Vancouver jazz scene needs me to make the case for Mili and Eli’s time feel, you already know.

27: Ayizan - Diligans (1984)

This newly reissued recording from 70s/80s Haitian fusion band Ayizan has an unbelievable sense of groove. It will grab you immediately and keep you invested for its runtime. I love that while recorded in 1984, the album feels like a 70s record with that clean, warm production. It’s also an essential document of music as a means of political resistance. It's worth looking into their history.

26: Blake Mills - Jelly Road 

In addition to his many A-list production and songwriting credits, Blake Mills has been on a killer run with his own projects. In 2021 he had the wonderful Notes with Attachments with Pino Palladino and now this, which is completely different. I’d summarize it as a trippy folk-rock experience with playful studio work and tight performances. The production is particularly amazing, but that’s a given with any Mills project.

25: Kevin Romain - Salience Network

Local talent came through with a unique and tight chordless trio album here, almost my favorite one of the year. I’ve loved Kevin’s writing for some time, having heard this material live on multiple occasions throughout the past couple years. The album perfectly captures the improvisational fire that these three always bring to the table at their live sets. Feven Kidane shines on her two features as well. 

24: Shirley Scott - Queen Talk (Live at the Left Bank) [1972]

This swings like mad. Being a Cellar Live archival project, this album’s release was augmented with a tribute show at Frankie’s which I was stoked to be a part of. So, I spent quite a lot of time listening closely to this and trying to wrap my head around Bobby Durham’s ridiculously energetic feel on the drums (the tape is pitched/sped up though so maybe that helps me accept how he’s actually able to play all this stuff). 

There’s one big skip on the record however: “Girl Talk” featuring guest vocalist Ernie Andrews. Lyrically, that’s gotta be the worst standard tune ever. He is killin’ on “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” though.

23: Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))

The late Jaimie Branch clearly had no musical concerns outside of doing whatever she wanted, however she wanted. On no other record will you hear left-field fusion, extended Afro-Caribbean jams, and flashes of punk and country all within a continuous suite that is miraculously cohesive as a piece of impassioned musical rebellion. May she rest in peace.

22: Asher Gamedze - Turbulence and Pulse 

If you like your so-called “jazz” on the looser, more agitated side, this album from Cape Town based artist Asher Gamedze is for you. The monologue in the first track establishes the ethos of his work eloquently and puts you into a particular mindset to digest the music and ponder what exactly is accomplished by music-making in the grander scheme of engagement with our reality.

21: Don Cherry - Dollar and Okay's Tune (Live in Paris 1971)

This archival recording features bold, flowing performances from Cherry, Turkish drummer Okay Temiz, and South African bassist Johnny Dyani. It’s rare to hear lengthy improvisational sets take shape in so many different directions as seamlessly as this does. There is no second-guessing coming from anyone for even a second. It’s a captivating recording and a top-notch addition to the Don Cherry discography.


20: James Brandon Lewis - For Mahalia, With Love

Sadly, when James Brandon Lewis was in town this summer, I was not feeling well enough to go. Luckily for me he dropped two amazing albums this year which I spent a ton of time listening to. A tribute to gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, this album explores Black American spirituals with deep reverence and intention that brings to mind early 70s works of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. I feel like this album could be a great gateway into “free jazz” for someone wanting to try it; a lot of it is digestible and the improvisations unfold very smoothly.

19: Salami Rose Joe Louis - Akousmatikous 

Indie-pop oddball Lindsay Olsen, under her alias Salami Rose Joe Louis, has crafted a memorable set of glitchy and funky synth-pop songs here. There’s a loosely-implied sci-fi concept alluding to tainted romance and dystopia, but it’s tough to really piece it together tangibly through the fog of her hushed vocals and strung-out instrumental backing. These may sound like criticisms but it really all adds to the dissociative allure of this album. Eccentricity aside, this is a very easy listen, with catchy melodies, beautiful keyboard & synth layering, and some of the coolest drum beats I’ve heard in a long time. 

18: Kofi Flexxx - Flowers in the Dark

UK jazz innovator Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors) once again shakes things up for an unforgettable project. A melting pot of afrobeat/avant-garde/abstract hip hop and spoken word which, when you play it from top to bottom, simply makes sense through the strength of its aesthetic vision. I will mention that this is the first album on my list that features appearances from game-changing NY rappers billy woods and ELUCID. They’ll appear again.

17: Lutalo - AGAIN 

Vermont singer-songwriter Lutalo Jones delivers exceptional lo-fi indie rock on their 2nd release. Their sound, a mix of fuzzed-out, compressed instrumentation and candid, understated vocals, is standard fare for underground rock these days. What’s special however, is the quality of songwriting and arranging found here, (with all parts written and performed by Lutalo). With coded, melancholic reflections on the struggle to nurture one’s humanity while trapped in late-stage capitalism, the record shines on the lyrical front. Shout out to “Strange Folk” for guitar riff of the year (imo).

16: Kendrick Scott - Corridors

If you want to hear some clean, shredding modern post-bop you must check this out. Scott’s writing is straightforward and gives Walter Smith III the perfect backing to shine as a soloist. No overly-complex song forms to tie everybody down (no chords either, as it’s just the trio on this record). Reuben Rogers also covers exactly as much ground as needed with his huge sound and deep pocket. Scott’s performance on the drums… nothing short of a masterclass - exceptional ideas and exceptional execution. I almost can’t even believe how spotless his playing is, he has raised the bar for drummers everywhere with this record.

15: Jason Moran / Marcus Gilmore / - Refract

This is a very intriguing collaboration which explores the integration of electroacoustic work into a modern jazz setting. A record I would recommend to any atmospheric, experimental electronic music fans or anyone who likes to listen to a variety of sprawling, sonically varied instrumental albums. Anyone who knows me as a drummer knows that I’m a huge Marcus Gilmore fan and of course this record is a great showcase of his innovative style. However, I think the best moments on the album happen in his absence, when it borders on ambient music. Jason Moran’s impressionistic piano improvisations are so beautiful, and’ tape loop work adds just enough interesting texture to elevate and never distract from what he’s doing. 

14: TEKE::TEKE - Hagata

This Japanese surf rock band from Montreal is absolutely wild. In their sprawling, dramatic songs they more or less cover the whole spectrum of rock music with progressive moments, punky moments, and flute, trombone and string parts adding color over everything. On top of all that, you get some truly insane, dynamic vocal performances over it all. Without a doubt the most fun I had listening to a rock album in 2023.

13: billy woods / Kenny Segal - Maps

Music critic and commentator Myke C-Town said it best: “Your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper does not rap like billy woods.” There’s really nothing I need to add to the discussion of this album, every music publication around has already showered woods and Kenny Segal with well-deserved praise for this dense, yet tight alternative hip hop album.


This album from the power duo of Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi feels like it’s the culmination of everything they’ve been about for the time they've been doing this. It’s flashy, it’s got ridiculously tight grooves, super catchy melodies over interesting chord progressions, and it’s always silly (sometimes completely nonsensical) lyrically. Mononeon’s features here are big highlights with some of the best funk bass playing I’ve heard in a while. The biggest highlight though is “It’s All Nothing Until It’s Everything” which is honestly the best track I’ve ever heard from these two.

11: Caroline Polacheck - Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

This is the type of album that comes along every once in a while to remind me of how amazing pop music can be at its best. Caroline’s melodic sensibility is impeccable and she seems to have no limitations to what she can pull off as a singer; if the album’s vocal processing has you doubting her raw ability, just watch her Tiny Desk concert; she is the real deal. 

While her songs are so clearly informed by a study of pop music’s history, with particularly obvious 80s and 90s vibes coming into focus throughout, the record totally feels cutting-edge. Polachek conjures utopian glamor and euphoria like no one else and this is easily one of the most fun, impressive records of the year.


10: Cécile McLorin Salvant - Mélusine

This album epitomizes elegance and virtuosity. Conceptually, Salvant explores a medieval French story of a woman who is cursed by her mother to turn half-snake every Saturday, and her journey dealing with love under her conditions. I have not worked around the multilingual (mostly French) lyrical makeup of this album, but the drama conveyed by Salvant’s vocal performances did more than enough to bring the tale to life for me, (having read the Cliff's notes on the album’s Bandcamp page, of course). The story is told through a collection of songs that includes Salvant originals and arrangements of folk, theatrical and classical songs originating from an immense range of eras including the 20th, 17th, and even, with “Dame Iseut,” (translated into Haitian Kreyol from the ancient French Occitan language) the 12th century. Musically, Salvant covers French chanson and many variants of contemporary vocal “jazz,” with tight arrangements, stellar playing all-around, and a ton of variety instrumentally. It’s an ambitious work that’s executed to perfection.

9: Miho Hazama - m_unit: Beyond Orbits

A brilliant presentation of large ensemble compositions. Sometimes, when listening to modern big band recordings, I feel like there is an overemphasis on perfection over the raw personality that was achieved by the greats of the past through playing together endlessly and developing a sound and feel that was truly their own. That thought did not cross my mind at all with this one (which is technically not a real “big band” but it’s in the ballpark). The writing is fresh, the band is inspired, and the solos are killing all over it. 


The fact that a band doing what I would describe as a “Tony Williams Lifetime meets Godspeed You! Black Emperor meets mid-70s King Crimson meets Maurice Ravel” take on avant-garde fusion even exists is an absolute blessing for me; that they are a local band is something I will never take for granted. 

“DOCTOR DAWN” is a highlight, showcasing composer Cole Schmidt’s melodic talents with some very impressionistic, beautiful writing that provides a welcome breather halfway through the record. Additionally, Dan Gaucher further cements himself as one of the best, most versatile drummers in the country, particularly on “USELESS GENIUS 2” where he smoothly plays everything I could ever ask for and more over Schmidt’s hypnotic “less-is-more” guitar ostinato. It’s a glorious moment.

This album is in your face and unapologetic with its stylistic range and sonic maximalism and it’s insane how much ground it covers within its well-sequenced, tight 37-minute runtime. Not to be missed for any adventurous music fans.

7: Sean Mason - The Southern Suite

Imagine a set of unrecorded Horace Silver tunes filtered through Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, and the entire scope of their influence on this music. That’s kind of what you get here. The band swings like crazy and there’s a strong gospel influence permeating Mason’s writing and piano playing which is at the core of the record’s rich personality. 

Not only are the melodies on these songs infectious, fun and soulful but the band’s performance of them is filled with passion. “Closure,” in my opinion, is one of the best original pieces of “straight-ahead jazz” writing to come out in the past 20 years. “One United” is another favorite, with the band inventively changing their approach to the tune’s arranged figures throughout the solos. It’s very Ahmad Jamal, particularly in Mason’s solo. 

Refreshingly, most tunes here just feature one or two solos; “Lullaby,” “Lavender” and “Sean’s Theme” don't even have solos, aside from some minor riffing. It’s nice to sometimes hear a less long-winded approach to this kind of music. With all that in mind, the album delivers a fresh and inspired take on hard bop, an impressive feat in 2023.

6: Armand Hammer - We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

ELUCID and billy woods have crafted a monumental and boundary pushing hip hop album here. Every beat, every feature, and of course, every verse from the core duo is instantly memorable. 

Many of the beats originate from a jam session curated by ELUCID featuring improvising musicians, including UK giant Shabaka Hutchings. From this session, a cast of producers who mostly have worked for A.H. in the past chopped and assembled vivid soundscapes that all just sound incredible to me. Unrelated to that session are JPEGMAFIA’s psychedelic electronic beats, which bookend the album and do an amazing job of inviting you into its universe and closing out the experience. 

Lyrically, the album sits at the furthest extent of abstraction in hip hop, far out even in comparison to their own discographies. A lot of it I won’t even pretend to understand (especially most of ELUCID’s verses), but the amount of brilliant wordplay packed into this thing is crazy. The fact that since 2022 billy woods dropped Aethiopes and Maps, two milestone records for rap lyricism, (plus Church, which I haven't heard yet) and he still has so much to say this far into his career is kinda unparalleled by anyone else right now. 

Considering how many producers and rappers contributed to this, the fact that its sound palette and track sequencing creates such a cohesive, evocative journey is an artistic marvel. If you like hip hop that makes your head spin, you can’t miss this.


5: Kara Jackson - Why Does the Earth Give Us People To Love?

It’s a power move to drop a debut album this great. The level of maturity, dry humor and profundity in these songs is stunning coming from a brand new force in indie music who’s still in her early 20s. 

Her songs, like those of any great songwriter, feel like they have always existed in the abstract and have been waiting for the right person to bring them to life; particularly with the self-assured and witty run of songs from “dickhead blues” to “Brain.” Jackson flexes storytelling chops on “rat,” which dives into the trope of the country boy who abandoned his woman and “took to the highway, high off headiness.” With the title track, Jackson has penned a gutting, heartfelt masterpiece on the death of a close friend which alludes to the exploitation of grief by capitalism and the church. 

Jackson’s powerful low-register singing is refreshing to hear amidst the wispy and hushed vocal style that dominates much of today’s folk landscape. When I saw her live, she aced the singer-songwriter litmus test of performing solo with just her guitar, her voice and her songs, and proved herself as one of the very best we have today. 

4: Sampha - Lahai

On my first listen, I didn’t anticipate that this album would get stuck in rotation as firmly as it did for me. The chilled-out, reflective mindset Sampha is writing from here isn’t totally screaming for one’s attention… but that’s kind of the beauty of it. Aside from the poetic standout “Only,” I wouldn’t say this album’s lyrics on internal and interpersonal labor and growth are its main appeal or anything, but they come together so well with the warm and comforting sound of the music.

Really, it’s what this album does sonically that makes it hit so hard for me. It’s one of the most well-produced albums I can recall from the past few years. The piano and mostly electronic percussion-based instrumental palette is executed to perfection, with every listen revealing new details balanced flawlessly in the mix. Sampha’s vocals shine with his precise delivery and tasteful harmonic layering.

“Spirit 2.0” is an instrumental highlight with UK fusion king Yussef Dayes laying down one of the most subtle, yet technically astonishing drum performances I’ve heard in any kind of pop song. “Jonathan L. Seagull" is easily my favorite song here with its dynamic arrangement, perfect compositional structure and even some amazing bass fills. 

3: James Brandon Lewis - Eye of I 

James Brandon Lewis has definitely become one of my favorite modern tenor saxophonists. He comfortably wears his influences (the usual - John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Rollins) on his sleeve, but what he does stylistically to expand on that lineage is distinctive and powerful. 

The x-factor with this particular album comes in its integration of heavy rock music, as heard in Max Jaffe’s pummeling, tom-heavy drum sound and Chris Hoffman’s electric and sometimes heavily distorted cello. Hoffman’s thunderous attack on the title track feels like something off of some very weird doom metal song, and the way it comes together so naturally with Lewis and Jaffe’s impassioned and relatively familiar style of free playing is strikingly effective. Some of my favorite tracks, however, are the quieter ones. “Within You Are Answers” has a delicate and beautiful melody and “The Blues Still Blossoms” is a contender for my favorite track of the year. It’s an entirely rubato exploration of a few riff-like melodies that achieves a level of improvisational synergy that’s flawless from start to finish. 

The album’s tracklist juggles its meditative tracks and loud tracks with a masterful command on pacing and musical storytelling. The fact that Lewis released both this and the great For Mahalia, With Love in 2023 is a huge accomplishment.

2: Isaiah J. Thompson - The Power of the Spirit

Live sets are generally known as the best setting for “straight ahead jazz”; the energy and love received from the audience plays into the performance in such a huge way, and this recording is a shining example of that. The level of soul, swing, and raw power displayed here is inspiring. 

Thompson has picked up where legends such as Cedar Walton and Mulgrew Miller left off; his sound is so huge that it feels like he’s playing an entire big band at times. There are no pretensions to be heard in any of the solos on this record, it’s all melodic, accessible and from the heart, as are the original tunes by Thompson. The setlist is structured beautifully with no tunes having the same type of groove back-to-back, and a forward-momentum in its progression that one can easily be swept up in. 

Some of my favorite parts of the record are the solo introductions, namely the bass feature which leads into the ridiculous burner “For Phineas” and Isaiah’s dynamic setup to “Good Intentions (Learn our names, Say them right)” in which he pulls off some of the best, most tasteful stride piano I’ve heard recently. 

The album is a powerful testament to how incredible and nourishing of an experience it is to see traditional, properly swinging black art music in person. 

1: Darius Jones - fLuXkit Vancouver (i̶t̶s̶ suite but sacred)

Probably the most intense, challenging album in my entire top 50 list, but this has become one of my favorite so-called “avant-garde jazz” albums of all time. The vividness of its atmosphere and seamlessness of its progression earns it its place amongst the all-time classic suite albums in Black American art music.

I saw the debut of this piece in 2022 at our jazz festival and I was really blown away by how bold and seamless it was, but it was not quite the fully-realized presentation of Jones’ vision that we get on this album. 

I think all of us in so-called “Vancouver’s” creative music scene should recognize the significance of this album for us, considering Western Front’s commissioning of the project and the unbelievably great musical contributions of Peggy Lee, James Meger and Josh and Jesse Zubot. Their strings can blend together as a unified voice when it’s appropriate but also can boldly stray in different directions with an incredible ability to occupy the right space that’s called for. Gerald Cleaver’s textural range on the drums and his ability to drift in and out of abstraction to accent key moments in the compositions and the other musicians’ solos blows my mind; I could probably write an entire essay just on his playing on this album. 

Jones’ performance on top of everything is just its own entity completely, with possibly the most overwhelmingly powerful alto sax tone I’ve ever heard and deeply heartfelt playing, especially in the suite’s stunning final five minutes. Perfect album, my favorite of the year.

Well, that's it for 2023! Hope you find something you like in this list. Stay tuned for more reviews from me, and for next year's top 50 list.