The best music I heard in 2017

As with previous lists, this is based just on my own listening, rather than what was released this year, and there’s not a huge number of new releases here. Recordings are listed roughly in the order in which I heard them, not of preference:


  • Mary Halvorson – Away With You. More fantastic work from guitar goddess Halvorson, with an ever-growing ensemble to showcase her knotty, exploratory compositions. Also excellent is Paimon, where she tackles John Zorn compositions in a dual-guitar quartet.
  • Steve Lacy – Morning Joy…Paris Live. An absolutely ripping live recording by one of the best working jazz groups of the 1980s.
  • Art Farmer & Benny Golson – Meet The Jazztet. One of the best 1960s hard bop recordings, from a group that is often overlooked.
  • Tony Scott – Gypsy. Scott could play the clarinet louder and more forcefully than anyone before or since, and the energy in this short set of standards is amazing.
  • Gil Evans – There Comes A Time. A large-ensemble masterpiece from the 1970s, in which Evans’ quest for new sounds brings him into the territory of electric Miles and Sun Ra.
  • King Tubby – Shalom Dub. Classic early work from the master of instrumental reggae.
  • Philip Cohran – On The Beach. Although mostly known for his association with Sun Ra, Cohran’s own music is wonderful. This 1968 recording is probably his best work, but also check out the gorgeous African Skies, as well as the record he made with his children, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
  • Nicole Mitchell – Awakening. Mitchell’s spectacular vocalized flute solos are backed by a tight small group of just guitar, bass, drums.
  • Craig Taborn – Daylight Ghosts. An unusual, atmospheric and complex recording, evoking minimalism as often as jazz.
  • Etta James – Tell Mama: The Complete Muscle Shoals SessionsAbsolutely essential soul, so good it’s embarrassing to admit I had not really appreciated Etta before.
  • Various Artists – Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From The Horn Of Africa. Fresh and fascinating African music, with a great backstory.
  • Minutemen – What Makes A Man Start Fires. Decades after their brief early 1980s run, the Minutemen’s punky, jazzy miniatures still sound like nothing else in popular music, and the Watt-Hurley partnership remains one of the greatest rock rhythm sections.
  • Genius/GZA – Liquid Swords. My idea of what hip-hop should sound like was formed in the early 1990s by the dense, funky sound collages of the Bomb Squad, so I did not immediately appreciate the minimalist style of the Wu-Tang Clan; this album helped change my mind.
  • Django Reinhardt – Django In Rome 1949-1950. The last recordings Django would make with his great partner Stephane Grappelli, with some of their best interplay on record.
  • Sun Ra – Universe in Blue. The heroic work of the Sun Ra Arkive is making many long-lost recordings readily available for the first time in decades. I like this 1972 live recording much more than a lot of his stuff from the period; the title track in particular is great, a moody small-group workout with a strong John Gilmore feature.

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