‘We’re at the best is yet to come’: The 20 Best Jazz Albums of the 21st Century

Written by Caitlin Peters, CNN

When it comes to jazz, timeless is an oft-overlooked adjective. The bulk of the recording history is from the roaring twenties and the 1930s, when interpretations of jazz composers were featured on both sides of the Atlantic. The vast majority of the most-beloved jazz acts didn’t begin until after World War II and recorded independently, choosing to avoid the studio infrastructure that concentrated more on big-name swing or rock acts.

Though more recent releases by legends such as Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles would go on to influence and transform other generations, the modern era has less memory than the past, and cultural relevancy has largely gone to pop music and the dance floor. Consequently, jazz has been largely absent from the Billboard charts over the past 10 years, with half of this year’s spots — 3 — going to the occasional dance-pop artist.

Much of the space the jazz charts once occupied has been filled by contemporary R&B or trap.

But if jazz did not have a home on the Billboard charts in the early part of the last decade, it did re-emerge from obscurity. The sudden revival of interest in these pieces provided artists with a sudden opportunity to release original recordings, and interest in jazz went up accordingly. In fact, the catalogue for the last decade was filled with the most interesting, popular, critically acclaimed jazz recordings.

But perhaps the most important reason that the music industry celebrated jazz’s return, was the artistic achievements of its artists. The young artists who were hand-picked and supported by major jazz organizations such as Jazz in Harlem were committed to creating timeless work that was new and unpredictable.

There were no bands of dancers involved in the approach that most jazz musicians use, and their arrangements and decisions for works were ones that were inspired by experimentation and not industry expectations. This is where one could hear their passion for making music.

With so much interest surrounding the genre in recent years, it has come out of hibernation to remind music fans that it is vital to our experience as listeners and creators of the music.

Here are some of the highlights from the next decade’s Jazz roster.

The Best Jazz Albums of 2021

1. Kurt Elling: Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Ode to Jelly Roll Morton and Big Bill Broonzy

2. Fred Hersch: Tomorrow is Forever – A Pretender’s Dream

3. Jason Moran: The Underdog Jazz Concert

4. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds: Heartstrings

5. Joshua Redman, Tyshawn Sorey and Mary Lou Williams: Suddenly, Brothers – Ray Charles 80th Birthday Celebration

6. Pharoah Sanders: Sweat, Beat & the Slipperman

7. George Duke: One Vision

8. Dave Koz: The Best Is Yet to Come

9. Eric Harland: Nights Of Innocence & Nearing Doom

10. Gregory Porter: Divine Presence

11. Joshua Redman, Chris Potter and Marcus Shelby: Sesto-Detroit

12. Maceo Parker: The Decompression Room

13. Herbie Hancock: Meditation

14. Smokey Robinson: The King and I – Together Again

15. George Benson: American Dream

16. Rick Braun: Pushes And Pulls – Ellington

17. Freddy Cole: Ferdinand

18. Al Jarreau: Love in the Afternoon

19. Buddy Collette: Sleeper Getaway

20. Stanley Jordan: The Best Is Yet to Come

21. Milton Jones & Orchestre Révolutionnaire & Romantique: The Looking-Glass Dances from The Great Russian Ballet

22. Osmany Mosquet: Sun

23. Romane Bohbot: Open All Days

24. Bahari Miljenko: Golden Age Jazz

25. Bela Fleck: Hamlet

Leave a Comment