The 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll : The Record An international panel of 137 jazz writers voted on the best albums of 2017. The winner took the top spot by a wide margin.
NPR logo The 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

The 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

Lynne Harty/Courtesy of the artist
The Vijay Iyer Sextet is responsible for jazz critics' No. 1 album of the year, Far From Over.
Lynne Harty/Courtesy of the artist

This is what consensus in jazz looks like now: In winning the vote for 2017's best new recording in NPR's Fifth Annual Jazz Critics Poll, Vijay Iyer's Far from Over was named on 53 of 137 ballots — almost twice as many as either Steve Coleman's Morphogenesis or Tyshawn Sorey's Verisimilitude, which finished second and third, respectively. (Thelonious Monk's music for the 1960 French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, unused by the director Roger Vadim and released only this year, made a whopping 66 ballots to finish first in Rara Avis, a category reserved for reissues and vault discoveries. Then, Monk is settled law.)

Iyer was one of three musicians to notch a third victory in this year's poll (his Historicity won in 2009, the poll's 4th year, when I was conducting it for the Village Voice, and Accelerando won in 2012, when the poll's sponsor was the music-streaming service Rhapsody). Cecile McLorin Salvant again won in Vocal, as she did in 2013 and '15, and Miguel Zenón won in Latin, as he did in 2009 and '11. The winner in Debut, where there can be no repeaters, was Jaimie Branch, a fiery trumpeter recently transplanted from Chicago to Brooklyn. (And that the top three finishers in this category are women is cause for cheer.)

Musicians of an intellectual bent dominated this year's Top 10, and connections among them abound. Iyer made some of his first recordings as a sideman with Coleman, and has also recorded with Roscoe Mitchell, whose No. 7 Bells For The South Side features both No. 3 artist Tyshawn Sorey and No. 4 artist Craig Taborn. Sorey, a newly-minted MacArthur fellow, is the drummer on both Far From Over and Bells For The South, where he also plays credible trombone. (For that matter, he conducts on No. 17, Matt Mitchell's A Pouting Grimace). Notice a pattern? Nearly 60 years after Ornette Coleman's The Shape Of Jazz To Come and exactly 50 since Roscoe Mitchell's Sound introduced the rest of the world to the Chicago AACM, the avant-garde can claim its own intelligentsia. Iyer, Sorey, Taborn, Nicole Mitchell and Matt Mitchell are among its leaders, and Roscoe Mitchell (now 77) and even Steve Coleman (at 61) among its revered elders.

This year's poll was largely a tale of two labels, one German (ECM) and the other domestic (Pi Recordings), who between them monopolize the top four finishers. Full results are available via Tom Hull.

The Top 10

  • 1. Vijay Iyer Sextet, 'Far From Over'

    Points: 347.5
    Votes: 53

    What come close to this in terms of impact are Andrew Hill's mid-'60s Blue Note releases, Point Of Departure in particular. It's Iyer's first album with horns in a decade, and what a punch the trumpet and two saxophones pack, Iyer nudging them away from lengthy, sequential solos into speeding exchanges with one another, his piano and/or the powerful rhythm section. He ought to think about going bigger more often. (ECM)

    YouTube
  • 2. Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse, 'Morphogenesis'

    Points: 208.5
    Votes: 28

    The altoist's liner notes explain that the title refers to "the process that causes an organism to develop its form," which he says also describes "the organic development of this music, as well as the performing ensemble." He's right. Ideas finding their own shapes as melodies and rhythms: It's a process that worked like a charm for Ornette Coleman years ago and still does for this Coleman as well. And foregoing trap drums makes the music that much airier and more mobile. (Pi Recordings)

    YouTube
  • 3. Tyshawn Sorey, 'Verisimilitude'

    Points: 183
    Votes: 31

    To paraphrase one voter, who would have expected the year's best piano-trio album to be led by a drummer? But Sorey is no ordinary drummer. He thinks compositionally, and it's as if the pianist Cory Smythe and the bassist Chris Tordini can read his thoughts. (Pi Recordings)

    Listen to Verisimilitude on Bandcamp.

  • 4. Craig Taborn, 'Daylight Ghosts'

    Points: 158.5
    Votes: 25

    A quartet this time, with Chris Speed on various reeds and winds. The idea of incorporating minimalism's strategies regarding tension and release has fascinated jazz improvisers and composers since the 1970s, but Taborn is the one who's finally nailed it. (ECM)

    YouTube
  • 5. Nicole Mitchell, 'Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds'

    Points: 150
    Votes: 24

    Cosmic chamber music. Mitchell travels the spaceways from planet to planet more nimbly than anyone since the sun god himself, with sine-wave electronics, sudden bursts of poetry and her flute's deft interweaving with violin and cello occasionally fooling you into thinking you're hearing recently-unearthed Sun Ra circa Strange Strings and the second Heliocentric Worlds. (FPE)

    YouTube
  • 6. Cécile McLorin Salvant, 'Dreams And Daggers'

    Points: 135.5
    Votes: 22

    Recording live at the Village Vanguard has become a rite of passage for performers on their way up. A program ranging from '20s black vaudeville to feminist-themed originals shows off everything this talented singer can do, which is plenty — even if I'm not sure it had to be a double album. (Mack Avenue)

    YouTube
  • 7. Roscoe Mitchell‬, 'Bells For The South Side'

    Points: 133.5
    Votes: 20

    Here are 11 themes for large ensemble — 2 hours and 7 minutes of exhortations and whispers — that seem all of a piece, dreamlike in the volatility and implacable logic of its mood shifts. And "Prelude To The Card Game, Cards For Drums, And The Final Hand," opening the bidding with Mitchell's veering alto solo, is all you could ever ask for from a free, meter-less ballad. (ECM)

    YouTube
  • 8. Matt Wilson, 'Matt Wilson's Honey And Salt: Music Inspired By The Poetry Of Carl Sandberg'

    Points: 127
    Votes: 21

    Dormant since the days of bongos and berets, jazz-and-poetry collaborations staged a big comeback this year, with at least two Emily Dickinson projects and another Sandberg besides this wholly successful one. The excellence of Wilson's drumming and scoring I already knew about, but this convinced me to give a poet I always thought of as a lesser Robert Frost or William Carlos Williams a closer, more sympathetic read. The readings here are delivered by guest musicians who really get into it, a boisterous Joe Lovano especially. (Palmetto)

    YouTube
  • 9. Charles Lloyd Quartet, 'Passin' Thru'

    Points: 113
    Votes: 20

    In his late 70s, Lloyd has become as unlikely a critics favorite as Ahmad Jamal. As one of his longtime detractors, even I have to admit this latest live album is terrific — and not entirely owing to Jason Moran's spry piano. Has Lloyd ever sounded as energetic as he does on a remake of 1967's "Dream Weaver," the gospel segue especially? (Blue Note)

    YouTube
  • 10. Ambrose Akinmusire‬, 'A Rift In Decorum: Live At The Village Vanguard'

    Points: 110
    Votes: 23

    Switch their names and certain specifics, and everything I said about Salvant's Vanguard date also applies to this trumpeter's, including the question of how much is too much. But without a saxophonist for front-line relief, Akinmusire takes on quite a burden and shoulders it impressively. Being a virtuoso always helps. (Blue Note)

    YouTube

The Rest

11. Rudresh Mahanthappa & the Indo-Pak Coalition, Agrima (Mahanthappa) 108.5 points (18 ballots)

12. Jaimie Branch, Fly Or Die (International Anthem) 103 (19)

13. William Parker Quartets, Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity) 99.5 (15)

14. Hudson, Hudson (Motéma) 93.5 (16)

15. Ron Miles, I Am A Man (Yellowbird) 86.5 (17)

16. Miguel Zenón, Típico (Miel) 86.5 (15)

17. Matt Mitchell, A Pouting Grimace (Pi) 82 (16)

18. Ahmad Jamal, Marseille (Jazz Village/PIAS) 80.5 (10)

19. Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, Small Town (ECM) 78 (13)

20. Wadada Leo Smith, Solo: Reflections And Meditations On Monk (TUM) 77.5 (15)

21. Jane Ira Bloom, Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (Outline) 77.5 (14)

22. Wadada Leo Smith, Najwa (TUM) 77 (13)

22. Linda Oh, Walk Against Wind (Biophilia) 75.5 (15)

24. Mike Reed, Flesh & Bone (482 Music) 64 (10)

25. Fred Hersch, Open Book (Palmetto) 60.5 (12)

26. Ornette Coleman & Various Artist, Celebrate Ornette (Song X) 60 (8)*

27. Rez Abbasi, Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind) 58 (11)

28. Tim Berne's Snakeoil, Incidentals (ECM) 57 (8)

29. Chris Potter, The Dreamer Is The Dream (ECM) 54.5 (9)

30. Christian Scott, The Centennial Trilogy (Ropeadope) 54 (10)**

31. Eddie Palmieri, Sabiduria (Ropeadope) 49 (7)

32. Matthew Shipp Trio, Piano Song (Thirsty Ear) 48.5 (9)

33. Tomas Fujiwara, Triple Double (Firehouse 12) 46 (12)

34. Harriet Tubman Araminta (Sunnyside) 46 (9)

35. Fabian Almazan & Rhizome, Alcanza (Biophilia) 45 (6)

36. Noah Preminger, Meditations On Freedom (Dry Bridge) 44 (8)

37. Aruán Ortiz, Cub(an)ism (Intakt) 44 (7)

38. JD Allen, Radio Flyer (Savant) 43.5 (9)

39. Barry Altschul 3dom Factor, Live In Krakow (Not Two) 43 (8)

40. Eric Revis, Sing Me Some Cry (Clean Feed) 42 (8)

41. Nicholas Payton, Afro-Caribbean Mixtape (Paytone) 41 (6)

42. Kirk Knuffke, Cherryco (SteepleChase) 40 (7)

43. Tom Rainey Obbligato, Float Upstream (Clean Feed) 40 (6)

44. Christian McBride Big Band, Bringin' It (Mack Avenue) 36.5 (7)

45. Jason Moran & the Bandwagon, Thanksgiving At The Vanguard (Yes) 36 (5)

46. John Beasley, MONK'estra Volume 2 (Mack Avenue) 35 (7)

47. Brian Landrus Orchestra, Generations (BlueLand) 35 (5)

48. Billy Childs, Rebirth (Mack Avenue) 33 (6)

49. Jazzmeia Horn, A Social Call (Prestige) 33 (5)

50. Kate Gentile, Mannequins (Skirl) 32 (7)

* Includes 6 (2) from Rara Avis

** Includes 20.5 (5) for Rebel Ruler and 5.5 (1) for Diaspora.


Rara Avis

1. Thelonious Monk, Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam/Saga) 147 points (66 ballots)

2. Bill Evans, Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (Resonance) 59 (28)

3. Jaco Pastorius, Truth, Liberty & Soul (Resonance) 47 (22)

4. Alice Coltrane, World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop) 38 (17)

5. Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio, Smokin' In Seattle: Live At The Penthouse (1966) (Resonance) 22 (12)

6. Albert Ayler, Copenhagen Live 1964 (Hatology) 20 (10)

7. Various Artists, Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49 (Mosaic) 18 (8)

8. Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Karyobin (Emanem) 16 (7)

9. Sonny Clark Trio, The 1960 Sessions (Tompkins Square) 13 (9)

10. Oscar Pettiford Nonet/Big Band/Sextet, New York City 1955-1958 (Uptown Jazz) 11 (6)


Vocal

1. Cécile McLorin Salvant, Dreams And Daggers (Mack Avenue) 35 votes

2. Dominique Eade & Ran Blake, Town And Country (Sunnyside) 16

3. Jen Shyu, Song Of Silver Geese (Pi) 10

4. Jazzmeia Horn, A Social Call (Prestige) 8

5. (tie) Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor/Lafayette Harris/Ken Filiano, Embrace (RareNoise) 6

5. (tie) Dee Dee Bridgewater Memphis ... Yes I'm Ready (OKeh) 6


Debut

1. Jaimie Branch, Fly Or Die (International Anthem) 29 votes

2. Jazzmeia Horn, A Social Call (Prestige) 17

3. Kate Gentile, Mannequins (Skirl) 13

4. Nate Smith, Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere (Ropeadope) 4


Latin

1. Miguel Zenón, Típico (Miel) 21 votes

2. (tie) Eddie Palmieri, Sabiduria (Ropeadope) 11

2. (tie) Aruán Ortiz, Cub(an)ism (Intakt) 11

4. Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdes, Familia: Tribute To Bebo & Chico (Motéma) 9

5. David Virelles, Gnosis (ECM) 8

6. Fabian Almazan & Rhizome, Alcanza (Biophilia) 6

7. Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves, Outra Coisa: The Music Of Moacir Santos (Anzic) 5