Year in review: 25 of the best jazz albums of 2022

Looking back on the year in jazz, there was excellence of all kinds.

In 2022, we heard breakout albums by rising stars like Melissa Aldana, Immanuel Wilkins, Roxy Coss, Joey Alexander, Luis Deniz, Caity Gyorgy and Samara Joy, all of whom proved why they’re among the best and brightest young talents in jazz. We also enjoyed strong entries to the catalogues of established and perpetually adored modern icons like Cécile McLorin Salvant, Gerald Clayton, Trombone Shorty, Snarky Puppy and Julian Lage, who remained at the top of their game. Then there were beloved veterans such as Brad Mehldau, Catherine Russell, John Scofield, Sheila Jordan, Terri Lyne Carrington, Bill Frisell and Dave Liebman, who continued to show why their names are so well-renowned in the jazz idiom.

In Canada, the jazz scene thrived once again. We were treated to innovative and inspired efforts by the likes of Roberto Occhipinti, Ranee Lee, Lou Pomanti, Jocelyn Gould, Monkey House, Neil Swainson, Carol Welsman, Michael Kaeshammer, Ernesto Cervini, Dan McCarthy, Lauren Falls and many more, proving once again that the country’s musical ecosystem is ripe with jazz talent that deserves a place on the world stage.

Plus, we also got to hear plenty of newly discovered and recently reissued albums by legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Donald Byrd, Elvin Jones, Louis Armstrong, Houston Person and Oscar Peterson.

It all combined for a year of great music — and a terrific time to be an enjoyer of jazz. Here are 25 of our favourite albums from 2022.

Snarky Puppy – Empire Central

With Snarky Puppy, it’s all about the joy of performance — not just for the audience, but between the members of the band. After the more traditionally recorded studio album Immigrance in 2019, the band returned to the familiar territory of recording in front of a live audience. These 16 tunes showcase the band’s unique ability to create arrangements that challenge and sweeten the ear all at once. The highly talented collective, led by bassist Michael League, all bring their personal voice to this terrific new recording. Brad Barker

Cécile McLorin Salvant – Ghost Song

With her wonderfully and beautifully unique voice, Cécile McLorin Salvant is a dynamic and immediately recognizable link between the past and present in the ongoing journey of jazz. Her artistry is a trajectory of independence and fearlessness as she takes the familiar and adds personality, wit and purposeful attitude. Salvant daringly bares herself on Ghost Song, mixing originals with the music of Kate Bush, the words of Alfred Stieglitz and more. With its storytelling and expression, Ghost Song is like a rich, deep book you cannot put down. John Devenish

Caity Gyorgy – Featuring

The rumours are true: Juno-winning vocalist Caity Gyorgy is writing her own songbook and is knocking it out of the park with each release. On Featuring, she’s dynamic, clever, witty, inventive, highly musical, and an absolute delight as she stands equal to a stable of serious talent on each track, including Jocelyn Gould, Allison Au, Virginia MacDonald, Christine Jensen and more. It’s a crisp, clear, vibrant recording from a delightful, ascending young singer. Alex Pangman

Samara Joy – Linger Awhile

The thing about Samara Joy is that except for one tune on her Grammy-nominated album Linger Awhile, the songs were all written decades before she was born. The Bronx native sings with a unique style beyond her years. Backed by a quartet featuring Pasquale Grasso on guitar, this style hearkens back to recordings from the 1950s by Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan — and some of the tunes are even older than that. This album will appeal to both those who already know these jazz standards and younger generations discovering them for the first time. Glen Woodcock

Terri Lyne Carrington – New Standards Vol. 1

As a world-class jazz drummer and composer, Terri Lyne Carrington has established herself as one of the biggest names in the genre, awarded and honoured appropriately. As the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, Carrington works tirelessly to promote women in jazz and to secure parity of payment, opportunity and recognition. She combines both of these roles in New Standards, Vol. 1, the recording that was released alongside a new collection of sheet music of compositions by women. Carrington leads an A-list ensemble of musicians and special guests (including Dianne Reeves, Julian Lage, Samara Joy and more), all of whom showcase the outstanding additions to the jazz songbook by artists such as Eliane Elias, Brandee Younger, Abbey Lincoln, Gretchen Parlato and Carrington herself. Everything about this record stands out in sound, artistry and importance. Heather Bambrick

Alexis Baro – Mi Raiz

Havana-born trumpeter Alexis Baro is now one of the most respected trumpeters on the Toronto jazz scene. He has participated in more than 100 recordings and previously released six of his own to multiple accolades. His seventh album Mi Raiz is a celebration of Cuban trumpet playing. Here, Baro embraces his roots and thoroughly revels in the tradition of his homeland. Joyful and accessible, the album expresses the complexity and nuance of the instrument as well as its beautiful simplicity. Laura Fernandez

Joey Alexander – Origin

Since Joey Alexander emerged as an 11-year-old prodigy, he has continued to amaze and inspire listeners with his beautiful and mature compositions and arrangements. What stands out most on Origin is the emotional journey that he takes you on with relative ease. You can’t help but bob your head through the melancholy and the joy. Jelani Watson

Neil Swainson – Fire in the West

When you’ve carved out a career as one of the most successful jazz side players in the world, you can be forgiven for only making two recordings as leader. That’s the story of bassist Neil Swainson, whose album Fire in the West arrives some 34 years after his debut. It’s been well worth the wait. With pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Lewis Nash, trumpeter Brad Turner and tenor saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, this lineup delivers a classic hard-bop sound that really brings the fire. Three decades later, it’s a welcome return for Swainson. Brad Barker

Luis Deniz – El Tinajon

The epitome of mastery on the alto and soprano saxophones, Luis Deniz broke out this year with one of the most eagerly anticipated recent debuts in Canadian jazz. On El Tinajon, Deniz showcases his extraordinary tone and dexterity over rhythms that you can’t not dance to (even if you don’t dance). These original compositions feature rich melodic, harmonic and rhythmic textures that evoke the full emotional spectrum. Jelani Watson

The Cookers Quintet – The Path

The Cookers Quintet blaze their own trail on The Path, their fourth album together. The group perfected these songs while touring the west coast before heading into the Warehouse recording studio in Vancouver to immortalize them. Inspired by their heroes of the hard-bop era of the ’50s and ’60s, The Cookers Quintet add their own modern twist on the style. All of the elements for a great album are there. It’s funky. It’s bluesy. It’s an all-around great journey. Each member of the group is given space to shine on this record. The Path is an album you’ll be playing on repeat. Raina Hersh

Joy Lapps – Girl in the Yard

A compositionally ambitious album with deep musicianship, Joy Lapps’s Girl in the Yard is a nod to the powerful women in her life. As her name might imply, it’s pure joy. The beauty of this record is hard to ignore. These original compositions and arrangements show artistic empowerment in the most melodic and graceful of ways. Lapps strives to leave an impression, to make you feel, and with so many of these tracks — particularly Morning Sunrise and Lulu’s Dream — you can’t help but close your eyes and do just that. Dani Elwell

Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand

Building on his acclaimed Blue Note debut Omega, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins returns with his quartet to make one of the strongest creative statements in jazz this year. Whether it’s the fast-paced frenzy of Emanation, the blissful tranquility of Fugitive Ritual, Selah or any of the other fine tracks on this momentous recording, Wilkins demonstrates a finely honed ability to play with melody and harmony in a way that’s challenging yet satisfying. With virtuosity, dexterity and spirituality, The 7th Hand represents an artist who’s fully in charge of his own destiny. Adam Feibel

The Ostara Project – The Ostara Project

Canada is rich in resources of the natural jazz kind, and we are seeing that musical wealth spread out more and more across gender boundaries. This year saw the launch of a new Canadian supergroup The Ostara Project, co-created by Amanda Tosoff and Jodi Proznick, showcasing artists from across Canada, all of whom are established, successful bandleaders in their own rights. The membership also includes Jocelyn Gould, Sanah Kadoura, Allison Au, Rachel Therrien and Joanna Majoko. All members of the group contribute to the compositions and arrangements and all are showcased for their skills at interpretation and improvisation. Their self-titled debut release features lots of terrific original material, as well as a fantastic arrangement of Bye Bye BlackbirdHeather Bambrick

Trombone Shorty – Lifted

New Orleans is famous for its royal musical families. One of these is the legendary Andrews family, which has been instrumental in making the city’s culture what it is today. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews continues to lead the way. His latest release Lifted is his first in half a decade and the first that truly captures the energy and excitement of his live show. Before recording the album, Andrews told the band to play like they were playing onstage at a festival. The result is magnificent. Ronnie Littlejohn

Roberto Occhipinti – The Next Step

Roberto Occhipinti has established himself in many genres, and he applies his love of jazz, world music and classical on his latest release The Next Step. The bassist is often associated with large ensembles, but like his trio work with Hilario Durán, he is equally comfortable here in a simpler setting with drummer Larnell Lewis and pianist Adrean Farrugia, who are given plenty of room to add their two cents to the mix. Occhipinti composed most of the songs on The Next Step, aside from tunes by Jimmy Rowles and Jaco Pastorius. In his sixth release as a leader, Occhipinti and his trio perfectly blend mellow moments with exciting playing. He’s taken what could be a standard jazz trio recording and turning it into a simple, cinematic masterpiece. Jaymz Bee

Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Brian Blade – LongGone

This is the second “back together again” recording by the quartet of Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade. The sound reflects their current state of maturity as a group. They started out as fresh-on-the-scene vanguards in 1994, audaciously sharing their artistry with MoodSwing. Many years later in 2020, they regrouped for RoundAgain and, as if to make their collective statement of right there-ness and brilliant presence, they have returned again with this year’s LongGone. The sound is an amalgam of respect for grand traditions of the genre of jazz and strong influence of classical music styles. Evident throughout their journey is their ability to allow each player to express themselves independently while weaving expertly into a collective voice that is as fresh and as mature as they were already stating themselves to be when it all began back in the ’90s. John Devenish

Monkey House – Remember the Audio

On another brilliant jazz-meets-pop album by Toronto mainstays Monkey House, it’s easy to draw comparisons to Steely Dan in terms of both composition and sound. Bandleader Don Breithaupt might be a pop structuralist when composing, but by the time the song gets into the studio, he and his brilliant bandmates all have something colourful to add that takes the song to a level that is as easy to place in a jazz format as a pop radio station. Spanning catchy shuffles, heartfelt ballads and plenty more, Remember the Audio delivers everything you’d want from Monkey House and more. Jaymz Bee

Lou Pomanti – Lou Pomanti & Friends

We should all have such friends! Lou Pomanti has been a first-call guy, keyboard master, arranger and bandleader in Toronto for years. Here, he’s joined by a stunning lineup of jazz and soul greats including Emilie-Claire Barlow, Randy Brecker, Larnell Lewis and Oakland Stroke. Among the highlights is a dazzling take on Mose Allison’s Your Mind is on Vacation with David Clayton-Thomas and John Finley. Spin this release and you won’t stop smiling. David Basskin

Catherine Russell – Send for Me

Catherine Russell’s latest showcases her wonderful vocal talents backed by a who’s who of great New York musicians (and one Canadian: Evan Arntzen on reeds). On listening to Russell, you immediately feel warmth and all the wisdom and humanity of a singer who can’t help but bring lyrics to life. Her respect for a melody is elegant yet imbued with incredible swing and remarkable tone and the beauty of a singer who acknowledges her New Orleans and Panamanian roots while swinging as hard as New York in the 1930s. Alex Pangman

John Scofield – John Scofield

It took almost five decades and a pandemic for John Scofield to produce his very first solo guitar album. With the use of a looping machine and Scofield playing overtop, the album — recorded at his home studio in Katonah, N.Y. — features new versions of Scofield originals as well as jazz, country, and rock ‘n’ roll standards. Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away and Hank Williams’ You Win Again are a nod to the music that initially inspired him to pick up the guitar. Walter Venafro

Ethan Iverson – Every Note is True

For his Blue Note debut, pianist Ethan Iverson enlisted a masterful new trio of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jack DeJohnette and delivered an album that’s expertly crafted through and through. The Bad Plus co-founder shows his intuitive sense of melody more than ever, along with a mature ear and perfectly dialled-in musicianship. It’s a highly listenable and thoroughly enjoyable outing that has the warmth, resonance and implacable familiarity of a recording you’d find in a classics collection. Adam Feibel

Antonio Sánchez – SHIFT (Bad Hombre, Vol. II)

Five-time Grammy winner and Golden Globe-nominated drummer and composer Antonio Sánchez has worked with the likes of Chick Corea, Michael Brecker and Gary Burton, but he’s best known for his work with Pat Metheny and his score for the Oscar-winning film Birdman. The followup to his Grammy-nominated recording Bad Hombre features a diverse and stellar roster of collaborators including Lila Downs, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Dave Matthews, Thana Alexa and Kimbra. The album transports the listener to a lush, textured environment where vocals and instrumental layers alternate and share the spotlight equally. It’s a rich and immersive listening experience with gorgeous sounds and soulful voices. Laura Fernandez

Michelle Willis – Just One Voice

Do not overlook this force. Toronto’s Michelle Willis has already established herself not just locally but internationally with her poignant collaborations with Snarky Puppy, David Crosby, Iggy Pop and more. Her sophomore release Just One Voice reflects her influences and humble honesty. Within these stories and her musicianship, Willis leaves a lasting impression that there is hope within all of the anxieties and doubts of our world. Dani Elwell

Takuya Kuroda – Midnight Crisp

Following up his acclaimed Fly Moon Die Soon, Takuya Kuroda’s latest grabs you from the very first note. Midnight Crisp is everything we love about Kuroda turned up to 11. He effortlessly blends jazz, hip-hop, R&B and funk in a way that delights and engages the listener throughout the album. A musical investigation of life after dark, Midnight Crisp shows Kuroda’s skill at building an atmosphere. Spend some time with this album and you’ll likely end up enjoying it late into the night. Raina Hersh

Various Artists – Blue Note Re:imagined II

In the second volume of this compilation series, Blue Note continues to showcase various young British soul, R&B and jazz artists performing new interpretations of Blue Note tracks by some of the label’s biggest names. The series should be considered a success at introducing listeners to artists and compositions that would otherwise be below the radar. Among the highlights, Theon Cross and his tuba offer an aggressive take on Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy, Kay Young delivers a neo-soul version of Marlena Shaw’s Feel Like Making Love, and Venna and Marco Bernardis collaborate on a smooth remake of Donald Byrd’s Where Are We GoingWalter Venafro

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