The Best Jazz Album 2021 – A Comparative Survey

This time last year, I was busy reading through and analyzing the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. This year, I went for something completely different: I looked at Best Jazz Album 2021 compilations put out by different publications. I started with the NYT and Guardian lists and was surprised that there was no overlap at all between these two lists This made me to look further, but the key finding remains. There are relatively few albums that appear on more that one list – jazz critics appear to embrace diversity. I ended up compiling and comparing five lists with a total of 78 entries in one table, while listening to a very wide range of music.

First, I looked at three Top Ten lists published by The New York Times, The Guardian and Slate.They are shown in the first column of the table below. Jazzwise came up with a Top Twenty list, preceded by a longlist, whereas Pitchfork’s list of The Best Jazz and Experimental Music of 2021 comprises 28 albums. Pitchfork did not rank the albums, but rather presents them in alphabetical order, whereas Jazzwise has some albums tied for the same rank. In the table below, albums that made it on more that one list are colour-coded.

None of the lists include historical recordings published in 2021, like the much talked and written about Coltrane album “Love Supreme – The Seattle Recording”. Slate has, in addition to the new recordings on its Top Ten list, a separate category of Best Historical Discoveries.

My personal Best Album of the Year is the Vijay Iyer Trio’s “Uneasy”, which made it onto the Pitchfork list and the Jazzwise longlist – and which I had the pleasure to see performed live. Drummer composer Tyshawn Sorey shows up on the Pitchfork list both as part pf the Vijay Iyer Trio and with a duo album, “Untitled One”. In addition to his jazz credentials, Mr Sorey also made the NYT “The 25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2021” with his composition “For George Lewis”. Pianist Jason Moran scores three entries: He is listed twice with “The Sound Will Tell You” (no. 2 NYT and no. 8 Slate) and once jointly with saxophone legend Archie Sheep for “Let My People” (no. 3 Slate). Bassist William Parker has two entries with different albums: “”Painters Window” is no. 4 at The Guardian, “Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World” ranks no. 7 at The New York Times. 

Enjoy browsing… here’s the table.

Photo: Dorothy Darr, Charles Lloyd in Melbourne 2014, CC BY-SA 1.0 Charles Lloyd’s album “Tone Poems” was ranked no. 1 by Jazzwise and no. 3 by The Guardian.


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