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Year in Review

Mark Sullivan's Best Releases of 2018


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2018 was another year with too many favorites to choose from. I'm struck by the number of "extended ensembles" on my list: groups of eight or more, including a chamber orchestra plus jazz group. It was also an exceptionally good year for RareNoiseRecords, making it hard for me to stop at three albums. This list is in chronological order but not ranked.

Any Day Now
Øra Fonogram

Norwegian saxophonist/composer Martin Myhre Olsen's MMO-Ensemble is a splendid vision of a 21st Century large improvising ensemble. This disc is a significant entry in the annals of contemporary large ensemble jazz, and a joy to hear.

Marko Churnchetz
RUTHENIA -Retrospective Of Russian Composers Of The 20th Century
Fresh Sound New Talent

Slovenian-born pianist/composer Marko Churnchetz's ambitious suite for 15 musicians is an exceptional tribute to the great twentieth century Russian composers, with guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Chris Jennings, and drummer Rudy Royston.

Wolfgang Muthspiel
Where The River Goes
ECM Records

This magical album marks the return of Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel's lyrical quintet with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland.

Barre Phillips
End To End
ECM Records

If this stunning solo bass performance from the legendary Barre Phillips is really his final solo recording, it is a great way to go out.

Wayne Shorter
Blue Note Records

The living legend's epic work for orchestra and jazz quartet was a hallmark of 2018, and of Shorter's career as a whole. It also includes an accompanying graphic novel.

David Lopato
Gendhing For a Spirit Rising
Global Coolant Records

Pianist/composer David Lopato creates a breathtaking fusion of Javanese music and jazz!

Charles Lloyd
Vanished Gardens
Blue Note Records

Saxophonist/composer Charles Lloyd & The Marvels, his guitar-oriented band featuring Bill Frisell, teams up with singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams for a beautiful and unexpected collaboration.

Jan Peter Schwalm
How We Fall

The composer and producer creates sublime ambient music alongside guitarist Eivind Aarset and bassist Tim Harries.

Charlie Ballantine
Life is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan
Green Mind Records

Indianapolis-based guitarist Charlie Ballantine's marvelous album of Bob Dylan covers was another highlight of 2018.

Xavier Reija
The Sound Of The Earth
MoonJune Records

Spanish drummer Xavi Reija's terrific quartet includes guitarist Dusan Jevtovic, bassist Tony Levin and touch guitarist Markus Reuter. This was another exciting release from MoonJune Records.

Frank Kimbrough
Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk
Sunnyside Records

Pianist Frank Kimbrough leads a remarkable romp through Thelonious Monk's entire catalog with multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Billy Drummond.


Swiss art rock minimalist band Sonar and guest guitarist, looper, and magician David Torn make for a perfect union.

Sungjae Son
Near East Quartet
ECM Records

For their debut on ECM Records, Korean saxophonist Sungjae Son's Near East Quartet performs an enthralling blend of traditional Korean music and American jazz.

Cuneiform Records

Thumbscrew's brilliant, wide-ranging pair of simultaneous album releases features guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara at their best.

Eraldo Bernocchi
Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It

The Italian multi-instrumentalist has composed a stunning ambient soundtrack for a film about artist Cy Twombley.

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