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Tony Ozuna’s Best Albums 2022

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In 2022, live jazz clubs were revived and the rapport of musicians and their audience took a higher level of mutual appreciation. Groups listed on this Best Albums finally got to tour their newest releases across borders. Jazz that evolves with the times and across continents are the criteria for these selected Best Albums of 2022.

Makaya McCraven
In These Times
International Anthem

Makaya McCraven refers to himself as the "beat scientist" for his finesse as a drummer sometimes merged with electronica; he brings together jazz across decades, but he is mostly kin to rare groove, the social-protest soul-jazz of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, hip-hop and clever experimentation overall, all coming together on In These Times.

McCraven has composed all of the songs (except one) with over a dozen contributors on the album, which was over seven years in the making. McCraven also plays on sampler, percussion, tambourine, baby sitar, synths, kalimba, handclaps, vibraphone, and Wurlitzer organ. That said, this eleven-song suite is his magnum opus, both lyrical and groovy.

The Hungarian folk song, "Lullaby" connects him to his East European-Hungarian-roots on his mother's side. Coincidentally, McCraven was born in Paris, France, so with this trans-Atlantic status, he is a global-oriented jazz phenomenon and rising.

Antonio Sanchez
SHIFT (Bad Hombre Vol. II)
Warner Brothers

Antonio Sanchez came to a sudden and international stardom due to his literally single-handed drumming on the Academy Award-winning film Birdman. But his initial success came as the drummer for the Pat Metheny Group with Sanchez on Grammy Award winners since 2003. He is still Metheny's drummer on From This Place (2020), which won Album of the Year in Downbeat's Readers Poll, and it was nominated for a Grammy.

For his own projects, Bad Hombre debuted in 2017. SHIFT (Bad Hombre Vol. II) is the follow-up. As a Mexican based in New York City, Sanchez uses the name "Bad Hombre" as a reaction to Donald Trump's now infamous statement in his final presidential debate against Hilary Clinton in Las Vegas (in 2016). "We have some bad hombres here and we're going to get 'em out," said Trump referring both to Mexicans already in the country and at the border.

SHIFT (Bad Hombre Vol. II) assures that this "fight" is not over, and it is not even about fighting. Instead, this recording is a bilingual collaboration with cross-genre artists from singer-songwriters including Trent Reznor, Lila Downs, MeShell NdegeOcello, and Dave Mathews. They are singing their own songs and shifted to beyond jazz creations at the hands of Sanchez on multiple instruments, including the drums, guitars, keyboards, vocals, and electronics.

Camilla George
Ibio-Ibio
Ever Records

The London-based saxophonist Camilla George was dubbed "The Golden Girl of Jazz" after her debut album Isang in 2016. "Isang" means "journey" in Ibibio, which is her native language of Nigeria. She returns to Ibibio with her newest effort, and third album as leader, Ibio-Ibio.

On this one she pays full tribute to her tribe, the Ibibio. But this is afro-jazz firmly out of London's vibrant and diverse community. She fuses her African influences (afro-jazz, afro-beat and high-life), while exploring issues in African history and colonialism. Camilla's sound is brought to its highest points with the remarkable guitarist Shirley Tetteh. At their best, they have a loose and funky sound, which reaches a mind-bending blend of hard bop meets a slowed-down afro-jazz under the influence of King Sunny Ade's most joyful Jùjú music.

Allison Wheeler
Winterspring
Ubuntu Music

Can a debut album still make or break an artist? This question comes to mind when listening to Winterspring, the debut of the vocalist Allison Wheeler. She is from Monterey, California, but has been living in Prague, and this album was recorded with young Czech jazz musicians.

Winterspring has eleven songs (with eight) by Wheeler. While she claims that she is most influenced by Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and other pop vocalists, her approach and sensibility to each of the songs is closest to Joni Mitchell's truest jazz album Mingus. Wheeler maintains a relaxed and melancholic mood, and her modest yet majestic tone reverberates throughout. At times she also recalls the slow swing of Anita O'Day, with her warm voice and staggering range.

Her best tracks include a reworking of "Simply Good" by Richard Rogers from The Sound of Music, or her composition "The Hazelwood," with lyrics by Yeats from The Song of Wandering Aengus. And she is not afraid to embrace childhood fantasy as on "A Dream is a Wish," with lyrics from Cinderella. Her standout track "Love" is a rearrangement of a song from Disney's Robin Hood (song and lyrics by Huddleston and Burns) interwoven with hidden fragments of "A Dream is a Wish," she has a bona-fide gem, meaning it is bound to become popular.

Bugge Wesseltoft
Be Am
Jazzland Recordings

Bugge Wesseltoft is a visionary pianist/keyboardist from Norway and active as a future jazz advocate since the mid 1990s. That said, vintage Wesseltoft does not sound dated; instead it reveals how he has consistently merged so smoothly electronic music with jazz, and with players like Hakon Kornstad (on saxophone) in sophisticated music only now sounding contemporary.

His solo recording Be Am is his most introspective, and he explains why on his website: "This album was created during a challenging time for all of us. While it was inevitable that all the uncertainty, doubt and frustration present would be reflected in the music, it was made with the awareness that times like these come and go, that, in the end, everything will be OK. While there is always the knowledge that there is light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes you can find a way to keep the tunnel illuminated, just enough to at least see you through."

On this one, Wesseltoft is contemplative and solemn. There is accompaniment by Kornstad on a few tracks. Disregarding all of his previous warped sound manipulations and mysterious or menacing experimentations, on Be Am Wesseltoft breaks from all this and at its best, he comes closest to the more fragile solo piano recordings of Bill Evans, or Wesseltoft even steps into the realm of contemporary classical European music. He seems very much at home too.

Theo Croker
Love Quantum
Star People Nation

Taking no break from the phenomenal BLK2LIFE // A FUTURE PAST (2021), Theo Croker plunges into deeper waters, and with another psychedelic cover reminiscent of Bitches Brew. With this association, the trumpeter Croker pronounces to any or all who know and love that ground-breaking jazz-funk-rock fusion masterpiece by Miles Davis, to at least be open to Croker and his expanding jazz in its fusion of tribal funk, hip-hop, electronics, pop and soul.

Croker's label Star People Nation could be another nod to Miles' much later recording Star People (1983). This was one of Miles' ill-fated attempts to get jazz back to the dance floors, and Croker seems to aim in the same direction, but hopefully in a better climate for trying. His newest Love Quantum is partly with vocals, and including some which could be controversial.

The second track on the album "Jazz is Dead" is the one that may upset certain jazz devotees. But isn't it the truth, when coming from the mouths of contemporary jazz supremes? Should lines like "Ain't gonna let these institutions teach our culture to die / They can't gentrify our spirits when the people align/ We can set Black Music Free and let the vibrations rise / Got me rappin' Jazz is dead get that filth out your mind..." be taken as provocation or a declaration to overcome? The jazz on this album is influenced by hip-hop, gritty and urgent, and blazingly free.

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