The Best Jazz Albums That You Should Listen Now

How often do we see movies, particularly movies from the 1960s to 1970s or movies set in those times, and jazz music is there most of the time? In fact, there are many movies where a character associated with Jazz music plays a lead role. La La Land, Whiplash, Stormy Club, anyone? And many, many other films.

Interestingly, I am not even talking about the movies based on Jazz music legends’ lives. There are movies like Born To Be Blue, Miles Ahead, I Called Him Morgan, etc., based on Jazz musicians’ lives.

Why am I talking about movies, whereas the title says Jazz albums? Well, there’s a strong correlation between how people take an interest in Jazz music through movies. After all, Jazz music is not mainstream, and it’s not the “Jazz Age” or the “Golden Age” anymore.

So, finding and exploring music genres from movies is not a novel idea. I vividly remember watching Miles Ahead, a movie based on the life of Jazz legend Miles Davis, and then exploring and listening to his albums. 

After these explorations, which have been going on for years, why not list the best Jazz albums?

best jazz albums

1. Kind of Blue - Miles Davis (United States)

I was  16 years old and in my Dutch language class at school. Our teachers wanted to teach us more than just their course, and one day my Dutch teacher said, “guys, I have to show you something.” He played Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue and it completely turned my life upside down. I had never heard the magical music genre that is jazz, but I have not stopped loving it since. 

So let me tell you more about this special album!

1950s, a new modal jazz style emerged based on musical modes rather than traditional chord progressions. Modal jazz allowed a more open and expansive approach to improvisation. The improvisation and innovation made Kind of Blue one of the best jazz albums of all time. 

The album’s influence extends beyond jazz, as musicians across rock, classical, electronic music, and many other genres take inspiration. If you also happen to be a rock fan, “Breathe” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon is based on a chord sequence from this album. 

Due to modal, the album is a blend of composition and improvisation, which makes it the best jazz album ever. I also watched the movie Miles Ahead, which introduced me to another best jazz album, Someday My Prince Will Come

You can stream Miles Ahead on Amazon Prime and listen to Davis Miles on Spotify, Apple Music, and other major streaming platforms.

2. Portrait In Jazz - Bill Evans (United States)

Ever since I discovered Bill Evans, it’s been one of my favorite jazz musicians. 

This feeling grew over time and reached a climax in during my holiday at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. After walking into a small shop we found on Tripadvisor to do a book binding workshop, a guy with white socks in sandals walked in and started playing the piano. He was a uniiversity professor teaching film music and would leave the country for a job abroad. His Bill Evans performance was his way of saying goodbye to his friend, the shop’s owner. We were lucky to experience it and recognized the power of music.

My favorite album is Portrait in Jazz. It’s the fifth studio album and one of Bill Evans’ best-selling jazz albums. Bill released over 50 albums, and Portrait in Jazz is only one of two albums that Bill Evans (piano) produced with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). 

And for the very experimentation and improvisation, this trio, for their only two studio albums, is regarded as the most remarkable trios in jazz history. Their approach was a remarkable shift at that time in how the trio could interplay and improvisate.

Portrait in Jazz is a perfect blend of all the distinctive jazz flavors at the time, like bebop, modal, and cool jazz. Among his other best jazz albums, You Must Believe in Spring and Sunday at the Village Vanguard are my favorites. 

Sunday at the Village Vanguard is also a delight to musical ears as it’s a live album by Bill Evans Trio. There’s also the documentary Bill Evans: Time Remembered, which sheds light on Bill Evans’s turbulent life and his contribution to Jazz music. Stream this documentary on Amazon Prime.

3. Getz / Gilberto (Brazil)

We often hear about particular songs going viral these days. Even if we don’t understand the lyrics, we associate them with viral music’s catchy tune and melody. But do we hear an album or a song that puts the whole country’s music scene on the world map? 

Probably not anymore, but Getz/Gilberto, a bossa nova album released in 1964, popularised Brazilian music worldwide. The album was a collaboration between American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian singer/guitarist João Gilberto. One song, “The Girl from Ipanema,” became an international hit and is one of the most recorded songs ever. This song also won the award for Record of the Year.

Getz/Gilberto blends Getz’s smooth saxophone and João Gilberto’s gentle guitar and whisper-soft Portuguese vocals. When cross-national fusions happened, there was no way seductive bossa nova melodies would not be transatlantic. 

The creative collaboration meant event critics and music pundits had to pause whatever else they were playing and pay attention. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that it earned many Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year in 1965. It also became the first jazz album ever to win the honour.

Who could have thought that jazz would need a fusion with bossa nova to introduce the genre worldwide? The very commercial and critical success makes Getz / Gilberto one of the best Jazz albums of all time.

4. Mulatu of Ethiopia - Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopia)

I was privileged enough to see Mulatu Astatke perform live at the 2023 Down The Rabbit Hole festival

Mulatu Astatke is an Ethiopian musician who was born in Jimma, the largest city in Ethiopia.  He got his musical training in London, New York City, and Boston. That’s where the artist infused his jazz and Latin music interests with traditional Ethiopian music. His amalgamation led to a new music genre, “Ethio-jazz”.

Mulatu of Ethiopia is one of Mulatu’s best jazz albums. Released in 1972, this fusion album perfectly blended rhythms, scales, and instruments from both genres. The use of jazz instruments alongside traditional vibraphone and conga drums created a sound that was ahead of its time. 

The album was not widely recognised in the Western world at the time of its release but now it is one of the best all time jazz albums. Over the past few decades, Ethio-jazz has been an influential music genre for music lovers and artists. Mulatu also collaborated with many famous American jazz musicians, like Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, and Pharaoh Sanders (see the bonus section).

If you want to explore more, check out old Ethiopian music gems I published recently. Ethiopian art and Ethiopian gifts are also quite unique ideas to explore.

5. Time Out - Dave Brubeck (United States)

Take Five is one of the most iconic jazz compositions by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. 

Written by Paul Desmond, it was released on their 1959 album titled “Time Out.” This album experimented with unusual time signatures uncommon in jazz or popular music. Time Out has since become one of the best Jazz albums of all times.

Take Five is unique because of its distinctive 5/4 time signature, a pattern that gives the piece its name and a captivating groove. 

The composition of Take Five features an engaging melody and a rhythm section. Joe Morello’s drum solo is exceptional as it seamlessly works within the song’s unconventional time signature.

Apart from Take Five, Strange Meadow Lark, Three To Get Ready are some of my favourites. You can stream the album on Spotify, Prime Music, and other streaming services.

6. Cat - Hiroshi Suzuki (Japan)

Although Cat Hiroshi Suzuki is not widely recognised as a jazz musician, he has a following among jazz enthusiasts and collectors. Hiroshi Suzuki is a Japanese jazz bassist and is quite a name in the Japanese jazz scene. 

One of his most notable works is the album “Cat,” released in 1975. This album has a cult following among jazz enthusiasts because of its unique fusion of jazz with elements of funk and soul. 

The album features a lineup of musicians and the masterful interplay between those musicians. These musicians’ range of styles vary from upbeat, funky grooves to mellow tracks. It is for this blend of traditional jazz elements with contemporary sounds of the 1970s, is what makes this best all time jazz albums.

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7. Diagnostic - Ibrahim Maalouf (France/Lebanon)

Our list shows that when jazz gets blended with music genres worldwide, the music becomes even more enticing. Diagnostics is one such best Jazz albums in our list by the Franco-Lebanese jazz trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, released in 2011. 

Maalouf, using his classical and Arabic music traditions, creates a unique blend of jazz music. Maalouf is a jazz trumpeter, so he uses microtonal Arabic maqams in his music to create a sound reflecting his cultural heritage. 

Diagnostic is inspired by the Maalouf’s life, including the illness and recovery of his father, to whom he dedicated the album. This narrative of struggle, resilience, and hope links together the compositions on the album. 

Ibrahim Maalouf’s work in the jazz scene goes beyond borders, as he has performed on many continents. He is also known for his live performances due to the inventiveness and the emotional depth they convey in contemporary jazz. 

Enjoy the song Beirut from the album Diagnostic!

8. Le Pas du Chat Noir - Anouar Brahem (Tunisia)

Le Pas du Chat Noir (The Black Cat’s Footstep) is a jazz album by Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem. This album is quite different from Anouar’s previous works as it introduces a sound that is deeply experimental. The music, just like Maalouf’s work, combines Arabic classical music, jazz, and chamber music to create a unique listening experience.

The album features Anouar Brahem on the oud, François Couturier on the piano, and Jean-Louis Matinier on the accordion. The trio creates a soundscape characterised by its emotional depth. 

Although the oud, piano, and accordion are played differently, they perfectly complement each other. This experience is quite evident in live performances for a TV show while performing from one of their best jazz albums.

As Anouar has Tunisian roots, he released an album, Souvenance, in 2014. He wrote and produced the album in the wake of the political upheavals of the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia.

9. Water from an Ancient Well - Abdullah Ibrahim (South Africa)

Abdullah Ibrahim is one of the living legends of the piano of modern times. His musical influences are fascinating as he grew up in multicultural port areas of Cape Town, South Africa. He is considered one of the leading figures in the subgenre of Cape jazz. 

His music career spans more than 50 years. And that career also has a pre- and post-apartheid history. In such a long career, he has produced scores of albums, but my particular favourite is Water from an Ancient Well, released in 1986.

Water from an Ancient Well is one of the best jazz albums by Abdullah Ibrahim. The album is a rich fusion of jazz and South African musical elements. The album features some of his best melodies, including tracks like Mandela, Song for Sathima, and Water From an Ancient Well.  

If you want to explore Cape jazz, Abdullah Ibrahim is the name to start. You can also listen to Robbie Jansen, Chris McGregor, and Dudu Pukwana, among many others.

10. Source - Nubya Garcia (United Kingdom)

Nubya Garcia is a contemporary jazz musician known for her work within the vibrant London jazz movement. She is an accomplished saxophonist and composer who has drawn significant attention for reshaping modern jazz. Nubya has British-Trinidadian and Guyanese roots and blends jazz with Afro-Caribbean rhythms, soul, and electronic music.

The artist released her debut EP, “Nubya’s 5ive,” in 2017. The album was a critical and commercial success. The project featured a quintet and offered a fresh take on London jazz, mixing traditional elements with modern influences. 

In 2020, she released her debut full-length album “Source.” The album has earned widespread praise for exploring identity, heritage, and the interconnectedness of musical diasporas. The album is one of the best Jazz albums for its adventurous compositions, blending jazz with reggae, dub, and Latin music.

Best Jazz Albums | Bonus Section

best jazz albums

Cultural Reads is about diversity and sharing about different cultures. That’s why this post aims to show the best jazz albums worldwide. 

 Nonetheless, we’ll have to admit that the United States, and more specifically New Orleans, is the birthplace of jazz legends. 

Many names are famous, but there are plenty of legends that are not widely known. For this reason, I’ll share some of my recent favorites that are not in your typical top 10 list. 

Enjoy these great American Jazz Legends!

11. Yusef Lateef

Yusef Lateef was an influential American jazz musician known for his mastery of multiple instruments and innovative fusion of jazz and world music. He grew up with the name William Emanuel Huddleston, but later changed his name after converting to Islam.

His richly textured compositions, incorporating exotic scales and rhythms from diverse cultures, showcased his spiritual and introspective approach to music. Lateef’s pioneering work, influenced by his Islamic faith, and his commitment to education have left a lasting impact on the jazz community, making him a revered figure in the genre’s history

12. Pharoah Sanders

Pharoah Sanders is an acclaimed American jazz saxophonist known for his avant-garde style, intense energy, extended improvisations, and spiritual depth.

He rose to prominence as a collaborator with John Coltrane and has since released numerous influential albums as a bandleader. Sanders’ unique sound and innovative approach have had a profound impact on the world of avant-garde jazz, inspiring and influencing generations of musicians.

13. Ahmad Jamal

Ahmad Jamal is a legendary American jazz pianist recognized for his extraordinary contributions to the genre. With a career of over six decades, Jamal has crafted a unique and unmistakable style that has left an indelible mark on jazz music.

He is known for his rhythmic finesse and impeccable sense of timing. Jamal’s piano playing is a masterful display of elegance and sophistication.

His influential trio recordings have become jazz classics, showcasing his ability to infuse infectious grooves, unexpected rhythmic twists, and rich harmonies into his compositions and improvisations.

14. Sonny Chris

Sonny Chris is a talented saxophonist known for his soulful and expressive playing. With a distinctive tone and a deep understanding of the jazz tradition, Chris has captivated audiences with his melodic improvisations and heartfelt performances.

His versatility as a musician allows him to effortlessly navigate various styles, from bebop to contemporary jazz, showcasing his technical prowess and musical sensitivity. With a passion for storytelling through his music, Sonny Chris continues contributing his unique voice to the ever-evolving jazz landscape.

I also love this clip on YouTube called Night and Day, which I couldn’t find on Spotify. 

15. Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington is a contemporary and visionary saxophonist and composer who has reinvigorated the world of jazz with his bold and expansive musical vision.

With his powerful and emotive playing, Washington effortlessly blends elements of jazz, funk, soul, and hip-hop, creating a genre-defying sound that resonates with global audiences.

His epic compositions and arrangements reflect his deep storytelling abilities, taking listeners on immersive musical journeys. With his commitment to pushing boundaries and challenging conventions, Kamasi Washington has become a beacon of innovation in contemporary jazz, captivating both traditional jazz enthusiasts and new listeners.

He also collaborates with many Hip-hop artists and reminded me of Yussuf Dayes and the Malibu Experience, who also does incredible things in jazz and other genres.

Best Jazz Albums | A Recap

The influence of jazz in movies and music has left an indelible mark on cultural expressions. The journey of discovering jazz through movies led me to explore the best jazz albums. And each album has its unique fusion of styles and cultural influences. 

These albums not only highlight the genre’s historical significance but also showcase its ability to adapt and resonate across generations. ‘Kind of Blue’ is fresh and as relevant as ever; the same holds for the other albums discussed above. 

I hope you liked my best all time jazz albums curation. I would love to listen if you have any particular favourite albums or tracks. 

Please share your favourite jazz albums and songs in the comments!

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