With the ending of the year, comes a look back at some of the most expansive artistic works that contributed to the soundtrack of jazz without boundaries. Below, check out KMHD’s top 10 jazz albums of 2023, curated by your KMHD hosts.


Kassa Overall — ‘Animals’

Kassa Overall’s mentor, drummer Billy Hart, notes that Kassa is a jazz musician who excels in the pop field. This duality is the secret sauce of Overall’s album “Animals.” The music is dense and woven with collaborations from wide-ranging artists like Theo Croker, Vijay Iyer, Lil B and Danny Brown. In those thick tapestries of sound he still leaves space for his collaborators to shine and the listener to find their own meaning of his work. The tension between that density and space explodes magnificently on the track “The Lava Is Calm.” Alex Newman

Kiefer — ‘It’s Ok, B U’

It’s a delicacy to find an album that can soothe and calm your spirit while at the same time energizing your body and motivating your soul. In comes Kiefer’s new album “It’s OK, B U,” and its sole purpose for the masses: encouragement. This album shows the musical prowess not only of a pianist on such a rise it’s concerning, but also as a producer making beats that knock so hard I thought I had guests! Bryson Wallace

Greg Foat & Eero Koivistoinen — ‘Feathers’

Another prolific year for keyboardist and composer Greg Foat culminated in the release of his third LP of 2023, a collaboration with Finnish tenor legend Eero Koivistoinen. Recorded at Studio Pelto during a dark and stormy weekend, the music invokes the luminosity and depth of 1970s spiritual jazz while firmly existing in the now due to Foat’s use of myriad synthesizers. “Feathers” is a sublime album, in no small part due to Koivistoinen’s rich and elegant saxophone work. In fractured times, this is the kind of music than can offer us a measure of healing. Derek Smith

Miguel Atwood-Ferguson — ‘Les Jardins Mystiques, Vol 1′

The violinist, composer and arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson has long been a stalwart in the creative music scene of his native Los Angeles, working with everyone from Anderson .Paak to Mary J. Blige. This album clocks in at a whopping 3 hours and 30 minutes, with 52 tracks (one for each week of the year) and represents over 14 years of (mostly self-funded) work for this prolific artist. Through this epic sonic experience, the listener is treated to a deep spiritual sound in improvised music, and often transported to a place of resonant peace. Matt Fleeger

Yussef Dayes — ‘Black Classical Music’

Yussef Dayes’ solo album “Black Classical Music” is a fusion-forward jazz cosmic journey into Black music. Dayes, both a fan and student of fusion drummer Billy Cobham, has perfected Cobham’s advice for drumming in this album. Dayes doesn’t beat the drum, he blisters lightly and intensely. We also get a personal picture of Dayes, a Jamaican, who grew up in South London, who is also now a father. Stand out tracks include “Marching Band” and “Black Classical Music.” Deena B.

Sven Wunder — ‘Late Again’

Do you know the one that goes “Piero Umiliani, Claude Debussy and Mulatu Astatke walk into a bar”? In most hands, this combination would make for a derivative joke, but that is most fortunately not the case with Sven Wunder’s newest release, “Late Again.” Instead, Wunder deftly weaves his menagerie of influences together like so many constellations on a star map. The result is a soundtrack to a half-remembered dream, filled with music that is both oddly nostalgic and undeniably new. One thing is clear though: Sven Wunder’s fourth album is proof that his talent and vision are as boundless as the night sky. Bri Drennon

The Circling Sun — ‘Spirits’

To name a fledgling ensemble after the center of our known universe would appear to be hubris courting karma, were it not for the fact that the musicians that make up The Circling Sun had all previously cemented their individual places as titans of New Zealand’s jazz scene. Emerging fully formed as a cerebral supergroup, The Circling Sun meshes spiritual exploration, modal scales and Latin rhythms on their freshman effort with equal parts elegance and daring. From the atmospheric melodies to the gritty solos, “Spirits” is a heavenly listen through and through. Bri Drennon

Brandee Younger — ‘Brand New Life’

Brandee Younger once again invites attention to the rich, magical and deeply melodic sounds of the harp with the April release of “Brand New Life.” Starting with an homage to Dorothy Ashby, the album is peppered with collaborations by such luminaries as Mumu Fresh, Pete Rock, Meshell Ndegeocello and 9th Wonder. Throughout the album, the harpist continuously demonstrates her unique brilliance and mastery of the instrument with a strong nod to those who influenced her. “Brand New Life” is an exquisite album that reaches the far crevices of the soul and mind, and Younger gently guides the listener through an emotional journey traveling across the landscape of the past, present and future of harp music. Nicole D’Amato

Meshell Ndegeocello — ‘The Omnichord Real Book’

The Blue Note debut is a journey into Ndegeocello’s planet of exploration where you are transfixed by her vocals and an impressive guest roster of the who’s who in modern jazz sounds. “The Omnichord Real Book” reaches for new depths in soul and songwriting, and teases your mind into thinking about where jazz is coming from and where it is going. Highlights from the album are “ASR” and both versions of “Virgo.” Meg Samples

Greg Foat & Gigi Masin — ‘Dolphins’

The common denominator of Greg Foat’s three releases of 2023 is his collaboration with artists decades older than him. The youngest of the three is 68-year-old Italian synthesizer wizard Gigi Masin. On their record, “Dolphin,” they find a perfect middle ground between Masin’s ambient textures and Foat’s tendency to groove. Listen to the ethereal “Viento Calido” to hear the two keyboardists’ sensibilities mesh perfectly over the drumming of Moses Boyd. Alex Newman

Special Mentions

Terrace Martin — ‘Curly’

In the midst of a prolific run in 2023, producer, musician and artist Terrace Martin released “Curly,” a musical soundtrack dedicated to his late father, Ernest “Curly” Martin. The album is a journey of groove and soul, and features some of most dynamic artists in jazz today. “Curly” is a testament to an artistic work ethic passed down from father to son, and an offering to listeners searching for something extraordinary within. — David Stuckey

Skapel — ‘Big Band Live’

The dynamic duo of Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudlo, famous for their use of Polish jazz samples to create new sculptures in sound, have revisited compositions from their back catalogue in jaw-dropping form. Working with Patryk Pilasiewicz and his 17-piece jazz band, Skalpel revels in the spirit of improvisation during a live show put to tape in Warsaw. The dusty grooves of the original compositions thrum in this setting with tension and release, whilst placing the listener in an intimate realm of the jazz noir. Derek Smith

Tony Allen — ‘JID18′

The 2023 posthumous contribution to the legacy of legendary drummer Tony Allen is one I’ll never let go of. The 18th rendition of “Jazz is Dead” featuring and honoring Tony Allen is a true treat for the ears and mobility. The spirit of Nigerian nights in Lagos brings about so much joy and the feel of the very last party of the season making you let loose with that much more vigor. Take the album and cherish it like I will and never be afraid to dance to the rhythm right here on KMHD. Bryson Wallace

Jamie Branch — ‘Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die’

A posthumous work from trumpeter and band leader jamie branch that is full of joy, fire and fun. An album that flows between groove-driven jazz, folk, punk and experimental art performance without batting an eye. The real heartbreak of listening to it is wishing you could see branch do it all live. Meg Samples

Dana and Alden — ‘Quiet Music for Young People’

Brothers Dana and Alden grew up in Eugene, Oregon, listening to classic jazz, eventually performing at the famed Jazz Station club there. “Quiet Music” is a breath of fresh air in the U.S. jazz scene, bringing a not-to-be-taken-too-seriously vibe alongside some serious playing. Here the listener will find modern soul-jazz that connects to hip-hop, songs that are silly and serious, and an overall sense of curiosity. And at its core, isn’t that what jazz is all about? Matt Fleeger

Take a look back at year in jazz lists from 2022 and 2021.