The Critics’ Choices

Try as I might to ignore requests to vote in polls, I don’t seem to be able to say no to Francis Davis. This year, the eminent critic persuaded 136 people to take part in his annual critics poll, which he has moved to the website of National Public Radio. He asked writers, broadcasters, bloggers and others to name their choices for the best jazz recordings of the year. The results are in.

Shorter 2013

The overall winner, hands down, is Wayne Shorter, 80 years old and, evidently, indefatigable. In his introduction to the poll results, this is some of what Mr. Davis has to say about Shorter.

It says a lot about his enduring hold on jazz listeners that over a half century into his career, the descriptive phrases most commonly put in front of Wayne Shorter’s name — along with “the great saxophonist and composer” — remain “the elusive” and “the enigmatic.” The inside tray card to Shorter’s Without a Net, the runaway Best Album winner in this year’s NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, pictures him from the back, in spotlighted silhouette. It’s reminiscent of the cover of 2002’s Footprints Live!, where only half of his face was visible in the mirror of a navigator’s compass. Both poses are evocative of his solos, his tunes and his persona, all of which routinely invite us to fill in the blanks.

For the August Rifftides review of the Shorter album, go here.

Here is the poll’s list of the top 10 finishers.

1. Wayne Shorter, Without A Net (Blue Note)
2. Craig Taborn Trio, Chants (ECM)
3. Charles Lloyd & Jason Moran, Hagar’s Song (ECM)
4. Cécile McLorin Salvant, Woman Child (Mack Avenue)
5. Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Functional Arhythmia (Pi)
6. Tim Bern’s Snakeoil, Shadow Man (ECM)
7. Dave Douglas Quintet, Time Travel (Greenleaf)
8. Terence Blanchard, Magnetic (Blue Note)
9. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam)
10. Mary Halvorson Septet, Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12)

The other categories are Reissues, Vocal, Debut and Latin. To see those results and a list of the top 50 choices, go to the NPR Music site. For what it’s worth, this is how I voted.

Best New Releases

1. Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, Somewhere (ECM)
2. Wayne Shorter, Without A Net (Blue Note)
3. Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway, Live in Santa Fe: Duke at the Roadhouse (IPO)
4. Dave Holland, Prism (Dare2)
5. Bill Frisell, Big Sur (Okeh)
6. JD Allen, Grace (Savant)
7. Dave Douglas, DD/50 Special Edition 50th Birthday Recordings (Greenleaf Music)
8. Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Whit Dickey, Gerald Cleaver, Enigma (Leo Records)
9. Steve Turre, The Bones of Art (High Note)
10. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Gamak (ACT)


Jeremy Steig, Flute Fever (International Phonograph)
Lester Young, Boston 1950 (Uptown)
Woody Shaw, The Complete Muse Sessions (Mosaic)

Best Vocal Album

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Woman Child (Mack Avenue)

Best Debut Album

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, Imagery Manifesto (Lefkowitz-Brown)

Best Latin Jazz Album

Mark Weinstein, Todo Corazon (Jazzheads)

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  1. Harry Lipschitz says


    Thank goodness you prefer to ignore voting in polls…..

    I don’t know who voted in this poll.
    But one thing is certain – the voters must be stone deaf !
    Or the world of jazz is in serious trouble.

    • Roberta Arnold says

      You’re just waking up to the real facts about polls? Unfortunately, they are not to be taken seriously. Ronnie Cuber’s name isn’t in the latest Jazz Journalists Saxophone poll.

    • says

      Look at all 137 voter ballots before you conclude that the voters area stone deaf and I assure you you’ll find a few who like whatever it is you like. There were 490 CDs listed at least one time by the critics. Only 46 of the 137 ballots included Without a Net, which speaks to the diversity of opinions, and by numbers 9 and 10 in the poll, only 14 of 137 included them. So obviously, contrary to what you think, jazz is very healthy and there is something out there for everyone.

      And besides, why do you need critics to validate your listening experience anyway?

      I had 25 favorites on my post (and I am not one of the 137 by the way) and expanded that to 80 total with my next favorites, and of them only 41 are in the 490. Who’s right and who’s wrong? It’s not a list of the best, it’s a list of one’s favorites, and these happen to be mine.

    • David says

      I haven’t have insufficient experience with those recordings to either agree or disagree with your statement; however I will note that, at least since the ‘60s, critics have tended to favor albums and artists considered to be “cutting edge.” (As with any surgery, the ultimate benefit to the patient can only be determined in retrospect.) Recordings that are most firmly within tradition tend to be overlooked. This may explain why “Magic 101” doesn’t appear on either of the above top ten lists. Perhaps I’m swayed by grief or nostalgia, but it seems to me that this is one of the most elegant, lyrical, and deeply expressive albums of, not only Frank Wess’ career, but all of jazz.

      • says

        Funny that you selected Magic 101 — it was my number 10. And the Christian McBride Trio was number 9. But I’m a listener, not a critic, and I tend to agree with you re: the slant toward cutting-edge music.