Steve Coleman & Five Elements – Live at the Village Vanguard

Sure to be the top pick of 2018 from many jazz writers, this lively double CD set shows the McArthur winning saxophonist and conceptualist in fast, fluid, and funky delivery of Coleman’s typically complex ideas. The band is amazing, and the terrific live recording shows trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, guitarist (and Whidbey-Island native) Miles Okasaki, and bassist Anthony Tidd, propelled by stunning drum work from Sean Rickman. This is the top shelf for the shape of jazz today.

J.D. Allen – Lovestone

The powerful and prolific tenor saxophonist embellishes his established working trio of bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, by calling in the multi-leveled skills of guitarist Liberty Ellman. Allen brings his own distinctive sound to any music; whether his own originals or covers from the songbook, and he does it in the true jazz spirit of honoring the tradition while pushing to extend its boundaries.

Cecile McLorin Salvant – The Window

Continuing her ascent as one of the most remarkable vocalists in jazz, McLorin Salvant showcases he prodigious talents here in one of the most vulnerable settings possible, singing in free fall with only a piano accompaniment. Young pianist Sullivan Fortner is a super-capable and like-minded collaborator here, embellishing the tensions and dramas where needed, and pulling all of the way back when the time is right. Saxophonist Melissa Aldana guests on one track, adding a fleeting texture to an almost-whispered version of Jimmy Rowles’ beautiful composition, The Peacocks.

Luciana Souza – The Book of Longing

The stunning voice of Brazilian vocalist Luciano Souza lends itself well to intelligent, expressive work done in the spare company of just one or two excellent accompanists. She also has the erudition and the talent to interpret poetry within her own compositional framework. Included here, accompanied by just acoustic guitar and bass, are three of her own works, four poems by Leonard Cohen, one each by Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Holly Cole – Holly

In spite of a reputation as one of the finest jazz vocalists, Toronto-based Holly Cole seems to record seldom, and performs less. But, as Jazz Times magazine says, “quality beats quantity.” With a terrific band, augmented by even better guest artists, this turn from Cole breathes new life into a series of jazz standards, a wryly appropriate Mose Allison song, and a couple of seldom-heard numbers associated — oddly enough, but probably not coincidentally — with both Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Shamie Royston – Beautiful Liar

This is the second release for the pianist Shamie Royston. A terrific instrumentalist and even better bandleader, Royston give plenty of space to group members, all within the context of the music. The rhythm section carries the day here, but any section with the incredible drummer Rudy Ryston (Shamie’s husband) is going to be on point. The music is soulful and beautifully constructed, with 9 tracks written by Shamie Royston, and the 10th, a cover of Bill Wither’s luminous classic, Lovely Day.” And it is.

Tiffany Austin – Unbroken

Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Austin is a young vocalist whose 2105 debut release, Nothing But Soul won wide acclaim. For this second release, she teams with a stellar group of musicians, including pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Rodney Whitaker, and drummer Carl Allen, who are occasionally augmented by horns. The music is deep, soulful, and occasionally bluesy, embracing darker historical subjects in a way that evokes and reflects on today’s social issues. Unbroken marks Austin as a jazz vocalist with something to say and a career to keep an eye on.

Cyrille Aimee – Cyrille Aimee Live

Documenting the final live performance of Aimeée’s guitar-driven working group, this energetic live set from New York’s Le Poisson Rouge in late summer of 2017 includes two of her well-penned originals, inventive covers of Stephen Sondheim and Thelonious Monk, and a surprising tribute to Michael Jackson, all delivered with confidence, excellence, and passion for the music.

Madeleine Peyroux – Anthem

The gifted vocalist, Madeline Peyroux, has always followed her own path, and that path has definitely not been one of Rainbows and Unicorns. But her serious, and sometimes cynical, worldview has generated some monumental recordings. Anthem was produced by Larry Klein, who is known for his award-winning work with vocalists, and includes a talented group of musicians who contribute prodigiously throughout the recording. The title track is a Leonard Cohen composition, and the following journey, however nihilistic, ends with a bittersweet version of, “Last Night, When We Were Young.”