Welcome to The Soul Show’s annual Top Ten Albums presentation. As 2023 rolled by, it felt like the list of releases was short, but doing the end-of-year tally made my head spin. There was plenty, and plenty good. As always, it’s subjective, and last-minute decisions almost feel capricious. The best thing to do is lock it down and not look back. I’m really excited to present these.
(note: If you would like to see the Top Fifteen candidates, just write)
Coincident with this writeup, The Soul Show presents a sampling from each album. If you miss the broadcast, here’s the on-demand. Enjoy!
In no particular order,
LO LIFE! | Immy Owusu
Immy Owusu hails from Australia, where afrobeat and afrofunk are strong. Maybe Teddy Osei’s longtime Osibisa presence on the island continent had something to do with it. Steady afrobeat can sometimes wear me down on a full album. Owusu changes styling and tempo throughout the release, keeping it fresh.
From the Ashes of Our Homes | Gabriel Teodros
When Teodros sent this album, he declared it was his best work. I got excited, having paid attention to him since the 2012 Copperwire project with Meklit Hadero and Burntface. This new album is a personal exposé on the experiences of a first-gen Ethiopian American. It’s powerful and emotional, especially when his ongoing collaborator Meklit lays out her enchanting vocals on the “For Us, By Us” closer. She shakes me to the bones.
Basement Sessions | Bell Family Band
It’s been fun to watch Winston Bell come up under the tutelage of famous drummer/dad Poogie, continuing the family’s musical legacy. Since graduating from teenage quartet Funky Fly Project, Winston has toured the world and played with greats. When Poogie handed me this full CD at the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, I was intrigued by the name. The production matches the title, in that it feels free and a little experimental, as Winston begins to really show where his young saxophone self wants to go.
The Omnichord Real Book | Meshell Ndegeocello
Meshell is totally accomplished and varied in her discography, with recent themes including covers of great tracks (like P-Funk’s “Atomic Dog”). What’s new here is that she has signed with “serious jazz” label Blue Note, and presents a tight project of new material that the brand can be proud of.
Tell Me Who You Are: A Live Tribute To Odetta | Misty Blues
Okay, I never heard of Misty Blues until ‘23. Their publicist reached out with some music, vocalist Gina Coleman was outstanding, and I started to dig in. Blues/folk/gospel icon Odetta is a tough act to cover, but when the Misty Blues tribute album was announced, you know how we can mix colors or flavors in our brains? I mixed Gina’s voice that way, and knew I needed to check out this tribute. It’s everything anyone could want, and the live-ness is an added bonus.
Savoy | Taj Mahal
Not much to say here about the World Music Wrecking Crew, except that he’s excellent again. The title track is rousing, warm and reminiscent. Two blues albums make my list this year; my longtime cohort, Wrett Weatherspoon (host of Big Town Blues) will be happy.
Kemet The Black Land | Javier Nero Jazz Orchestra
There were several “young cats” albums in a tight race this year. If TSS were a jazz show, maybe one more would have popped into this list. When it came down to it, there might simply have been a favorite track that tipped the scale. The title track is expansive….Kamasi Washington-like.
Jazz Crimes | Laranah Phipps Ray & La Funkalicious
Laranah Phipps Ray brings the funk/jazz hard, and is proud of her all-female La Funkalicious horn section. In early 2021, I felt comfortable in Fantastic Negrito’s “White Jesus Black Problems” as a strong Top Ten contender, long before the year’s competition hadfully materialized. This year, “Jazz Crimes” felt the same way. The title track is all that. Laranah scats hard, too.
Animals | Kassa Overall
Confession: I misplaced my notes. Just trust me on this one and, if you’re in Pittsburgh, don’t miss him at Mr. Smalls.
Phoenix | Lakecia Benjamin
Lakecia was an up-and-coming saxophonist a decade ago, doing funk + jazz-adjacent + progressive. I discovered her 2010 Motema label debut, particularly spotting an ode to James Brown bandleader Maceo Parker. Fast forward to the early 20’s, when Ms. Benjamin’s album tribute (“Pursuance”) to the Coltranes blows up and she becomes an international star. A serious car accident the day after the 2021 Tri-C Jazzfest motivated her to produce the album “Phoenix,” celebrating her recovery with super-notables like Angela Davis, Terri Lyne Carrington and Wayne Shorter. Everyone in the old and middle guard lifts her to new heights. I nicknamed her “QSB”: Queen Standard Bearer.