2019 NPR Jazz Critics Poll includes your blogger’s list of best jazz albums

Pianist-composer-bandleader Guillermo Klein (seated fifth from left), and his star-riddled band Los Guachos, produced the year’s best album “Cristal,” in the opinion of Culture Currents’ Kevin Lynch Courtesy WBGO 

After a few years’ hiatus, I re-joined Francis Davis’ longtime culling of jazz critics in a poll that began at The Village Voice in 2006, and has morphed into a National Public Radio-sponsored survey, now the largest annual poll of jazz critics. So, if you’d like to refer to the best critical consensus on what to listen to or buy in jazz, here’s a great guide.

If you have a favorite critic among participants, you can find his or her list, including mine, in the link to all the critics, in the opening essay (or here: all participating critics.) Davis’ two short essays provide fine overviews of the year and of critical preferences. He notes a surprise top consensus winner, Diatom Ribbons, by the fairly unknown Canadian pianist-composer Kris Davis (see photo below.)

My top choice, Cristal, by Guillermo Klein and his brilliant medium-sized ensemble Los Guachos (The Orphans), bolstered my sense that Latin Jazz is moving close to the center of the jazz fulcrum of artistic power and influence.

Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos released “Cristal,” my choice for the best jazz album of 2019.  Courtesy google.com

This year, Puerto Rican-born alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, who is also in Klein’s band of “orphans,” (he’s seated to Klein’s left in the photo, at top) gave us an album that just missed my top ten, Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera. The NPR critics group similarly ranked Sonero number 12 in their consensus voting.

Zenon is also an original member of the SFJAZZ Ensemble, which scored in my top 10 with The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Original Compositions. Jobim, of course, is the father of Brazilian bossa nova.

These albums follow trumpeter former-Milwaukeean Brian Lynch’s dazzling Madera Latino, a 2-CD 2018 Latin-style take on the music of trumpet icon Woody Shaw, one of my picks for best of that year.

Otherwise, I was deeply impressed by Forward, the debut album (and a live performance I saw) by The Paul Dietrich Ensemble, a Madison-based orchestra. Maria Schneider Orchestra drummer Clarence Penn is the album’s co-billed artist. Schneider’s style and sensibility deeply inform Dietrich’s music. Among the band’s featured soloists was Chicago alto saxophonist Greg Ward, whose own album, Stomping Off From Greenwood, also made my top 10 list.

I reviewed the album here and for The Shepherd Express:

Madison composer-arranger Paul Dietrich’s music looks backward and forward, like sonic cinema

Pianist composer Kris Davis (center, in blue) and her very diverse ensemble delivered the best album of 2019, according to a poll of 140 jazz critics. Mimi Chakarova/Courtesy of the artist

Here’s a link to the whole 2019 NPR jazz critics poll:


Here’s my own NPR ballot of best jazz albums for 2019:

14th Annual Jazz Critics Poll: 2019

Ballot 2019

Kevin Lynch (The Shepherd Express [Milwaukee], No DepressionCulture Currents)


  1. Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, Cristal (Sunnyside)
  2. Kenny Barron & Mulgrew Miller, The Art of Piano Duo: Live (Sunnyside)
  3. Lee Konitz Nonet, Old Songs New (Sunnyside)
  4. Wadada Leo Smith, Rosa Parks: Pure Love: An Oratorio of Seven Songs (TUM)
  5. Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade, Stomping Off From Greenwood (Greenleaf Music)
  6. Tobias Meinhart, Berlin People (Sunnyside)
  7. Kendrick Scott Oracle, A Wall Becomes a Bridge (Blue Note)
  8. SFJAZZ Collective, The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Original Compositions (SFJAZZ)
  9. Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble Featuring Clarence Penn, Forward (self-released)
  10. Romain Collin, Tiny Lights (XM)


  1. Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance -3CD -18)
  2. Gil Evans Orchestra, Hidden Treasures: Monday Nights Vol. 1 (Deko Music)
  3. Paul Bley-Gary Peacock-Paul Motian, When Will the Blues Leave (1999, ECM)


  • John Allee, Bardfly (Portuguese Knees)


  • Joshua Catania, Open to Now (Shifting Paradigm)


  • Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, Cristal (Sunnyside)

Note: Gil Evans Orchestra should be considered under New releases (recorded 2016-17).


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