2018 In Review: Day 10 – Jazz and Blues

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2018 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

Power, finesse, tranquility, and passion each abounded in the 2018 class of jazz. The picks up top this year are somewhat heavy on piano, but there was healthy representation as always from vocal, acid, bebop, avant-garde, trumpet, percussion and more.


  • The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.
  • This year, we’re providing Spotify playlists of music featured in these lists (provided that Spotify carries the music). The 2018 Jazz and Blues playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Jazz and Blues Album 2018

Solah – Beautiful Imperfection

The first three tracks of Beautiful Imperfection, each weighing in at seven or more minutes, were sonic dazzles. Solah’s frenetic piano led the ensemble crew in nearly uninterrupted bouts of controlled chaos, and the tempo-shifting chords of “Pearl in the Ocean Deep” was particularly impressive in its management of tension. That’s only half of the story, though: the remainder of this album took a surprising turn towards pop, in both chord progression and Solah’s vocal work. The touching one-two punch of “About Imperfection”, a collage of numerous phone recordings on insecurities, and “But, Beautiful” was perhaps the narrative centerpiece and the unlikely emotional counterweight to the technical virtuosity that underpinned this delightfully free-flowing debut effort.

Runner-up Jazz and Blues Album 2018

Sunji Lee – Song of April

Song of April was probably among the most string-heavy jazz albums of the year, and throughout it Sunji Lee is in keen conversation with her ensemble. The piano and string moved in tandem much of the time, particularly in the “Song of April” and “Song of Bird” suites that form the album’s heart; the violins of the former group glisten in gentle triplets, and the latter’s contrabass is a faithful companion through a nine-minute journey that reimagines the traditional folk song. The standalone pieces might actually have outshone the suites, though: overture “Silent Affair” and the interludes featured some exhilarating melodies and intricate constructions that were immediately and viscerally impactful. And that was perhaps Song of April‘s greatest strength: despite the operatic structure and technical sophistication, it didn’t take anything fancy to appreciate this album’s beauty.

The Next-Best Ten

Bomi Choi – Jumpin’ With B

Hyein Kang – As You Are

Inhye Seo – The Dreamer

Jun Kim – 우주미학 (Cosmic Aesthetic)

Kim Oki – 퍼블릭도메인포미 (Public Domain for Me)

Kwak Jung-min – Jigsaw

Oh Jae-cheol Small Ensemble – 선언 (Declaration)

Se Young Kim – The Fourth Wave

Woongsan – I’m Alright

Yun Seokcheol Trio – 4월의 D플랫 (D♭ in April)


Best Jazz and Blues Song 2018

Sunji Lee – Silent Affair

This powerful prelude of Song of April served its purpose and then some, jacking up the anticipation for the album in a major way. After an understated but intriguing first minute, the ensemble opens up into a sleek violin-led melody followed by a simmering piano solo. The track never really stayed in the same spot for too long, constantly adding new wrinkles to the background, a shift in tension, an added layer to the main melody. But the sense of activity and passion were constants. Pulsing and flurrying, “Silent Affair” almost got better with each listen.

Runner-up Jazz and Blues Song 2018

Oh Jae-cheol Small Ensemble – 선언 (Declaration)

Oh Jae-cheol’s trumpet in “Declaration” often sounds coarse and unkempt, an especially charismatic pairing with Dongjin Shin’s drums. That really kicked up in the primary theme, where the trumpet (and sax) blast out freely in stark contrast to the tight piano-led chords in the background. This discordance only grows through the track, with both sides repeating the structure and freedom from that structure in ever more forceful ways. The sound they created together was a gorgeous and satisfying balance, one of 2018’s most purely enjoyable moments.

The Next-Best Ten

Bigtiger Group – Smash

Bomi Choi – I’ll Buy You a Star (Feat. Sachal Vasandani)

JuanKim Trio – Novel

Kim Oki – 심정 (State of Heart)

Mothervibes – 아인랜드 (Ineland)

O;neul – Star

Solah – Pearl in the Ocean Deep

Song Hachul – Emotional Highs and Lows

Woongsan – Love Is a Losing Game

Yun Seokcheol – A Very Merry Unbirthday

Honorable Mentions


Ash – Ash, Ready to Burn
AshRock – Kenzasburg
Bigtiger Group – Evolution
Chul Hwee Lee and the Space502 – Yo Yo
Daniel Ko – Sleepless in Seoul
De Pause – Good Afternoon
Electric Planet Five – Waltz, Seoul
Hyo-jeong Lee – Beta Girl
Jami Soul – Life on Stage
Ju Hyeon Baek – Long Time No See
Junggigo Quintet – Song for Chet
Kim Oki – 새턴메디테이션 (Saturn Meditation)
Lee Jin-ah – Jinah Restaurant Full Course
Leo Kim – Fresh Meadows
Rust – Muze
Sean Kim – I Thought I Knew
The Secret Chord – 시크릿아일랜드 (Secret Island)
Winterplay – All About Love
Yoonhwa Choi – 영랑시음 (永郞詩吟) (Young-rang Poem Music)
Yun Seokcheol – Sugar Planet


A-Fuzz – I’ll Make a Christmas Tree
Coco Cloud – Grey Town Wave
De Pause – Pavane
Echae Kang – Morning Morning Sun
Hwang Sunghwan & Seoulmate – Dark Night of the Seoul
Hyein Kang – As You Are
Hyo-jeong Lee – Beta Girl Funk
Inhye Seo – Moonlight Melody (Feat. Yoo Hye-rin)
Jami Soul – 오시나 (Oshina) (Feat. Sol’ Flower)
Jane – My Ordinary Days (Feat. Jimmy Haslip)
John Cha – Rise Above
Leo Kim – Fresh Meadows
M:YA – Somewhere
Oh Jae-cheol Small Ensemble – 시간 (Time)
Park Hyung-geun – Looking Out the Door Timidly
Red Cloud – Birth of the Universe
Samuel Seo – Jazz in My
Siyong Lee – Trepidation
Solah – 공허할때 (Emptiness)
Sunji Lee – Song of April 1
Sunwoo Jung-A – 고양이 (Cat) (Feat. IU)
The Secret Chord – 신목사 타령 (A Song for a New Magistrate)
Winterplay – All About Love
Woongsan – Bear Walk
Woongsan – I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
Yoonhwa Choi – 내 마음 아실 이 (Someone Who Knows My Heart)
Yoonhwa Choi – 사랑은 깊으기 푸른하늘 (Love Is as Deep as a Blue Sky)
Yun Seokcheol Trio – 4월의 D플랫 (D♭ in April)

Read our past series:

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review