It’s always difficult to compile this list because the word “experimental” often means music that is difficult to categorize. Or difficult to describe. Or just difficult. But these are some of our favorite unusual, unsettling, provocative, transcendent, divergent, psychedelic, surreal, meditative, confronting, and decidedly challenging albums of the year. This is just a small portion of all the tangible jazz, neoclassical, avant-garde and ambient jazz released this year. Hopefully this will serve as a starting point for discovering artists who don’t quite fit on this list, or anywhere else for that matter.
Check out all of Pitchfork’s 2023 wrap-up coverage here.
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Andre 3000: New blue sun
Think of the qualities we associate with Andre 3000: his fierce conviction, his eagerness to guide the mood around him, and that wicked tendency to scribble outside the lines. Doesn’t this sound exactly like the guy who dropped 87 minutes of prismatic flute improv, New Age synth washes, and ayahuasca growls? For all those times you’ve been rocking ‘BOB’, what exactly are the three BOB’s you’ve been celebrating? No doors are closed but many windows are open, and the breeze — accentuated by the floral notes of Yusef Latif, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Laraji, and the Leaving Records community he spent years touring with — is exhilarating. New blue sun It doesn’t need a single bar to get its message across: these side quests are often the most memorable part of the entire game. -Gabriel Szatan
Arooj Aftab / Vijay Iyer / Shehzad Esmaili: Love in exile
Five years after they performed an impromptu set together for the first time, talented musicians Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Esmaili hit the studio for Love in exile, an LP they recorded in long takes with only light editing. Its six pieces unfold as immersive meditations, in which the artists draw from wells of jazz, Arabic poetry, and spirituality. Aftab’s vocals hint at themes of love and loss, while Ismaili and Iyer surround them with smooth piano and softly undulating bass. Ayer has described Love in exile As part of a deeper personal account of South Asian culture and communication, the trio’s mental chemistry serves as a beacon of unspoken connection. -Alison Hussey
Bill Orcutt: Jump on it
The noise rock guitarist’s first solo record in a decade finds him in the form of a lively pick, exploring far-flung corners with earnest curiosity. A win for the better side of the American guitar revival. -Alison Hussey
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