Our favourite European Jazz albums

This collection is by no means definitive and doesn’t always go for the obvious choices of an individual artist’s recordings, but right here and now these are what we would choose to listen to.

European Jazz is as diverse as the continent from which it hails. Until the mid-1960s jazz in Europe was very much in thrall with the amazing sounds emanating from across the Atlantic. But then artists such as Krzysztof Komeda took it in new and wonderful directions, and generations of primarily northern European musicians have taken it to even more surprising places. Not least of which is the heady combination of Jazz and electronic music, which has found a major following in the UK.

There is no one sound, no single theory, and we have tried to incorporate a wide range of different acts in this list – pretty much all of which is well recorded and definitely worth tracking down if the supplied clips appeal to you.

And where better place to start than with the album that arguably started it all off…

Krzysztof Komeda Quintet
Astigmatic

Recorded in a single night in Warsaw, this classic album was a standard bearer for European jazz as it moved away from the traditional forms of its American cousin. Pianist Komeda is best known for his work on the scores of the films of Roman Polanski, but there is no doubting that this album comprising three long tracks is his timeless masterpiece.

Bengt Berger
Bitter Funeral Beer

This wonderful 1981 ECM release brings together the sounds of West Africa and Stockholm and also features great work by American trumpeter Don Cherry. If you do want to investigate further, the live in Frankfurt CD is considerably more affordable than the original, very hard to get hold of, album.

Peter Brotzmann
Machine Gun

This is a phenomenal sound, and not for everyone. But if you like your music to be challenging then it is worth serious investigation. It is NOT background music, that’s for sure. A ground-breaking album in European Free Jazz tradition, this 1968 eight-piece recording features three saxophones among them the German Brotzmann, of which this was only his second album.

Jan Garbarek
I took up the Runes

Jan Garbarek has so much to offer the world of European Jazz – as well as World and Classic music! – from his earlier more traditional pieces to his incredibly popular work with the Hilliard Ensemble. But this 1990 release is up there with them all; a beautiful collection that is also exceptionally well recorded.

Marc Moulin
Sam’ Suffy

Pianist Marc Moulin is a jazz legend in Belgium, and with good reason. Over a 30-year career he created seminal jazz albums, as well as experimenting with early electro pop. This is our favourite Moulin album, although it is also worth checking out is his early work with the band Placebo – not to be confused with the more recent incarnation.

Polar Bear
Held On The Tips of Fingers

While British Jazz is often at odds with its European cousin, the experimental sounds of Polar Bear fit in here very nicely. This Mercury and BBC Jazz nominated album of the year is the perfect introduction to this amazing quintet, featuring the amazing Seb Roachford on drums.

Eberhard Weber
The Colours of Chloë

German bassist Weber has been making music for over 40 years now, but it is his debut solo work that still captures our attention. A beautiful combination of wide open soundscapes, wonderful rhythms and a virtuoso set of performances still sounds fresh over four decades after its release.

Bugge Wesseltoft & Henrik Schwarz
Wesseltoft Schwarz Duo

There is a wide point of crossover between jazz and electronic music, and in the European mould this amazing album exemplifies it at its very best. This combination of Norwegian Wesseltoft’s jazz piano and German Schwarz’s breath-taking ability with electronics makes for a heady mix. Crossing boarders both geographically and musically.

Esbjörn Svensson Trio
Seven Days of Falling

This Swedish jazz trio mix contemporary jazz with elements of classic, techno and even some rock. One of the more mellow and accessible albums in this collection of ten favourites, it is at times smooth and more recognisable as related to American jazz than many of the other albums collected here. It’s none the worse for that though, and sounds amazing through the right speakers!

Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra
New Jungle Orchestra

Euro Jazz meets African, Asian and American influences in this Danish led ensemble that has been making beautiful music since the 1980s. Led by guitarist Dørge the catalogue is as extensive as it is innovative, however this opening salvo is one of our all-time favourites.

Discover our favourite Modern British Jazz albums here.

5 Comments

  • Graham says:

    What about something by the great pianist Michel Petrucciani? Many of his recordings are available lossless
    Or the album “Tromboneliness” by Albert Mangelsdorff?

  • Poul Kaspersen says:

    I would simply like to add some names to your list (European jazz-fusion):
    Secret Oyster/Entrance/Anima/Wasa Express/Egba/Kornet/Kraan/SBB/Nova.
    And these are just some of them, who are worth discovering – or re-discovering.
    Kind Regards
    Poul Kaspersen

  • Jose Bucci Casari says:

    Well , I think Michel Petrucciani is a great idea, specially his last album, recorded just a few months before his death in 1998 – “Solo Live” . Recorded live at the Alte Oper, in Frankfurt, Germany on February, and released shortly after his death, marks Petrucciani’s lasting solo gift to the jazz world!

  • john says:

    Lots of great contemporary jazz at the moment. Phronesis, Alive, Mathew Halsall, when The World Was One are two albums that readily come to mind.

    Thanks for the list i’ll definitely check it out. For those of you who live in UK the Edinburgh Jazz festival is worth checking out this this summer…. John Schofield at the Festival Theatre with Randy Brecker, i can’t wait :)

  • john says:

    Thanks for the list i’ll give it a good long listen. Mathew Halsall and Phronesis two comtemporary bands worth checking out.

    Edinburgh Jazz Festival this summer with John Schofield and Randy Brecker at the Festival Theatre a must see :)

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