Samuel Yirga: Guzo (Real World)
Ethiopian jazz pianist Samuel Yirga faced plenty of obstacles from stringent Western-focused teachers at Addis Ababa's Yared School of Music, but his love of his homeland's retro Ethio-jazz won out. His classical sensibilities fused with the native folk sound has made this young artist one of the most exciting and innovative jazz players in the world.
Kayhan Kalhor & Ali Bahrami Fard: I Will Not Stand Alone (World Village)
Iran's top kamancheh (Persian spiked fiddle) player continued to push the boundaries of classical Persian music on this outstanding duet with hammered bass santourist Ali Bahrami Fard. Introducing his custom-made shah kaman, Kalhor leads on this spellbinding improvisational effort focused on Persian folk and a Kurdish melody thrown in for good measure.
The Touré-Raichel Collective: The Tel Aviv Session (Cumbancha)
A chance meeting at an airport allowed Israeli pianist/composer Idan Raichel to meet one of his musical heroes, the Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré. The Tel Aviv Session, recorded on a whim after Raichel invited Touré to perform in Israel, is a masterful improvisation that only musicians of the highest caliber (and respect) could have offered.
Fatoumata Diawara: Fatou (Nonesuch)
The Malian-born Fatoumata Diawara stunned the planet with this jaw-dropping gem of a record. Having had recorded with Oumou Sangaré and Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, her debut is an acoustic juggernaut of simplicity and style, all of which she makes her own.
Fanga & Maậlem Abdallah Guinéa: Fangnawa Experience (Strut)
Curated as part of the Festival Détours du Monde in Montpelier, France, the French Afrobeat collective Fanga were tasked to create a show with Moroccan Gnawa master Abdallah Guinéa. It went so well they cut one of the most unique African fusion albums ever. A socially-driven album as much as sonic experience, hearing krakebs truck along underneath a beatific cliff of brass is something you've never quite heard until now.
Norah Jones: Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note)
After cutting a few tracks in Brian Burton's studio in 2009, the man known as Danger Mouse and Norah Jones shelved the project until completing work on Burton's Italian noir record, Rome. Giving Jones a darker, richer sound than previously heard, the subtle tweaking of the low end and tasteful vocal effects makes Little Broken Hearts her furthest reaching, and most pleasing, effort to date.
Niyaz: Sumud (Six Degrees)
The Persian electronica trio comprised of Azam Ali, Loga Ramin Torkian and Carmen Rizzo has consistently gotten better with time. Their third outing, Sumud, explores the music of conflict regions across the Middle East, including Kurdish Turkey. Where poetry meets sound, Rizzo's punchy beats and throbbing bass lines beautifully underlie Ali's unearthly vocals and Torkian's brilliant string playing.
Dr John: Locked Down (Nonesuch)
In retrospect, having the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach produce and perform on a Dr John album seems like a no-brainer. But it wasn't until it actually happened that we understood how New Orleans' musical legend could have sounded even bluesier and rocked harder than ever before. At 72, there's no slowing his genius down.
Céu: Caravana Sereia Bloom (Six Degrees)
The young Brazilian singer's existential ode to travel added psychedelic flourishes to this bossa nova and samba innovator's repertoire. Harking back to her lifelong love of reggae and mixing in touches of Os Mutantes and Tropicália, Céu continues to be a force to be reckoned with--and enjoyed, immensely.
Bomba Estéreo: Elegancia Tropical (Soundway)
Bogotá, Colombia's electro-cumbia pioneers turned up the kick drum and amplified the synthesizers on their latest and elegant outing. Simón Mejía's artful beatmaking provides the perfect soundtrack for the pure fuego of Liliana Saumet's lyricism. Few bands can translate electronica live like this.