August 9, 2015 | Posted in JAZZ | By



Jazz died in the late 60’s, right?

There are some people who believe jazz died when Miles Davis went Electric with his 1969 album In A Silent Way, then spat in jazz’s face when he released Bitches Brew in 1970. My old man, who was a swing fan thought jazz croaked when Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker helped invent be-bop.Jaga Jazzist One Armed Bandit

I won’t dwell too much on the jazz rock vs traditional jazz vs avant-garde debate for the purposes of this article.

I will not be shy about fusions of various styles, but I will stay clear of smooth antiseptic style jazz.

I don’t have a problem with lite jazz as back ground music, or mood music; but I will focus on creative challenging jazz styled music here.

Groundbreaking is a lofty term, and I don’t know if any jazz artist today can truly do anything that compares to the past icons like Mingus, Parker, Coltrane, or Davis. I must admit, for me the real groundbreaking is coming from bands like Jaga Jazzist, who are certainly not what I would call your grandpa’s jazz.

Seems to me it is the new fusions, various world musics and or unusual styles being blended that wouldn’t seem to meld, but somehow do that create the most interesting stuff. Electronic music is one such blending with jazz, not rock, but electronica, in the Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schultze vein.

The iPod generation has saved Jazz?

I believe today, 2015 as of this writing, the mp3 player and internet access has been responsible for people of all walks of life being exposed to music that ordinarily they would not have been.  I know many people who have a wide range of music on their device, Metallica, Merle Haggard, and Pavarotti, any number of artists really.

Because people have so many influences today, jazz lends its self to some pretty interesting fusions that when combined can make wholly original music. Straight ahead jazz is still around, but for me I need uniqueness, I crave a melding of genres and instruments not typically thought of together.

So… is there anything out there today worth listening to?

If you like traditional jazz, like bop, hard bop, or post bop it’s still being made, quite a bit pretty darned good I might add. Joe Lovano, Brad Mehldau, and Joshua Redman are always finding a way to say something worth hearing.

I tend to gravitate toward fusion style music with today’s music, the mentioned Jaga Jazzist comes to mind, along with Pat Metheny, they are 2 of my favorites, I also dig guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel more fusiony stuff.

52nd Street Themes: JOE LOVANO – 2000

52nd Street Themes is one of my Favorites from multi instrumentalist Joe Lovano. The hook on this release is that it’s a throwback to the be-bop era of Tadd Dameron and Charlie Parker. The crisp sound and hot playing is completely irresistible.

If the archival sound of be-bop’s original 1940’s and 50’s recordings are a turn off, this recording will bring that music to life for you, and you might find yourself completely immersed in it, I know I was.

The Epic: Kamasi Washington: 2015

Nearly 3 hours of music on 3 compact discs, Kamasi Washington’s The Epic is quite a debut record from the 34 year old Saxophonist. I am as impressed at the audacious 3 CD length, as the music its self. Washington is perhaps best known for his work with Snoop Dog and Flying Lotus.

So what’s the verdict? Well, I think it is pretty darned good listen, way too long and perhaps over-baked with so much going on, it can be daunting to listen to. Personally I am not a vocal jazz fan, so the tracks that have a lead vocalist, either Dwight Trible or Patrice Quinn I am not in love with, but if that’s you’re thing, it will enhance The Epic for you.

I do love Washington’s fire and brimstone saxophone preaching though, it’s heavily influenced by 60’s free jazz pioneers Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp.

To Washington’s credit,  he never sounds like Sanders’ own major influence John Coltrane. Perhaps a little of Shepp’s radical pissed off attitude could do Kasami some good in a musical context down the road?

Washington uses a choir to give an earthy and perhaps gospel vibe on some tracks. This does create a spirit of earnestness, you feel like the music is important, perhaps more important than it actually is? I like the lightly funky vibe here and there too, it is contemporary and traditional.

At the end of the first listen I am left going back and cherry picking the instrumental tracks for playlist play down the road. When it’s all said and done, it’s Washington and his band I want to hear, not necessarily singing of any kind. I hope in the future he throws in a little less of the kitchen sink, and just plays some fire-jazz.

I think The Epic is one of those albums  you need repeat listens to get hold of everything that’s going on. If you like the astral jazz of Alice Coltrane, or early Flying Dutchman records of Lonnie Liston Smith music you will dig this. It’s 1 disc too long in my opinion, but a great effort, and worthy of any jazz collection. I’ll be there to buy Part II.

Coalition of the Willing: BOBBY PREVITE- 2006

Drummer Bobby Previte dropped a rock jazz classic on us in 2006, and yeah it’s taken me a while to come to that conclusion. Quite frankly I am a vintage kind of guy, and I am not easily taken in by nu-jazz or psuedo-something whatever music, but I am open-minded.Coalition of the Willing LP

Coalition of the Willing will embed its riffs and melodies inside your head with no hope of escaping your brain. If you like a vintage classic rock sound, hard rock more properly, and don’t mind a sprinkling of jazz and other contemporary styles you’ll like drummer Previte’s album.

I can see no faults here, originally I may have been inclined to lay the pretentious tag on it, but years later it holds up very well. The high points are “The Ministry of Truth”, The Ministry of Love”, and “Anthem for Andrea” I also like the track “Oceania”.

Guitarist Charlie Hunter makes me green with envy in how he plays such a varied style on his instrument. Hunter can get down and dirty, and can also play with this clean sound that gets under the skin, he does this on “Oceania”. I love the Reggae Funk outro on the track.

There is a lot going on within the The Coalition of the Willing, acid rock, surfer music, quiet storm, jazz, and blues, but the music never gets too far off into any one thing and drag on and on, it says what it needs too, and you will get the point.

One Armed Bandit: JAGA JAZZIST- 2010

Norway’s Jaga Jazzist, or just Jaga, are easily one the most refreshing discoveries I have made in the last few years. I was thrilled after finding out about this band on a Mars Volta fan forum in 2010.

I was even more thrilled to find out that they had many more releases, and had been around a while. Ironically enough, 2010’s  One Armed Bandit is probably the least jazzy of their albums, though not by a lot, One Armed Bandit has a very pronounced progressive rock sound to it. If that’s not enough they have a new release Starfire, that’s big on the electronic prog element, still jazzy but very interesting still the same.

Jaga Jazzist has a very unique sound to me, they capture many elements of diverse musics. Everything from jazz to exotica, to many forms of electronica, and that 70’s prog element that seems to get more pronounced as they go forward.

The jazz element in Jaga’s music in particular, is very authentic sounding to me, they know how to develop a theme, and the melodies are top-notch. In fact, on this album I can hear the influence of arranger Gil Evans throughout. It may be hard for the uninitiated to cut through the electronica to hear this element, but open ears should appreciate it.

Garden of Eden: PAUL MOTIAN- 2006

Here is a tasty release from 2006, Garden of Eden a lovely straight ahead laid back session from drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011).  Motian probably best know as part of the classic Bill Evans Trio with Scott Lafaro on bass. Motian  also recorded with Keith Jarrett on various albums in late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.Paul Motian Garden of Eden Review

The late Motian cranked out some great jazz his  last 25 years:  Garden of Eden was no exception, with that Icy ECM production. Motion is a very tasteful drummer, and the musicians around him here on Garden of Eden fit the mold.

Jakob Bro, Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas on guitar, and the Saxophone Chris Cheek, are superb. The album starts of with a fine pair of Charles Mingus tunes, “Pithecanthropus Erectus” and the Lester Young elegy “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”, both played faithfully, but colored by the guitars.

Those tunes really set the mood for the rest of the album, a lot of Melancholy interludes, plenty of fine Post bop jazz being played on Garden of Eden. Most of the tunes clock in the 2 to 5 minute range, nice concise statements. “Good taste” is the best way to describe this fine album.

No over blowing or long-winded compositions, a quiet fire that is generated under the surface, no real explosions. but a very enjoyable set of high quality Modern Jazz. I like this one particularly on head phones.

Nothing Serious: Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove’s Nothing Serious should be taken seriously, for it is a fantastic straight ahead hard bop session that harkens back to hard bop’s hey day right out of the gate.roy hargrove nothing serious review

The up tempo Latin influenced Title cut gets things going, a nice bit of alto sax to boot by Justin Robinson.

The track reminds me of Horace Silver circa 1962. The entire album has a style like classic hard bop, with a few doses of some outside playing, but never to far off into avant-garde territory.

For me, the best track, and most memorable is “Devil Eyes”, a real Wayne Shorter with the Jazz Messengers style vibe.

I love the Devilish descending theme, Robinson shows off his best Jackie McLean chops. Though his tone is more akin to Ornette Coleman than the piss and vinegar tone of McLean. Slide Hampton drops by to add his trombone on 3 of the 8 tracks.

Electric Ascension: ROVA

Rova’s take on John Coltrane’s Ascension is the second go around for Rova: The first time they did it straight in 1996, and it was fairly faithful to the original. This time they turn it upside down and inside out in a live setting, tripling the number of collaborators, and this time adding electricity. I LOVE THIS RECORDING!ROVA Electric Ascension

There is a lot going on here, the Ascension theme is stated and it does sort of fall in line with the original, but to be honest, I find this more interesting than the Coltrane original.

The strings and electronic touches seem natural for the music, the bass is also much more present on this, a product of 21st century technology as well. All of  the instruments ring clear and can be picked pick out with out much trouble.

One interesting thing is guitarist Nels Cline, his freak out guitar adds a lot to the performance, amazing how he seems right at home. Cline did a duet album from 1999 covering Coltrane’s Interstellar Space.

I hear a lot of structure and melody within Electric Ascension, which is a good thing, the electronics and samples are also all over the map, big Stockhausen vibe throughout, unlike Coltrane’s Ascension, there is some breathing room employed, a quiet section with the samples going, then Fred Firth’s Bass comes in to accent the mood, I believe at this time dual Violins enter into the music.

I find the thing very interesting, It’s free jazz for sure, and demands a very open mind to get anything out of this.  I believe Electric Ascension has more in common with Stockhausen or Third Stream Music than Coltrane, if you have heard some of George Russell’s early 70’s albums, with Terje Rypdal, that would be a good reference point I think.  Check out ROVA at their website.

There is some very interesting jazz being recorded today

I won’t insult your intelligence and say the fusion of that era is the same thing as jazz. It was groundbreaking however.

Then the young lions movement sprung up with the Marsalis family and their contemporaries leading the charge back to the past, modern jazz found new life, but truthfully I don’t find re-hashing of old forms all that exciting for the most part.

I never dug Wynton Marsalis much, though his brother Brandford I always thought branched out a bit more and seemed more open-minded to music outside straight bop or post bop jazz.

Since the 80’s and 90’s artists like Pat Metheny, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland, David Liebman, Tom Harrell, John Scofield, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Kenny Garrett, Charles Lloyd, and Greg Osby have been doing some interesting stuff.

Artists like Pat Metheny, Rudresh Maranthappa, and Jason Moran have pushed the music forward a bit in recent years too. The best of these incorporate different elements and style not ordinarily associated with jazz. Indian music, indie/alt. rock, are melded well, along with the stand by fusion styles of funk and rock.

Now whether any of this music mentioned here is groundbreaking, well, that up to your ears. You have a lot of listening to do/

*All photos used with permission via Amazon.com*

Jason Sositko

Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.

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