This is the best year for jazz ever. Do I say that every year? Maybe I do—but every year I mean it. Nevertheless, 2019 is sizing up to be something special for modern jazz and improvised music. How can you not toss around the phrase “golden age” when month after month, there are an outstanding array of new releases? This month’s selections—just a small part of a larger whole—provide heartening proof that jazz is not the sole province of just one generation or just one city. London to Brisbane to Johannesburg to Chicago to Barcelona to New York City to La Plata, Argentina… it’s the best year ever for jazz, everywhere.
Stepping Back, Jumping In
The title of the latest album from Laura Jurd couldn’t be more appropriate. The trumpeter’s creative trajectory has been undeniably non-linear. She’s hopscotched around a variety of sounds, from the chamber jazz of her debut Landing Ground, to the intoxicating mix of brass harmonies and indie-rock tunefulness on Human Spirit, and the electronic fusion she explores with her ensemble Dinosaur. On Stepping Back, Jumping In, it’s as if Jurd has taken a survey of all that she’s done before, and created a cohesive landscape from its components. The end result is something entirely different, completely new, and arguably her most fascinating work to date.
Zach Brock/Matt Ulery/Jon Deitemyer
This may be their first official release as a trio, but the collaborations between bassist Matt Ulery, drummer Jon Deitemyer, and violinist Zach Brock have a rich history, resulting in some of the most compelling music of the new century. Where each contributed a guiding hand to large ensemble and jazz orchestra works, Wonderment sees their individual lyricism entwined as a cohesive whole, emerging unguarded and free, like a slow dance with your one true love.
This hypnotic one-off by a collective of Johannesburg musicians isn’t defined by its improvisatory. Nor is it defined by the fact that its songs are built from spiritual jazz, Afrobeat, avant-electronica, and old-school funk. The music here isn’t simply a fusion of different forms of expression; it’s an intricate dance, where the logic of its choreography is as mysterious and elusive as thick mist sweeping across a landscape. In South Africa, the spaza has been a focal point for both conflict and rebirth. It’s only natural that a project embracing both the space and spirit of the spaza would exhibit the best of both of those aspects.
Exits Into A Corridor
There are some of you, freakish in your way, who bolt from bed first thing in the morning, ready to take on the world before wiping the sleep from your eyes. This album is the soundtrack for you. Driving beats, pulsing tempos, and a dissonant hum that surges to a roar create a roiling chaos that, invariably, is the kind of music to get your blood going to as you begin your day of world domination. Saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Rune Nergaard, and drummer Jim Black infuse this music with a mesmerizing quality—the kind that could arrest your attention and stop you in your tracks, if it weren’t propelling you forward and onward.
Daniel Carter/Stelios Mihas/Irma Nejando/Federico Ughi
Like the opening line to an epic novel, Radical Invisibility grabs attention immediately and draws you into its orbit. But as beguiling as those opening stanzas are, it’s only a precursor to those “the hell, man?” moments where waves of electronic dissonance, melodic incisiveness, and time-warp transitions between jazz eras smack you in the face with their dizzying brilliance. Multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, guitarist Stelios Mihas, bassist Irma Nejando, and drummer Federico Ughi make a game of chaos, and it’s so damn fun.
Barcelona’s Underpool Collective is as much place as person. Underpool began as a community center where different musicians could collaborate as performer and composer, a space that was as much about the relationships and interactions as it was about the music. In many ways, Underpool was a bird-of-a-feather spirit animal to that of NYC’s fabled venue Smalls. It has led to some excellent recordings in a brief number of years, and it’s a trend that continues with the release by Jorge Abadias. At times dreamy, other times like back-porch folk music, and at other times blunt and to the point, each piece hangs its hat on a melody as warm and inviting as the first day of Spring following a long, hard Winter. Joining the guitarist are names familiar to readers of this column: Miguel “Pintxo” Villar, Miquel Fernández, Sergi Felipe, Pedro Campos, Manel Fortià, Juan Pablo Balcazar, Esteban Tempe Hernández, and Oscar Domènech. Every one of those names will lead to more reasons why the modern jazz and improvised music scene is a flame burning strong.
Lo Que El Destino Te Depare
Everything about this recording feels like a dreamer falling deeper into sleep. What begins as a vivid melodic image eventually becomes warped, transient, and mysterious—the dreamworld making everything increasingly indescribable. And then, quite suddenly, things snap back into focus. That is the sensation of listening to each track by guitarist Marcos Edward, bassist Ezequiel Dutil, and drummer Luciano Fortín, and repetition does nothing to diminish its potent effect. It’s another solid release from Discos ICM, who, year after year, document the strength of the Argentine jazz scene.
Rebecca Nash & Atlas
The collaboration between Rebecca Nash and Sara Colman continues to pay huge dividends. The keyboardist was the linchpin to Colman’s 2018 release What We’re Made Of, and now, in turn, Colman contributes a set of profound vocals to Nash’s debut with her ensemble Atlas. It’s more than a bit intriguing the way the keyboardist adopts a throwback ‘70s fusion sound and transitions it into a stage for a straight-ahead ballad to waltz across, before coming full circle with a mainstream fusion piece emblematic of the modern scene. And the resulting ebb and flow of electronic vs. organic instrumentation creates an undercurrent of tension that just barely registers, which makes it all the more resonant when it appears.
Helen Svoboda’s SPROUT
This lovely chamber jazz session from double-bassist Helen Svoboda, pianist Sophie Min, and cellist Simon Svoboda is meant to capture the emotional expanse of a dream. The expressions slip into turbulence and volatility as naturally as they do those of tranquility and ease, but never stray very far from serenity. Noteworthy: It’s just one of three intriguing new releases from Svoboda, whose projects The Biology of Plants and Meatshell have their own particular themes, and sound quite distinct one from the other.
Three in Paris
Jeremy Udden falls squarely under the category of “modern jazz artist who you should definitely know.” His early ballad work on alto sax transformed into his intoxicating project Plainville, which, in addition to being some of the most beautiful stuff you’ll ever hear, is about as fine an example of modern folk-jazz as there is. It’s rustic and romantic, and its melodies are like looking through the surface of a clear lake. That expanded into the cross-continent Belleville Project with some excellent Paris-based musicians. The alto saxophonist is also a member of the thoroughly modern post-bop outfit Sketches. With bassist Nicolas Moreaux (also a member of the Belleville Project) and drummer John Betsch, his newest release incorporates all of these elements, yet is something more stripped-down and heartfelt.