It’s unreal how much great new jazz is hitting the shelves in 2019. I could fill every slot on Bandcamp Daily with something new and exciting, and there would still be recordings that wouldn’t get their share of the spotlight. So, two takeaways here: One, don’t skip a single release in this column, and two, it’s time for a jazz-only Bandcamp Daily spinoff.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Abdullah Ibrahim’s status as jazz legend was cemented decades ago, from his earliest days playing in his home of Cape Town South Africa, through his work with “The Dollar Brand Trio” while living in Europe during Apartheid, and continuing into the acclaimed albums he made in the ‘90s and ‘00s. His ability to mesmerize with a poignant melody is a gift that continues undiminished. Whether in a solo setting or with a full ensemble, Ibrahim proves there’s no limit to the magnitude of brilliance that he can bring out in a piece. This album, recorded over a single day with Ibrahim’s long-time septet Ekaya, is as essential as anything in his catalog. Which is to say: very essential.
Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel
To listen to the work of Brandee Younger is to be forced to consider the question: Why isn’t the harp a more common instrument in jazz? In Younger’s hands, the instrument is as natural a fit for the genre as sax or drums, and Younger’s ability to give its sound a sense of presence and connectedness makes her one of the more compelling musicians in modern jazz. Her newest release consists of songs recorded in 2012, but they sound right at home in today’s scene, deftly incorporating spiritual jazz, hip-hop, and daring experimentalism. Ravi Coltrane and Sean Jones are two of the guests that join Younger, drummer E.J. Strickland and saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Chelsea Baratz on these sessions.
Anat Cohen Tentet
Compact Disc (CD)
Though Triple Helix is only the second release from Anat Cohen’s tentet, her collaboration with musical director Oded Lev-Ari began when the two met in high school. Triple Helix may be the purest synthesis of their relationship to date. The album is suffused with Cohen’s innate talent for uniting the pain and joy of the blues into a single breath, while Lev-Ari’s noir tendencies are on full display throughout, bringing a gentle touch of melancholy to balance the dramatic surges of intensity. It’s been a gift to witness the life cycle of this music partnership, and Triple Helix gives every indication that there’s no end in sight. (This also provides the opportunity to recommend another recording from this duo’s partnership: Oded Lev-Ari’s 2015 release Threading, one of the very best albums to hit the shelves that year.)
Reveries and Revelations
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Mats Eilertsen takes a different approach on his latest LP, and the result is arguably his most fascinating session to date. Where previously the bassist would go the traditional route—bring a group into the recording studio and take the best of what shakes out—this time around, he recorded the initial tracks at home in his studio, then sent them to his collaborators and asked them to add whatever they would like to the songs. Musicians like Geir Sundstøl, Eivind Aarset, Per Oddvar Johansen, Thomas Strønen and Arve Henriksen are all birds-of-a-feather to Eilertsen, but they are also quite distinct in their own individual sounds, which is why this project sounds quite different one track from the next. But it also retains a sense of cohesion that bundles it all up together, and marks it as a product of a single vision. Let this album be your notification that Hubro Music now has a Bandcamp page—they have one of the most compelling discographies I’ve ever encountered.
Fabian Almazan Trio
This Land Abounds With Life
Viewed individually, there isn’t a single track on this album that isn’t pure gold. Riveting melodies, conversant rhythms, and the expansion upon the best qualities of both define each piece. But what makes This Land Abounds With Life one of the best piano trio recordings of 2019 is the way Fabian Almazan weaves distinct melodies into an interlocking whole. Each piece is defined not just by the interlude of music between its first note and last, but how each piece that follows adds texture and imagery to the album as a whole. Referencing John Zorn’s “Alhambra Love Trio” and Marcin Wasilewski Trio’s “January” might help give some indication of the sense of a journey this album imparts. Bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Henry Cole join pianist Almazan on this excellent session.
Compact Disc (CD)
Sometimes music feels so immediate that you forget that you’re listening to a recording. This fiery session from bass clarinetist Jason Stein, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jim Black is one of those cases. The songs have a lyrical dexterity that is as thrilling as their brisk tempos and sudden changes in direction. It’s the kind of thing that makes a listener sit up, drop an f-bomb, and remain entranced as one moment gives way to another, equally jolting moment of creativity. The addiction to this album develops fast.
Ghosts of Merced
The four sections of R.Scott’s suite Ghosts of Merced are distinct from one another: The opening salvo is a large ensemble indie-jazz fusion, the kind of genre-blending where jazz roots bloom into melodies that owe their color to no one specific influence. This leads to a chamber jazz passage that then transitions into updated ‘70s soul-jazz. It ends, fittingly, with a post-jazz closing, as if Scott has decided to stop exploring different music and simply leave all of them behind. What binds this suite into a cohesive whole is Scott’s vision for project as a tribute to his home in the San Joaquin Valley and his Merced birthplace. That context re-frames each of the four parts not by what differentiates them, but, instead, as the naturally diverse facets of a lifetime of memories, dreams, and experiences. It’s a holistic quality that constantly hints at the subtleties and hidden meaning lying just below a melodic phrase or rhythmic dialogue.
In the same way that a vicious thunderstorm can have a serene beauty while simultaneously tearing the world apart, the trio Malboro Bled frame melodic fragments with a sonic maelstrom. Cellist Bruno Ducret, drummer Maxime Rouayroux, and bass saxophonist Fred Gastard don’t perform songs so much as pick fights, and the way they entwine an arresting lyricism within that framework of aggression is what makes this music so damn thrilling. When cello breaks through like a beam of sunlight through dark clouds, it’s breathtaking.
There’s an appealing lyricism to the solo saxophone projects by Jonah-Parzen Johnson. It would be easy for him to unleash the wild power of his baritone sax, and let the story be told by the shape of things left in its wake. Instead, Parzen-Johnson crafts de facto folk songs. Previous recordings had an almost story cycle approach, like the saxophonist was constructing a whole musical town from specific, character-driven notes. His use of synthesizers and electronics in a live setting (or in-studio and with no overdubbing or manipulation) provided an element of chaos and uncertainty. This live performance recording from Helsinki’s 2018 We Jazz Festival feels like a photo album of those people and places, and Parzen-Johnson conveys an intriguing sensation that’s not unlike nostalgia.
Joseph Branciforte & Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann has contributed to an array of projects as diverse as cutting-edge post-bop, ECM Records lessons in serenity, and takes on the Kate Bush songbook. Joseph Branciforte has been an integral factor in the development of modern post-jazz, where the lines between genres are intentionally opaque, allowing the rays of influence to shine through, but not necessarily the specific form (see: The Cellar and Point). Their duo collaboration, unsurprisingly, leads to music that has a jaw-dropping beauty. This is the sound of falling snow.