This year is shaping up to be one of the best ever for jazz. September—like every other month this year—contained too much great music to capture in a single column. Not only did two of the greatest musicians on the modern scene release new music, but a clutch of exciting new ensembles make their formidable debuts.
Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos
Guillermo Klein’s Los Guachos ensemble are to the modern scene what Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers were to hard bop, or Weather Report to the fusion era. The pianist values thoughtful compositions and free-flowing improvisation equally, integrating folk music and blues, and creating modern song forms that don’t necessarily swing, but sway with a familiar motion. The balance between something old and something new is increasingly weighted toward the latter. His melodies often possess a striking beauty that is deceptively simple. The ensemble has been comprised of the all-stars of the modern scene, names like Miguel Zenon, Ben Monder, Taylor Haskins, Fernando Hergo, and Chris Cheek, who grace so many of the modern era’s best recordings, and whose individual sounds coalesce into music as sublime as it is dramatic. Klein possesses an immense talent for making a composition that clocks in at a mere six minutes feel like an epic journey. When historians attempt to pinpoint the modern equivalent to 1959, they will almost certainly select a year that saw a Guillermo Klein Los Guachos recording hit the shelves. Hell, it may even be 2019.
Odron Ritual Orchestra
This is an album that’ll get into your bloodstream. This 11-piece ensemble is a throwback to the avant-garde big bands of the ‘70s, where chaos and raging intensity amplified sweet melodicism and a thundering groove. The Skopje, Macedonia ensemble Светлост (or Svetlost) radiate an energy that is positively infectious, with a rhythmic approach that borders on foot-tapping catchiness, and harmonies as warm as a fireplace in an Alaskan winter. And for an album with such a massive presence, the ensemble weaves all kinds of lovely textures into the fabric of the music, with four saxophonists, two trombonists, a pianist, and a minibrute keyboardist—and plenty of percussion to boot. This is one of the best things I’ve heard all year.
Taylor Ho Bynum 9-tette
The Ambiguity Manifesto
Sudden upheavals of dissonance and surprising confluences of melody are typical in the music of Taylor Ho Bynum. The composer has an innate talent for giving shape to the unforeseen, deftly tipping the scales between chaos and cohesion. His latest, an unofficial completion of his “accidental trilogy” of recordings, lands comfortably in the fold of 2013’s Navigation and 2017’s Enter the Plustet. Bynum’s sonic vernacular is that of an untamed folk song—enigmatic and capricious as the elements, and rooted to the soil. His vision, however, leaves the temporal plane behind. It is majestic.
Still Point: Turning World
There should be a law that Joel Harrison and Anupam Shobhakar are required to record a new album every year. The guitarist and sarodist put out one of the best recordings of 2014 with Leave the Door Open, a compelling tour de force of modern jazz, Indian classical, folk, and blues. On their latest collaboration, they nurture the seed of that previous recording to attain an immensely powerful bloom. Drummer Dan Weiss, bassists Hans Glawischnig and Stephan Crump, saxophonist Ben Wendel and members of the Talujon Percussion Quartet bring this thing to life.
The outfit Led Bib have consistently thrived in a high-voltage environment, with a reputation as early-entrants in the modern version of electric jazz-rock expressions. Their latest lives up to that history. What’s notable about It’s Morning is the addition of vocalist Sharron Fortnam to the mix. Her vocal delivery is right at home amidst Led Bib’s boisterous attitude, guiding the flow of that energy. This is no sea change, and yet it feels like an entirely new experience. The addition of keyboardist Eliot Galvin shouldn’t be overlooked either; his work with his own trio and that of electro-acoustic ensemble Dinosaur has him deservedly positioned as one of the bright stars of the new U.K. music scene.
The Big YES!
The Big YES!
It’s a wise idea to check out any studio recording that came about while the musicians were on tour. They’re already in tune to one another’s rhythm and flow, they’re collaborating daily in a live setting, and they’re often working on new ideas at the same time they’re replaying the tunes that got them there. This thrilling session from The Big YES!—the quartet of saxophonist Anna Högberg, trombonist Maria Bertel, bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen, and drummer Ole Mofjell—is one such example of the gems that can come from those conditions. This music is wild and untamed, but through the strength of their synchronicity as a performing unit, the quartet exert their will upon it and give the music both shape and form.
When jazz is mentioned, it brings to the minds the image of Miles Davis in a late-night club. When asked who on the modern scene captures a similar spirit, Matthew Halsall comes to mind. He’s not a Davis clone by any stretch but he plays his own vision of modal and spiritual jazz that sure as hell sound like an ode to the moonlight-evoking music Davis played. This “new” release is actually a collection of unreleased tracks from a decade ago, and it’ll serve as the perfect primer for exploring his studio releases one starry night at a time.
João Lencastre’s Communion 3
Song(s) of Hope
João Lencastre’s Communion is going on nearly 15 years now, and over that time, the changing personnel has led to both exciting changes and an intriguing cohesion. It’s as if the drummer enlists new people to toss different rocks in the lake so he can conduct the motion of the water and cause them to fall in line with a grand, enduring vision. His latest is a trio, with pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Eivind Opsvik, and released on the Clean Feed Records label.
It’s the momentum that makes the melodies on the debut by Husmo HAV, as if the album was recorded while traveling by train or driving through the Nordic countryside of their home base. The quartet of trumpeter Thomas Husmo Litleskare, keyboardist Marte Eberson, double bassist Stian Andreas Egeland Andersen, and drummer-percussionist Tore Flatjord do more than just take those melodies for a ride; the melodies become the journey, the powerful sense of having traveled great distances and seen wonderous things. It’s a sensation that doesn’t fade with time or distance.
Ben van Gelder & Reinier Baas
Mokum In Hi-Fi
The intimate setting of a duo session is capable of putting into motion engrossing conversations. It’s a place where both fireworks and brief melodic fragments can result in the sublime. Saxophonist Ben van Gelder and guitarist Reinier Baas have been collaborating for nearly a decade, and that relationship amplifies the intimacy of this session exponentially.
Jonathan Scales Fourchestra
There’s a hypnotic effect to the music of Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, but it’s so damn engaging that it perpetually breaks its enchantment just to start it all up again. A large ensemble consisting of various steel pan musicians (plus a percussionist and bassist), Scales hinges everything on thick melodies, clear as the sun and no less embracing in warmth. It’s a breezy listen, succinct—with just the right impact.
Que Tu Ser Sea Bienvenido A Este Mundo
As best as I can tell, this recording dates back two decades to a multimedia project that brought together the writing of Ramuntcho Matta, the music of La Chimuchina (José Pérez de Arce, Claudio Mercado, Cuti Aste, Norman Vilches and Víctor Rondón), dance, painting and a book. The music is comprised of compositions of Chilean composers, and spans any number of genres. It is whimsical, engaging, tuneful and personable. Go check it out.