BEST JAZZ The Best Jazz on Bandcamp, January 2024 By Dave Sumner · February 07, 2024

Invariably, I’ll be asked to name one jazz artist as a starting point to explore the modern jazz scene. My head swims with the names of musicians and ensembles I could suggest. There’s a lot. Tons. Still, I don’t expect to encounter so many of them in the same month’s Best Jazz column. But that’s how 2024 is starting out. The new year also has debut recordings and inaugural appearances in the monthly column. So, January 2024 has some things old, some things new, and all of it a great starting point for the new year.

Mary Halvorson

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

This is a different kind of Mary Halvorson recording. Her guitar signature is imprinted indelibly on the surface of the pieces here, but the way it meshes with her collaborators is more empathic, melting in the fabric of the songs rather than tattooing the words I was here upon them. The softer touch doesn’t resonate any less; it just allows for the emergence of new facets. Joining the guitarist are bassist Nick Dunston, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, trombonist Jacob Garchik, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan.

La La Lars
La La Lars IV

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Vinyl LP

The music of La La Lars is both euphoric and charismatic, leaping forward with a personality that explodes with life and color. This is the fourth album from the quintet of drummer Lars Skoglund (also on guitar, harmonica, cymbals, and keyboards), trumpeter Goran Kajfeš, tenor saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar (also on flute), pianist Carl Bagge (also on Fender Rhodes, Philicorda, and Moog), and bassist Johan Berthling, and each recording builds on what came before while also cementing the original equation for success. It’s a soundtrack where no film is required: The music brings its own imagery, all of it vivid.

Ambrose Akinmusire
Owl Song

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Had Ambrose Akinmusire not already titled his latest release Owl Song, I would’ve come on strong with the ornithological imagery in this write-up. Joined by guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Herlin Riley, the trumpeter conducts the affair as if the music were intended to only be heard in the presence of moonlight. The music murmurs in agitation, it sighs with longing, it whispers soothingly—and sometimes it beams brilliant light right back at the face of the moon.

Muriel Grossman

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2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

In one breath, Muriel Grossman draws every bit of serenity her joyful sound has to give, while generating enough intensity to make it resonate across the breadth of the planet. With a groove, a growl, or a sigh, the saxophonist’s music radiates everything good about life. Sometimes, Grossman dips into an old-school, ‘70s psychedelic rock; other times, she charts a course through modern spiritual jazz—though typically there’s some cross-pollination going on somewhere along the way. Guitarist Radomir Milojkovic, Hammond B3 organist Abel Boquera, and drummer Uros Stamenkovic contribute to this wonderful recording, and Grossman adds a wealth of percussion, adding to a dialogue that is never less than riveting. Grossman has developed something of a cult following; Devotion behaves less as evidence why and more as a guarantee to swell the ranks.

Picks Up the Thread

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Vinyl LP

Edgy, and conveying an ambivalence to boundaries and structure, the Stirrup trio’s treatment of melody within motion is comparable to threading a needle while tumbling down a flight of stairs. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (plus electronics), bassist Nick Macri, and drummer Charles Rumback manifest this effect in an environment of high volatility, a place where intensity wavers between the insane and the sublime. It resonates with a strength that makes you forget that there are only three of them. If you’re curious to hear how it might all sound with an expanded ensemble, then go download their 2020 release, The Avondale Addition, which was one of the very best things to hit the shelves that year.

Scheen Jazzorkester & Cortex
Frameworks Music by Thomas Johansson

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Compact Disc (CD)

Bringing together two of his ensembles for this live 2022 performance at the Hamar Teater in Hamar, Norway, Thomas Johansson nurtured a wealth of harmonic possibilities without sacrificing a bit of the freedom gained from smaller ensembles. At times, the combined ensemble is the turbulence blowing through everything in its path; sometimes, it has the gracefulness of leaves caught up in the embrace of tumultuous atmospheric conditions. The instrumentation is stacked heavily in favor of wind instruments, but more often than not, it’s the rhythmic element that shepherds a piece from first note to last. There are some genuinely thrilling moments when the ensemble surges up to make all their voices heard—an effect amplified by those interludes when fewer voices speak, all in hushed tones.

Adriana Wagner
She Sleeps, She Wakes

What I look for in a debut album is a statement of identity—an articulation of presence and perhaps a display, however brief, of gravitas. The debut from Adriana Wagner accomplishes exactly that. Joined by pianist-vibraphonist Matt Sazima, bassist Garrett Baxter, and drummer Domo Branch, the trombonist proffers up a range of facets—couched both in approach and influence—all hinting at future intentions and paths to follow, and a burgeoning talent to inspire tunefulness no matter the direction taken.

Janning Trumann 4 feat. Brandon Seabrook

This ensemble flies to the beat of heavy wings and launches with propulsion that’s got some kick to it. It’s under these battering forces that a gentle melodicism emerges. The ensemble of trombonist Janning Trumann, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, pianist Lucas Leidinger, electric bassist Florian Herzog, and drummer Thomas Sauerborn pull at the seams, always sounding on the brink of scattering in all directions, but the center holds and each pieces marks a trajectory that makes sense, seems almost eminently logical. Electronic and organic instruments often sound in conflict, switching roles of ocean waves and battered shore.

New Jazz Underground ft. Axel Tosca & Gina D’Soto
Harlem to Havana:
Afro-Cuban Modernism Vol.1

The New Jazz Underground trio cultivates the soil where the roots of modern jazz and Afro-Cuban music intertwine. Melodically speaking, this music is wonderfully vivid, in the same way thick sunlight coursing through a room can appear solid enough to reach out and touch. For this session, the NJU trio of soprano saxophonist Abdias Armenteros, bassist Sebastian Rios, and drummer TJ Reddick are joined by vocalist Gina D ‘Soto and keyboardist Axel Tosca. Opening track “Fulani in Love” is like throwing open a window in mid-winter and receiving a blast of spring.

Simon Spiess Quiet Tree

Euphorbia is an album of gentle lullabys, but it makes no promises whether they’ll lead to sweet dreams or unsettling nightmares. The trio of tenor saxophonist Simon Spiess, synthesizer player Marc Méan, and drummer-pianist Jonas Ruther keep to the quieter end of the spectrum, but with their nuanced approach to the way silence can shape intensity brings about a dazzling array of imagery and emotional impact. There are moments on this recording that are simply mesmerizing.

Reggie Quinerly
The Thousandth Scholar

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Compact Disc (CD)

Rhythmic fireworks carry the day on the latest from Reggie Quinerly. The drummer—joined by pianist Manuel Valera, bassist Matt Brewer, and percussionist Samuel Torres—lets fly the dynamic, conversational qualities inherent to Afro-Cuban jazz. And when the quartet settles deep into a melody, like on “Sam From Brooklyn,” that the rhythmic dialogue is no less resonant when delivered with a lighter touch.

Tyler Blanton
References & Irreverences

There’s plenty to like on this modern straight-ahead session from vibraphonist Tyler Blanton, pianist (and Fender Rhodes player) Gary Versace, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Rudy Royston. Most pieces move along with playful bounce, the musicians conversing with an upbeat tone eliciting good cheer, even when they hit a cruising speed better suited for leisurely watching the clouds scroll across sky.

Edition Redux
Better a Rook Than a Pawn

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Compact Disc (CD)

Better a Rook Than a Pawn is an album with many storms, and those storms have many eyes. The chameleonic nature of the music is as unpredictable as the weather, or the shape of the next snowflake. It’s a characteristic typical of a Ken Vandermark project. Joined by Erez Dessel (piano, Nord synthesizer), Lily Finnegan (drums), and Beth McDonald (tuba, electronics), the multi-reedist shows that his cutting-edge sound is sharp as ever, and paired by his endless drive to dance upon its precipice.

Yannick Peeters

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Compact Disc (CD)

There’s plenty of serenity and volatility to go around on this session from the quartet of double bassist Yannick Peeters, guitarist Frederik Leroux, saxophonist (and clarinetist) Frans van Isacker, and drummer Tom Rainey. Some Belgian folk, some modern jazz, some avant-garde, and the vision to see the connections to bring about a convergence of the three. The eccentricities that emerge unexpectedly are a source of delight and intrigue.

Cut The Sky
Esz Kodesz

Just as rewarding as experiencing individual recordings is following an artist’s creative trajectory. For me personally, one such instance of the latter has been Waclaw Zimpel’s path from a compelling free jazz sound to one steeped in minimalism, atmospherics, and a post-jazz genre-free adventurism. This session—a collaboration between clarinetist Zimpel, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Hubert Zemler—features the winding melodicism and big sky harmonics that is just as likely to appeal to fans of ECM Records as it might fans of Kranky label ambient post-rock, or, similarly, anyone who just wants to kick back and hear some drop dead gorgeous music.

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