The Best New Jazz on Bandcamp

Best New Jazz

Nothing quite signals the start of a new year than those couple of excellent January releases that already have you thinking ahead to end-of-year lists. January of 2017 is no different. And in a year when it seems like the worst of us is taking center stage, it’s a helpful reminder of the beauty humanity is capable of.

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Music for Relaxation: A Meditation Journey

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Nicole Ginelli

This was supposed to be one of those eight-hour nights of sleep. You were in bed by 10pm, but now, as you reach for your phone for the third time, the device stoically informs you that it’s 12:46am. Maybe you flick open a popular meditation app (it rhymes with deadspace) and wait for the man with the ever-so-slightly British (or is it Australian?) accent to talk to you off the ledge. But this time, he’s not helping; neither is your brain, which continuously presents you with items to add to your daily to-do list, offering worst-case scenarios for the stressful day that’s now just a few hours away.

Sound familiar? In this era of non-stop connectivity, the constant barrage of information is nearly impossible to tune out. Your phone, which is likely the culprit of your anxiety, is, in a cruel twist of fate, also your alarm clock. We have become a well-connected society of masochists who are unable to relax.

There’s no choice, then, but to turn to the experts: The composers and musicians in the business of making music specifically designed to help you disconnect, unplug and, eventually, calm down. These are the people who have found enough peace that they can share it with others. They make spoken-word guided meditations, 30-minute ambient tracks, songs with Tibetan singing bowls, meditation for aligning energy, sleep aids—the list goes on. After spending a few weeks rooting around in the meditation tags on Bandcamp, I’ve discovered that there truly is a path to peace for everyone.

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Album of the Day: Lawrence English, “Cruel Optimism”

A little bit of advice when listening to Lawrence English’s new album, Cruel Optimism: turn the volume way down before track three kicks in. Considerably louder than anything that comes before or after it, “Hammering a Screw” is a palate cleanser spiked with cyanide. It’s noise that’ll knock you out.

There’s a method to all this madness—English is making moody protest music with such new and old friends as saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, two key members of Swans‘ current lineup (guitarist Norman Westberg, percussionist Thor Harris), cellist Mary Rapp, and pianist Chris Abrahams. That’s the plan on paper, at least. Liner notes aside, it’s difficult to discern who did what here, as disembodied voices point the way to Popol Vuh (“Somnambulist”), church bells and chimes ring out through the night (“The Quietest Shore”), and muffled brass melodies slide across soupy winter atmospheres (“Exquisite Human Microphone”).

In many ways, Cruel Optimism serves as a compliment to the abstract score English and Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart performed as part of David Lynch’s contemporary art retrospective in Australia. Ominous but never overwrought, it’s as if the titular fog in John Carpenter’s 1980 film returned in the middle of the night and strangled the sun for the next 60 days. Or as English puts it in a press release, “the storm has broken and feels utterly visceral.”

—Andrew Parks

Earthen Sea’s Night Moves

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Earthen Sea by Shawn Brackbill

There are those fleeting moments where the fear of change dissolves, when our vision becomes clear and we accept whatever inevitable transformation might come our way with open arms. For Jacob Long, a musician whose past includes stints in rollicking dub punk group Mi Ami and shambolic noise rockers Black Eyes, the ability to change seems not only innate, but essential to his creative survival. Under the solo moniker Earthen Sea, Long has been exploring the beauty and drudgery of everyday life through remarkably personal electronic music.

An Act of Love, Earthen Sea’s debut on Kranky—a safe haven for fellow travelers in cosmic experimental waters, like Tim Hecker and Stars of the Lid—is night music. There’s a ghostlike mood to it—a sort of halogen-lit, steam-through-a-steel-grate metropolitan atmosphere. Being a solo artist in a city—any city—when you’re unconcerned with popularity can be a lonely, but rewarding, task. Songs like “Exuberant Burning” are carefully textured and layered to evoke that mood, while others, like “The Flats 1975,” feel kinetic and alive. As an album, An Act of Love doesn’t simply drift cautiously through the silent streets—there is intention and grounding to Long’s work.

We talked with Long about experimental music performance, shifting dynamics in art, personal change, and community-centered acts of love.

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Album of the Day: Karriem Riggins, “Headnod Suite”

It’s a fair assumption that Karriem Riggins never stops working—for that matter, he may never sleep. The 41-year-old Detroit native has been on a tear since his 2012 debut, Alone/Together, but he’s been making music for much longer than that. Just a quick look at his credits might leave you feeling overwhelmed. His collaborators have included everyone from the late J Dilla to Daft Punk and Paul McCartney, and they’re not even part of his absolutely massive workload in 2016, when he earned credits on some of the year’s biggest records—Kaytranada’s 99.9% and Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution—while also producing an entire album for rapper Common.

And yet, in the midst of all that, Riggins somehow found the time to craft Headnod Suite, the follow-up to Alone/Together. It’s just as sprawling in scope as its predecessor—29 tracks to A/T’s 34—and equally ambitious, with a majority of its songs hovering around or below the two-minute mark. As a result, Headnod Suite treads that line of being not quite a beat tape, and not quite a jazz album. It instead lives somewhere in between. It’s a realm reserved for producers like Riggins and his contemporaries. They’re constantly searching for the next sample to chop, the right drum beat, the perfect bassline. And in doing so, Riggins has crafted vignettes (the Common-sampling “Keep It On,” and Dilla-referencing “Never Come Close”) and fully-realized moments (the moving “Suite Poetry” featuring poet Jessica Care Moore, and video game-blazed “Crystal Stairs”).

Projects like these—meaning, those in the key of Donuts—are carefree and hectic listens, delivering a barrage of sounds that dissipate as quickly as they appear. But that’s part of the fun, challenging your brain to fight against using an album like Headnod Suite as mere background music. Simply put: you’re going to pay attention, whether it’s because of Moore’s beautiful turn on “Suite Poetry,” or Riggins linking with bassist Derrick Hodge and keyboardist James Poyser (of the Roots) for “Suite Outro.” The album may fade out with those three jamming away, perhaps teasing some kind of proper collaborative record, but it also pulls you back in, begging you to keep nodding along.

Andrew Martin