In the past year I”ve been listening to and writing about a lot of fabulous jazz guitarists who have made big waves in the jazz world, starting from Pat Metheny through Mike Stern, down to Kurt Rosenwinkel and Matt Stevens. But lately I”ve found myself returning to my old stomping grounds of Jazz piano, as some fresh sounds have made heads turn, including mine.
One such individual on the new vanguard of Jazz piano is Robert Glasper. He draws direct heritage — no, lineage — from the likes of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Brad Mehldau. Indeed the delicacy and intimacy of Robert”s musical style and sensibilities has Bill Evans written all over it. He is the Bill Evans of the new age, the Bill Evans of our generation.
And yet his voice is all his own, standing tall among other contemporary musical giants. Rooted firmly in the Neo-Soul, Gospel, Hip-Hop, and Soul traditions, he counts his collaborators and friends such icons as Bilal, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Kanye West, J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Common, and Maxwell, to name a few. Within the Jazz world he has been a regular component to the sounds of Russell Malone, Christian McBride, Terence Blanchard, and Roy Hargrove.
Robert Glasper carries the mantle of resolving jazz-hiphop/neo-soul fusion. He approaches this challenge with subtlety and intelligence, taking his time, and using a loose definition of time. What Glasper does is brings a finesse and refinement to hip-hop and neo-soul, one that has been polished in the tradition and punctuation of jazz. You can see examples of this in songs such as F.T.B. and J Dillalude on the 2007 In My Element album. Conversely, he brings a swagger, an attitude , a bite to his jazz that is full on Soul. He does this concisely in songs like Riot and Rise & Shine on his 2005 Canvas album.
The most marvelous thing about Robert Glasper is his devotion to uncompromising melody. From the bowels of Duke Ellington and Sonny Rollins, but ultimately Bill Evans, Robert”s piercing, what-you-see-is-what-you-get melodies clarifies reality for the listener.
At the age of 32, signed on with Blue Note, and already four albums under his belt, Robert Glasper”s career and sound is just beginning to ripen. But how fresh it is. This is North American contemporary jazz at its best.
I love finding exciting new Jazz music creators. I love them even more when they are doing it in China! Case in point: Hua Acid Live.
These guys just formed at the beginning of 2009, and they””ve hit the city of Beijing hard with their vicious rhythms and hypnotic tunes. Being promoted by local media as the Only Acid & Funk group in Beijing, Hua Acid Live (or just known as Acid Live) are true to form with hard-hitting Acid Jazz mixed with Funk and House beats. The band has been busy this inaugural year building an active local following and strutting their stuff at all the hottest live music venues in town.
The band says it is a melting pot for cultures and musical styles with the sole purpose of making good music. This can best be seen by the groups”” eclectic roster: classical-pianist-turned-funk-keyboardist Zhang Zhang, UK expat Chris Cook AKA DJ Shiva spinning Electro and House music, guitarist Fei Jia and bassist Liu Yang. Acid Live is joined regularly by other accomplished and diverse musicians such as Irish vocalist Anne Marie, American rapper Kor-E, Hip Hop group In3””er, and Chinese guzheng player Zhang Wei.
While the music Hua Acid Live plays is not ground-breakingly new, it is important to note that the high calibre with which they are playing this kind of fusion, is being played in China. I have great excitement and high anticipation when I think about the scores of Chinese music patrons who will be exposed to this kind of music for the first time. And I have even greater anticipation thinking and hoping for Hua Acid Live to record their first album! During their live performances that I have attended, they have mostly played standards that can be recognized by the audience — namely mainstream jazz-funk-soul songs for a still-maturing listenership. But Acid Live has played a few original songs as well. Especially when they are mixing musical styles like with DJ Shiva, or one of the musical guests, you really get a sense of their potential in creating fresh, unique music that hails from Beijing but is made for a global audience.
Of course, there are many, many great unique musical groups that have put Beijing and contemporary Chinese music on the map, like PK-14, D-22, and Carsick Cars. But Hua Acid Live is really the first real Chinese foray into Acid Jazz+. I hope but the first!
I continually have friends who ask me to either give them my music or give them a list of jazz artists I recommend they listen to. I want to do them one better by posting it here as reference to all.
As a jazz enthusiast and advocate, I love to introduce new people to the depth and breadth that is the jazz repertoire, especially contemporary jazz and how we are moving forward today. So as a favour to my friends and fellow listeners, here are a few lists, separated by broad genres/styles of jazz to help the music explorer in all of us.
The case for exploring by artist and not by song:
These lists consist of names of musicians/artists. Far better than recommending individual songs, I feel exploring an artist, their story, their perspective, and their contribution to the jazz genre is more fulfilling and gives a better picture of the jazz world. Jazz, as with many other things in this world, is much more about the people than it is only just about the music. If you read the life stories, you”ll learn that jazz is a way of life, a way of thinking, a philosophy, a state of being, that is espoused by the music.
The case for listening to entire albums:
I also recommend when learning about each musician, to listen to each album in its entirety. In the age of iTunes and buying each song piecemeal, I still strongly support buying/downloading an entire album and listening to it straight through. I feel this is important to better comprehend the larger message the artist is trying to communicate. One song may not be able to completely express the full extent of thoughts and feelings the artist puts forward in a whole album. Also paying attention to the ordering of songs within an album is important. This sets the highs and lows, the changes in rhythm, dynamics and interplay between each song. While song ordering may be done by a studio producer, it is safe to say the spirit of the artist is in this process, if not the final approval. Taking an album in its entirety becomes even more important if the artist is also the songwriter. Because the words and thoughts expressed are written by the artist”s own hand, a really talented musician may be writing for a complete album in mind. If the musician is merely just a performer of other people”s songs, then ordering and album entirety may not be as important. But the wonderful thing about Jazz is that more often than not you”re listening to true artists/musicians. People that not only want to show their performance prowess but also want to share the unique music itself.
So give the artists some respect, and spend time with the whole album.
That being said, here are some select lists to help get young jazz listeners started!
Modern Jazz(Some of the best individuals that form the foundation of jazz)
Modern Jazz Quartet
Contemp Jazz(People who for me, lead today”s Jazz)
The Bad Plus
The Gotan Project
Medeski, Martin & Wood
”Nu Jazz Funk”(Urban, R&B, Hip Hop- influenced Jazz)
Bugz In The Attic
The RH Factor
Soil & Pimp Sessions
”Electro-Jazz Groove”(Jazz that lives squarely in the electronic environment)
The Cool Balance
Kyoto Jazz Massive
Bugz In The Attic
These lists are merely my own selection. It is not an exhaustive list, just me recommendations within each broad genre.
My taste in music reflects my own background. I have not included lists on Jazz-Rock, Latin-Jazz etc. because I do not spend enough time with those genres.
I by all means welcome suggestions! We are all music explorers here. If there is an artist that you think I”d like, please feel free to send me a response!