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 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!
Day 3 of my jazz week, and I get a second chance at seeing Esperanza Spalding here in Montreal, at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
This time, without a thunderstorm overhead, I am able to fully engage and immerse myself in the music and experience that is, Esperanza.
Esperanza played a balanced mix of songs from her previous two albums and many new songs we can expect will likely show up on her upcoming album (which is supposed to be a hommage to Nina Simone). I had a smile on my face the entire performance. I couldn’t wipe it off even if I tried. I was head-boppin’, foot-stompin’ all the way through.
A few thought-provoking ideas went through my head as I was enjoying the concert:
1) You’re only as good as the musicans you play with:
Esperanza played with a stellar, yet young group including Otis Brown (bass), Ricardo Roach (guitar), Geonese (?) (piano). Keep an eye out for any and all of these musicians, as I am very sure they will all lead very successful and distinguished careers as the leaders of their own jazz groups. With the type of music that Esperanza and many of the younger groups are playing, they require each musician in the group to be fully adaptable and possess many different musical specialties.
2) A glimpse into the New Contemp Jazz direction:
Esperanza is not the only artist playing multiple styles fusion. But different from the type of fusion Miles Davis pioneered (Fusion with instrument, sounds and a heavy influence from the then fresh avant garde/free jazz movement) The new fusion is about fusing different styles of popular music genres into Jazz: Rock-Jazz, Soul-Jazz, Trip hop-Jazz, R&B-Jazz, Hip Hop-Jazz. The contemporary jazz musician like Esperanza (an like Christian Scott or The Bad Plus) are arranging each song as it should be arranged, whether it is a Jazz rhythm line supporting a pop song, or a jazz song in a the context of rock.
2a) Successful players must be masters at a multiple number of different genres:
What this means for all contemporary musicians and those up & coming, is that if these advancing artists are constructing this paradigm, all subsequent jazz musicians will need to master not only jazz, but a number of other genres as well. We will see not only specialists in one instrument or style in Jazz, we will see more musicians who will be specialists in multiple genres to master New Jazz Fusion.
2b) Each song is a different kind of fusion:
No longer will a full album be made to reinforce one jazz genre. As we saw in Esperanza’s second album which had three distinct types of fusion equally represented throughout the album, we’re going to see more musicians have consecutive songs distinctly different from one another. It may alienate some listeners, especially those that only like one kind of style/genre/fusion.
But this type of each-song-stands-on-its-own album fits into the iTunes-style of music selling: Now that music listeners & buyers are purchasing each song at a time, and less and less purchasing whole albums, it allows a listener to choose the type of fusions that are most appealing to them from that one particular artist.
Esperanza’s first album set a foundation that established her firmly as a young-rising talented artist in the jazz arena. Album two threw together a few different styles Esperanza could do to show her verasity. It also helped the record label learn more about which styles are most commercially viable. Now with sneak peeks at some new songs, we have an idea where her next album is going: further into fusion: soul, rock, world-music into jazz.
Esperanza’s show illicited continuous standing ovations from the audience, resulting in two encores.
In the subsequent days after Esperanza’s performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, I saw and read a number of very strong and positive reviews from her performance. But I think the clearest indicator of how successful her performance at the jazz fest was the fact that all of her cds were sold out in every single music store I could find (and I went to all of the stores, my friend wanted to buy the album but we couldn’t find it anywhere).
Bravo to Esperanza Spalding! The highlight of my few days at this year’s Montreal International Jazz Fest.