Jazz Now – 5 Gateway Albums

by Jason on September 16, 2009 · 9 comments

in Music, Thoughts

20439-1970JazzInParis-16x20-BlackSo I know I’m on my honeymoon in Paris and I said I was going to take a break from blogging and let my guest bloggers have this space until my return. And I know I should be checking out the impressionists at the Musee d’Orsay, or strolling around the Marais in search of the perfect fellafel, or taking in the beautiful view of the city from Sacre Coeur.

But Patrick Jarenwattananon at NPR’s A Blog Supreme has hit upon a great idea that I couldn’t resist jumping on, Paris or no Paris! (In my defense, it’s 7am and it’s pouring outside…cut me some slack!)

Partly in response to The Teachout Debacle, but mostly because he is a cool guy trying to spread the gospel of jazz music to a new audience, Patrick has rounded up a group of 20-something jazz bloggers (see the list here) to come up with their list of the 5 recent jazz albums with which to turn on the non-jazz fan. We all know about Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme and Time Out, but there are countless albums released in the last 10 years that speak more to a younger set of ears and have a better chance of getting the younger generation interested in this exciting, varied and current genre.

So while my new wife sleeps blissfully, I have put together my own list. Granted, I’m close to twice the age of Patrick’s panelists. But I like to think I keep up with the Jones’s as far as new jazz is concerned. And I’ve really tried to stay true to the intent of the exercise. This is not my Top 5 Jazz Albums of the last 10 years list. This list is specifically designed for the young listener who doesn’t know much about jazz. Feel free to agree or disagree…

1. John Scofield and Medeski, Martin & Wood – A Go Go (Verve).
Old meets new in this funky collection of tunes from one of the greats of jazz guitar and one of the most popular bands of the last decade. Many have long held up MMW as one of the bands that has found a way to attract a younger crowd by going to meet them where they live. Scofield saw this too and greatly raised his profile by collaborating with them. But rather than sound like a contrived effort, this album is groove-jazz at its finest. I have actually used this album many times to hip non-jazz fans to something different, and it works almost every time.

2. Darcy James Argue – Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam)
Argue has been getting rave review since before his debut album came out thanks to his savvy use of the web. Thankfully the album did not disappoint. Argue has put together an impressive band and given them surprising charts to sink their teeth into. The music on the CD is an amazing blend of styles and has something for just about anyone. A great example of modern big band and a nice entry the music lover, regardless of their jazz background.

3. Cassandra Wilson – Blue Light ‘Til Dawn (Blue Note)
Cassandra Wilson is the finest vocalist of her generation in my opinion. And since this record was released she has distinguished herself as an incredible interpreter of just about any style of music. On this disc alone she tackles jazz standards and tunes from Robert Johnson, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. The production by Craig Street bears mentioning as well, as he found the perfect, spare instrumentation to highlight Wilson’s vocals.

4. Esperanza Spalding – Esperanza (Heads Up)
Brazilian rhythms, intriguing vocals, incredible bass chops…this album has it all. And to see her live is something to behold. The control she exhibits while simultaneously playing bass and singing is a wonder.

5. Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (Verve)
This album won a Grammy for Album of the Year, the first jazz album to do so since 1964. And it won for a reason. It is a perfectly crafted record, from the song choices to the production to the band and the featured vocalists. Say what you want about the formula, but this record is the perfect entree in to the world of jazz for the pop music lover. The songs are familiar, the voices are familiar, and the playing is top-notch.

There are many other great albums that have been mentioned by others, including ones from Brian Blade, Brad Mehldau, Maria Schneider, Charles Lloyd, Ben Allison, etc. And while I think these are all worthy candidates for a Great Jazz Albums list, I think they are more for the discerning jazz ear than the layman…

Do you agree? Disagree? What are your picks?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith B. September 16, 2009 at 12:11 pm

The “working musician” never rests! Nice picks, Jason. I hadn’t heard of Argue before (can’t argue with that pick, har, har).

Jeff Smith September 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm

The Scofield and Cassandra Wilson choices are excellent, but they’re both over ten years old. Maybe you should pick two more.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
September 16, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Thanks for checking Keith. Definitely check out Darcy’s band…they are killin’! You can learn more at http://secretysociety.typepad.com.

Jeff – the “rules” for the game as stated by Patrick were albums “within the last 10 or so years, with an emphasis on the present moment (considered broadly).” I know the Sco and Wilson albums were early-90’s, but I stand by them as examples of modern jazz that are good gateway albums. But I’d be interested to hear what yours would be as well…

Kai Weber
Twitter: fruehlingstag
September 29, 2009 at 8:29 am

Well, I think it doesn’t work that way. If you’re really interested in interesting your friends in jazz, a very individual approach is required. The taste of this person is the first thing to be considered. You won’t catch a heavy metal fan with the “Joni Letters”. But, if done rightly, it IS possible to interest a heavy metal fan in jazz music.
I really do like your selection, but I myself would have never found a way into jazz that way. I wasn’t coming from the direction of mainstream pop, but found my way into jazz via punk rock (e.g. NoMeansNo, Victims Family, later the Grind-Free-Jazz stuff like Alboth! or Naked City). As Goethe wrote: “Eines schickt sich nicht für alle”… (for translation cf. http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=6295) Or as we find in Kafka’s “Before the Law”, there’s exactly one gateway per person, rather than a common gateway for everyone…

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
September 29, 2009 at 8:54 am

You make a great point, Kai, and I think you’re right. However, for the sake of this exercise I think those involved decided to take a broad approach. We could make lists for metalheads, deadheads, classical fans, etc., but then we’d have a LOT of lists!

But in the end you are absolutely right and when I try to bring people to jazz I always take their individual tastes in mind.

Thanks for visiting, as always! I enjoy your perspective on things.

Scott McLemore September 29, 2009 at 10:34 am

Right you are, Kai. Naked City is a great entry point for a lot of people. If you can get them to make the transition to Masada, consider them initiated!

Twitter: arodjazz
September 29, 2009 at 6:07 pm

As one of the original Jazz Now participants, I agree with Kai’s point completely, but I also believe that there is some validity to our exercise. That’s because the process shouldn’t stop with our mere posting of recommendations. We need feedback from open-minded listeners who check out the tracks, and can tell us why something works or doesn’t work for them. Perhaps someone with similar musical tastes can chime in … and the conversation continues. The point of Jazz Now, as I understood it, was that it could be a broader starting point for a bunch of different conversations about which tracks work, which ones don’t, and why. Those answers will be different for everyone, but that’s what the internet is for!

Also, I tried to pick my five to suggest different access points — I highly doubt that the same person who would find their way to jazz through Soulive would dig Derrick Gardner and his Jazz Prophets at first listen. So I hope that someone out there can pick a favorite, tell me why, and then the conversation about other stuff to check out can continue.

(PS Jason, check out Derrick if you haven’t already. He’s good at the trumpet.)

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