Jazz Now: Your First Five Modern Jazz Albums

Jazz Now Bass i i
Jazz Now Bass

Earlier this year, Take Five presented "The First Five: One Man's Introduction To Jazz." That feature saw NPR Arts editor Tom Cole talking about his personal introduction to the art. One day, he walked into a Washington, D.C. record shop and asked a clerk to pick out five great jazz albums to take home. Five LPs later, he was hooked.

That music was phenomenal, of course, but it was all recorded decades ago. Jazz today is full of vital, fresh artists who are honoring that history by making personal, original music. Which got us at NPR Music thinking: if someone came to one of us asking for an introduction to the jazz of today, which five records would we pull off our shelves?

So for NPR's A Blog Supreme, we asked seven young jazz fans — none older than 24 — to write their introductions to modern jazz. Considered together, they run five promising jazz Web sites: Search and Restore, a live jazz information hub for New York City; Nextbop, a site with music and profiles of exciting new artists; RVAJazz, which tracks the burgeoning creative music scene in Richmond, Va.; Lubricity, a jazz blog penned by a historian in training; and AccuJazz, "the future of jazz radio." These folks represent the jazz audience of the future — so who better to tell us about Jazz Now?

Below are highlights from our guest contributors. All of it is from the last 10 years, and all of it represents the many different, uncompromising directions that jazz is headed. If you're already hooked on the jazz of the present, wonderful! We'd love to hear your lists in the comments, or on your own Web sites. If you're just getting started, welcome: here's some great music.

Jazz Now: Your First Five Modern Jazz Albums

Cover for Largo

Brad Mehldau

When It Rains

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  • Album: Largo
  • Song: When It Rains

This album was a big one for me: It fuses masterful jazz improvisation with modern rock production. It's also the one jazz album that excited my indie rock-obsessed high school friends. Some of them even purchased their own copies of Largo with actual money! Brad Mehldau has been called the most influential jazz musician of his generation (Generation X, that is), and he has never been afraid to wear his rock and folk influences on his sleeve, often covering Radiohead and Nick Drake. Largo, however, brought the rock influence to the fore, with the assistance of superstar producer Jon Brion and some of LA's best studio musicians. The lead-off track, "When it Rains," has everything I love about the album: a gorgeously simple melody, lush wind orchestration, deeply grooving drumming, a heart-stopping piano solo and even some good old 3-over-4 polyrhythms for the drumming nerd in me. --Lucas Gillan, AccuJazz

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  • "When It Rains"
  • Album: Largo
  • Artist: Brad Mehldau
  • Label: Warner Bros.
 
Cover for Anthem

Christian Scott

Litany Against Fear

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  • Album: Anthem
  • Song: Litany Against Fear

Christian Scott is the baddest young dude in jazz right now. He has it all: the talent, the look, the style, the personality. If there's one jazzman I want to chill with, it's him. And his album Anthem absolutely blew me away. His music is loud. It's heavy. It's deep. It's raw. It's gripping. It's dark. It's contemplative. And what a band! Christian Scott on trumpet, Aaron Parks on piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, Walter Smith III on sax and the especially sick Matt Stevens on guitar. In my opinion, Anthem is one the most revolutionary jazz albums of this decade. This one's an absolute must for all young jazz fans. And look out for his new album, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, coming out in February 2010. --Sebastien Helary, Nextbop

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  • "Litany Against Fear"
  • Album: Anthem
  • Artist: Christian Scott
  • Label: Concord Jazz
  • Released: 2007
 
Skadra Degis

Andrew D'Angelo

Fam Hana

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  • Album: Skadra Degis
  • Song: Fam Hana

Here's a very, very badass trio record. Skadra Degis is three friends and three equals creating highly listenable, mind-blowing renditions of Andrew D'Angelo's compositions. D'Angelo can make his alto saxophone sound beautiful; he can also make it appear to break apart at the seams. (Which is still pretty beautiful.) Jim Black navigates the drums in ways I had never heard before. Trevor Dunn leaps around the bass with intensity; his is an unbelievably strong voice. The connection between the musicians and their music is palpable, and a joy to experience. It's represented best in the track "Fam Hana," which moves seamlessly from gorgeous melodic statements to gut-crushing monster sounds, and back again toward beauty. --Adam Schatz, Search and Restore

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  • "Fam Hana"
  • Album: Skadra Degis
  • Artist: Andrew D'Angelo
  • Label: Skirl
  • Released: 2008
 
Up Here!

Soulive

Hat Trick

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  • Album: Up Here [CD/DVD]
  • Song: Hat Trick

Soulive was the paragon of jazz-funk musical virtues for many of my peers in high school, but I didn't get to hear the band play until I found myself attending school in its backyard of western Massachusetts. (In fact, I took the same Jazz Theory course that guitarist Eric Krasno had taken nearly a decade earlier.) I could take my "non-jazz" friends to its shows and have a great time. Soulive's most recent release, Up Here!, features some nifty production and the groovy fare that got Blue Note Records' attention in 2001. Although Blue Note is no longer producing its music, Soulive is still one of the most effective purveyors of jazz-funk, borrowing as much from the organ trio styles of Jimmy Smith as from the beats of hip-hop. "Hat Trick" features a typically hard-driving beat, infectious grooves and tight breaks; the addition of two saxophones to the mix adds echoes of Average White Band. --Alex Rodriguez, Lubricity

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  • "Hat Trick"
  • Album: Up Here [CD/DVD]
  • Artist: Soulive
  • Released: 2009
 
Red Hail

Tigran Hamasyan & Aratta Rebirth

Sibylla

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  • Album: Red Hail
  • Song: Sibylla

The expert and the layman can unite over their awe for pianist Tigran Hamasyan. His ability to stay true to Armenian folk verse while incorporating musical elements that are nothing but modern is fascinating. Likening Red Hail to the multi-metered, guitar-driven ethos of progressive rock only seems natural: Memorable yet lopsided riffs characterize certain pieces, while jazz waltzes or breakbeats make up the bulk of others. If you're new to jazz, you may not realize that this is a bold statement from a jazzman — a refusal to comply with the standards set before us. But at 22 years old, this young musician embodies jazz's present and future. --Dean Christesen, RVAJazz

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  • "Sibylla"
  • Album: Red Hail
  • Artist: Tigran Hamasyan & Aratta Rebirth
  • Label: Plus Loin
  • Released: 2009
 

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