Jazz Now: Sebastien Helary With Justin Wee, Nextbop.com

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Jazz Now image 1.

Sebastien Helary and Justin Wee love jazz with their hearts on their sleeves — and they want you to love it too. The two 23-year-old gentlemen, Montreal residents both, took out loans from their parents to create a Web site specifically designed to expose their generation to today's jazz. (This on top of being full-time college students.) The result is Nextbop, featuring streaming tracks and artist profiles from some of the hottest young artists today. For Jazz Now, co-founder Helary gave us an impassioned, personal write-up (check out the Bad Plus entry!) of 10 albums picked by both co-founders. They would have you note that there's more music where that came from at Nextbop itself. —Ed.

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I love jazz. I don't believe there's any music out there which is more exciting, interesting or stimulating than jazz — especially today's jazz. It has brought me so much. It makes me smile. It makes me cry. It makes me think. It brings me an overwhelming amount of joy. Jazz makes me feel alive!

I find it disheartening that most people my age do not share this interest, this passion, with me. Maybe jazz isn't suited for everyone; maybe people my age won't like every type of jazz music out there. But if I listen to some hip-hop and to some rock, why don't more young people listen to some jazz?

I don't think there's any problem with the music. Every time I've played The Bad Plus at a party, I've had people ask me about it. There's a genuine interest for jazz among young people.

But the music is not reaching them. It doesn't play on the radio stations they listen to. There are no jazz music videos on the television channels they watch. The first thing that pops in people's minds when you say the word "jazz" is Louis Armstrong, or maybe Miles Davis. People are not aware that the music has made leaps and bounds since then. Once jazz fans become addicted, we quickly forget that there once was a time when we had absolutely no idea who John Coltrane was. Musicians which are celebrities or stars to us are completely unknown to most people. And if we want to reach them, we need to make more of an effort of putting ourselves in their shoes.

There's incredible jazz being made today by exceptional musicians. But who's really listening to their music? This summer I attended concerts given by The Bad Plus, Aaron Parks and Gerald Clayton at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I was absolutely shocked to see that the vast majority of people there were easily over the age of 35. And from listening to the conversations taking place before the concerts, most of them had never heard of the groups playing those evenings. Justin and I were maybe the only two twenty-somethings at the Aaron Parks and at the Gerald Clayton concerts. I couldn't believe it!

I think the problem is that no one is trying to promote jazz to people who don't already listen to the music. It might be suicidal to do so from a marketing standpoint — yet I believe that it's something that absolutely must be done nonetheless. People my age who listen to jazz are either jazz musicians or very good friends with jazz musicians. Who is reaching out to the other young people out there? We created Nextbop.com because we believe that jazz deserves wider recognition, as well as a younger and larger audience. Our main objective is to reach out to young people and to show them what today's jazz music is all about. Jazz rocks. They just don't know it yet.

So how do you get young people interested in jazz? Our answer is to have them listen to any of these 10 albums. In alphabetical order:

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Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
The first time I heard pianist Aaron Parks was on Christian Scott's album Anthem. That record absolutely blew me away — more on that later — so you can imagine how excited I was when I learned that Aaron had made a record for the prestigious Blue Note label. I had very high expectations for Invisible Cinema, but the album exceeded all of them. Parks has a gift for creating beautiful, passionate and captivating music. There's something almost poetic and Zen-like to his approach, yet his sound is also pleasantly fresh. I think that most twenty-somethings will be able to relate to the drum 'n' bass feel of Eric Harland's drumming, or to the sound of Mike Moreno's guitar. Plus, I just love the sustained intensity which Aaron brings. He's unquestionably one of the most promising pianists of his generation. When's the next album coming out?

Listen

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"Nemesis," from Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema (Blue Note). Aaron Parks, piano; Matt Penman, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Mike Moreno, guitar. Released 2008.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Avishai Cohen, Gently Disturbed (RazDaz)
Avishai Cohen is a uniquely profound bassist. His music is refined yet exciting; his technique is percussive and rhythmic, and his compositions move at a furious pace. To me, his music conveys a magical feeling of freedom: it's like cruising the ocean on a sailboat or looking into the eyes of a really beautiful girl. OK, I'm getting a little carried away, but some of his tunes literally bring tears to my eyes. Avishai also writes very moving and beautiful music, and it's always a joy to listen to him. All of his RazDaz recordings are excellent, but I would recommend Gently Disturbed above all. Definitely worthwhile.

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"Chutzpan," from Avishai Cohen, Gently Disturbed (RazDaz). Avishai Cohen, bass; Shai Maestro, piano; Mark Guiliana, drums. Released 2008.

Purchase: Amazon.com / iTunes

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Benjamin Moussay, Swimming Pool (O+ Music)
Pianist Benjamin Moussay is a particularly perplexing character. Justin picked up his album at the local library because he liked the cover art. It led to one of our most astounding musical discoveries to date. Moussay's music blends the beautiful intricacies of European jazz melodies — I think European jazz tends to sound different than North American jazz — with heavy, dynamic comping and explosive drumming. The end result is priceless. Fans of The Bad Plus and e.s.t. will absolutely love this guy. Of course, Moussay doesn't have a working Web site or a MySpace page; he doesn't answer his e-mails, and his management and his record label are just as easy to reach as he is. Good luck finding his recordings. Fortunately, you can check him out on Nextbop.com. We also heard that he should be coming out with a new album in the near future, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.

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"Lost Valley," from Benjamin Moussay, Swimming Pool (O+ Music). Benjamin Moussay, piano; Arnault Cuisinier, bass; Eric Echampard, drums. Released 2006.

Purchase: Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Christian Scott, Anthem (Concord)
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 Matt Stevens on guitar (who has especially sick chops). 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.

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"Litany Against Fear," from Christian Scott, Anthem (Concord). Christian Scott, trumpet; Aaron Parks, piano; Matt Stevens, guitar; Esperanza Spalding, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums. Released 2007.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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e.s.t., Tuesday Wonderland (ACT)
Esbjorn Svensson's untimely death is a tragic chapter in the history of modern jazz. He passed away a month or so before he was scheduled to play at the Montreal Jazz Festival, where I had planned on seeing him perform for the first time. His band, e.s.t., was one of the most innovative of this decade. Svensson's playing is majestic and deeply moving. The band also made great use of sound effects, and had a knack for using short, repetitive melodies to progressively build an intense musical atmosphere (similar to certain types of house or electronic music). This produces some of the most powerful and breathtaking moments in jazz I have ever witnessed. His album, Tuesday Wonderland is a great example of this — another absolute must for every jazz collection. May Esbjorn rest in peace.

Litany Against Fear

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Litany Against Fear

"Tuesday Wonderland," from e.s.t., Tuesday Wonderland (ACT). Esbjorn Svensson, piano; Dan Berglund, bass; Magnus Ostrom, drums. Released 2006.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Laurent de Wilde, The Present (Nocturne)
Laurent de Wilde is a French pianist who has continuously found novel ways of reinventing his musical style. De Wilde recorded his first album in 1987 (I was only 1 year old at the time) — and he still makes Nextbop's Jazz Now list. After releasing a few recordings with heavy electronic and drum 'n' bass influences, de Wilde came out with The Present in 2006, which features his acoustic jazz trio. His sound is deeply rooted in jazz, but also subtly influenced by electronica and even reggae. I should mention that he's also an accomplished writer, having written a brilliant biography (in French) of Monk, which I am currently avidly reading.

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"Fleurette Africaine," from Laurent de Wilde, The Present (Nocturne). Laurent de Wilde, piano; Darryl Hall, bass; Dion Parson, drums. Released 2006.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3
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Neil Cowley, Displaced (Cake)
Neil Cowley and his trio really rock — literally, in a British pop-rock sort of way. These guys took home Best Album at the 2007 BBC Jazz Awards; the group had been playing jazz for less than a year at the time, and their debut self-released album won the prize. If it wasn't for music, these guys would probably spend the entire day drinking pints of beer and talking about cricket. (Trust me: I know them personally.) In any case, they sure know how to make great, unpretentious and entertaining music. They have some of the catchiest melodies I've heard, and they're famous for building up crazy climaxes in a trance-inducing sort of way. And you really need to find a video of Neil at the piano; someday he's going to give himself whiplash! I also know the group recorded a new album not too long ago — I'm looking forward to its release.

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"How Do We Catch Up," from Neil Cowley Trio, Displaced (Hide Inside). Neil Cowley, piano; Richard Sadler, bass; Evan Jenkins, drums. Released 2006.

Purchase: Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Rusconi, One Up Down Left Right (Sony)
These guys are the future of jazz. They could be huge, like The Bad Plus and e.s.t. huge. They're young. They have style. They even have a crazy music video. And they happen to make incredible music. It's a fresh new take on power jazz, one which doesn't rely on covers of rock bands or on extraordinarily high intensity. Instead, Rusconi has really catchy melodies and an amazing sense for groove. When you listen to its music, you feel like shaking your head to the beat, and there's a good chance that you won't be able to stop smiling. Very addictive stuff: discover at your own risk.

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"One Up Down Left Right," from Rusconi, One Up Down Left Right (Sony). Stefan Rusconi, piano; Fabian Gisler, bass; Claudio Struby, drums. Released 2009.

Purchase: Amazon.com

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The Bad Plus, These Are The Vistas (Columbia)
These are the Vistas completely changed my life. When it came out during high school, I was still completely hooked on hard bop (mostly stuff from the Blue Note catalog because those albums had the coolest cover art). I still remember seeing The Bad Plus in JazzTimes and wondering, "Who the hell are those guys? And what are they doing on the cover of JazzTimes?"

Music had never brought me such exhilaration (maybe Coltrane's Giant Steps had, but that was different). I couldn't really grasp what was happening at first — I had never heard music like that. It was so exciting, so loud, so hip. And not just the covers they played, but also their originals. I must have listened to that record non-stop for a whole week or two, and I must have talked about it with every single person I knew at the time, starting with Justin who, to my relief, had the same initial reaction that I did.

For the first time in my life, it was cool to listen to jazz. I didn't have to hide it to anyone. I didn't have to be ashamed. I finally had something to be proud of.

Anyway, I absolutely idolized The Bad Plus at the time, and I still do. I finally understood why people go crazy at rock concerts, why they scream and jump and cry. The Bad Plus are rock stars to me. I went crazy the first time I saw them here in Montreal. It was probably the most memorable show I've ever attended, and I've seen a fair amount of jazz concerts in my lifetime. Another time, Justin and I once drove 3 hours to Burlington, Vt. to see them play. At the end of the show I got a poster signed by the whole band, and bought a These Are The Vistas T-shirt. (Which I still wear, even though I could use a new one, so if you read this, Chris Hinderaker, you know what to send me for my birthday. It's on Jan. 8 and I wear medium.) It was heaven. I was like a kid in a candy store.

Justin and I created Nextbop because of The Bad Plus. We created it for them. We want to promote their work. We want everyone our age to know who they are. We want to share the joy we get from their music. We want them sell out shows in huge stadiums. We also want those things for all the artists on Nextbop, of course, but we really owe so much to The Bad Plus. Without them, Nextbop would not exist.

Listen

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"Smells Like Teen Spirit," from The Bad Plus, These Are The Vistas (Columbia). Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; Dave King, drums. Released 2003.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Yaron Herman, A Time for Everything (La Borie)
Never before did I imagine I would hear a jazz musician cover a Britney Spears song. But Yaron Herman did it — and made it sound really good. (Definitely better than the original.) This guy has serious talent. Apparently his approach to improvisation is something else; he learned piano by studying philosophy, mathematics and psychology with business consultant Opher Brayer. Whatever he's doing, he's doing it right. He covers Bjork and Sting/The Police, but he's a very talented composer in his own right. His music is intricate, fresh, cerebral, addictive, rhythmic, fascinating and enjoyable. I also love Matt Brewer (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) who complete the trio. Herman is a young artist truly looking for his own voice, constantly evolving and blossoming. His latest album, Muse, even features a string quartet on several songs. What other surprises does he hold for us in the future?

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"Toxic," from Yaron Herman, A Time For Everything (La Borie). Yaron Herman, piano; Matt Brewer, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums. Released 2007.

Purchase: Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Aldo Romano/Remi Vignolo/Baptiste Trotignon, Flower Power (Naive)

Artaud, La Tour Invisible (B-Flat)

Benny Lackner, Pilgrim (Stray Dog)

Brad Mehldau, Live (Nonesuch)

Bojan Z, Xenophonia (Label Bleu)

Gerald Clayton, Two-Shade (Artist Share)

Helge Lien, Hello Troll (Ozella)

Jacky Terrasson, Smile (Blue Note)

Medeski Martin & Wood, Radiolarians I, II & III (Indirecto)

Phronesis, Green Delay (Loop)

RH Factor, Hard Groove (Verve)

Robert Glasper, Double-Booked (Blue Note)

Steve Blanco, Piano Warrior (Art of Life)

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Which five albums would you pick to introduce an open-minded listener to the jazz of today? Let us know: leave us a comment, or write about it on your own blog — and let us know where to find it. For more information on this series, read the introduction.

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