Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO : A Blog Supreme You know — or ought to know — Josh Jackson's work as host and producer of WBGO's program dedicated to new jazz music, The Checkout. For Jazz Now, he's managed to find 5 great entryways into modern jazz within the second half of 2009 alone.
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Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

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Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

WBGO's Josh Jackson is in his mid-thirties, well under the median jazz audience demographic -- though positively ancient by Jazz Now terms. (In the e-mail chain which planned this whole mess, he signed off as "Father Time.") However, this project wouldn't be complete without his insights. By now you surely know about his wonderful radio program and podcast, The Checkout, featuring in-studio sessions and interviews with many of today's most interesting jazz artists. Moreover, it was an off-hand comment he made to me some months ago -- something about us all having to work together -- that launched this whole train of thought. His passionate commitment to current jazz, not to mention his ear to the ground, were also primary inspirations. Both a colleague and a mentor to me, Josh found five brilliant albums which have come out (or will come out) in the second half of this year alone. --Ed.

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When I moved to New York in 2000, I came for jazz. Hundreds of concerts and documentaries and interviews and radio programs later, I have met some of the most amazing individuals who walk this earth and play music. Some no longer walk this earth. The music continues.

I am in awe having these opportunities, but I've been so deeply entrenched in jazz that I sometimes forget what the point of discovery was like. It still happens every so often, but the intensity of my first engagement with jazz has only been matched in subsequent years by hearing the many moments revealed in live concerts. The older I get, the more I read; the more I listen; the less I really know about anything.

So what is modern jazz? I can only say that it is a weapon that flies from the quill of talented musicians, especially deadly when it comes from one who dedicates his or her life to beauty. It could be a promissory note, an occasional moment of self-discovery, a rebuke of time, a new technical puzzle, an internal riddle with no solution, a struggle, a resolution, a renewed sense of mission (however ephemeral), an incremental march to the infinite -- with musical notation. If improvised music today had a flavor, it would be the distilled mash of globalism run through the sieve of renegade moonshiners.

All I know is that jazz can be something for anyone, and it will be something else for you. As a listener, the terms are yours. If you need a point of entry, you might find a way in somewhere below.

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1. Robert Glasper, Double Booked (Blue Note).
Glasper's flow of hip-hop pianism can glide in an acoustic setting, or loop effortlessly in an electric outfit. On his latest recording, Double Booked, you get to hear both. The first half features Glasper's jazz trio -- piano, bass, drums -- playing original music (with a side order of Thelonious Monk's "Four In One"). Then comes the Robert Glasper Experiment, a live wire exposed. Drummer Chris Dave lays the beat for this Derrick Hodge original, while Jahi Sundance (son of saxophonist Oliver Lake) spins layers of speech narrative. Casey Benjamin adds additional vocoder effects, and Bilal permeates it all with a wordless vocal. It's music for the hip-hop generation, with a jazz feeling behind it all.

Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

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"Open Mind," from Robert Glasper, Double Booked (Blue Note). Robert Glasper, piano/keyboards; Bilal, vocals; Casey Benjamin, saxophone/vocoder; Derrick Hodge, bass; Chris Dave, drums; Jahi Sundance, turntables. Released 2009.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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2. Vijay Iyer, Historicity (ACT Records)
Vijay Iyer is likely the most "meta-" practitioner in music today. In a career stitched to the words "Why Not?", Iyer has now taken the standard piano trio format, smashed it to tiny bits, and rearranged the information into a pulsing data set of rhythm, harmony, melody and dynamics. M.I.A., the Tamil-born polymath, won fame and recognition by file-sharing this song. Now, Iyer and bandmates Stephan Crump (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) put their own patois on "galang a lang a lang lang." Go on, gentlemen.

Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

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"Galang," from Vijay Iyer, Historicity (ACT Music). Vijay Iyer, piano; Stephan Crump, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums. To be released Oct. 13, 2009.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3

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3. Jason Lindner, Gives You Now Vs. Now (Anzic)
Lindner is a member of Meshell Ndegeocello's band, the music director and pianist for Chilean singer Claudia Acuna and leader of a highly-recommended (albeit infrequently performing) New York big band. There's a multiethnic pileup on his newest project, Now Vs. Now, so expect to hear some cosmopolitanism. "Far" is New York at street level -- poetry and hip-hop, the salsa sonero tradition, some wah-wah trumpet effects, groove from a Byzantine-music-loving bass player, and precision-tooled beats by drummer Mark Guiliana.

Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

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"Far," from Jason Lindner, Gives You Now Vs. Now (Anzic).
Jason Lindner, keyboards; Baba Israel, poetry/rhymes; Pedrito Martinez, congas/vocals; Yosvany Terry, chekere; Avishai Cohen, trumpet; Panagiotis Andreou, bass; Mark Guiliana, drums. To be released Oct. 20, 2009.

Purchase: Amazon.com

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4. Gretchen Parlato, In a Dream (ObliqSound)
If you're trying to understand jazz, maybe words will help. Gretchen Parlato set a standard at the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance: she was the first singer in a program conceived largely for instrumentalists. In a Dream is a remarkable outing for Parlato, who brings some of today's prime movers (pianist Aaron Parks and vocalizing guitarist Lionel Loueke among them) to bear on songs associated with Michael Jackson and SWV, as well as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and this tune from Swiss guitarist Francis Jacob. "Within Me" provides a most adroit description for Parlato: she inhabits her music.

Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

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"Within Me," from Gretchen Parlato, In a Dream (ObliqSound). Gretchen Parlato, vocals; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Aaron Parks, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums/percussion. Released 2009.

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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5. Miguel Zenon, Esta Plena (Marsalis Music)
On his latest recording, alto saxophonist, composer and MacArthur Genius Miguel Zenon finds a way into his Puerto Rican heritage through jazz. Zenon first heard the sound of panderos (a tambourine-like instrument) as a child in his native San Juan. The folkloric tradition plena was a street-level method of distributing news in local communities; the pandero and voice are the delivery vehicles. As you listen to "Despedida," you'll hear the integration of Zenon's working quartet with three different panderos. It won't be hard to recognize the familiar strain of "Auld Lang Syne"; Zenon wrote the song (and the lyrics) inspired by a New Year's Eve party hosted by lead singer "Tito" Matos. Make a resolution to hear this.

Jazz Now: Josh Jackson, WBGO

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"Despedida," from Miguel Zenon, Esta Plena (Marsalis Music). Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone, background vocals; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Hector "Tito" Matos, lead vocals/percussion (requinto); Obanilu Allende, background vocals/percussion (segundo); Juan Gutierrez, background vocals/percussion (seguidor). To be released Oct. 20, 2009. [available digitally now]

Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes

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Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

--Brian Blade Fellowship, Perceptual (Blue Note): This sextet plays jazz with a laid-back country feel and rich, open harmonies. When they ramp up the intensity, their music borders the cathartic. Joni Mitchell guests on a track.

--Guillermo Klein, Filtros (Sunnyside): Klein, an Argentine composer, writes jazz for a dedicated (smallish) big band of New Yorkers with minimalist-driven repetitions and Afro-Cuban clave rhythms. Amazing stuff, really.

--Brad Mehldau, Progressions: The Art of the Trio, Volume 5 (Nonesuch): Mehldau's original trio had a way with turning simple melodies into rhapsodic experiences, and their live sets from the Village Vanguard had the power to shake your innards more than the subway running below the club. I had to pick a live record from my favorite listening room for modern jazz.

--Greg Osby, Inner Circle (Blue Note): This is arguably the saxophonist's greatest band. Pianist Jason Moran, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Eric Harland prod both listener and leader with a set of risky, provocative music that still sounds fresh today.

--Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema (Blue Note): If Parks didn't play piano and write music so brilliantly, he's probably be solving complex mathematical riddles, like: can a four-dimensional topological sphere have two or more inequivalent smooth structures? (He skipped high school to study math, computer science and music.) He may be working on that conjecture anyway.

--Chris Potter, Underground (Sunnyside): Potter's saxophone twists and turns over a relentlessly serpentine funk and rock beat. Also, the badass guitar work is the musical equivalent to getting, uh, krunk.

--Kurt Rosenwinkel, Deep Song (Verve): Few musicians can deliver complexity with a graceful cadence and make it this melodic. Having this cast (Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard, Ali Jackson) makes it work.

--Todd Sickafoose, Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone): This recording by Ani DiFranco's bassist and musical wizard flew under the critical radar, but there's so much there. Plus, DiFranco makes an appearance, and violinist Andrew Bird also whistles and plays his distinctive loops.

--Gonzalo RubalcabaAvatar (Blue Note): Yowza. This quintet has everything -- an effusive melange of crisp horn solos, classical romanticism, dense melody and groove elation.

--Jenny Scheinman, Crossing the Field (Koch): Imagine if someone could reduce Americana fiddle to some kind of bottled essence, then add cornet, modernistic piano, and a galloping string quartet. Now stop imagining.

--Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up): Portland, Ore.'s greatest export isn't microbrews. Rarely in jazz does someone come along with a soulful voice, a gift for entertainment without compromise, and above all, the kind of skill that can serve notice to the boys locker room that is jazz.

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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.