5 New Directions In Jazz Evolution : A Blog Supreme For better or worse, jazz has been in a constant state of change since the day it was born. Hear from five contemporary bands which are forging new boundaries from an open-ended tradition, including Christian Scott, Kneebody and Henry Cole's Afrobeat Collective.

5 New Directions In Jazz Evolution

For his debut album, drummer Henry Cole put together a band united under the umbrella of Afrobeat. Marisol Diaz/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Marisol Diaz/Courtesy of the artist

For his debut album, drummer Henry Cole put together a band united under the umbrella of Afrobeat.

Marisol Diaz/Courtesy of the artist

For better or for worse, jazz has been in a constant state of change since the day it was born.

Whether it was the sounds of the Swing Era giving birth to bebop, or new ideas in the late '50s like "third stream" or "free jazz," or the various "fusions" of the late '60s and '70s, improvisers' creative ambitions have never been limited. The idea of rearranging something old or forging new territory has always been part of jazz's spirit.

Jazz audiences haven't always been ready for these new directions. Each of the ideas listed above met with some resistance and, at times, indifference and criticism from the old guard. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were derided in their day for playing new styles of music, which is important to remember as we take a look at trends happening now.

So what about today? What new strains are emerging from jazz? And who is forging the new boundaries, exploring unexamined territories of this music? The answer to these questions can be elusive.

Submitted for your enjoyment, here are five new steps in the ongoing evolution of jazz. Seasoned fans will note that these sounds incorporate elements and ideas from the jazz tradition within their frameworks. They are not counter to the ideals of its history; rather, they serve as a part of its continuum.

5 New Directions In Jazz Evolution

cover art for Royal Toast

The Claudia Quintet

  • Song: Keramag
  • from Royal Toast

This song's sound is immediately recognizable as that of its composer, John Hollenbeck. The percussionist's pieces often incorporate thematic development which draws on complex ideas from older jazz and minimalist classical music. Simple ideas are often transformed into elaborate outcomes in Hollenbeck's work. In this tune, recorded by his long-running Claudia Quintet, melody and harmony are not as important as the groove, which makes the tune unusually accessible.

Nik Bartsch's Ronin

  • Song: Modul 47
  • from Llyria

Speaking of groove, Swiss pianist/composer Nik Bärtsch and his band Ronin craft a distinct sound that they call "zen-funk." It's a good description, as this music provides listeners with a highly meditative but grooving experience. Each of Bartsch's compositions are divided and offered up as "modules" — here's one from 2010's Llyria.

cover for Christian aTunde Adjuah

Christian Scott

  • Song: Spy Boy/Flag Boy
  • from Christian aTunde Adjuah

Trumpeter Christian Scott is one of jazz's most recognizable faces these days. Heralded by JazzTimes as "jazz's young style God," Scott makes music to match his forward-thinking personal aesthetic. For his new album, Scott assumed a new name: Christian aTunde Adjuah, which doubles as the title of a new double-disc release. This song, about his time as a member of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, features bright trumpet work against the brooding pulse of drums, bass and piano. Both triumphant and somber, Scott calls his art "stretch music," for its open-minded approach to sound.

cover for Low Electrical Worker


  • Song: Dr. Beauchef, Penguin Dentist
  • from Low Electrical Worker

There's a lot of fun to be had listening to Kneebody's complex music. With its odd time signatures and stutter-step elements, this song — from the album Low Electrical Worker -- generates a sort of "sweet meets sour" vibe that leaves your palate wanting more. It's virtually impossible to describe Kneebody's sound; each description falls short. You just have to listen.

cover for Roots Before Branches

Henry Cole And The Afrobeat Collective

  • Song: Comienzo
  • from Roots Before Branches

The Afrobeat-inspired Latin jazz sound of drummer Henry Cole's stellar new record, Roots Before Branches, will certainly make my list of 2012's best albums. This tune, "Comienzo," mixes the rhythmic complexities of Afro-Cuban jazz with the space-funk sound of Herbie Hancock or Robert Glasper. Cole's solid drumming and excellent horn arrangements make for a head-bobbing, finger-tapping experience.

Matt Fleeger is the program director of KMHD in Portland, Ore., and the host of New Jazz for Lunch.