2016 was, as The Verge put it, “a good year for weird jazz.”1 I’d go even further: both 2015 and 2016 show that jazz is an evolving genre, and that it became more exciting than ever before. Influences of hip-hop and electronic music are becoming more visible, new artists pop-up in places you’d never expect (I’m looking at you, LA) and push music into new territories. So while I do appreciate The Verge’s recommendations (especially Shabaka and The Ancestors),2 I had to add some of my own. All of them represent that very shift in jazz’s esthetics, so if you’re looking for a review of Redman & Mehldau duo, you’ll be a bit disappointed. If you enjoy fresh sound, however, read on.
My number one most-often listened to jazz album of 2016 is “Red Sky” by the Brooklyn band Moon Hooch. What Moon Hooch does is difficult to define. Sometimes you find their albums listed under “jazz”, other times under “dance” or “techno.” They got two saxophones (Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen), a drum kit (James Muschler), electronic effects, and tons of energy. They are funky, and even though they don’t improvize much, I’d still say it’s jazz. The right kind: weird, entertaining, new. Also the kind you can (have to?) dance to.
My second recommendation is from the UK. It’s “Together, As One” by a British quartet called Dinosaur. Dinosaur is a new band led by one of my favorite performers and composers, Laura Jurd (of solo-career fame). It features Laura on the trumpet, Elliot Galvin on keyboards, Conor Chaplin on the bass and Corrie Dick on the drums.3 All these artists are very young, and I think they are all somewhat associated with Chaos Collective—a label and, huh, a loose association of musicians. I don’t know what else to call them, but the bottom line is, these people play together a lot in different bands, various configurations, and it’s always at least intriguing, and very often excellent music. Dinosaur’s debut is no different. An impressionistic, contemporary jazz with a lot of electronic sound, folk melodies and soul. I know it all sounds unlikely, but they pull it off.
And finally, we come to the last recommendation, and we’re back to square one, i.e., back to Shabaka Hutchings. For those of you who don’t know, Hutchings is a London-born, Barbados-raised saxophonist mostly known for being the leader of one of the hottest new jazz bands, Sons of Kemet, where he plays crazy Caribbean-infused jazz alongside two drummers and a tubist. He is also the leader of the aforementioned “Afro-futurist” jazz band Shabaka and the Ancestors, and on top of all that he plays with the electronic jazz trio The Comet Is Coming. He is as restless as he is creative. “Channel The Spirits,” trio’s debut, is a psychedelic album that takes inspiration from jazz, electronic and science-fiction (yup, you read it right). Much like Dinosaur’s strange mixture of styles, The Comet is Coming manages to positively surprise. It can be slightly exhausting, but listening to it is a very rewarding experience nonetheless.
So these are my three favorite jazz albums of the passing year. I’m looking forward to seeing jazz evolve even more in 2017, and I’m hoping it will be only musically, and not politically or economically surprising year. Have a great 2017, everyone!
- Seriously, though, how is it that The Verge publishes articles about avant-garde jazz music? And that recent piece on Adam Driver? Unexpected. ↩
- There are only three compared to last year’s six; I didn’t really listen to jazz music much this year. Whitney, Baroness, Radiohead, Sleater-Kinney, Kendrick Lamar and O.S.T.R. dominated my iPhone in 2016. ↩
- It’s worth mentioning that Corrie Dick recorded a magnificent album last year. I regret I didn’t know it earlier, it would’ve made the top of my list of best 2015 albums. ↩