Jazz Now: Retro's Selections

Folks who know me know I've loved jazz since I was probably five years old. I'm said time and again that jazz was my first love after Jesus. Qualitatively, I mean that. Quantitatively, I'm not sure. That's probably right. I think I got saved at 3 and started bugging kids about jazz stations come the first day of kindergarten. Anyway, folks who know me know I love jazz and always have. They also know me for being young but relatively wise before my years.

Well, I'm not alone in these attributes. Since I've tried lately to learn more and more about my first love, I've been following all sorts of music blogs. My favorite is NPR's A Blog Supreme (Although, I've followed Ethan Iverson for much longer). This blog is a recent invention by NPR intern (though he's so much more than that) Patrick Jarenwattananon. Jarenwattananon is but 24 years old and cognizant of jazz's need to spread to the masses. He currently put together an effort to figure out what recent (i.e. in the last 20 years) jazz albums would be a good primer for young people to get turned onto jazz. He's asked primarily other folks around his young age this question. The Jazz Now project is a really great idea, so I figured I'd do the same. Also, considering I have a little clout because I have a radio show now, my words could have some bearing.


If I were to try to turn young people onto jazz (which is what I've tried to do for many years with varying success), I think my methodology would involve providing various access points. Bringing folks into the fold would involve accessibility. You need to provide people with the familiar. Yes, I'm saying covers. How do you get someone to eat alligator? You tell them it tastes like chicken. It does, but you might want to leave out the "it tastes like really mushy chicken" part. But in order to bring someone into the unfamiliar, you have to point out the strong points and you have to make it seem like it's the next logical step for a person to take, or that they were making that step the whole time. Covers are, in my opinion, the best way to do this. So, my list is going to involve a lot of different covers.

1. Madlib, Shades of Blue (Blue Note)
Madlib is probably one of the best producers of the 21st Century. Seriously. He has a deep knowledge and appreciation that spans multiple genres. The intricacies of his reach in samples surpasses the biggest musichead. He's a drug-addled genius and I don't know a single person who would have him any other way. When he decided to remix some of the greatest hits of the Blue Note catalog, it was a match made in heaven. The best producer in hip hop putting a different spin on some of the best songs in jazz history? He accomplished in this 2003 album what Us3 couldn't do in their whole body of work. He certainly did better than Miles Davis's unfortunate last album, Doo Bop (YEAH, I SAID IT!). In this, you get new school production and a primer course to jazz hits of the past. That's a pretty good introduction if I do say so myself.

2. The Bad Plus, These are the Vistas (Colombia)
I've spent more than a week mulling over what to put in this list and I've been seriously trying to decide in all that time whether I should go with The Bad Plus's first album or their best album, PROG. My sensibility got the best of me. There's a reason why The Bad Plus has the accolades it does: this trio has been making waves from the moment they hit the scene. If you're going to get turned onto them, it's best to come in when they did for all of us and enjoy the same ride. They turned heads covering Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and kept that attention through Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and Aphex Twin's "Flim." The Bad Plus masters covers like these which clearly aren't in the jazz canon by lovingly playing these songs and making them their own with dizzying, addictive energy. These three work together spectacularly well and their body of work is a testament to this, whether it be through their covers or their original pieces.

3. Brad Mehldau, Day is Done (Nonesuch)
I've loved Brad Mehldau ever since the station (where I currently volunteer my efforts) played him covering Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" one morning before I was heading to school. Since then, I've fallen for Mehldau and for Radiohead at the same time and my musical tastes changed forever. There have been some in the Jazz Now series who agree with how Mehldau is a good introduction for new jazz devotees. Yet, they have gone with Mehldau's Largo album (produced, maybe even overproduced to Dave Sitek-like like overindulgence by Jon Brion) or Mehldau's solo album, Live in Tokyo (far to cerebral for a beginner), but these albums are probably too complicated and uninviting for someone to jump in head first into Brad Mehldau and especially jazz in general. Day is Done is an album that attacks Radiohead's "Knives Out" with a new, fresh energy from Jeff Ballard on drums. It includes a couple of Beatles covers (the rendition of "She's Leaving Home" here is the best I've ever heard, better than John, Paul, George, and Ringo, even), and some Paul Simon and Burt Bacharach. It appeals to all sorts of demographics but with the same dedication. From here, it would be easier to move onto Mehldau's other works and see the fruitfulness of jazz trios overall.

4. Jaspects, Double Consciousness (self-released)
I have to admit a little bias here. Jaspects originated from Morehouse College, my alma mater, so clearly there may be some who never heard of this group. Yet, it's blogs like these that get them out there into the world. They've gone through a lot of evolution as a group in their college years and even more so after they all graduated. The best transitional work they've done in this evolution is in their 2007 Double Consciousness album. This group, with the motto "redefining all aspects of jazz," tackles a kind of outlook in this album about where to head in their crossroads. They are clearly jazz musicians who are influenced by hip hop. Here, they wonder what direction their music should go. They make further strides toward this answer in their subsequent album, The Polkadotted Stripe. Yet, their work is more accessible here for lovers of jazz before things go more experimental down the line. In this album, the group plays their hip hop tinged music with just the right mix of the two, reminiscent of Stefon Harris and Robert Glasper. Throw in Janelle Monae and Fonzworth Bentley ("Goodbye Love" is brilliant; the rapping grows on you, though) and you have an album totally deserving of multiple listens, a group that you'll be willing to follow for quite some time, and an appreciation of what a modern jazz group can do.

5. Miles Davis, Amandla (Warner Bros)
Alright, this one just barely makes the deadline. Amazon.com states this album released in May 1989 so technically, it's outside the deadline but I still want to put it on my list, so there. I include this album because Davis here proves he can constantly be better than everything in existence in its time. It has the feeling of contemporary smooth jazz without actually being it, so even the milquetoast listeners can latch onto it. Davis amasses a great group of musicians as he always does with the likes of Marcus Miller, Joe Sample (who I love more than any other musician on earth), and Kenny Garrett. It allows a new listener to hear some of the players of the day from not so long ago. Plus, this is here so newcomers can listen to Miles Davis and recognize that he still was kicking near the end of his life. This may very well be Miles Davis's last great studio album. It honestly doesn't get enough credit.

Some of these things I'd play on my show relatively soon. In fact, I'm playing Madlib's verion of Bobby Hutcherson's "Montara" for KRTU's pledge drive episode of "The Line-Up." If I had to introduce folks to jazz, I play all kinds of stuff that would be accessible but just a little out there so folks will have a ride wild enough to hold attention. Should this work on you, welcome to the fold.


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