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The Future of Jazz

Nathan Holaway By

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I believe it was Thelonious Monk that was once asked: "Where do you see jazz going from here?" and his response was telling: "Wherever we take it!" With that being said, I thought it would be a scintillating idea to report on some current jazz artists whom many have said are "paving the way towards the future of jazz." Being in an uber-conservative era in jazz, the global jazz community is in dire need of another progressive comet like Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Davis, or Coltrane. Not a copy of these giants, but a true innovator, and some are well on the way.

Terence Blanchard: Jazz in Film (Sony)
Blanchard is one of the modern musicians who has his hands in everything. He not only is a jazz educator, he is a successful recording artist, and film score composer. Jazz in Film is a wonderful example of Blanchard's insight on how important jazz and film music is. You can hear shining arrangements of Goldsmith's "Chinatown," Ellington's "Anatomy of a Murder," and Herrmann's "Taxi Driver." Blanchard is joined by the venerable Joe Henderson, Donald Harrison, and Kenny Kirkland.
James Carter: Gardenias for Lady Day (Sony)
Carter has chosen one of the most difficult paths in jazz: the way of the saxophone. With giants such as Prez, Hawk, Bird, Coltrane, and Ornette that have preceded him, it's difficult to make an innovative contribution. Carter has outstanding technique, and an ear for the classic repertoire. Here, you can hear Carter's haunting chaotic interpretation of "Strange Fruit" as well as his sensual creamy rendition of "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing."
Dave Douglas: The Infinite (RCA)
There was a nod to Miles Davis, and then Douglas set out on his own innovative path. Douglas continues to constantly innovate. He is far from a mimicry of Miles, although he is definitely cut from the same cloth. He has a constant drive to produce many varied projects, and participates in many projects as well. On The Infinite Douglas is joined by Chris Potter, Uri Caine, James Genus, and Clarence Penn. In this, they totally re-arrange popular tunes like Rufus Wainwright's "Poses," Mary J. Blige's "Crazy Games," and Bjork's "Unison" to use as modern improvisation vehicles.
Kurt Elling: Man in the Air (Blue Note)
There is a succinct difference between a vocalist and a jazz vocalist. A vocalist just sings songs, but a jazz vocalist sings jazz songs as well as other songs. Kurt Elling is definitely a jazz vocalist. He is in the tradition of classic vocalese singers in that he takes songs and solos by classic jazz artists and carefully places words to them. But, he chooses his tunes very wisely. He isn't copying what has already been done by artists such as King Pleasure, Annie Ross, and Jon Hendricks. He is making his own niche. On Man in the Air, Elling takes compositions such as Coltrane's "Resolution" and places words upon the melody as well as Coltrane's solo (definitely not an afternoon project). He also takes compositions like Zawinul's "A Remark You Made," Metheny's "Minuano," Courtney Pine's "Higher Vibe," and Grover Washington Jr.'s hit "Winelight" and gives them the same treatment. This is quite possibly the route for future serious jazz vocalists.
Joey DeFrancesco: Goodfellas (Concord)
When you combine a good spirited session with utterly tasteful soloists, you get a memorable disc such as this one! Joined by guitarist extraordinaire Frank Vignola, and ace percussionist Joe Ascione, DeFrancesco delivers a selection of mob tunes that will have you laughing, swinging, pattin' your foot, and grabbin' your heart like Mario Lanza. With outstanding takes on "Speak Softly Love" and "Fly Me to the Moon," this is the cream of the crop baby! So, break out the Chianti, the tortellini, and the tiramisu, because DeFrancesco makes you an offer you can't refuse!
Russell Gunn: Ethnomusicology Vol. 2 (Justin-Time)
Young and highly innovative, underrated Russell Gunn delivers arrangements of what could very well be the next step in jazz history. With hip arrangements of Monk's "Epistrophy," Ellington's "Caravan" and "It Don't Mean a Thing" Gunn uses urban influences like scratch turntables and funky wah-wah guitar effects to mesh with his mad cat-like skills on the trumpet. This one is great for groovin,' and will stay in your player for months...guaranteed! The shot that could be heard around the world could very well be from Gunn.
Roy Hargrove: Moment to Moment (Verve)
Who said that jazz instrumentalists with strings were a thing of the past? Hargrove stays within the tradition of being featured while being backed by a string ensemble, but is a modern interpreter of the classic repertoire. With arrangements being contributed by the likes of such greats as Larry Willis, Gil Goldstein, Cedar Walton, and Hargrove himself, this promises to be a most enjoyable record for those mellow times of twilight.
Joe Lovano: I'm All for You (Blue Note)
Lovano is a living legend and his languid, lavish, luscious lines are instantly identifiable. On I'm All for You he proves even further that he will always be held in the same respects as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, and Dexter Gordon. Here he displays his powerful prowess on ballads. It takes a real master to interpret a ballad personally, and with takes of "I'm All for You (Body and Soul)," "Stella By Starlight," "Like Someone in Love," and "Early Autumn," one can hear the prominent voice of the elder saxophonist. He is joined by a sensational rhythm section consisting of Hank Jones on piano, Paul Motian on drums, and George Mraz on bass.
Wynton Marsalis: Blood on the Fields (Sony)
We can all agree that Wynton Marsalis is an outstanding musician. We can also agree that Wynton is the poster child for the Neo-Classicism movement in jazz. Some would even agree that this era of Neo-classicism in jazz is what has caused an overall lack of development in jazz progression. True, major figures, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, should be treated as equals to Mozart or Beethoven, but it should not cause a lack in the progressive ideas in this art form. Even though Mr. Marsalis won a Pulitzer Prize for this composition, it is a pristine example of how jazz is still moving towards the future as a "museum art" that will continue to showcase and glorify his efforts as long as the jazz community denies true unyielding innovation.
Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio Vol. 4 (Warner Bros.)
Let's set the record straight. Mehldau does NOT sound like Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett, nor does he like to be compared to these artists. Brad Mehldau is his own person. Although we are in a time where people, for some reason, need to compare a new talent to an old favorite, this is not the person to cast those opinions on. Mehldau is a true original, and he is a name that will forever be repeated throughout jazz history. He brings a fresh approach to the piano and to the piano trio. In Art of the Trio Vol. 4, Mehldau, Grenadier, and Rossy explore seven tunes that leave the listener breathless. He chooses to perform "All the Things You Are" in 7/4 time, which is an excruciating challenge upon any musician, as well as Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)." Also included on this disc are the standards "Solar" and "I'll Be Seeing You," as well as his own composition "London Blues," which first appeared on Introducing Brad Mehldau. This is a wonderful example for piano trios to go by.
Jason Moran: Black Stars (Blue Note)
Moran is a force to be reckoned with. He definitely has his own thing goin' on. This album features Moran and his piano stylings as well as Sam Rivers on tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, and even piano on the track "Sound it Out." Joining Moran and Rivers are Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Standout tracks on this disc include "Kinda Dukish" which concludes with a spooky nod to Chopin, as well as "Sound it Out."
Chris Potter: Gratitude (Verve)
Chris Potter definitely has his own voice on the saxophone, and is whole-heartedly grouped together with such legends as Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Bob Berg, and that style of improvisation. But, on Gratitude he pays homage to the saxophonists that have influenced him such as Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, and Ornette Coleman by creating a host of compositions that pay tribute to them. These compositions don't sound like anything they would play...but that's what is so progressive about Potter. These are Potter's personal dedications to these artists, and luckily, he is gracious enough to let us hear them. We should have "gratitude" towards Chris Potter.
Kurt Rosenwinkel: Deep Song (Verve)
If anyone should ever wonder about the direction and the future of jazz guitar, look no further than Kurt Rosenwinkel. A consummate musician with an overflow of logical, yet asymmetrical lines is the best way to describe Rosenwinkel's style in an angular nutshell. Deep Song is Rosenwinkel's latest crowning achievement. On this disc, you can find Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, Jeff Ballard, Ali Jackson, and Larry Grenadier backing up Rosenwinkel. With compositions like "Gesture (Lester)," "Deep Song," "Cake," "Cloister," as well as the standard "If I Should Lose You," Rosenwinkel strikes the heartstrings and the inspirational ears of musicians across the planet. Watch out for this cat, he's moving at sonic speed.
Nils Petter Molvaer: Khmer (ECM)
Molvaer is just one of many Europeans who embrace a variety of musical styles to fuse with jazz improvisation. This is the type of jazz that can be easily found on the ECM label, and this could very well be the turning point in jazz where the Europeans surpass the Americans. While we are busy looking backward, Europeans like Molvaer are looking full stream ahead towards the future and towards innovation. Standout tracks that display Molvaer's sonic trumpet are "Khmer," "Tlon," and "On Stream." Definitely worth checking out.
John Scofield: A Go Go (Verve)
Scofield is the current king of groovin' jazz. It was with this essential album, that Scofield paired up with Medeski, Martin, and Wood to create one of the hippest, bumpin' albums in jazz history. With tracks like "A Go Go," "Chank," "Boozer," and "Hottentot," Scofield started a new and funky chapter in his repertoire that has made him and his groovin' guitar a force to be reckoned with. As long as Sco is around, the groove will remain.
John Zorn: Masada Vol. 1: Alef (Tzadik)
No one can classify an artist like John Zorn. He is his own entity. He is his own enigma. He is his own sophisticated sphinx. He takes in inspiration everywhere. You can hear traces of Ornette Coleman, Ennio Morricone, Brain Wilson, Stravinsky, Pharoah Sanders, Carl Stalling, and even Napalm Death in his saxophone sounds and in his compositions. The Masada Quartet is comprised of Zorn on alto sax, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass, and Joey Baron on drums: four of the most outstanding musicians in the New York Downtown scene, or even in the world for that matter. This album is most important because it showcases the achievements Zorn started with this album. Zorn not only ushered in a new movement to jazz improvisation with the Jewish jazz movement, but he created a magnum opus he calls the Masada Songbook, and even set the standard of a new improvisational language to use in this type of music. Here, he uses the Jewish scale intermittently among other scales in a modal sense. This is the same musical phenomenon that has happened with Ornette, Coltrane, Parker, Ellington, and Armstrong. This man has created a new musical style, a new musical language, and a new approach to improvisation. Zorn is the master of the purest, most uncompromising musical innovations today... and tomorrow.


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