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72 Jazz Thrillers

The Most Exciting Jazz albums since 1969: 2006-2009

The Most Exciting Jazz albums since 1969: 2006-2009

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If there was one word to describe these six thrilling albums, it would be 'atmospheric.' Each of them settles into its own unique and memorable soundscape.
If there were one word to describe these six thrilling albums, it would be "atmospheric." Each of them settles into its own unique and memorable soundscape. Stylistically, they are all very different, but if you listen closely to them, you'll quickly grasp their musical and emotional messages. They'll transport you to their rarefied worlds with their thrillingly listenable tales.

72 Thrilling Jazz Albums, Part 7: 2006-2009


Northern Lights
Mike Mainieri
NYC Records

Northern Lights is an atmospheric thriller from legendary vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, who gathered a band of elite Norwegian musicians: Eivind Aarset (guitar), Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet), Bendik Hofseth (sax), Bugge Wesseltoft (keyboards), Lars Danielsson (bass) and Paolo Vinnacia (percussion). With a string quartet arranged by Gil Goldstein, this is the jazz cream of the crop from the Land of the Midnight Sun; they can play anything, and Mainieri puts them to the test where they shine with extraordinary brilliance.

The classic standard, "Nature Boy" sets the stage with a dream of tender love. "Poochie Pie" is a fun and funky workout with madly grooving solos by Mainieri and Aarset, interspersed with insane percussion breaks by Vinnacia, and a spooky ending that echoes a haunted house. "I've Seen It All," conjures a melancholic dream of a life floating in a slow, sad groove with the crying trumpet solo of Molvaer. This is emotionally dark music—with a touch of optimism and yearning. A more upbeat mood emerges in "Vertigo" that, like everything on Northern Exposure, grooves like mad. It starts with a very chill yet happy dance and then builds to intensely grooving heights, with the masterful Mainieri, Molvaer and Hofseth trading passionate solos.

Then, the show stopper—"Flamenco Sketches," perhaps deeper and more poignant than the original by Miles Davis. Next comes John Coltrane's timeless gem, "Naima," in a rendition that is drenched in love. "Dance of Ran" is a dark, beautiful and dangerous pageant. "Bang" is pure, exuberant joy with an insanely infectious bass groove, over which Mainieri and Hofseth tear it up. When you think it's hit its peak, it gears up to dizzying heights. Finally, a soft and loving tribute in "Remembrance" dedicated to fellow partner in Jazz, Bob Berg. The words that sum up this album best might be: "Stunning Beauty with a Deep Groove."


The Anti Social Club
Alan Pasqua

Why is Alan Pasqua's club antisocial? An album as inviting and as grooving as this one is just the opposite of antisocial. The thrilling title song opens with a deliriously infectious groove, dissolves into chaos briefly, and then back to an intense groove with Jeff Elwood on sax and Ambrose Akinmusire holding forth with the most Milesean solo of his career. Gloriously antisocial, for sure.

"George Russell" emulates the genius jazz composer in a funky stride, with attitude. Pasqua embodies this funk on hard-grooving piano and keyboards, while Nels Cline tears things apart with his psychedelic shredding. We're now two songs in, being pulled deeply into the Anti Social Club maelstrom, and need a break. We get one as we transition into the spacy tone poem "Prayer," reminiscent of the classic Miles Davis/Joe Zawinul devotional, "In A Silent Way." Then, "New Rhodes" conveys a message of power and determination to conquer as the Rhodes and trumpet engage in a wild and passionate boogie.

"Fast Food" is not nutrient deficient; it transmits explosive energy and the ravenous forward momentum of a T-Rex. Maybe we're all the fast food in this sci-fi thriller! Take a look here. "Wicked Good" gets down with a deliriously funky boogie. "Message to Beloved Souls Departed" is exactly that and a solemn wrap-up to a mind-bending party at the Club.


Lawn Chair Society
Kenny Werner
Blue Note

Kenny Werner is a highly regarded and prolific jazz pianist who mostly records in a trio or duet format. This album, his 29th of 48, is a quintet with four other jazz masters, Chris Potter, Dave Douglas, Scott Colley and Brian Blade and his first (and only so far) on the Blue Note label. It's quirky, fun, powerful and touching. It's also a triumph of love over loss, as his 16-year-old daughter died in a car accident shortly before the recording and is reflected in the heartbreaking tone poem, "Loss." It's balanced by the loving "Uncovered Heart," which was written shortly after his daughter's birth.

What makes this album thrilling is its amazing depth and variety, including electronic sounds blended into the acoustic improvisations of his masterful bandmates. "Lo's Garden," the opener, sets the tone with playful electronics leading into spacious piano, drums and sax. "New Amsterdam" channels sly humor with throat-clearing vocalizations and stop-start piano that introduces the intertwining sounds of Potter and Douglas that lead into soulful, James Brown-inspired solos. "Inaugural Balls" feels like an off-kilter Mardi Gras parade. It's hard not to smile broadly at many of these tunes. "Lawn Chairs (And Other Foreign Policy)" settles into a slyly grooving electric piano solo backed up by the languid expressions of Potter and Douglas, followed by reflective acoustic piano. Simply wonderful. The finale, "Kothbrio," is the most heartfelt selection, with a soaring, heartbreaking melody that touches infinity.


Where Is There
Myriam Alter

If there was ever an "under-the-radar quiet thriller" this is it. Myriam Alter is a pianist and composer who herself doesn't play on the album, but assembles a stellar cast, including the Masada rhythm section with Greg Cohen on bass, and Joey Baron on drums and percussion. The rest of the band includes piano, soprano saxophone, clarinet and cello. Where is There is a suite of tango-based jazz where you can almost see the dancers. "What is There" opens with a joyous, swirling melody that is light and exultant, reflecting love and fun wrapped in harmonious pursuit. The more delicate and somber "Still in Love" follows with John Ruocco's plaintive, longing clarinet. "Come With Me" features subtle soloing on clarinet, cello and drums, with a magical, edge-of-your-seat rhythm. "Sicily," like most of the songs, starts dreamily, setting the mood, and then gradually accelerates its pace to a slow, passionate groove. "I'm Telling You" opens with a delicate piano and cello dance, then kicks into low gear with an impossibly tender and sinuous clarinet solo followed by a sensuous tango on piano.

Alter wears her heart on her sleeve, but always takes both the deepest, and most elevated path to her heart's desire. "It Could Be There" opens with a plaintive cello, moves into a joyous dance on soprano sax, then cello again, trading passionate solos until they are fully entwined. "September 11" opens with a mournful clarinet, then a stately piano soliloquy followed by a heart-breaking cello recital by Jaques Morelenbaum. The finale, "Catch Me There," resonates from another dimension, merging with Cohen's joyful dance on bass, followed by celebratory woodwinds and percussion and a triumphant cello flourish. I'm not exactly sure where Where is, but the journey to get There is thrilling, indeed.


Set the Alarm for Monday
Bobby Previte

In the same way that Where is There is thematic with its passionate rhythms and dances, Set The Alarm for Monday is master-drummer and percussionist Bobby Previte's cinematic noir masterpiece with a dark and brooding yet, groove-based atmosphere. Previte has recorded in so many instrumental styles that every album is explores a new universe of sound. This is from the rebooted "New Bump" band with jazz veterans Ellery Eskelin on spooky, resonant sax, Bill Ware on atmospheric vibes and Steven Bernstein on echoing trumpet. And they kill it here.

The album's titles (all written by Previte's wife in about 15 minutes) sketch out the nefarious plot of a musical mystery: On "Set the Alarm for Monday," with its cautious, serpentine sax, you can feel the dread of the day ahead. "I'd Advise You to Not Miss Your Train" is a thrilling chase, "She Has Information," with its sexy, muted trumpet and vibes solos, conjures a meet-up in a dark alleyway. In "Were You Followed?" we're on the run and a little frantic. "I'm On To Her" reflects paranoia in its dark, brooding tone. I'll leave you to pick up the story from there. It's certainly a thrilling one, both musically and emotionally.


Movements in Colour
Andy Sheppard

The final thriller of this week is another atmospheric, thematic album. "Movements in Colour" reflects both the pure joy and deep longing of life. Along with Andy Sheppard's mellifluous folk-style sax, the musician that shapes the sound most is Kuljit Bhamra on tablas, giving it a South Asian flair. The combination is delectable. Arild Andersen adds his resonant bass and guitarists Eivind Aarset and John Paricelli add their alluring sounds between the seams.

"Bing" is possibly the happiest song ever written with a dancing earworm of a melody. "Nave Nave Moe" rises early in the morning and then embarks on a joyful adventure as Sheppard's sax sings like a bird in flight. "Ballarina" is a poignant lament. "May Song," with Sheppard's soaring solo, may be the album's sweetest and most tender melody. And "We Shall Go to Market Today" features another heartfelt melody saturated with contentment and fulfillment. The finale, "International Blue," closes a very full day's journey on a deep and pensive note. Movements in Colour is a truly thrilling beauty.

Next week

Next week's Jazz Thrillers include one of the most unique big band jazz albums ever, plus a handful of relatively unknown albums that stand out for their unique approach and cohesive structure.

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