10 Essential and Diverse Jazz Records to Start Your Collection

Starting a jazz collection is easy, but how can you bring diversity to the mix? Jazz music has evolved since its birth and is still progressing today, this triggered the development of various styles and subgenres. I am calling out ten jazz records that are both essential and diverse. We’ll explore milestones in swing, bop, hard bop, modal jazz, avant-garde jazz, Ethio-jazz, soul-jazz, and afrobeat.

Satchmo At Symphony Hall – Louis Armstrong (Decca, 1951)

To start this list, I call out one of the finest Louis Armstrong recordings. Louis Armstrong had, without doubt, a major impact on the development of New Orleans-style jazz music. He joined several celebrated bands, including Kid Ory’s group and King Oliver’s Creole Jazz. There Armstrong grew as a musician that innovated the genre. Later in his career, he would close the book on traditional New Orleans Jazz and became a prominent figure during the swing era.

Satchmo At Symphony Hall, live recorded in 1947, captured one of his most memorable performances. It was an entertaining evening full of highlights such as one of Armstrong’s earliest hits ‘(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue, and the jazz standard On the Sunny Side of the Street. The recording was issued on Decca Records and released to the public on April 30, 1951.

The Cooker – Lee Morgan (Blue Note, 1958)

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was only 19 years old when he led the recording of his Blue Note original album titled The Cooker. The album is a demonstration of Morgan’s early bop-oriented influence and contains improvisation that communicates to the listener. He is playing with a kind of youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Morgan plays exceptionally well for his age. When comparing this album to his previous work, we can notice the speedy development of his skills as a musician and bandleader. Lee Morgan will soon grow to become one of the greatest hard bop trumpeters in jazz history. He would be listed next to other trumpet legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Somethin’ Else – Cannonball Adderley (Blue Note, 1958)

Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else is a well-known and celebrated jazz classic. It is also one of the few albums featuring trumpeter Miles Davis as a sideman. Adderley was a member of Miles Davis’ sextet at the time the album was recorded so, both musicians understood each other. The album is an interplay between Adderley and Davis. Some tracks are perfectly synchronized call-and-response interactions between the trumpet and alto sax, showcasing their relation to the music and each other. 

Looking further down the list of personnel displayed on the album’s cover, we got more big names from the scene: Hank Jones on the piano, Sam Jones on the base, and Art Blakey behind the drums. The track list is as impressive as the list of personnel. All songs seem to be selected carefully, including the opening track, the celebrated jazz standard Autumn Leaves, composed by Joseph Kosma.

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1959)

Kind of Blue, by the acclaimed trumpeter Miles Davis, is considered the greatest jazz record of all time by many critics. It’s Miles Davis’s masterpiece, based on a modal approach and sophisticated improvisation rather than using conventional chord changes commonly done in bebop and hard bop style.

Miles Davis invited saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wyn Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The sextet explored various possibilities of the modal jazz framework. The album got not only rated as the greatest jazz record of all time, today it is still considered one of the most significant musical achievements of the twentieth century.

Giant Steps – John Coltrane (Atlantic, 1960)

In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions. After a drug addiction that caused him to leave Davis’ band, he started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk. This not only helped him recover from his addiction, but it also helped him develop artistically.

Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ quintet in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of BlueGiant Steps – consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions – was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal. Coltrane masters the skills to compose and record an album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse!, 1963)

World-renowned jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington regularly partnered with other acclaimed jazz musicians during the early sixties. John Coltrane was no exception. In 1962, the pianist and the tenor saxophonist recorded the self-titled album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane. The recording got released in 1963 and would become the most successful collaboration Duke Ellington undertook during the early sixties. It’s a display of two jazz musicians from a different generation who, despite having a divergent background and relationship with music, communicate politely.

The recording was an opportunity for Duke Ellington to play with a quartet rather than with his usual big band arrangement. Ellington invited drummer Sam Woodyard and double-bassist Aaron Bell, who were both members of his orchestra in 1962, to support this studio session. John Coltrane invited two members of his Classic Quartet, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison.

Out To Lunch! – Eric Dolphy (Blue Note, 1964)

The year nineteen sixty-four was revolutionary when it comes to jazz records. Coltrane recorded his most acclaimed work, A Love Supreme, which got released the following year. Lee Morgan released The SidewinderBlue Note‘s best-selling record ever. And saxophonist Wayne Shorter completed his fifth studio album JuJu. Many other state-of-the-art albums got released and, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch! was no exception. This avant-garde jazz masterpiece got described as “a vital alternative to the melodic cliches and rhythmical orthodoxy of the hard-bop mainstream (A.B. Spellman).”

Dolphy’s unique compositional style is present throughout the album. He juggles with the theory behind jazz harmony by using unusual wide intervals. Dolphy explains that he is trying to incorporate what he hears: “I hear other resolutions on the basic harmonic patterns, and I try to use them.”

Mulatu Of Ethiopia – Mulatu Astatke (Worthy Records, 1972)

Ethiopian jazz musician and composer Mulatu Astatke had one important goal. He got inspired by jazz music and wanted to promote and actively use Ethiopian music in his jazz compositions. “The Nigerian and Ghanaian people living in London, they were very active in promoting it [their local music] so, I decided to start working more on our Ethiopian music.” he said, referring to his time in London during the 1950s. And so he did. Mulatu Astatke focused on fusing the Ethiopian 5 note scales against the 12 note scales of jazz. He created a different sound without losing the subtlety of both genres. The new sound got documented as Ethio-jazz, and Mulatu Astatke was its father.

Mulatu Astatke is the inventor of Ethio-jazz. The album Mulatu Of Ethiopia, recorded and released in 1972, is a well-documented proof of that. As a multi-instrumentalist, focussing mainly on percussion and the vibraphone, he brings moody rhythmical patterns influenced by jazz, funk, Latin and African music.

Afro Blue – Dee Dee Bridgewater (Trio Records, 1974)

Dee Dee Bridgewater, born Denise Garrett (1950), is an award-winning singer-songwriter with a career encompassing jazz, soul, and disco. Her debut studio album Afro Blue is a timeless soul-jazz masterpiece that highlights her exceptional vocal abilities. The album features a song collection compiled from various music genres. Most songs are arranged by jazz trumpeter and Dee Dee’s husband, Cecil Bridgewater.

The album features various acclaimed jazz songs such as Horace Silver’s Love Vibrations (1970), Little B’s Poem by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson (1965), and of course, the title track Afro Blue, a jazz standard by Mongo Santamaria (1956).

The Source – Tony Allen (Blue Note, 2017)

Tony Allen’s 2017 mini-album release A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers was a unique opportunity to marry his afrobeat rhythms with Art Blakey’s hard bop influences. It also served as a forerunner for his full-length Blue Note debut The Source in which he further explores the relationship between African music and western jazz.

The long-time Fela Kuti drummer found inspiration in Art Blakey’s work. Fusing his afrobeat past with jazz gave him a chance to document his interpretations as a self-thought drummer. In The Source, Tony Allen continues to return to his jazz roots. This time, he explores a wider web of jazz influences. The album includes eleven tracks composed and arranged by Tony Allen and saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz.

Related articles:

Music Documentaries You Must See to Believe

Have you ever heard a life story that was too powerful to believe? Below you can find five biographical documentaries that challenged the truth and caused controversy and disbelief among the public.

Amy

2015 / Asif Kapadia (director)

A sad, stark study of a public life and death” is how The Guardian describes this raw and controversial documentary about Amy Winehouse’s volatile life. The film contains home-video footage and testimonials of friends and family. And because the director got complete access to the song catalog, we can also follow Amy Winehouse via her music.

Amy” is an intimate experience. It pictures the rise and fall of the English singer-songwriter in a tender but sometimes uncomfortable way. It consciously steps away from the commercial music brand and shows Amy Winehouse as a human. 

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke

2019 / Kelly Duane (director) / Jeff Zimbalist & Michael Zimbalist (writer)

Sam Cooke rose to fame as one of the most influential soul singers of the century. He established his own record label (SAR Records) and publishing company (Kags). He was also active as a civil rights activist and had thighs with Malcolm X.

This documentary tells the story of Cooke’s life and investigates the controversy around his mysterious murder in 1964. The question of whether his murder was related to his involvement with the civil rights movement, or the mob that wanted to take over his publishing company, are central elements in the final chapter of this documentary.

I Called Him Morgan

2016 / Kasper Collin (director & writer)

I called him Morgan” are the words of Helen Morgan in an interview she gave two decades after she shot and killed her common-law husband, Lee Morgan.

The documentary is not a study into the life of hard bob trumpeter Lee Morgan. Instead, It’s a drama narrating the relationship between him and Helen. Via interviews with former band members and friends, we get a picture of what caused the fatal shooting of this celebrated musician who featured in bands with Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey.

Lee Morgan’s story is spellbinding. A young talented musician who struggled with a drug addiction and got murdered. This is the story of a musician who obtained his place in history next to Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, or Miles Davis, as one of the greatest trumpet players in history.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

2015 / Liz Garbus (director & writer)

A breathtaking documentary of the life of legend Nina Simone. The story, written and directed by Liz Garbus, tells the story of her life as a singer, pianist, and civil rights activist. The documentary features unreleased images, concert footage, and interviews.

The documentary attempts to understand Nina Simone’s civil rights activism and the impact it had on her musical career. It perfectly captures who Nina Simone was, her honesty when performing, and her protest that led to her being banned from radio stations. Songs like ‘Mississippi Goddam‘ turned her into a controversial female lack singer embraced by the civil rights movement but rejected by the music industry.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

2016 / John Scheinfeld (director & writer)

Chasing Trane is an epic portrait of the legendary forward-thinking saxophonist who innovated and influenced jazz music in many ways. This story explores the impact of Coltrane’s life on the music he made. 

It’s a classic, well-made biographical movie built on personal interviews with his children and grandchildren, friends, and fellow musicians. It creates honest insights into the life of the jazz titan.  The documentary includes footage of Coltrane’s performances and uses the musician’s own words, read by Denzel Washington. At times, it analysis Coltrane’s compositions and his unique way of playing.

Related articles:

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!

Edwin Star recorded and released “War” in March 1970. The song is an anti-Vietnam-war statement. However, his message includes a broader meaning as it addresses a general need for harmony and global peace. Today, more than fifty years later, the song still protests the same worldwide issues. The lyrics remained current. Since the end of the Vietnam war, the list of armed conflicts grew exponentially. In the last twenty years, about 120 armed hostile conflicts between states or nations have started, many of them are still ongoing.

The song got written for the Motown record label in 1969 by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. The first production was with The Temptations (featuring Paul Williams and Dennis Edwards on lead vocals). The band raised concerns about releasing a controversial protest song, and so, a second production with Edwin Starr as the vocalist got recorded and released. The Temptation‘s version got further withheld from distribution. Edwin Starr’s version is more intense and dramatic. His performance enhances the declaration we find in the lyrics. There is a clear and accurate message to all who hear it: War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!” The lyrics continue to highlight the true impact of war: “War, I despise ’cause it means destruction of innocent lives. War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes, when their sons go off to fight and, lose their lives.”

“War, I despise ’cause it means destruction of innocent lives. War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes, when their sons go off to fight and, lose their lives”

Lyrics to “War” written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield

“War (what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!)” became the best-known protest song in music history, mainly thanks to the description of the meaningless horrors of war. In 1970, it took first place in Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for three weeks, despite being a controversial protest song.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, uhh
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all
War, huh (good God)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me, oh

War, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes
When their sons go off to fight
And lose their lives

I said, war, huh (good God, y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, just say it again
War (whoa), huh (oh Lord)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

It ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) Friend only to The Undertaker
Oh, war it’s an enemy to all mankind
The thought of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die? Oh

War, huh (good God y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War (uh-huh), huh (yeah, huh)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

It ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) It’s got one friend that’s The Undertaker
Oh, war, has shattered many a young man’s dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much too short and precious
To spend fighting wars each day
War can’t give life
It can only take it away, oh

War, huh (good God y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again

War (whoa), huh (oh Lord)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

It ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) Friend only to The Undertaker, woo
Peace, love and understanding, tell me
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way, oh

War, huh (God y’all)
What is it good for? You tell me (nothing)
Say it, say it, say it, say it

War (good God), huh (now, huh)
What is it good for?
Stand up and shout it (nothing)

Songwriters: Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield
War lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Related articles:

Chris Dave And The Drumhedz’s Self-titled Debut Album

Chris Dave, the recognized drummer who supported amongst other Adele and Justin Bieber, released his self-titled debut album with a large group of experienced musicians called the Drumhedz in 2018. With it, he exhibits things he couldn’t before. The album is a contemporary oeuvre. One in which elements of funk, soul, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop are fused with jazz.

The drummer got exposed to various music genres from a young age. His father was a soul and jazz fan, his mother listened mainly to gospel, and his brothers were obsessed with the funk sound from the seventies. Thanks to this daily exposure to various but related musical styles, he created a distinctive approach to the drum kit. It enabled him to adapt to any musical setting. Whether he plays jazz or soul, hip-hop or pop, Chris Dave has no issues adjusting.

Chris Dave And The Drumhedz might be playing music powered by various music genres, in their debut album they remain committed to the jazz traditions. It is one of those bands that supported jazz in entering the mainstream.

Chris Dave And The Drumhedz: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

Related articles:

Spotlight on Coltrane: 5 Diverse Albums

John Coltrane started his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker and later Dizzy Gillespie. In 1954, he joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. During the second half of the nineteen-fifties, he rehearsed extensively with Thelonious Monk. By 1959 Coltrane mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically, and so he released Giant Steps.

The saxophonist continued to explore and develop. He took on numerous projects, collaborated with various jazz legends, and even composed a movie soundtrack. Each album he recorded is unique and spotlights Coltrane’s musical evolution. In this article, you’ll find five diverse albums by one of the most significant jazz musicians of all time.

John Coltrane’s Soultrane

Recorded in 1958 on Prestige Records

The second half of the nineteen-fifties defined John Coltrane’s career and helped him come into prominence as a musician and arranger. Underlined is the time as a member in Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet and later sextet, and the period working aside Thelonious Monk. Many recordings featuring Trane‘s support on the tenor saxophone got listed as the most acclaimed and influential jazz albums in history.

Coltrane’s legacy before moving to Atlantic Records in 1959 got well documented by Prestige. Soultrane is the best example of this. The album got described as a demonstration of Coltrane’s late nineteen-fifties “sheet of sound” (Ira Gitler, DownBeat Magazine.) The term is dedicated to John Coltrane and represents the unique improvisational style he developed while working with Thelonious Monk. He loosened up the demanding chords and harmonies of hard bop while maintaining loyalty to its traditional values. Coltrane was given the freedom to improvise when playing along with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

Recorded in 1959 on Atlantic Records

In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions. After a drug addiction that caused him to leave Davis’ band, he started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk. This not only helped him recover from his addiction, but it also helped him develop artistically.

Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ quintet in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of Blue. Giant Steps – consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions – was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal. Coltrane masters the skills to compose and record an album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

Recorded in 1962 on Impulse Records

In the early sixties, John Coltrane’s career and technical abilities peaked. For several years, he would release various historical jazz albums. The saxophonist was a perfectionist, carefully exploring harmonic progressions and multiple rhythms. He was confident in both playing and arranging. Still, while playing with Duke Ellington, he felt honored, imperfect, and challenged. The album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane is a display of two jazz musicians from a different generation who, despite having a divergent background and relationship with music, communicate politely.

The album features acclaimed Ellington standards such as In A Sentimental Mood and some of his new compositions like Take the Coltrane. John Coltrane also added a new composition to the album’s track-list. His work titled Big Nick is a tribute to saxophonist George Walker “Big Nick” Nicholas who influenced Coltrane during his time with Dizzy Gillespie. “In thinking back,” Coltrane said, “it seemed to have something that would suit the style he likes to play in. But maybe not?”

John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

Recorded in 1963 on Impulse Records

The recording was made one month after his collaboration with Duke Ellington was released and features Coltrane’s so-called Classic Quartet: McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. The recording got lost but surfaced in 2018.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album got released in 2018 and features seven tunes from which two previously unissued tracks: Untitled Original 11383 and Untitled Original 11386. The numbering refers to the identification system used in the studio by Bob Thiele. Aside from the standard one-disc version, also a two-disc deluxe edition containing several alternate takes got released. Spotlighted are the alternate takes of Impressions.

John Coltrane’s Blue World

Recorded in 1964 on Impulse Records

By 1964 saxophonist John Coltrane was one of the leading figures in jazz music. Mainly thanks to his release of Giant Steps in 1960. Officially, he recorded and released two albums that year: the often-overlooked album Crescent, and the well-known masterpiece A Love Supreme. With the recent release of his recording Blue World, we can add a third album to the list.

Blue World, recorded in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio on June 24 (1964,) is a composition for the movie: Le Chat Dans Le Sac (Gilles Groulx, 1964.) The soundtrack was fully composed by John Coltrane. For the recording, he invited his classic 1960s quartet. The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66.) Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues,“ a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz with Steve Davis on the bass. The Blue World recordings would feature Jimmy Garrison who replaced Steve Davis in 1961.

Related Articles:

Jazz Album Covers That Inspire – Part 3

What attracts me to an album apart from the music, is the sleeve design. Here are again five designs that inspired me. The artwork is stunning and at the same time, it contributes to the story of the recording.

Bring Backs – Alfa Mist

2021 / Anti- 7789-1 / Kaya Thomas-Dyke (artwork)

With his third studio album, the British producer, songwriter, and self-thought pianist Alfa Mist reflects upon his sampling and hip-hop days on the streets of London. After self-releasing his two previous albums – Antiphon and Structuralism – Alfa Mist partners with the American independent record label Anti- for his next body of work, Brings Back.

The artwork is by Kaya Thomas-Dyke, a close friend of Alfa Mist and the bass guitar player on the album. Alfa Mist drew inspiration from a card game he played as a child. In the game, after winning a round, you can be brought back to play again, meaning that winning is never a sure thing. With it, Alfa Mist refers to his childhood. He lived in a constant state of uncertainty and instability. “You can be doing okay for a while but, that can change. You know that’s always a possibility,” he explains. The unpredictable and inevitable future is a recurring theme on the album. Kaya Thomas-Dyke embodies this theme in the artwork.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album – John Coltrane

2018 / Impulse! 00602567493013 / Osk Studio (design) / Joe Alper (photography)

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album got recorded in 1963. However, the tapes got lost. John Coltrane’s personal copy was discovered in 2018, and the recording was released that same year. The album was made while under contract with Impulse Records and features Coltrane’s so-called Classic Quartet: McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums.

The design is stunning, and it’s one of the most distinctive records I have in my collection. On the outside, two cut-out triangles are pointing in both directions. Inside, we have two vinyl records, and the inner sleeves feature portraits of John Coltrane by the photographer Joe Alper. The album comes with a four-panel folded poster capturing one of the most influential groups in music history. Music historian Ashley Kahn added the liner notes, which you can find on the poster’s backside.

We Are Sent Here By History – Shabaka And The Ancestors

2020 / Impulse! 00602508645631 / Daniela Yohannes (artwork)

The album is a partnership between the British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and a large ensemble of South African musicians. The New York Times wrote: “If jazz is looking to reinvent itself, the music of Shabaka And The Ancestors might be a good place to start. Shabaka And The Ancestors are making their own jazz history.”

The cover artwork is by the illustrator Daniela Yohannes who is of Ethiopian-Eritrean heritage. Daniela Yohannes got introduced to the jazz scene in London and facilitated several music events around jazz. She witnessed a whole new generation of musicians, both of European and African descent. She created promotional materials and cover art for jazz groups. As described in her biography: “Her work reflects upon the racialized movement and conditional belonging of African diaspora.

Palo Alto – Thelonious Monk

2020 / Impulse! 00602507112844 / Ryan Rogers (Creative Direction & Design) / Larry Fink, Jim Marshall, Lee Tanner, Veryl Oakland (photography)

In 1968, the sixteen-year-old Danny Scher invited Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California. The concert was recorded and, more than 50 years later, the music got finally released. T.S. Monk – Thelonious Monk’s son – claims that the recording at the Palo Alto high school is the best one made during his father’s career. “The way he plays, not knowing he was being recorded, was very rare,” he explains.

The cover features a black-and-white image of Thelonious Monk behind his piano. The photo is by the hand of Larry Fink, a noted photographer who is best known for his pictures of people in social situations. The gatefold album on vinyl includes a 12-page booklet with photos, essays, and credits. You also get a replica concert program and poster by the Palo Alto High School International Club.

Blue Note Re:imagined – Various Artists

2022 / Blue Note 0890927 / Jay Vaz (Art Direction & Design) / Dan Medhurst, Daniela Monteiro, Fabrice Bourgelle, Karolina Wielocha, and Michaela Quan (photography)

Ever since its birth, jazz music has continuously evolved into various subgenres. The American record label Blue Note Records played a significant role in this evolution. The company is a landmark in jazz music and has an extensive song catalog that includes many acclaimed jazz standards. Their release Re:imagined is a compilation of Blue Note originals brought by a unique selection of musicians who’ve taken on jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B as their musical narrative.

The sleeve design is by the graphic designer and visual artist Jay Vaz. Vaz has a deep passion for music. For his designs, he draws inspiration from old record sleeves and, he embeds heritage to bring meaning. For the design of Re:imagined he tries to visualize sounds through animated vinyl stickers.

Related Articles:

Dear Love by Jazzmeia Horn and Her Noble Force

There is nothing more appealing to me than a jazz album infused with poetry and spoken word. And this is exactly what Jazzmeia Horn offers us. Dear Love is the third and most ambitious album by the American vocalist and arranger. Not only is it another demonstration of Jazzmeia “Jazz” Horn’s singing ability, but the album also spotlights her as a composer, arranger, and bandleader.

Jazzmeia Horn is an American jazz musician who came into prominence when she won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition in 2015. In 2017, she released her debut studio album titled A Social Call, and two years later, she released her follow-up album Love & Liberation. Both albums got nominated for Grammy Awards in the category Best Jazz Vocal Album. Her third body of work, Dear Love, is different and more progressive as the album is supported by a large ensemble of musicians who she calls Her Noble Force. All songs for this orchestral project are arranged by Jazzmeia Horn and, the album got released on her own label, Empress Legacy Records. The work has been Grammy-nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

In the album’s opening track “I Feel You Near,” she performs calming spoking-word over the baritone sax and percussion. She articulates every word coherently and, she uses intonation to built-up the tension. The song is poetic, but the instrumental backing brings motion. It hints towards traditional African folk music, where movement is a central theme. It is the perfect opening for an album that addresses personal aspects of life and where the contrast and variety of the compositions bring up different themes and moods.

“Ella could not only sing a melody, she could scat the hell out of some chord changes and sound just like an instrumentalist. I like to say that I am continuing the legacy, or the tradition, of vocal improvisation.”

Jazzmeia Horn

Despite being backed by a large jazz ensemble, Jazzmeia Horn managed to keep the album intimate and personal. Her vocals are meaningful and gentle. She has a consistent timbre, a wide range, and outstanding timing. In the song “Lover, Come Back To Me” – a well-known jazz standard thanks to Billie Holiday’s recording – her scat singing abilities can be compared to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald. Also, Horn’s improvisational skills are similar to the trademark of one of the most important jazz singers of all time. “I like to say that I am continuing the legacy, or the tradition, of vocal improvisation,” Horn says during an interview with NPR.

Lover, Come Back To Me – Jazzmeia “Jazz” Horn

Related articles:

Alfa Mist’s “Bring Backs” Blends Jazz with Spoken Word

With his third studio album, the British producer, songwriter, and self-thought pianist Alfa Mist reflects upon his sampling and hip-hop days on the streets of London. After self-releasing his two previous albums – Antiphon and Structuralism – Alfa Mist partners with the American independent record label Anti- for his next body of work, Brings Back.

Alfa Mist is a London-based producer, rapper, and pianist. To be both a hip-hop rapper and a jazz pianist is unique on its own. Learning that both skills are self-thought makes him inspiring. Alfa Mist started to create music on the streets of East London when he was only 15 years old. Being a teenage hip-hop producer eventually led to the discovery of jazz music. ”There’s no access to jazz where I’m from,” Alfa says. “There’s no way I would have come to it without finding those hip-hop records and wanting to understand them.” Learning the piano enabled him to improvise and creatively fuse jazz with hip-hop. By 2015, he built his network and established himself as a leading figure within the vibrant and rapidly evolving London jazz scene.

Change is inevitable
The isms and schisms, questionable
The future is out there, a matter of time

Hilary Thomas

Alfa Mist’s first official release was the collaboration project with singer Emmavie titled Epoch. This independent release from 2014 is strongly influenced by avant-garde R&B and, it already blends jazz, soul, and hip-hop. His first solo release came in 2015 with the extended play Nocturne and, two years later, he released his breakthrough album titled Antiphon. In 2017, he followed up with his second full-length album, Structuralism. Bring Backs is the third in a series of recognized and welcomed Alfa Mist albums. The album captures Alfa Mist’s rap and piano skills. It blends contemporary jazz with R&B, soul, hip-hop, classical, and spoken word.

The reflective musical voyage alters between an instrumental atmosphere and vocals in the form of rap and spoken word. The lyrics, a poem by Hilary Thomas, is what binds the album together. A total of four vocalists support the album. On the opening track, “Teki,” we hear Hilary Thomas open her poem with a spoken-word piece: “Change is inevitable. The isms and schisms, questionable. The future is out there, a matter of time.” In the song “People,” Kaya Thomas-Dyke sings in what is more a guitar-driven ballad. Alfa Mist is the third vocalist we hear, and he does it the way we expect. “Mind the Gap” dives into hip-hop and rap but keeps the loungy jazz backing. Alfa Mist’s rap gets support from the rapper Lex Amor who brings a softer touch to the track.

Alfa Mist in the studio during the Bring Backs recordings

Bring Backs got recorded in London together with an ensemble consisting of close friends and longtime collaborators, which makes things more personal. For the album’s title, Alfa Mist drew inspiration from a card game he played as a child. In the game, after winning a round, you can be brought back to play again, meaning that winning is never a sure thing. With it, Alfa Mist refers to his childhood. He lived in a constant state of uncertainty and instability. “You can be doing okay for a while but, that can change. You know that’s always a possibility,” he explains. The unpredictable and inevitable future is a recurring theme on the album.

The album is a confirmation that Alfa Mist will have more to offer in the future. He shows his ability to blend various musical styles and instruments into one meaningful oeuvre. Being a leading figure in the London music scene definitely influenced the album’s creativity.

Alfa Mist – Bring Backs (Live at Metropolis)

Related articles:

The Best Jazz Albums Released in 2021

How was 2021 for jazz musicians? Let’s reflect back and list out what were, according to me, the five best jazz albums released during the year.

Dear Love – Jazzmeia Horn and Her Noble Force

 September 2021 / Empress Legacy Records ELR001 / US

Dear Love is the third and most ambitious album by Jazzmeia Horn. Her previous albums, A Social Call (2017) and Love & Liberation (2019), both got nominated for Grammy Awards in the category Best Jazz Vocal AlbumDear Love is not only another demonstration of Jazzmeia Horn’s singing ability. The album also spotlights her as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. This orchestral project released on Horn’s label, Empress Legacy Records, has been Grammy nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

Jazzmeia Horn explains that Dear Love addresses three aspects of her existence: her community, her lover, and herself. She infused the album with poetry and spoken word. Her meaningful and intimate vocals have a consistent timbre, a wide range, and an outstanding timing that perfectly communicates with the big band called Her Noble Force.

Bring Backs – Alfa Mist

April 2021 / Anti- 7789-1 / EU

With his third studio album titled Bring Backs, the British producer, songwriter, and pianist Alfa Mist reflects on his sampling and hip-hop days on the streets of London. After self-releasing his two previous solo albums – Antiphon in 2017 and Structuralism in 2019 – Alfa Mist partners with the American independent record label Anti- for the release of his next body of work, Brings Back.

Brings Back blends jazz with R&B, hip-hop, classical, and wistful spoken word. The reflective musical voyage alters between an instrumental atmosphere and vocals. While the instrumental atmosphere is present in each track, the vocal-oriented parts of the album lie mainly in the songs “Mind The Gap” and “Organic Rust“.

Deciphering The Message – Makaya McCraven

November 2021 / Blue Note 00602438144730 / US

For the recording of Deciphering The Message, drummer and producer Makaya McCraven dove into the Blue Note catalog. By rearranging parts, sampling, and adding beats, he presents a contemporary take on jazz classics by among others, Horace Silver, Hank Mobley,  Kenny Dorham, and Art Blakey.

In Deciphering The Message, Makaya McCraven does not celebrate jazz by duplicating the originals. He reimagines and innovates tunes without losing their valued core characteristic. The thirteen songs on the album are an homage to the jazz subgenre from the ’50s and ’60s, hard-bop.

Daring Mind – Jihye Lee Orchestra

March 2021 / Motéma MTM-0385 / US

Daring Mind is the work of the South Korean arranger and composer Jihye Lee. Lee, who had no jazz or classical training, originally became a successful indie-pop singer-songwriter. As she began exploring her own identity, she soon discovered large-ensemble jazz to be more satisfactory. She moved to New York and transitioned into a jazz composer under the guidance of pianist Jim McNeely.

Lee’s experience in pop music gave her a creative view on jazz composition. “Jihye Lee is emerging as a strong voice in the ‘next generation of composers for large jazz ensemble. Her music is imaginative and creative,” Jim McNeely said, “And she’s not afraid to make some exciting changes in her writing.”

Tone Poem – Charles Lloyd and The Marvels

March 2021 / Blue Note – B003313501 / US

Tone Poem, the third cooperation between the 83-year-old Charles Lloyd and The Marvels, is a continuous piece of orchestral music that blends various American music styles such as jazz, blues, and country. 

Lloyd and The Marvels quintet, featuring Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums, present us a full-length album filled with adaptations from Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Ignacio Villa, Gabor Szabo, and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. The album is supplemented with Lloyd originals.

Related articles:

There Is No End: Tony Allen’s Final Drumroll Is a Message For the Next Generation

There Is No End is the album Tony Allen was working on before passing away at the age of 79. His fellow collaborators finished the recording and posthumously released the album on April 30, 2021. It’s the afrobeat pioneer’s final drumroll, one in which he created a platform for the next generation of rap and hip-hop.

Tony Allen’s beats on the drum are the foundation for There Is No End. It is the message he left behind. Allen spoke about his aspiration of working with young and rising musicians. He intended to share his rich knowledge and experience while promoting new talent. However, the drummer did not live to collaborate with this next generation. Tony Allen passed away on April 30, 2020, but the project was kept alive.

“I want to take care of youngsters; they have messages and I want to bring them on my beat. The idea is to transmit to the young generation, to mix different universes: the hip-hop world to the Afrobeat world.”

Tony Allen

His advanced and accomplished drum skills got recorded and sampled into tracks by producer Vincent Taeger, who also arranged and released the album. As intended by Tony Allen, various musical artists such as Zambian-born rapper Sampa The Great or the Nairobian singer Nah Eeto, recorded vocals over Allen’s beats. The result is a hip-hop album with a clear afrobeat presence.

Nigerian poet Ben Okri said, “This man could have lived another 150 years and kept creating new worlds … he wanted the album to be open to the energies of a new generation.” If Allen would have lived another 150 years, there is no doubt he would go on and inspire others. There Is No End, but also his previous albums Rejoice and The Source, are a demonstration of Allen’s remarkable musical understanding and, at the same time, give a tantalizing peek into his future as a musician.

Tony Allen ft. Sampa The Great – Stumbling Down

Related articles: