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.

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The Best Jazz Albums Released in 2020

2020 wasn’t a great year for culture. Luckily, we still had jazz music and its ability to adapt to any situation. A new generation of musicians emerged and they are blending jazz traditions with spoken word and contemporary sounds. It looks like jazz music has started to reinvent itself once again.

In this article, you can find my five favorite jazz albums that were released in 2020.

Rejoice – Hugh Masekela and Tony Allen

March 2020 / World Circuit ‎WCV094 / EU

Rejoice is the result of a collaboration between Nigerian drummer and co-founder of afrobeat Tony Allen, and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. The album is a unique fusion of afrobeat and jazz where drums and trumpet are the central elements.

The album was recorded in 2010 at the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The recordings of the unfinished sessions were archived and never released. When Hugh Masekela passed away in 2018, Tony Allen and producer Nick Allen decided to finish the album. Additional recordings took place in the summer of 2019. The album was released in March 2020. A month after the release, also Tony Allen passed away, he was 79 years old.

Tony Allen described the album as “a kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew”. The album was received very well by jazz critics worldwide.

We Are Sent Here by History – Shabaka And The Ancestors

March 2020 / Impulse! 00602508645631 / EU & US

Four years following the debut album ‘Wisdom Of Elders‘, British-Barbadian saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings recorded and released his second album with the band Shabaka And The Ancestors.

The ensemble, Shabaka And The Ancestors, is a partnership between Shabaka Hutchings (who plays in several other bands) and a group of talented South-African musicians. The result is a futuristic fusion of beats, Hutchings’ tenor sax, and South-African vocal harmonics.

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”.

SourceNubya Garcia

August 2020 / Concord Jazz 00888072175594 / EU

The British tenor saxophonist, Nubya Nyasha Garcia, released her debut studio album in August 2020. During the past few years, Garcia built her music career and public interest with EP releases and live concerts. This album, which is a reflection of her Afro-Caribbean heritage, was long overdue but has finally arrived.

Nubya Nyasha Garcia represents a part of a new generation of London-based jazz musicians that are making jazz history. She is reinventing the genre with a blend of modern jazz, neo-soul, afrobeat, and reggae.

On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment – Ambrose Akinmusire

June 2020 / Blue Note 00602508926198 / EU & US

Music arranger and trumpet player, Ambrose Akinmusire, released his fifth studio album with Blue Note Records last June. This album isn’t as easy to listen to as the other albums from this list. On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment is an abstract fusion of instruments and sounds that lean towards the blues. Yet every song of the album is a unique visionary manifesto of contemporary jazz.

Ambrose Akinmusire follows his acclaimed, genre-busting best-of-2018 manifesto “Origami Harvest” with another visionary statement on his new album “on the tender spot of every calloused moment,” which finds the trumpeter examining blackness on an uncompromising set of modern jazz laced with a heavy feeling of the blues. The album presents 11 new compositions by Akinmusire and features his quartet with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown with guest vocals from Genevieve Artadi and Jesus Diaz.” – Blue Note

Mama, You Can Bet – Jyoti

August 2020 / SomeOthaShip Connect / US & Canada

Jyoti, which means divine light in the Indian language, is the musical alias for the solo jazz project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Georgia Anne Muldrow. Muldrow previously released R&B/contemporary soul, such as the album Overload (2018), but her work under the name Jyoti takes her creativity to another level.

The music contains elements of jazz, funk, and soul. All blended in the abstract work called Mama, You Can Bet. The album is a compilation of ideas filled with unseen musical experimentation. Georgia Anne Muldrow plays, sings, records, and produces everything herself under her own label, SomeOthaShip Connect, and this is what gives her the creative freedom in music.

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