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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A Collective of Musicians Re:imagined the Blue Note Catalogue

Ever since its birth, jazz music has continuously evolved into various subgenres. The American record label Blue Note Records, which got established in 1939, 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 new release Re:imagined is a compilation of Blue Note originals brought to you by a unique selection of musicians who’ve taken on jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B as their musical narrative.

Blue Note describes the album as “a bridge between the ground-breaking label’s past and future“. The driving force behind this highly anticipated project is a new and vibrant scene of mostly UK-based musicians. They are a group of forward-thinking artists that innovate, even reinvent, the genre through sampling, hip-hop, afrobeat, and dance music.

The compilation album features, among others, Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Alfa Mist, and Jorja Smith. They perform their take on Blue Note classics, often transformed into an easy-to-absorb contemporary remake.

“This 16-track compilation finds today’s youthful, often London-based renaissance in dialogue with the revered New York label’s deep back catalogue.”

The Guardian (review by Kitty Empire)

Not all songs on the album are adaptations of historic jazz standards. Singer-songwriter Jorja Smith opens the album with an electronic and upbeat transformation of St Germain‘s hit song Rose Rouge.

Inner sleeve artwork

Noticeable are the transformations of four original compositions by Wayne Shorter. The American jazz saxophonist composed many acclaimed jazz standards and, it’s no surprise that he is listed here multiple times. He had an influential career and, his contributions to jazz were paramount. In 1959, he joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, where he replaced Hank Mobley. And in 1964, he joined Miles Davis‘ second (great) quintet and co-founded jazz fusion.

His compositions spotlighted on Blue Note‘s Re:imagined are Footprints, Armageddon, Speak No Evil, and Night Dreamer.

Footprints is a composition that was originally recorded for his album Adam’s Apple. The track got reworked by the London-based Ezra Collective, who are adding beats to the original. The jazz standard Armageddon got transformed by the Norwegian group Fieh into something that best can be described as neo-soul. The last two, Speak No Evil and Night Dreamer, are cleverly fused into one by Emma- jean Thackray. The songs transform into an adventurous arrangement where, also here, beats dominate.

London Jazz News writes in their review that “for some heritage-loving jazzers this whole vault-raiding exercise will be sacrilege“. They also comment on the life expectations of these adaptations versus the originals: “Some of Blue Note Re:Imagined‘s supposed updates will vanish long before the originals fade and the results often aren’t “jazz” – but the spirit of adventure and imagination in a good number most definitely is.

All in all, despite how the album is being viewed by “heritage-loving jazzers“, and despite it being a compilation, the record is spirited and exhilarating. It’s shelved among the best albums released in 2020 as it spotlights a new wave, and helps you discover the latest in music.