Hi folks! It’s been a while since our last full Jazz Club column (almost two years, to be exact). We’ve highlighted some great jazz albums in the meantime, but there’s something to be said about a regular recap of the latest and greatest from the background. So in the framework of our new model, we thought now was a great time to revive one of our earliest genre columns. Cool? Cool. Let’s dive in!
Kurushimi – Chaos Remains (avant-garde jazz, grindcore)
Our revival of Jazz Club also marks the return of an eternal, impossible question: “What even is jazz?” Good ol’ Merriam-Webster claims it’s “characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre.” That’s incredibly broad, but honestly, that’s what I love about jazz. I mean, in what other genre can artists like Louis Armstrong and John Zorn coexist?
Speaking of Zorn, seeing Naked City and Painkiller listed on the press kit for Chaos Remains immediately piqued my interest. Naked City (1990) is one of those albums you’ll always remember discovering. My friend played me “The James Bond Theme” without context, leaving me on an island to absorb a bastardized version of the film classic. Somehow, the rest of the track list is even more insane, colliding the worlds of jazz, grindcore, and even surf rock to create one of the best avant-garde albums ever made.
Similar to Naked City, the way Kurushimi approach jazz disrupts and emblemizes the genres all at once. Not included in Merriam-Webster’s definition is “creativity,” which has always been my favorite aspect of every great jazz musician’s approach to the composition. From improvisation to simply expanding the boundaries of the genre, there are few other genres that build, destroy, and reconstruct quite like jazz has over the last several decades.
On Chaos Remains, Kurushimi follow in this tradition and create an avant-garde gem in the process. The band blends grind, free jazz, and noise (rock) to excellent effect, very much in the tradition Zorn laid out but delivered with a more refined, modern flair. See, Naked City embodies Zorn’s segmented approach to songwriting (fun fact: this approach is indebted to Looney Tunes composer Carl Stalling). On the flipside, Kurushimi embrace a kind of restraint and tension while still churning out intense, abrasive compositions.
Of course, you still have your metallic bursts, notably on the perfectly titled “Relentless Beating” and “Ambulance Run.” But much of the jazz-grind-noise triumvirate manifests in a lurking manner, waiting on the right compositional moment to erupt. “The Mysteries of Chaos” opens with a smoky, noir jazz atmosphere that builds into an unwieldy display of noise, percussion, and sax, complete with a snappy groove that devolves into blast-laden chaos to round out the track. Even the genre explorations on Chaos Remains pull off weirdness with finesse. “Chaos Dub” honors both its title and Kurushimi’s style, coming across like The Specials playing “Ghost Town” in the caverns of the underworld.
Suffice it to say, Chaos Remains is a triumph, especially considering the delicate balance of styles Kurushimi chose to tackle. This may not be your father’s jazz, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’re willing to make the journey through Kurushimi’s labyrinth, I promise you’ll come out the other side eager to venture back in again.
Husmo HAV – Waves (nordic jazz, post-jazz)
There’s just something about the kind of jazz that tends to come out of Scandinavia and the nordic countries that allures me in a way few other flavors can. Far beyond the likes of Jaga Jazzist, much of the jazz coming out of this region can be defined by a kind of smooth fusion that combines modern jazz styles with light electronics, ambient influences, post-rock, and progressive-leaning rock. It’s been often lumped in under the quasi-category of “nu-jazz,” but I don’t think that quite befits it. It just has its own character that may not be your cup of tea depending on how funky or off-kilter you like your jazz to be, but for someone like myself who a) loves fusion in general, b) loves post-rock and the general emotion and sentiment behind it, and c) is forever a sucker for a killer bass and drum groove, this kind of stuff just satisfies me in a way few other styles do.
I happened upon Oslo’s Husmo HAV some number of years ago when all they had were a few tracks to their name. I remember really liking what I heard at the time, apparently decided to follow them on Bandcamp, and lost track of them shortly after. So it was to my surprise when I received an email about a new release from them this past month. Once I remembered who they were though and actually checked out the new release in question, I quickly understood what drew me to them in the first place. Waves, very much as its name implies, is a record chock-full of fluid jazz fusion experimentations. On opener “Mining For Gold,” this is taken almost literally, as the serene fusion groove possesses a feeling of swimming underwater as pulsing synth and percussion bubbles around and muted trumpet draws attention to points of interest along the way. Even the vibraphone solo that comes in later is processed in such a way that it sounds like it’s moving through a dense liquid. It’s an insanely cool sound and feeling that calls to mind other recent fusion successes from the likes of COAST and Virta.
“Never Ending Summer” takes a much brighter approach while maintaining the same overall feeling, especially with the warped synth that comes in about midway. Both “Eliten” and “Eliten II” continue the general sentiment in more subdued fashions. and “You Must Think I’m Really Weird” stands out mostly by virtue of its more free jazz nature. At a brisk 22 minutes, Waves can feel like it’s over just after starting, but it’s a blissful short trip that I’ve found myself repeating quite often so far this year.
Lee Pardini – Homebodies (jazz fusion)
The meaning and implications of ‘being at home’ have obviously changed plenty for many of us over the past year, and at this point I think there’s scarce need to reiterate what we’ve collectively been living through. So it seems strange to think about ‘homebodies’ — those that enjoy the safety and consistency of ‘home’, compared to what’s on offer outdoors — in the same light today that one might have years ago. Where does one find that same comfort in home that now feels so alien to so many of us? Homebodies, the debut album from Dawes pianist Lee Pardini has a simple answer: the power of improvisation, of creating newness from known quantities.
The second track of Homebodies is called “Main Title”, and true to the promise of its name, the song is an absolute statement that makes clear what’s to come. A clean guitar line gently dances around Pardini’s keys over an urgent snare drum rudiment, the two instruments trading improvised licks over an eerie progression equal parts mysterious and tantalizing. It’s an immediate attention grabber and one that sets the tone well for the rest of the record, in establishing a clear motif early on and then exploring the musical space it offers. Indeed, most tracks on Homebodies feature the pianist often trading back and forth with guitar and saxophone lines alike, creating ever-enticing musical conversations that span from the melancholy otherworldliness of “Main Title” to the upbeat sax-driven bounce of “One Day at a Time”. But perhaps the highlight of the album is the melancholy “Sibley”, a stunning tune driven by Pardini’s gentle playing with light accompaniment from a string section. Couple all this with a beautifully done mix that lets the ample instrumentation shine, and we’re left to kick off this year’s first Jazz Club with one of the best jazz records I’ve listened to in many moons.
Quick addendum: don’t miss out on the “Main Title” video as well! A gorgeous tribute to noir films, Rene Magritte, and classic horror films alike, brought to life with staggeringly beautiful cinematography.
Apifera – Overstand (jazz fusion, nu-jazz)
Sometimes, you absolutely can judge a book by its cover. Not only does Overstand have amazing album art, it also embodies exactly how Apifera approach jazz. Colorful nu-jazz fusion that sounds like a mix of Jaga Jazzist and FlyLo.
Aura – Aura (contemporary jazz)
One of my favorite aspects of modern jazz is how ensembles are experimenting without fully diving into the avant-garde. Many of my favorite newer releases play with genre conventions in subtle but effective ways, toying with tonality but never taking a full-on Ascension approach. Aura is one such band doing this style justice, as their new self-titled release should make traditional jazz fans furrow their brows before ultimately nodding along.
Azmari – Samā’ī (Ethio-jazz, Turkish folk music)
In the short time since I commited to earnestly seek out non-Western music, my efforts have paid dividends. Azmari may be based in Belgium, but their music immediately transports you to bazaars in the Middle East and northern Africa. The group claim to offer a “musical odyssey” Samā’ī, and they deliver on that promise of eclectic, borderless jazz.
Cameron Graves – Seven (jazz/metal fusion, cosmic jazz)
Based on both his debut LP Planetary Prince and the artwork for his latest album Seven, it would be wise to assume that pianist Cameron Graves (known for his work with Kamasi Washington) is into some trippy technicolor cosmic jazz fusion shit. This is absolutely true. What I was not expecting, however, was to also find Graves digging deep into much heavier territory occasionally bordering on metal, putting him more in league with the likes of Tigran Hamasyan, HAGO, and Arcing Wires.
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – I Told You So (jazz-funk, soul jazz)
Interested in some soulful jazz-funk with an actually cool cover of “Careless Whisper” in the middle? Of course you are! Organ is a rarity in modern jazz, but Delvon Lamarr proves why albums like I Told You So should be a lot more common and popular.
Lilly Legit – Rubicon (nu-jazz)
It seems like GoGo Penguin have ushered in a new wave of electronic, piano-driven nu-jazz, and I’m all favorite. Rubicon is by far the best output from this trend I’ve heard in some time, and I can’t wait to hear Lilly Legit put out a full album. These tracks are punchy and gorgeous in equal measure, with precise, energetic playing centered around evocative melodies.
Robohands – Shapes (jazz-funk, jazz fusion)
I love the way hip-hop has informed a new generation of jazz musicians like Robohands, who maintain the spirit of jazz with added flavor from the world of hip-hop production. Shapes offer the exact kind of smooth percussion and grooves I love from this movement, making something that’s unmistakably jazz but benefits from the innovation hip-hop producers have made for decades.
Tom Sochas – You could hear the bird sing (contemporary jazz)
The influx of “virtually” recorded projects during the pandemic was expected. What has been surprising is how many of these releases have been able to maintain the organic interplay of an in-person recording, which is especially essential for jazz. Tom Sochas manages to thread the needle on You could hear the bird sing, a remotely produced album that offers all the warmth you expect from well-written and performed modern jazz.
Tuba Skinny – Mardi Gras (NOLA jazz, ragtime)
New Tuba Skinny is always good news. The ensemble return with an ode to the holiday NOLA is famous for, including two Mardi Gras classics and an original composition.
The Spencer Zweifel Quintet – Backwoods Fancy (classic jazz, hard bop)
Due to our listening habits, Jazz Club has historically highlighted a lot of albums on the outskirts of the genre. But sometimes, you just need some good ol’ fashioned, capital “J” jazz, and that’s exactly what Spencer Zweifel has to offer on his debut album. Fans of classic ’60s quintets will feel right at home with Backwoods Fancy.