The search for the greatest jazz album of the decade ended in 2015 when LA-based saxophonist and bandleader Kamasi Washington released his aptly titled debut, The Epic. A nearly three-hour love letter to the genre's greatest attributes, The Epic is the kind of album that could sustain an artist's legacy on its own merits alone; follow-ups are welcome, of course, but admittedly unnecessary for the endeavor of establishing Kamasi's longevity of influence. Though these claims may seem bold, there's a reason the album inspired the launch of our Jazz Club column and became perhaps the first pure jazz album to ever land among on our collective Albums of the Year. The ensemble's performances of Kamasi's compositions are nothing short of enthralling, whether they're soaring through swirls of gospel choruses and inspired playing or masterfully moving through contemplative moods. Every track is an epic statement in its own right, and by the time the album concludes, listeners should be awed by the manner in which Kamasi maintains intrigue and quality across such an overwhelming run time.
Welcome back to Jazz Club! It's been a while since the three of us (Jimmy, Nick and Scott) sat down to dissect the one of our favorite genres, which was most recently a conversation about BADBADNOTGOOD's excellent 2016 album IV. In that discussion, we tossed around the idea of pooling together a list of some of our favorite new jazz releases, something we're excited to finally begin today with our first installment of Jazz Quarterly. This is also offering us an opportunity and excuse to get ourselves back in the habit of listening to new jazz regularly, which, if you're anything like at least a couple of us (namely Nick) has been something we've been meaning to get back into for far too long. There are a few places now that offer some great monthly curated lists like Bandcamp, Stereogum, and more, and you'll likely notice that a bunch of these selections are pulled from there because they provide a valuable resource for even supposed "curators" such as ourselves. As each of us prefers different flavors of the genre, you'll find an eclectic list of recommendations below, ranging from more traditional offerings to experimental blends of jazz with Indian classical music, doom metal sensibilities, electronic music, progressive rock and much more. We'd be genuinely shocked if you can't find at least one release worth your time from this list, so without wasting any more time, feel free to dive in to the best the genre's had to offer so far this year.
Regardless of one's musical background, free jazz is one of those genres that can be extremely confusing and often border on nonsensical and sonically belligerent. There are even fans of jazz who still can't get into the likes of the late works of John Coltrane or anything made by Pharaoh Sanders, preferring instead to listen to other, less insane iterations of the genre. While we believe that music's value is something strictly decided by the listener, we've also found that, despite the difficulty of the genre, free jazz is incredibly rewarding. There's something undeniably special about musicians that can improvise; if music is the expression of the soul, then free jazz is the direct output of an unrestrained musical voice. While it can sound like noise, it's in fact a huge show of musicianship, as the artist in question must compress everything they know about music theory into one single point and, in a sense, abandon the strictures it causes for what they feel. In this way, we think free jazz can be one of the most magical and spiritually uplifting genres of music out there, and for those interested in exploring the genre further, the following albums are great introductions to the most liberated plane of jazz.