As 2019 draws to a close, so too does a decade jam-packed with excellent jazz music.
From locals like Joe Gilman to international talents like Phronesis, from genre chameleons like Esperanza Spalding to up and coming jazz prodigies like Joey Alexander, the 2010s gave us a wealth of music that will be enjoyed by jazz lovers for years to come.
To celebrate this decade coming to a close and a new one beginning, CapRadio jazz experts Andrew Mills, Gary G. Vercelli and Avery Jeffry have rounded up some of their favorite music from the past decade. Enjoy!
Can’t get enough of CapRadio Music or Ear to Ear? Follow CapRadio on Spotify for more playlist fun.
“Differently, Still” — BadBadNotGood
If one were to isolate the piano and bass on this track, it would be easy to think you were listening to a classic Bill Evans recording. However, the drums offer a very subtle hip-hop-like groove that tends to be far more prominent in BadBadNotGood’s other music. This tune, which comes from the Canadian trio’s third studio album “III,” highlights the band’s obvious love of the classic jazz piano trio while injecting a tinge of modernity that’s part of what makes BadBadNotGood so . . . well, good.
“Change Us” — Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding is a phenom. She is an absolute monster of a musician who excels at every genre of music she takes on. This breathtaking rock song from the deluxe edition of her 2016 album, “Emily’s D+Evolution,” is certainly no exception. From Matthew Stevens’ raunchy guitar intro to the powerful lyrics, it’s just a great song by an even better musician.
“Strid” — GoGo Penguin
No matter how many times I listen to this tune from GoGo Penguin’s “A Humdrum Star” album, it always seems to put me into a trance. That probably has a lot to do with the repetitive but highly creative piano work of Chris Illingworth.
Regardless, it’s Nick Blacka’s bass and Rob Turner’s drums that really make this tune special. While Illingworth’s piano creates a foundation that would normally be the responsibility of the bass and drums, Blacka and Turner’s instruments have an eight-minute conversation that is engaging throughout.
“Last Straw” – Nérija
I highlighted another tune from Nérija’s debut album, “Blume,” in the September edition of Ear to Ear. Because of that, I almost picked a different 2019 song to conclude this month’s post.
But I couldn’t just leave this record off. It is, without doubt, my favorite new album. It’s innovative. It’s revolutionary. It has everything that has always made jazz music so great. I could have easily picked any of the other wonderful tracks on this album, but “Last Straw” speaks to me on a personal level. The funky, Nile Rodgers-esque guitar work by Shirley Tetteh reminds me of what inspired me to become a guitar player. Enjoy!
Gary G. Vercelli
“Three Spheres” — Joe Gilman
In October 2012, Sacramento’s own Joe Gilman released “Relativity” on the small but potent Capri label. Gilman, who leads the jazz program at American River College, has always been inspired by the world of modern art. On “Three Spheres,” he salutes the work of graphic artist M.C. Escher, who was known for his mathematically-inspired woodcuts and lithographs. This thoroughly modern neo-bop composition features clean, well-executed solos by Gilman on piano, Chad Lefhowitz-Brown on tenor saxophone, and Nick Frenay on trumpet.
“Soul Dreamer” — Joey Alexander
In September 2016, pianist Joey Alexander released “Countdown.” Then just 13 years old, Alexander already played with a warmth and maturity way beyond his age.
The CD features Alexander in a trio setting, joined by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. While several of the tracks on the album show off Alexander’s prodigious keyboard technique, Alexander’s original “Soul Dreamer” shows the melodic, spiritual side of a gifted young artist. Alexander will perform at the Mondavi Center in Davis on Friday, Jan. 31.
“Oska T” — John Beasley
As we reflect on modern jazz of the last decade, it's hard to ignore the lasting influence of greats like Thelonious Monk. Pianist, composer and band leader John Beasley proves this in his 2016 album “MONK’estra,” made up of Beasley’s arrangements of music by the "High Priest of Bop".
Backed by a full big band, Beasley's arrangements are fresh and full of energy without losing the subtleties of Monk's writing. My favorite cut on this record is "Oska T." It's a perfect combination of groove and swing, and features a slow build up to some of the coolest horn backgrounds I've ever heard. This album is a must listen for anyone looking to delve into contemporary jazz.
“Abraham’s New Gift” — Phronesis
I first heard about the jazz trio Phronesis when I was an undergrad at the University of South Carolina, and it totally blew my mind. Led by Danish bassist Jasper Høiby, the London-based trio also consists of pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Mark Guiliana. It was released right at the start of the decade and I'm stilling digging this album now as much as I was 5 years ago when I first heard it.
Each song is a journey in its own right, with the shortest one being five and a half minutes, but my favorite has to be “Abraham's New Gift.” It's ten minutes of whirlwind playing, but it only took the first 30 seconds to get me hooked. If you're a bass player like me, you'll certainly appreciate this one.