Many Doors, Many Mansions

Open sesame.

EARTH SONG
SOUND IT OUT
Jason Moran
Black Stars
Blue Note : 2001

JM, piano; Sam Rivers, tenor sax, flute; Tarus Mateen, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums.

As an antidote to the recent strain of Jazz is Dead discussions, NPR’s A Blog Supreme recently issued this thoughtful invitation – “Which five albums would you pick to get an open-minded listener into the jazz of today?” That open query has led to a wide array of fine responses, which are all listed here, including links to third parties who chimed in from all corners of the interwebs.

Our main question is: Exactly who are we recommending this music to? One album might be perfect for opening the ears of someone who’s into electronic music, another for somebody with a taste in classical, another for a friend who’s into indie rock, etc. There are many entry points. The old thinking that there could be one jazz album that served as an ideal starter set for everyone (see: Kind of Blue) is partly responsible for jazz’s shrinking fan base today.

As a web site dedicated to more adventurous jazz, some may discount our recommendations as too out. But the conservative ethos of always trying to convert people with the mildest modes of the music has proven self-defeating. People who regularly listen to Radiohead (for instance) are likely to think straight-ahead jazz initially sounds corny and irrelevant.

So here are our picks for jazz albums that might open your friends’ ears to this music – along with some others in the same vein:

1) JASON MORAN Black Stars (Blue Note)
For someone who’s heard some jazz and already intrigued, but needs a push to be dive deeper into the music. On Black Stars, Moran & Co. offer an accessible and concise mix of off-kilter rhythms and melodies, fresh and intriguing and quite often joyfully surprising. An Ellington cover rounds out a program of mostly originals. The CD is seemingly out of print, astonishingly.  In the same vein: Vijay Iyer, Blood Sutra; Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar.

2) SUPERSILENT 6 (Rune Grammofon)
For the indie rock fans, Supersilent’s sinister and noisily abstract music isn’t that far from Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Sigur Ros, but the band’s fierce improvs lead to spaces those bands don’t even know exist. In the same vein: Arve Henriksen, Chiaroscuro; The Thing, Garage; Nels Cline, Destroy All Nels Cline. Do Say Make Think.

3) MATTHEW SHIPP New Orbit (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series)
For someone with a nu-classical bent, Shipp’s chamber miniatures are masterpieces of graceful composition and spiky musicianship. There’s not much in the same vein, but we wanted to mention cohort William Parker’s excellent O’Neal’s Porch and Sound Unity.

4) CRAIG TABORN Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series)
For electronic fans, Taborn’s organic fusion of electronics, jazz, and rock and his dexterous tunes are unmatched. See also: Tim Berne, Science Friction.

5) JOHN ZORN (var.)
His body of work exemplifies the idea that there are many entryways into this music. For the already jazz inclined: Masada, Live in Sevilla 2000. Metal fans:  Astronome. Exotica fetishists: The Gift. Classical devotees: The Circle Maker. Etc. Is it all jazz? Worry about that later. Zorn’s expansive work is a great gateway to get people enticed by creative music and hooked into exploring new sound worlds.

6) GUITAR
For those less keen on harmonizing horns and more interested in fret-shredding, there has been a bumper crop of fascinating documents from the past decade, chief among them Mary Halvorsen’s justly celebrated debut as a leader, Dragon’s Head; Jim Black’s AlasNoAxis, with Icelandic ax-man Hilmar Jensson; Jensson’s own Tyft; the aforementioned Nels Cline album; Marc Ducret’s work with Tim Berne; David Torn’s Prezens (also with Berne); and Blood Ulmer’s Odyssey band in Back in Time.

7) BIG BAND WATERSHED
The big band era ended when? Sez who? This year alone has seen magnificent offerings from Darcy James Argue (Infernal Machines); Ben Perowsky (Esopus Opus); and Warren Smith (Old News Borrowed Blues). Other great big-ish bands (accent on bands) of recent vintage: Zooid. The Peggy Lee Band (New Code). Taylor Ho Bynum and SpiderMonkey Strings. Maria Schneider. Anthony Braxton’s 12+1tet. Little Huey Creative Orchestra. [Just don't search for BBW; it doesn't stand for "big band watershed." Yet.]

8) MODERN SONGBOOK
Maybe some folks remain resolute in their hide-bound belief that jazz should primarily concern itself with interpreting the popular songs of the day. The aughts have experienced something of a renaissance for this approach, too. Whether your peers are drawn to Blondie, M.I.A., Pavement, Afrika Bambaataa, Yes, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rufus Wainwright — surely a blogger has already compiled a handy reference guide to this sort of thing? — there is likely a jazz version awaiting discovery. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Was that five? What would your picks be?

[Hat tip to FoDO -- friend of D:O -- Landry for source material and inspiration for some of the above.]

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