10 New Jazz Albums You Need to Know About: May 2019

An incendiary new album from one of today’s top music producers; a collection of previously unheard material from jazz fusion greats; the latest jazz venture of an independent visionary. All this and more on this month’s list of ten albums you need to know about.

Joel Ross, KingMaker (Blue Note)
Release date: May 3

Having left an indelible mark on the albums of such artists as Makaya McCraven and Marquis Hill, vibraphonist/composer Joel Ross adds his name to Blue Note’s jazz vibraphone legacy with his own debut album, KingMaker. For this first release, produced by bassist Harish Raghavan, Ross convened his Good Vibes band, including saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Jeremy Corren, bassist Benjamin Tiberio and drummer Jeremy Dutton, plus special guest vocalist Gretchen Parlato. The music on KingMaker is sophisticated, emotional, confident and brimming with youthful energy. It also comes from a personal place and finds Ross following the advice he once received from vibraphone legend Bobby Hutcherson to “write about your life and write every day.”

Dave Douglas, Uri Caine, Andrew Cyrille, Devotion (Greenleaf)
Release date: May 17

Devotion is trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine’s follow-up to their acclaimed 2014 album Present Joys, on which they turned selections from the Sacred Harp songbook into jazz-rooted dialogues. Having played as a duo for many years, they are joined on Devotion by legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille, whose in-the-moment creativity provides the perfect rhythmic presence for Douglas and Caine’s interactions. Devotion is an album both intimate and buoyant; a collection of Douglas originals written in “devotion” to such great composers as Dizzy Gillespie, Carla Bley, Aine Nakamura, Mary Lou Williams and more. However, Douglas argues that it is also a tribute to his collaborators. “In this trio, I felt that a particular focus and intention were required,” he explains. “To play with Uri and Andrew, I needed to go to a particularly reverent space as a trumpeter.”

John Zorn, The Hierophant (Tzadik)
Release date: May 17

The Hierophant is a new entry in John Zorn’s vast and varied body of work. Throughout his career, Zorn has maintained his independence from mainstream music and released several albums every year via his own record label, Tzadik Music. This independence has allowed him to express the multiple facets of his creativity, working within several musical genres and promoting other talented musicians in the process. The Hierophant is his new collection of compositions for jazz piano trio, performed by three artists in Zorn’s inner circle of collaborators: pianist Brian Marsella, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Wollesen. This new modern chamber music suite draws inspiration from the mystical world of the Tarot and hits on a wide range of styles, moods and emotions.

Linda May Han Oh, Aventurine (Biophilia)
Release date: May 17

Bassist-composer Linda May Han Oh presents some of her most glistening music to date on Aventurine. The album draws concept and title from a stone similar to jade if not for an intricate, shimmering effect that distinguishes it. Its core quartet includes Oh on bass alongside saxophonist Greg Ward, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer/vibraphonist Ches Smith, complemented by a quartet of string virtuosos that add an otherworldly quality to the music, plus vocal group Invenio on four tracks. Some of the songs on Aventurine originate from as early as her days as a Manhattan School of Music student. “Over the years, the compositions have evolved with each performance to a point where I consider them living, breathing entities that have finally matured into a state where they are comfortable in their own skin,” she explains.

Lisa Maxwell, Shiny! (self-released)
Release date: May 17

Multi-talented musician, composer and arranger Lisa Maxwell has been part of the Emmy-winning music team for Warner Bros. for several years and worked on many of their acclaimed film and television productions. Her long-awaited big band album debut, Shiny!, is dedicated to the memory of the much-missed trumpeter Lew Soloff. It includes a first-rate ensemble of top New York musicians – such as trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist Carmen Staaf, keyboardist Paul Schaffer, drummer Steven Wolf and guitarist Mike Stern, to name but a few – and showcases her skill, versatility and musical knowledge. Its tracklist, featuring four Maxwell originals, is diverse and exciting. From boogaloo to straight-ahead jazz and even including a bonus remix track by renowned electronica/club jazz artist Mocean Worker, Shiny! truly has something for everyone.

Seba Kaapstad, Thina (Mello Music Group)
Release date: May 17

Thina is the new album by Seba Kaapstad, a multi-national neo-soul quartet comprised of a South African, a Swazi and two German members – vocalist Ndumiso Manana and Zoe Modiga, and musicians Sebastian Schuster and Philip Scheibel. Their union represents a coming together of worlds and ideas and their music speaks in favor of multiculturalism as a major creative force. Indeed, the title of the album comes from the Swazi word for “us.” Seba Kaapstad, who are quickly becoming one of the hottest neo-soul groups, describe themselves as “conjuring beatific grooves that radiate with alluvial soul, celestial jazz, electronic experimentation and the polyrhythmic essence of Africa.” Thina marks their debut release for Mello Music.

Theo Croker, Star People Nation (Sony)
Release date: May 17

Trumpeter/composer Theo Croker’s unique sound blends contemporary beats with the jazz tradition of his grandfather Don Cheatham and his mentor Donald Byrd. His new album, Star People Nation, took him 18 months to complete. He calls it an intimate exploration of the everyday rituals of blackness and a “self-reflective collection of provocative, powerfully passionate and boundary-busting compositions that speak to our greater, shared human existence.” Indeed, it may be his most personal release to date. This is because it finds him at the helm of production, songwriting and performance, often placing his horn in the role of the narrator and expressing himself via a personal interpretation of black American music that has taken him thirty years to perfect. “I’m embracing my own multi-cultural-ness within my blackness,” Croker explains. “I’m embracing my instrument, my story and who I am as a player and composer for the first time.”

Flying Lotus, Flamagra (Warp)
Release date: May 24

Musician-producer Flying Lotus is set to release his sixth album, Flamagra. This is his first album in five years – since 2014’s You’re Dead. It features material he has gathered over this period of time and beckons jazz with hip-hop production. Many of the 27 tracks on the album are inspired by a theme of fire, including the lead single “Fire Is Coming,” a spoken track featuring cult filmmaker David Lynch. Other standout guests on Flamagra include rapper Denzel Curry, funk pioneer George Clinton, Thundercat and many more. “This album has been a refuge for pain and trying to make the most out of that pain,” says the musician/producer. “Music can heal and in the wake of that tragedy, it reminded me of what I’m here to do … I want to be able to help people through tough times and inspire them to be creative.”

Azymuth, Demos (1973-75) Volumes 1&2 (Far Out)
Release date: May 31

Far Out Recordings is releasing Demos (1973-75) Volumes 1&2, a collection of previously unheard early demo recordings by Brazilian jazz fusion giants Azymuth. The tracks on this 2xLP collection predate the band’s self-titled 1975 release, with which they first gained worldwide recognition. They come from a time when they were an active, first-rate backing band for some of Brazil’s best music artists, and are full of frenetic, in-the-moment energy as well as an anticipative exuberance of what was to come. Demos (1973-75) Volumes 1&2 features Jose Roberto Bertrami on keyboards, Ivan Conti on drums, Alex Malheiros on bass and Ariovaldo Contesini on percussion. Each of the tracks was recorded in Bertrami’s home studio in the Laranjeiras district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Camila Meza, Ámbar (Sony)
Release date: May 31

Ámbar finds vocalist/guitarist/composer Camila Meza immersed in jazz, American pop and Latin American music across eras. The album, which marks her debut on Sony Music Masterworks and she produced herself, paints a beautiful sonic landscape and is full of attention to detail, featuring the Nectar Orchestra – a hybrid ensemble with string quartet she formed with bassist Noam Wiesenberg. The tracklist offers a healthy mix of original compositions – including the title track, a heartfelt ode to her late grandfather – and covers, including a pointedly topical rendition of “This Is Not America” by Pat Metheny and David Bowie.

Featured photo by Renata Raksha.

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