There is one process in which jazz as a music genre can differ from all others – there is rarely something that can be dubbed ‘instant success.’ In popular musical forms, a bursting talent like Solange, can immediately (and deservedly) grab attention, or the public relations machines can use what is available to them to push somebody to the top and make an artist an instant success. Even in classical music, no matter how limited the audience may be, it takes a competition or two for a prodigy to be immediately noticed.
With jazz, such possibilities are, for some reason or another, limited, and even if your name becomes recognized, it takes time to become something that remotely resembles an established artist. For many jazz musicians it takes years of hard work, changing locations, continents, expanding and combining genres, going back to the roots, etc., but instant success is a rarity. Somebody like Brad Mehldau is considered something of an instant success within jazz, and it took him five albums to achieve such status with his Art of The Trio Vol. 3 release. While a true instant success like Kamasi Washington is like a rare comet and he had to self-release his first two albums before he got to his Epic.
At the moment, there is a plethora of jazz artists who are bringing something new, reviving previous forms in the right way, or just crossing borders that garner more attention – with some of them on the verge of attaining wider acclaim; but it took them years to get to this point. Hopefully, for most of them, that time should be now.
Crossing Genres As a Way Forward
Combining jazz with other musical forms, particularly the popular ones is far from a new thing, but doing it well was always a challenge and you often have to be in the rank of somebody like Miles Davis to have an (audible) impact. And again, it takes time and patience. Robert Glasper is certainly no newcomer, but his musical explorations that took him from a piano legend like Horace Silver to J Dilla seems to know no boundaries, but he’s yet to confirm the artistic position he so rightfully deserves. Yet, it seems that his name is more known to hip-hop fans than those that want to stand firmly on jazz ground.
Trumpeter and Florida native Theo Croker, a jazz graduate of Oberlin College is another musician who has been combining funk, hip-hop, and salsa, among others, and who has been around for a while, but, even after turning to the US after seven years in China, and four excellent albums, he is still bubbling under the radar. Maybe Star People Nation, his upcoming album, will be the one to break through.
Robert Glasper is certainly no newcomer, but his musical explorations that took him from a piano legend like Horace Silver to J Dilla seems to know no boundaries, but he’s yet to confirm the artistic position he so rightfully deserves.
Ben LaMar Gay, Chicago cornetist/composer/vocalist had to record and self-release a series of albums and spend three years in Brazil to start getting noticed. But again, a musician that sees, hears, and plays across all boundaries – from very experimental sounds and ambient soundtracks to Brazilian rhythms incorporating hip-hop artist Polyphonic the Verbose.
Another artist who played with Gay is Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven, possibly one of the strongest new forces in spiritual jazz, which itself as a form, crosses all boundaries. His recent album Universal Beings is easily ranked with anything that say, Kamasi Washington has done so far.
Two other trumpet players are cornering the hip-hop, funk/soul field: Christian Scott, the man from New Orleans, who doesn’t shy away from Jimi Hendrix and psychedelia, and Japanese player, Takuya Kuroda. Who has a more of soul-jazz frame of mind – playing guitars, moving his sound towards a sort of soft jazz that usually has wider appeal.
Another border crosser is Mary Halvorson, a guitar player from New York who is often compared to late experimental improviser Derek Bailey. But with her diversity and playing, Halvorson proves that to be a good improviser you have to work through all the basic musical forms, which she seems to have in her little finger.
Norwegian singer Jenny Hval is yet another jazz musician that is yet to be fully recognized but doesn’t shy away from combining different musical forms. Throughout her six albums (and a novel along the way), she veers toward avant-garde and a bit of the forgotten Folktronica genre.
Rejuvenating Standard and Known Jazz Forms
Spiritual jazz seems to be back in vogue these days because it’s brimming with adventurous musicians and players. Besides those already discussed here, there is a brew of new names covering this genre that need to be mentioned, and some of the best currently seem to be located in England.
One of them is certainly saxophonist Nubya Garcia, both as a solo artist and as a member of the Maisha ensemble. In both variants, the focus is on incorporation of African and Caribbean sounds into jazz. Albert Ayler fan, Shabaka Hutchings, seems to be everywhere, and whether it is with his Sahabaka And The Ancestors, or with other rising bands like Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, he is deservedly tipped to garner more recognition.
American singer Dwight Trible, who resides in England now, is somebody who has performed with spiritual jazz front runners old and new, both with Kamasi Washington and legendary Pharaoh Sanders, in a way following in the footsteps of the old Sander collaborator Leon Thomas.
Calling Anat Cohen just a clarinetist would certainly be a misnomer. Musically, Cohen and her siblings and often collaborators Yuval and Avishai (of which the latter has already made a splash in jazz circles and is the most experimental of the three), often stick to standard jazz forms, but her playing often ranges on masterful, and Anzic Records, which she co-founded, is one with a constant stellar production.
Camila Meza, guitarist/singer/composer born in Chile and now residing in New York, tries and succeeds to combine Latin American sounds with the more popular sounds of jazz luminaries like Pat Metheny and George Benson. DownBeat has already slated her as one of the rising stars.
More or less the same could be said about the quite young Los Angeles pianist Connie Han. Her sound goes more for the flair of legends like McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, but it is also obvious that she has an ear for sci-fi film soundtracks.
Spiritual jazz seems to be back in vogue these days because it’s brimming with adventurous musicians and players.
Somebody who has already played with Hancock and the likes of established jazzers like Christian McBride and Ambrose Akinmusire is Chicago vibraphonist Joel Ross. With vibraphone player comparisons with the likes of Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutchinson, or Gary Burton always be present, and with his flair, Ross shouldn’t shy away from those.
Going further back for their inspiration are The Hot Sardines fronted by Evan “Bibs” Palazzo and French singer Elizabeth Bougerol. Their sound spans everything from pre-war jazz and swing to the bop of Thelonious Monk and the jazz crooning of Billie Holiday.
It’s obvious that the range and choices newer generations of jazz musicians are offering is greater by the day, it just remains a question of how much time and patience they will require to gain the wider attention they deserve.