Tag Archives: jazz

Nick Finzer – Hear and Now

15 Jul

Hear and Now manages to perfectly walk the line between depth and accessibility. The pieces are all remarkably easy to listen to and effortlessly captivating. Despite that, they are all remarkably intelligent and greatly reward any effort that you sink into them.

In addition to the above feat, the album is remarkably varied. This version of “Single Petal of A Rose”, while not quite as clean or as challenging as the Duke’s original, would still have fit in perfectly with the music of the time. “Again and Again” on the other hand is pure modern jazz. The very human and very excellent “Love Wins” draws out beautifully clean notes while “We The People” opens the album by lighting the stage on fire. Finally, “New Beginnings” is a classic no matter how you look at it.

If you are listening to the jazz of today, you should be listening to Hear and Now.



Joey Alexander – Countdown

1 Dec

Joey Alexander’s second album continues the clean, proficient jazz that defined his previous one. The piano sparkles in tracks like “Smile” or “Sunday Waltz” with a sound that feels simple, but perfect. This holds true for “Soul Dreamer” where every note is individual and the music takes on a wonderful clarity. Even in the up-tempo “City Lights” and “Countdown”, the pace increases and the music constantly moves, but the sharpness of the notes keep you moving with it. This version of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” is also fantastic with superb work on the saxophone by Chris Potter.

This album lacks a little of the fire of the true jazz classics, but that’s really the only criticism that can be made of it. This is a fantastic album and worth a listen from anyone keeping up with present-day jazz. Joey Alexander is an incredibly promising young talent, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.


John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

11 Feb


John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is that rare jazz album that is not only a classic, but is very approachable as well. Johnny Hartman has a rich, warm voice that draws you close to the album and John Coltrane focuses completely on the sound, getting a perfect, luxurious tone throughout. Their interplay and that of their rhythm section is fantastic. Solos flow into each other effortlessly and the backing music sets a loose, fluid structure for the solos to work in. The music takes no effort to get into, but is nevertheless one of the great jazz vocal albums. This is essential for all fans of the genre and a great starting point for those who are not.


Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek To Cheek

25 Jan


There’s a lot of promise in an album like this. The old American standards are often fantastic and the combination of an old stalwart like Tony Bennett and a pop star like Lady Gaga getting together to record an album of just these tunes seems like an excellent idea. It probably even is an excellent idea, but this is not the manifestation it deserves.

Cheek To Cheek manages to neither revitalize the standards with a modern outlook nor to recapture any of their past glory. Show tunes require confidence, personality and chemistry and while the first is present in spades, the other two are only ever briefly seen. The two trip over each other constantly and both alternate between hammy and formulaic. Listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s version of the title track and you can hear a warmth and humanity entirely lacking in this album.

It’s not all lows though, the backing band does a very solid job. They lay down an upbeat, joyful jazz that is a pleasure to listen to. Also, both Lady Gaga and, surprisingly given his age, Tony Bennett are technically proficient throughout. Both of them still have great voices and are willing to draw upon them. Lady Gaga in particular has a wonderful solo in “Lush Life” that most singers, even renowned ones from the song’s own era, would struggle with.

All told, this is an acceptable album, but the standards are such for a reason and have all been played enough times to have versions that are undeniably classic. With this material, merely acceptable is just not enough.


David Bowie: Blackstar

18 Jan


There’s a famous essay by Roland Barthes about separating an author from his work and on the futility of using the author’s identity to try to derive a single definitive meaning for a text. With Bowie, the persona was always a facet of the work, and an important one, but one that only furthered its enigma. Where some artists seem slaves to such direct analysis of their work, Bowie transcended it.

Bowie’s influence is everywhere, from the obvious trends in music and fashion to the art styles of movies, comics and video games, to even his direct influence in contemporary culture and mainstream acceptance of once-othered groups. Time and time again, Bowie pushed at the boundaries of what human culture had achieved. The world today is a far better place due to his work. His loss is tragic and heartbreaking, but his work and is influence are immortal.

Blackstar, his twenty-fifth and final album, is new territory even for him. This is a jazz album, not rock, and an excellent one at that. The music is challenging and more than deep enough to reward you for it. The variations laid down by his band are deep and interesting. The lyrics are cryptic, but highly evocative. The experience as a whole is direct and unsettling, but distinctly beautiful. His use of the form is deft and innovative, bringing in rock and spacey-electronica into a rich jazz foundation to create a work as claustrophobic as a dungeon and as difficult to escape.

His inversions of the form are fascinating. The sax solo of “Lazarus” centers the album. The slow, mournful chant of “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is cleverly undercut by the whimsical jazz strains underneath it and the guitar solo that provides much of the real variation in the song. The clear horn opening of “Dollar Days” shifts smoothly into a traditional rock ballad. This is an intelligent album and courageous enough to revel in it.

Excellent, challenging and novel, Blackstar is the swan song Bowie’s career deserves. I highly recommend it.


Kamasi Washington: The Epic

27 Dec

Kamasi Mike

I’m just so happy that this album exists. A jazz album in 2015 that is so deeply in love with the post-bebop era of jazz is an unexpected treat. Getting one of this quality just seems unfair.

Above everything else, Kamasi Washington plays a mean sax. Listen to just how impassioned “Final Thought” is and you could be forgiven for thinking that you were back in one of the peak eras of jazz. Similarly, “Change of the Guard” evokes Coltrane with his classic quartet. This is no throwback album though. Ideas enter it from all over the place, both within the history of jazz and without. This is an epic of an album at just under 3 hours and it makes good use of all of it.

It is at its best when it relaxes into hard bop though. The rhythm section lays down backing that manages to be intricate without overpowering the rest of the sound and their solos are fantastic. The bass solo on “The Magnificent 7” and the piano on “Leroy and Lanisha” are both excellent, skillfully setting a refrain and moving everywhere in the space they contain. Similarly, the dueling horns of the energetic “Re Run Home” dance around a central conceit in the greatest of jazz traditions.

From its first moment to its final one some three hours later, The Epic is very simply a jazz classic. I highly recommend it.


Five Fresh Songs for Your Feel-Good Sunday Morning Fix

13 Apr

We have already expressed our deep and undying love for Saturday mornings soundtracked to new music, so here’s a companion piece to that. This list is about those magical hours of optimism on a Sunday morning, right after a Saturday night party and right before the weekend rapidly fades away. And what better way to make the feeling last than with five fresh new songs? So, without further ado, here’s our suggestions for a soundtrack to your feel-good Sunday morning. And we promise it’ll only take 22 minutes and 6 seconds of your life to listen through it. Go on, then.

“Alley Cats” by Madboy/Mink

Madboy/Mink is a jazz-dance outfit from Bombay that has been blowing our minds since their debut EP All Ball dropped on SoundCloud last week. The group comprises the young and talented pair of Saba Azad (“Mink”) and Imaad Shah (“Madboy”). Azad has the perfect voice for electro funk/jazz: velvety, eccentric and deliciously retro at the same time. She’s worked with the legendary Blackstratblues before (source: Rolling Stone), and she seem to carry along that band’s nonchalant sense of joy in music with her. Shah has already created quite a following for himself as Madboy, courtesy a raw talent for musical arrangement (see: “Martinis in the dark”). He’s also otherwise known for being Naseeruddin Shah’s son (!).

Azad and Shah.

Azad and Shah.

“Alley Cats” is about snazzy, bowling cats with snazzy bowler hats, and the fun doesn’t stop there. The duo tells the silliest tale – of fish-stealing, rat-chasing cool cats – with such verve that you just can’t help feeling great just listening to the track. Madboy/Mink boasts at the end of the song, “Yes, this band is pretty tight/We’re the kings and they’re the rats,” and they may really be onto something there.

“Dont Stop” by Tankbund

The first minute of “Dont Stop” features lead singer Ritwik De vocalizing what could be the soundtrack to someone’s unsaid feelings on a rainy, lonely Saturday evening. His gauzy, warm voice lulls you into a false sense of introspection, so that when the song suddenly breaks into six-beats-a-second, you tend to feel just a touch of disorientation. De’s soulful, deep voice syncs perfectly with the stop-start, almost trip-hop electronica in the background. His plaintive request (“No, don’t stop”), stretched over several heartwrenching seconds, is persuasive, emotive and entirely lovely. If you loved this track, be sure to check out “Tres Bien”, also from their debut EP Inside. We’re definitely listening to more of this New Delhi band.

“Good to You feat. Siddharth Basrur” by Sandunes

Sandunes, aka Sanaya Ardeshir, is one of the most intriguing artists in the country. Her music is an eclectic confluence of influences: there’s a lot of Air and Zero 7 in there, with playful hint of old-school jazz thrown in for good measure. “Good to You”, featuring Goddess Gagged lead singer Siddharth Basrur, seems to be a post-break-up ode of promises and thinly-veiled remorse, backed by Ardeshir’s top-class production sensibilities.

Sanaya Ardeshir

Sanaya Ardeshir

“Good to You” breaks and crests and pulses at exactly the right places for exactly the right amount of time. There’s a point in the song, about two and a half minutes in, when Basrur’s repeated “I’ll be good to you” precisely syncs with splashes of woozy electronica, that especially blew our minds. Listen to it on a Sunday morning, and we promise it’ll leave you feeling chill the whole day. What more could you want?

“Fire” by Machli

Bangalore-based electro-acoustic outfit Machli is made up of design students who, true to stereotype, have an uncanny sense of aesthetics. “Fire” is a lush, ambient tapestry carried by Sandhya Visvanathan’s despondent, lilting voice and Aniruddh Shivakumar Menon’s percussive talents. The song is addictive and just perfect for half-sleepy Sunday mornings. Also check out their ‘Tigerbalm Mix’ (found here) for a more dreamlike, trip-hop take on the song.

“Epileptic” by 30ton Capacity

Bangalore has seen its fair share of talented post-rock bands lately: Space Behind the Yellow Room and Until We Last come to mind. With their debut EP Season One Episode Nil (you know, like S1E00 like at the beginning of a series), post-rock-veering-on-prog band 30ton Capacity joins the growing list. Our favorite track from the EP is “Epileptic”. The track starts with a quirky, Radiohead-like spoken-word sample (“Try to relax your toes, Gloria. Feel them tingle. Relax them one by one…”) that immediately sets the young band apart. Robin Srivastava’s shrouded vocals create a beautiful, delicate wall (curtain?) of sound, complemented ably by drummer Sumanth. We’ll definitely be listening to this band a lot more!

Here’s the full playlist for your easy listening pleasure.

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