Tag Archives: jazz

Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand

8 May

There’s a lot to like about The 7th Hand. The music is immaculate. There is obscene skill behind the whole thing. There are moments of transcendence. For all of its strengths though, it is just short enough of challenge to mire the whole album.

It oscillates quite sharply between pleasant and aggressive throughout and in the opener “Emanation” you have some very energetic sax work followed by a relaxing piano solo. They both end up flat however. The sax starts strong and is played very well, but it lacks challenge and ends up going nowhere you wanted to visit. The piano solo is a little off-kilter but needed to be fully askew. It’s the same story in “Lift.” There’s a lot of sound and fury, but it’s ends up signifying nothing.

Sometimes, the album takes a turn more towards the pleasant, such as in “Fugitive Ritual, Selah” and it does it well. It may have done better with stronger focus on that side, but that does nothing to help the lack of challenge.

The 7th Hand has moments though. The opening of “Witness” evokes a deep, verdant, arboreal scene and thread some ominousness through it to great effect. These moments just are not enough to lift an album that can never quite escape falling flat.

Nala Sinephro – Space 1.8

1 Nov

Jazz certainly loves outer space. Something about the vast expanse of the night sky above speaks to jazz musicians from John Coltrane to Sun Ra and now to Nala Sinephro.

Over 8 songs, Nala Sinephro and her band construct detailed soundscapes. Interstellar space is never as exciting as when jazz musicians get to draw it in. It’s mostly very gentle music. From the opener “Space 1,” there’s a lot of ambient music in here. It has some wonderful tones that are given complete room to breathe and ripples that evoke nature.

It goes into some very classic gentle jazz in “Space 2.” It’s never smooth, but it’s relaxing. “Space 4” works the same way. There’s very good sax work in both. It’s the aggressive saxophone and fuzz in “Space 6” that’s really interesting though. This is a very relaxing album, but there’s more than enough challenge in here to keep you engaged.

This is really an album that does it all and does it well. It’s a relaxing soundscape that you can submerge yourself and an excellent space jazz album and, of course above all, absolutely wonderful music.

Emma-Jean Thackray – Yellow

29 Aug

There are some really interesting pieces in Yellow. The chorus of “Third Eye” is a very interesting progression. The haunting in “Spectre” is also very well done. Unfortunately though, the whole doesn’t add up to anything quite so interesting itself. The genre-spanning music here has a lot going for it. There’s plenty of technical skill and some really clever moments, but there’s just not enough to grab attention or really reward it.

“Yellow,” for instance, would fit well on an Erykah Badu album, but not as one of the stronger cuts. The voice is a little weaker than it should be and the music doesn’t do enough. Overall, it’s just not interesting enough. It fades too easily into the background. It’s also not helped by the bog-standard spirituality either. The Hinduism in particular feels like a shallow reading.

Yellow still ends up a pretty decent album though. As it turns out, good jazz is good jazz and this is definitely good jazz.

New Artist Roundup: Jul. 2021

3 Aug

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had tens of submissions from aspiring young artists from all over the world – thank you! It was a monumental task to pick these out, but here are our top tracks from New Artists for July 2021.

Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

“The Absence of You” by The Islas

The Islas are a young band from Norwich whose sound is characterized somewhere between the Killers and the Smiths. Their most recent single “The Absence of You” features a gentle, lilting guitar melody that supports Nathan Baverstock’s slightly-nasal vocals quite well, and the song takes an even more Coldplay turn in the upbeat, high-energy chorus. “The single is not really a love-sick song about wanting someone back, just the sensation of feeling empty and realizing that that chapter of your life has gone,” says the band – a feeling to which any young person can relate, no matter their age. “The Absence of You” is the first single from the band’s upcoming 6-song EP Oblivion. Be sure to keep an eye out for that if you liked this track!

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“Generations” by Gede

As eagle-eyed readers may realize, Gede has already been on our radar since our March 2021 edition of the New Artist Roundup, where we loved his electric blues meets rap meets jazz track “Sinners” from 2021 album Forward. The Washington DC-based artist cites a wide array of musical references from Gary Clark Jr. to Tame Impala. He’s now out with another EP, the two-song Generations. The title track from this EP starts off with Latin trap beats that bring to mind a sunny Miami summer, and the rapper’s almost grime-style verses are perfectly produced to sync with the music. “Generations” is a vibrant, catchy song that lies somewhere between Stormzy and Bad Bunny – a tough bridge to connect, but Gede somehow pulls it off.

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“Mercy” by KiNG MALA

KiNG MALA (born Areli Castro) is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, California who’s just on the verge of a break-out hit. Spotify listener counts, which often precede mainstream fame, confirm our thesis: this young artist that you may never have heard of has over 350,000 monthly listeners. Her stage name, KiNG MALA, is actually carefully chosen: “Both [her] music and visuals experiment with masculine tropes.. and these masculine threads weave throughout everything [she] does, hence King rather than Queen and ‘MALA’ which roughly translates to ‘bad bitch’ in Spanish,” she said.

A lot of her Internet fame came through her TikTok hit 90s-vibe pop hit “she calls me daddy”, but new track “Mercy” proves that she’s no one hit wonder. This is a lushly produced track that belies her relatively-underground status, with her soft melancholic vocals reminding the listener of Billie Eilish. The song itself is about her mental health struggles with the darker side of herself. “I have said things I will regret forever and every day I search for the good within me and search for the proof that those things are not who I really am. Sometimes all you can do is forgive yourself and look for the good… that’s what this song means to me.”

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“Brand New” by TARYN

TARYN is an Atlanta-based singer-songwriter whose music is influenced by old soul and modern pop, in her own words. “Brand New” is a beautiful track from the clear-voiced singer, beginning with striking finger snaps that transition into lushly produced, warm vocals. TARYN grew up in a music-loving household. Her parents “filled the house with the sounds of artistic greats like Norah Jones, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Cat Stevens,” and it’s easy to see those influences in her ethereal, timeless yet radio-friendly music. TARYN wrote “Brand New” while driving on the freeway and worked with producer Joey Burcham to turn it into a fully-formed track – and honestly, it’s the perfect feel-good summertime drive song.

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“Headlights” by Sgmaniak

Sgmaniak (pronounced S. G. Maniak) is a hip young artist from New York whose music lies somewhere in the summery sounds of neo-soul jazz. The lovely “Headlights” is the diary of a budding, summertime romance. “We met a club downtown last week… got out at the curb then we got between the sheets,” he describes about their meet-cute. “Laying on the roof under the blood-red skies, I know we just met but I think we might just last…” Ah, young love. “Headlights” is a summery, light track that really showcases Sgmaniak’s lyrical prowess and storytelling ability. This track comes off the artist’s recent nine-song album The Global Heart Awakens.

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Interested in getting featured in our next New Artist Roundup? Don’t forget to email us your music at artists.tfr@gmail.com!

Jihye Lee Orchestra – Daring Mind

11 Jul

This album does a lot to recommend itself. It’s got substantial pieces of good, strong, aggressive jazz. “Dissatisfied Mind” is fun and energetic and delivers on the chaos promised by the title. “Relentless Mind” has some great moments that grab attention and complex, rewarding subthemes behind it. There are some interesting thoughts made more interesting for their interweaving, but they suffer a little from slightly predictable conclusions. It’s a very fun piece though and that does a lot for it.

Even where the album is not as strong, such as in “Suji” which is overlong and a little shallow, it’s just such lovely music that my complaints are minor. Similarly, although “Unshakeable Mind” is too placid and doesn’t do anything of interest, it doesn’t really need to for it to still be a pleasant listen. I may have preferred an album that did more to stand out, but this is an album that left me with a smile after every play. I’m glad I picked this one up.

Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey – Uneasy

22 Jun

Uneasy certainly delivers on the title. This is jazz that is very good at putting you off your ease. It’s always got something to surprise you with. It’s very skilled jazz and very listenable for all the sharpness. It doesn’t thrust itself on you, but it always has something interesting to say and when you pay attention to it, it’s very good at sweeping you away. You’re just compelled to follow it from point to point and see what comes next.

There’s a wonderful loudness in “Touba.” It makes you sit up straight and enervates you. “Drummer’s Song” holds a single pattern for an unsettlingly long time while threading lots of different things around it. It’s a startling and captivating effect. There’s great chemistry too. There’s a wonderful bass solo by Linda Oh in “Night and Day” that transitions smoothly a piano solo that moves smoothly into a drum solo that stretches into an excellent play with the piano and some very understated bass work. It lets everything settle for a moment and then picks things back up with excellent energy and finally ends beautifully.

Uneasy takes this intelligence and sharpness and it’s ability to disorient the listener and uses it for meaning. The political statements running through this album are powerful and reinforced by the shock of the music. It elevates the album and takes it from merely an excellent jazz album to essential listening for anyone at all interested in jazz.

Rubén Blades with Roberto Delgado and Orquesta – Salswing

21 May

I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like SALSWING! The album takes Latin Jazz and Big Band standards, places them side-by-side and calls it a day. You’ve got standards like “Pennies From Heaven” and then it’s immediately followed by the Tito Puente classic “Mambo Gil” and both are done very well. There’s naturally tremendous similarity between the two styles and between that and the band’s clear competence, it only makes sense how comfortable they are in both styles.

It’s a fun album both ways too. “Contrabundo” in particular is a highlight. It is bright and sharp and has great Latin percussion and an excellent piano solo. Meanwhile, “The Way You Look Tonight” is a classic rendering of a standard.

If you’re looking for either some Latin Jazz or some Jazz standards, this is good and if you’re open to both, this is great. There’s nothing particularly surprising in it and there’s no interesting intersection of the two styles, but as a collection of top quality music from both, there are no complaints to be had.

Joel Ross – Who Are You?

13 Apr

This might be a little unsophisticated to admit, but I like a good vibraphone and Joel Ross’ opening to this album sets the perfect tone to an excellent album. Right off the bat, you can see that Who Are You? is great musicians making great post-bop.

The vibraphone is obviously a highlight, especially when Joel Ross builds his soundscapes, like in “The Nurturer.” It’s a great album for just putting down a pleasant sound. “Gato’s Gift,” for instance, is very listenable, even if you’re not the deepest jazz fan and that holds for most of the album. There’s a lovely bass in “Calling” and “Home” that also has a very nice piano solo

There are some choppier parts here though. “Vartha” has a good, jagged solo from Immanuel Wilkins on the sax, although it could have used a little more pace. The vibraphone solo really picks up the song and there’s good drum work here as well. It crashes like the sea in the background. There’s a strong vein of Trane in here and their cover of “After The Rain” highlights that. Unfortunately though, this is not one of their stronger tracks. It’s a little overfull, especially when compared to Coltrane’s version. Nevertheless, the influence is very welcome.

This is an excellent album, but one held back by these minor missteps and one that I wish was a little bit more than what it delivered. It’s certainly not unintelligent, but I would have loved a couple of places with more challenge and greater surprise. This is, nonetheless, a stellar sophomore album and some excellent jazz.

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

10 Apr

There’s no shortage of high-powered collaboration in music and there’s such a range of them that it’s hard for anything to really take one by surprise, but you don’t come across a trio of producer, saxophonist and orchestra everyday. You don’t come across an album this good everyday either. The three meld beautifully. It feels like the intersection of three separate strains – the ambient production of something like Green by Hiroshi Yoshimura, the nature-inspired classical music of compositions like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the spiritual jazz of people like Sun Ra and John Coltrane, both of whom Pharoah Sanders played with.

The album evokes lush, verdant scenes whether through Floating Points’ productions as in “Movement 7” or the Orchestra in “Movement 6.” This is not the jungle, because the jungle lacks the intensity of this music. The colors of these soundscapes are too bright, too intense to be nature. They instead capture the feel of nature at its most immersive and leave you with nothing to distract from it. It is that first moment of experiencing a new vista made into a full album.

It’s filled with detail though. The refrain that ripples throughout the album is distinctive and beautiful. It’s wonderfully open-ended and accents the ambient music very cleverly. You can also feel the presence of many different organisms in the music. There are little flourishes of background hollering and chirping that enliven the music and add depth.

It’s the saxophone that really brings the human element to this album though. Sanders’ jazz comes in hot and adds that heat to what might otherwise be a very austere album. He even vocalizes in “Movement 4” and that integrates beautifully with the ripples of the music. He doesn’t go for the sheets of sound you might expect, but instead plays pure, drawn-out notes that express so much in their tone. When he comes in at the 7th minute of “Movement 7” with a sax scream, it’s the perfect way to agitate the existing music. Pharoah Sanders brings such a strong voice to this collaboration and his saxophone is the most noticeable thing here.

This an astonishing addition to some of the more storied careers in music history, a very individual album and music of the absolute highest tier.

Rob Mazurek / Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust

4 Mar

Dimensional Stardust seems like the kind of album that would enjoy a good paradox and so it’s lucky that it brings one to the table itself. It is, at one and the same time, wildly novel and numbingly familiar. The album is a parade of fantastic soundscapes. Not only does it accurately evoke space, but it evokes space as interesting. This is not the untouched void. It is instead an explosion of shapes and colors. You can see the comets and nebulae and galaxies all whorling around with even the occasional life form drifting through.

“Sun Core Tet,” for instance, keeps a simple foundation, albeit complicated by shapeshifting instruments, but then puts so much color into the space left open. It is somehow strongly reminiscent of Saturday morning science fiction, especially due to the vibraphone and flute work. I’ve heard many musical representations of the wonder of space, this is the only one that really brings in the childishness of wonder. The good dynamic energy of the later “Parable of Inclusion” further builds this feeling.

There’s also a strong classical vein to this album. The sparse leading instruments and heavy use of polyphony do a lot to build this and there’s no real soloing here. It’s a very crafted album, which is a strength for how clearly the album speaks but a detriment as well. There’s a lot in this album that could use the inspiration that comes from the improvisation that defines space jazz.

“Autumn Pleiades” for instance, sounds like post-rock more than anything else, and as often happens with that genre, falls too far into repetition. It could have really used a little surprise somewhere. Similarly, “The Careening Prism Within” is just too predictable and it feels like the voiceover in “Abstract Dark Energy” never ends.

It’s a shame that this strain of predictability mars what would otherwise be an excellent album. In fact, if you’re looking for something in the vein of your favorite post-rock album, but with parts significantly more challenging, this album is tailor-made for you. If your tastes are more general, this album still paints some very vivid visuals, even if they could use some additional variety as well.

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