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Esperanza Spalding - 'Exposure'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

Lately Esperanza Spalding seems to be in the business of doing things her fans don't expect. Considering the music of the more R&B-influenced Radio Music Society, her last album, Emily's D+Evolution, was a sharp left turn. Spalding had returned with a fantastic record that lies somewhere in whatever one would call an amalgamation of rock, pop and jazz fusion elements. The abrupt change in style may have caught some fans by surprise, but D+Evolution, contains some of the musicians best songs. With the epic "One", pop-sized fusion of "Judas" and Joni Mitchell-esque tracks like "Noble Nobles", it is arguably the best record of her discography.

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Cat Toren's Human Kind - 's/t'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

In the liner notes of Cat Toren's Human Kind, the pianist looks to the past to address the present. Even without the notes, it does not take much analysis to come to the conclusion that this record is political. The fact that it was released on the day of the presidential inauguration, the images of protestors, the Washington monument and song titles like "Regression" and "Sanctuary City", should be enough clues for any American. The pianist points out that in the past, jazz artists such as Nina Simone held benefit concerts for civil rights organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality and by donating the proceeds of this record to the American Civil Liberties Union, she addresses the present by honoring this past tradition. With the help of Xavier Del Castillo (Saxophone), Yoshie Fruchter (Oud/Guitar), Jake Leckie (Bass) and Matt Honor (Drums), Toren's compositions shine throughout Human Kind.

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Jaimie Branch - 'Fly or Die'

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

Although Jaimie Branch has been playing music for a while now, having been part of the Chicago jazz scene before her recent move to Brooklyn, Fly or Die is her debut as a bandleader. The trumpeter's band is made up of Jason Ajemian (bass), Chad Taylor (drums) and notably cellist Tomeka Reid, whose quartet had a standout release in 2015. The main quartet is occasionally joined by Matt Schneider (guitar) and two cornetists, Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman. Debut albums in jazz can be a tricky business. In the case of a musician like Branch, who has been a side-woman in past studio recordings, the goal should be to firmly plant a compelling and distinct compositional voice on the recording, and that is exactly what she has done in Fly or Die.

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Brian Kiwanuka's Favorite Jazz Albums of 2017

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

It may seem a bit odd that a year-end list on a jazz publication only includes seven albums. As always, there has been a good amount of quality jazz releases this year. However, some of these records captivated me so much that I ended up devoting an obscene amount of time to them. Highlights include how Gerald Clayton returned and somehow matched the high quality of his last record and Mary Halvorson in general, who continues to be unflinchingly experimental, unique and brilliant - as a sidewoman and a bandleader. My favorite jazz moment of the year has to be when I saw Halvorson’s outstanding octet at the Village Vanguard, but as that concert was unfortunately not recorded, I will happily settle for the great records below.

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Brian Kiwanuka's Favorite Non-Jazz Albums of 2017

Brian Kiwanuka
Contributing Writer
bkiwanuka91@gmail.com

Maybe it’s not saying much, as I feel like I have been coming to this conclusion often yearly, but there were some truly fantastic records released this year. It would be a bit dishonest if I didn’t mention that as someone who fell in love with music through hip-hop, the genre is definitely the one that I keep up with the most. Left-field hip hop - the more lyrically abstract and experimental stuff - had some releases that I’m sure I will be consistently returning to. In regards to other genres, I discovered the music of a singer/songwriter from Peru who, with just two succinct albums, is now one of my favorite current musicians. Speaking of singers/songwriters, another one of my favorites also dropped a great album this year. Check out my top 10 non-jazz records of 2017 below.