There’s a fullness in ten years. A lot of work, if rather relentlessly done, can really make a discernible impact. Ten years ago, folks were making all the talk as rather cyclically that jazz was dead. It was such an exhausting conversation. Folks were around making this music, obviously. It couldn’t be that dead. The problem was in the awareness and the tweaking of the discourse. Some folks thought to run away from the name of the genre. Others thought to rename it altogether, as if people with ears could also have some kind of amnesia. But by and large, this creative community kept making their art inspired by their backgrounds but still holding to the traditions of improvisation, frequent collaboration, and all the innovation that could spring from that. There’s a lot of different things that can fit under the umbrella of jazz and sheer persistence from these artists over the last ten years have shifted this conversation from what is and isn’t in the genre, or whether or not the genre is even alive, to the real questions it long ago should have tackled about whether or not the genre is fair, whose stories are told in the music, and who will continue to have access to create and present it, that which was, at its very origin, a folk music. What we have done here at Nextbop since our inception was to be a part of that discourse and we are honored to be, to some degree, a part of the canon of this century-year-old artform.
I fell into this, like many things in my life, never quite pointed but somehow the most sensible decision at the time. It made sense at the time some ten years ago for me, a writer pretty fresh out of college, to take over as editor for a website run by a guy who at the time didn’t feel too confident as a writer in the English language. We all needed time to grow and expand, to progress through life and adversity, and to still hold to those things that anchor us in life when we need them. For site founder Sebastien and I, this jazz music community and our felt responsibility to it (and sheer inertia) has to some degree been one of those anchors.
However, jazz has not been the only anchor in my life, and much like this metaphor about large heavy objects that hold things down, I have throughout the years felt beholden to certain ideals about my written work, constantly reflective, tied to consumption but at some preternatural level. A bit of fatigue may have set in; lately, my Canadian partner and I have gotten a little concerned.
I’m going to pull back from the everyday of this. I’m still honored to host The Line-Up at KRTU San Antonio and will continue to do so, as well as represent the radio station at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, for the 8th annual Jazz for the Masses unofficial day party at Lazarus Brewing Company on Wednesday, March 18th (which I’m still working on booking, by the way). I still, to some degree, want to continue to be some tangential part of this community, such as whatever I was to it before, but the constant obligation to whittle down others’ diligent creations into a distillation called “content”, which is what this business of blogging at its essence truly is, is something I want to rethink how I approach for a while. I want to come back to it, make a new blog on my own that can capture the fullness of my being. I want to write about jazz still, but also wandering in the desert of West Texas, of fantastic dinners from charismatic chefs, on art exhibits that jostle the mind, on why the last season of Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot may have been its best, on facing the next frontier in all its multifarious forms. I don’t quite know what that will be yet, but I’m curious to see what it’ll turn into. I hope you’ll follow me along the way, but I also hope that you continue to follow Nextbop under Seb’s solo leadership, corralling these writers and still covering this scene with the fervency that we have shown in the last decade and with the trust that you have given us in the past with the recognition that we’re all in this together as we keep moving forward into the future. Such is the nature of art and its discourse. Such is the nature of time.
There’s a fullness in ten years, in accomplishment and relationships and loves and loss. There’s a roundness in it that I and so many others before me have appreciated, much like the time itself, no matter its roundness, that I have spent here, in the publication and deep in the coverage of the genre. Jazz has grown in this last decade, and I have grown with it, expanding our own definitions of what we are and how we present ourselves to the world. Jazz is a music of constant creation, and thus by its very nature, it is a music of growth. To look at this music over the last decade and what I found to be my favorite works within it is still a very temporal question, but I tried my hardest to tell you, dear reader, what sustained me and what still does, what is a moment of time that you should carry with you into the next decade and the one after that, what spoke for the genre in this time but also what spoke for me within it. Music is personal that way. It always has been. It always will be. -Anthony Dean-Harris, Editor Emeritus
25. Christian Scott – Yesterday, You Said Tomorrow, 2010 (Concord)
All the fire, fury, and form that would seem to feel like a core that would keep catapulting through the next ten years started here, the moment before Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah completed his name. It’s recorded, mixed, and mastered by Rudy Van Gelder, meant to evoke a 1960s feel of the rawness this material evokes. He still keeps album opener “K.K.P.D.”, the ever timely composition about racist abusive policing in his touring repertoire, that emotion, and its relevance still sadly necessary. As Scott moved forward in his career, incorporating numerous other elements and inspirations into his music, referring to it as Stretch as it pushes the boundaries of what would be considered “jazz”, he also expanded the minds of those who heard his work, of his message in the music and in his discussion of the work itself. It took his establishing on the scene and the early work of Anthem to give him the stature to make statements this bold this early. It’s those statements that continue to resound as he kept exploring and stretching throughout the 2010s and he keeps doing so beyond with that same fervor, fire, fury, and form that keeps getting better and better.
Stream Christian Scott’s “Angola, LA & The 13th Amendment”
24. Aaron Parks Trio – Find the Way, 2017 (ECM)
When pianist Aaron Parks assembled his trio of bassist Ben Street and the legendary drummer Billy Hart back in 2016, it was a true thing of beauty to witness, which made this ECM release the following year that much more sweet. The always gorgeous playing of Parks met with the balance of Street and the power of Hart made for a formidable group that produced one of the most stunningly powerful piano trio albums of the decade, leaving the rest of us hoping something this beautiful would ever happen again in the next ten years.
23. Jaimeo Brown Transcendence – Work Songs, 2016 (Motéma)
Work Songs is the follow up to percussionist Jaimeo Brown‘s 2013 album, Transcendence. He’s still acting as the historian, melding archival recordings of work songs this time around, and bringing new life alongside instrumentation. That’s why it works so well. It’s music designed to endure, Brown is merely reminding of this, all while being neither didactic nor disrespectful. It’s a brilliant collection of songs with perfect embellishment that acts as an ideal snapshot of culture moving from the past to this particular moment of the present.
Stream Jaimeo Brown Transcendence’s Work Songs album
22. Stephan Crump – Rhombal, 2016 (Papillon Sounds)
When bassist Stephan Crump wanted to make an album without any chordal instruments, it seemed like an interesting experiment. When he made an album filled to the brim with so many emotions that mere theory melded with art didn’t seem like there were adequate words to describe everything he pulled off in doing so. Crump’s quartet including tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey works as one to make music with such multifarious depth that it’s hard to keep it all inside.
Stream Stephan Crump’s Rhombal album
21. Rotem Sivan – A New Dance, 2015 (Fresh Sound)
A New Dance was the album where guitarist Rotem Sivan changed up his trio alongside bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and added Colin Stranahan on drums. This really rounded out the sound, making things a bit more rambunctious. Antidote came two years after this and this rambunctiousness kept on going. As Sivan moved on from the trio setting to playing in other configurations, that same truly playful spirit that was always present in his work but truly turned on the afterburners could be pinned down to this album. It’s a truly stunning guitar trio album.
Stream Rotem Sivan’s A New Dance album
20. Somi – Live at Jazz Standard, 2011 (Palmetto)
This was a magical recording. Toru Dodo on the keys, Steve Bevilus on the drums, Keith Witty on bass, Alicia Olatuja on backing vocals, Liberty Ellman on guitar, and Somi and her depth and power of her vocals finding new inspiring heights. It’s exactly what you’d want out of a live vocal album like this. Her compositions and this band have a way for these songs to work in the mind and tumble out months or years later. It’s one of those recordings that stand out like that.
Watch the video for Somi’s “Prayer to the Saint of the Brokenhearted”
19. Now Vs Now – The Buffering Cocoon, 2018 (Jazzland)
Everything about Jason Lindner‘s electro-jazz trio seemed to be building to this– their funkiest, trippiest sound yet. This has always been a different sort of project with different sort of rhythms, definitely from the farthest corners of the jazz genre. However, what Lindner, Panagiotis Andreou, and Justin Tyson made together on this album is a perfect collection of brain-melting weirdness.
Stream Now Vs Now’s The Buffering Cocoon album
18. Phronesis – Life to Everything, 2014 (Edition)
Phronesis — the trio of bassist Jasper Hoiby, pianist Ivo Neame, and drummer Anton Eger — spent the last decade in this configuration and as one of the most riveting piano/bass/drum trios of the modern era. Here for their 2014 live album, the group pull out all the stops to throttle the listener into every kind of mood at breakneck speed. It’s what they’ve always been great at and this album was one of the highlights.
Stream Phronesis’ Life to Everything album
17. Ben Allison – Action-Refraction, 2011 (Palmetto)
Action-Refraction is the album where bassist Ben Allison started to get truly noticeably weird. Sure, those tendencies were always kind of there in his work, that sense of adventure, but there’s something about his linking up with Jason Lindner on the Prophet 08 analog synthesizer that took Allison’s work in a different direction. Sure, he still had the influence of guitarists Brandon Seabrook and Steve Cardenas, both of whom followed Allison along on his even weirder follow-up, the David Bowie referencing The Stars Look Very Different Today (ironic that this one doesn’t have the Blackstar-featured Lindner), but this is where the magic really started to happen. His version of the Donny Hathaway classic “Some Day We’ll All Be Free” is worth this album’s stature alone.
16. Gilad Hekselman – This Just In, 2013 (Jazz Village)
Everything was just syncing with guitarist Gilad Hekselman‘s This Just In with bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore with Mark Turner on tenor sax on a few tracks. The cobwebs were long since dusted off from opening track “Above” onward. The art and craft here in floating interludes and covers of the Alan Parson’s Project, of truly burning and taking in solemnity, in never losing any single moment of beauty, Hekselman made one of the finest guitar albums of the decade with a sound that should define the era.
Stream Gilad Hekselman’s “This Just In”
15. Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window, 2018 (Mack Avenue)
Cécile McLorin Salvant‘s The Window is what you would call “a two-hander”. It’s so much more than a duo album enabling us to hear each and every turn of Salvant’s powerfully pointed voice backed by the brilliant piano work of Sullivan Fortner. It’s when everything is stripped bare that one can feel every bit of the emotion Salvant conveys through her voice, but Fortner as well shines like never before (and he’s quite the shiny player in general) to make an album that’s beautiful in its starkness, like a delicate snowflake melting in the steadily rising sun.
Stream Cécile McLorin Salvant’s “Visions”
14. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings, 2018 (International Anthem)
Makaya McCraven took the spirit of collaboration that rang throughout his 2015 breakout album, In the Moment, and expanded the idea to highlight four different group configurations in four different cities– New York, London, Los Angeles, and his native Chicago. Each grouping has a different vibe but the same sense of groove with McCraven as that throughline in beat and sensibility. This album is just too, too cool in every possible way.
Stream Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings album
13. Steve Lehman Octet – Mise en Abîme, 2014 (Pi)
Mise en Abîme is doing a lot– it’s continuing Steve Lehman‘s explorations of spectral harmonies; it’s incorporating electronic effects and Chris Dingman‘s vibraphone; it’s dramatically reinterpreting Bud Powell compositions; it’s covering Camp Lo. It’s Steve Lehman who has always made folks stand up and pay attention any time he’s playing the alto saxophone, but this was definitely an album which begs the question, “Who the fuck IS this guy?!”
Stream the Steve Lehman Octet’s “Segregated and Sequential”
12. Vijay Iyer Trio – Accelerando, 2012 (ACT)
This was the album that caused the jazz world to really stand up and pay attention to pianist Vijay Iyer. He’s covering Heatwave and Flying Lotus and Henry Threadgill. He may have been the guy you should have known from Historicity, applying the Fibonacci sequence to Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” back in 2009, but that was just the beginning. This was the album that put him on the top of all the lists. This was the continuing adventures of Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore. This was one of those main pillar albums, one of the finest piano trio albums of the era. It deserves every single plaudit and probably still should get more.
Stream the Vijay Iyer Trio’s cover of Flying Lotus’ “Mmmhmm”
11. Linda May Han Oh – Aventurine, 2019 (Biophilia)
Take everything about the nature of Linda May Han Oh‘s ability to produce straight bangers and add strings. She’s awesome on the bass, but there’s something about her sense of bounce and balance in her songwriting that makes her music so constantly infectious, including the loftiness of strings would only elevate that feeling. These bangers are highfalutin’, and they are, in every sense of the word, some of the most inspiring jazz music I have heard in 2019. Of course, it’s difficult to determine timelessness when living in the moment. That displacement may very well be necessary, but it’s Linda May Han Oh. I’m willing to go out on that limb.
Stream Linda May Han Oh’s Aventurine album
10. Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found, 2011 (ObliqSound)
Sure, Gretchen Parlato‘s voice is practically perfect in every way. It’s soft and airy with a bunch of range and it sounds perfect in just about every setting. Her song choices and her musical compatriots are indicative of deft leadership that’s not overbearing but certainly with intention. In her 2011 album with Taylor Eigsti on piano, Derrick Hodge on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums, and Dayna Stephens on saxophone, Parlato crafted an album that combines all the best attributes of jazz and R&B. She’s carrying over much of the same playbook from her previous album, In A Dream (change out a version of SWV’s “Weak” with Mary J. Blige’s “All That I Can Say”, itself a Lauryn Hill composition) but it’s certainly not messing with what obviously works.
Stream Gretchen Parlato’s “Circling”
9. The Bad Plus – Made Possible, 2012 (eOne)
More than any other, this album’s placement is here for sentimental reasons (which honestly shouldn’t be out of the question for a list of albums literally called “favorites” and not the far too ostentatious “best”). Any look at what a jazz group can be within contemporary jazz music must at some point look at The Bad Plus— flexing their muscles on offbeat covers, the most ecumenical but mind-boggling sense of songwriting, changing up their collaborators over the years. Yet it’s at this point in the decade when they seemed particularly on, that and I finally crossed paths with them in Austin. This album of originals kept integrating Reid Anderson‘s electronics into the group’s supertight sound to make one of the most interesting albums of their career, while still acting as a signpost of where this group, now with Orrin Evans on keys in place of Ethan Iverson while Dave King is still killing it on drums, continues to go.
Stream The Bad Plus’ “Seven Minute Mind”
8. Lionel Loueke – Heritage, 2012 (Blue Note)
Lionel Loueke is great. He’s fantastic. His guitar playing is electric and twinkles marvelously. His voice is sweet and at times percussive. He’s always a brilliant player. But this band?! 2012’s Heritage was the only time this decade in which Loueke recorded alongside Robert Glasper on the keys, Derrick Hodge on the bass, and Mark Guiliana on the drums with vocalist Gretchen Parlato peppered throughout. This was a perfect group in a perfect pocket of time with Loueke’s compositions and leadership to present everything from Benin that is the core of what jazz is today with the right collection of people to completely blow minds.
Stream Lionel Loueke’s “Tribal Dance”
7. Liberty Ellman – Radiate, 2015 (Pi)
Radiate is an economical 45-minute album. It’s engrossingly dizzying and dizzyingly engrossing. It has the feel of something that wants to convey a large idea deceptively. It rewards repeat listens in part because it doesn’t make the task to do so all that hard. It feels like Threadgill without Threadgill, but this isn’t knocking the work in any way. These players know the territory well. Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, José Davila on tuba and trombone, Steve Lehman on alto saxophone, Stephan Crump on the bass, and Damion Reid on the drums are giving absolutely everything to bring the form and excitement of guitarist Liberty Ellman‘s compositions, going round and coming back again, making some of the most perfectly noodly earworms that can still very much rattle to the core.
Stream Liberty Ellman’s Radiate album
6. Matthew Stevens – Meet Matt Stevens EP, 2010 (Self Release)
Guitarist Matthew Stevens has done a lot over the last ten years and worked with a lot of folks. His awesome virtuosity in combination with a kind of blues sensibility has been a consistency that has shone in support and in lead, but that has always been apparent since his first four-song EP alongside Milton Fletcher on the organ and Jamire Williams on the drum, all of them showing that same brilliance that would persist throughout their own careers. However, there had to have been something in the air the night this trio recorded this set.
5. Linda May Han Oh – Walk Against Wind, 2017 (Biophilia)
Walk Against Wind is the spiritual successor to Linda May Han Oh’s 2013 album, Sun Pictures, an album of absolute bangers that she had to make a few more, this time with a primary quartet including guitarist Matthew Stevens, saxophonist Ben Wendel, and drummer Justin Brown. She captures the magic again with songs that resound with the full force one would expect from such a masterful bassist/composer/leader.
Stream Linda May Han Oh’s Walk Against Wind album
4. Yosvany Terry – New Throned King, 2014 (5Passion)
New Throned King is the album that made me rethink Afro-Cuban music. It’s bringing up the call & response of traditional music of the Arara, gives it a smidge of recontextualization, and creates something timeless as Terry sings through the saxophone. This music is infectious because it’s hearkening to something in the very soul.
Stream Yosvany Terry’s “New Throned King”
3. Linda May Han Oh – Sun Pictures, 2012 (Greenleaf)
Bassist Linda Oh’s 2012 album Sun Pictures is an album of absolute bangers. Inspired by a Sydney movie theater and featuring James Muller on guitar, Ben Wendel on the saxophone, and Ted Poor on the drums, Linda Oh wrote 46 minutes of music that can stand the test of time of jazz in the moment that can continually draw. The music continues to draw because they’re all bangers. Something about her writing gets at the very core of what a song should be, how it can have room to grow into really heady territory but still never lose sight of how to keep the audience’s attention and pull them along wherever the group is wanting to go. There’s narrative here with the groove with a replay value that literally lasts for years. It’s exactly the kind of album to keep returning to over and over again, which is why it’s probably one of the finest jazz albums of the decade.
Stream Linda May Han Oh’s Sun Pictures album
2. Makaya McCraven – In the Moment, 2015 (International Anthem)
Editing is a real craft. It’s about reliving moments to determine what should last forever. So there’s a certain kind of irony in a drummer combing through hours of spontaneity to forge the timeless. The music McCraven made with his various collaborators out of Chicago already had their moments of brilliance for their respective live audiences, but putting it all together for this chosen sense of permanence, McCraven presents himself as a drummer, a bandleader, but also a meticulous producer who crafts music in so many innumerable ways that he instantaneously made a signature sound that made ripples throughout the rest of the decade with his collaborators and others on the scene and continually releases work to look out for based on the groundbreaking work exhibited right here at this moment, carried over from spontaneity.
Stream Makaya McCraven’s In the Moment album
1. Jeremy Pelt – Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries, 2015 (HighNote)
Every year for the last ten years, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt releases a new album, usually in January or February. The group configuration is typically different. He may add electric keys one year, he may play with the legendary bassist Ron Carter another year, he could put out a live album. In 2015, he put together a post-bop quintet album with two drummers — Billy Drummond heard on the right channel and Victor Lewis on the left — Simona Premazzi on the piano and Ben Allison on the bass, and it’s maybe one of the most interesting albums he’s made of the decade. The album clocks in at nearly an hour, covers Clifford Jordan, Cahn & Van Heusen, and Wayne Shorter, and bounces around ideas in a straight-ahead format that feels from long ago and definitely brand new all at the same time. Jeremy Pelt is an artist in that he’s constantly innovating but he’s also well versed in his forebears. He’s trodding in tradition and building upon theory. In so doing, he’s exemplifying jazz’s past and its future while still sounding in the pocket. It’s an impeccable threading of a needle. On top of that, each and every one of these songs is fantastic on their own without them having to do the lofty work of describing jazz in its present moment. Tales, Musings, and Other Reveries is a great album but also a snapshot in time of where Jeremy Pelt was as an artist in 2015 (or really 2014 when he recorded it). He’s already past this creation and so are we, but that doesn’t make it any less marvelous, particularly when replaying it over and over again as the years continue to pass. For what are snapshots in time for other than for the sake of revisiting?