The fall season has seen a surge of new albums from a younger generation of jazz artists coming into their own. Here are some of the recent notable releases from artists (mostly) under 40.
A jazz singer accompanied by just piano is often the start of a career, before the singer can afford a band. Or at the end, when that singer has reached the height of his or her powers, needing no crutch.
On “The Window,” Cécile McLorin Salvant — 29 and at neither end of that spectrum — draws the ultimate flexibility from the format in confident, freewheeling takes on slightly obscure songbook tunes. On songs like “Trouble Is a Man” or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Gentleman Is a Dope,” Salvant leads willing accompanist Sullivan Fortner (piano, organ) through subtly theatrical shifts in time, tone, color, and style.
It’s the sound of a talented singer freed from the pursuit of recording the “definitive” version of a song. These energetic takes won’t be that, but Salvant’s genuine spontaneity gives moments of this 17-track album a raw power that is its own reward.
What Salvant’s album isn’t so much is music of the moment. Enter Ambrose Akinmusire’s collaboration with rapper Kool A.D. and Mivos string quartet, “Origami Harvest.”
The 36-year-old trumpeter offers a haunting, sustained effort in the simultaneous rage and hopeless indifference in the contemporary politics of race. Equal parts hip-hop tribute and hip-hop satire, suite for string quartet, and jazz vehicle du jour, this is a characteristically thoughtful composition from Akinmusire, and the highlight of this list.
Some of Kool A.D.’s lyrics are deliberately senseless, as if written by a burnt-out philosophy student (“We are the universe”), and others spot on. What he says on the first track, “a blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie,” profoundly captures the entire album: “Every last song is a long sigh/ A breath in the middle of one single run-on sentence.”
The cliché of looking to the future while embracing jazz traditions haunts many a young jazz musician’s bio, including Akinmusire’s. But few can put the phrase into sound like pianist Christian Sands.
His second album for Mack Avenue, “Facing Dragons,” helps define a center of a sprawling genre. Deeply informed by the blues, hip-hop, Latin jazz, gospel, and swing, Sands reflects the wealth of his experience as an in-demand sideman.
His group bursts through intricate compositions, and Sands sounds as good as ever: His solo lines are virtuosic and memorable, his supportive moments conversant.
The pianist stepped out on his own after years in the hard-swinging groups of bassist Christian McBride. McBride is out with another such group, New Jawn, this time without any chordal instrument at all.
On his band’s eponymous debut, McBride is joined by the venerable Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums), and younger cats Josh Evans (trumpet) and Marcus Strickland (tenor saxophone). The latter two are what make this otherwise underwhelming album burn and sound like they, too, are ready to take flight.
Pianist James Francies has mostly skipped the apprenticeship. At 23, he already has a Blue Note contract and a just-released debut album, “Flight.”
Francies comes from the jazz pipeline that is Houston’s HSPVA, the performing arts high school that spawned pianists Robert Glasper and Jason Moran, and many of Francies’s collaborators here have the same pedigree.
But the album is a mixed bag. Simply put, Francies’s prodigious talents are simply not fully realized on many of these tracks, nearly all original tunes. But he has time yet to bloom.
The years since “Modern Flows Vol. I” have been good to trumpeter Marquis Hill. He self-released that first EP at 27, just weeks before winning the Thelonious Monk jazz prize — and a recording contract with it.
Four years and an album later, Hill revisits the concepts that drove that earlier record in “Modern Flows Vol. II.” In some ways, it sounds as if Hill never left off, with what initially sounds like the same group — vibraphone, saxophone, electric bass, and drums — playing his brand of smooth, acoustic R&B.
But Hill swapped out the entire band, including adding fellow Chicagoans Joel Ross on vibraphone (who also appears on Francies’s album) and Junius Paul on bass. The two drive “Flows,” and the social commentary, as well as the lowdown groove, are even sharper than before.
Ethan Iverson is at exactly the opposite place in his career. The longtime pianist for the Bad Plus, a group formed in 2000 but with roots that go back a decade earlier, seems to be trying to put his youth behind him.
He left the trio last year, and is out with a slightly ponderous duo record with tenor saxman Mark Turner, “Temporary Kings.” The two are heavy, patient players which makes their collaboration either perfect or overbearing.
Getting into this album means slowing down to its pace. Moments when a quick listen would tell you nothing is happening are sometimes the most radical. As time speeds along, this album seems to ask: Can’t we listen just one note at a time?
Lucas Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.