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Recommendation: Five Modern Jazz Albums

Albums to Help Someone Just Getting Into Jazz Understand Today's Jazz Climate


This is a list of albums that have come out in the past 12 years that might help attract young listeners. I chose them because they are some of the albums that attracted me to jazz when I was developing my ears for the music.

1. Kenny Garret – ‘Songbook’

Kenny Garrett Songbook Jazz Album
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Kenny Garrett’s 1997 album Songbook (Warner Brothers) was the first glimpse I had into the world of jazz after the 1950s. The music I had heard before that, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, and Thelonious Monk, had certainly piqued my interest, but Songbook’s slick and powerful tracks practically had me shivering with excitement. On the album, Garrett alternates between a simple pop aesthetic and aggressive modern jazz angularity. In fact, it was Songbook that allowed me to understand Coltrane’s music of the early 1960s. The album also features a hair-raising performance by the late Kenny Kirkland.
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2. Mark Turner – ‘Dharma Days’

Dharma Days Jazz Album Mark Turner
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Saxophonist Mark Turner’s 2001 album Dharma Days is eerie and oddly beautiful. It conjures the types of intense moods that are so mixed and therefore difficult to label. At first this recording seemed thorny and hard to listen to, but after trying again and again, its brilliance finally became apparent. Owing much to the style of saxophonist Warne Marsh, it foreshadowed the cerebral mood with which Turner and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel would later achieve more widespread renown, such as on the live album The Remedy (Artistshare, 2007). Thanks in large part to drummer Nasheet Waits, Dharma Days also preceded the contemporary trend in jazz that favors adherence to a larger structure while being loose and free with the structure’s components.
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3. Dave Douglas – ‘The Infinite’

Dave Douglas Album The Infinite
Courtesy of RCA Records
Dave Douglas’ The Infinite (RCA) came out in 2002, and served as a bridge to 1960s Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter records. The simmering and haunting mood is a result of Douglas’ Shorteresque compositions, with their voice-like gestures, as well as the ambiance keyboardist Uri Caine creates with the Fender Rhodes. Chris Potter and Dave Douglas play stirring solos, reminiscent of Davis and Shorter but with pointed and precise delivery. The album features covers of songs by Mary J. Blige, Bjork, and Rufus Wainwright.
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4. Dave Holland Quintet – ‘Extended Play: Live at Birdland’

Dave Holland Quintet Extended Play Live at Birdland
Courtesy of ECM Records
The Dave Holland Quintet’s Extended Play: Live at Birdland (ECM) marked the peak of bassist Dave Holland’s power group, featuring drummer Billy Kilson, saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, and vibraphonist Steve Nelson. The album, released in 2003, is all about heavy grooves and extended vamps. Solos frequently surpass ten minutes, and they tend to barrel steadily through, building momentum continually.
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5. The Bad Plus – ‘These are the Vistas’

The Bad Plus These Are the Vistas Jazz Album
Courtesy of Sony Records
The Bad Plus’ 2003 album These are the Vistas (Sony) was a relief for those of us who had grown up listening to rock and pop and then began studying jazz in high school or college. The piano trio’s covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” put an end to the cognitive dissonance we suffered. Finally it was acceptable for us to enjoy rocking out while listening to or playing intricate improvised music.
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