Kamasi Washington will detonate modern jazz with The Epic

Who is Kamasi Washington? He’s the guy who made all of the fantastic sax sounds that you loved on both recent (and brilliant) Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar releases. Albums You’re Dead and To Pimp A Butterfly would feel utterly lacking without Washington’s input; his freewheeling tones form the sharp jazz edge cutting through both masterpieces.

This 14 minute tune is but a small piece of the upcoming, appropriately-titled debut album The Epic – it looks to be a sprawling, three hour affair aiming to throw down the gauntlet for modern jazz. In a genre valued for innovation and stratospheric ambition, the traditional live jazz band has been laying in stasis for a couple decades now. Real innovation has come from beyond left field, from electronic artists playing with jazz forms and ideals while never really touching the live band setup. Washington could change that perception.

As Flying Lotus himself put it, “everybody is trying to do the same shit. I don’t want to hear ‘My Favorite Things’ anymore.

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As a hardcore fan of the genre myself, I couldn’t put it any more plainly. This tune, along with a new exclusive song featured on Revive (I hope to have a copy streaming here soon) have jumpstarted my hopes for a new generation of the kind of wildly psychedelic, expansive, weird jazz that sits near and dear to my heart. Fans of later John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and especially Pharoah Sanders are highly encouraged to listen right now.

One last thing: Washington has been featured on this site before, as part of the Miguel Atwood-Ferguson ensemble. The band included Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Rebekah Raff, and Chris “Daddy” Dave, some of the best jazz musicians alive today. Their live take on Drips//Take Notice is one of the greatest live jazz performances recorded in the past few decades, if that’s any indication of this man’s talent.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar‘s new album, To Pimp A Butterfly, is out by surprise a full week ahead of time. It’s for sale digitally and streaming in full on Spotify. Click play below. Right now.

I’m sick. I woke up today too ill to even go to work. But then this happened. I’m feeling a bit elevated right now.

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I don’t have anything too meaningful to say yet. Here’s a couple comments I made with friends during my first and only listen:

  • I don’t care about what anyone else has to say on the first day of an album like this, that’s going to have a lot of discussion flying around. I like to hear it “pure” as can be, I suppose. So uh, after 2 tracks I’ll just say that I’m really enjoying this, and the dark swirl of production tics is reminding me of D’Angelo’s latest (Best of 2014 album by the way), in a really positive way. Old and new sounds mixing for something vintage but not dated sounding, maybe?
  • Almost at the end. Loving the thick jazz sound. Not quite jazz-hop in that Digable Planets way, it does remind me of their masterpiece Blowout Comb in a very slight way… which is a good thing since that’s a top 10 album of the 90s for me.

There’s no need for a lot of discussion the moment something as important as this hits our collective ears. Just listen and absorb it. We’ll talk later.

Edit:

Second listen observations: thinking that this evokes the warm but gritty production of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, the sprawling, psychedelic structure of Shabazz PalacesLes Majesty, and the free jazz embrace of Flying LotusYou’re Dead. It’s no coincidence that all of these featured on my Best of 2014 list. I’m linking it again for emphasis – if you like this, there’s a lot of fun music streaming on that page. This album is hitting me with a deep and immediate connection.

The Best Music of 2014

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This is a list of seriously amazing music. The best albums released in 2014, no shit. You probably haven’t heard of some of these artists. That’s okay. That’s awesome, in fact. Most of it’s off the beaten path, and it’d be a shame if that’s the only reason you never heard it. My biggest pleasure with this blog is hearing from friends who discovered something that’s become absolutely essential in their lives. I treasure that feeling and only hope to spread it. Enrich your life. Be adventurous, try out some of the music streaming on this page! It’s free right now and you’re definitely not doing anything better!

Okay.

I know this is late in the sense that most people publish their lists before the year is done, but I couldn’t care less about being first in judging an entire year’s worth of beautiful music. I’d always rather be finished than first.

Every piece of music on this list deserves attention. You’ll probably love some and hate others, because that’s how taste works.

See the Best of 2014 Honorable Mention list for the greatest albums that didn’t quite make the final cut!

[Note: excepting the ABSOLUTE FAVORITES section, these albums are listed in the order I heard them.]

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CFCF – You Hear Colours [incredible video]

“This seems really poppy/upbeat for you. Of course I’m always imagining you listening to weird post breakbeat Croatian footwork jazz with Russian metal and Japanese house influences”

The above works were spoken to me by a friend as I shared this fantastic video for an old CFCF track.

While the artist has evolved into something for more weird, specific, and perfect for my tastes (see his last album and Night Bus mixes, which have obviously influenced my own mixtapes) but this is the song that started it all. I was hooked immediately and never looked back.

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I don’t really have anything else to say; Ed said it all. Enjoy!

Don’t Watch The Superbowl

Seriously, you don’t have to.

Instead, check out Billie Holiday pouring her fucking soul into Strange Fruit, a mere five months before her untimely death.

Possibly the saddest rendition ever of the classic song about the lynching of two black men. This won’t make you happy, but it will feed your soul.

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God, she’s amazing. Also, this photo sums up my reaction to everyone watching fucking football today.

Another new Zs track streaming right here: “Corps”

Yesterday I wrote about and shared the 18 minute title track for Zs’ upcoming album, Xe. You can listen here. I later realized that the band’s own Soundcloud page held a second lengthy piece, called Corps. It’s another fantastic slice of weird avant jazz that’s got my anticipation off the charts at this point.

The tune opens with a guitar riff marrying Dick Dale surf licks with Steve Reich minimalism, creating a line for the insistent percussion and tenor sax asteroids to dance over. Think Misirlou fucking with Electric Counterpoint and you’re on the right page. The rhythm loosens up, allowing the drums and saxophone to each billow up and take turns leading the sound. It’s a fantastic, tightly wound jam that ends in an effervescent free-jazz cloud.

Because the band absolutely thrives in a live setting, here’s a brief, energetic take on the song:

Now that I’ve fallen into a youtube hole and saved a load of Zs videos, you’ll likely see a handful more of these posts before the album drops on January 27th.

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Protip: you can order the album directly from Northern Spy Records for $17 on vinyl, right here: XE On Northern Spy.

Noisy jazz mutants Zs release a new album next week; title track streaming here!

Next week, muscular avant jazz champions Zs will release their long awaited album Xe, the first true followup to 2010’s monumental freakout New Slaves. I was already excited about the news. Now that I’ve heard the title track, I’m losing my patience.

Always evolving, never repeating, Zs are set to render us all dumbstruck again:

While I haven’t written much about Zs, they are in fact my favorite jazz project working today. I’ve shared a pair of posts about bandleader Sam Hillmer’s solo project a couple years back, and mentioned the group on my Best Of The Rest Of 2010 post. My words book-ending that list turned prophetic: “…any one of these albums may end up defining the year as much as the ‘true’ list.” In the case of New Slaves, that sentence couldn’t be any truer.

The double LP set is a monster, crossing cavernous metal and noise rock with free jazz of the highest order. The title track is, to my ears, a love letter to John Coltrane’s divisive masterpiece, Ascension. As the months of 2011 wore on, I found myself returning again and again to the album, eventually regarding it with a sense of awe for powerfully (and permanently) shifting my tastes more than than anything I’d mentioned on the official Best Of The Year list.

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Now, we have Xe dropping on January 27th, 2015. Judging by the initial nuanced throb of the title track, this looks to be perhaps less outwardly punishing than the last album. However, when the percussion starts tumbling over itself, and the guitar flares out of its surf metal loop, the tune erupts for the final third, with Hillmer soloing all over the place in a tight frenzy. Instead of a total wildfire, perhaps we’ll get a controlled burn with this new release.

Order the album directly from Northern Spy Records right here: XE On Northern Spy.