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KMHD's Top 10 Jazz Albums Of 2015


The staff at KMHD listened to tons of music this year and hand picked the top 10 jazz albums of 2015. Listen to the KMHD playlist below.

A New Constellation (Tru Thoughts) by Quantic presents The Western Transient
The old adage that change is good for the soul can be heard in every warm note emanating from the grooves on Quantic’s new album.  Honing a new sound in a new city, Quantic has come to America to pay tribute to studio jazz recordings with his new group, The Western Transient.  Having assembled a roster of top shelf L.A. musicians, Quantic brought his vintage Ampex reel-to-reel recorder to the studio and a notebook of new compositions.  Exuding a joy and airiness from start to finish, this album brims with hope and optimism. The sound of Todd Simon’s sparkling trumpet riding alongside Alan Lightner’s elegant steel drum work arrives like a new star in the jazz firmament — a new constellation indeed. –Derek Smith

Wondem by Dexter Story
Is this a Jazz album? Yes. Is this a world music album? Yes. Dexter Story is a musician who is steeped in the Jazz Tradition. After all, he’s played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Slide Hampton. But on his newest, “Wondem,” he explores a new sound, replete with influences from East Africa. The record captures and distills a sort of pure happiness that only African music can provide. The album was written and recorded in his personal studio in Los Angeles and features guest appearances from his closest associates like the gifted Miguel Atwood Ferguson and Carlos Nino. Wondem means “brother” in Amharic. –Matt Fleeger  

Stretch Music by Christian Scott
Jazz always favors its innovators, and I believe Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah will be remembered as an innovator in this genre. Scott’s sound is recognizable, but not as derivative as the many other young-blood Jazz upstarts that have come before him. On his newest, “Stretch Music,” Scott keeps the rhythm unique and discernible, and best of all, danceable. A new texture, the flautist Elena Pinderhughes, truly adds something to this record. There are stylistic tinges of “On the Corner,” era Miles Davis, but more than anything – Scott is saying something new, and that is a rare thing to find in today’s Jazz climate. –Matt Fleeger  

The Dancers at The Edge of Time (Jazzman) by Greg Foat Group
During the hottest couple of days of the summer inside a hallowed place of worship, The Greg Foat Group used vintage recording equipment and instruments to birth a modern classic into the world. Inside an ancient church on the Isle of Wight, Foat starts his latest spiritual jazz trip by touching the keys to a centuries old pipe organ.  Soon, the titanic sound of the organ gives way to an otherworldly groove.  When the first tsunami like sounds of the saxophone rumble through, it’s clear that this will be no ordinary listening experience. Some albums sound fine percolating in the background, but this isn’t that kind of experience.  It is music for communion.  With touches of the pastoral giving way to dark tides of feeling, this music will swell the sails of your soul even as it lights the way home after a long stretch at sea. –Derek Smith

The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble (self-titled)
Cities, innately, are musical places.  The pealing bells of streetcars, the plaintive howl of a train whistle, the guy talking on his cell phone next to you right now as you read this. And some music belongs to the city.  The SureFireSoulEnsemble grooves with the grit and grime of city living.  Urbanity permeates each and every tune on their debut album, making you feel like a player in an imaginary film.  This is adventure music.  This is chase music.  The rolling grooves rumble in lockstep with spiraling horn lines of every hue.  Flute, baritone sax, flugelhorn and trombone splash bright murals across the rhythmic brick walls built by organs, clavinets, congas and shekere. With song titles such as “City Heights,” “Lane Changin,” and “The Blvd,” this album knowingly sets itself up to be your new metropolitan mood music.  Enjoy. –Derek Smith

The Epic by Kamasi Washington
This is the most ‘straight ahead’ album on our list. Washington’s sound could be described as derivative of the soulful style of hard-bop purveyed by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. That’s a good thing, but it’s the breadth and scope of this record that truly makes this album groundbreaking. “The Epic,” is a fitting title for this 3-disc record that clocks in at just under 3 hours in length. A big band and a vocal choir back Washington’s 10-piece ensemble, at times. It might be true that Kamasi Washington’s success is in direct correlation to his relationship to the gifted rapper Kendrick Lamar. We don’t care how he got popular — he deserves every bit of it. –Matt Fleeger 

The Epic by Kamasi Washington.
Listen here.

The Epic by Kamasi Washington. Listen here.

Cave Art by DJM Trio
File under: reverse-engineered hip-hop. Since rap and hip-hop have so often borrowed from jazz, it’s refreshing to see jazz borrow from them. Dominic J. Marshall and his trio released this album earlier this year, and for the most part, it flew under the radar. But it shouldn’t have. With jazz covers of songs by A Tribe Called Quest, Flying Lotus, and Little Brother, Marshall does something very unique with the sounds here. It’s a pleasing mix of music that jazz piano trio fans of all tastes can appreciate. Don’t expect to pick this one up on CD or Vinyl anytime soon though; this album was only released as a digital download, and physically on cassette tape. Yep. –Matt Fleeger

In the Moment by Makaya McCraven
To our knowledge, no one has ever done what Makaya McCraven did on this record. Over the course of 28 weeks, McCraven assembled some of Chicago’s finest musicians (including Jeff Parker and Matt Ulery) to play with him at his weekly gig. He recorded each of these performances, then went back and poured over them, mixing his favorite parts together, overlapping them, and then redefining the sounds into something wholly unique. Normally, we call this ‘remixing’ – but “In the Moment,” is something more: it’s an album that sounds cohesive and dynamic. It works as a special experience for the listener: a sort of distillation of hours and hours of music into one single potent creation. For jazz, the tracks contained here are short: 19 two to five minute songs, which result in a highly enjoyable listening experience as a whole or by themselves. McCraven should be celebrated as a forward-thinking musician and producer, a sophisticated improviser with a highly developed sense of groove. –Matt Fleeger   

Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday by Jose James
To celebrate the centennial of Billie Holiday’s birth, Jose James set out to make a tribute album honoring Holiday, his greatest vocal influence. A tribute album is a difficult task to undertake and a successful one is a rare occurrence. Rather than freezing Holiday in time and embalming her music, James succeeds at invoking her spirit and breathing new life into her music. Backed by an all-star band featuring Eric Harland on drums, Jason Moran on piano, and John Patitucci on bass, James’ elegant interpretations exercise restraint, champion her honesty and vulnerability as a story-teller, and simmer with sophistication and beauty. –Jessica Rand 

Covered by Robert Glasper
Over two hot summer days in Los Angeles, Robert Glasper invited a small studio audience into Capitol Records’ notorious “Studio A,” the same studio where Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and many other legends made some of their seminal recordings. The event was an intimate affair: as if Glasper had welcomed a handful people into his living room to play music for them. The result is a warm and inviting record that brings together disparate material (from Radiohead to Joni Mitchell) under the singular, soulful vision of one of Jazz’s modern geniuses. In the trio setting, there is a “Glasperness” that now has become an identifiable trait, in the manner that one recognizes when Tatum or Monk are playing the piano after spending time with their music. Many fans had been clamoring for a trio release from Glasper after his excellent Black Radio projects, they got what they were waiting for (and then some) with this excellent new record. –Matt Fleeger

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