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Rewinding July | The Best Jazz

Sharhabil Ahmed, Dinner Party, Sparkle Division and the rest of the latest winners.


To be clear, my definition of jazz plays pretty fast and loose. As do a lot of the best albums I found time for in July. Here they are in alphabetical order. Click on the cover picture to go to the original review page (where you should also be able to listen to the album in full):


Sharhabil Ahmed
The King of Sudanese Jazz

Forget what you’re thinking. This isn’t some ancient, oddball Afro-jazz album. Nope. It’s way weirder than that. Despite his self-appointed title, Sudanese jazz king Sharhabil Ahmed actually delivers something that sounds more like a wild ’n’ woolly brand of old-school surf-rock straight from the garage — complete with all the twangy licks, hip-shaking beats and wig-flipping abandon you want, but topped with a honking and squealing snake-charmer horn that intertwines with his flowing and soaring vocalizations. You gotta hear this one. But I warn you: One spin and you’ll be hooked.

Mike Dillon

You probably hear the marimba every day — it’s the source of the jaunty ringtone millions of folks use on their mobile phone. Something you don’t hear every day: The marimba used as the lead instrument on an album of percussion-fuelled jazz-rock instrumentals — including richly textured covers of Trent Reznor’s Hurt and Elliott Smith’s Talking To Mary and Can’t Make A Sound. I’d suggest substituting marimba master Mike Dillon’s superbly crafted, inspired tracks for your current ringtone — except that you’d never answer your calls because you wouldn’t want to interrupt the music.

Dinner Party
Dinner Party

Psst. It’s a new jazz-hip-hop supergroup featuring pianist Robert Glasper, sax players Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin, and producer 9th Wonder — along with versatile Chicago vocalist Phoelix on several cuts. As you might expect from a top-shelf cast like this, their easygoing and stylishly superb debut finds them all joining forces, playing to their individual strengths and hitting the sweet spot between their styles — all without stepping on each other’s toes. Anyone for seconds?

The Jerry Granelli Trio
Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison

Along with their status a trailblazing cool-jazz pianists, hipster icon Mose Allison and Peanuts soundtracker Vince Guaraldi have one other thing in common — drummer Jerry Granelli, who played with Guaraldi in the ’60s (yes, that’s him on all your favourite childhood cartoons) and Allison in the ’70s. On this instrumental offering, the Nova Scotia resident revisits some moments from his impressive career, tackling a slate of his former employers’ familiar numbers with his own trio. But it’s not just some nostalgic romp: Granelli’s trio update, stretch and revamp these familiar numbers, imbuing them with more muscle, elasticity and contemporary experimentation than you heard on the originals. But thankfully, with no turtleneck sweaters or wah-wah trumpets. Good grief.

Makaya McCraven
Universal Beings E&F Sides

American drummer Makaya McCraven and an all-star cast — including maverick sax player Shabaka Hutchings — hit the sweet spot between avant-garde jazz, neo-soul, electronica, hip-hop and more as he revistis, deconstructs and reassembles elements of his 2018 release Universal Beings into a whole new album. Get into his groove.

The Anthony Braxton Project

THE PRESS RELEASE: “Celebrating Anthony Braxton on his 75th birthday, Thumbscrew digs into the Tricentric Archives, focusing on previously unrecorded pieces by the legendary composer, multi-wind master and bandleader. The all-star collective trio — drummer Tomas Fujiwara, guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Michael Formanek — releases its fifth album, The Anthony Braxton Project. For fans familiar with Braxton’s music the project offers a whole new window into his genius for designing protean musical situations pregnant with possibilities. Those less acquainted with his work might find themselves enthralled and amazed by the sheer diversity of rhythmic and melodic material explored by Thumbscrew.

The Ridiculous Trio
The Ridiculous Trio Plays The Stooges

Hands up, everybody who wants to listen to a tuba player, a slide-trombone virtuoso and a drummer unspool lumpy, lurching crash ’n’ bash instrumental covers of Iggy and The Stooges’ Detroit proto-punk classics like T.V. Eye, Down On The Street and I Wanna Be Your Dog. If your mitt isn’t up over your mug right now, we both know you’re lying. Ridiculous? Try ridiculously good.

Roots Magic
Take Root Among the Stars

Between the cover art and the title, you might quite reasonably think you’ve stumbled upon an album from some sort of way cool Afro-futurist outfit. Nope. Turns out Roots Magic are actually an adventurous Italian jazz outfit. Even so, their latest album Take Root Among the Stars is also way cool — primarily because the inventive quartet gamely deconstruct classics by everyone from Delta bluesmen like Charley Patton and Skip James to jazz iconoclasts like Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, revamping them into muscular groovathons, hard-driving post-bop barnburners and free-jazz skronkfests. Root out this one.

Sly & The Family Drone
Walk It Dry

Subtlety is for saps. Rehearsals are restrictive. Volume is an instrument. Chaos is the ultimate plan. And more is always better. U.K. extremists Sly & The Family Drone put those questionable mottos into incredible practice once again on their latest full-length Walk It Dry. For the noobs: They’re mostly an instrumental foursome (right now) consisting of a thundering drummer, a leather-lunged sax colossus, and two knob-twisting electronic sound manipulators. Their shared goal: To create a sound that splits the diff between free jazz, noise-rock, experimental sonic art and more — while simultaneously splitting their listeners’ heads wide open, exploding the audience’s ear drums and shredding the sonic fabric of the universe. They’ve been walking that walk for years. Now it’s your turn.

Sparkle Division
To Feel Embraced

THE PRESS RELEASE: “A vibrant electronic fusion of lounge, jazz, and disco is maybe not the first (or fifth) thing you would expect to hear from one of the world’s most renowned modern composers and ambient tape loop pioneers, but upon first listen, it makes so much sense that one wonders why it didn’t happen sooner. After years of producing and mentoring slews of young artists in 1990s Williamsburg, Brooklyn, William Basinski moved to Los Angeles. There he hired a young studio assistant, Preston Wendel, who eventually introduced his own works to the curious composer. That spawned a creative partnership that inspired Wendel to persuade Basinski to haul out his saxophone. Five years later, Sparkle Division has arrived with their enchanting debut album, To Feel Embraced.

Jorma Tapio & Kaski

THE PRESS RELEASE: “With the new album Aliseen, legendary Finnish saxophone player Jorma Tapio and his group Kaski connect two traditions: local folk music and free jazz. Tapio formed Kaski in 2015. Kaski is the Finnish term to describe the traditional way of burning a forest to make the ground fertile again. The 11 songs that make up the album reflect on rural life in Finland, a country that has been occupied either by Sweden or Russia through the centuries; a Nordic land with long dark winters, midnight sun in the summer, and deep links to the spiritual world. The album title, Aliseen, is the Finnish word for a shaman’s trip to the underworld. What makes this album so special is Tapio’s success in combining the Finnish dark, mysterious and spiritual traditional world with the cosmic sound of Don Byas, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and the great tradition of American jazz, free jazz, and improvised music.”

World Sanguine Report
Skeleton Blush

Some albums need to be heard to be believed. World Sanguine Report’s Skeleton Blush isn’t one of them — but only because you probably still won’t believe it after you hear it. Unless you can believe in the existence of a band (and an album) that sounds like Tom Waits fronting Pere Ubu — if they were an avant-garde punk-jazz combo. Seriously.