Don Cherry’s Spiritual Jazz Masterpiece: Brown Rice

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Today is Don Cherry‘s birthday. He would have been 79 years old. To celebrate the inimitable jazz explorer’s life, I’m sharing my favorite album of his.

Here’s Brown Rice streaming in full. It’s one of the most warmly engaging releases of the entire free jazz universe and, as such, is a great entry point for those who have yet to experience the furthest reaches of the genre.

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The Boo Radleys – Wish I Was Skinny

I forgot how much I loved this song.

Despite the title, the lyrics are actually about all sorts of insecurities that we find ourselves plagued with. The song happily dances upon the surface of existential loathing, a buoyant celebration of being weird and alone and, on rare occasion, freaking out and having some unbridled fun.

I’d never seen the video before today, so I’m thankful I thought to look it up. The band members star as put-upon losers who let loose a bit of anarchy in the driving, instrumental second half of the tune. It’s basically what I saw in my head every time the song played, a cathartic release of tension and inhibitions. After all these years, it’s still a burst of joy.

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The Boo Radleys may be remembered in Britpop history for their 1995 breakthrough Wake Up!, but I’ve always had a much softer spot for the previous album, Giant Steps. Wish I Was Skinny is a bit of a red herring, since the rest of the album is a turbulent, dizzying race through a dense series of wild sound worlds.

It’s an incredibly ambitious psychedelic pop album, veering from washed out shoegaze to broken jazz explosions, infused with an uncanny pop sensibility that makes even the noisiest parts endearing. It was ballsy to name an album after the John Coltrane masterpiece, but if anyone in the world of 90s British rock deserved to use it, it was this band.

If you become nauseous at the mere mention of Oasis, don’t worry. These guys have more in common with Mercury Rev or My Bloody Valentine than those lamentable torch-bearers for British pop overseas.

Shabazz Palaces Live On KEXP 2014

Witness the most cosmic act in hip-hop, Shabazz Palaces, unleashing a hyperdrive tapestry live in the KEXP studio.

The whirlwind performance shuffles tracks from the best album of 2014, Lese Majesty, unfolding fresh aspects of their sound. There’s also a fine interview, discussing the recording process and what it feels to be making music that sounds like absolutely nothing else on earth.

These guys do not fuck around.

I dug this video from my drafts after listening to the groundbreaking album, Blowout Comb, from vocalist Ishmael Butler’s previous group, Digable Planets. In one of the most improbable second acts in music history, an early 90s underground rap hero emerged over a decade later with a new (at first mysteriously anonymous) project, breaking the few remaining rules of hip-hop like some young start up. With the group’s second album, they transcended all genre definitions, creating a sound as pure as it is unique.

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Shabazz Palaces have officially joined weird, pioneering heroes like Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Aphex Twin, and John Coltrane in truly rarefied space.

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.

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.