Cheap Jazz Ain't Bad (on eMusic)

edited November 2019 in Jazz
Trying to get my wishlist down to around 350, and actually buying the many jazz albums under $4 on it seemed to be a fast way to do so. Here’s ten I like a lot, and a warning for purists that the list is heavily colored by my skewed taste (i.e. tending to have electronica and rock elements)—in no way do I claim these are the best jazz albums left on the site. Most are from far-flung locations across the globe, and I’d never heard of a single one before wishlisting them. Not one seems to be on AMG, so I’d say they’re all very obscure. Unfortunately, I have a jazz description handicap, not knowing my bops from a hole in the ground, so by all means, sample first!

1. “Asanisimasa” - Silberman Quartet (2019). A good heuristic tool for searching the remaining jazz without knowing names of artists, groups or labels is to type something like “quartet, quintet, trio, orchestra,” etc. Audio Cave is one of the labels that I’d just download the whole shebang if I could. There’s some keyboards on these long tracks as well as electronic elements, given to abstraction and experimentation. “Bez tytulu 2” is probably the darkest, scariest jazz song I’ve ever heard.

2. “S/t” - Julian Haugland (2018). One of the more conventional albums here still begins with a bass solo before letting anyone else into the studio with him. Nordic.

3. “Kau” - Silvio Paredes (2011). Starts off being the least electronic music labeled as such, but ends up sounding, to my delight, quite a bit like a pared down Jaga Jazzist. At other times, it goes into sky scenery territory plied by Royksopp’s Steve Reich remix: I’ll leave it to others whether the album as a whole is jazz or not.

4. “MOMENTUM” - Roman (2018). Another one not to judge by its first track, there was no way this list wasn’t going to have some jazz rock guitar jams. I hear a lot of Zappa, the extremely obscure but closely related Octafish, and some Darediablo as well. Pretty tight. Maybe my favorite on the list.

5. “Due Fois Cinq” - Tentet Franco-Italien (2011). A ten-person group can really bring the chaos better than a smaller one, as this live album shows. Yet when all the members come together, it can also be a powerfully moving experience. Silent pauses play a more prominent role here than on any other album, allowing each section of controlled chaos to start from scratch for maximum impact. Probably the closest to free jazz on this list, but again, there are structured passages.

6. “Burns” - Birmingham Jazz Orchestra Directed by Sean Gibbs (2015). Swingin’ guitar and brass albums aren’t usually my thing, but for $2, it’s not offensively pleasant, and the opener barely hints at what’s to come. I assume some are standards, but I don’t know.

7. “Rosa” - Koyari (2017). Female vocal jazz en español. Both her singing and accompaniment manage to be understated, somehow. Very wrong of me to prefer this over something classic like Billie Holiday, but I do.

8. “Ocho Chino” - Mauricio Barraza Quinteto (2013). Much slower tempo than most others here, these songs usually feature a clarinet in the lead, backed by piano and vibes. I couldn’t ask for a better combo. “Gud Bay N Way” adds an accordion, a guitar, and a spring in their step, if you prefer things wilder and noisier.

9. “El Jugo” - Quartetto Minimo (2010). Built around a pair of sprawling, 12-minute songs…I prefer the second to the title track…, the guitar jazz ramble here isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it’s a nice enough way to pass almost an hour. A bit of sabor Latino finds its way into this one, nicely spicing up the proceedings.

10. “EP” - Zura (2017). The cheapest entry (though not 99-cents) is also among my favorites for being the most electronic. Since one of the two albums from an earlier post on “funky electronic jazz” disappeared before I could get the remix EP, this has substituted. A bit of an Amon Tobin feel rhythmically and with twinkling sounds, but the blaring sax on the second track definitely isn’t. I just wish it were several times longer.

All these are instrumental unless otherwise noted. I’m ready and anticipating being told that these albums are not important jazz, but some of them are quite serious. A 99-cent serious, important jazz list could just as easily consist entirely of albums on ESP-Disk, but I’ll leave that to someone else. I’ve still got a few jazz albums on the wishlist that aren’t cheap, and maybe having gone 10/10 without a lemon on these will get me off the fence. If I were willing to pay more than $4 for my eMusic jazz, I’m sure I could remake this list anew several times over again. Plenty of interesting stuff left, and the price point remains a big draw to stay subscribed!

On previous lists: "Oofth" - Massimiliano Milesi (2019). "Unbalanced: Concerto for Ensemble" - Moisés P. Sánchez (2019). "Breath" - Arek Czernysz Trio (2019). "Hill Spell" - Northing (2019). "Be Glad" - Tom Terrien (2016). "Nonagram" - Soweto Kinch (2016). "5 Journeys" - Sumrrá (2015). "A Pudding oO CD" - Pudding oO (2015). A lot of the 99-cent list is jazz, too.

I won’t include a list of all the jazz labels left on eMusic with this post, as I think this one is still basically accurate, with several notable losses (Gondwana, We Jazz, Yellowbird, etc.)


  • I bought the Haugland a while back and enjoyed it.
  • Ten More Jazz Albums

    There’s a ton of jazz on my wishlist but just barely enough to cobble another list of ten together from what I’ve purchased in the last few months.  As ever, this is probably more representative of what in jazz terms I’m willing to pay more than 99 cents for than what’s left on eMusic.

    In approximate order of how much I like them…

    1. “Neocortex” - Loop Vertigo (2018).  Nothing affirms my subscription like finding nice electronic jazz tucked away where only I can find it (i.e. on a decidedly non-jazz indie label like Black Athena).  Long tracks add up to nearly an hour, more than justifying the high price.  The overall mood is mellow, but some tracks are punchier.  The use of both organs and a piano is unusual, and I’d triangulate the title track opener as somewhere between three favorites of Red Snapper, Jaga Jazzist, and (of course) The Bad Plus.  This is high praise.  The second track circles around a tight organ theme and artful drumming.  “Will” is almost all piano before switching to a stuttering organ for the last few minutes and end up sounding like a Latin jazz version of Emperor Penguin.  I’m a little less impressed by the remainder of the album, which gets into some inevitable meandering, but at no point do proceedings ever get unpleasant or boring.

    2.  “The Cold Claws of Oblivion” - Emanata (2017).  A cheap EP of funky, experimental electronic jazz with a rogue violin that can either lead a melody or a hostile takeover of a whole song.  Synthesizers and organs provide most of the sounds, backed by a drum set mostly to rock & roll, or at least not the focus of complexity.  This is a band that’s not afraid to explore the realm of noise, though quiet numbers like “Feet & Mish” and “Felurian” strike a balance overall.  I oppose the Marvelization of cinema, and the cartoon superhero album art on all their albums doesn’t really fit the music, in my opinion.  Equal parts groovy, rollicking, challenging, and soothing, I’m curious to hear what they could do with a more expansive run-time at their disposal.  This is a fine companion to  groups like JSBL and A Pudding OoO.

    3. “Bonepocket” - Mike Lockwood (2017).  Fans of jazzy post-rock should love this one.  It’s a highly unusual album in that it only has three tracks, a meaty 20+ minute whopper sandwiched between two of six minutes, more expensive than a 3-track EP but also longer and still a bargain at $2.49.  The first song builds delightfully with reeds and brass into something of a cacophony before settling into a denouement of bass, drums, and saxophone that itself only ends up being slightly less uproarious.  The long track is built on abstract guitars, bass, and drums, moving at a slow tempo at first and allowing the other instruments from the opener to re-introduce themselves at their own pace.  Reminds me of Do Make Say Think, something else on Constellation, or Cerberus Shoal at their most sprawling and instrumental.  The tempo picks up about four minutes in, and the proceedings get pretty groovy, with the guitars providing a rhythmic bed for a saxophone solo that eventually converges into the main theme until the midway point, winding, fading, and mutating in driving variations that leash and then unleash the sax.  The midsection is hazily atmospheric, with the scene set mainly by the drums and long tones, pierced by a high guitar from near silence.  Gradually louder guitar leads in the last quarter, sounding deceptively noisy while actually building the foundation for the home stretch of the marathon, with some really nice clarinet work over the top of it.  The drum solo at the end sounds positively exhausted.  The closing track, “Lilt,” begins in brief bursts with near silence in between, as if limping to the finish line, unsure if it can go on.  Of course it finds its footing again, loudly, and the mellow closing minutes feel very much earned.  And that’s a full, play-by-play review.

    4. “Repetitions (Letters to Krzysztof Komeda)” - EABS (2017).  There’s no shortage of jazzy hip-hop and vocal jazz, but I haven’t heard much jazz that remains steadfastly jazz (fusion) while incorporating urban vocal elements this seamlessly.  Why it’s Polish is a mystery for others to solve.  DaKah Hip-hop Orchestra is a clear point of comparison, but the drumming tends to hem closer to rock.  Piano and guitars provide most of the instrumentation, with brass popping in and out for passages.  And that’s all within the second track, spanning almost eleven minutes.  Before ceding the track to the saxophone alternating wild and mellow, the vocal intro to “Private Conversation” emulates someone’s style very clearly…reminds me of Sesame Street, but I’m not well versed enough to name drop the reference.  These feel like real, cohesive jazz songs rather than vehicles for MCs or virtuoso solos.  Even at an hour in length, it’s expensive, but it definitely rewards repeated listening.

    5. “Music of Our Kind Vol. 2” - Music of Our Kind (2019).  A second entry on the Turquoise Coconut imprint, this one’s quite a different flavor of jazz fusion.  It’s built on strings, including guitars, and I’d say it’s just as much new classical if its songs weren’t so accessible.  Calling this closer to pop or folk music isn’t accurate or fair, because these are clearly serious compositions, and almost anything fully instrumental has to be acknowledged as at least somewhat experimental.  It’s definitely complex enough to hold your full attention if you so choose, but I like its non-intrusiveness for reading.  A fine bargain at $3 for each volume.  It’s strange that Bandcamp only has Vol.1.

    6. “Okay” - James Muller, SCJO (2016).  An album of guitar tickling with uptempo but very light rhythm, backed by a piano and flourishes from a fairly showy brass section.  All but two songs are over five minutes, and they fit together nicely by not diverging greatly in their styles.  This is to say that tempos vary more than basic elements like what roles the instruments play (i.e. which ones get to solo = usually the guitar, and when the brass swells) or compositional structure.  Plenty of turns and surprises in here without anything ever unpleasant, with “Eindhoven” as my favorite track for sounding like a spy movie theme before going very mellow.  The brass gets a little more space to work on the tight, saucy “Kaboom.”  The whole thing is very smooth while being far too interesting to be confined/condemned to an elevator.  The trained jazz listener would have a fair bit more to say but I hope concur that it’s at least okay, especially for just $2.50.

    7.  “Silent Spoke” - Splice (2018).  Among the most ramshackle, broke down free jazz I’ve heard.  Sounds like electric bass and then honks of reeds and brass built around desultory drums.  Longer notes follow, in due course, but I’d be hard-pressed to call anything a melody.  And I mean all this in a good way.  It’s an interesting listen, for sure.  I still can’t tell the extent of improvisation versus composition, but I would guess strongly in the direction of the former.  With an epically post-apocalyptic drone experiment in closing, this is about the maximum length a CD could contain, but still pretty expensive.  For anyone generally curious what a jazzy dronescape might sound like.   

    8.  “Chaos Magic” - Josh Charney (2018).  The piano, bass, and drums combo has undoubtedly reached a point where one has to do something extremely well or novel to stand out.  In this case, the first track here, “The Test” makes jazz seem like a math equation.  The longest track, “The Jump,” follows with a sinister intro that gives way to stricture and structure, leading one to worry it’s going to be a rather uncomfortable nine minutes of feeling like a song not allowed to uncoil itself.  Returning to such rigidness with improvisation in between is an interesting idea, and you can judge for yourself how well it works.  The piano on this and other tracks feels forceful and even downright oppressive.  A bargain at just $2. 

    9. “Homage to a Dreamer” - Goce Stevkovski Septet (2018).  I’m OK with a lot of electronic lounge music, but unfortunately when jazz saxophone gets into the range sometimes heard here I have a reflexive, anti-easy listening reaction.  My low tolerance of schmaltz is really unfair to this fine, $3 album, leaving the theme of the number seven on their previous album.  Obviously there’s a wealth of instruments on here that each gets a chance to shine.    Blues guitar on the second track might be the most distinctive, and I actually like the brass hook on “The Wedding” quite a lot.  This isn’t an album to win over a jazz skeptic, but it’s pleasant without being patronizing or (at least not to my ears) cliché.  Leave that to labels like Lautaro and Omix. 

    10. “S/t” - Orange Trane Acoustic Trio (2013).  Vibes, stand-up bass, and drums from Poland, fully instrumental other than the famale vocalist on the closer.  Mellow and mid-tempo, though there’s occasionally something mischievous about the speedier parts, giving some songs an almost stop-and-go, stuttering cadence.  The second track adds a guitar, the sixth a sax.  Perfectly listenable, if not groundbreaking, and average-priced.

    Bandcamp Only:  “S/t” - Odd Jazz vol. 1 (2017).  NYP and less odd than advertised, maybe more like lofi.  Songs usually run about three minutes long, taking one idea, running with it, and ending before getting stale, rather than being a showcase for any particular instrument’s solo.

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: 

    & by my evaluation

    & by genre 

  • Jazz Vol. 4ish

    At least a couple from 2020 this time, and only a couple of them seem to be on Bandcamp in this round.  I assume it’s due to the high concentration of Latin and Russian titles.  In approximate order of how much I like them…

    1. “Fricciones” - Edurne Ariza (2018). A new favorite in vocal accordion jazz, this is a hard Latin collection con dientes.  It’s aggressive, frenetic, and knows how to throw in crescendos as well as dramatic pauses and quiet passages to let the listener catch their breath.  Though one always knows that they’re cooking up something devious or even diabolical, these exhilarating songs still catch me delightfully by surprise.  Plenty of flutes and unidentifiable sounds mingle with the driving accordion, and while this will scare a lot of folks I appreciate the risks they’re taking in making jazz that cannot be ignored.  I’m reminded of the adventurousness of Guy Klucevsek but more uptempo and with occasional female vocals.

    2. “Przyplyw” -  Jazzpospolita (2020).  Putting “jazz” in their name doesn’t make this album rock any less.  Replace most but not all of the electronics of Jaga Jazzist, another band that tries to name itself into the jazz club, with guitars, and these mostly uptempo, long songs are right up there in their unique take on the genre, often flirting with post-rock.  The four-minute fourth track may be the least jazzy, but I think its shimmering guitar effects would convince a skeptic who’d otherwise prefer a pop or rock song.  Fully instrumental and highly recommended.  Good luck pronouncing the vowel-deprived album title (eight letters, all consonants) and the songs themselves if you’re not from E. Europe.  With a whopping eight titles available on two labels, I’m excited to check out their back catalog. 

    3. “Throw Stones” - Teis Semey (2020).  This is a short but very enjoyable, exciting album that mixes angular trumpets, reeds, vocals, guitars, and other instruments in a challenging way that somehow always manages to remain accessible.  Definitely one where the soloist and the rhythm section seem to be at odds with one another, but somehow it works.  “Winter” could almost be Prefuse-73, and there’s a fairly whiplash-inducing alternation between electronic and non-electronic tracks. 

    4. “Севиль” - Вагиф Мустафа-Заде Vagif Mustafazadeh (2020 but probably actually the mid to late 1970s?).  One of the jewels of today’s eMusic is a surprisingly prolific discography of one Azerbaijan’s greatest jazz pianists who sadly died too soon, here overlaid with woozily hypnotic female choral vocals in a kind of unholy Middle Eastern disco fusion that nature may never have intended (i.e. the third track).  The instrumentals (i.e. 4th & 5th tracks) are only slightly less intense and maybe more impressive.  I don’t make any claims to expertise on 1970s Soviet jazz other than being awfully fond of Mr. Trololo (also available), but know that this is much farther out than the limited color palette of the album art.  Every fan of jazz and experimental music needs to hear this at least once.  Truly unique and a time capsule for a place the average listener is unlikely ever to visit IRL.

    5. “Consternation” - Henna Hita Trio (2010).  Two releases on Takeo are pretty enticing for their fusion with more rock-oriented vibes, this one almost 70 minutes of jazzy jams.  Guitars lead the way and dip their toes in funk on instrumental tracks, overall a bit jazzier and softer but similar to the excellent Tokyo Chuo-Line on StreetVoice.  Titles mix Latin and Japanese themes, and the whole album or any particular song will dispense with styles on a whim, perhaps especially on the opening track whose title warns the listener what they’re in for.  There are sprinklings of vocals as well, spoken on the confrontational “What’s That?” and then rap en español on “T.H.C.” that’s a questionable choice.  Only those who want their music to pick a tone and stick with it will feel consternation; others should be well pleased by all the shifts.

    6.  “Miles Away” - The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble (2010). With titles and presumably styles, shifting subtly from song to song, named after Jazz luminaries, this is one of the most acoustic albums labeled “electronic” that I’ve ever heard.  From percussion to flutes to pianos, it must be quite the synthesizer that can make all those instruments sound this real.  Maybe the sitar on a few  tracks sounds a little electronic and there’s sometimes a discernible keyboard added to the mix, but I think this is mainly a carefully produced and reverent jazz album that can sit comfortably next to classics from the mid-to-late 20th century, maybe especially the album art.  Fully instrumental and occasionally quite psychedelic.  Not my favorite style, as it turns out, but there’s nothing here anything less than tasteful, on one of the best remaining labels, Stones Throw.  It had sat for years on my wishlist, languishing among the earliest pages almost 100% “This album is not available” other than this one.  It delivers exactly what one would expect from the dedicated titles.  Overall, this album and those by Skalpel straddle either side of the line precisely for sounds I’d consider jazz, in this case, or electronic music in the latter.

    7. “Impulso Puro” - Tico Arnedo International Quartet (2014).  Long tracks on this hour-long and inexpensive hour-long album leave plenty of space for solos, with stand-up bass, piano and drums as the foundation.  Rather on the mellow side, as the modern album art suggests.  A flute highlights the second track and several others, alternating with soprano sax, as one would expect given that Googling the guy yields pics of him as both a flautist and saxophonist.  Overall, there’s just enough Latin flavor going on in here to elevate this quartet above the average combo while being firmly a jazz and not world album.  Fully instrumental.

    8. “Shouting” - Jacinto Fontana Genovese (2018).  Opening with a fairly ominous combination of electronic organ, synthesized brass, and what sounds like a real piano, this is an altogether different kind of jazz, perhaps designed to make the listener feel uneasy or even dizzy.  The percussion is on the experimental side, with what sound like bongos or tablas and maybe even plastic buckets.  “Caos Turkish Groove” is the sound of a piano running circles around an organ without any percussion.  That’s followed by an actual saxophone stretched to its sonic limits with an experimental vibe.  The fifteen-minute closing piece loses the sax but keeps the experimentation and adds a somewhat Middle Eastern element to it.  A theremin may or may not be involved.  Despite the title, it’s fully instrumental.  Despite the album art, rest assured it’s jazz, and I didn’t hear any acoustic guitars.

    9.  “5” - Clunia (2009). Not new, but this is as fine a combo of drums, piano, bass, and a brass section as any.  Songs are on the longer side at five to almost nine minutes, and they’re in no hurry at about mid-tempo.  I’m not trained enough to say what they do particularly well or what style this is, but it’s definitely a step above easy listening.  Song titles are en español, but there’s nary a clue in their sound that they wouldn’t be playing in a U.S. club without the audience blinking an eye.  Fully instrumental and inexpensive at $3.

    10. “Imagery” - Marco Locurcio (2018). This is a light, mostly mellow but not smooth album with songs generally led by a trumpet over nice, almost minimal drumming.  Electric guitars also usually offer a melodic, rhythmic, or atmospheric supplement.  I can faintly make out a double bass even lower in the mix than the guitars, which are occasionally allowed center stage.  “Atto secondo” almost sounds like something Calexico might do.  Fully instrumental and adequately stimulating for who enjoy the interplay between trumpet and guitar in the liminal space between jazz and rock.  It’s apparently self-released, not on any label, which is unusual for jazz and higher quality music generally, I think.

    11. “Fragments” - Albert Orgon (2014).  The impulse is to say that this guy is going to lose half of the jazz audience with kinda creepy album art and another half with high-voiced single-syllabled scat singing.  Those who can resist that impulse will find a mellow piano-bass-drums-vocal jazz album that takes some risks and is quite cheap at $2.50.  “Mirror Version” 1 & 2 go even slower with a string section.             

    Bandcamp Only:  “Raft in Placidity” - Petrified Drops (2019). Inexpensive and pleasant without patronizing the listener, this is primarily a piano album, sometimes overlaid with flutes, sometimes with guitar or saxophone solos.  

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: 

    & by my evaluation

    & by genre 

  • (Copied from reddit thread) Don't know if you left this out on purpose, but Vagif Mustafazadeh has a 140 minute compilation of jazz piano thingies for 6.49. About the “Севиль" album, I agree that everyone should listen to it at least once. For me, once is enough!

  • Yeah, his style of Azeri jazz and otherwise piano noodlings are definitely a very strong flavor that will rub a lot of folks the wrong way.  I've heard people describe Thelonious Monk the same way, though, and as with so many distinctive artists it's only fair if one considers Monk a genius to have also heard (of) VM.
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