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.
  • Jazz on eMusic (& Bandcamp) vol. 5ish

    Let’s visit once again what most listeners don’t care about and what serious ones don’t deign to entertain…obscure jazz albums on eMusic!

    I’ve considered being obnoxious to my streaming friends about how they’re killing jazz and other genres whose most popular artists and bands will never get as many streams as mediocre pop and rock, but I assume the serious jazz fans continue to do that and don’t need help from jazz dabbler non grata.

    In order of my approximate preference, as usual…

    1. “Worst Summer Ever” - Bruno Pernadas (2016). His output is rather varied, with some sounding more rock than others, but this is mostly and quite clearly a jazzy outing and IMHO a great one. The spacey opening here fits the album art more than the first song title, but the thought of having a bad summer due to being sucked into outer space by jazz is worthy of Sun Ra (but don’t expect this to sound anything like him and the arkestra). This is an excellent melding of jazz and somewhat psychedelic post-rock, with the guitar featuring most prominently, supported by piano, brass, bass, and drums, but also supporting each in return. Buying his other two albums is one of my highest priorities for eMusic; I started w/ this one in large part for the low, low price of $3.49.

    2. “Canepelle” - Guto Wirtti e seu Conjunto (2019). In my admittedly limited, even stunted forays into jazz, using eMusic as my primary inroad, I’m ready to conclude that the genre’s lack of appeal to the general public and especially music explorers stems from a bias towards “serious” jazz that can sound impenetrably academic or “too experimental.” This playful album is the antidote to that, with short, melodic songs featuring instruments “of the people” like the accordion (see also Edurne Arizu and Arek Czernysz Trio), and others you could imagine being played in some rural corner of a developing country or the average French cafe. It’s earthy, loungey, but doesn’t neglect the need for virtuoso solos, as with the unexpected flute on “Santa Maria.” A track like “Bolacha” is also steeped in tropicalia. It’s short at 35 minutes but also modestly priced at $3.99. Folksy, worldly, but still very much jazz, I’d sum them up as akin to a mellower Kocani Orkestar or jazzier Fei Scho.

    3. “I” - Fraktale (2018). The collapsing piano and following psychedelic saxophone outburst of the first track set the tone for an unusual album that is methodical and carefully paced. Just five tracks ranging from about 8-12 minutes, this is a dark, uncompromising work of vision, solemnity, but also frequent and sustained emotional release. While there’s usually a piano involved, and the sax is the main lead, songs like “Mantra” have driving guitar passages I’d usually associate more with metal. Working a lot with acoustic loops, there are some electronic keyboards in the fine closer “Enceladus Dream,” however the closest comparison I can make—not least given the dark tone and explicit Middle Eastern references—is something like Secret Chiefs 3 if the saxophone replaced their violin. See also The Thing with Five Eyes. There’s a sequel and a live album that combines both for those who can’t get enough of the sounds.

    4. “El Que Fan Les Coses Quan No Les Mires” - Dani López Quartet (2020). This is in this position for its newness and bold opening tracks, which toe the waters of electronic integration and vocals in Catalán (I assume). “Diguem Bon Día” is equal parts jazz and electronic pop. I’ve always personally favored jazz w/ electronic elements, even to the point of tolerating early “acid jazz” in the 90s that I never need to hear again. Whether this album is an enduring and successful experiment or just the latest novelty in that regard is up to you. While I do associate the saxophone in this style with more “smooth” jazz and “easy listening,” there’s enough going on here to make my main criticism of the album that it’s always over too soon after 36 minutes. $3.99 is a bargain.

    5. “Natural Information” - Joshua Abrams (2010). After buying the excellent “Magnetoception” soon after it came out in 2015 on eMusic, I never followed up and assumed that his hypnotic works skirting the experimental, outer edges of jazz with folk and world elements had simply gone the way of most labels in the late 2010s to date. Eremite Records is still holding on w/ almost two dozen titles, w/ four by Abrams (and presumably other collaborations). Note that they don’t come cheaply, however. This one is somewhat similar, if less epic, but it entrances just as well, anchored by two tracks over twelve minutes long. The last track, if not the whole set, was recorded before a live audience, and it should be noted that plenty of folks averse to repetition will neither enjoy it nor consider it jazz.

    6. “Impulse” - Jazzpospolita (2012). Continuing to combine elements of jazz and post-rock and resemble something like a more acoustic version of Jaga Jazzist is a recipe for my enduring admiration. There are electronic keyboards involved, but they’re never dominant over the drums and guitars that carry most of the songs, largely fast-paced and urgent-sounding. Like any good album, it also knows that a few “breather” tracks are necessary for contrast and to add dramatic significance to the whole set. This is the second album of their sizable discography I’ve bought, and while I might skip the live and remix albums, I fully expect to buy more.

    7. “XD [Experience Design]” - Immortal Onion (2020). No jazz list of mine is complete w/out a close imitation of/comparison to The Bad Plus, so here’s your obligatory entry. It starts out w/ a guitar but quickly gets into the dramatic piano, drums, and bass passages where volume and stakes are high. The occasional guitar, a cello on “Significance,” significantly more electronic elements (almost entirely on the closing track), and the lack of a pop song’s reinterpretation are the main differences here between an average album by The Bad Plus. It’s a winning formula, cinematic and often downright aggressive, appealing to folks who think they don’t like jazz.

    8. “Sesión Efenea” - Axel Filip (2020). This is a mighty fine 3-track EP for 99 cents (could have saved it for the next 99-cent list, but it’s too good). “Chapitas” is a very busy mix of flutes and various brass over a bed of piano, bass, and drums. “Bertolina Chayle” is a slow burn with a female vocalist, definitely what elevates the EP above average, with elements of free jazz mixed in. The third track keeps the vocalist to mirror the notes of a somewhat tighter composition to end on a high note.

    9. “Páxaros Na Cabezona” - Tyfpe (2015). Finding this album tucked away on a large label otherwise highly partisan towards metal en español as well as the overall style of guitar jazz suggest to me that this is the work of a heavy metal guitarist who wants to be taken seriously in a very different scene. A piano or other instrument is allowed to peek through the mix occasionally, but the listener should have no doubt about the purpose or focus of the album. The guitar solos and general playing dip liberally into funkier styles, pedals are clearly used, and there is a strong sense of triumphal ego to some of the songs. Then there’s the most interesting song, “Na y K”, which in very distinct segments is one of the best combinations of jazz, metal, and folk I’ve heard. The whole thing seems more like a whole album of a metal band like Scatterbrain’s dabbling with classical music or modified Malmsteen-esque extravaganza than a proper jazz album, but there’s definitely novelty in that. Metal guitarists are undoubtedly skilled, but they don’t get to prove it w/ music that more than 5-10% of the population care to hear. Might as well shoot for a different 1% who are open to unusual jazz. I don’t think I’d even call it fusion: the metal parts and the jazz parts are like oil and water even in the same song.

    10. “Fletch” - Daniel Toledo Quartet (2020). Piano and saxophone share leads in a friendly conversation on this good but probably not great album. I personally like how the piano parts can resemble modulated electronic loops at times, such as on the first track, but the hardcore traditionalists may not. They’ve got a wild streak to them and aren’t afraid to ride their grooves all the way off the rails. Several tracks seem to be speed tests, as on “Key Stone” and others that trade the piano for electric organ. The album ends on a relatively mellow note that in my view kinda washes from memory what makes it interesting and exciting.

    11. “Let’s Do It” - Michał Gozdek Trio (2021). Any decent jazz from the current year on eMu always needs to be highlighted, even if it furthers the misperception that new jazz is all Polish, Italian, Latin, or from Minnesota. There’s little outstanding about this album—the piano/bass/drums combo might bore veterans—but as someone late to the game, anything new is bound to have some appeal. I like the drum workout on the opener and how they can suddenly slide from it into a loungeier sound. The title track is appropriately aggressive. The rest of the album goes by without much commanding attention, though pleasantly so. It’s only $3.49 on a small new label that is decidedly not dedicated to jazz. Will I still be listening to this album in ten years? It probably depends more on an enduring interest in jazz than the merits of this album.

    12. “Work Your Magic” - Endangered Blood (2013). The Skirl label had long been a curiosity for the presence of Trevor Dunn and a generally jazz catalog with at least several digits or even a whole foot in rock. Titles are definitely on the expensive side, with this one being one of the least so at $4.49. While certainly not bad, I’d describe some of these songs, led mainly by saxophone and possibly other reeds, as sad and plodding. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, they’re perfectly damaged, but if not I give a very qualified recommendation. The lead instruments do converse in sometimes interesting near-duets, but overall they often seem less like solos and more like inflexible, sampled loops one could find on any acid jazz album. All this makes the title rather ironic; the album could really use either an epic 10+ minute track or sub 3-minute catchy “single” to liven up the proceedings and show they’ve actually got some magic to work. Unfortunately this first stab means the rest of the catalog is a low priority.

    13. “S/t” - La Orquesta del Viento (2013). Longer and less cheesy than their 2016 album “Hombre al Sur,” there are relatively few Latin deviations from straightforward guitar/piano/bass jazz here, with the rhythm section on the last track being the major exception. This is mostly mellow without falling into easy listening, an enjoyable listen from start to finish over six long tracks. At $3.99, I might have to ask whether I prefer it 3x as much as the newer 99-cent album, but while less distinctive than the 2016 album, I’m pretty sure I’ll be listening to this one more often. That said, one might as well own both to make one’s own comparisons.

    14. “Dead Pan Party” - Tobie Carpenter Organ Trio (2017). Organ jazz EP on the fine label Turquoise Coconut probably wouldn’t capture my attention if not for the $1.99 price tag. Totally harmless guitar noodling over light drums, with a variety of tempo and alternation w/ the organ as the solo instrument over five fairly lengthy tracks. Good reading music.

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

    & by my evaluation

    & by genre

  • Jazz Vol. 6

    eMusic exclusives dominate the top of this list, rather surprisingly unless Hispanic geographic origin is taken into account. There & Poland remain unique strengths, though I gather serious jazz fans don’t look there very often or might counter that the very best jazz from there is also not on eMusic.

    In the approximate order I’d prefer to listen to them, but almost all are quite nice indeed this time…

    1. “Poética del Silencio” - Ernesto Amstein, Gabriel Domenicucci, & Axel Filip (2019). Firstly, if the already low price of this album does not entice you, try Axel Filip’s solo EP (also featuring several others) “Sesión Efenea” for 99 cents that’s only thirteen minutes shorter than this album. I find the combination of piano and organ or just a high & low electronic organ here makes the grooves doubly solid, and while the drummer often seems to be off in his own world doing his own thing, tracks thereby give the listener a choice of what to focus on. Either way, these songs are like aural tractor beams, using apparent simplicity to draw you in, then going in new but clearly related directions with smooth transitions to keep interest strong. You never know when a solo might be coming or when they’ll revert back to the foundational phrases, and that unpredictability, whether or not improvised, is what keeps me coming back to jazz on eMusic. Despite the lack of guitars (until the closing “Tayil”), I’d almost liken this to the best of instrumental post-rock; the theme of crossover appeal for rock fans who don’t think they like jazz will recur below. In just seven songs, they know exactly when to break formula and center themselves around fully acoustic piano, starting on “Tan Visible” and continuing for most of the second half. Fitting the title, a split second of silence injected unexpectedly or just between tunes can speak volumes. Unlike some others, there are no epics longer than five and a half minutes on this brief album, and that makes it an ideal entry point for pop listeners who may be more single-minded, too. I’d compare this favorably, mainly for greater rhythmic complexity, to the likes of Jazzpospolita, HUDSON, Algernon, and other boundary bridging bands. Unfortunately, I hardly know anyone who’s heard of those, so maybe that didn’t help at all.

    2. “Ofrenda del Origen” - Damug (2021). The low warmth of the bowed double bass’s opening notes invite listeners for jazz that’s challenging enough to keep one’s attention but also pleasant enough to be played during a meal, quite the delicate balance. Piano & strings lead the way throughout, with adroit drums setting a varied pace in the vein of, you guessed it, The Bad Plus. I’m just a sucker for this style, so finding a brand new album sparked a lot of joy. The songs, ranging from 3-10 minutes long, tend to find a groove and then let up in a build and release pattern. “Anoiram” has the elements of a single with its catchiness, despite being fully six minutes long, and the melody on “La Matrix” is memorable, too. The intro to “El Gallo” is great, and the song overall has a dramatic flair to it. The title track is epic, and really by the end of the ordeal one feels won awash in melody. I’m almost hesitant to risk spoiling the frisson I get when “Soraserá” gradually lands on the phrase from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol.2 and would like to think it’s an intentional reference. Search for the title, as the band is listed with a long feat. list and “Damug” only yields a single, or just go straight to the Microscopi label to browse a very large, mixed bag.

    3. “Desestructura” - Luz Cuadros & Ensamble de Luz (2015). This is a brief but near perfect jazz album to my ears, and it strikes me like tightly wound/composed math rock or even IDM, with precisely timed changes and apparent purpose in composition. Strings, piano, & flute combine in swirling motions on the opening “Apertura” with countless, short flourishes in unpredictable directions. Maybe this is jazz for listeners with short attention spans or jazz for people who think they don’t like jazz, but having each instrument feel like it’s attacking the song is rather novel. Gateway albums are especially important if jazz is to survive and thrive in the 21st century, and this is definitely a great one. “De Papel” lightens up only slightly with a clarinet and bells. “Luz Se Fuga” is built initially on a lovely reed loop but quickly turns to variations, by now establishing expectations for each track. The title track turns on a dime with its Zappa-esque percussion rushes and feels more fleshed out and fully formed than the shorter tracks that came before. Fully instrumental and highly rewarding of repeated listening, a fantastic bargain at just $2.49.

    4. “News of Silence” - Flapi (2019). This is a supremely mellow male vocal album built on atmospheric organs, laid back drums, guitars, choral “ooos” or subtle backing vocals, and has no business being so much more interesting than easy listening to which it is undeniably adjacent. Everything blends remarkably well, and I think the vocals themselves elevate the songs and prevent them from sinking into a cheesy abyss of fancy restaurant background music. For some, that may be all one hears on the first listen, but after seven spins this has become a real comfort and change of pace I’m always ready to hear again. Electric guitars over double bass are a nice combination, and the overall variety of instruments that feature also add a lot to repeated listening potential. Vocals are mixed just barely above the fray, enough to notice that the many lyrics are in English, but one would really have to concentrate to focus on their possibly poetic meaning. Detractors might be quick to point out that he never really leaves second gear in volume or emotion, but I think that’s intentional, making the vocals just one more instrument among the mellowness, without upstaging intent. Instrumental solos are just as prominent. “Let Me Live” switches to female approximation of the style but is borderline psychedelic in its accompaniment, as is the subsequent, far-out “Phantom of Delight.” The most urgent and thereby divergent track is “Move,” and I’m not sure whether the mood and content of its chorus or the fact itself that there’s a song with an oft-repeated chorus here is more jarring. There’s absolutely no way high school or college me would have given this album the time of day, but with age, clearly the mind (and ears) can open as well as close.

    5. “Para Ti” - André Magalhães (2019). This one’s a case of sample & cover judgments, which point in the direction of cheese, being totally wrong. Quite to the contrary, it's an adventurous album that takes a lot of risks, such as incorporating field recordings, sound bytes, and subtle electronic elements (though probably not samples, thereby staying well within the bounds of pure jazz rather than acid jazz or trip-hop). It manages to walk the tightrope between being edgily experimental and pleasant while being thoroughly Latin as a bonus. Ranging from four to nine minutes in length, each of the eight songs has a unique character, not just a different style. Vocals dip in and out of the opener, including a choral part that blends nicely within the song as a whole. The second begins with spoken words by an old man with a kindly, memorably accented voice, followed by some rapid flutework that sounds indebted to indigenous traditions. Piano, brass, and bass keep the proceedings jazzy no matter what’s going on in the rhythm section. “Bata de Feijão” reminds me of Red Snapper. Tempo slows & mood darkens considerably on “Sonhei Com Sao Joao,” and the introduction of strings adds a real solemnity to what may be the heart of the album while being not at all representative. Similarly, after listening to the first two tracks, one would never expect the album to contain a song like “Ondas ao Mar,” which ditches percussion entirely and feels like a new dawn rising over the ocean. By the time “Pontada” finally busts out the accordion and the lady singing “Ooo,” it feels like one has already gone through multiple albums worth of ideas and instrument combinations, a most impressive feat. Saving the title track for last feels like a well earned rest after a long journey. One could almost liken the experience of this album to listening to jazz through headphones on a bus that passes through South American jungle villages.

    6. “Tropopausa” - Altaba & Cervera & Perucho & Nico & Solé (1979). This old, short set alternating between playful and somber is the crowning achievement of over an hour scouring the many pages of Spanish label Picap for hidden gems. The very fact that the label still offers hundreds of titles of at least marginal interest makes it a rarity and necessitates exploration, but to be honest I had much higher hopes than finding only this and one other worthy of purchase. Complaints aside, I like the string work that foregrounds the double bass and possibly cello on these numbers, subdued on the second track but otherwise nicely unpredictable and even experimental, especially on the third and longest track. “La Mata” is downright groovy. Guitars appear & soothe on “Amíciar Abarca” and the strings finally go fully dissonant on the closing “Beixamela” with an ending in percussive anticipation of Tom Waits’ “Clap Hands.” Some of the songs feel like they’re searching for a style in the dark, and maybe that applies to the whole album, but jazz in identity crisis makes for a listen that’s never dull. Discogs is a lot kinder than RYM in its ratings, and I’m inclined to agree with the former in declaring this a lost classic that the internet is only slowly coming around to rediscovering and appreciating.

    7. “descension (Out of Our Constrictions)” - Natural Information Society/Evan Parker (2021). eMusic was kind enough to give me extra credit for the first track not being completely downloadable for unknown reasons (plays in full on My Music). Those familiar with the artist(s) and label should know what to expect, but those averse to repetition will hate this: every long track is basically a slight variation of a few string notes repeated with drums, a sax, and other reeds over it. I suppose it’s slightly less hypnotic than Joshua Abrams’ “Magnetoception” (no longer on eMusic but highly recommended; I found “Natural Information” also interesting but liked it less), but apparently Evan Parker is another avant garde luminary on the saxophone. In length & instrumentation I’d liken the experience to something a more tethered and fully instrumental Sun Ra Arkestra might produce, which is to say there are some freak outs. For most of the long duration, I wouldn’t have known it’s a live recording, so the applause at the end took me by surprise. It’s quite surprising how much of critically acclaimed eremite Records is on eMusic, given that this costs $15 on Bandcamp

    8. “Lunaria” - Daniele Vianello (2016). It’s hard to imagine a more revolting album cover for more appealing guitar jazz. Opening in mellow tones with each instrument revealing itself at just above a snail’s pace, it’s still immediately clear that the jazz here is unique and well worth one’s attention. The guitars on the title track eventually flirt with both a pedal steel and dirty blues sounds, while a clarinet waits patiently for its turn to come again…quite an unusual combination. It recurs in service of more melodies on “Revelation,” then again on the truly sublime “The Dream of Larry Craven.” These songs are definitely on the longer side, and on occasion I think they’d be more compelling if they were tightened up a bit. But mellow melodies certainly have their place, too. For the most part, this album prevents the formula from becoming stale by inventing subtly ingenious melodies that are supremely pleasing, so the noodling sections can seem particularly abstract or off the rails. “Rocket Rodeo” even tries an entirely novel style that becomes less interesting with repeated listening. Any criticism of a $3 album that sounds this nice overall should only be taken lightly.

    9. “360°” - Kongo Dia Ntotila (2019). Not including Afrobeat music, with which this shares obvious similarities, I could count my African jazz collection on one hand, so standards for comparison are rather lacking for this very lively album. The opening “Kongo” turns on a dime stylistically and with several vocalists who might as well be a crew of MCs all waiting for their turn on the mic. That level of energy can hardly be maintained over the course of nearly an hour, but the indomitable group intends to try. Frenetic brass over world rhythms are the constant on every track, while vocals may be either choral or solo, call and response or not, with admirable instrumental breaks to establish a tune or catch a breather. Everything is 4-7 minutes long, so they’re right in the netherlengths that are pretty much too long to have a radio single (“Mbongo” comes closest) but too short to be a truly epic Afrobeat jam (any of the longer songs might qualify). The title track starts a bit more slowly and is fully instrumental, with playful jazz noises aplenty. Listening to the whole album is a bit overwhelming, so if I could suggest anything, it would be to intersperse a slower tempo song without vocals more often. An entire village might be shouting the title of “Faux Boss” and “fire!” elsewhere, but I don’t know if the occasional word in a Western language gives the listener something to hang onto or adulterates the overall sound. Their two other albums on Bandcamp are NYP, so they’ll definitely be back on an eventual Afrobeat list in the works.

    10. “1612” - Mateo Ottonello (2018). Apparently self-released, this album has no business being so unique and well produced. The opening “Día de mar” has a highly enticing, even intriguing combination of guitar(s!), an organ/keyboard, and drumming that bridge jazz and Latin styles with a lull in the middle before the keyboard goes wonky. There’s a nice range of shorter, mid-length, and long tracks, with the titular “1612” clocking in at over nine minutes and not wasting any of them, even concluding with some pseudo-pedal steel and lightly Zappa-esque licks. I have no idea if it’s a reference to the year or, if so, what its significance might be. “Feriado” is mellow and just guitar, while “Por las ventanas” adds vocals. On most eMusic lists, my interest by #10 has waned greatly, but this is still a great album to read or groove to with extra flavor. After eight spins, there’s still new elements to appreciate. I’d love to know if there’s a follow-up and who his collaborators are.

    11. “Dialéctica” - Ensamble de Luz, Luz Cuadros, & Emilio Bascuñán (2021). This is a looser epic of an album lower on the list mainly because of not wanting to put basically the same artist twice on the top. Many of the songs here have a female vocalist in addition to the strings and reeds normally part of the Ensamble, and her singing (not of any words, mind you) might rub some listeners the wrong way. I almost always prefer instrumental over vocal jazz myself, but these songs are all listenable without being easy listening, my primary requirement for jazz. At 70 minutes in total and all songs between 6-14 minutes, this is not an album to be taken lightly or frequently in one sitting. The vocals on the opening “Evangelios para Sanar” are too active for this to be background or reading music, and I’m fairly sure I prefer the tighter, shorter “Desestructura” album from 2015. “Elixir” feels like an orchestral pile-on at first, but not unpleasantly so and eventually yielding to more orderly turn-taking. “El Puma” is mostly aaaahs & strings. “Planeta T.R.” is mostly instrumental conversation of strings & reeds other than some loud whispers near the end. Some might expect “Rap de Isis” to compile the criminal caliphate’s microphone terrorist MCs, but it’s another 13 and a half minutes of the same, with some vocals delivered with actual rapped lyrics in the latter half. “Viajero Cosmico” closes the album with an uplifting (or at least stirring) flourish and some vocal repetition of the title. There’s one more of theirs on eMusic I haven’t bought yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

    12. “II” - Fraktale (2018). Lacking a standout song like on “I” and being ten minutes shorter (with only one song longer than 8 minutes instead of 4/5 being so on the debut) may actually serve this album well overall. They’re an exemplary band for anyone who’d engage in a debate on what’s jazz and what’s jazzy post-rock with a saxophone, with most tracks on this one (unlike “I”) coming in pretty strongly on the latter side. The songs are consistently driving and urgent here; maybe they’d each work as the soundtrack for a post-apocalyptic short film or something else dystopian but still oddly attractive. “Abraham” is a work in contrasts between an overall Middle Eastern flavor but also wild, spacey prog rock keyboard flourishes. “Wakan Tanka” switches to a piano and goes in a more psychedelic direction with its crescendoes and repeated bass phrase. Even the longest “Stranger Things” manages to be interesting despite its slower tempo and 11-minute duration—many post-rock bands tread similar territory, but with the sax in the lead this will always have a unique edge or scare some guitar bros away. Oddly still on pre-order on Bandcamp

    13. “Kubizm” - Paweł Manka Semiotic Quintet (2021). I think I saw this new Polish jazz album on one of the site’s bestsellers lists, which says more about eMusic than this album’s greatness, IMO. It’s lively piano, brass, and guitar with drums, but after listening eight times nothing sticks with me. On the opening “Dualizm,” each but the drums takes turns in swirling solos that stop short of atonal dissonance, and the eight-minute run time offers space to build or fade in different passages. I suppose there’s a good mix of long and short songs. “Motif No. 4” starts out more calmly but becomes similarly heavy and busy, leading to a judgment that the albums songs may all be exercises in building and releasing tension. The titular trilogy occasionally muscles up with the guitar to sound a bit like the Fraktale albums above, but I’d say they’re mainly semi-aggressive and maybe disjointed yet somehow rigid noodling. I obviously still prefer this over most jazz, but I like the stuff above a lot more.

    14. “Something Like That” - Emanata (2014). Inexplicably expensive for eight minutes of three songs on the short side, everyone should definitely start with the later “The Cold Claws of Oblivion” to see if their distinct style suits you. There’s a little bit of electronic funk with the electric violin on “Quirst Thencher.” “Mind Gap” is the longest but still under four minutes, which makes it feel a bit rambing by comparison to the other two. “Keep Off the Grass” almost invites an MC to rap over it. I wouldn’t say this EP is anything special, but it’s energetic and fans might as well own it.

    “Bandcamp Only: “s/t” - Ill Considered (2017). Undoubtedly a great jazz album, and Bandcamp users appear to agree in droves. Never would have bought it without eMusers pointing out a NYP opportunity. Where exactly it would be in the numbered list, barely in the top half, tells a lot about my much higher opinion of jazz on eMusic than serious jazz fans.

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic:
    & by genre Recent, random posts suggest it is time to include a reminder: eMusic is a website for buying & downloading mp3s. It is Don’t expect the newest hits; treat it like a great used record store where you go to find stuff you didn’t know you wanted and probably didn’t know existed.
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