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Los Angeles’s Thriving Jazz Scene Produces Four New Albums

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New York remains the popular and commercial center of jazz, but other cities are increasingly dictating its development. Young musicians in places like Philadelphia and Chicago — where systems for intergenerational exchange still thrive outside academia — are marrying established regional patois with a broad base of influences from across the black musical canon, and around the globe.

That’s borne out particularly in Los Angeles, where the saxophonist Kamasi Washington has led the charge onto the national scene. He has famously collaborated with Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, but two years ago, when he released a lauded triple-album, “The Epic,” he threw back the curtain on a crop of young jazz-trained musicians that hail from his hometown. The album featured a string section, a 20-person choir and a loose collective calling itself the West Coast Get Down.

This winter, four members of that crew released solo albums of their own — most of them recorded in the same monthlong stretch of communal recording sessions that produced “The Epic.” All four of these bandleaders appeared as sidemen on Mr. Washington’s album, and each has his own approach to retrofitting the jazz tradition. The breadth of their styles says something about the way a small scene can foster individual voices, and emphasize complementary roles.

Here’s a rundown of recent releases from members of the West Coast Get Down.

Thundercat, ‘Drunk’

Mr. Washington is rightly seen as an heir to Los Angeles’ expansive, Afrocentric acoustic jazz tradition, which runs through Horace Tapscott and Butch Morris. The bassist and vocalist Stephen Bruner, known as Thundercat, relates to a different genealogy: namely the hazy, electric fusion that Stanley Clarke, George Duke and Patrice Rushen were making in the 1980s.

Mr. Bruner plays a six-string bass; in the deep end his sound is big and crumbly, but he often fingerpicks guitar-like harmonies on the higher strings. On “Drunk” — his third full-length, featuring cameos by Mr. Lamar, Michael McDonald and Pharrell Williams — the gravitational center floats in the air, where harmonies rarely resolve and synthesizers waft around his slap-happy falsetto.

But the laxity and wit in much of this music masks a melancholy. It’s something we’ve never heard so clearly in his music. “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)” is not the first time he’s written a song to his cat — but this time, wistfulness takes center stage amid the wit. “It’s cool to be a cat,” he sings. “Everything the light touches/Is where I would roam.”

The drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., Thundercat’s older brother, has followed a windy musical trajectory, playing with Diana Ross, the jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the hard-core band Suicidal Tendencies. Somehow, all that comes to bear on “Triumph,” a record of steady intensity. Less arch than his brother, the elder Mr. Bruner builds layers of guitar and synth but leaves his heart in full view.

Ecumenism is the album’s gospel — from the prog-rock double guitar lead in “Geome Deome,” which features keyboards from Mr. Duke, to the effervescent swagger of “One Night,” with its redolence of Raphael Saadiq’s neo-soul. “To You/For You” starts as a sizzle of Princely funk, then toggles into heavy trap, with Mr. Bruner rapping over a spare beat. The disc’s lead single, “Take the Time,” rides a chiming pulse reminiscent of some late J. Dilla beats.

“Triumph” is heavy on glimmer and muscle — but Mr. Bruner knows how to open up space and create possibility. On “Open the Gate,” the only track exceeding 10 minutes, the guitarist Charles Altura takes a solo that begins with tuneful modesty, then gives way to a cascade of distorted cries over a writhing drum solo.

“Planetary Prince” by Cameron Graves. Credit Anna Webber

Cameron Graves, ‘Planetary Prince’

If you’re looking for another fix of the same stuff that “The Epic” delivered, the debut album from the pianist Cameron Graves is your answer.

One of the best aspects of Mr. Washington’s shows with the West Coast Get Down is the feeling of communal energy flowing in a straight, unrepentant stream from the stage.

We get that from the word go on “Planetary Prince,” which features both Bruners and Mr. Washington. Hear how the pianist jostles into his first solo, on “Satania Our Solar System,” emerging from a drape of horn harmony with a spray of hard, darting eighth notes. Over a driving funk vamp, he and Ronald Bruner work as a percussive unit; each note has heft and precision, but a chancy momentum too.

The moments of brightest catharsis come on Mr. Washington’s saxophone solos, particularly on “Adam & Eve,” where he rides the song’s bright harmony into a space of buoyant inquiry.

Miles Mosley is a singing upright bassist who draws much of his inspiration from the politically attuned funk of the 1970s — bands like War and Mandrill. His tunes place urgency and nostalgia in contact, as if they were two equally valid strands of idealism.

On the cover of “Uprising,” his solo debut, Mr. Mosley appears in a black beret and sturdy black collar, staring evenly into the camera. There’s no more ambiguity than that in the music, either. Over a cohort of five horns and six strings, he sings declaratory songs of lament and militant determination, over chord changes that always resolve to a tonic. On “More Than This,” he sings, “Baby, the world was promised so much more than this.”

At Mr. Washington’s concerts over the past two years, he has often made time for Mr. Mosley to perform a song of his own, typically the sauntering “Abraham.” There was a sense of rugged, against-the-odds affirmation in these live performances that is not altogether realized on the clean-cut recording. But as a document of song craft, and a rising talent’s broad vision, it delivers.


Read the full piece from: NY Times

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