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In a plain, gray building off Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem, pianist, Emmet Cohen, gently hammers on his instrument, head bopping to the drum hits and bass thuds that reverberate along the plant-lined walls of his apartment. Thirty years old and one of the finest piano players to emerge in decades, the Miami-born and Montclair, New Jersey-raised musician is not just the poster man for contemporary jazz, breathing 2020s finesse onto early twentieth century swing, he is a supremely gifted and impassioned artist of the highest order. The fact that he can also rollick on this warm spring night, transmitting sweet sounds to thousands of homes via his fifty-third webcast of this grave coronavirus year, only underscores his deep love for jazz and his innate will to play.
Cameron Graves knew exactly where he wanted to go on his second album. Following his 2017 debut as a bandleader, Planetary Prince, and his work with the hyper-talented LA-based collective the West Coast Get Down—most notably on saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s groundbreaking 2015 triple album, The Epic—the keyboardist was ready to introduce another side.
“I live in jazz, but I also live in metal,” he says. “I wanted to develop a record that’s got the same intensity as a metal record, but with me on piano.”
Mack Avenue Nominees (8)
Jazz Journalist Association (JJA) Nominations
Mack Avenue - Record Label of the Year
John Beasley - Arranger of the Year
John Beasley MONK’estra - Large Ensemble of the Year
Warren Wolf - Mallet Instrumentalist of the Year
Christian McBride - Bassist of the Year
Joey DeFrancesco - Keyboardist of the Year
Emmet Cohen – Upcoming Musician of the Year
Veronica Swift – Female Vocalist of the Year
It seems jazz vocalist Veronica Swift has been in the music business all of her life, and for good reason: There is the well documented fact that she is the daughter of jazz pianist Hod O'Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian, and she debuted on record at nine years old with Veronica's House of Jazz (SNOB, 2004). Since that time, Swift has recorded in a variety of settings, including on the uniformly excellent The Birdland Big Band Live (CD Baby, 2018), before producing her full-bore Mack Avenue debut with Confessions (2019), recorded with the trios of pianists Emmet Cohen and Benny Green. With Confessions, Swift gained both commercial traction and critical purchase, all by the deceptively tender age of 25-years old. The singer returns with the socially serious and finely crafted This Bitter Earth.
Batten down the sub-woofer, hold on to your trousers … here comes thrash jazz – 11 songs in a tumultuous 33 minutes. Thrash jazz? That’s what Cameron Graves, keyboardist with LA saxophone star Kamasi Washington, terms these high-speed, high-velocity forays. Imagine Metallica having a crack at cosmic Return To Forever.
Graves and Washington, friends from high school, honed their craft in the West Coast Get Down collective. And just as the saxophonist’s music pays its dues to jazz past, these brief blasts are propelled by drum fusillades from Mike Mitchell that echo Billy Cobham and Lenny White in their fusion pomp. The space-themed artwork and song titles (Sons of Creation, Super Universes) also nod to Chick Corea’s electric RTF.
It’s my guess that, at the moment little Emmet was born, his designated guardian angel was a clumsy klutz who slipped and accidentally showered the entire contents of his gift cupboard all over the bassinet. As a result, not only was baby Emmet fitted with a matched set of epic ears, ten obediently flexible fingers, faultless time and commanding swing, but also an appreciation of the past and abiding respect for the achievements of elders. And even a sympathetic bassist and drummer in attendance, close by his elbow.
I’m sticking to my guess because pianist Emmet Cohen‘s Future Stride is an unusual album by an unusual musician who disregards fashion’s strict dictates by embracing the total potential of jazz piano, technically and stylistically. Refreshingly, he dishes out well-earned dues to the glittering legacies of James P., Willie ‘The Lion’, Tatum, Hines, Wilson, Nat Cole, Buckner, Bud, Erroll, Monk, Garland, Herbie, Jarret and loads of other worthy pianists I’d unfortunately overlooked.
My brother and I ended off 2020 in his living room with a bottle of overpriced whisky (read: contraband under prohibitionist lockdown law) and a jazz concert we’d saved for this very occasion: Live from Emmet’s Place Vol. 37 — Jazzmeia Horn.
Led by multi award-winning American jazz pianist Emmet Cohen and his namesake ensemble, The Emmet Cohen Trio (featuring bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole) and with special guest artist, Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn, it was a phenomenal experience.
Since the beginning of lockdown, Cohen has been hosting live stream concerts from his living room in Harlem, New York, every Monday night, featuring some of the most incredible musical talents on the NYC jazz scene — his contemporaries, his friends, his family — just like the private jazz house parties they used to throw on the sly, back in the 1920s.
As proven onstage as well as on such percolating, locomotive recordings as 2018's self released Dirty In Detroit, Masters Legacy Series Vol 1 with Jimmy Cobb (Cellar Live, 2016), 2018's Masters Legacy Series Vol 2 with Ron Carter (Cellar Live), and his regular Monday Night Quarantine Jams on Facebook, pianist Emmet Cohen makes his music with an unabashed, heart-on-you-sleeve exuberance and love for the future as past and vice versa. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that Future Stride, his Mack Avenue Records debut, is both a wildly entertaining modern affair and history lesson all rolled into one madcap, immediate whole. In other words, a great way to kick 2020 out on its horrid, hind end and welcome 2021 with broad, open arms.
Emmet Cohen, “Future Stride” (Mack Avenue Records)
Stride provides a starting point on jazz pianist Emmet Cohen’s new album. The opening cut, “Symphonic Raps,” is a New Orleans ragtime tune recorded by Louis Armstrong nearly a century ago, and Cohen plays it as though his piano is rolling downhill, accelerating until he leaves the rhythm section behind.
That momentum sends Cohen on an exploration of other jazz stylings, with stride as an antecedent and recurring reference point. Common threads on “Future Stride” include swinging, often unpredictable rhythms, inventive interplay and wit.
Emmet Cohen, “Toast to Lo”
Future Stride, the forthcoming album by pianist Emmet Cohen, comes by its title honestly. It’s not just about a refurbishment of the stride piano tradition — though Cohen makes sure to demonstrate that idea. It’s also about striding forward with total assurance, knowing that each step will find traction. Cohen has the right disposition for this message, and he has surrounded himself with the right partners: bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole, as well as a front line consisting of saxophonist Melissa Aldana and trumpeter Marquis Hill.
The Jazz Outsider Looks in with Clear Abandon, and a Beguiling Manner
When Veronica Swift, 27, slips into the comfortably sublime chorus of “The Man I Love” up close and personal, that’s when I fell in love — with her and her new album, This Bitter Earth, out March 19, 2021 on Mack Avenue Records.
If you were born in this Millennium, and you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t know a goddamned thing about the reversal of melodic fortunes of this blessed Gershwin tune, the pop song of its day, circa 1920s. The “Lady, Be Good” musical reject finally appeared in a 1927 government satire, “Strike Up the Band,” was later popularized by Billie Holiday, and embraced by countless young women. Maybe even your mom, when celebrating her golden wedding anniversary by the piano.
The guitarist and singer speaks frankly about his new single “Our Voices Matter,” his lifelong encounters with racism, and his hopes for a new era in the U.S.
Since his rise as a teenage recording artist in South Africa, guitarist and singer/songwriter Jonathan Butler has gained a high international profile with music that crosses boundaries between pop, R&B, smooth jazz, and gospel. His new single, “Our Voices Matter,” is a call for unity against racial injustice in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. It features Butler with a top-flight list of peers including Rick Braun, Candy Dulfer, Dave Koz, Marcus Miller, Maysa, Will Kennedy, Jeffrey Osborne, Arlington Jones, Ruslan Sirota, Antonio Sol, and Ramon Yslas. We spoke with Butler from his home in Los Angeles, where he’s lived for over 25 years, about the song and the deep personal history behind it.