A guide to some of the best jazz on Bandcamp

Since the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out musicians’ ability to play live concerts — and, in effect, to make most of their earnings — Bandcamp has emerged as a leader in helping artists make more money from their music.

Since 2008, Bandcamp has been an increasingly popular online marketplace for sharing and selling music. It’s especially common among independent, up-and-coming artists and record labels.

Normally, Bandcamp takes up to a 15 per cent revenue share on items sold through its digital platform; the rest goes directly to the artist. But since the beginning of the pandemic, the company has been waiving its cut of sales once a month. On those days, 100 per cent of the money that fans spend on music (and merchandise) goes to the artist.

In the first two editions, fans paid artists $11.4 million. Bandcamp has been continuing the initiative on the first Friday of each month.

If you’re looking to spend some loose change on some new and exciting music — and you want those dollars to go directly into the pocket of the artist who made it — here are some recommendations of great jazz albums you can find on Bandcamp, from Canada and beyond.


William Parker – Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World

There are 10 albums, 91 tracks and nearly 10 full hours of music packed into this massive collection of new music by celebrated bassist and composer William Parker. Recorded between late 2018 and early 2020, Migrations is a wide-ranging musical exploration that features a multigenerational array of guest vocalists, making women’s voices the main focal point. This extraordinarily ambitious project ought to stand as the de-facto magnum opus of one of the most driven minds in modern jazz.


Miguel Zenón – Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman

Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón pays tribute to one of his earliest musical influences in this live set recorded with a European-based band in Switzerland in 2019. The eight-time Grammy nominee shows his passion for the music and attitude of Ornette Coleman, delivering a performance that’s fittingly free and unfettered.


Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – I Told You So

This soul-jazz trio from Seattle specializes in feel-good music. Inspired by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Meters along with hints of Motown, Stax and Jimi Hendrix, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio are groovy, soulful and more confident than ever on their second album.


Kalya Ramu & Ewen Farncombe – Duo

Toronto-based rising jazz talents Kalya Ramu and Ewen Farncombe take inspiration from the golden-age musical styles of the 1930s through the 1950s in this five-song EP of original material. Duo is an intimate showcase of Ramu’s warm, dynamic voice and Farncombe’s emotive playing. The songs tend toward slow-paced, leisurely comforts with playful lyricism, all of which work together to help put the mind at ease.


Rubén Blades con Roberto Delgado y Orquesta –
SALSWING!

Highly acclaimed composer and vocalist Rubén Blades teams up with the Roberto Delgado Orchestra on an album that combines Afro-Cuban salsa music with swing-era jazz. SALSWING! therefore lives up to its title, combining the sounds of Latin music with those popularized by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. In any case, it’s fit for a celebration.


Jesse Ryan – Bridges

Combining the sounds of North American jazz and Afro-Caribbean folk traditions, Jesse Ryan’s debut album is an eclectic, inspired and fully realized effort by the young saxophonist. Winner of the Toronto Arts Foundation’s emerging jazz artist award, Ryan makes an impressive debut with Bridges, which is good enough to live up to its lofty goals of uniting far-away regions and cultures through his music.


Archie Shepp & Jason Moran – Let My People Go

Veteran sax player Archie Shepp teams up with contemporary pianist Jason Moran for a duo album that’s musically and spiritually profound. A collection of performances recorded in France and Germany in 2017 and 2018, Let My People Go shows that while Shepp and Moran are from different generations, they are descended from the same musical lineage. These songs are sparse and subdued, making every note all the more captivating. And in all of the silences and open spaces, you can feel the rich history of artistry between them.


Thomas Steele – 10Tet

With this new album, Toronto-based saxophonist and composer Thomas Steele reimagines how a big band can sound. Sounding at times comfortingly familiar and at other times completely foreign, 10Tet pushes the boundaries of contemporary jazz with an experimental take on large ensemble music that’s deep, full and forceful.


Danny Lubin-Laden – Through Our Time

With soothing yet engaging trombone solos layered over expansive, reverberating atmospherics, Danny Lubin-Laden creates a soundscape that’s the kind of relaxation music that still demands one’s attention. The quartet’s music is like a thick blanket of fog, the kind in which you won’t mind getting lost.


Adrian Younge – The American Negro

A powerful musical document of Black life in America, the latest project from composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge is both an unapologetic critique of systemic racism and a soulful celebration of strength and resilience. With psychedelic and orchestral arrangements, the music channels Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On in both sound and spirit, and Younge’s spoken-word sermons are incisive, erudite and unforgiving. This album — as well as its accompanying film and a four-part podcast called Invisible Blackness — places itself resolutely at the intersection of Black art, American history and racial politics.


Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra – Bernstein Reimagined

Leonard Bernstein once called jazz “the ultimate common denominator of the American musical style.” In celebration of the composer’s centennial in 2018, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra mined his repertoire and picked out pieces that have rarely if ever been performed in a jazz context. With reworked music from On the Town, Peter Pan, Trouble in Tahiti and more, the big band offers a swinging exploration of Bernstein tunes in ways you’ve never heard them before.


Dave Dunlop – Midnight Gamble

Dave Dunlop’s new release is the first solo album in 15 years for the Toronto-based horn player. Midnight Gamble is a smooth and funky set that sounds like it’s made for the wee hours of the night. It’s rich in instrumentation, but none more prominent than Dunlop’s trumpet and flugelhorn. Among the highlights are Fiesta Grande, The Warmth of Your Touch and a sassy rendition of The Beatles’ Come Together.


Emma-Jean Thackray – Rain Dance

Blurring the lines between jazz and psychedelia, British composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and bandleader Emma-Jean Thackray’s latest release takes live performances, chops them up and pastes them back together without too much regard for rules or boundaries. The result is a sound that combines the analog and the digital in a way that grabs one’s attention and keeps a firm hold.


Jonathan Maron – Wide Open Lazy Eye

The solo debut of Grammy-nominated bassist Jonathan Maron is an intriguing journey through groovy soul, atmospheric funk and ambient techno-jazz. The electric bass anchors these tracks, but the music is intently focused on texture and mood above all else. It invites you to settle in and enjoy its many unique sounds and surprises.


Dave Restivo – Arancina

As Dave Restivo recently told us, “I can make my home almost anywhere.” The Canadian pianist and composer’s latest album traces his journey through a landscape of food, language, and culture in search of what his travels mean to his sense of self. Arancina begins with the four-part Sicilian Suite and moves through a texturally rich playlist that includes the energetic Raven’s Wing, a leisurely take on Giant Steps, two smooth, sultry tunes with vocalist Fawn Fritzen, and a sizzling bebop finale.


Chris Potter – There is a Tide

A response to both the sudden isolation of the COVID-19 lockdowns and the collective uproar of the Black Lives Matter movement, Chris Potter’s latest album There is a Tide is surprisingly light and even joyful. With fluttering saxes, playful flutes and a light and approachable rhythm section, it sounds like better days at a time when we’re still anxiously awaiting them. Most noteworthy, though, is the fact that Potter played all of the dozen-or-so instruments himself — making it one of the lockdown-iest of lockdown albums we’ve heard yet.


Cory Weeds – O Sole Mio! Music From The Motherland

Here’s a blisteringly upbeat set of Italian-flavoured tunes from Vancouver-based saxophonist and jazz impresario Cory Weeds. Recorded with one of today’s preeminent jazz organ bands, O Sole Mio! takes a carefully curated selection of music by Italians and reinterprets it in a swinging, groovy bop style, complete with a snappy rhythm section and sizzling solos.


Jason Moran – The Sound Will Tell You

The sound of the piano cascades like a waterfall throughout Jason Moran’s hypnotizing third solo recording. Moran directs his focus on melody as well as a technique called “drip,” a filter that gives particular tracks a shadowy, slow-motion feel. At times dreamlike and at others nightmarish, The Sound Will Tell You is an altogether fascinating display of two-handed choreography.


Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo –
El Arte Del Bolero

This album will set the perfect mood for an evening of warmth, relaxation and perhaps even romance. With a selection of music from the Bolero era, saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Luis Perdomo play magnificently together in these live, one-take recordings. Their music is melodic and lyrical, and their long-standing passion for these Latin classics is palpable.


Santi Debriano – Flash of the Spirit

While reading Robert Farris Thompson’s book Flash of the Spirit, Panamanian-American bassist, guitarist and composer Santi Debriano became fascinated and inspired by its discussion of the preservation of African traditions and customs in today’s Black culture. Debriano’s musical take on Flash of the Spirit honours his heritage in its own way, with original compositions along with reinventions of tunes by Kenny Barron, Kenny Dorham and Ornette Coleman, and a standard popularized by Billie Holiday. With a strong vision and a talented band of improvisers, this record ought to please fans of both traditional and contemporary jazz.


Joe Bowden – ROOTS: Tales of the Urban Yoda

Here’s a jazz record that’s as funky as it gets. Jow Bowden taps into his deep love of The Crusaders, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock and James Brown, along with his experience playing with Salome Bey, Dave Young and Maestro Fresh Wes. For his latest album ROOTS, Bowden brought together an elite team that includes Luis Deniz, Robi Botos, Andrew Stewart, Michael Shand and more. It’s an album full of funky grooves and melodic solos delivered by some of Canada’s finest in jazz and R&B.


The Nimmons Tribute – To the Nth

This new album is the first in a planned series that lovingly pays tribute to Canadian jazz great Phil Nimmons. Led by Nimmons’s own grandson Sean Nimmons-Patterson (read our interview), the band is a highly talented and widely acclaimed octet consisting of students, colleagues, friends and family of “the dean of Canadian jazz.” You’ll hear a collection of Nimmons classics rearranged and reimagined for a smaller ensemble, with all of the passion for the music entirely intact.


Duchess – Live at Jazz Standard

If you miss the feeling of being at a real jazz club enjoying an evening of great music, you’re certainly not alone. In the meantime, this recording by New York-based vocal trio Duchess might be the next best thing. Recorded in the spring of 2019, this live album wonderfully captures the atmosphere at Jazz Standard and even includes all the performers’ little bits of chatter and audience engagement between songs, making it feel like you’re right there enjoying the show with them.


Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger – Force Majeure

It might be hard to believe that music this beautiful, soulful and cathartic was achieved with just two musicians and one microphone during a series of live-streamed sessions. Bassist Dezron Douglas and harpist Brandee Younger excerpted these 11 pieces from the Friday morning performances from their living room in Harlem. The resulting record, Force Majeure, is a profound work that reflects on the power of Black art, the uplifting sense of community and the strength that’s found in times of struggle.


Sun Ra Arkestra – Swirling

The mighty Sun Ra Arkestra returns with its first album in more than 20 years. Under the steady direction of Marshall Allen (who has led the band since its founder’s death in 1993), Swirling is “a full-blooded celebration of Sun Ra’s legacy.” The newly invigorated 15-piece orchestra has come together to bring joy and positivity “to a planet which is so deeply in need.”


Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brothahood – LIVE

This live recording by Chicago-based vocalist, clarinetist and composer Angel Bat Dawid and her band Tha Brothahood was captured in Berlin in late 2019, on the first stop of their European tour. Loose, groovy and utterly ensnaring, the album is notable not only for its fierce musical performance but also for its lyrics and sound bites documenting Dawid’s experiences of anti-Black racism and her push back in defence of her life and identity.


Dinosaur – To the Earth

The music of British trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd is a mosaic containing jazz, classical and folk traditions from Europe and the Middle East. To the Earth, the third release with her Dinosaur quartet, is a celebratory display of wide-ranging influence, earning comparisons to Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington while also making room for blues, gospel and other, more obscure reference points. The result is a recording that sounds unique and modern yet timeless and accessible.


Takuya Kuroda – Fly Moon Die Soon

Japan-born trumpeter Takuya Kuroda has been gaining a serious reputation in New York’s jazz scene, releasing five albums in the past decade including one with Blue Note. His fifth recording Fly Moon Die Soon consists of smooth yet electrifying jazz-funk that’s soulful and infectious.


Cat Toren’s HUMAN KIND – Scintillating Beauty

Influenced by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and the spirital music of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, Brooklyn-based pianist and composer Cat Toren reacts to the chaos and division of contemporary times by making music containing the ideals of “redemption, metamorphosis and spiritual evolution.” Making the most of the talents of Toren’s quintet HUMAN KIND, Scintillating Beauty reflects the chaos of the day while finding moments of hope and levity that prove to be wonderfully cathartic.


Emily Kuhn – Sky Stories

Trumpet player Emily Kuhn’s album Sky Stories brings her lyrical compositional voice together with some of the most innovative musicians from the jazz, classical, Latin, folk, and world music scenes in her home of Chicago. The record features two bands: a chamber jazz nonet and an improvisational quartet. The music alternates orchestration and improvisation, and Kuhn’s sound is intimate, meditative, punchy and playful all at once.


Ernesto Cervini – Tetrahedron

Tetrahedron is a chordless trio led by Juno-winning drummer Ernesto Cervini and featuring alto saxophonist Luis Deniz and bassist Rich Brown, two of Canada’s finest improvisers. Joined by special guest guitarist Nir Felder, the groovy, energetic band plays both originals and funky arrangements of jazz standards. These tunes are inventively composed and leave lots of space for any of the talented musicians to run away with them.


Dione Taylor – Spirits in the Water

Canadian vocalist Dione Taylor’s unique mix of blues, roots and Americana has yielded an unmistakable sound dubbed the “Prairie blues.” Inspired by the folklore of the Yuchi Indian Tribe, Taylor travelled to Nashville and found the inspiration for her latest album. Vivid and compelling, Spirits in the Water is a spiritual journey of healing and self-discovery.


Alex Goodman – Impressions in Blue and Red

Toronto guitarist Alex Goodman has a lot to offer on the expansive double album Impressions in Blue and Red — and with quantity also comes quality. Featuring two different sets, each with its own cast of side musicians, the record is a great conduit for everyone involved to express themselves. Goodman’s arrangements are warm, rich and generous, and his playing rises to every occasion.


Josh Johnson – Freedom Exercise

The debut album by Los Angeles-based saxophonist, keyboardist and composer Josh Johnson arrives after playing on records by peers like Makaya McCraven and Jeff Parker from his hometown of Chicago. Counting Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter among his heroes, Johnson delivers an album that he calls “musically omnivorous.” Freedom Exercise is imaginatively conceived, confidently performed and colourfully arranged.


Eric St-Laurent – Bliss Station

Named one of the best jazz albums of 2019Bliss Station is the 13th recording by guitarist Eric St-Laurent. Created in both Canada and Germany with usual trio of bassist Jordan O’Connor and percussionist Michel DeQuavedo along with Berlin-based trumpeter Sebastian Studnitzky, the album merges the Toronto sound with a European feel. It’s wonderfully layered and soft to the touch, making it an endlessly pleasant listening experience.


Nubya Garcia – SOURCE

The debut album from award-winning British saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia explores a “multidimensional” jazz sound layered with soul, hints of club music and a variety of sounds from the African diaspora. Garcia’s music is generous and her sense of adventure is boundless in this recording. She’s based SOURCE on a foundational approach to rhythms and harmony, but renders it with fresh, modern and exploratory takes on composition and improvisation.


Somi – Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band

In her first collaboration with a large ensemble, vocalist Somi joined up with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band for a live album culling material primarily from her previous two records. These songs look at the issues faced by women, immigrants and Black communities with pointed clarity, rousing spirit, exquisite poise and genuine tenderness. Arranged and conducted by John Beasley, the recording has a beautiful, enveloping atmosphere while keeping Somi’s voice in central focus. All proceeds from the album will benefit the Black Art Futures Fund.


The Jerry Granelli Trio – Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison

Veteran drummer Jerry Granelli revisits two of his most indelible collaborations with an exploratory ear in this new recording. The album features reimagined takes on the elegant, lyrical jazz of his early peer Vince Guaraldi and the eccentric blues of his nearly 40-year association with Mose Allison. Granelli, who has called Nova Scotia home since the ’90s, spent decades refusing to revisit old material. But here, he finds joy in diving into these remarkable works — not out of nostalgia, but out of the artistic curiosity in taking something old and making it new again.


Charles Tolliver – Connect

Trumpeter, composer and educator Charles Tolliver re-emerges with his first studio album in 13 years. With a lineup of some of New York’s top jazz performers, Tolliver delivers a recording of warm, rich and brilliant hard bop that’s both classic and modern. This relatively brief yet undeniably captivating session is likely to leave you wanting more.


La Pingo’s Orquesta & Todd Clouser – Midwest​/​Bajio

Kansas City-born and Minneapolis-raised guitarist Todd Clouser joins forces with Aguascalientes sextet La Pingo’s Orquesta in this collection of music inspired by their shared experience of country landscapes and working-class culture in the U.S. and Mexico. Midwest/Bajio is a musical reflection on the commonalities of heartland life on both sides of the border. Is it country, or jazz, or folk, or Latin music? The answer is yes.


Lakecia Benjamin – Pursuance: The Coltranes

The third album by New York altoist Lakecia Benjamin pays a fitting tribute to the work of John and Alice Coltrane with her faithful, impassioned playing and a huge, intergenerational cast of jazz heavyweights. Reggie Workman, Ron Carter, Gary Bartz, Regina Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jazzmeia Horn, Marc Cary, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger and more all lend their talents to this homage to two of history’s great, mystical maestros of jazz.


Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings E&F Sides

Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven’s album Universal Beings was highly regarded, landing on several high-profile lists of the best albums of 2018. This new release is an addendum to that record, featuring 14 pieces of music that were cut from the original sessions. E&F Sides is groove-centric and inventive, offering a window into one of modern jazz’s creative minds.


Cathlene Pineda – Rainbow Baby

This highly personal recording finds Los Angeles pianist Cathlene Pineda meditating on four years of motherhood, pregnancy, loss and, ultimately, love. With these themes, Rainbow Baby is fittingly infused with empathy and tenderness. It’s full of complex patterns and intricate musicianship, yet it remains soft, gentle and emotionally attuned. It’s a fulfilling record made especially for quiet moments of reflection.


Peripheral Vision – Irrational Revelation and Mutual Humiliation

There’s a lot to take in with this 88-minute double album marking 10 years of the Toronto quintet Peripheral Vision. It’s a record with the high-minded ambition of jazz but also the grassroots execution of garage punk, with a raw and urgent sound. Among the highlights is Reconciliation Suite, composed by Michael Herring with funding by the Toronto Arts Council; the 14-minute instrumental odyssey was made with the explicit intent of provoking conversation and action to address inequity and injustice in Canada’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples.


Harish Raghavan – Calls for Action

In his debut album as a leader, double bassist Harish Raghavan pursues the fundamental essence of jazz as a “progressive, evolutionary art form.” Calls for Action is a record of constant awakenings and reawakenings, marked by dramatic and often explosive shifts in energy and tone. With a resumé that includes gigs with Ambrose Akinmusire, Kurt Elling and Vijay Iyer, Raghavan assembled a quintet of new and exciting players for this album that delves into a broad spectrum of human experience and portrays it with intensity and vitality.


See Through 4 – False Ghosts, Minor Fears

The new project from Juno-winning bassist and composer Pete Johnston blends intricate, contrapuntal compositions with inventive improvisation, incorporating concepts from electronic music, progressive rock and free jazz. Drawing upon the avant-garde styles of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, Carla Bley, Ornette Coleman and King Crimson, the quartet juxtaposes sections of lockstep rhythm and melody with segments of unbridled exploration — the musicians free to roam, but always near enough to stay together.


Dominique Fils-Aimé – Stay Tuned!

Another of the 2020 class of award winners, Montreal vocalist Dominique Fils-Aimé impressed Canadians with this album, earning a nod from both the Junos and the Polaris Prize. This album is the second in a trilogy exploring different styles of Black music; Stay Tuned! combines innovative jazz sounds with a deep dive into the Civil Rights movement and other moments of sociopolitical significance in Black history. Fils-Aimé’s captivating voice is everywhere, leading the way with a multi-layered mix of melodies, harmonies, rhythm and more. Hers is a bluesy, soulful voice that can crawl into your head and hold your attention with ease — and for good reason.


Jacques Kuba Séguin – Migrations

This album by trumpeter and composer Jacques Kuba Séguin was recently recognized by the Juno Awards, winning the title of jazz album of the year: solo. Séguin is billed as “one of Montreal’s most adventurous musicians,” but he returned to a more classic form of jazz for this album. He based each of the compositions on interviews with people from various cultural communities in Quebec and wanted to use the music to encourage openness in others. It’s a more familiar and traditional sound than what Séguin usually pursues, but it’s one that feels fresh and uniquely personal while being both introspective and empathetic.


Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop – Abundance

Turboprop’s sophomore album Rev earned the Toronto-based sextet a Juno nomination, but their third album Abundance is the one that sealed the deal this year. Led by Ernesto Cervini, the band sounds invigorated and full of purpose in this recording. With everyone taking a turn as soloists, composers and arrangers throughout these eight tunes, it’s a truly collaborative effort that’s full of feeling, excitement and magic.


Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Following his game-changing 2017 album Drunk, the virtuoso bassist Stephen Lee Bruner a.k.a Thundercat returns with a fascinating fourth album that re-asserts his distinctive voice in jazz fusion. Featuring another large cast of collaborators — including Kamasi Washington, BADBADNOTGOOD, Flying Lotus and Childish Gambino — It Is What It Is blends elements of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, electronic music and more. Since its release this April, it has been critically acclaimed for its creative exploration, its emotional expression and its sense of humour.


Roy Ayers – Roy Ayers JID002

Released on Juneteenth, this album marks soul-jazz legend Roy Ayers’s return to the studio after a nine-year absence. He teamed up with trailblazing producers and multi-instrumentalists Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest) and Adrian Younge for a collaborative effort that sounds “both like an unearthed an unreleased album from Ayers’ classic period in the 1970s … as well as something startling, new and unexpected.”


Kahil El’Zabar – Spirit Groove

The master multi-percussionist Kahil El’Zabar continues his groovy spirit quest in this collaboration with tenor sax colossus David Murray. These eight original compositions are meant to get your body, mind and spirit moving and dancing. Using the lessons he learned from his bebop mentors like Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker, El’Zabar has set out on a quest to “rekindle the motion of social relevance within the legacy of jazz as an improvised people’s movement for social change.” Now, prepare to get your groove on.


Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown

Having built a reputation with the Chicago experimental rock band Tortoise and through collaborations with modern jazz luminaries such as Joshua Redman, Makaya McCraven, Joey DeFrancesco and Brian Blade, Jeff Parker has come into his own as a solo artist worthy of serious discussion. His latest album Suite for Max Brown was made through a gradual process of collaborative assembly with a rotating cast of friends dropping in to improvise over his instrumental beds. The result is a warm, rhythmic, soulful and very in-the-moment recording. It’s an experimental work that feels totally whole, with a sound that’s both classic and modern.


Andy Milne and Unison – The reMISSION

Two years after his Juno-winning album The Seasons of Being, Andy Milne brings us a life-affirming new record that finds him reformatted and reinvented. For one thing, it’s the Canadian pianist and bandleader’s first album to be recorded since being diagnosed with, and recovering from, prostate cancer. It’s also Milne’s first foray into the piano trio format, setting aside his long-standing work with the Dapp Theory quintet and forming a new group he’s called Unison. What you hear is the result of a bandleader working backwards, taking the structural and harmonic richness of a larger ensemble and funnelling it into the “powerful intimacy” of a trio, the music as fully realized as ever.


Irreversible Entanglements – Who Sent You?

Upon presenting itself, the critically adored second album by free-jazz ensemble Irreversible Entanglements is almost impossible to ignore. Designed to convey “the punk-rocking of jazz and the mystification of the avant-garde,” it demands attention thanks to the four-piece band’s instrumental ferocity and Camae Ayewa’s incisive, confrontational poetry, surveying the state of the world and asking dark, difficult questions that lurk underneath. Who Sent You? channels the Civil Rights-era protest music of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Max Roach, reconfiguring it for the chaos of modern times. Yet for all the furious cacophony of the music, the band is focused, controlled and, most crucially, together.


Local Talent – Higienópolis

This Toronto trio featuring James Hill, Rich Brown and Ian Wright specializes in the inventive manipulation of sound, taking savvy approaches to their instruments and adding ambient, electronic flourishes to craft a captivating sound. Hill’s keyboard magic at the helm is the most immediate feature in these soundscapes, but Brown’s booming, adventurous playing can’t be missed; put a bass in his hands and it seems like there’s nothing he cannot do.


Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall

For his latest album, the cross-cultural innovator Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah approached it with a powerful mantra: “All forms of expression in sound are valid, as all people are.” Infusing the instrumentation and ethos of jazz with rhythms and sounds from all around the globe, Ancestral Recall carries out Scott’s mission to bring together a plurality of identities and tear down the walls that separate music and people based on race, class and culture. It’s a mission “to de-colonialize sound,” to foster a deeper social understanding through music, to build a new world with its own set of rules, and Scott brings us into this world he’s created with authority and grace.


Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New

You don’t hear a lot of the cello in jazz. Tomeka Reid makes a strong case for changing that. The Chicago-based artist’s second album Old New uses an uncommon instrument and an electro-acoustic backdrop to open up a whole new palette of sounds. The rhythm section grounds everything in a bluesy bop, freeing up Reid to go exploring for knotty melody, unconventional harmony and all sorts of unique noise. In Reid’s hands, the cello roars, shrieks, sings and demands to be noticed and respected.


Curtis Nowosad – Curtis Nowosad

“Jazz is Black music, so you have to know that history,” Curtis Nowosad said last year in an interview with JAZZ.FM91. Consequently, the Winnipeg native’s music is carried by a strong current of political activism. With five original tunes named after notable activists and several arrangements of thematic compositions by Skip James, Nina Simone and Gil Scott-Heron, Nowosad’s third album uses music as a force for social justice. Nowosad looks at history to inform the present, presenting a record filled with dynamic sound, explosive chemistry and fearless musicality


Tara Kannangara – It’s Not Mine Anymore

After appearing on JAZZ.FM91’s list of the best albums of 2019, this record keeps revealing more of itself with every listen. B.C. artist Tara Kannangara’s ambitious second album blends avant-garde jazz, dreamy art-pop, innovative electronics and musical theatre for an entirely unique sound on It’s Not Mine Anymore. It is both challenging and accessible, offering an alluring entry point for fans of just about any genre of music.


The Good Life – The Animals Took Over

Led by West Coast drummer Scott Amendola, the Good Life features a number of instrumentalists from a variety of backgrounds — indie-rock guitarists John Dieterich and Nels Cline, avant-garde bassist Trevor Dunn and jazz/klezmer clarinetist Ben Goldberg — brought together in the spirit of Ornette Coleman. The Animals Took Over is a live album recorded in 2009 and released in 2020 to benefit the Food Bank for New York City. It’s an adventurous, playful and highly improvisational tour through two Coleman classics and original compositions by the band members and Jimmy Giuffre.


Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble – Where Future Unfolds

This project by Chicago-based artist Damon Locks began as a sound collage made from clips of Civil Rights-era speeches layered over improvisational drum machine performances. In four years, it proceeded to grow into a 15-piece suite featuring instrumentalists, singers and dancers. Where Future Unfolds is a live recording of its debut presentation at the Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory, showcasing a creative, innovative and inspired intersection of jazz, gospel and uplifting activism.


Pat Metheny – From This Place

The superstar guitarist and composer Pat Metheny brings together a new lineup for this beautiful and at times haunting record. Throughout it, Metheny showcases the six-string finesse that helped make him famous while also sitting back to play more of a supporting role amid a robust band, lush strings and cinematic soundscapes. From This Place is a record that’s understated enough in its sound to make for great passive listening, but still with a great deal of compositional intricacy waiting to be discovered. It’s classic, but with forward momentum — just what you’d want from a veteran like Metheny.


Moses Boyd – Dark Matter

Award-winning British drummer Moses Boyd makes his solo debut with Dark Matter, a jazz album made for the dance club. The record takes an auteur producer’s approach, blending jazz instrumentation with afrobeats and rhythms of the London underground to create a densely layered sound with tons of momentum. Written under the clouds of Brexit and the Windrush scandal, Dark Matter often has a sombre, reflective mood, but one that’s driven forward by a propulsive, upbeat groove.


Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School – Aftermath

Toronto composer and multi-instrumentalist Chelsea McBride gets the band back together — a 19-piece modern jazz orchestra, to be exact — for this musical exploration of the roots and consequences of conflict. Drawing on the influence of composers Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue, Aftermath takes the big-band tradition into new territories, deftly and stylishly reinventing what it means to be a jazz orchestra.