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 is continuing the initiative on the first Friday of each month. The company will also be donating all of its share of sales on Juneteenth to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, in support of “racial justice, equality and change.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Esperanza Spalding & Fred Hersch – Live at the Village Vanguard

Contemporary jazz star Esperanza Spalding teamed up with respected veteran Fred Hersch for this rough-cut set at the Village Vanguard. Having recorded it back in 2018, the duo is now selling the five-song EP digitally to benefit the Jazz Foundation of America and its efforts to help members of the jazz community affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a light, enjoyable tour through some popular songs such as But Not for Me and Some Other Time, with the duo staying totally in sync even as they each head off on improvisational thrill rides.

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 arrangements of thematic compositions 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.

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.