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Reflecting on the Year in Jazz with Our Own Nate Chinen, the Author of 'Playing Changes'

Christie Hemm Klok, Amy Touchette, Bruno Bollaert
Ambrose Akinmusire, Mary Halvorson, Aaron Parks, Kamasi Washington

Has jazz ever sounded so varied and diverse?

In this Checkout podcast, Nate Chinen — WBGO’s director of editorial content, and the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century — reckons with the music’s current moment and how we got here.

On Dec. 5  at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Nate will moderate The Year in Jazz: A Critics Roundtable, an annual tradition. His fellow panelists this year are Kira Grunenberg (DownBeat), Ethan Iverson (Do The Math), Matthew Kassel (JazzTimes), and John Murph (JazzTimes). The event, which is open to the public, will also be streamed live at wbgo.org.

During our conversation, Chinen talked about some of the artists featured in Playing Changes, including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and guitarist Mary Halvorson.

Each of those artists released notable albums this year. So did some others we discussed, like Louis Cole, Makaya McCraven, and Justin Brown — three drummer-producers shaking up jazz from its foundation and challenging its definition. And we explored the legacy of pianist Brad Mehldau, one of the first self-identified Generation X artists, who helped move us from jazz’s neo-classical era into our current age of multiplicity.

In chronological order, here are the recordings featured in the episode:

“The Space Travelers Lullaby,” Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (Young Turks) “Real Life” and “When You’re Ugly,” Louis Cole, Time (Brainfeeder) “Atlantic Black” and “Suite Haus,” Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings (International Anthem) “Lithium” and “River Man,” Brad Mehldau, Live in Marciac and Songs: Art of the Trio Volume Three (Nonesuch) “Miracle and Street fight” and “Particle Spectra,” Ambrose Akinmusire, Origami Harvest (Blue Note) “The Trickster,” Aaron Parks, Little Big (Ropeadope) “Golden Hour,” Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour (Mercury Records) “Replenish,” Justin Brown NYEUSI, WBGO live recording from Nublu “My Mind I Find In Time,” Mary Halvorson, Code Girl (Firehouse 12)

In addition to these outstanding recordings, there are a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the program, including Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, The Other Side of Air; Wayne Shorter’s Emanon; Medeski, Martin, and Wood and Alarm Will Sound’sOmnisphere; John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once; and Thiefs’ Graft (La Greffe).

Playing Changes: Jazz For the New Century is available nowthrough all booksellers.

Subscribe to The Checkout on iTunes and Stitcher.


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For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.