Modern Jazz albums you should have, hear, buy, steal or shoplift. 

Steve Coleman – Coleman is one of the most important figures in modern jazz – an enormous amount of the new school of players come out of his philosophy and style of playing (and it is a philosophy – he waxes forever about the most incomprehensible theories of music). Coolly, he puts all of his albums no longer in print up for free download on his website. He is instrumental in incorporating insanely complicated time signatures and beats into a funky based music that never feels forced (it’s hard to figure out what they are doing, but it all sounds amazing). A great place to start is The Tao Of Mad Phat a classic 90’s live disc, super funky, dense and complicated, but great fun. You can download it for free here ( – you need to scroll down the list to find this disc). Other great discs to hear are these; Curves of Life; Genesis and the Opening of the Way; Luciderium (his experiment on vocals). He recently started putting out discs on Pi Records, and the first of them is an amazing album that takes a bit to get used to (it has a wordless vocalist that never shuts up, works her way in a like a horn and that once you accept it, is pretty cool – but it is everything else that is so good here, the drumming is insane, the horn lines amazing, etc.) – called Harvesting Semblances And Affinities.

John Zorn – You probably know Zorn. Screaming alto sax player with great compositional ideas and an absurdly large catalogue. Many different projects too. For a furious mix of speed metal, punk, rock and jazz that somehow shifts on the fly and hits the entire range of the radio dial seamlessly in a 2 minute song, you have to hear Naked City Live, Vol  1 – Joey Baron on drums is not quite human – playing a tune for my friend, he remarked, ‘how many limbs does this drummer have?’. For a very original cinematic compositional take on the music of Ennio Morricone, all done through the decidedly demented Zorn-looking glass, check out The Big Gundown. Punk-jazz goes bananas on Ornette Coleman tunes, Spy vs. Spy. But the real deal, in my book, is the Masada quartet – Joey Baron on drums, Dave Douglas trumpet, Greg Cohen bass, all acoustic, all the Zorn elements mixed into some indescribable blender mix of klezmer music on crack – if that sounds terrible, it isn’t, it is incredible.  Hunt till you find Masada, Live at Tonic, it is worth however long it takes to find, trust me.

William Parker QuartetO’Neal’s Porch or Sound Unity : Parker is from an earlier generation and is one of the great free players.  Bass player and extraordinary band leader. All his albums are excellent, but the band to start with is his quartet. Parker and drummer Hamid Drake have one of the most amazing bass/drums relationships imaginable – unlike anything else, esp. live. The quartet (with Drake, Rob Brown on alto and Lewis Barnes on trumpet) are a groove based hard edged free playing intense modern band. In the first show I ever saw of them, half the crowd gave Rob Brown a standing ovation 5 minutes into the first tune (literally). Of the 2 albums here, O’Neal’s Porch is the classic and Sound Unity is the live album, both terrific.

David BinneyGraylan Epicenter and Live at Newport 2010: Binney is one of the leaders of the NY scene (the scene no one knows about).  He’s been putting out tremendous discs for years (all that I’ve heard are great). A serious composer and blistering alto sax player, he writes that strand of modern jazz that has free edged solos constantly mapped with composed segments and arrangements. Graylan Epicenter is from 2011 and is an amazing disc – with a variety of players including Brian Blade on drums, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet (another great young player, worked his way through Steve Coleman), Craig Taborn (piano player, everywhere these days, at least everywhere in the scene that no one knows about), Chris Potter on tenor.  Live at Newport 2010 is only available as a free download from npr, and it is his quartet (with Taborn and Blade) that hunts quite different grounds than the other album.  Incredibly organic music.

Jason MoranIntroducing the Bandwagon : Piano player that is finally getting his due (just won MacArthur Genius Award). Been playing with same trio for years, and plays it like no other. With Nasheet Waits on drums, whose one of the top young drummers these days. All his discs are challenging and original – this one is a live disc from the Village Vanguard. Moran played in Greg Osby’s band for a decade.

Steve LehmanTravail, Transformation and Flow : Alto player, got some buzz going with this album as it is the first jazz album to investigate ‘spectral harmony’ – which is interesting because it is a challenging, difficult listen for all the attention it got, and completely brilliant (and unlike anything you’ve heard before). Octet with a host of stellar NY players including the ridiculously good drummer Tyshawn Sorey.

Steve Lehman and Rudresh Mahanthappa Dual Identity : Two top alto players that have their own unique approach to music and harmonies come together in a mind-melting tear-up that is hard to explain without listening to it. Rudresh is unceasingly intense. Great young drummer Damian Reid (a Greg Osby graduate).

Greg OsbyChannel Three : Really, all Osby albums after and including Further Ado are necessities. A super original alto player with great bands and a host of unknowns that very quickly become monsters. Jason Moran was in his band for many years, and all of those discs are incredible – when he left, Osby recorded a trio album with bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Jeff Tain Watts. This is it, and it is great. Other classics; Banned in New York, Inner Circle, St. Louis Shoes, Zero, and Symbols Of Light (the best example of jazz with strings because it is modern and truly intergrated).

SFJAZZ Collective – Live 2008, Live 2009, Live 2010 : Collective band that is a great example of where modern jazz is – amazing arrangements, collective improvisations, simultaneously inside and outside, great soloist and superior ensemble playing. The band changes from time to time, but it an octet that plays rearrangements of a jazz player plus original music. 2008 is Wayne Shorter, 2009 is McCoy Tyner, 2010 is Horace Silver.  All their albums are fantastic, but these 3 are my favorites.  Band includes Miguel Zenon (one of the great young alto players) and astounding drummer Eric Harland, plus bassist Matt Penman and a host of top players.

Donny McCaslin TrioRecommended Tools :  McCaslin is a youngish tenor sax player that came up through David Binney’s bands (and still plays with him). This is a fantastic Tenor trio album with great NY drummer Jonathan Blake. Modern, staccato and great toned.

Antonio SanchezLive In New York : A double album. Sanchez is a drummer that basically never stops soloing.  Good song writer too. Live disc with Scott Colley on bass (great modern player), Miguel Zenon on alto (a force) and David Sanchez on tenor (likewise). Blistering, furious music.

Ralph AlessiLook : Alessi is a trumpet player that it is really unique – quiet but with a free edge. This is fantastic and thought-out album – no blowing session, just wonderfully crafted tunes. Band includes Ravi Coltrane, Andy Milne, Mark Ferber – many of them Steve Coleman spin offs.

Dave HollandExtended Play : Holland has been around forever, and leading a modern band with a host of young players – but whoever is in the band, it always sounds like Holland. This is a good one – a live double disc with Chris Potter on sax and Robin Eubanks on trombone and Billy Kilson on drums, all great players.

FieldworkDoor : A collective trio of Steve Lehman, Vijay Iyer (piano, one of the leading new players) and Tyshawn Sorey. Incredible band and music – this is up there as one of my favorite albums in the past several years. Essential.

Eric HarlandVoyager Live In The Night : One of the greatest drummers probably ever, leads his first album as a leader. Has always been a good writer (see SFJAZZ Collective albums for his tunes flushed out to octet size) here he absolutely crushes this live album. Long, swelling tunes with tons of energy and all that modern goodness. Walter Smith III on tenor sax, an excellent player given lots of space. The drum interludes are unlike any drum solo you’ve heard. Amazing disc.

James FarmJames Farm : Collective band with Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums).  A composed, alt rock sort of feel to the music, this is quality writing and playing. A spin off of 2 fantastic similar lineup albums that came earlier and that Redman heard and wanted to be part of, so he created this collective – Matt Penman’s Catch Of The Day (same band, with Seamus Blake on tenor) and Aaron Parks Invisible Cinema (same trio but with Mike Moreno on guitar) – both excellent albums, all 3 with a  similar feel  and a leaning towards a new sense of jazz writing.

David TornPrezens : Amazingly, a guitarist made my list! Torn is an effects/experimental  player. Top notch outside band – Tim Berne on alto (no one really like him, really aggressive); Craig Taborn, Tom Rainey on drums. Excellent album that has rock and experimental edges.

Drew Gress7 Black Butterflies : Gress is one of the bass players for this new music (plays with Lehman, Binney, Torn, Carrothers (piano player), etc). Tim Berne and Craig Taborn on this disc. Wonderful blend of inside and outside.

Dave HollandTriplicate (with Steve Coleman and Jack DeJohnette) Holland’s late 80’s bands with a  young Steve Coleman. This trio disc is fantastic, with the 3 working out modern takes on jazz classics (Take The Coltrane, Segment). DeJohnette is his typical beastly self.

John EscreetDon’t Fight The Inevitable Simply awesome young piano player, plays a lot with David Binney. This album is an astounding display of ludicrously complicated charts and heads, played perfectly and with emotion, followed by great solos. Modern, edgy, difficult and awesome. Amazing band too – Binney, Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Matt Brewer (bass) and Nasheet Waits on drums. The best in modern