Despite what some may believe, Los Angeles has a rich jazz history. From Central Avenue to Hermosa Beach, early innovators like Hampton Hawes, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon honed their chops in this town before attaining global recognition. Thankfully that tradition continues today. Los Angeles is not lacking in young jazz talent. Want proof? In no particular order, here are our top five LA-influenced "jazz" albums of 2011.
The Lost and Found (Obliqsound)
Oftentimes becoming a "jazz vocalist" doesn't take much more than picking up a microphone and saying "shoo be doo be." Gretchen Parlato isn't a vocalist. She's a musician. Her vocals on her newest release purr over a great, reserved rhythm section that tackles songs as varied as Wayne Shorter's "Ju-Ju" and Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years." Parlato's rich, soulful blend should tip off a lot of vocalists that there are other ways to sing a song than chest-pounding melismas.
The Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
Considering that Flying Lotus is jazz royalty (Alice Coltrane is his great aunt) it is not surprising to see him making room for jazzbos in his cosmic corner of the record bin, Brainfeeder. Bassist Stephen Bruner's label debut is a fuzzy album of '70s-indebted jazz and R&B, aided by vintage oscillating keyboard sounds and enough intricate production work to fry a dispensary-addled brain. Bruner wields his bass like a child's toy, drawing fleet-fingered lines at every turn. Good luck transcribing that stuff, jazz nerds.
Endless Planets (Brainfeeder)
Austin Peralta, tow-headed son of Z-boy Stacy, has been playing around Los Angeles since middle school. At that time George W. Bush was already in his second term. For his Brainfeeder debut, the 21-year-old Peralta made a sweeping album of space-jazz, deeply rooted in the strength of his McCoy Tyner-indebted hammer hands. With help from saxophonists Ben Wendel and Zane Musa, Peralta presents a hard-driving album of original material whose celestial reach knows no bounds.
Bond: The Paris Sessions (Emarcy)
For those who like to sit around complaining that "it just doesn't swing," there is pianist Gerald Clayton. The son of local educator and bandleader John Clayton, Gerald displays a nuanced touch on the piano that effortlessly swings. His original compositions fit in right alongside jam session standards like "If I Were a Bell" and "All the Things You Are" but are uniquely tailored to Clayton's voice. This album even earned Clayton a Grammy nomination for "Best Instrumental Jazz Album." Those things can be melted down in exchange for a fair amount of cash.
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When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is from Oakland, California. But luckily for us, he spent a few vital years here at USC and the Monk Institute. Those years of study paid off with his fiery and complex debut. Akinmusire's powerful trumpet skills exude tremendous creativity and a lithe playfulness. With help from producer Jason Moran, he has created a landmark jazz album for the 21st century: original, accessible, and most importantly, entertaining.