Holiday gift guide for non-jazz fans: give genre-bending good time

Carol Banks Weber - AXS Contributor
By: AXS Contributor Dec 12, 2014
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Jazz takes some getting used to. The average music fan wants a beat, a catchy melody, racy lyrics to go with that chaser. Stacking notes, scatting outside harmonies, and 15-minute bass solos on a 5/4 time signature just go over most people’s heads — and then they move on to Katy Perry’s bubblegum pop or Beyoncé’s fierce soul strut.

The future, and the interest, lie in jazz fusions. Draw on and bring in influences from hip hop, post-modern bebop avant-garde, prog rock, lots of Latin, light country, and even opera (in the right hands), and maybe, just maybe, you’ll draw and bring in the cross-over audience.

As Christmas nears in two weeks, maybe it’s time to start the jazz indoctrination now, with a few timely gift ideas for the non-jazz fans in your life. The list of credible, approachable, and sheer delightful jazz fusion albums is way too long to go into here. But here’s a sample.

  • Nora La Bella
    At first glance, Gian-Carla Tisera’s Nora La Bella shouldn’t work. The New York-based, Bolivian/Italo-Argentine soprano dares to
    Eduardo Osorio

    At first glance, Gian-Carla Tisera’s Nora La Bella shouldn’t work. The New York-based, Bolivian/Italo-Argentine soprano dares to combine her opera with her newfound love of mostly Afro-Latin jazz in a stunning, if not crazy, patchwork of dramatic crowd favorites. Released on August 19, the tracks go from an anthemic birthright, to schizophrenic theater (“La Llorona”) — earning five stars from Examiner. Available on Amazon and all the other online links. The artist launched her two-month Nora la Bella Bolivian Tour back in November.

  • Poontet
    Brad Gibson’s sexy September 2, 2014 EP, Poontet, makes a fabulous introductory gift for the jazz virgin. It’s as hardcore as mo
    Denney Goodhew

    Brad Gibson’s sexy September 2, 2014 EP, Poontet, makes a fabulous introductory gift for the jazz virgin. It’s as hardcore as modern jazz gets — with trinkets hailing from bebop — all swoonworthy horns and rustling, pulsating mad time percussion. But it’s not inaccessible, because drummer Gibson, keyboardists Ryan Burns and Mack Grout (analog and digital), trumpeter Scott Morning, and alto saxophonist Bryan Smith adhere to a funky groove everyone can groove to, in public and between the sheets. Available in singles and the entire shebang.

  • PJ Rasmussen: More than ‘Another Adventure’
    PJ Rasmussen is an East Coast rock guitarist who took fast and hard to jazz. In his March 4, 2014 follow-up to Adventures In Flight, he cont
    MJCotton Photography

    PJ Rasmussen is an East Coast rock guitarist who took fast and hard to jazz. In his March 4, 2014 follow-up to Adventures In Flight, he continues rocking out and turning up the cool while somehow incorporating the finer facets of classical music, R&B, and funk. “Full Speed Ahead” is a virtuoso rocket, eight minutes and three seconds of classic fusion bliss. Backed by a stupendous horn section, trumpeter Ben Hankle, trombonist Steve Davis, tenor saxophonist Nate Giroux, guest saxophonists (tenor/soprano) Scott Robinson and (baritone) Lauren Sevian play like the second line of Tower of Power on top of Rasmussen’s genius, cheeky licks. Pianist Jim Ridl seems to come out of nowhere on a jazz-topping variance, perfecting that time machine.

  • Spanish Harlem Orchestra
    The Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra plays Latin jazz straight from New York City. But the Latin jazz this 13-piece, all-star salsa b
    Photo courtesy of Spanish Harlem Orchestra

    The Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra plays Latin jazz straight from New York City. But the Latin jazz this 13-piece, all-star salsa band plays is more dance party than far-fetched, elusive jazz. Led by the brilliant musical director/pianist Oscar Hernandez, SHO combines complicated but infectious beats and syncopated rhythms instrumentally and vocally to get audiences on their feet and on the dance floor. Currently, SHO’s new, fan-funded ArtistShare® album is available on iTunes, as well as the band’s online store. Only SHO can get pie-in-the-sky guest star Chick Corea to loosen up and get down. While you’re in there, why not pick up SHO’s Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning albums?

  • Kathleen Grace: ‘No Place To Fall’
    L.A. vocalist Kathleen Grace conveys her deep love of country music and her deep affinity for jazz in one naturally produced album, her four
    Lauren Ward

    L.A. vocalist Kathleen Grace conveys her deep love of country music and her deep affinity for jazz in one naturally produced album, her fourth. No Place To Fall came out on May 15, full of miraculous covers and originals. It’s a wonder the Grammy people never noticed. They should invent a new category for what Grace does on a consistent basis: converting unbelievers. Country fans will fall in love with this music proudly, and avowed critics will rethink their hate. Grace takes the basic tenets of what makes country music true — the gritty, tragic stories, the lost, windswept romance, the plainspoken emotions, the steel-metal guitar twangs — and adds her gripping, sensitive lyricism and light, fragile touch. Grace and guest vocalists Jamie Drake and Leslie Stevens transform Tom Waits’ “The Briar And The Rose” into a gospel masterpiece. Kathleen Grace transforms country and jazz music into simply wonderful music everyone can enjoy.

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