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The New Cool: Show thanks for a great year of modern jazz

Photo by Abe Beeson
New Cool host Abe Beeson (behind the mask) tips his hat in thanks to listeners this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

This year will be one none of us forget. But while 2020 has earned its rotten reputation in many aspects, fans of The New Cool can at least celebrate some fantastic modern jazz albums. We'll recall several on this week's show, including many fantastic records from Seattle artists.

It was still the early weeks of the pandemic in March when Camilo Estrada, bassist and leader of The New Triumph, stopped by (with mask on) to give me the band's excellent new album, Night Trip. I called it "an audio adventure driven by rhythms," with synthesizer foundations for groovy guitar and trumpet solos in futuristic Afro-Latin jazz workouts.

The band also use their voices as instruments, mostly without lyrics, to keep the electronics grounded in humanity. You'll hear "Color Unity" on the show Saturday, a mesmerizing tune that still reminds me of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" brought to the 21st century.

Fellow Seattlite and bassist Abbey Blackwell talked to me in August about her new trio RAE. Their album, Internal Volume, pushes the envelope of jazz in a chamber-folk direction that draws melodic inspiration from pop music as well. "It's not not jazz," Blackwell told me.

Guitarist Ronan DeLisle and drummer Evan Woodle lend thoughtful improvisation and draw from broad stylistic backgrounds. The result is provocative, passionate, contemplative and catchy music that puts me in mind of the solitary summer of 2020. On Saturday's show I'll play my favorite from the album, which Abbey logically — if not creatively — titled "09."

English saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia's debut album from late in the summer was my most anticipated release of the year. She's been a key player in London's exploding modern jazz scene, working with Blue Lab Beats, Ezra Collective, and here in the U.S. with drummer Makaya McCraven's band. Source was long awaited and exceeds my high expectations.

Garcia nods to many influences, modern soul and hip-hop to the Caribbean rhythms of her family tradition, and also connects to the jazz tradition. Her strong, flowing playing recalls the lean tones and meditative inclinations of John Coltrane's later albums. There's an exploratory spirit to everything Garcia plays, but she never overshadows the music. She elevates it.

Garcia's inspired collaboration with Colombian drum and vocal trio La Perla on the joyful "La Cumbia Me Esta Llamando" is coming up on The New Cool this weekend. Nubya Garcia is an important young jazz artist and her debut is a powerful statement.

Credit Photo by Abe Beeson
Music fans had plenty to be thankful for in an otherwise dreary 2020. (LPs: Ezra Collective, Greyboy Allstars, Nubya Garcia, ATA Records. CDs: The New Triumph, Bad News Botanists, The Jazz Lizards.)

I asked Bad News Botanists' band leader Frank Vitolo if he intended a "rising-from-melancholy" vibe with the band's new album, Indignation. His response: "Nailed it."

The Seattle group's second release arrived in October, and reflects the frustration of months in semi-lockdown with racial division roiling the country. Gladly, Bad News Botanists have found musical ways to resolve frustration into triumph as melancholy grooves reveal brightness and hope.

Bad News Botanists provide a bright light at the end of a long tunnel with Indignation. It's not a musical vaccine, per se, but a welcome treatment for a long-suffered bummer of a year. Let loose with us on "Duck a la Funk" on Saturday's New Cool show. It's sure to put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I would like to share a personal thank you to all our New Cool listeners for sharing world class modern jazz for a fourth (!) trip around the sun. I'm honored to bring you this music for a new century on KNKX. There are some minor changes coming to the show in 2021, so stay connected!

And stay tuned this Saturday for more even more new releases. I'll play trumpeter Cyrus Nabipoor's striking cover of the heartbreaking ballad "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths, recorded live in New Orleans in the Before Times.

Seattle drummer and bandleader Jeremy Shanock's fantastically fun Mythomorphosis album from The Jazz Lizards also is in the mix; and you'll hear a Wayne Shorter cover from London's Ezra Collective on the new Blue Note Reimagined: 2020 compilation.

Enjoy the music and hang in there, gang. We will all be reimaging our lives in the new year. For that, and for you, I am truly thankful.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.