Jazz is genius. I’m currently reading a 254 page book called The Jazz of Physics (by Stephon Alexander), and the only reason I can begin to understand the complexities of John Coltrane’s improvisation is because of its comparison to quantum physics (which probably tells you a lot about me). Nerdiness aside, the one thing almost as cool as the classic jazz genius is how modern musicians have pulled from the genre and pushed it forward—with experimental jazz, hip hop, remixes, pop punk, rap…and some of the following.
- Sirintip: “Shut It Up”
Sirintip is a goddess. She is quite possibly the only Thai-Swedish female jazz singer in the global ear—and she recently released her vivid, empowered debut album Tribus into the male-dominated jazz market. “Shut It Up” is a daring rebuttal to the old sexist standards, a remarkable assertion of pride and courage, and my personal favorite on the album thanks to its powerful bass and energized melody. But every song on Tribus is an absolute gem, both musically and in their inspiring dialog on everything from diversity, to love, to global poverty, to strength in the face of it all. And it’s beautiful.
- Moon Hooch: “Number 9”
The members of Moon Hooch—two saxophonists and a drummer—believe in playing dance music with jazz instruments. Their music is nearly as strange as their methods: they recorded “Mega Tubes” by attaching an enormous PVC pipe to the end of saxophonist, writer, and producer Michael Wilbur’s instrument. “Number 9,” likewise, is a chaotic masterpiece, much like everything else they’ve recorded.
- Moon Hooch: “Mon Santo”
Oh, and they also use their music to advocate against wicked agricultural corporations. And they blog about eating sustainably.
- Jalen Santoy: “Foreplay”
I have never heard horn mesh so perfectly with rap as in this song. Santoy brilliantly samples Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” and weaves it into a song that is simultaneously soothing and mesmerizing, and as musically layered as the tangled emotions running through the lyrics.
- Floreyyyy: “Thrill Divine”
I discovered Floreyyyy through his remix of Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” then immediately spent an hour on youtube sifting through his mellow remixes (read: he turned “I Feel It Coming” into something I’ll actually listen to). His elegant discography of original tracks is fortunately available on Spotify, where I found “Thrill Divine,” which samples Doris Day’s “Again” amid a steadily undulating drum machine. It’s vintage and dreamlike, ethereal as the smooth jazz I first encountered. Floreyyyy’s music ranges from the musical version of a deep breath on an evening walk through town to the thrill blossoming of ideas—with plenty of surprises in the midst.
- Proleter: “April Showers”
Proleter, like Floreyyyy, composes by remixing vintage samples under jazzy, electronic modern rhythms, but does so with a gust of energy that begs you to stand up and swing dance regardless of whether you’ve learned the steps. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. In this “electro swing” breakout track from his debut EP, Proleter breathes a neovintage energy into a sample from Teddy Joyce and His Orchestra, mimicking the original melody on modern instruments and adding some poppin’ drum machine.
- Xenia Rubinos: “Lonely Lover”
Rubinos, an Afro-Latina multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter, has a vocal range as brilliant and bold and broad as her commentary on race and identity in America. She blends her jazz education with her loves for hip hop and funk, and the result is a thrilling burst of strength and keyboard. “Lonely Lover” is a motley journey in itself, flying through mellow moments and intense vocal tremors rammed together in a surprisingly effective harmony.
- Panic! At The Disco: “Impossible Year”
Brendon Urie, our beloved one-man emo band with the voice of an angel, gifted us with a Sinatra-inspired album Death Of A Bachelor, without which a modern jazz playlist would be incomplete. But amid the classic Panic! energy of chaos and sin and parties and perseverance, Urie finds a softer moment at the end of the album for the somber and reflective “Impossible Year,” which bears a vague resemblance to Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year.” Lyrically, Urie’s version seems merely a list of tragic complaints, but the melody grants an air of grace that transforms the song into something gentle and endearing: a proper closing to the album’s dynamic, hectic ride.
- The Cure: “The Lovecats”
Aside from Robert Smith’s ironic hissing and yowling, the playful track—originally written as a parody—bounces over a catchy, jazz-style bass and clever keyboard fitting to the feline energy of Smith’s vocals.
- John Coltrane: “Giant Steps”
The genius that started this list, “Giant Steps” is the musical fractal that continues to boggle my mind. If my modern jazz (and jazz-like creations) don’t impress you, Coltrane will, regardless of whether you’ve ever enjoyed jazz music before. The original genius is timeless—and, as a bonus, you’re succeeding at some terrifying math without realizing it.