21st Century Music Everyone Should Hear

Even among jazz and improvised music enthusiasts, there often seems to be a break between the 1950s-60s so-called “golden age” and the contemporary period. I constantly meet people who say, “I want to get into contemporary musicians, but I just don’t know who is good.” New York right now is home to some of the most exciting creative musicians anywhere, especially among the generation that has risen to prominence since 2000. Below is a guide to some of the most enjoyable and important and albums to appear in the new millennium:


Continuum (2012)Book of Three (Relative Pitch): This is an album with real vision of past, present, and future. It exhibits compositional depth as well as superb playing from all three musicians (Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hebert, and Gerald Cleaver).

Capricorn ClimberKris Davis Quintet (Clean Feed): This represents an exciting new direction for the pianist/leader. These are Davis’ most complex compositions to date, played here with an assemblage of the scene’s premier musicians.

Secret TempoJonathan Moritz Trio (Hot Cup): This album is a perfect mix of complex ideas and stunning musicality. The leader plays an aural trick on the audience, a brilliant experiment in expectation and outcome.


The Air Is DifferentTomas Fujiwara (482 Music): The drummer/leader really established himself as a presence on the NY scene with this album. His playing and that of his bandmates is impressive, but it is the depth of his compositions that make this album truly shine.

Canada Day III – Harris Eisenstadt (Songlines): The quintet’s third release, the drummer-leader displays masterful compositions and creates brilliant scenarios of interplay between musicians (one of Eisenstadt’s great talents). Among other things, this record shows that the new generation of creative musicians in New York are not short on compositional depth. Since its formation in 2007, the group has remained one of the most compelling on the scene.

Bending BridgesMary Halvorson (Firehouse 12): Her third release with her trio/quintet, this record witnesses Halvorson displaying her great skills as an improviser and composer. Without any doubt, one of the most important records of the past decade.


Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres Matana Roberts (Constellation): The opening part to the Coin Coin project is a bold statement with great aesthetic vision. Roberts’ focus on history, memory, and identity has deep resonance both within and outside the jazz tradition. It is stunning at first listen and only grows in its transformational power.


Anti-House Ingrid Laubrock (Intakt Records): Absolutely fearless. Having only just arrived from years of playing on the London scene, the German-born saxophonist was intent on not making her introduction to the New York Scene a timid one. It also marked a notable encounter between the leader, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and pianist Kris Davis, who have gone on to collaborate in other groups.

Amnesia BrownKirk Knuffke (Clean Feed): Knuffke’s second record as a leader, this album witnesses him taking bold new steps as a composer and as a player.

We Sleep OutsideJeff Davis (Loyal Label): An underrated record and certainly the most ambitious project Davis has led to date.


Canada Day Harris Eisenstadt (Clean Feed): An extraordinary album pointing in all kinds of new directions. The drummer/leader makes his case as one of the most skilled composers of his generation with this project.

(Un)sentimentalThirteenth Assembly (Important Records): a collaborative quartet of Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone, and Tomas Fujiwara–a pool of incredible talent that may even exceed our high expectations.

Byzantine MonkeyJohn Hebert (Firehouse 12): A record with all sorts of fresh ideas that explores multiple trajectories all at once. Very underrated.


Asphalt Flowers Forking PathsTaylor Ho Bynum (Hat Hut): A superb album that builds on Ho Bynum’s earlier work while breaking plenty of new ground.

The Ideal BreadIdeal Bread (KMB Jazz): An exciting project led by Josh Sinton, dedicated to reinterpreting the work of the soprano saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy.


Middle PictureTaylor Ho Bynum (Firehouse 12 Records): This album changed my life. It is a superb window into the scene; a provocative statement for and by a new generation of musicians (involving many of the most influential figures on the scene, including guitarist Mary Halvorson, violist Jessica Pavone, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and reeds player Matt Bauder). Recorded in 2005, the album is an impressive work in its own right, but also gives the listener a taste of what is to follow.

That/Not Tyshawn Sorey (Firehouse 12 Records): A stunning album. Do not let the double disc fool you: this is not an album that needs to be trimmed. Sorey displays here an amazing repertoire; a profound announcement of his involvement in the New York creative music scene.

True EventsTaylor Ho Bynum-Tomas Fujiwara Duo (482 Music): This album exhibits an amazing tightness within the realm of free improvisation. A remarkable achievement.


The Slightest ShiftKris Davis (Fresh Sound New Talent): Davis comes alive on this album. With this release, we see her developing both as a musician and a composer, providing a new focal point for the evolving community of musicians.

Sleep Cells – The MPTHREE (Utech): Recorded live (which presents some challenges), this record is a hidden gem, led by drummer Mike Pride with guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Trevor Dunn.


Mirror MeAngelica Sanchez (Omnitone): This is a special album that really embodies the emerging scene. Musicians of the millennial generation often cite this as an inspiration for their later work.

Other Stories (Three Suites) Taylor Ho Bynum & Spidermonkey Strings (482 Music) – This album is filled with beauty and compositional depth. Ho Bynum proves that so much can be done molding a jazz combo with a string section.