Becoming (Music from the Netflix Original Documentary) [Score] (CD)

Kamasi Washington's soundtrack to Becoming, the Michelle Obama Netflix documentary, is just what you might expect from the talented saxophonist and the subject matter: classy and uplifting smooth jazz. The title track is soulful with a little retro swing and "The Rhythm Changes" is lightly funky, like the theme song for a smart '70s TV series. "Provocation" stands out for its ominous, dramatic chords and flurrying swells, but the highlights here might be "Southside V.1" and "V.2." The related tracks will put a smile on your face with their feelgood optimism. Remember "Hope"?

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Doug Carn JID005 (CD)

Jazz Is Dead is reviving the music of Oakland's Black Jazz Label and its twenty albums by young black jazz artists in the 1970s, merging this distinctive musical culture with hip hop and funk to create something truly timeless. Organist/pianist Doug Carn's Black Jazz albums were the most successful for the label and include cult favorites like Infant Eyes, Adam's Apple, and Revelation. Now on Doug Carn JID005, A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad and composer/producer Adrian Younge join Carn in a mesmerizing collaboration. A track like "Lions Walk," for example, pulls you in immediately with its retro groove, busy organ & sax interplay, and modern beats.

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Wu Hen (CD)

Kamaal Williams' second release since departing the duo Yusef Kamaal finds the keyboardist hitting his stride, integrating jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music into his own unique sound. "One More Time" is the perfect example of this, with its breakbeat-meets-post-bob sound. The funky "Save Me" is another dance floor-ready number while "First Player" melds synths and mournful saxophone into a noir-ish atmosphere.

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Arclight (CD)

Jazz guitarist Julian Lage takes a break from collaborating with artists like Nels Cline for this solo album, Arclight. Featuring originals and covers, the album is a wealth of intricate electric guitar lines accompanied by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. "Prospero" is a fascinating original track with busy drums and a slight Spaghetti Western feel, while "Stop Go Start" is a spooky, atmospheric number that sounds like it's casting a spell.

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Jackets XL (CD)

The Grammy-winning quartet Yellowjackets release their 25th studio album, Jackets XL, an impressive new collaboration with the WDR Big Band from Germany. For the new record, the quartet selected fan favorites from over the years and updated them with new rearrangements. 1980s recordings like "Mile High" and "Revelation," for example, were reworked to suit the group's current sound, while a couple tracks from the '90s were reimagined by the WDR. Jackets XL also includes two new works, "One Day" and "Tokyo Tale."

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Celebrate Me Home: The Holiday Sessions (CD)
Brian Bomberg lends his virtuoso jazz bass talents to a new holiday album, recorded in quarantine with guest artists submitting their parts separately. R&B vocalist Chris Walker sings the Kenny Logans-written title track and duets with jazz singer Maysa on this upbeat version of "Let It Snow." Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" and José Feliciano’s "Feliz Navidad" are lovingly recreated as instrumentals, with a horn homage to The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" included in the former. Bromberg's version of "Jingle Bells" is a highlight for its medley with "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel." Read more
Acceptance (CD)

Award-winning pianist and composer Billy Childs is joined by saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Eric Harland on his new album, Acceptance. Childs draws on his eclectic musical influences for these compositions, from the stirring samba "Dori," inspired by Brazil's Dori Caymmi, to the funky "Leimert Park," which acknowledges the vibrant music scene in that L.A. neighborhood. Elsewhere there is the soothing, introspective title track, the brooding "Oceana" and Childs' take on Gershwin's standard, "It Never Entered My Mind."

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Te Lo Die (CD)

The title track of Cuban jazz star Harold Lopez-Nussa's Te Lo Dije perfectly encapsulates the feel of this lively, dynamic, and virtuosic record. Infinitely danceable in a variety of Afro-Cuban styles, the melodies and sophisticated rhythms never disappoint. "Habana Sin Sábanas" leans into bebop and salsa as it builds in intensity; "El Buey Cansao" is playful and infectious. "Van Van Meets New Orleans" references Cuba's Los Van Van and joyfully ties together the two cultures' heady musical traditions.

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Iron Starlet (CD)

On Connie Han's third album, the rising star jazz pianist with the bad girl image locks in tight with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Ivan Taylor, and drummer Bill Wysaske who is also the group's producer and music director. Han shows off her post bop skills with "For The O.G." and is exuberant on the lively "Dark Chambers." The players swing satisfyingly through "Mr. Dominator," but cool down for the romantic pieces "The Forsaken" and the intricate, moody "Nova."

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Be Water (CD)

Jazz pianist Christian Sands' sixth studio album Be Water takes its title from a Bruce Lee quote and reflects that same quiet intensity projected by the martial arts legend. Alongside his regular players, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, guitarist Marvin Sewell, and drummer Clarence Penn, Sands conjures intricate and soulful atmospheres. The two parts of the title track, which include audio of Lee's quote, offer stirring swells on the one hand and lush chamber music on the other, speaking to Sands' diverse talents. A lovely highlight, "Still" features the hypnotic sounds of oars rowing through water.

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