Jazzbient: Kristjan Randalu, Nik Bartsch, Portico Quartet, Tangents & dustlights

By Aaron Stein Aug 29, 2018 12:40 pm PDT

Kristjan Randalu: Absence

Before summer comes to an end, now seems like it would be a good time to get some jazz into your ears. Of course, there’s no shortage of great new releases to recommend, some that might stretch the boundary of what we might call “jazz,” but that’s the way we like it around here, so let’s get to it. And while we’re all feeling lazy and sleepy, here are some great jazz(ish) records with an ambient feel. I’ll start with Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu. Absence is his debut on the vaunted ECM label (now available for streaming!) and puts him in a trio with guitarist Ben Monder and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. Randalu’s playing borrows as much from modern classical, and even pop, as it does jazz piano motifs, and so his compositions and the trio’s improvisations take on a range of textures and feels throughout. If the record bounces around a bit, it’s all for the best, plenty more to sink your teeth into.

Nik Bartsch: Awase

Sticking on the ECM label, taking things a little further afield, is Nik Bartsch. The Swiss pianist’s most recent album is Awase, featuring his Ronin quartet with Sha on bass clarinet and alto saxophone, Thomy Jordi on bass and Kaspar Rast on drums. This is slowly unfolding, layered music, a playground for the wandering brain to exercise and romp around. The quartet brings a surprising amount of energy to the oftentimes minimalist soundscapes. Really good one to get lost in. Enjoy!

Portico Quartet: Untitled (AITAOA #2)

ECM is a gold standard go-to for interesting jazz, no doubt. But these days if you want to find the cutting edge of the genre, you could do worse than just heading over to London. Like many of the other groups in that city’s scene, Portico Quartet have found a uniquely fascinating blend of jazz, ambient and electronic music. Their newest release is a companion to the previous RecommNeds entry, Art In The Age Of Automation. Going simply by Untitled (or Art In The Age Of Automation #2), the album features material recorded in the same session. It is, like its brother, quite excellent – two great albums in one recording session, not bad! The music somehow straddles a sound that both grooves and chills at the same time. Calling it “jazz” might sell it a bit short, but it’s one of the best releases in that genre nonetheless. Don’t sleep on these guys, I think you’ll dig it!


Tangents: New Bodies

While we’re playing loosely with what’s categorized as “jazz,” now is as good a time as any to try and convince you to listen to New Bodies, the new record from the Australian ensemble, Tangents. Sometimes you listen to an album and every single track has you exclaiming “holy shit this is great!” It’s a feeling I’m constantly chasing here at RecommNeds. That was my experience upon first listening to New Bodies. Incorporating a range of sounds and influences, within and beyond jazz, understated and stunningly beautiful, this is music for music lovers. Let your ears simmer a bit on this low flame and give it a moment to grab you, I think it will. I love this album.


dustlights: In A Stillness

I think I have time to squeeze one more in here and this one is worth the extension. Somewhere between jazz and instrumental post-rock is the NYC trio dustlights. They put out their debut album out just a couple weeks ago on the Ropeadope label and it’s already earned itself must-rec status. On In A Stillness, the sax/bass/drums threesome is like well-designed mood lighting. Quiet and thoughtful, beautifully minimal, this is background music for the foreground, occasionally feeling like an instrumental Morphine on morphine. Take that summer brain of yours for a stroll with dustlights and the rest of this week’s picks serving as the soundtrack. It’s all good, friends.


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