What’s On Your Playlist: Kyle Nasser

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One of today’s most creative young saxophonists, Massachusetts native Kyle Nasser creates music with a perfect blend of intelligence and heart.

A graduate of both Harvard and Berklee, Nasser currently lives in New York City where he’s shared the stage with Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Rich Perry, Ethan Iverson, Michael Formanek, and Ben Monder, among many others. In addition to leading his own group, he also plays with, composes for, and tours with the joyful and popular international collective, Beekman.

Nasser’s second album as a leader, 2018’s soulful Persistent Fancy draws inspiration from literature and philosophy, as well as personal experience and struggle creating music that’s deep, satisfying, and full of life.

1. Rich Perry At The Kitano (1, 2, and 3)

Rich and his longtime rhythm section of Harold Danko, Jay Anderson, and Jeff Hirshfield play standards loosely, creatively, and with no pretension. These live sets catch them really stretching and are a great representation of Rich’s unique vocabulary and phrasing (he’s one of my favorites!). This music swings so hard it’ll make you dance in your seat.

2. Tyshawn SoreyThe Inner Spectrum of Variables 

Tyshawn has put out a bunch of great music lately, but I’ve been particularly transfixed by this double album. Baroque counterpoint, free and conducted improvisation, and modern jazz weave seamlessly together, blurring the boundaries between composition and improvisation. I’ve long been drawn to improvisational music that involves classical/new music without sounding contrived. This is a really ambitious work that succeeds exquisitely.

3. Jesca HoopMemories Are Now

I heard a live version of a song on this album, “The Lost Sky,” on Chris Thile’s Live from Here and immediately went out to buy the CD. I listened to it on repeat for weeks, and it hasn’t been out of rotation since. The songwriting is gorgeous – emotionally direct and subtle – and the execution is flawless – beautiful playing and soundscapes that groove without drums. I think an ambition of art is to bring the audience into the world and experience of the artist, and some of the songs on this album qualify as perfect music by this metric.

4. Bernstein and the NY PhilMahler Symphony 5

A monumental work given a great interpretation. Some of Mahler’s symphonies seem to contain the universe in sonic microcosm. This one has been speaking to me lately, not to mention that the Adagietto movement is probably the most beautiful thing ever written.

5. Esperanza SpaldingEmily’s d+evolution

She’s got a couple of newer albums out now, but I can’t stop listening to this one. Every track kills – influences of Prince and Joni Mitchell are worked into quirky, hip, fun, memorable music. It’s almost not fair that someone can sing, play, and compose as well as Esperanza!

6. John ColtraneThe John Quartet Plays

I’m hardly ever not in a Coltrane phase. This late classic quartet album documents him and the band in super-intense form, but just before the heavy abstraction phrase. Coltrane is exploring intervallic shapes and multi-tonal harmony over trenchantly deep modal grooves, especially on “Brazilia.”

7. Michael FormanekSmall Places

Fantastic modernist improvised music from a stellar band including Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, and Gerald Cleaver. These guys are pillars of the contemporary NYC scene and Formanek’s angular, cyclical compositions elicit some really special interactions. Michael just moved back to town, so I’ve been lucky to catch him more frequently (and even play with him a bit!).

8. Charles MingusBlack Saint and the Sinner
Lady

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of the suite lately, even including a couple on my latest album. Well, this is the holy grail of jazz suites – an entire album of dance-like music involving consistently varied themes, dynamic and evocative orchestrations, and mind-blowingly good playing. Charlie Mariano’s lead alto playing is a revelation.

9. Ornette ColemanChange of the Century

This album has been a bit overshadowed by the enormous popularity of The Shape of Jazz to Come, which was also recorded in 1959. The melodies may be a bit less catchy, but the frenetic energy of the improvisations and the absolute genius counterpoint provided by Charlie Haden’s bass playing really stand out to me on this album. Swinging, bluesy, and highly original.

10. Tom WaitsAlice

I’ve always liked Tom Waits, but I recently stumbled across this album and have been mesmerized by the moody, wistful vibe. The songwriting is surreal and beautiful and the execution is simultaneously traditional and highly idiosyncratic (Waits’ specialty!). The title track is a masterpiece worthy of being etched on a future Voyager-mission disc.

Kyle Nasser’s latest album, Persistent Fancy (Ropeadope), was released on October 8, 2018 . www.kylenasser.com

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