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Nate Chinen

Bugge Wesseltoft made his first ripples on the water in the early 1990s, as a pianist of careful touch and decisive instinct, working behind fellow Norwegians like saxophonist Jan Garbarek. The frame for his output at the time was ECM Records, which represented a sort of aesthetic worldview, especially with respect to a quality often evocatively pegged as "the Nordic sound."

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters award, bestowed every year since 1982, is often characterized as the United States' highest honor reserved for jazz. This morning the NEA announced four new recipients of the prize: pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim, composer-arranger-bandleader Maria Schneider, critic and novelist Stanley Crouch, and singer-songwriter and pianist Bob Dorough.

Virtuosity — of a dazzling, ebullient, yet altogether generous sort — might be the most obvious bridge between David Holland and Zakir Hussain. But there's also a deep cultural foundation behind their musical dialogue, which forms the beating heart of a project called Crosscurrents.

There's a pivotal, possibly apocryphal scene in Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Vol. 1, wherein the author walks into a bar. He's taking a breather from a wan rehearsal with The Grateful Dead, circa 1987, in Marin County, Calif. What draws him into the bar is the sound of a jazz combo.

Harold Mabern has never had any hang-ups about not being the center of attention. "I get joy out of being an accompanist," the pianist affirms, likening himself to an offensive lineman on a football team. "When you can do something to make the soloist happy and proud," he says plainly, "you've done your job."

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


There's a tension in Joshua Redman's new album, Still Dreaming, and it may not be the one that you expect.

It isn't typically news when a jazz group makes a change in personnel. But The Bad Plus isn't a typical jazz group, and its announcement, this time last year, landed like a bombshell. In short: Ethan Iverson, the band's pianist, would be leaving to pursue his own projects. Orrin Evans, an esteemed peer, would be stepping in. For a group that has always stood for musical collectivism — and never accepted any substitutions — this was a shakeup of existential proportions.

The following text was originally published alongside the live web stream of the 2018 NEA Jazz Masters, which took place on April 16. A recording of the event can now be viewed by clicking on the video above.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

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