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Nate Chinen

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.

Milford Graves and Jason Moran were listening hard at the Big Ears Festival on Friday evening, and in this they were far from alone. Their spontaneous musical dialogue, onstage at the elegant Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tenn., suggested a merging of the ancient and the ultramodern, aglow with an ephemeral sort of grace. At one point, Moran's deep, mournful sonorities at the piano led Graves toward a murmuring hush at the drums, as if anything else would break the spell.

Terence Blanchard has always been drawn to a form of lyricism that runs burnished and bittersweet. You can track this mood throughout his career as a post-bop trumpeter, and no less in his dozens of film scores, in and beyond a long affiliation with Spike Lee.

No jazz musician has ever been heard more on public radio than the late Marian McPartland, the host of NPR's Piano Jazz for more than 40 years. But for all her ubiquity, how well did we really know her?

Lizz Wright is well acquainted with the storytelling power of a journey. Her music, rooted in the gospel truths and rustic byways of this country, could be seen as a sustained meditation on movement: not just the flow of bodies in rapturous rhythm, but also the trajectories that mark a life story.

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