Herbie Hancock – Mwandishi

Released in 1971 on Warner Bros. Format: LP, white label promo

John Fahey & His Orchestra – Old Fashioned Love

Another interesting one from Fahey, side A consists of some amazingly intricate guitar duets with Woodrow Mann, including my favorite Fahey song “Jaya Shiva Shankarah”. Side B takes a strange turn though…halfway through the title track a 10-piece dixieland band kicks for a few tracks of New Orleans-style jazz. The album closes in a more familiar place with a contemplative solo piece that most Fahey fans would dig.

Herbie Hancock – Crossings

Releases in 1972 on Warner Bros. Records Format: LP

Human Behavior – Bethpage

The apocalyptic chamber-folk of Bethpage soundtracks multiple chapters of cryptic storytelling, mixing one’s darkest thoughts with religious imagery and allegory through banjo sing-alongs and haunting spoken word passages. The heavy climaxes are whirlwinds of bombastic drums, driving bass, fiddle, clarinet, and banjo that often recall the communal chamber-punk of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. While many tracks feel seeped in shadow and darkness, a heavenly light occasionally floods in through some truly serene and beautiful passages.

The Incredible String Band – The Big Huge

Warm, mellow Scottish folk with lyrics that border spiritual, philosophical, and fantasy themes. The arrangements are a bit stripped down from their lush psychedelia of previous releases, but still feature a good amount of sitar, organ, Irish harp, and violin to add some color to the vocals and acoustic guitar-centric songwriting.

The Books – The Way Out

The Books’ music is simultaneously funny, innovative, catchy and enlightening. They use found sound and spoken word mixed with innovative recording techniques and acoustic instruments to create beautiful sound-collages that somehow create unity between all these disparate sources, as if they were all meant to be together. Everything these guys do, solo or together, is absolute genius.

Avey Tare – Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus is a beautiful, enveloping excursion of aquatic psych-folk characterized by flowing, hallucinogenic instrumentation, atmospheric production, nature field recordings, and ghostly background vocals from one of my favorite singers, Angel Deradoorian. Avey Tare’s introspective and intimate lyrics mix psychedelic revelations, reminiscing, surreal imagery, and nature/water themes, often leading to profound realizations of a very personal sense of spirituality. The lush orchestrations are arranged by the amazing and unique violist Eyvind Kang, which include woodwinds, horns, strings, and pedal steel slide guitar from Susan Alcorn.

For fans of Animal Collective’s “Campfire Songs” and the slow portions of “Feels”.

Click for full review

Exuma – Exuma

Exuma’s first album is a powerful and ritualistic masterpiece of spiritual folk from the Bahamas. Exuma, the Obeah Man, is a master storyteller and preacher, sharing visions, myths, and prayers. His expressive, soulful voice takes on many tones as he delivers his musical sermons, from smooth to raspy, soft to confident. A group of singers, percussionists, whistlers, and toads join him and his acoustic guitar, making me imagine them all circled around a large fire in communal worship and grateful that they let us listeners in on it.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Bitchin Bajas – Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

A far cry from the sparse folk usually recorded by Will Oldham, “Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties” finds his intimate voice and warbly acoustic guitar enveloped by the cosmic drones, blooming synths, airy flutes, and hypnotic tape loops of Chicago new age trio, Bitchin Bajas. The lyrics are essentially fortune cookie mantras and, while there’s a chance they’re tongue-in-cheek, it’s difficult not to smile and feel a brightening of the spirit when hearing uplifting phrases like “Your hard work is about to pay off, keep on keepin’ on” or “you and your whole family are well” get repeated over and over. This collaboration is a soothing, heartwarming listen and a refreshing change-of-pace from Oldham’s tendency towards melancholy and solemn lyrical content.

Young Jesus – The Whole Thing is Just There

The Whole Thing is Just There is another beautiful and life-affirming release from Young Jesus, the second with the current L.A. iteration of the band. Their inter-band chemistry seems stronger than ever, with telepathic improvisations, symbiotic catharses, and a mutual love for each other that is easily felt from a listener’s perspective. The lyrics deal with self-exploration and one’s relationship with the world around them, finding solace in spirituality, existentialism, literature, and the ethos of free jazz. Stylistically the music seems rooted in late-90’s indie rock and emo, with seamless but adventurous detours into post-rock, noisy post-hardcore, and free improvisation. Excited to see where these guys go next.

Deradoorian – Eternal Recurrence

There is a fathomless void within each of us. And while many choose to run from it, clinging to anything to keep from falling in, Deradoorian dove right in on her meditative release, Eternal Reccurrence. Here she provides somewhat of a sonic roadmap for diving deep within yourself, guided by the blooming drones of harmonium, Juno synthesizers, and flutes. Arising from the ether, layers of otherworldly voices sing mantras of facing our Shadow (“Mirrorman”), finding the love that resides in the core of our being, and bringing it back with us into this material dimension.

Yonatan Gat – Universalists

The new album from guitarist Yonatan Gat finds cohesiveness in its sprawling diversity. Stylistically it combines the rawness of garage rock, the thematic improvisation of Free jazz, and the experimental editing of musique concréte with psychedelic production, Arabic and Klezmer scales and surfy tremelo guitars.

Natural Information Society & Bitchin Bajas – Automaginary

On Automaginary, the Gnawa-inspired cosmic jazz of Natural Information Society is augmented by the flowing textures of Chicago new age trio Bitchin Bajas to create an album of enveloping drones and trance-inducing rhythms. (Follow link for full Review)

Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids – An Angel Fell

An Angel Fell is a call to action for protecting and healing our planet, using folklore, group vocals, uplifting themes, deep grooves, and expressive improvisations to deliver the message. While not as wild and loose as the dense free jazz the Pyramids made back in the 70s, this record is an organic and vibrant fusion of spiritual jazz, dub, and Afrobeat that will give fans of musical geniuses such as Sun Ra, King Tubby, Fela Kuti, and Pharoah Sanders plenty to vibe to.

lojii – lofeye

Categorization and comparison are the least of lojii’s worries, instead prioritizing creative expression and finding spiritual truth and power in this dimly lit dystopia. He delivers his prophetic words with a focused, unwavering determination, while the beats are gritty and nocturnal with their open percussion, eerie synths, and negative space. Don’t miss out on this one.

Julian Priester Pepo Mtoto – Love, Love

I highly recommend this album to fans of the innovative and exploratory period of jazz fusion of the early 70’s, where electric instrumentation, funk rhythms, experimental production techniques, and spacey synthesizers met the improvisation, freedom, and uplifting soul of the spiritual jazz of the 60’s. Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi trilogy, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Weather Report’s first LP are good touchstones, but this album truly offers something unique.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic

Kamasi Washington and his band The Next Step, pick up where their forefathers and mothers left off by making spiritual jazz that respects the jazz canon without getting stuck in the past. This album ranges from free to groovy to melodic without losing sight of its mission. The inclusion of such a large band, an orchestra, a choir, and even a turntablist allows an infinite, colorful array of tonal and dynamic possibilities. 

Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent

Taking a detour from his usual loner-droner psych folk style, Ben Chasney enlists former Comets on Fire bandmates to jam some heavy rock burners with a a cosmic amount of electric guitar shredding, evoking Neil Young & Crazy Horse blasting off on a rocket. The new electric energy brought to this album is balanced out by an equal amount of the fingerpicking prog-folk and meditative acoustic ballads that have been developing in his music since the 90’s. While I will always love his more melancholy, nocturnal records that sound like he’s lost in a forest somewhere, I welcome the fiery energy of Ascent.

Shakti – Shakti with John McLaughlin

Shakti means “Creative Intelligence, Beauty & Power” and trust me, these are all in abundance on these devotional jazz ragas. Featuring John McLaughlin joined by a quartet of Indian master musicians, this album is a blissfully uplifting and meditative release.

Shakti – Natural Elements

In this energizing exploration of Hindustani classical music from a jazz perspective, John McLaughlin joins a virtuosic trio of Indian musicians who inspire some of the most impassioned and impressive playing of his career. His acoustic guitar shredding veers close to the bendy sounds of the sitar and fits nicely with the dense web of percussion created by Vikku Vinayakram and Zakir Hussain. Violinist Lakshiminarayana Shankar’s emotive themes and fiery solos make him a perfect foil to McLaughlin.

John Coltrane – Interstellar Space

A couple of months before his death in 1967, John Coltrane went into the studio with drummer Rashied Ali to record some of the most free recordings he’s ever made, the freest of free jazz. Perhaps this freeness is due to the absence of other tonal instruments, leaving Coltrane untethered to harmony and 100% free to play whatever raw, unhindered creativity flows through him.