Bad Luck - Four (ambient jazz, avant-garde jazz)
Man, what a great album to kick off the column with. The first of my two numerically-titled picks is also the most easily-labeled "jazz" album of all my selections from the past few months. This isn't meant as a knock against Bad Luck, the moniker of duo Neil Welch (saxophone, live electronics) and Christopher Icasiano (drums). I'm guilty of seeking out the most non-jazz jazz albums I can find as a means of challenging my own affinity for experimental music. Yet, what jazz has proven over the years is it's open-ended possibilities and natural tendency to ebb and flow beyond its established boundaries (if there any still exist, at this point). Four serves as an excellent reminder of how a traditional jazz set up can sound anything but standard; when it comes to sax/drum duos, Bad Luck are masters of their craft while being unique and inventive in the process.
In essence, Four feels like a Colin Stetson record that's focused on ambient jazz rather than post-minimalism. Welch is an excellent sax player who cycles through a myriad of styles. One minute he's punctuating the atmosphere with an infectious bop riff, and the next he's unleashing sheets of sound, multiphonics and other extended techniques. Those atmospheres are a key factor in the success of Four as well. There's a certain expansiveness that comes with any type of sweeping, atmospheric effect, and it's to the album's benefit in this case. Underneath it all, Icasiano is a talented player as well, shuffling and jittering on his kit when the moment calls for it and breaking out with energetic, punchy percussion when needed.
To bring things full circle, the main reason I'm glad that Four happened to fall first alphabetically is that it's the perfect precursor to where the rest of our picks fall on the spectrum. Bad Luck are a jazz duo that executes so much more than just jazz, which is precisely why the genre has no true confines. In today's day an age, we're lucky to have artists that can elevate the genre to new heights while still reminding us why we fell in love with the style in the first place. On Four, Bad Luck launch through a labyrinth of electronics, jazz and experimentation, coming out on the other side with an album that excels in each of its attempted musical exercises.