The New Cool: Modern Jazz, Nigerian And Bulgarian Roots

Jun 23, 2017

KNKX is excited to debut a pair of new releases from talented musicians with international backgrounds on The New Cool this week, both released on Seattle's Origin Records. Along with modern music like electronica, hip hop, rock and soul, modern jazz is finding a world of inspiration and influence in traditional folk music from around the globe.

Nigerian-born, London-raised, and now Brooklyn-based saxophonist Zem Audu is quickly becoming one of the most talked about sax players in New York. Self-taught on piano and guitar, he settled on saxophone before heading to the prestigious Trinity College of Music in London.

Early work found him playing with ska bands, so popular in the Caribbean-influenced music of England for decades. There’s more than a little reggae and afro-beat flavor on the title song of Audu’s new album, Spirits, featured on this week’s New Cool show. Much like the electronic rhythms that have found favor in the music of young modern jazz players, the bouncy rhythms provide a wonderful setting for Audu’s compelling melodies and fanciful flights of improvisation.

A fun surprise on the new album is the work of fusion guitarist Mike Stern, a veteran of Miles Davis’ bands in the early '80s. Stern provides a tasty solo on “Spirits”, giving a little extra energy to an album that seems to be made for the dancefloor. The melting pot of New York City is the perfect spot for Zem Audu’s blend of cutting edge modern jazz and British-filtered African beats, and a perfect fit for The New Cool.

Another new release from an international star on this week’s show comes from a vibraphone player from Eastern Europe, “I’m from Bulgaria, I guess a lot of the influence…you can hear a lot of influence in these tunes.” That’s Errol Rackipov talking about the music he wrote and plays with his band, which pushes his early musical influences into modern jazz territory.

His new album Distant Dreams, again from Seattle’s Origin Records, features adventurous melodies that hint at traditional Bulgarian folk songs, and intense performances from Lubomir Gospodinov and David Leon on saxophones and powerful support in the rhythm section of Martin Bejarano on piano, Peter Slavov’s bass and Ludwig Alfonso at the drums. Most intriguing are Errol’s work on marimba in addition to the vibraphone, as heard on this week’s New Cool feature, “Odd Times”.

A professor of jazz at Florida International University, Rackipov’s mentor from Berklee College of Music, vibraphone legend Gary Burton, calls the new album “a real triumph”. Just his second release as a leader, The New Cool hopes his continued success will bring him to the Seattle area sooner than later.

The New Cool airs Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.