Jazz is experiencing a rich renaissance right now. Headed up by artists and bandleaders that include the saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, the drummer and producer Makaya McCraven, and tuba maestro Theon Cross, this new wave of talent has reinvigorated the genre. But listeners with keen ears will have also picked up on the sub plot of jazz guitarists making a return to the fore and playing a pivotal role in a number of recent key releases.
Here’s a list of five vital modern jazz guitarists whose talents you need to get familiar with, complete with recommended tracks to check out.
Shirley Tetteh (Maisha)
Last year, the London-based Maisha collective dropped There Is A Place, a modern jazz album full of lush instrumentation and expansive grooves that coasts along with a tangible sense of wanderlust. One of the core members of the group is Shirley Tetteh, whose guitar playing helps gel together bandleader Jake Long’s furious drumming and saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s elegant flights of fancy. Head straight to the eight-minute, Afrobeat-propelled “Eaglehurst/The Palace” to witness Tetteh at her finest, as she lays down an epic guitar solo that sparks into life around the song’s three minute mark; Tetteh’s fleet but always intricate playing also brings an emotive blues dimension to the song. Branching over into the live scene, also make sure to revisit Maisha’s 2016 EP, Welcome To A New Welcome, to enjoy Tetteh’s intense solo that graces “Africa.”
Oscar Jerome (KOKOROKO)
Befitting a band that took their name from the language of the Nigerian Orobo tribe, KOKOROKO crafts jazz music that weaves together a beguiling range of influences from all across the world. The group’s tracks are often typified by the dominant melodies of a brass section that includes Maurice Grey on trumpet, Cassie Kinosi on sax, and Richie Seivewright adding trombone touches — but it’s Oscar Jerome’s cultured and graceful guitar playing that brings a calming presence to tracks like “Ti-de,” which is featured on the ensemble’s 2019 self-titled EP. Also of note, KOKOROKO’s contribution to the definitive modern UK jazz scene compilation We Out Here, which was released via Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings, has become a viral hit by notching up nearly 30 million YouTube listens. Tellingly, it’s a track whose poignant opening notes are again established by Jerome’s strumming.
Paul Brändle (Fazer)
Hailing from Munich in Germany, there’s a strong spirit of innovation that goes on in Frazer’s polyrhythmic tunes. The group’s songs are anchored by the twin drummers Simon Popp and Sebastian Wolfgruber, whose rhythmic instincts combine and overlap until they mesh together into a funky percussive bed; over this foundation, trumpet player Matthias Lindermayr and guitarist Paul Brändle switch between playing improvised and compositional melodies. Presenting the guitarist’s talents center stage, the song “Lina” (from the band’s recent Nadi album) is a prime demonstration of Brändle’s sensitive and lilting playing, which here is blended with a shuffling, bossa-nova-inspired backdrop and radiates serene vibes. On the same project, the guitarist is also used to transition into something of a coda to “Harlesden,” bringing the dusky, stripped-down song to a peaceful ending.
Mansur Brown (TriForce)
Mansur Brown is a member of the London-based TriForce, a quartet that has quickly become renowned for serving up an infectious fusion-based style of playing that takes a jazz base and adds to it strong funk and hip-hop influences. Benjamin Appiah’s drumming brings a solid breakbeat quality to TriForce’s tracks — it’s not hard to imagine some of his kicks and snares being sampled and turned into the basis for hip-hop productions — but it’s guitarist Mansur Brown’s ability to bring grandiose and cocksure almost prog-rock-esque playing to the blend that truly elevates the group’s sound. Seek out “Swank,” from TriForce’s 5ive project released via Jazz Refreshed, to experience how Brown’s elongated melody lines add a zest and swagger to the track.
Jeff Parker (Tortoise)
Los Angeles-based Jeff Parker has a rich history of following his experimental musical instincts. He forged his reputation as part of the post-rock troupe Tortoise, and then went on to help found the progressive group Isotope 217. More recently, Parker’s playing was spotlighted on the song “Turtle Tricks,” which was nestled on the LA-based segment of Makaya McCraven’s innovative Universal Beings album. Backed by McCraven’s clipped drum patterns, Parker helps build up the track’s momentum: It opens in a sultry fashion, with the guitarist’s deft flecks peppering the song, before assuredly escalating into a sumptuous lesson in the art of groove, culminating with Parker’s electric guitar solo imbuing the song with an endearingly lonesome and pastoral quality.