Our 5 Favorite Modern Jazz Albums

Give a listen to these albums by modern jazz artists

Jazz Band Playing on Stage in a Nightclub, Musician Plucking a Double Bass
Nick White / Getty Images

For the folks out there who think jazz is just bland elevator music, listen up! Or rather, simply listen to these modern jazz artists who will get you nodding and snapping along off the bat.

Check out this list of 5 jazz albums by contemporary artists that will attract both young listeners developing an ear for the music as well as seasoned jazz enthusiasts alike.

Kenny Garrett’s 1997 album Songbook (Warner Brothers) is a great introduction to the world of jazz post-1950s. In the album, Garrett alternates between a simple pop aesthetic and an aggressive modern jazz angularity. ​Songbook’s slick and powerful tracks earned Garrett a Grammy nomination. The album also features a hair-raising performance by the late Kenny Kirkland.

Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner’s 2001 album Dharma Days conjure intense moods that are difficult to label. Owing much to the style of Warne Marsh, Dharma Days eerie and oddly beautiful compositions foreshadowed the cerebral mood with which Turner and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel would later achieve more widespread renown in the modern jazz scene, like with the live album The Remedy (Artistshare, 2007). Thanks in large part to drummer Nasheet Waits, Dharma Days also preceded the contemporary trend in jazz that favors adherence to a larger structure while simultaneously being loose and free with the structure’s components.

Dave Douglas’ The Infinite (RCA) came out in 2002 and serves as a bridge to Miles Davis' and Wayne Shorter's records of the 1960s. Chris Potter and Dave Douglas play stirring solos, reminiscent of Davis and Shorter but with a more pointed and precise delivery. Their performances combined with ambiance keyboardist, Uri Caine, who works magic with the Fender Rhodes piano, results in an album that emanates a simmering and haunting mood. The album features covers of songs by Mary J. Blige, Bjork, and Rufus Wainwright.

The Dave Holland Quintet’s Extended Play: Live at Birdland (ECM) marked the peak of bassist Dave Holland’s power group, featuring drummer Billy Kilson, saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, and vibraphonist Steve Nelson. The album, released in 2003, is all about heavy grooves and extended vamps. Solos barrel steadily through, frequently surpassing ten minutes and skillfully building momentum.

The Bad Plus’ 2003 album These are the Vistas (Sony) was a relief for those of us who had grown up listening to rock and pop and then began studying jazz in high school or college. The piano trio covered popular songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass," bringing rock and modern jazz fans and artists together.