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Nate Chinen

A lot of the albums out this week deal with self-discovery and deep reflection on the nature of being human. The members of MUNA look at aging and personal growth on their latest, Saves the World; Lower Dens weighs the madness of a country driven by competition; and the country super group The Highwomen releases its highly anticipated, self-titled album, one that celebrates the power of women while pushing back on the unwritten rules that have allowed men to dominate country radio for so long.

"There is never any end," John Coltrane said sometime in the mid-1960s, at the height of his powers. "There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at." Coltrane, one of jazz's most revered saxophonists, was speaking to Nat Hentoff about an eternal quest — a compulsion to reach toward the next horizon, and the next.

Electric Miles. Few word pairings in the jazz lexicon are apt to inspire so much contention and challenge and ferment. What the phrase refers to, of course, is a period in the career of trumpeter Miles Davis, spanning the last third of his life. And while there are other important antecedents, the big bang of this period is an album recorded 50 years ago by the name of Bitches Brew.

"Jazz built for arenas."

A friend and former rock critic shared this admiring assessment of Sons of Kemet, after seeing the band for the first time at this year's Big Ears Festival. There's obviously truth in it: Over the last eight years, Sons of Kemet has not only fueled the fires of a raging London jazz scene; it has also scaled up the pyrotechnics, in strictly musical terms.

Cannonball Adderley was a mere 46 when he died, of a brain hemorrhage, in 1975. An alto saxophonist of robust intellect and irrefutable soul, he left a monumental legacy during his two decades in the spotlight — as a member of the Miles Davis Sextet, an exemplar of 1960s soul jazz and the leading avatar of a brand of post-bop modernism with popular appeal.

Lou Donaldson, the alto saxophonist fondly known as "Sweet Papa," tends to characterize his colorfully sprawling life in jazz as the pursuit of a fundamental aim. "I always had my music geared to the people," he says. "'Cause when I played, I listened to what they were giving me the applause for."

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, a stylish and engaging new documentary by Sophie Huber, opens in the recording studio, with a top-tier crew of modern jazz musicians going about their business. From his station behind a keyboard rig, Robert Glasper calls out ideas for an arrangement; Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet, warming up, can be heard in the background. An establishing shot introduces Don Was, the musical polymath serving as Blue Note's president, as a hipster Buddha in the control booth.

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For as long as Esperanza Spalding has been in the public eye, she's been defined in part by her hair.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.


"I sing for answers," declares Bill Callahan at one point on his calmly revelatory new album, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest. "I sing for good listeners," he adds. "And tired dancers."

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