NPR Music

In 2014, Cohen surprised the Manhattan audience of a closed listening session of Popular Problems, his newest album at the time, by popping in not to sing, but simply say hello and look at everyone like they were aliens. At the time, I remember thinking that everything seemed to be a Very Serious Lark to Leonard.

Two years later, Cohen died. But just before that, he had put the finishing touches on a final book, The Flame, which was released on Oct. 2. It comes with an audio version of the works inside it, read by stars of film and literature.

I recently hosted a "pitch session" at the DIY Music Conference hosted by CD Baby in Nashville. It was an opportunity for independent artists to have their music heard and critiqued by a panel of music industry folks including a record producer, a music supervisor and music journalist.

Our list of the best new albums out this week includes the comical and moving synth pop of John Grant, enchanting harmonies from The Watson Twins, an audacious jazz album from trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, the first new music from Elvis Costello & The Imposers in a decade and more. Host Robin Hilton returns to breakdown this week's essential releases with NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson, and Nate Chinen from WBGO.

Featured Albums

  1. Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Look Now
    Featured Song: "Under Lime"

It's appropriate that the pioneering Mexican band Café Tacvba (Tacuba) start its set with "Olita del Altamar" ("Waves from the High Seas") from the group's 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco. It's essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen's desk. The lyrics sing of the comings and goings of waves, symbolic of the passage of time and fueled by the Mexican folk rhythm son jarocho, a favorite of the band's since their start almost 30 years ago.

For those that don't know their Latin music history as well as they should, it's easy to write off José Feliciano as just the guy who wrote and sang that Christmas song "Feliz Navidad." Maybe they'd be aware that he also wrote and performed the theme song to 1970's NBC sitcom Chico and the Man.

What makes a first-tier jazz legacy? A signature instrumental style, recognizable within a phrase or two. A body of exceptional recordings, in the studio and in concert. A legion of imitators, great and small. A sense of broad cultural relevance. Maybe even a hit song or two.

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