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WADADA LEO SMITH The Great Lakes Suites

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"The Great Lakes Suites", trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith's new release, is one more success. If some his more current recordings come as monumental works for orchestra, "Suites.." is quite different. Although it is a large-scale project by length (released as a double CD, which is quite normal for Wadada), it is recorded by only quartet.

It doesn't always sound like just a quartet though - more of a mini-big band sound (not by intensity of musical flow but by the manner of playing) and often quite close to Wadada's big orchestras. The music flows without peaks and extended solos, but as a complex, even if minimalist, well-balanced wave. Bassist John Lindberg is Wadada's most regular collaborator, drummer Jack DeJohnette already recorded some music with Smith as well. Henry Threadgill (on saxes and flutes) is probably less involved in the trumpeter's most current works, but his music is rooted in the same Chicagoan AACM tradition as Leo's for decades.

I am familiar with all of Wadada's most current releases, and even if his composition manner is obvious on them all (which is only for the good, since he is one of the most original of all living composers in large-format jazz music), "Suites.." is different from his other works in at least one thing - nothing is bombastic here.

Dedicated to the five Great Lakes (one composition to each) plus one more (the final composition, titled as "Lake St. Clair) dedicated to a different Lake - musician Oliver Lake. All of the music on here has that atmosphere which one always associates with big northern waters; geological history, cold water masses, glacial stones and never-ending flows. Nothing is slow in this music, but nothing is nervous, quirky or explosive as well. All four of the musicians build well-balanced complex and often beautiful (as nature itself - without even a touch of sentimentality) music, never pathetic. Here one can hear how Wadada, trumpeter and composer, sounds at his best.

Excellent work, one of Wadada's best for years.

MORAINE Groundswell

Album · 2014 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Groundswell” is the third album for instrumental art rockers Moraine, and it finds them back on a good track again. Moraine’s first album revealed a strong unit aided by two string players which gave them a unique ‘string quartet plus rock band’ type sound. Their second album traded off one of the string players for a saxophone that was run through sound processing that made it sound like a cheap synthesizer. James DeJoi returns on woodwinds for this third album, but thankfully the annoying effects are gone and he sounds like he is playing saxophone and flute, not a portable Casio. Overall, the remaining violin and newcomer saxophone blend is much better now, in fact the whole band has achieved a very congruous orchestral type sound. They definitely make use of all the instrumental colors at their disposal.

Moraine plays instrumental art rock, but not of the overly busy pseudo-complicated variety that can be both annoying and cliché, there is at times a simple directness to Moraine’s music that can recall classic instrumental rock groups such as The Shadows, or some of the more experimental psychedelic surf bands. As for their progressive rock influences, Phil Manzenera’s Quiet Sun is a good reference, as well as Robert Fripp and King Crimson from the late 60s to the early 80s. Sounds from Asia and the Middle East also find their way into the Moraine mix. The compositions and performances on here are quite good, but the recording can be a little murky, sometimes the rhythm section lacks strength. Still, if you are interested in modern instrumental art rock, “Groundswell” is one of the better albums in this genre for 2014.

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Album · 1958 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Willard McDaniel was mostly known as a blues and RnB sideman who played boogie-woogie piano and worked with guys like Roy Milton, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, T Bone Walker and BB King. A highly accomplished pianist, McDaniel was also known to play stride in the style of Fats Waller. Later in his career you might find McDaniel playing background music in lounges and supper clubs around the Los Angelas area, and that is the style of McDaniel’s that you will find on “88 a la Carte”. No doubt McDaniel is a formidable pianist, but this is music meant to soothe and relax, as well as appeal to those who prefer pop to heavy jazz. McDaniel is backed by an un-credited stand up bassist and trap player, but they keep it cool and in the background, this is definitely Willard’s show.

The tunes on here favor well known jazz standards, as well as a few popular tunes of the day and a couple surprises, including “Sugar Blues’, a cut that allows McDaniel to show a little personality. The playing on here is highly skilled with an influence from the ultra-cool lounge stylist George Shearing, as well as some gimmicky crowd pleasing effects along the lines of Roger Williams, Floyd Cramer and Bent Fabric. The quality of the song interpretations vary from the very cheezy “You Always Hurt the One You Love”, to an up-tempo “I’ll Remember April”, that almost sounds like real jazz. “Along the Navaho Trail” also allows Willard to play in his more familiar blues style.

“88” was put out on the ultra budget Crown label, but the recording is fairly good for a label with such a bad reputation. This isn’t great jazz, but it wasn’t meant to be, this is what used to play in hotel lobbies and high end restaurants before the advent of customized muzak stations and personal internet radio. If you have any interest in this rapidly disappearing bit of lounge culture, “88 a la Carte” is a great example of a style that was once very prevalent. You can still find this LP on the internet, in thrift stores or anywhere else the flotsam and jetsam of the LP world goes to make its last stand.


Album · 2013 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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MAGNUM TRIO were founded as a flute ensemble trio by Jun'ichiro TAKU, Yuya KANDA, and Kazuhiro KAJIWARA in 2006, their university (Tokyo Univ. Of Arts, Japan) days. Got renowned with their marvelous flute techniques and unique original play styles, and got appreciated not only in Japan but all over the world. In 2013 they’ve released the eponymous debut album in collaboration with Yuiko YASUDA (piano) on their own. This "Magnum Trio" must let us enjoy their flute variations, funky tunes, and as a result, playing flute itself definitely.

"EyEris Waves", a track suitable for the opening of this album, sounds like fresh, cool atmosphere with complex air turbulence represented utterly with superb flute technique and multi-dimensional sound combinations. Their breath creation reminds us directly of breath by nature ... that can called also as their "human nature". Avantgarde piano play by Yuiko is another fantastic dreammare too. "Samurai Blow", exhibited in a woodwinds competition in UK, can be claimed as their masterpiece. They notify the audience of Japanese woodwinds (Shakuhachi) aka Japanese soul along with a large amount of sound variations via Western woodwinds called "flute". I'm sure there would be their magnificent intention to control breath, finger, and flute itself. Exactly originated Japanese social solidarity (called "Wa") has been launched via their systemic bodies. On the other hand, they show us East-European texture flooded with percussive blows upon the following track "Variations On Bulgaria", contrary to the previous ones. Persistent repetitive sound footprints might confuse us I guess, and the confusion in front of us should kick us away into a bulky yogurt cup. Oh what a sour.

Anyway, "Clock A Larm", characterized with brilliantly high-tone, rhythmical flute voices and pleasant tune phrases, should be needed as an alarm clock for us Magnumers (please ignore Jun's snore lol). Very easy for us to hum, isn't it? Another curiosity can gush out just when we listen to "Recollection Merry-Go-Round". IMHO suppose they'd play this stuff only with a head (top) woodwind, correct? Incredible technique and concentration needed. The sixth track "Highland Park" is the name of a Scotch distillery established on the North side in Orkney Island. I love Highland Park Single Malt Whisky, featuring peaty smokey topnote, ground / earthy flavour, and deep salty taste. This song fantastically shows flavour of ground / earth, smoke, and Bourbon / Sherry barrel. Would they visit Orkney previously? Very vivid the impression is. Jun-ichiro, btw, says he compose tunes with enjoying Highland Park 12 Years Old (on his blog), and it's fun how he shoot a creation if he could enjoy the whisky bottled more formerly (actually, deeper and earthier and esterier).

Yuiko's classical piano is splendidly beautiful in "Guilaume Lekau : Piano Quartet in B minor", where sounds like the three flutists would stand and play behind her completely (no? :P). Cannot shout "gemmy" enough, even if I did hundreds of times. On the contrary, suggest "Magnum Arab" be one of the jazziest pieces of all upon their library. Mysterious, religious veils around Arab world we can feel here and there, and at the same time, we can get immersed in their mysterious, wondrous play styles as well. The last "Magnum Bee" sounds like a bee flies around and around, very quickly and very smoothly, with loud buzz. But we feel not annoying but delightful via such a speed flute guru. Oh they might shout loudly "Hi there!" and let us keep opening the mouth forever.

Yikes. What a splendid work this debut creation was. Wish the mixing of this album could be better (cannot get deeper, louder sound explosion like Magnum, their title!), but we can say this creation can propose us their extreme, incredible flute techniques and delightful tunes. Enjoy!

TOSHIYUKI MIYAMA & THE NEW HERD Yotsu No Jazz Composition aka Four Jazz Compositions

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Toshiyuki Miyama is a key figure in Japanese progressive big band music. He started playing jazz with his band before WWII. After the war, his big band was a hot name in the US Navy clubs in Japan. His first recorded albums contained big band classics and popular tunes of the time up to the late 60s, when the avant-garde jazz invasion (mostly introduced by young Japanese jazzmen returning from jazz studies in the States) revolutionized the country's scene.

Starting in 1967-68, Miyama adapted a new sound playing with leading genre local musicians. "Four Jazz Compositions" is not his band's first advanced release, but one among a few very early such albums, and one of the rarest. Still, its rarity is not this album's main attraction (unless you are collector), the presented music is quite unique, even for that extremely advanced time.

It's a public secret that discussions about originality (or better to say its absence) in Japanese jazz had long decades of history. Here, on "Four Jazz Compositions", the listener will easily find some early evidence of what can be tagged as "original Japanese elements".

The album's opener, the ten-minute long "Mumyoju", is composed by Japanese leading avant-garde pianist and composer of the time, Masahiko Satoh, (he plays on it as well, but percussion, not piano). It begins with silence pierced with ascetic needles of percussion, minimal brass splashes and koto. Still silence (or "free air", as it is often called in Japanese avant-garde music) is the largest and most important composition component. The music here is near static, in moments meditative, but more often - quite dramatic and recalls early Western contemporary avant-garde compositions, just with an Eastern touch.

The second composition,"Shirabyoshi", opens as if it's just a continuation of the previous one, but very soon piano, bass and the brass section take their part - here one can be sure that all the Orchestra is in action. From meditative slow tempos, it grows fast to an orchestral jazz-rock sound, but on the four minute mark, Miyama cuts the sound. What follows sounds like a well arranged pop-tune, or movie soundtrack. It doesn't last long though, at the sixth minute the orchestra moves toward a full-bodied big band sound with a muscular rock-influenced rhythm section and brass fireworks. Growing tensions explode close to the ten minute mark and continues as nervous mid-tempo orchestral "Ikisudama", recalling a more contemporary avant-garde piece than any form of jazz. The listener shouldn't be bored though - somewhere in the middle the music somehow naturally transforms to a full bodied big band sound, something that could be played by Mingus. As if it would be not enough, the orchestra explodes with distorted sound, a lot of almost cacophonous brass soloing and at the end returns back to base - slow down till almost meditative, even if still nervous in moments, avant-garde chamber orchestra sound.

The fourth and final composition opens with a drum solo and rolls ahead as a tuneful richly brass arranged jazz-rock song, very cinematic, but still with some small distortions here and there. At the end this forty minute long album, it stays in your memory as a gallery of musical pictures, some more organically related than others, but never boring.

Miyama will continue releasing advanced big band releases for some more years, but "Four Jazz Compositions" (together with "Yamataifu", "Eternity? ・Epos" and few more) will stay as one of the best examples of Japanese adventurous orchestrated jazz.

RAY CHARLES Spotlight On Ray Charles

Boxset / Compilation · 1962 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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“Spotlight on Ray Charles” is a Pickwick label compilation from 1962 that shows up a lot in thrift stores and used record shops, yet no one seems to know much about it. Pickwick is one of the most notorious cheap labels ever. The unwitting buyer of this album should be glad that the songs are actually performed by Charles, because Pickwick was known for putting out albums on which a famous artist’s songs would be played by Pickwick staff musicians, without a trace of the artist featured on the album cover, a fact often hidden with tiny print.

This album comes with very little information, except some false information about a George Brown Orchestra that apparently does not appear on any tracks. Instead, about half of the songs on here feature Charles from very early in his career (approx 1949) playing and crooning in a laid back jazz/blues trio in a style very similar to Nat King Cole. If you are mostly familiar with Ray’s later revved up RnB hits such as “What I’d Say”, these songs show a whole nother side to brother Ray. The other half of the songs on “Spotlight” are totally different and feature rough early rock n roll/jump blues instrumentals with a very loud honkin saxophone in the style of Arnett Cobb or Jay McNeely. Since the album cover is no help, a little research reveals that several of these rockin tunes come from a session in 1952, but no credits were given for that session. Ray was working with a variety of tenor players at that time, so its hard to tell who the lead sax man is. All of these songs are quite good and this could have been a decent compilation if they had put one style on one side of the album, and the other on the other side, but instead they mixed them together in strict alternation for irrational reasons unknown.

Even with the obtuse mixture of styles, this still isn’t too bad of a compilation, and since its Pickwick, it sells for cheap. Anyone interested in hearing what Ray Charles was doing before he became a well known RnB singer should pick this up. The early jazz/blues tunes are nice, and the honkin RnR should liven up any social occasion. Its interesting hearing some of this old ‘honkin’ rockin sax style, listening to the horn used in such a loud forceful and almost primitive way makes you realize where early 60s avant-garde guys like Albert Alyer and Archie Shepp were coming from, in many ways, they were just bringing back the prevalent jump blues style of the 40s and taking it for an extended ride.

FISHBONE The Reality of My Surroundings

Album · 1991 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.91 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
FISHBONE had been struggling to find a new sound after a phenomenal debut EP. On the next two albums they stumbled around grasping at straws trying to see what would stick with some successes and some to the contrary. On their 4th release (counting the debut EP) all that experimentation came together to create an artistic vision of fusion frenzy perfection. THE REALITY OF MY SURROUNDINGS ushers in former Mile Davis music director John Bigham who contributes his keyboard and guitar talents to the mix of an already impressive musical cast that includes seven full time members and a whole list of guest musicians and background vocalists. This album truly exhibits a circus ring atmosphere where a rotisserie of musicians weaves their magic into the overall tapestry and exuding a huge party feel despite the dark, depressive and biting social critique. Despite it all there is plenty of room for their odd sense of humor to create a swirling dervish of hyperactivity encompassing a passion pit that always make me think of a Voodoo ritual in Haiti where in the heat of the moment you end up dancing on sizzling hot coals and draped with poisonous snakes.

On this album it is clear right from the getgo that this band was busy in the alchemy kitchen of sound fueling the fires to create an alloy of sonic bliss so sincere and advanced that it can hardly fall into any particular genre any more. They jettisoned none of their previous ska punk, groove funk or gospel soul but rather melded it all together with a healthy dose of a stronger groovy funk metal, jazz dissonance and even some slightly progressive time signature tendencies. The first track “Fight The Youth” hits the ground running as it incorporates funky metal riffing to an activist's plea to fight the powers that be. The album is accented by small little ditties in between the actual songs to add as an atmospheric direction change or simply to provide an intro for a following track. The four part “If I Were A... I'd” finds itself strewn about the album using the same music with different lyrics. These bits are under a minute but each time they improvise on a basic riff. The bleak little segment “Asswippin'” is the sound of an African slave being whipped with curdling screams of pain accompanied by tribal drums which ushers in the following “Housework” which seems to be a mix of jazzy funk with honky tonk and New Orleans brass followed by the depressive “Deathmarch” which sounds like a New Orleans funeral parade.

The fusionfest continues with the funk metal pleas of “Pray To The Junkiemaker” to the gospel tinged funk metal contemplativeness of “Everyday Sunshine.” The most humorous side of the band comes out on a story from a pimp's perspective on “Nasty Man” with its incessant funk groove and a bleak ending track called “Sunless Saturday” which is the perfect metal laden rock n' soul finale for an album laden with darkened depressive motifs that are the undercurrent of an exciting upbeat spiritual musical foreground that uplifts and depresses in every brilliantly mastered moment. This is one of my all time favorite albums that never ceases to amaze me of how magical certain moments in time can be for a band when all their stars align. Unfortunately despite having slight success with this album FISHBONE never broke into the big time however their sound was truly inspirational for countless bands that followed ranging from Jane's Addiction to more successful ska punk bands like Sublime and No Doubt. This is one for those who love fusion music so hot and smokin' that it verges on creating its own genre all together. It unduly gets lumped into all encompassing tags such as alternative rock or funk metal, but FISHBONE proved on this album that they could master the storytelling aspects of the best hip hop, the musicianship of the best of jazz and metal and the ability to hold the listener's attention throughout an hour long musical journey. The production is not the best here and FISHBONE albums need to be remastered for the new millennium but neither is it so horrible as to be unlistenable. EXCELLENT album!/;

DIZZY GILLESPIE Diz 'N Bird At Carnegie Hall (with Charlie Parker)

Live album · 1997 · Big Band
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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A short review of “Diz n’ Bird at Carnegie Hall” could sum things up nicely by providing that this is a one star recording of a five star performance. The performance in question took place on Sept 29, 1947 at Carnegie Hall and featured an opening set by Diz and Bird as a quintet, which was followed by Dizzy’s big band. Ella Fitzgerald also performed that night, but she does not appear on the album. The Parker/Gillespie set presented on here consists of five tunes, followed by another ten for Dizzy’s big band. Those five opening tunes by the quintet are the highlight, Parker’s playing is absolutely phenomenal, some of his best ever captured on a recording. Also, the bad sound issues are not nearly as bothersome with the smaller group than with the full orchestra that will follow.

The ten big band tunes that follow are all great, but the recording issues make them hard to listen to. It sounds like there were no special recording mics set up, instead it seems everything is being recorded possibly by one PA mic which was probably set in front of the whole band with the intent of amplifying whoever is the soloist. Needless to say, whenever a soloist leans to heavily into the mic, much of the rest of the band fades to the background. Even without a loud soloist, the balance between band sections is awful with the trumpet section blowing every one off of the recording. Its unfortunate these tunes weren’t recorded better, because many are great. Some highlights include George Russell’s modern pointillist arrangement of “Relaxin at Camarillo”, John Lewis’ early 3rd stream experiment , “Toccata for Trumpet”, and the high speed scatter of “Things to Come”. Overall Gillespie’s band is not about the subtle tone colors of Ellington, or the relentless groove of Basie, but instead is all about hot fiery energy, Latin rhythms and a screaming trumpet section.

This CD isn’t for everyone, but Parker fans may want to get this for the first five cuts which really capture the special sparks that would fly whenever Bird n’ Diz hit the stage together. The rest of the album could be interesting to Dizzy and big band fans who want to hear what Dizzy’s innovative orchestra was up to during this time period. As a good example of the sound issues on this recording, the great John Lewis plays piano in both groups, but I doubt you will be able to hear much of what he plays.

ALAN SILVA The Shout (Portrait For A Small Woman)

Album · 1979 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Ten years after his legendary debut ("excellent" or "unacceptably chaotic cacophony", depending on the listener's taste) Alan Silva released his third studio album (and first studio recording in ten years) entitled "The Shout (Portrait for a Small Woman)".

At that time, Silva was working as a teacher in the Institute for Art, Culture, and Perception in Paris, and the material comes mostly from his teaching work. He doesn't play any instruments on "The Shout", but instead leads a 21-piece orchestra that is a combination of Silva's "Celestrial Communications Orchestra" plus his students. Silva wrote and arranged all the music and he conducts the orchestra as well.

Musically, this album is not similar to his debut, at least not from the first spin. Seven well structured, completely pre-composed tunes, all under 10 minutes long, are rooted in Ellingtonian tradition and post-bop. But during the listening one can easily hear Silva's background as a late 60s unorthodox experimentalist. All the arrangements contain that non-conformist, even chaotic element, coming from his debut, just here it is presented in a the form of modern European classical composition.

Among the orchestra members, I found just a few known names (at least for me); trumpeters Itaru Oki and Bernard Vitet, and drummer Muhammad Ali are among them, but in all, this collective sounds very professional and inspired playing quite complex compositions.

Much more accessible than the early Silva works, this album still contains lot of his extravaganza, so it could be easily recommended as an entry point. At the same time, it's a great (if obscure) addition to Silva's quite limited collection of releases.


Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.83 | 18 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
OK. Call me a SOFT MACHINE slut for giving their first two albums 5 stars but damn! I really love these guys and a belated introduction to their musical output hasn't dampened my enthusiasm to their sound one bit. In fact it may have enhanced it. I, like countless others, weren't around at the time of these releases to comprehend their musical meisterhood and it seems like many a music fan of the era didn't get to appreciate their ingenious jazz-fusion whimsy at the time of its release. SOFT MACHINE continued their evolution on VOLUME TWO by ratcheting up all the unusualness of their first album and keeping just enough of the familiar poppiness to give a musical structure to embellish upon. The whimsical glee exerts itself full throttle on the first track with their childlike playfulness meets their adult contemplative spirituality on “Pataphysical Introduction.” You know you are in for something special right away.

There had been a few personal changes from Volume One to VOLUME TWO. Robert Wyatt was still in charge of drum duties and lead vocals. Mike Ratledge stayed on board for as keyboardist, but on this release bassist Kevin Ayers was out and Hugh Hopper who guested on the first album was now in. This time around Hugh's brother Brian Hopper guested on the sax (both soprano and tenor.) This album is really two long tracks but because of the advise of Frank Zappa the band broke those two longer tracks into many because of the fact one could reap more royalties that way. The album is actually very short clocking in at just over a half an hour but there is so much going on in that time that it actually feels longer to me.

VOLUME TWO is the logical evolution from “Volume One.” Instead of just jettisoning the psychedelic pop leaning template that had begun before their first album and still utilized on the debut, the band keeps this as a template and simply expands the avant-garde and jazz-fusion tendencies developed on their debut. The result is another superbly excellent album that is short but sweet. The jazz factor is ratcheted up quite a few notches but the underlying flow of the album remains comparable to the debut. As with the previous album this is a grower. No SOFT MACHINE album unleashes its secrets easily. One must listen attentively to let the magic unfold at his or her own time. For me personally, I find this an excellent successor to the debut and a logical bridge between the debut and the even more jazz infused developments of “Third.” Yeah, the only totally unoriginal thing about this band is that they could have been more creative in naming their albums!

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