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jazz music reviews (new releases)

MARY HALVORSON Mary Halvorson Octet : Away With You

Album · 2016 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.43 | 2 ratings
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On her latest CD, “Away With You”, Mary Halvorson expands beyond her usual small group format and utilizes a full octet, and the end result is one of the best albums of her still growing career. Mary is already well known as an interesting improviser and composer, but with this new mini-big band, Halverson shows she is also a superb arranger and manipulator of large ensembles. Many of the pieces on here morph and change in organic ways that are difficult to write out, instead, much like previous masters such as Ellington and Mingus, Halvorson has learned the fine art of leading an ensemble through abstract communication while the improvising process is taking place. The end result is an ensemble that can move together as one mind.

With so many musicians to work with, Mary achieves a myriad of tone colors on “Away With You”, and often breaks the groups down into small duos and trios. The icing on the tone color cake is pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, who often meshes with Halvorson’s guitar in ways that make it hard to tell which one is which. Fortunately the steel guitar is not used for ironic kitsch, instead, Alcorn is a serious avant-garde improviser on the pedal steel, and pulls some wonderful effects out of the snaky instrument. The group improvising on here is very much in a jazz vein, but the head tunes often draw on modern concert hall music, as well as marches and processions. Once again there is a possible parallel to Mingus here, but in all fairness, Mary’s music really does not sound much like Mingus, even though they have some similar approaches.

Like much of today’s jazz, “Away With You” can be a bit dry and abstract, but the band also produces some serious heat with blistering saxophone solos on “Spirit Splitter” and “The Absolute Almost”, which are also two of the best tracks on the album. Another interesting cut is the murky atmosphere of “Fog Bank”, which features Alcorn’s slowly meandering steel guitar. If you are looking for whats new in the world of jazz, “Away With You” is a great place to start.

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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American pianist Craig Taborn is at the forefront of modern creative jazz.He played with saxophonists James Carter and AEOC's Roscoe Mitchell (Taborn's first presence on ECM label),collaborated with techno producer Carl Craig among others.

As leader, Taborn debuted in 1994 on Japanese DIW label. Since that he released five more solo albums covering such wide areas as nu jazz,avant-garde jazz and even jazz-electronics. Craig very often plays piano and electric keyboards combining them on the same album and freely adapting different techniques even on the same composition.Once I saw Taborn playing live as Michael Formanek band member with all-star line-up including saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Gerald Cleaver and Craig really stole the show!

On Taborn more current releases for German ECM label (including this just released Daylight Ghosts) Craig demonstrates newest trend in modern jazz - improvisational musicianship based on tightly composed songs. His quartet contains one of the most influential representative of this stream reeds player Chris Speed (well known by his work in cult Claudia Quintet and solo works for ECM), popular American nu jazz bassist Chris Lightcup and The Bad Plus drummer Dave King.

Of nine compositions eight are Taborn originals ("Jamaican Farewell" is written by Roscoe Mitchell). Mixing rock, electronica,chamber and jazz traditions, album represents a very modern form of jazz, with big attention to composition but staying playful and lively because of continuing jazzy improvisational musicianship. This music can sound attractive for listener of very different background,incl. fans of ambient/rock/electronics, rock-jazz progressive, avant-garde jazz and third stream as well. Based more on atmospheric moods than concentration on technical perfection, this new Taborn release is one among great examples of new jazz, one of this better music making fame to respectful ECM label.

YOJO Abduction

Album · 2016 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Elegance and melancholy embracing post-jazz

Second effort by Russian instrumental quintet YOJO, "Abduction" develops the classy and smoky ambiance depicted in the band's first opus, however with a few evolutions. Still displaying impressions of desolation and sadness, the music becomes softer, less oppressive, more jazz-oriented. The orchestration is reinforced by the presence of five invited wind instrumentalists. The guitars are less present and aggressive, resulting in a smoother listening experience than on the band's eponymous debut.

Once again, the surrealistic cover art - this time reminding René Magritte - faithfully transcribes the album's content. The compositions offer a sensation of something vanishing, an evanescent humanity in the modern crowded world, like if people were feeling more and more stranger to each other...

The opener is contradictory reference to the famous 70's fusion band. "Weather Report" is not funky, but rather a nice fusion/jazz title, soothing and mesmerizing instead. The cool "Contact" is quite somber and depressive, whereas the delicate "5 A.M." reveals bright moments of hope immersed in an enigmatic atmosphere. Our journey through the mysterious haze continues with "Cold Case", a soft heavy prog track, and the interrogative touching "Wipers", full of melancholy.

The "Tourist" from this record can only wander into a desolated land, maybe populated in appearance, but empty in essence. Driven by trumpet, this sad and soft waltz is pleasant, although a bit lengthy. The relaxing "Swell" displays rather strange obscure lights progressively increasing in intensity, until a free-jazz explosion. Back to depression with the nostalgic "Jump in the Mirror", evoking alternatively an once familiar but now torn environment, the mirror being the transition bridge. The emotional trip ends with the longest track of the disc, "Hazebook". Certainly a pun referring the well-known social network, these 7 minutes of sorrow are calm, sensitive, nearly aquatic. Is nowadays' ocean of over-connectivity just made of individual drops of loneliness? Perhaps...

More accessible than their first opus, "Abduction" offers a clever and suave revisit of post-rock / heavy-prog through jazz's orchestration and mindset. Again, the interest is present and the composition quality is homogeneous. Well anchored in the 21th Century and its human interrogations, YOJO confirms its talent by refining its musical style, painting melancholic, smoky, dehumanized vanishing landscapes. Another land of grey and pink...

As a conclusion, if you enjoy original and elegant modern jazz soundscapes, don't let this album being "abducted" from you!


Album · 2017 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Beata Pater’s first five albums could be called ‘typical’ vocal jazz albums, as they featured the usual mix of standards and originals. That’s not to say her vocal approach has not been inspired, instead, she has received high marks for her flexible and fluid style, but no previous album she has made could prepare her followers for her latest, “Fire Dance”. On this new one, Pater employed Alex Danson to write eleven new originals, which Pater then arranged for multiple wordless vocal overdubs supported by a saxophone trio and a four piece electric rhythm section. The end result is a sort of modern big band made up mostly of Pater’s voice multi-tracked up to sixteen times on some cuts. The multi-tracked vocals sometimes have a classic vocal jazz ensemble sound that may remind some of The Swingle Singers or Manhattan Transfer, while the overdubbed wordless sounds may remind some of Bobby McFerrin, but for much of “Fire Dance“, Pater has crafted a sound that is unique to this album.

Musically this album pulls from a variety of styles including modern RnB, post bop and fusion from the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. The end result is sometimes similar to Weather Report in the late 70s, or any of Joe Zawinul’s bands since WR. Imagine the Swingle Singers covering classic Weather Report material and you might have a clue as to what is going on here. Along with Pater’s lead vocals, the saxophonists occasionally take short solos, and even exchange in free three way interplay on a couple cuts.

The make or break on here is Pater’s approach to wordless vocals. No doubt this was a very risky record to make, many have a right to fear what an album based around wordless vocals might sound like, but “Fire Dance” is a success due to a very careful use of vocal sounds that never become annoying or embarrassing. Pater is also careful to never overuse the so-called ‘scatting’ technique, a decision that saves this album from potential indulgence. Instead, all of the multi-tracked vocals on here are carefully arranged, much like a complex big band chart. Top tracks include two beautifully abstract numbers that appear in the middle of the CD, title track “Fire Dance” and “The Princess”. Both feature soaring vocals that recall a pre-Renaissance European style, as well as a classic Middle Eastern sound.

CAROL MORGAN Post Cool Vol. 1: The Night Shift

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Carol Morgan is a jazz trumpeter, composer, educator and author who resides in NYC. Originally from Texas, she is a Juilliard graduate who has worked with many remarkable teachers including Chris Gekker, Mark Gould, Ingrid Jensen, and Dennis Dotson.

Carol’s discography includes six CDs as a leader. The much-anticipated POST COOL (2017) is a return to the Carol Morgan Quartet flavor of her celebrated Blue Glass Music. As a composer, she has been commissioned by DiverseWorks, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble, the Arch-diocese of Houston/Galveston and St. Thomas Presbyterian Church, Houston. In 2008, Carol authored what is now a highly-regarded method for jazz improvisation--a textbook entitled The Practicing Improviser.

Post Cool is a definitive calling card for Morgan, her warm and inviting round trumpet sound is uniquely identifiable from the first notes and is what continues to uplift Morgan among trumpet players of this era. Uniquely tasteful in her note choices and approach, Morgan is an excellent foil to her compadres namely Joel Frahm: tenor sax; Martin Wind: bass; and Matt Wilson: drums; the quartet is a dream team of jazz in a post-cool era.

“Strolling” kicks off the festivities with an easy going swing that features Morgan and Frahm in a counterpoint approach. The melody is wistful and Frahm executes a solo that is chalk full of arpeggios and skillful sets, building a likeable interest for the listener. Morgan’s quick runs, offset by tasteful elongated lines builds the solo with tension and release. Wind and Wilson show their salt with inventive rhythms and dynamism that adds to the elevation of swing and sound.

The classic “Night in Tunisia” is given a respectful run, with Wilson creating interesting rhythm textures, while Morgan sticks to the melody and Frahm creates interesting accompaniment dialog under Morgan. The take is reverential, yet interesting enough to be an original version, not just a rehash.

Two originals adorn this offering, one by Morgan “Night,” and the other by Frahm “Song for Mom,” both full of beauty and depth. Morgan’s tune has dark chocolatey notes dripping with highs and lows, Martin Wind’s bass solo is filled with anticipation and beauty. On Frahm’s tune, a lilting melody is presented, and you can almost hear the story of mom unfold through the music. Frahm’s sax is commanding and full of passion, as he digs into the story with his horn. Morgan in toe also creates impassioned lines and fire. The group pushes to the climax of the song while Morgan creates the beauty in the accompaniment on this tune for Frahm, who holds the melody role. One would expect nothing less from Morgan but a fruitful beauty that lingers long past the listen, and once again this trumpeter has delivered. Another gleaming win in an ever-growing discography of potency. Highly recommended.

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Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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One of the most talented saxophone players to not work in the world of jazz, Maceo Parker, instead found his fame as the best horn player in the world of funk and RnB for several decades. Working with top stars in the business, such as James Brown and George Clinton, Maceo became a well known name on many famous hits as both Brown and Clinton were liable to shout out his name in the middle of a jam so that Maceo would step forth and deliver a fiery solo. In the early 70s, Maceo took a break from Brown’s band and recorded some RnB/jazz crossover albums on his own. Although Brown did not contribute to Maceo’s first couple records, on 1973’s “US”, Brown’s voice and direction are a big part of the funky proceedings.

The first two cuts on “US” are re-mixes of two well known James Brown hits. The first one is “Soul Power”, re-mixed to feature much more soloing from Maceo, and a track called “Party”, which sounds like its based on an extended jam of “Hot Pants”, once again re-mixed with added saxophone solos. These two cuts are the best on the album and hold up well against anything James Brown and his crew recorded while they were smoking hot in the early 70s. Side one finishes out with a couple of laid back disco-jazz numbers orchestrated by Fred Wesley. Although these two tracks aren’t as hot as the openers, their early 70s kitsch arrangements with the wah wah guitar, synthesizer, female backing vocals, incidental strings and double-time conga drums makes for some excellent early 70s time capsule atmosphere.

Side two continues with more of Fred Wesley’s orchestrations, but this time things are much hotter as the band flies through an up-tempo version of Chicago’s “I Can Play for (Just You and Me)”, and a re-recording of a James Brown funk classic, “Doing it to Death”. The album closes with a lengthy ballad called “The Soul of a Black Man”, on which James lays down a rap about Maceo’s integrity and the African-American experience in the USA. This cut is recorded live in front of a small audience and features a long Maceo solo backed by some one (possibly James Brown), improvising string arrangements on a Mellotron.

The final score card for “US” reads; three very funky jams, plus three suave proto smooth jazz numbers and one power ballad makes for an excellent record for fans of that early 70s funk/jazz/RnB vibe.


Album · 2013 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Post-rock wearing the clothes of Jazz

A pterodactyl flying over a cloudy megalopolis... This surrealistic black and white cover picture suits the music very well: light and floating, classy and sober. YOJO's promising eponymous debut offers a fluent and clever mixture of post-rock atmospheres with cool jazz, plus a touch of heavy prog for the depressive mood. Instrumental, driven by the trumpet and supported by guitars, this hazy soundtrack well depicts impressions of loneliness and melancholy, the elegant way. Furthermore, the compositions are quite accessible and of constant quality.

The suave jazzy "Sundiver" is dark and enigmatic, like if you were wandering through a rainy city, looking at unknown faces. Then the track turns more dynamic. Beautiful! The mournful trumpet describes a desolated landscape all over the slow and changing "VHS", while the ethereal "Pterodactyl" is rather mystical with its raging and floating guitar. Magic! You'll be immersed into an ocean of despair hearing "Captain Kirk Had a Bad Day", and intrigued by a mysterious light through the smoky "Waltz"

Longest title of the album, "Alien" is also the strangest. From a spacey free-jazzy background, the music glows in the dark using changing rhythms and cool bass lines, reminding John Surman at times. Featuring a dialog from David Lynch's "Eraserhead", the gloomy "Aftermath" is quite pleasant, while the heavy progressive "Double Henry" is the rockiest passage of the disc. The ender, "Rough Sleeper", is divided in two sections. The first half is an atmospheric hazy ballad including samples from the monologue "How Should I Live, Angels?", written and narrated by Russian writer Mikhail Zhvanetsky. The second half turns more towards free jazz and contains this time a speech by Barack Obama. Enjoyable but too long and a little dissonant for my tastes.

YOJO's first effort is very convincing and promising. This elegant and clever arrangement of post-rock and heavy prog with jazz is really original and inventive. The perfect soundtrack for a lonely rainy day, looking down at the city and its swarming interlaced lives through the window, wondering, observing, feeling like a stranger who doesn't fit in... Finally, like the pterodactyl on the cover art...

A band to keep an eye on, very recommended to modern jazzscapes fans!

CHICK COREA Origin: Live At The Blue Note

Live album · 1998 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.48 | 4 ratings
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Renown pianist Chick Corea started his career in jazz highest league playing in Miles Davis band in 60s. After few mainstream solo albums as leader he co-founded technically superior (if short-lived) all-star avant-garde jazz quartet Circle (with bassist Dave Holland, sax player Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul) and then moved to stardom with his fusion band Return To Forever.

Still from mid 70s, when his successful fusion formula experienced dramatic decline under pressure of myriad of clones and and army fuzak players, Corea lost direction for decades unsuccessfully trying to find new inspiration (or another formula of success).Recorded few quite interesting fusion albums as leader,he started series of repeating changes of bands and genres with only very limited success trying everything from pop-jazz to chamber jazz,revitalizing electric fusion formula and returning back to mainstream jazz.

The only thing is obvious with no doubt - starting from late 70s Corea's best bands/albums all are post-bop. His acoustic sextet with young Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen (which opened to Cohen doors to best jazz scenes),drummer and reeds section is probably his Chick's best band for two decades. There are two releases only documenting Origin music, "Live at the Blue Note" debut (later released as box set incl. hours of unreleased material) and studio album "Change", released year later with different drummer (Jeff Ballard replacing Adam Cruz).

"Live at the Blue Note" contains material,selected from a week-long gig in December 1997,recorded in New York club. Sextet plays Corea's new originals with one exception (album's closer "It Could Happen To You"). Musically the album contains quite conservative post-bop with lot of brass/reeds, often sounding as bigger orchestra. Rhythm section is groovy and warm/physical recalling recordings from 60s, Corea plays his trademark tuneful moody piano,often with Latin touch and his old fans can easily hear some citations recalling early Return of Forever Latin scented music. He smartly adds few more complex and freer moments which work as tasteful spices making Origin music more delicious.

For sure, nothing is new here. Starting from mid 70s Corea's music is usually more or less quality, but always safe. Still great musicians interplay and technical excellence makes his best albums (incl. Origin recordings) a pleasant listening. A few years later Corea will establish another short-lived project with bassist Avishai Cohen - the New Trio (with drummer Jeff Ballard). In new Millennium Chick will continue playing with acoustic post-bop trios releasing his better recordings and enjoying moderate success (partially in Japan)


Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.98 | 26 ratings
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Some probably felt King Crimson hit a brick wall with In the Wake of Poseidon, considering it nothing more than a clone of its debut. That's a bit unfair, because you really can't imagine "Cat Food" and "The Devil's Triangle" having been already explored on its predecessor. True "Pictures of a City" has a "21st Century Schizoid Man" approach, "Cadence and Cascade" resembles "I Talk to the Wind", and the title track is similar to "Epitaph", but that's just side one. On Lizard, Greg Lake and Michael Giles were gong, in comes Andy McCulloch (who later played in Fields and Greenslade)and Gordon Haskell (who already provided vocals on "Cadence and Cascade"), plus a horn section, many members coming from Soft Machine. This is without a doubt the jazziest of the King Crimson albums. "Cirkus" shows that Gordon Haskell has his own voice distinct from Greg Lake. "Indoor Games" shows a less serious side, while "Happy Family" appears to address the breakup of the Beatles (you can even see the Beatles on the cover of the album). "Lady of the Dancing Water" is probably the weakest thing on the album, a pleasant ballad, but nothing much more. The title track is the only side-length piece Crimson ever done. Jon Anderson made a guest appearance (Yes apparently wanted Robert Fripp to replace Peter Banks in Yes, but Fripp declined because he probably knew where Yes was heading, and wouldn't be compatible with the band, and Yes was more democratic than Crimson). There are some bolero/big band jazz passages, and some really strange typical Crimson type parts with Mellotron and even Fripp's trademark sustained lead guitar at the end. It wasn't an easy listen. The rock critics were never kind to this album, even some fans thought they went off the tracks here. But I gave it a few listens, and the payoff was great. It's another great album worth having.

ALBARE The Road Ahead

Album · 2013 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
Albert Dadon was born in Morocco and grew up in Israel and France before moving to Melbourne, Australia in 1983 at the age of 27. As well as performing as Albare, he founded the Australian Jazz Awards in 2003, and five years later received the Order of Australia for services to the arts. This 2013 album found Albare providing guitar and synth guitar, and he was joined by Phil Turcio (piano), Yunior Terry (bass) and Pablo Bencid (drums). Allan Harris guests on vocals on one number, “Overjoyed”, but the rest is instrumental, and Albare’s synth guitar sometimes provides the sound of a wailing trombone that is so in keeping with the rest of the jazz that is on show.

His own sound is that of a laid-back Carlos Santana, but here grooving very much in a jazz vein, bringing in hints of blues and his own Morroccan roots while also encompassing other forms and making it all very complete and polished indeed. According to Albare himself, “ “The Road Ahead” is a prayer for what lies ahead of us.. the scales used are borrowed from the Jewish Sephardic Moroccan tradition, and we also borrow from the blues tradition, so this makes an interesting fusion and hopefully it translates into an equally interesting linstening”. That is something of an understatement.

These guys have the understanding of each other that only comes with long hours spent on the road. There is a period during “The Gift” where Pablo is going absolutely mad on the kit, and the others just play the odd notes or chords here and there, and it comes together in a completeness and understanding that few artists ever achieve. This is a mature work that oozes class, by musicians who understand that note density is never the answer, and that fluidity and understanding of the musical journet is what really matters. This is a wonderful album, highly recommended, www.albaremusic.com

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