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jazz music reviews (new releases)

NATE WOOLEY Argonautica

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Oregon-born, Brooklyn-based trumpeter Nate Wooley is one (together with cornetist Kirk Knuffke) on the forefront of today's New York adventurous jazz scene. Prolifically documented, Wooley is known by series of very experimental recordings,where he plays using different parts of his disassembled horn,adds vocalization,noise,drones,amplification,etc. At the same time, he released some really accessible music, as "(Dance To) The Early Music",where he plays compositions of Wynton Marsalis.

Nate's new release "Argonautica" is of that category which modern jazz market really needed. For younger generation's numerous jazz fans, who's main listening is different forms of jazz fusion, and who is bored by predictability and limitations of that genre,"Argonautica" builds a bridge to more adventurous but still accessible areas of modern jazz.

The album contains one long composition, but there is no reason to afraid of continued noodling or free form abstract constructions. On "Argonautica" Wooley starts where early Miles Davis'(or very first Weather Report albums') creative fusion has been finished and carefully moves towards freer improvisation and more modern sound never loosing fusion ground under his legs.

Wooley's band is actually a double-trio here: two trumpeters, two pianists and two drummers.One trio is led by Wooley himself and the other - by veteran cornetist Ron Miles. Other band's members are Tyshawn Sorey trio's pianist Cory Smythe with Bureau Of Atomic Tourism's keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin on Rhodes plus drummers Devin Grey and Rudy Royston.

Differently from Miles early fusion, reeds don't fly over the band's sound, instead one can hear lot of fragmented snippets,short solos and variable sounds/noises, sometimes spiced with Dumoulin electronics. Drums and piano generate busy environment and Rhodes goes even funky.

"Argonautica", one almost forty-three minute long composition, is actually a kaleidoscope of all the time changing movements inside of the selected formula's frame. Balancing precisely between fusion and free, it represents fresh and never-boring accessible side of modern avant-garde jazz (or creative adventurous fusion - depending on listener's starting point).

MARCELLO PELLITTERI Aquarius Woman

Album · 2016 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Marcello Pellitteri may not be a household name, but he has played drums with just about every major jazz star you can think of, as well as many pop stars and studio orchestras as well. On his new album, “Aquarius Woman”, Marcello displays his versatility by presenting an album that covers more styles than most people cover in their career. “Aquarius Woman” opens with a couple of grooving hard bop numbers that seem to establish a style for the rest of the album, but instead Marcello follows these openers with a couple of pastoral post bop ballads, and then moves on to RnB ballads, funky hip-hop jazz and some spoken word pieces as well. Pellitteri has a great support group on hand led by the intense alto playing of Orazio Maugeri. Orazio has a bright sound that recalls Jackie McLean, and a dexterity that recalls McLean’s idol, Charlie Parker. Maugeri can not only bop and weave, but his ability to rock out on the funky tunes recalls modern artists like Joshua Redman, or Branford Marsalis’ early funk projects. A long with the core group, various guests show up, including tenor sax man George Garzone, who burns brightly on the opening track.

All of the tracks on here are good, with highlights being the aforementioned swinging opening tracks, and the funky hip-hop/indie rock grooves of “Twenty Three” and “Colors on Your Face”. Some well known cover tunes are given interesting face lifts such as Alicia Keys’ “If I aint got You” which is given some flatted notes in the melody by guest vocalist Nedelka Prescod, and a reversal of the vocal phrasing in a call and response with the saxophone. Much of this album is dedicated to Pellitteri’s daughter, Veronica, who died at a very young 23 years of age. All profits from the sell of this CD will go to the Veronica Pellitteri Memorial Fund, administered by Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.

NICOLAS MEIER Infinity

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nicolas Meier had been the best guitar player nobody heard of for some time before some high profile gigs with Jeff Beck changed all that. An inventive guitar duo group with Pete Oxley also helped raise his profile, and now his joining with top notch labels like MGP and MoonJiune should help put Meier in the limelight where he belongs. A virtuoso on a multitude of fretted and non-fretted string instruments, Nicolas is equally at home playing jazz, fusion, metalish-rock or music from around the entire world. On his recent CD, “Infinity”, Meier displays his love for mid-Eastern fusion mixed with contemporary jazz and classic progressive rock.

“Infinity” opens with the heavy riffing of “The Eye of Horus”, which sounds like a Turkish influenced blend of Cream and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Some may be surprised that following track, “Still Beautiful”, offers a softer side to Meier’s music, but “Infinity” is not your typical guitar slinging hyper active fusion album, as Meier also draws upon a highly developed sense of melody and texture too. Many of the tracks on here feature Meier’s Middle-Eastern fusion, but there are others, such as the aforementioned “Still Beautiful”, as well as “Tales”. “Rose on Water” and “Serene” that are more similar to a cross between European contemporary jazz and progressive rock ballads. Of this bunch. “Rose on Water” stands out. Of the fusion tracks, the high energy of “Legend” and “Flying Spirits” capture Meier’s more aggressive playing. The sound of violin figures heavily throughout this album as three guest violinists make sure the instrument is featured on almost every track. The album closes with “JB Top”, supposedly a tribute to Billy Gibbons, but this track doesn’t sound like ZZ Top, but more like generic rock that sounds out of place compared to the rest of the tracks.

“Infinity” has cross appeal to a variety of audiences, including fans of Turkish music, jazz fusion, contemporary jazz and progressive rock. Every track has its own unique orchestrated electro-acoustic sound. with enough interesting arrangements to keep the listener engaged.

COREY KENDRICK Rootless

Album · 2016 · Post Bop
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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The Corey Kendrick Trio combines the infectious swing of yesteryear with the precision of today’s modern jazz harmonic sensibilities. The trio came together while studying under Rodney Whitaker at Michigan State University, it is here the Corey Kendrick Trio developed their unique, straight ahead sound, cultivated by two and a half years of extensive performing.

Their debut recording, Rootless highlights a theme of life and its many emotions, tracks like “The Unknown/The Unexpected” speak to the emotion of starting anew, a sleek and grooved based feel, coupled with the well-chosen colorizations of Kendrick on piano add credence to drummer Nick Bracewell’s texturized accents, and bassist Joe Vasquez, rooted groove lines. While cuts like “Alone in Michigan” speak to the loneliness of being away from home and the emptiness of missing loved ones. The trio creates an introspective take on this Kendrick original that is pensive and emotive. A celebratory fast paced tune is found in “Blues al Pastor” giving way to a burner for the trio, with quick crashes and nimble paced notes a flurry, the trio shines on this cut, showing the prowess of all involved in this tightly knit trio. Closing out the disc is a lilting tune capturing the indescribable emotions of new parenthood “Lullaby For A New Mother” offers the listener a beautiful journey with a fluidity of soundscape and the delicacy of joy, with passionate moments of fervor.

Rootless traverses a large terrain of emotions, but keeps firmly rooted in the jazz straight ahead idiom. A highly recommended listen, especially for the piano trio aficionado.

MATTHEW KAMINSKI Live at Churchill Grounds

Live album · 2016 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Matthew Kaminski is a jazz organist with an interesting ‘day job’, he plays the stadium organ for the Atlanta Braves, supplying all the well known baseball ballpark clichés that are as a much a part of the game’s tradition as the seventh inning stretch. On his new album, “Live at Churchill Grounds”, Matthew and his quartet play the music they are known for playing at jazz clubs, funky soul-jazz and swingin hard bop grooves. Kaminski displays the sort of Jimmy Smith/Groove Holmes type riffs we expect from a soul-jazz B3 player, but he also shows some influence from Hammond based jazz rockers like Tom Coster and Brian Auger. Matthew is a great soloist, but he is almost upstaged by the fiery tenor work of Will Scruggs, a great blues based player in the Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington tradition. They are also joined by vocalist Kimberly Gordon for about half the set.

This CD opens strong with a lengthy jam on the Beach Boy’s “Sail on Sailor”, which is followed by their top track, a James Brown influenced up-tempo funk number called “Hot Dog”. “Midnight Special” follows with another blues groove, and then its time for Kimberly to join the band for the next six tracks. Kimberly is a remarkable singer with a strong personality, Kurt Elling calls her “the ultimate swing lovers singer”, but the music definitely changes when she joins the band. With Gordon in front of the quartet, the high energy funkiness is replaced with a more easy going swing feel, which is a more suitable backing for her vocals. The solos from the instrumentalists are also much briefer during the vocal numbers. After Kimberly’s six numbers, the band closes with a Jack McDuff classic, “A Real Goodun”.

In many ways, the instrumental and vocal tracks on here almost seem like two different bands. If you are looking for the one-two punch of Kaminski’s B3 and Kimberly’s vocals, then you have come to the right place, but if you want to hear only Matthew’s B3 chops, then you might want to check out one of his earlier studio albums. On an interesting side note, Kaminski also has an album out where he plays popular baseball stadium clichés on a ballpark Hammond, a great album for people looking for classic samples in that tradition.

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FOCUS Focus II (aka Moving Waves)

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.92 | 3 ratings
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Originally released as FOCUS II and re-released under the title MOVING WAVES, this was FOCUS' greatest moment in their entire career. The world went absolutely wild over the lead single “Hocus Pocus” which even hit the top 10 on the Billboard singles chart. An oddity it was in every way especially in the prog world. This song was a riff-driven proto-metal track that actually predicted the use of 80s metal techniques like using the Hungarian minor scale. The mix of this early hard rock with yodeling sessions is still an eclectic oddity even today. Unfortunately this song is an anomaly in the FOCUS canon as well since the rest of the album sounds absolutely nothing like it.

The next three tracks are average classically inspired tracks that really don't offer much and feel a little hokey since they insinuate grander things to come and kind of fizzle out. The title track is the worst on here with horrible vocals and it kind of reminds me of ELP. I wish they would have skipped this one and added another rocker to usher in the grand finale “Eruption.”

“Eruption” seems to be equally loved and disliked. I'm on the love-it side. This 23 minute long piece is a hard rock version of the tale of “Orpheus” and Jacopo Peri's opera “Euridice”. There are many meanderings and variations of a basic melody that repeats subtly throughout the entire piece. I can understand why some may think this is boring as it is repetitive at times. For me I find the subtle spiraling of variations to be interesting and really love the odd breaks and also the more rocking parts. The transitions are unpredictable and I find the melody very infectious which sustains my interest.

Because this album is so strange with two really strong tracks that take up most of the album time and the fact that the rest of the instrumentals are average with only one track that I truly dislike I think this just squeaks by for me as a 4 star album.

ILLINOIS JACQUET Illinois Jacquet (aka Banned In Boston)

Album · 1963 · Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Illinois Jacquet may no longer be a household name, but in the 40s and 50s he was considered one of the top saxophonists of the early bop, and later swing eras. His sound was often purposefully brusque and rough with a tendency toward piercing extreme’s in register that foreshadowed the strong over the top approach of 60s free jazzers like Albert Alyer and Archie Shepp. When 1963 rolled around, bop was becoming somewhat of an anachronism, in fact Illinois spent the first part of the year with a foray into the new soul jazz sound, but when he cut the self-titled “Illinois Jacquet” for Epic later in 63, it was for playing classic be-bop with some influences from the new hard bop sound and crowd pleasing jump blues. This record may have been somewhat out of step with 63, but removed from its time period, it now sounds like another classic bop record recorded by the originators of the sound who knew how to play it right. Like most musical genres, from country to punk, be-bop sounds best when played by those who made it up, modern players just don’t capture that enthusiastic, somewhat flippant and informed sly attitude that gives the music its main appeal.

“Illinois Jacquet” (later titled “Banned in Boston”) opens with the jump blues of “Frantic Fanny”, and then proceeds through a variety that includes bluesy swing grooves, ballads and some up-tempo be-bop fire. The ballads range from the lovely “Stella by Starlight”, to the borderline corniness of “Imagination”, but possibly the top ballad number is Jacquet’s direct and understated reading of Ravel’s “Reverie”, one of the finest versions of this popular classic that you will find. Of the be-bop numbers, nothing tops the high energy of “Indiana (Back Home Again)”, once again played by folks who know how to play this right, making this album less of an anachronism in today’s world, but more of an important time capsule. This album does not contain some of the more exuberant and fierce playing of Jacquet’s early career, but its still a good solid bop recording, albeit recorded in 1963.

MILES DAVIS Miles Davis Quintet : Miles Smiles

Album · 1966 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.80 | 33 ratings
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Miles smiles and he's not pretending a part. He's really happy for his new family of musicians, so happy that he himself really can't believe this miracle of combo exists on earth and he's the creator of such a beauty. He needed his Golden Quintet, the highest expression of all times (neo) classic jazz, something living its (smiling) summer but with all the dangerous nostalgia of a perfectly mature fruit. So much that perfection that it was like a bridge to the unknown. Pure angst, at the end. Two were the alternatives to follow: the taste of decadence or a cut with the past. This gifted combo, touched by the hand of history, is sqeezed by Miles like a lemon; after, throught the naked "In a silent way", Miles and friends (those with him in that moment, because that was his - and their - own cruel and marvellous fate) will find themselves on the rich but deserted shores of "Bitches Brew", the occasion for many in the world to listen to Davis for the first time. But connoisseurs all around knew very well this perfect microgroove where everybody was smiling, according to Anthony Tuttle liner notes: "The entire quintet plays as if there were a shared smile between them, each man lending his efforts to the whole while the whole reflects the solid contribution of each man". A perfect definition good for every album of Miles magic quintet, starting from "ESP", first studio brick in a solid house. A castle. The building of dreams. "Seven steps..." is still tradition with some changes added but not a convinced piece of the new direction. Miles was waiting for Wayne, the Coltrane he always wanted. And from that lp to "ESP" we have only live albums. We have to wait until 1965, year of "ESP", to taste new flavours: but soon, 1966, everybody smiles with the leader. "Miles smiles" and we believe his smiling to be true. He's even surprised that his meditations or even impulses can find easy incarnation in music. He's really the genius he thinks to be. Everything's so smooth, in those years, that seems incredible, to him, to us, the amount of work, sometimes obscure, difficult work, waiting for Miles just around the corner. Smiling Miles soon will be a very far souvenir if compared to the ground zero of "In a silent way" or the path to hell of "Bitches brew": both streets with no return.

MASAHIKO TOGASHI Masahiko Togashi + Masabumi Kikuchi : Concerto

Album · 1991 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Two Japanese jazz greats pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and percussionist Masahiko Togashi recorded “Concerto” in 1991 – quite prolific period for both (especially for Kikuchi who founded one of his most successful project Tethered Moon with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian right at that time). Released soon after, this duo album hasn't been noticed and became an obscurity. Many Kikuchi fans even don't know such release exists.

In 2016 it has been re-issued in Japan so it is much more accessible now. Being mostly known as an object of discussions between collectors (as rule no-one of them ever heard its content) – is this album really all that good?

Almost two-hour long collection of improvisations is obviously dominated by Kikuchi's piano work. It is probably most lyrical work of everything what Kikuchi has been ever recorded. Bigger part of this double-CD set is filled with down tempo piano pseudo-classical balladry, similar to Russian romantic classics coming from 19 century. Togashi's percussion doesn't produce the beat or rhythm of any kind and is used mostly for ascetic licks over sentimental piano recital.

Inexperienced listener can be fooled by tuneful accessibility of Kikuchi's piano and easily imagine he's listening to slightly modernized chamber romanticism piano pieces. Only after some time one can cath up that music generally starts nowhere and goes to eternity. Familiar with Kikuchi's later recordings knows that he introduced very own avant-garde improvisational techniques, playing accessible liquid tunes' snippets in never-ending cyclic way. In fact, such kind of music can be started at any place of CD and can be finished same way – the resulted piece will be almost as representative as any other taken from the double set.

On some pieces (like “Passing Breeze”) Togashi's percussion takes more initiative and adds more blood to previously almost meditative piano-dominated music. “Unbalance” (longest album's composition lasting 16+ minute) particularly destroys chamber lullabies for characteristic Togashi's percussive air temples and quite refined piano-percussion duels.

Still in all whole album obviously missing dynamics and too often occurs dangerously close to monotonous sound-wallpaper. Few atonal and more percussive pieces demonstrate better balance between tuneful melancholic atmosphere and dramatic tension, but there are not enough of them to save the album from "lullaby" effect.

So - it's great that one more "secret album" of Japanese avant-garde jazz became accessible for public, but it could be mostly recommended for listeners,familiar with Togashi and Kikuchi (avant-garde period) music. Newbies can be seriously disappointed.

DAVE MATTHEWS BAND Crash

Album · 1996 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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To say that Dave Matthews Band is well known is an understatement. Approximately two decades after their formation, they had sold over 30 million record copies worldwide, and are one of if not the only group two have 6 consecutive albums hit number one on the Billboard chart. Whilst DMB is known for their most radio friendly material, like 'Crash Into Me', the band has a profound set of epic material on much of their early material. Believed to be the band's first stellar hit was that of 1996's Crash, an album with much to offer and little to take back.

Described mainly as part of the 'jam' band scene, Dave Matthews Band encompasses a handful of different genres into their live performances, the more prominent of these being jazz. Dave Matthews has stated in interviews that his jazz influence came from the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim and Miriam Makeba. While these artist's jazz aspects originate entirely from Matthew's preferred South African scene, these African influences aren't exactly prominent on Crash. Instead, there's a more warm-blooded, swaggery style of pseudo-jazz rock that brings elements from commercial pop rock to make a wonderful twist. The album, while not as profound as say Before These Crowded Streets (1998) with it's grandiose complexity, Crash has it's fair share.

Admittedly Crash is a primarily alternative rock release. There is a clear Barenaked Ladies or R.E.M., or even Phish influence on tracks like 'Say Goodbye' and '#41', especially when it comes to Matthew's guitar playing. These tracks sort of meld into each-other if they become to dull, which they entirely can, but being what the band is primarily known for, the pop-rock songs are played extremely well and are full of heart and emotion. But when the album hits more complex music, lord does it hit well. The beast that is 'Two Step' is perhaps one of the greatest songs to come out of the 1990's, with it's melodramatic tone, somber choruses, fantastic hooks, and of course that bari-sax! It's truly one of DMB's best and is of course my number one recommendation from the album. Now 'Two Step' is really the only song that goes all-out in the vein of progressive music but there are numerous aforementioned alt-rock slammers that are well-known- for good reason. '#41' blends eclecticism with flashy film-score emotional value to great affect. 'Crash Into Me' is by far the most well known song from the band's repertoire, and it's not bad. It's by far one of the more simple songs from the track list, but it's cheerful tone and playful lyrics are enough to make it notable. 'Proudest Monkey' is a very interesting song, clocking in at a whopping 9 minutes, but it hits numerous structural high points throughout it's run time. Imagine 'Crash Into Me', but longer, more improvisational, and more interesting lyrical quality. That's basically what the song is, and to someone like me that's greatly appreciated.

The greatest thing by far about Dave Matthews Band however is Dave Matthews' Band. This band has what I think to be some of the most talented musicians ever put on an album. Now personally I think soppy songs for them are a restriction of true perfection in the long-run, but I'm always happy with what I've got, as well as solace of more illustrious material in their near future after Crash. On board with Dave Matthews' throaty howl is electric guitar god Tim Reynolds (a highly underrated musician), Stefan Lessard on bass, and LeRoi Moore and Boyd Tinsley as the two-man orchestra between the violin and the horn section. My only partial complaint is Carter Beauford's drumming. To say he's bad would be a denial of reality but I can't help that think that on this album (and consecutive ones), he's way overdoing it. You're playing pop, man; keeping it simple creates catchier material, at least for me. Simple drum fills could easily keep a good balance with the material provided, but I suppose going overkill works just as well financial-wise. Granted it does get much more fitting on later albums, but for this the over-complexity just seems abnormal when sitting next to something like '#41'. Just a thought. Even with that though the band has such a wonderful, unspoken cohesion that just makes them play so well. It truly is one of the highlights of the band in general.

Crash, while slightly entry-tier for someone more willing to get into it's progenitors' material, is still a colorful, inspiring release. Slow down to check this Crash out.

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