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jazz music reviews (new releases)

BRAD MEHLDAU Seymour Reads the Constitution!

Album · 2018 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
Brad Mehldau’s latest release “Seymour Reads The Constitution” is his second for this year after his well received prior “After Bach” As with the majority of the recent Trio releases they are all not Standards but Brad’s own compositions included with a few contemporary Pop or Rock tunes thrown in with this album having two of them leaning more towards the Pop side. His old stalwart Larry Grenadier who been with him since the beginning is back on Bass with Jeff Ballard who joined the Trio in 2005 playing drums. There are eight compositions included with three being Brad’s, one Standard, two Pop and one from Elmo Hope and the other Sam Rivers.

“Spiral” is first being one of Brad’s compositions with title explaining the lay out in the composition having the higher keys climbing in an up and down in a circular manner throughout this delightful first piece. The following track being the album’s title “Seymour Reads The Constitution” is in a slower introspective manner being another one of Brad’s compositions within the album employing that technique that Brad plays on piano with his left hand keeping the basic pattern while his right is adding the improvision in different timing. Larry Grenadier brings the Bass up early during the title’s structure with Brad gradually climbing the piano’s higher notes for the remainder within this beautiful piece. “Almost Like Being in Love” is the album’s only Standard played with that McCoy Tyner influence of joy infusion with a drum solo from Jeff Ballard included within this spritely take. Elmo Hope’s composition Brad keeps well recognisable and does not stray too far from the original with the theme and this time Larry Grenadier has a shot on Bass within . It’s the Beach Boys, “Friends” with the Trio bringing forth a lovely different take to the song with Brad’s left hand keeping the time with the right adding more sparkle throughout followed by the marvellous changing “Ten Tune”. Paul McCartney gets the nod with an interesting take for the song “Great Day” from his “Flaming Pie” album and then we finish up with the Sam Rivers composition “Beatrice” where we get some great interplay between Brad on piano and Jeff on drums for just another of the album’s delights.

Wonderful new album from Brad Mehldau with a bit of difference from the majority of today’s Trio albums where quite a few seem to be primarily ballads injected with crystal clear space and although many of them I do enjoy it is refreshing to get something a bit different.

PHRONESIS We Are All

Album · 2018 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.48 | 2 ratings
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snobb
After eleven years of activities and seven successful albums London-based Phronesis were probably most respectable contemporary jazz trio in UK. Few years ago, when their music started sounding a bit too safe and predictable they did a double shot trying to improve the situation. First they recorded (at Abbey Road Studios in London) much more muscular album ("Parallax")then they ever did before. I saw them playing life with these new songs and they sounded as high-energy power trio, but from the bad side their new music lost part of their melodies putting them in danger to become "another fusion piano trio". An year after they released an excellent album of their known songs recorded with Frankfurt radio big band. What's next?

Just released their ninth album "We Are All" doesn't open radically different horizons, but it looks here they finally found their best ever balance between slightly melancholic chamber jazz and more modern and youthful power trio sound. Trio's songs are tightly composed and precisely executed again with bigger attention to melodies. They reduced high energy of "Parallax" till controlled groovy sound with complex interplay between virtuoso piano soloing and physical acoustic bass.

"We Are All" represents contemporary European jazz at it's best - multilayered intellectual improvisational music sounds almost as accessible as pop and rock songs without loosing its quality. One critic called "Phronesis" "the best modern jazz piano trio since EST", with "We Are All" release they have serious evidence that he was right.

XAVI REIJA The Sound Of The Earth

Album · 2018 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.91 | 2 ratings
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kev rowland
Consummate drummer Xavi Reija is back with his fourth solo album, and as with the wonderful ‘Resolution’ from 2014, he has been joined by guitarist Dusan Jevtović. However, this time he has brought in two Stick Men with Tony Levin providing bass, upright bass and stick and Markus Reuter on touch guitar. This means that between them there are four more sounds and potential interactions on show than would be possible with any “normal” quartet. Recorded in just one day, the album is a cacophony of sounds and notes being brought together by four musicians who are consistently bouncing ideas off each other. Reuter and Levin are touring together a great deal, so know each other’s styles intimately, while Reija and Jevtović have a long history together as well, and the two pairs combine to make an album of exciting and invigorating music.

One of the joys of this album is the sheer variety, with all four playing lead (all at the same time), although it is often left to Levin and Reuter to attempt to maintain some sort of stable foundation for the others to play against. The four lengthy songs are parts I-IV of the title cut, composed by all four, as they bounce the ideas off each other and see where the music takes them. The second of these commences with Xavi shuffling on drums, Tony providing some beautifully warm upright bass, Markus creating the soundscape as only he can, before Dusan makes his entrance. It is an incredibly intense album, with so much going on at all times, yet it never overloads the senses as it continues to make music sense throughout. Putting these four into a room together, turning on the tapes and then just letting them play, was truly inspired. When it comes to fusion, bringing together jazz, progressive rock and improvisation, then it is hard to find a stronger group of players. This is an incredible album, totally essential to anyone who enjoys this style of challenging and almost avant garde music.

SOFT MACHINE Hidden Details

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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js
Its nice to see the longest running act in the world of jazz-rock fusion is still at it, but its even nicer hearing them operating at a creative peak more similar to their early years. I don’t know if this is a live in the studio performance, but it sounds like one. The songs naturally segue way into each other, and there is no evidence of over dubs as every performer is quite clearly in the moment and interacting with their band mates. At this point in their career, Soft Machine are able to cover all the different phases of their past, particularly their jazzy horn driven music of the early 70s, and their more muscular guitar driven jazz-rock of the mid-70s. What’s particularly notable about the current lineup is that they often break things down so that only one or two people are carefully interacting and taking their time building unique sounds and melodies. These frequent changes in ensemble makeup and texture help make “Hidden Details” the interesting listen that it is.

As mentioned earlier, the many styles of Soft Machine are on display here. There are a couple of lengthy funky rock numbers for those who seek the guitar shredding of Chris Etheridge. Theo Travis shines on flute on some up tempo jazz, and on “Life on Bridges”, the whole band goes off on a noisy free improv. “Heart Off Guard” and “Broken Hill” contain moments of pure pastoral melody, and elsewhere they re-visit Soft Machine’s classic minimalist tributes to Terry Riley. There are a couple tracks from previous Soft albums, but this band clearly puts their own stamp on those cuts. The album closes on a good note with the floating looped sounds of Travis' flute. “Hidden Details” is one of the better Soft Machine albums to come out in a while, In particular, Theo Travis on woodwinds and keyboards seems to be in touch with those elements that constituted some of this band’s best music.

WILLIE NELSON Last Man Standing

Album · 2018 · Jazz Related Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
On Willie Nelson’s latest offering once again we have Buddy Cannon doing the Production for the tenth album with the addition of co writing every song with Willie and as with the previous album “God’s Problem Child” the band line up is pretty much the same just with a few less guests in “Last Man Standing” as there is only the one actually being Alison Krauss on fiddle and backing vocals who does not even get a mention as a guest just added to the band's line up in the album’s credits. One of the integral parts to Willie’s band these days is long time collaborator Mickey Raphael on harmonica who has been accompanying Willie for nigh on thirty years and almost nearly as integral to Willie’s sound as Trigger but not quite. Honky Tonk, Western Swing with a couple of ballads thrown in for good measure are the album’s basis making this one a straight up Country album being Willie Nelson’s bread and butter and there really is no greater exponent of this music style living today.

The album kicks off with “Last Man Standing” with a mention concerning Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Merle Haggard and Norro Wilson and how Willie is lamenting he is the last of them on the title number. Honky Tonk based ‘Don’t Tell Noah” comes next followed by “Bad Breath” concerning his mortality with the line “Bad breath is better than no breath at all” with a great little solo from Mickey Raphael’s harmonica followed by Willie on Trigger. “Me And You” is Honky Tonk which motors along with a great beat behind it with quiet a nice ballad following “Something You Get Through” with the harmonica of Mickey Raphael’s coming to the fore and some great steel guitar added as well. Western swing get’s a shot with the fairly quick time of ‘Ready To Roar” and the next number “Heaven Is Closed” has Willie mentioning that “hell is overcrowded so I think I will stay where I am” . “ I Ain’t Got Nothin” follows with more of that Honky Tonk feel in “She Made my Day” and the other ballad comes next “I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time” with the album closing up with a slight Bluesy influence in “Very Far To Crawl”,

Great album of all original material. I have heard people mentioning it’s brevity as it only runs for thirty four minutes but for me not a factor being brought up in the day of records which is not far of many album times anyway. Still not a lot has changed since his previous “God’s Problem Child” which in my opinion has just a slight edge over this one.

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ALAIN MALLET Mutt Slang

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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js
The most difficult CDs to review are the ones that don’t fit into a convenient style or genre. I’m listening to all the influences and cultures that go into Alain Mallet’s “Mutt Slang”, and I am thinking how can I possibly define and explain this music to someone else. Alain Mallet is a veteran pianist who has been working with artists like Paul Simon, Phil Woods and others for over 25 years. Just a few short years ago, he finally decided to record his first album as a leader. Alain lists a diverse group of influences at work here, including Miles Davis, Peter Gabriel, Rachmaninov, Stevie Wonder, Salif Keita and others, and all that diversity shows through in his music. For example, opening track, “Till I Dance (In Your Arms Again)” opens with a Middle Eastern flavor, before there is a shift and the bands kicks into a Latin American rhythm in 5/4 time. Its this sort of mixing influences from all over the world that best describes the music on “Mutt Slang”, as different sections of tracks may take us to Africa, Israel, Latin America or some imaginative places that don’t quite exist outside the musical realm.

Alain works with a steady rhythm section on “Mutt Slang” that includes Jamey Haddad on percussion, Peter Slavov on bass and Abraham Rounds on drums. A very talented bunch as they are all expected to handle the wide variety of rhythms presented here. A large cast of rotating guests supply solos on a variety of instruments, as well as vocal leads too. There are plenty of good soloists on here, but the best rides belong to Alain, whose ability to build a dynamic piano solo may remind some of Herbie Hancock, but with a pronounced Afro-Cuban influence too. Another particularly remarkable solo comes from vocalist Song Yi Jeon, as she takes a Flora Purim type flight on “Spring”. Daniel Rotem also turns in some nice solos on tenor sax on a couple tunes. “Mutt Slang” is a multi-cultural smorgasbord, but none of this culture mixing sounds gratuitous or cheap, instead, Mallet has built a musical vision that carries the integrity and logic of all the cultures that gave this music birth.

VAN MORRISON Hymns To The Silence

Album · 1991 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Released in 1991 being Van Morrison’s 21st studio album as well being a double containing quite a mix of styles covering Spiritual, Celtic, Narrative, Rock, Jazz and with a touch of Blues thrown in for good measure. Eclectic is one description but personally for me it’s just Van The Man doing what he has always done mixing it up but not just keeping various styles to predominately one album here we are getting them all. The Chieftains are back for two numbers, George Fame (Hammond organ , piano) , Terry Disley (piano), Candy Dulfer (alto sax), Dave Early (drums), Carol Kenyon, Katie Kissoon, (backing vocals) and the list goes on with two different bassists, flugelhorn, another pianist, accordion all employed for the various studio sessions recorded in London with Van himself inputting vocals, guitar, harmonica and alto sax within the album “Hymns To The Silence”

“Professional Jealousy’ gets it all going having a touch of resentment inserted into the lyrics over this mid tempo number with “I’m Not feeling It No Anymore” perhaps being a response for the prior number over a jaunty piano line throughout the song. Blues based “Ordinary Life” with Van on harmonica and a touch of Jazz follows with “Some Peace Of Mind” as the following “So Complicated” keeps that theme going.” Why Must I Always Explain” is often referred to the similarity with “Tupelo Honey” albeit at a slightly faster pace which seems to gel more with the song’s chorus. The Chieftains are the band for the Don Gibson classic country number “I Can’t Stop Loving You” with Van inserting guitar, Paddy Maloney with a Pipe solo and the two backing vocalists adding input for quite a nice take of the song. “Village Idiot” is one of the picks from the album which harkens back to “Crazy Face” from Van’s 1970 album “Van Morrison His Band And The Street Choir” with the odd one out being the topic but perhaps that is not the case at all for this lovely number. Spiritual is the base for the lovely “ See Me Through Part 11 (Just A Closer Walk With Thee)” containing a section of narrative with a later connection to his another narrative on the following disc “ On Hyndford St”. The last one is the slow Blues of “Take Me Back” with repetition a plenty within Van’s vocals in this stretched out delightful low key take.

The Spiritual comes to the fore within the second disc’s make up with the lively “By His Grace”, the Jazzed up “All Saints Day” following and the stunning title song “Hymns To The Silence”. Two narrations are included being “On Hyndford St” and “Pagan Streams” with the later being my pick. The Chieftains are back for another Spiritual “Be Thou My Vision” with the next “ Carrying A Torch” being the best ballad on the album with even Tom Jones using the number with three others contained within this album in his own 1991 release “Carrying A Torch”. The laid back “Green Mansions” and “Quality Street” follow with another nice ballad “It Must Be You” and the album finishing up with the love song “I Need Your Kind Of Loving”.

You won’t be rolling up the carpet or getting the dancing shoes on but this album is still one of Van Morrison’s best releases in the last thirty years containing a great mix of styles with plenty of great moments from Van’s vocals hitting the notes included. Needs a few plays and just have it on early morning, late at night or any quiet moments and just let it roll over and sing and dream along with all these beautiful hymns and narrations, to the silence.

PATTI LABELLE LaBelle ‎: Pressure Cookin'

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
It was still a bit of struggle in the late sixties for Patti Labelle at this time to gain much acceptance after the limited success of Patti Labelle and The Blue Belles with one hit and a couple of minor ones, Girl Groups seemed to heading towards a dead-end and then Cindy Birdsong in 1967 from the original four girl line up decided to join the Supremes and to top it off Atlantic Records a year later dumped the band. Patti Labelle contacted Vicki Wickham from London, television producer and booking agent for a British R&B show who herself had always been a fan but realising the band’s current style was just old hat knew they needed to change. She contacted Chris Stamp co owner of Track Records who also was managing the Rock Band The Who during this current period and was taken by Vicki to see the band at The Apollo who signed them after being quite impressed with what he had heard and seen. First up the band’s name was changed to Labelle much to Patti Labelle’s angst with even more to come for her when it was decided that the old material was to be binned with more Rock and Contemporary material to becomes the band’s music. Still it wasn’t long before Patti Labelle realised they were heading in the right direction after the great receptions the band started to get from audiences with the new style as well as being the opening act for The Who, Sly And The Family Stone, Nina Simone and touring with Mandrill. Two albums were cut with Warner Records, “Gonna Take A Miracle” and “Moonshadow” with limited success and then the move came to Nina Simone’s label RCA where more Soul was injected to the band’s sound with Vicki Wickham producing in “Pressure Cookin’ “. The black soul-rock band Maxayn with a conga player were used to back the band on this record bringing forth a much tighter sound garnering this album great critical reviews but still limited success and although that may be so, this one was the main stepping stone to international fame which would follow for them when Epic Records and Allen Toussaint become involved with their next album “Nightbirds”

“Pressure Cookin’ “ the album’s title gets things going with a Funk backing for this politically charged number for this period in time with the Vietnam War, Black Equality and Watergate being the main drivers behind it with track two interlinking being a Medley comprising Thunder Clap Newman’s hit “Something In the Air” combined with Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and things are kept tight and funky with some great conga input backing “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” component with Labelle delivering it with more of a spoken word similar to Gil’s original take. “Sunshine (Woke Me Up This Morning)” is Funk injected with some great Wah Wah guitar under riding it all. It’s a ballad for “Can I Speak To You Before I Go To Hollywood” concerning old friends in the industry where once fame had reached them no longer seem available. “Mr Music Man” brings the Rock to the fore on the fast moving tune. “Goin’ On A Holiday” having one gorgeous Bass underpinning with a great hitting the notes vocal from Patti and the girls. “Let Me See You In The Light” is a delightful Soul based number with more of that great conga underneath. “Open Up Your Heart” and let me in and it sure does for this thumpin’ mid tempo Funk number with some great backing vocals for Patti’s lead. The lovely ballad “Last Dance” concludes proceedings with both ballads as good as each other that were incorporated within the album.

Really good album. If you loved “Nightbirds” the following and have not heard this one, you better get it!

ROBERTO ROENA Roberto Roena Y Su Apollo Sound

Album · 1970 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
Percussionist Roberto Roena’s second release and the first with his new band at the time in 1970 Apollo Sound (“Roberto Roena Y Su Apollo sound”) with each album afterwards being mainly titled by number reaching to ten but if you want to disagree there is an eleventh from the band but by then in 1982 they were named Super Apollo with the album “47:50”. As it was 1970 with this release we still have boogaloo included but the genre was on its last legs by this time with Salsa becoming the main. Not only that we have a couple of popular English songs included within as well and the addition “Sing A Simple Song” bringing it to three. This record is sorted after by the groove collectors these days and as time passes many Fania and other early Latin albums are long out of print with just the big ones primarily be re- released occasionally on record or cd. Due to the popularity in the return of records they are becoming scarcer with hen’s teeth easier to acquire in good condition and a lot cheaper.

“Tu Loco Loco, Y Yo Tranquilo” kicks things off with some quite crazy and not to calm Salsa with great piercing trumpet input from Mario Alvares Cora with quite a nice montuno from the coros not to long before the numbers ending. The following “Sing A Simple Song” was also included in the compilation that was released in 2000 “Broasted Or Fried” that concentrated on Boogaloo and Back Beats with this one on the Boogaloo side. More Salsa with “Consolacion” with the following “Sonando Con Puerto Rico” being a Bobby Capo penned number and of course if it is one of Bobby’s numbers it is a Bolero and quite a nice one at that. “El Escapularo” is percussion with congas opening and they remain the main driver throughout this Afro style song. The straight up Salsa is back for “El Sordo” and the following although titled “El Pato De La Bahia” is sung in English being Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” slightly Boogalooed up. Its Salsa for “El Barrio Sin Guapo” with another Bolero to follow for “Han Pasado Algunos Dias” with a quick tenor solo from Al Abreu inserted and the album finishes up with a cover of Blood Sweat and Tears “Spinning Wheel”.

Nice album but I feel the band were still finding their feet with better things still to come throughout their next nine releases. Still not at to an exorbitant price unlike Roberto’s first album “Se Pone Bueno”.

WADADA LEO SMITH America's National Parks

Album · 2016 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.48 | 2 ratings
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Matt
“Tracing back to Wadada Leo Smith’s most recent epic masterpieces, The Great Lakes Suites and especially Ten Freedom Summers” ( excerpt from the album’s notes) concerning the double album “America’s National Parks” construction and contents”. Wadada has changed how he does musical writing and notations with his theory of Ankhrasmation which uses a set of four colours and depending where they are positioned on the chart, left or right being slow or fast with six rhythm units included that start long and then become short with the cover for his album “Sonic Rivers” showing one example of this type of intonations and how “America’s National Park” was composed with the orchestra having a fixed bound input and the soloist free to go where he wants. The ensemble that was used for the album was Wadada’s Golden Quintet which has had quite a change in its line up throughout the years with this current one containing Anthony Davis on piano, Ashley Walters, cello, His old cohort John Lindberg on bass, Pheeroan akLaff, drumming and of course Wadada on trumpet as well as directing the ensemble. One other mention is Jesse Gilbert being a video artist as when the pieces were recorded film was running in front of the ensemble for each National Park pertaining to which piece was being played for it. Although not technically Free Jazz it does have on the album an element of it concerning the soloists.

“New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718” opens being a 21 minute in length composition with Pheeroan akLaff drum’s and Wadada’s trumpet commencing proceedings and the band following in fairly quickly as the music seems to be slowly getting stretched with more and more extensions from the trumpet and Anthony Davis’ piano becoming gradually more complex with the cello seemingly being pushed more to the front but the music does change when Davis’s piano returns with quite a lovely complex solo of varying times and then John Lindberg gets pushed to the front on bass for a delightful bass solo and input which gradually is moved out of the way for Ashley Davis on cello to have a shot with Wadada coming back to close things up. There are two other compositions Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920-2002; A Literary National Park” and “Yellowstone: The First National Park and The Sprit of America- The Mountains, Super-Volcano Caldera and Its Ecosystem 1872” following and although “Eileen Jackson Southern” not being quite as dramatic in sound as “Yellowstone” but that does not mean “Yellowstone” is bombastic either with its gradual opening containing seemingly more space than the prior composition. and I love Anthony’s piano solo within.

Disc 2: Three more suites are included opening “The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow The River-a National Memorial Park c. 5000 BC and as the first on Disc 1 it is the longest track running for 31 minutes with each musician having quite an individual input and often in short bursts entirely alone within the composition often punctuated with sharp trumpet interjections from Wadada but you could not name it as call and response either for this extremely interesting number where later into the composition Anthony Davis is playing the same four notes repetitively with Wadada’s trumpet just soaring in bursts with more change still to come within. “Sequoia/Kings Canyon national Parks: The Giant forest, Great Canyon, Cliffs, Peaks, Waterfalls and Cave systems 1890” having the longest title is actually the shortest track with piano and trumpet and plenty of space brought to the fore with the album finishing up with the majestic “Yosemite: The Glaciers, the Falls, the wells and the Valley of Goodwill 1890”

Highly original and interesting album which won awards in 2017. Although it is about the Parks, the politics concerning them played just as big a part in the album’s compositions and one would be going to find anything even close to similar in releases unless Wadada did it himself. Getting a bit tired with Bop, Third Stream, Fusion and Avante Garde well try this one for something refreshingly different.

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