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jazz music reviews (new releases)

KENNY BARRON Book Of Intuition

Album · 2016 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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What an album name! A mysterious title like "Book of Intuition" didn't fail to catch my eye. The album cover is pretty cool too.

According to the linear notes, Kenny Barron has been playing with this trio for the last several years but hasn't made a studio recording with them until now. Now I personally haven't listened to Kenny Barron's other groups so my expectations were pretty open.

Regarding the lineup, one thing I struck by was the amount of intensity in the drummer Jonathan Blake. He didn't play particularly loud or in the way, but managed to add a lot of energy to Kenny Barron's playing. "Cook's Bay" has a memorable moment where Kenny plays a short lick with both hands two octaves apart, giving it a distinct samba-type sound. Blake responds to it immediately with a samba-type fill.

Most of the tunes on the album are Kenny Barron originals. The others are two Thelonious Monk tunes (Shuffle Boil, Light Blue) and a ballad by Charlie Haden (Nightfall). Although I have enjoyed Kenny Barron play Monk tunes in the past (he's quite good at imitating him), I found these to be among the weaker ones on the album. Kenny's own tunes, such as "Magic Dance," "Cook's Bay," or "Lunacy" are filled with a lot of fun harmonic colors that give this album a nice taste. "Cook's Bay" in particular is my favorite track on the album.

Kenny Barron is a fantastic soloist, but I couldn't help but feel like many of his solos had too many long lines. There comes a point in his solos when it sounds like an idea would need to end, but would keep on going like a run-on sentence. I don't want to overly critique Kenny Barron, but it makes the listening experience less accessible.

Overall, "Book of Intuition" is a fun album. Kenny Barron and his trio offer the modern jazz world a nice album that gives original sounds within a more traditional vocabulary.

ANTHONY E NELSON JR Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak

Album · 2016 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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If you are looking for that no-nonsense hard bop sound, then you have come to the right place. On “Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak”, Anthony E. Nelson Jr and his crew of five side men deliver ten original jazz tunes played with imagination and a lot of soul. Most would categorize this in the hard bop file, but this is hard bop of the more abstract style along the lines of latter day Art Blakey, or early Herbie Hancock. The Hancock comparison is furthered by pianist Brandon McClure, whose mixture of sophisticated blues and impressionism definitely recalls the young Herbie. Nelson’s main influence would seem to be Coltrane, as his sound is reminiscent, and he is also apt to pepper his solos with Coltrane quotes, along with re-arranged quotes from others as well. Being the top soloists on board, Nelson and McClure handle the lion’s share of the solos, but some tunes allow the others a ride as well.

With three horns on board, Nelson is able to add interest to his opening melodies by arranging in a mini-big band style. Tracks like, “Never too Late”, allow the horns to engage in some contrapuntal intersecting lines, while “Blessed are Those that Mourn”, uses the horns to paint pastel colors ala Herbie’s “Speak like a Child” album. Possibly the biggest plus on here is the fact that all of this music is original, and many of the tunes measure up well against better known standards. Any musician looking for a possible ‘new standard’ on this CD should check out “I’ll be a Fool”, which sports an infectious be-bop like melody that is hard to get out of your head.

A quick glance at the song titles will tell you that Nelson is heavily influenced by his Christian faith and seeks to use his music to worship God. Anthony calls his music “gospel jazz”, and although almost all hard bop has a bit of gospel to it, the only overt gospel number on here is closing ballad, “More than Rubies”. Anyone who does not want their jazz watered down with artificial sweetener, or passing trends, will want to check out “Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak”, not only can these guys play, but they can also compose and arrange with the best of them.


Album · 2016 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sometimes you don’t know what might show up in your mailbox, for instance this odd looking CD that arrived from Polish group Niechec. The strange album cover doesn’t reveal much, but what a great surprise when you give it a spin and all of this exciting and passionate modern jazz-rock comes firing out of the speakers. Because of their frequent use of repeating minimalist type passages, you could put Niechec in the nu jazz genre, but unlike many other nu jazz groups, there is nothing lite and fluffy about these guys, instead, like a lot of music from Poland, this CD is raw and emotional, and the band doesn’t mind raising some fierce noise when it is called for.

The music on here is so eclectic that it is probably best to view the tracks individually to get an idea of what is going on. Album opener, “Koniec”, is a harsh noisy jazz rock number with plenty of rapid change-ups in that style first initiated by the Mr Bungle/John Zorn school of music. On this track Maciej Zwierzchowski reveals his huge baritone sax sound, often playing heavy noire riffs that recall Mel Collins’ work on early King Crimson albums. Tomasz Wielechowski also turns in a fierce atonal solo on the distorted electric piano. The next three cuts reveal Niechec’s interest in a more relaxed electronica flavored post rock groove that recalls Tortoise or Masfel. Track 5, “Krew”, opens with atonal saxophone squawking that alternates with quieter sections and strange demented circus like music.

“Widzenie” uses a repeating piano part that sounds like classic prog rock to which they add a driving drumnbass beat and another free form sax solo. On “Atak”, the band digs heavy into that same ‘crime jazz soundtrack’ sound that inspired much of early King Crimson. Album closer, “Trzeba to Zrobic”, continues with more heavy saxophone sounds, sometimes recalling Doldinger’s first “Passport” album. This number closes with lots of crazy mayhem as the whole band chimes in with collective spiraling chaos.

Niechec is a band that deserves much wider recognition. There are other bands using the same hip modern sounds that these guys use, but the difference is that Niechec knows how to put a complex composition together, as well as a lengthy arrangement that makes sense. There should be a wider market available for these guys, including fans of modern prog rock, the wilder side of today’s jazz rock scene and anyone looking for interesting, eclectic and unpredictable music.

TONY LUSTIG Taking Flight

Album · 2016 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Out of the baritone saxophone pantheon rises Tony Lustig, in toe is a sterling crew of bandmates; Mike Dease on trombone, Samora Pinderhughes on piano, the very busy bassist Ben Williams , and the household name Ulysses Owens, Jr. on drums, delivering a power punch of eight originals that simultaneously challenge and enchant.

Though his release features accessible tunes that appeal to the center of the road, he is not afraid to take risks and step out and show his ability to create robust burning single note lines when needed, pushing the boundaries of conventionality.

Opening the album are two straight ahead numbers “Change is Coming” is infused with bluesy spirit and a light appeal that allows Lustig to bounce his baritone, while the supporting cast creates a swinging feel, and trombonist Dease, colors with muted trombone for added flavor. “Fraytown” is an old school soulful sound almost what you would hear on a Sunday afternoon get together of old friends. Its loose, soulful and bluesy, it’s a great vehicle for the players to stretch out with quick lines, or laid back romps, but just when you think you have figured out the vibe of the proceedings, Lustig changes his route with a barn burning modern tune "Prometheus," quick lines, burning solos and break neck speeds, the ensemble is on fire, and showing their New York roots with attitude and ample edge. If there was any question as to Lustig’s agility on this enormous horn, they are put aside immediately. Flurries of notes, a deep passionate round sound, Lustig articulates each note clearly and with command, leaving the listener breathless. Up next is, “For Wayne” a beautiful longing ballad featuring Lustig in an introspective mode in the upper register of his horn. The tune is open and spacious and shows that Lustig has the ability to utilize each part of his horn with command. “Taking Flight” is aptly titled, pianist Samora Pinderhughes creates engaging movement on the ivories, while Owens creates a vibrant textural experience under the ensemble that generates interest and propels the tune with masterful coloration. Owens really utilizes his kit on this tune, he is in such command of his instrument and on this cut he truly shows why he is a first call player. "Serving It Up" is just that, funkified jazz with a robust Adderley vibe, a quick turn to "On The Wings Of Icarus" is a beautiful waltz, again showing the groups full spectrum abilities. The sendoff "Burnin' Grease" has a cool 50s vibe that is playful and filled with plenty of shuffle. With a more than qualified date, filled with the movers and shakers of the today’s jazz scene in New York, this group of music makers fill out Lustig’s compositions with powerful performances that add up to much more than a blowing date. I hope we see much more from Lustig, as this debut does not ring as such, this is a seasoned well-conceived offering with memorable performances and ideas throughout.

SCOTT REEVES Portraits & Places

Album · 2016 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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New York based composer, arranger and trombonist/alto flugelhornist, Scott Reeves formed his impressive orchestra in 2008, and while Portraits and Places marks its recorded debut, Reeves spent a number of years before that sharpening his composing and arranging skills at the highly regarded BMI Jazz Composers Workshop where he received guidance and mentoring from Manny Albam, Mike Abene, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober. The result is influenced here on eight numbers (three of which comprise the colorful L & T Suite), Reeves is an inventive writer with a strong grasp of the components needed to nurture exciting results and high quality performances from each member of a large ensemble.

Notable is his ability for melody, harmony and a most important element of counterpoint, this is where Reeves benchmarks, his compositions are stylish yet accessible, his arrangements meticulously polished and consistently engaging. His choice in sidemen is stellar with a lineup that reads like a who's who of New York’s most sought-after musicians.

The offering kicks off with "The Soulful Mr. Williams," a blues-based groover that immediately sets the tone of harmonic muscularity that this orchestra is about to unleash. Tight woven lines with dark harmonic flavors coupled with poignant solos by Reeves on alto flugelhorn and the imaginative pianist Jim Ridl. What is unique is the alto flugelhorn sound, close in nature to the trombone, Reeves primary instrument, gives this track a moody feel that is powerfully portrayed. "3 'n 2" is a driving tune with high flying trumpet notes and an fervent solo courtesy of tenorist Tim Armacost, and trumpeter Bill Mobley.

An intriguing journey to Asia can be found in "Osaka June," in which Sara Serpa's wordless ornamentations set the stage for spoken dialogue (in Japanese) by Emi Miyajima Nobe and Yuzuki Nobe (mother and child), which deceivingly sets up the tune that takes the listener though romping solos by Ridl and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, who puts forth a riveting performance.

Jobim, a master at writing bossa nova adorns Reeves offering with an arrangement by Reeves of "Aguas de Marco" a wonderful halfway stop to cleanse your pallet before embarking into the L & T Suite (3 movements), the suite features the nimble "Wants to Dance," featuring Wilson on alto and drummer Andy Watson, an introspective and darkly tuned "Trombonist's Tale" helmed by trombonist Matt McDonald, and the zestful "Hip Kitty," again showcasing Ridl's adroit piano skills. "Last Call," closes the session, showcasing low brass, giving the lower register players their due, especially notable are the solos by bass trombonist Max Seigel and baritone Terry Goss before complimented by Seneca Black's muted trumpet, that gently weaves the listener to the finality of the tune.

Reeves the director of jazz studies at CCNY, certainly walks the walk, and with Portraits and Places, he shows he can also bring forth a new generation of orchestra tunes that delight, challenge and push the lineage forward. Fantastic writing, top-notch playing by all, makes this a superbly preeminent orchestra offering. A highly recommended “must” to any collection.

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RODRIGO AMADO Lisbon Improvisation Players : Motion

Album · 2004 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Rodrigo Amado was one of the key figure of new Portuguese adventurous jazz during first decade of new Millennium. On the wave of his homeland avant-garde jazz scene popularity explosion, Amado's lead projects won respectful reputation around Europe and partially in States. Still, differently from series of recordings under his own name, Rodrigo's earlier project Lisbon Improvisation Players stays in the shade,and it's a shame since Player's music is right on the level of any Amado's later band, and in moments even overtakes many of them.

For "Motion" Rodrigo forms Portuguese-American quartet where he plays tenor and baritone in a company with American soprano/tenor Steve Adams with support from Portuguese drummer Acacio Salero and American double bassist Ken Filliano.

All album's material is pure improvisation, but same way as with many other Amado's works it sounds well organized,full of tunes and generally quite accessible. Based on so-called "improvisational composition" techniques,Amado adds lot of tuneful snippets to his music and even if each of four quartet's members are soloist here nothing sounds too chaotic or extremely "out". Even more - the opener "Perpetual Explorers" is a n improvisational composition of rare beauty containing lot of lyrical tones,fragile grace and in all sounds quite close to modern academic composed music. "Motion" coming after has more muscles and is more free-jazz rooted stil having all that melodic charm.

If only all the album was like these two songs it could be crowned as modern creative jazz masterpiece. Still album's central part loses this highest level of sharpness a bit still staying an excellent example of truly reflective high-class musicians collaboration.

Lasting near an hour,this album's doesn't leave a feeling it's too long or too complex what is quite a common case with improvisational music. The main reason is Rodrigo's ability to make even quite quirky music to sound attractive and accessible (this ability with no doubt is a main reason of success of many his other albums as well).

More relaxed, more experimental and surprisingly enough often more beautiful music than one can find on other better known and more popular Rodrigo Amado albums, it can become a great surprise for Amado's later works fans and with no doubt is a "must have" release for everyone with interest to Portuguese creative jazz.

DONALD BYRD Electric Byrd

Album · 1970 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 2.96 | 6 ratings
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Just as psychedelics had swept through the world of rock-n-roll in the 60s, it also eventually influenced the world of jazz too, albeit a few years later. This mixture of jazz fusion and psychedelia sometimes resulted in some interesting music, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in particular were able to use electronic effects to enhance their early 70s albums, but then there were albums by other artists that were proof that all the electro gizmos in the world could not save mediocre music. In fact, if the artist was leaning too heavily on the electronic effects to save his album, that only made such effects all the more cheezy and annoying, which brings us to Donald Byrd’s unfortunate “Electric Byrd”. The album title alone lets you know that they are hoping the word ‘electric’ will help sell the album.

Donald Byrd came on strong in the late 50s as a rising star in the world of hard bop. He cut records with some of the best, including Quincy Jones, Phil Woods, Herbie Hancock, Pepper Adams and many more. As the earning power of jazz began to dwindle, Byrd spent the rest of his career involved more in RnB, dance, pop and fusion, whatever helped pay the bills. So it came to pass in 1970 that Miles Davis got a huge promotional push from Columbia for his “Bitches Brew” album, and the dollars came rolling in. Not to be outdone, Byrd bought himself an echo machine, plugged in his trumpet and recorded “Electric Byrd“, but he forgot an important step, writing some memorable material that’s worth recording.

The opening track on “Electric Byrd” is probably the best track on the album. Here we have a laid back African groove that sounds like a cross between Sun Ra and Lonnie Liston Smith, and the effects are not too overbearing. It’s the second, and closing track on this side where things go very wrong. Here we have Ron Carter walking the bass over a simple two chord blues vamp. This is the kind of music musicians play late at night when they are too tired to play a real song. Also, walking the bass is a great technique, but it sounds like a total anachronism against all the needless psychedelic effects. In among the ‘go nowhere solo noodling’, some sax player starts shrieking, but it seems more out of boredom and frustration than inspiration. The drummer tries to go into double time, but its too late, the others have nodded off, or just don’t care anymore.

Side two opens with echoed trumpet screams that sound like a direct rip of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”. This track recovers for a bit with a nice Latin melody and groove from Airto, but then someone starts messing with the echo on the electric piano and the rhythm gets swamped with sludgy echo syrup. Closing track, “The Dude”, cans all the effects and goes for a decent funky soul jazz riff in a style that Byrd will be picking up soon after he ditches all the psychedelic crap. Its an okay track, but it seems like an odd fit with the other three cuts, possibly it was originally meant for a different album.

There are some okay moments on here, particularly opener “Estavanico”, but much of the rest of this album is best appreciated as hippie kitsch from an age of not-so-innocent indulgence.

BRAINCHILD Healing Of The Lunatic Owl

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Brass rock came into existence in the late 1960s when it seems free love was getting a lot of unlikely musical genres cuddling up together. While the most famous bands of this hybridization were indubitably Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, there was in reality a huge roster of bands who joined this heavy brass-filled rock frenzy that was in its peak from 1969-72. In the US alone there were several other bands including Aura, Chase, Dreams, The Electric Flag, Gas Mask, The Ides Of March, Lighthouse, Second Coming, The Sons Of Champlin and Ten Wheel Drive. While usually accustomed to exporting musical ideas across the pond, musicians in England had no problem following a trend from afar and several bands emerged on British soil including Colosseum, Galliard, The Greatest Show on Earth, Heaven, If, The Keef Harley Band, Walrus and the London based outfit BRAINCHILD which joined the party fairly early on in 1970 with their only release HEALING OF THE LUNATIC OWL which packs in a heavy brass jazz sound into their catchy well crafted pop melodies but what really sets BRAINCHILD apart from their contemporaries is how they carefully they weaved in progressive rock elements with slight psychedelic overtones.

The band consisted of Harvey Coles (bass, vocals), Bill Edwards (guitar, vocals), Dave Miller (drums), Chris Jennings (organ, piano), Brian Wilshaw (sax, flute), Lloyd Williams (trumpet) and trombone duties shared by Ian Goss and Pat Strachan. While the brass rock sound of the era could vary from heavy brass tinged pop a la Chicago to more funk-jazz band acts such as Cymande, BRAINCHILD delivered mostly accessible rock tunes embellished with the subordinate brass jazz elements. The music is generally upbeat rock oriented with lots of emphasis placed on a beefy groove-based bass line, jazzy guitars all dressed up with the horn section as to smooth it out and create counterpoints to the rhythm structures. While the music is riff based incorporating many different grooves and hooks that are instantly addictive, BRAINCHILD also unleashes progressive rock song structures that not only have long extended periods where musicians can strut their chops but there are also unexpected time signature changes and a tendency to have a Krautrock edge at times. The title track is an example of the side of the band that gravitates towards the Chicago playbook with a bouncy beat, lounge lizard vocal style with the rock music being accompanied by the the jazz elements at times merely adding a layer to the overall sound and at times totally doing their own unique thing. While tracks like these begin it can almost bring a Las Vegas casino show to mind but once the musicians let loose and add the prog touches, it becomes magical.

Despite this band being highly talented and keeping it tight with well constructed songwriting skills, they were and still remain an obscure curiosity from the brass rock band era where the popular groups more than stole the thunder from the competition. While they may have never properly made it, they did succeed in releasing one fantastic album that is one of the earliest examples of how to properly fuse catchy pop / rock with jazz and prog. While i find the music on this one mesmerizing, the one element of this band that keeps it from being an outright masterpiece is the limited vocal skills where i feel the dynamics of the music demand a more talented vox box that can play around a bit more. Perhaps a more prog oriented version of Ella Fitzgerald could have filled this role, but having said that there is nothing inherently bad or incompetent per se with the role of the vocalists, they simply could have stepped it up a level or two and perhaps if a second album were to have emerged that very well could have been the case. As it stands, the sole release from BRAINCHILD is still an excellent slice of pop, rock, blues and swinging jazz smorgasbord with more than enough progressive rock instrumental prowess to impress the most hardened jazz-fusionist. HEALING OF THE LUNATIC OWL is a woefully overlooked and under-appreciated relic from the early jazz-fusion era.

MAL WALDRON Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy : Live At Dreher Paris 1981, The Peak Vol. 2

Boxset / Compilation · 1996 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Second double-CD set, released right after the first one and containing live material,recorded during two last nights of soprano Steve Lacy and pianist Mal Waldron duo gigs at Paris' Dreher. First set is based more on first of three nights recordings and has been released under Steve Lacy name as leader (what is more a marketing trick since first set,released under Lacy's name, contains predominantly Waldron compositions, and second - predominantly Lacy's, in both cases completed with Monk standards)

Bigger part of presented music has been already released on earlier vinyl albums, but them all are real rarities so "The Peak" is with no doubt most accessible possibility to listen duo's legendary concert.

First set's CD contains four well-known Lacy's originals plus three Monk standards (incl. "Epistrophy" - the composition which made Lacy famous at early stage of his career). Second set opens with two Lacy compositions, switches to Waldron's "Hooray For Herby" and closes with three Monk standards.

The year is 1981, and Paris listeners are still enthusiastic listening to tuneful but quite quirky music. Both Lacy and Waldron are known by their love to clear melodies and minimalist touch in combination with deep bluesy roots. So no surprises here - Lacy's vibrato-less soprano sax dominates in most of the time quite often reminding his famous solo soprano concerts. Waldron piano can be heard mostly on the background (in big part because of untoward sound mix) with only better moments when Waldron soloing. Compositions are mostly well-known from other recordings, still here them sound inspired and perfectly played.

Generally often described as best duo release, this set is probably a bit overrated. Obvious Lacy domination (in sound mix and in music generally) too often makes "The Peak" just another Lacy's album, there are more interesting Lacy's solo soprano recordings and better releases as leader with band. Waldron is too often overshadowed here and sounds more as accompanist than a co-leader. Still great evidence coming from early 80s Paris jazz scene and one accessible way to listen two among most significant American expatriate jazz musicians who's career for decades has been related with Europe.


Album · 2000 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 2.79 | 3 ratings
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BILL FRISELL is best known for his role as a jazz guitarist releasing dozens of albums since the early 80s and also incorporating aspects of both American country and folk. He’s also known for the effects he uses to eke out unique sounds of his instruments and one of those musicians who did the whole music college shtick with a large academic padding under his belt.

On his 18th album GHOST TOWN one would be hard-pressed to hear all these creds on board however. On this one we have FRISELL handling all instrumental duties as he strums away on electric and acoustic guitars, a 6-string banjo, bass and some loop effects. This music is slow and twangy with usually one stringed instrument harmonizing with another. It has an old time folk meets country feel from the roots of some early 20th century rural area and the tones of the respective instruments are quite pleasant.

My impression of this album is that it is way too mellow for its own good and that all the tracks start sounding the same after another and what this music reminds me of the most is the kind of soundtrack music that you would hear on one of the PBS documentaries, like the kind of Ken Burns where nice inoffensive music is rolling in the background while a narrator recounts the history of the steam engine or something. Overall i’m left underwhelmed by this one although this would work very well if you want some innocuous soundtrack music for doll making or something.

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