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MARK WINGFIELD Proof of Light

Album · 2015 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.33 | 2 ratings
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memowakeman
For the last couple of years I’ve been introduced to the Moonjune Records catalogue, which features amazing musicians & bands from around the world whose music offers high quality in the jazz / rock / experimental scene; music that without a doubt, should expand horizons. One of the latest artists I was introduced to is Mark Wingfield, who in 2014 recorded and released “Proof of Light”, a 9-track album in which Wingfield shares credits with Yaron Stavi on bass, and Asaf Sirkis on drums.

The album opens with “Mars Shaffron”, which shows a nice jazz rock (rockier than jazzier) where guitars put a kind of heavy sound which is complemented by drums and bass. After a minute, the music slows down a bit and now the jazz side is much more evident, Wingfield’s guitar now produces endless different notes, but I can’t say it is a solo, no, it simply gives power to the guitar and let it guide us. I like a lot the use of keyboards as background, and the great bass base during the whole track. All of a sudden, the second song entitled “Restless Mountain” begins. The mood seems to be alike the opener, but in moments it explodes and for a split second becomes heavier and faster, however, it always returns to a mid-tempo rhythm where guitar stands out. In moments, drums also explode and give us entertaining passages.

I am not sure if this might enter into the fusion realm, I would say no, I would describe it more like experimental jazz, maybe avant-garde where guitars are the main act, but are wonderfully complemented by bass, drums and keyboards. Honestly, it took me at least three listens to dig the album and found its pure beauty, which can be perceived in “The Way to Etretat”, a beautiful 7-minute song. It is a melodic tune, quite dreamy in moments, where bass delights us with a solo while drums are constant and in the right place.

The names of Allan Holdsworth or John Abercrombie might come to your head in some moments, I think Wingfield’s guitar sound has some reminiscences of those legendary guitar players, though of course, Mark produces his own and particular style. “A Conversation we Had” is the next track. Let me tell you that the album itself is like “a conversation”, because the style is pretty similar in all the songs, of course there are highs and lows, there are changes, but it has a unique essence; it is like having a 53-minute conversation with Mark Wingfield.

What I cannot deny, is that my enthusiasm towards that conversation was not in the same level during those 53 minutes; there were moments where I felt a bit bored (sorry, I can’t lie) and was expecting a surprise, something really different to light me up. “A Thousand Faces” is the shortest track, here the guitar makes constant soft changes, but in the end, I could not find the thousand faces after all.

On the other hand, “Voltaic” is the longest composition, the most powerful and my favorite of the album. Since the very first second we listen to an explosive sound, heavier tunes, fast moments, dramatic turbulences covered by a sensual jazz atmosphere. After a minute, it slows down, the wind blows and a kind of tense and doubting passage appears. I am not sure if this was an improvisation or a true composition, because the musicians seem to be free, seem to be enjoying their brief craziness. “Summer’s Night Story” has a juicy in moments delicious sound, but I sometimes feel Wingfield and the guys could add more power to the music, which is gentle and soft, but lacks of a persuasive element that make you feel caught and with no exit. I mean, it is not difficult to be distracted by another non-album sound, it is not difficult to skip the song, and it is too difficult to remember it.

Of course, this album and its songs are not memorable song, I think that is not the aim, but I would have loved to find that element that made me think of it as a unique release, as a work or art. “Koromo’s Tale” is a soft piece that starts with bass playing the main role, while drums and guitars produced softer sounds. Despite the bass is what most caught my attention here, it is evident that Wingfiled’s guitar is the official album’s guide. Finally, “Proof of Light” is another great song, one of the two or three I really loved. It is evident that to my likes, I prefer more the faster-heavier-rockier moments, and this last song is one of them.

A very good album, it is something different, nothing to do with the regular jazz album, which is great because it means the artist has something diverse to tell; however, I am not a devoted, and can’t qualify this album as a memorable one.

Enjoy it!

OLIVER LAKE Oliver Lake / William Parker : To Roy

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Sax player Oliver Lake and bassist William Parker are two of a few still active 70s New York lofts' jazz musicians,true living legends. Here on "To Roy" (album dedicated to trumpeter Roy Campbell,passed away in 2014)them two are recorded together in studio for the first time ever. Even if drumless/pianoless duo isn't a conventional format,music presented is really full-bodied and quite accessible.

Both Lake and Parker represent same former lofters wing - their music has been always well structured,post-bop rooted with great balance between composed and improvised.Here on "To Roy" even quite minimalist acoustic bass/sax duo surprisingly offers lot of melodies and memorable tunes. From very first sounds one can hear that characteristic Lake soulful sax soloing and memorable Parker's vertical bass constructions.

As on many other both musicians' most successful recordings main secret is same on this album - they never let listener to stay bored even for a moment. On a composition which flows like well-cooked song with memorable tune right when one doesn't expect any surprises they add free solo,often quite explosive. What starts as free form improvisation still before you will start loosing your attention switches to beautiful sentimental melody with almost straight rhythm. Eleven members originals take 50 minutes - again not too much to become annoying. Nothing strange though - both Lake and Parker are known as masters of making even quirkiest improvisational music attractive.

Not the album for newcomers - better start form every artist's album where they play with larger band, but really great release for those who already know and love their music.

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MAL WALDRON Tokyo Reverie

Album · 1970 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
In early 1970 American pianist,already residing in Europe for some time,on the basis of his released album has been invited to visit Japan (by local Swing Journal company). On his first ever Japanese tour Mal spent two days (February 7 & 12) in studio in Tokyo where recorded some material.

Four songs,recorded by trio with domestic double bassist and drummer were soon after released as "Tokyo Bound" album. Eight compositions,recorded solo, has been released later same year as "Tokyo Reverie". Both albums didn't attract lot of attention but opened for Mal Japanese scene. He returned for next Japanese tour already next year and very soon became well known and popular pianist on Japanese mainstream scene.

When "Tokyo Bound" has been reissued few times including CD edition (in 1990), "Tokyo Reverie"'s first issue became its last. No surprise that even many Waldron fans don't know it exists.

Speaking about music, "Tokyo Reverie" contains eight Waldron originals, mostly all up-tempo rhythmic post-bop pieces, quite unmemorable. The only exception is album's closer "Blood And Guts" which stays in Mal's repertoire for decades ahead.

On "...Reverie" Waldron plays in his almost in full adopted technique of repetitive beats and rhythm domination against virtuosity,complexity and soloing. This his formula as rule perfectly works when used with trio or bigger combo, but for piano solo album (especially on not all that strong material)its limitations are obvious.No surprise this album has bigger value for completionists than for music lovers. One still can find original Japanese vinyl in European auctions at as much price as 30 euro.

Interesting evidence of Waldron's early career in Japan,no any reasons to pay fortune though.

QUINCY JONES The Great Wide World Of Quincy Jones: Live!

Live album · 1984 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
“The Great Wide World of Quincy Jones Live” is a recording of Jones’ big band live on tour in Zurich Switzerland on March 10, 1961, but it was not released until the mid-80s. This is one of Jones’ last recordings as a full-time jazz musician and big band leader, soon the world of studio music will take him to more lucrative fields. The band on here is based on Quincy’s previous studio album, “The Great Wide World of Quincy Jones”, but there are a few different performers and an almost entirely new set of tunes. This was Quincy’s second big band tour of Europe, having just completed a fairly difficult tour the previous year.

Despite Quincy’s sometimes leanings towards pop, this album is pure jazz from start to finish, and it is smoking hot all the way through. Quincy has a great band on here, featuring Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Phil Woods and Bud Johnson on saxes and Curtis Fuller on trombone and many more greats. The ensemble work is super tight and the solos are intense. The recorded sound of this live concert does not have all the bright sparkling colors of Jones’ studio albums, but it replaces all that finesse with sheer energy and passionate performances.

There’s lots of great tunes on here, “Air Mail Special” is always played fast, but never before like this, the high speed ensemble horn lines on here will raise the hair on your neck, turn it up loud! Elsewhere, both “Banja Luka” and “Stolen Moments” are lengthy hard bop/blues jams with lots of solos. Phil Woods shines as always on the beautiful ballad, “Bess You is My Woman Now”. Overall, this is an excellent big band album with a decent, but not remarkable recorded sound. Quincy’s legacy as a big band leader has almost been forgotten, overshadowed by his work in movies and pop, but this album is proof that Quincy’s short lived band ranked up there with the best.

MAL WALDRON Spanish Bitch

Album · 1970 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.74 | 4 ratings
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snobb
Almost a year after his first session for German ECM label,pianist Mal Waldron returned back to same Tonstudio Bauern in Ludwigsburg to record what should become his second album for ECM. Same trio format (with his regular Swiss bassist Isla Eckinger but new drummer Fred Braceful (as well American,based in Germany) instead of Clarence Becton), same musical concept - tight groovy tuneful compositions with some free solo insertions for bassist and drummer. As on Mal's ECM debut these insertions don't sound organic and are more tribute to free jazz fashion of the moment though.

Opener "Spanish Bitch" doesn't offer memorable tune and stays in memory more as not too successful combination between groovy trio's main theme and quite directionless (and long) bassist soloing. Second (and the last on side A)album's song is surprisingly "Eleanor Rigby". Released originally by "The Beatles" four years ago this composition still was one of most popular song around, trio makes it sound almost as r'n'b hit.

Side B opener,"Black Chant" is no-nonsense and more complex composition, here freer improvisation sounds much more organic and all trio play as one (quite heavyweight and rock-oriented drumming is probably again contribution to time's fashion and more a question of taste). Here one can find Waldron future music influences in transitional form."Black Chant" lasts more than ten minutes,some years later Mal will develop formula "one song per LP side" with tight tuneful compositions, sounding around twenty minutes each, two per album.

Fourth and last album song,"All That Funk",is up-tempo and really funky. Bassist Isla Eckinger got possibility to demonstrate his heavier (almost shredding) side on quite organically arranged soloing.In all, side B is less eclectic and works better,that side A on this release.

Surprisingly enough this material,initially recorded by ECM for their planned release,still same year has been released in Japan on Globe and never became ECM own album.

Not the best Mal Waldron release, it demonstrates well (together with ECM debut "Free At Last") musician's late 60s-early 70s musical priorities. Waldron is just one step to his favorite sound which he will demonstrate in full already after year or two and will continue playing in fact up to his death.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS Animals As Leaders

Album · 2009 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
The brainchild of founder Tosin Abasi from Washington DC, the all instrumental jazz-fusion meets djent project ANIMALS AS LEADERS is more or less his baby although the band tours and presents itself as a full-fledged musical collaboration. This creative outlet began with Abasi’s involvement as the guitarist in the tech metal core band Reflux. After the band ceased to be, Abasi was approached by the metal record label Prosthetic Records who were majorly impressed with his chops and wanted him to record a solo album but Abasi declined feeling the idea was self-indulgent and instead he took a year off to study music in an academic setting to further his growing interest in jazz, classical guitar and composition. After he finished his homework he took Prosthetic up on their offer and then proceeded to let it all rip and roar. He chose the name ANIMALS AS LEADERS after reading the novel “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn which dealt with the subject of anthropocentrism.

In 2009 Tosin released his first album playing his eight-string guitar and bass as well as co-producing with his partner in crime Misha Mansoor who handled engineering, drum programming and mixing. This album got a lot of praise when it came out due to its challenging virtuosic performances that add a lot of variety and spice to the often impressive but sterile compositions that many a virtuoso can dish out. A child of his time, Abasi pretty much handled all the duties formerly requiring an army of talents to accomplish and if he had been ten to twenty years older he could have easily fit in on the Shrapnel Records label that ushered in all kinds of young talented virtuoso guitarists to the world. Some of those artists like Tony MacAlpine and Greg Howe seem like antecedent influences to Abasi’s work, but i also hear some Pat Metheny in some of the lighter fluffier pieces, some mid-tempo ones bringing Allan Holdsworth and even Shawn Lane to mind and of course, the undeniable palm-muted technique of djent tech thrashers Meshuggah in the metallic edge that many of these tracks dish out.

While the influences on board are plenty, what i find refreshing about the debut album by ANIMALS AS LEADERS is how some fresh new takes on these techy fusion guitar jams play out. While the album is clearly created to show off Abasi’s technical wizardry, he was prescient enough to know that wizardry alone for wizardry’s sake had been played out and that extra oomph was needed to guarantee a pleasant listening experience. Well, pleasant this is indeed with lots of chops to excite my hunger for lightning fast guitar runs configured with insanely fast and unpredictable progressive time signatures alternating between quiet cozy numbers and rowdy rockers that unleash monster riffage and extreme bass frenetics.

My only complaint is that this album may be a tad too long for its intensity and contains a couple tracks that seem a little redundant but overall i find this to be a beautifully constructed modern day jazz-fusion guitar and bass extravaganza with beautiful atmosphere, crystal clear production and a musical passion that keeps the quality sizzling. OK, one more complaint. I wish there would have been a real drummer. While the programmed drumming is far from unpleasant or bad in any way, it really is no proper substitute for a talented jazz-fusion drummer who can really bring out the best in a band like classic Bill Bruford did in Yes. Excellent album but not quite a classic.

MAL WALDRON Free At Last

Album · 1970 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.48 | 2 ratings
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snobb
Pianist Mal Waldron made his name as Billie Holiday accompanist till her last days, his solo albums in late 50s were all well-made but not virtuosic hard bop. He played with Charles Mingus,recorded "The Quest" with Eric Dolphy - Mal's most significant work of that period and nearly died from a heroin overdose. After long months of rehabilitation in hospital Mal relocated to Europe, where during followed years made strong reputation as one of most respectable American jazz expatriate.

Being always hard-bop rooted, during late 60s-early 70s he evidenced free-jazz influences, "Free At Last" titled album is one of such examples. Being historically more significant as very first release of just founded German ECM label (still without traces of what later will be widely known as "ECM sound"), this album contains Waldron transitional music recorded with acoustic trio (Swiss drummer Isla Eckinger plus another American Clarence Becton on drums).

Being quite free (at least by Maldron standard) this album contains five Mal originals plus ballad "Willow Weep For Me". Mostly up-tempo groovy music includes some longish bassist soloing,but Waldron piano even if a bit freer than usual demonstrates early stage of what later will become his signature style - uncomplicated beat in combination with drone and tuneful non-virtuosic not-too-fast playing.

Album's compositions are still far not so memorable as Waldron later works and rhythm section is all but "free at last" (not Waldron himself is to be honest as well). Mostly interesting as Mal's early step on what very soon will become his visit card, this album is still quite pleasant and far not boring. For ECM collectors original version is a Holy Grail, fortunately reissued on CD by ECM in early 90s(and once again in Japan - in 2014).

CREATIVE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY Creative Construction Company

Live album · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Although “Creative Construction Company” did not come out until the mid-70s, this is actually a recording of a concert in May 1970. Also, even though this is the first album to bear the name of the group, this is actually a continuation of the same group Anthony Braxton led on his first two albums, only its a slightly larger ensemble this time around. This is an all-star group, with the core trio of Braxton, Leo Smith and LeRoy Jenkins augmented with Muhal Richard Abrams, Steve Davis and Steve McCall. Some critics think that adding a rhythm section to the original trio destroyed some of their more sensitive interplay, and this may be true, but really what is recorded here is just a different type of music than the original trio, but not necessarily worse.

Along with The Art Ensemble of Chicago and others within Chicago’s AACM, the CCC presented a new style of free jazz improvisation. Unlike the more emotive and solo based excursions of the NYC crowd, the new Chicago scene favored group interplay and building ensemble tone colors instead of incendiary solos. This album represents this new style well with a fascinating 36 minute excursion that winds its way through many different textures and distinct sections. LeRoy Jenkins is credited with being the composer, and there does seem to be some sort of loose leadership to point the way from one section to the next.

Several of the musicians on here can play more than one instrument, which adds to all the tone colors available to them as they navigate from quiet string duos, to noise makers and percussion, to shrieking horns and pounding drums. All of this music has a nice flow to it, as if there was a conducted beat as in a concert hall piece. Overall an excellent album and a notch above much of the other avant-garde jazz albums of the time.

TERUMASA HINO Alone Together

Album · 1970 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
One of the leading Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino (often titled "Japanese Miles Davis")differently from many co-patriots started his musical career not from short-lived but extremely popular free-jazz of late 60s.His first recordings were all hard bop (including album release in US in 1968 - quite a rare case for the time). In early 70s his music became heavily influenced by Miles Davis first fusion works.

"Alone Together" is one of Terumasa's five studio albums, released in 1970 (very successful year for Hino). Three long compositions (between nine and almost eighteen minutes long)represent very eclectic proto-fusion, kind of Davis "Miles In The Sky", but freer and more kaleidoscopic version.

If Miles genres evolution often being revolutionary has strong systematic logic, Terumasa's music here sounds more like chaotic bag full of colored glasses. Bassist Richard Davis (who played on Dolphy's "Out To Lunch!")is deeply hard-bop rooted musician who doesn't afraid playing free though. Pianist Harold Mabern is more comfortable with post-bop or even soul jazz, sax player Steve Grossman is Miles Davis fusion band's musician of the time. Terumasa's brother Motohiko Hino,who is generally great drummer,on this album is another destructive factor,blasting heavy rock-influenced strokes as he would be a God of thunder. This far not subtle drumming is stated in a front of sound mix what is most probably a fashion of the day but it often destroys initial beauty of musical pieces.

Changing styles from fusion to hard-bop to free to post-bop and closing fusion again on same long composition doesn't work all that well. Separate few minutes parts are often quite great if not too original, but chaotic travel over the genres builds potpourri-like feeling in moments. It should be noticed that Terumasa playing itself is quite great, he's less passionate trumpeter than Davis,but freer what let him find his own accents. Still all band of skilled but too different musicians where almost each member sees his mission a bit different from the rest of team, sounds undirected. Still enthusiastic atmosphere of that time and Terumasa's strong playing save music from being uninteresting or boring.

After few months Terumasa Hino will step to his next, even more adventurous period, playing freer and more advanced music, "Alone Together" stays his transitional work still interesting for his fans and probably for listeners who enjoy Japanese jazz from early 70s.

THELONIOUS MONK Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington

Album · 1956 · Bop
Cover art 4.07 | 3 ratings
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js
“Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington” is an album that comes early in Monk’s career. He had started out at the Prestige label, where he recorded a handful of albums that featured his original compositions that were on the cutting edge of modern be-bop. These albums did not sell well as many jazz fans felt Monk’s music was too ‘difficult’, and sometimes downright foreboding. Frustrations with Prestige finally reached a head and Monk was let go, which is when upstart label Riverside entered the picture. Eager to have a known artist on their roster, Riverside gladly took on Monk and began advising him on how to expand his audience. The whole idea behind ‘Monk Plays Ellington’ was to have Monk record some familiar tunes by a well known master, and then possibly a wider audience may come to appreciate him.

Many hardcore Monk fans are dismissive of ‘Plays Ellington’, and consider it somewhat of a commercial sellout with less than top notch playing. This harsh evaluation is hardly true, although this is not one of Monk’s more outside albums, he hardly plays it safe or checks his creativity at the door. Instead these tunes carry all the trademarks of Monk’s playing; the weird rhythmic juxtapositions, the jagged phrasing and the surprise note choices, its all here, plus Ellington too. Choosing Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clark as his backup also shows that Monk was striving for more credibility and acceptance by picking two of the top and best known performers of that time. Pettiford gets a couple short solos, and also engages in some interesting interplay with Thelonious.

Monk’s playing easily fits with Ellington’s music, as they both come from this sophisticated and abstract blues perspective. Monk’s playing on here may seem somewhat restrained compared to some of his other albums, but I doubt that was due to a lack of creativity or commercial concerns, instead it seems that Monk doesn’t want to take all the ‘Ellington’ out of the music and make it too much of a Monk joint. His perceived restraint probably has more to do with Monk’s integrity and artistic respect than anything else.

Monk does not perform any major transformations on any of these tunes, probably the only noticeable change comes when “Mood Indigo” is played like a blues, instead of the languid lounge number it usually is. Possibly top tune honors could go to “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart’ , which is given a joyous romp with a dissonant solo, and ends up sounding a bit like Monk’s “Let’s Cool One”. Also memorable are “Black and Tan Fantasy” and Monk’s moving solo work on “Solitude”. Overall this is a good album, but possibly more interesting to Ellington fans than Monk fans.

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