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jazz music reviews (new releases)

XAVI REIJA Resolution

Live album · 2014 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Resolution” is the latest album from virtuoso jazz fusion drummer Xavi Reija, and it finds him making some big changes in his music. Gone are the keyboards and saxophone, as well as the 70s based classic fusion music he was playing that was reminiscent of early Cobham and mid-70s Weather Report. Instead, Reija presents a stripped down band with just avant-funk fusion bassist Bernat Hernandez and noise centered guitarist Dusan Jevtovic on board. The resultant music moves far from the 70s into something that sounds like three creative guys with jazz skills playing a sort of modern noise dub post math rock thing. Jevtovic is an interesting guitarist, he obviously can play some rapid fusion flavored scales if he wants, as he displays for a bit on “Shadow Dance”, but usually he prefers to work with sounds, textures and spare notes that linger. His simple but effective ringing tones may remind some of Nicky Scopelitis, only with more distortion. Hernandez’s playing on here ranges from nimble funk along the lines of Marcus Miller, to heavy distorted dub lines ala Bill Laswell. Sometimes the three together sound like what Sonic Youth would sound like if they had a really good rhythm section, or possibly the noisier side of the Wetton, Bruford, Fripp gang.

For about the first two thirds of this CD the music on here is very strong, modern and creative, but it is a very lengthy CD (equal to a double LP) and towards the end it seems like the music starts to loose some focus and drive. No big deal though, you still get plenty of great cuts. For long time fans of Reija, sure there is a drop-off in “jazz” elements on this one, but on the other hand, its great to hear something that is this new and original. If you are interested in some math/post-rock flavored jams played by guys who have way more creative skills than the type of people who normally play this sort of music, then go grab a copy of “Resolution”.

JOHN HÉBERT Floodstage

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Thinking about modern avant-garde jazz, we usually expect noisy, quirky, atonal, scratchy music - as if to sound listener-friendly is a sign of bad manners. Lousiana-born acoustic bassist John Hebert's third album breaks this rule - fortunately!

"Floodstage" is a piano trio album, mostly acoustic, dark, slow and lazy, rooted in New Orleans traditions. John Hebert is better known as the collaborator on many modern American jazz albums (Uri Caine, Fred Hersch and Mary Halvorson among others). Two of his trio colleagues are established jazz masters: Gerald Cleaver is probably the busiest drummer around New York's "new avant-garde scene", working with Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, Craig Taborn and many others; while French pianist Benoît Delbecq is a fast-rising star, probably the most interesting jazz pianist in the modern Paris jazz scene.

Quite surprisingly for a modern avant-garde jazz album, there are a lot of tunes, moods and soul on "Floodstage". Being a collaborative work of three equal musicians, there is enough space for each trio member. Louisiana atmosphere is surprisingly organically mixed with chamber piano on some songs, it continues with bluesy-rooted fusion like compositions where Delbecq plays vintage analog synth. Tasteful use of prepared piano doesn't destroy American South's atmosphere on quite cinematographic tunes, sounding almost like movie soundtracks.

Can't remember the last time I listened to a whole new album from beginning to end with such pleasure. With no doubt this album is another Clean Feed label success. Recommended - not only for adventurous listeners, but for every jazz fan interested in the best modern releases.

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CECIL TAYLOR Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz)

Live album · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.49 | 3 ratings
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If you had to pick three architects of modern jazz piano, you could just about cover everything with Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor. Despite his phenomenal talent, Taylor may have seemed like the lesser influence at first, as most of his followers were relegated to the avant-garde end of things, but over the years his influence has grown and these days you are liable to hear Taylor type assaults on the piano from guys like Craig Taborn, Jason Moran or others, while they perform with modern fusion and post bop groups.

If you are not familiar with the piano playing of Cecil Taylor, he is one of the most intense musical performers ever, jazz or otherwise. His music is relentlessly energetic, full of jarring dissonances and unbelievable flurries of atonal notes unleashed at super human speed. Although his music may seem like noise to some, to the fan of avant-garde composition, there is an incredible logic and flow to Taylor’s music. I use the term “composition” on purpose, because although there is much improvisation in his music, the overall effect is more similar to an avant-garde concert hall piece, rather than a ‘free jazz’ workout. Taylor’s music does tend to get grouped with the free jazz crowd, and he has performed in free settings with others, but on his own, Cecil’s ability to logically assemble ideas comes through just as much as the force and volume.

“Silent Tongues” is a live recording that captures Taylor at his best, playing solo. Along with the constant antonality, you can sometimes hear bits of familiar music, blues riffs chopped to pieces or flowery classical romanticism gone berserk. It seems Taylor tries to avoid the ‘modernisms’ of the Evans/Tyner sound and draws more from early jazz piano players from Jelly Roll and Eubie Blake up to Art Tatum. Sometimes I feel like I’m listening to ragtime run through a blender. Some might try to draw comparisons between Taylor and the piano work of Sun Ra, but I’m sure those two were well aware of each other and managed to stay somewhat polar opposites within the avant-garde realm, ha. The one thing that is hard to describe though, is these certain moments where Taylor draws so much thunder and lightning out of the piano, you find it hard to believe one human can do this. If you are fan of modern music, you will want to pick up “Silent Tongues”. Cecil Taylor’s piano playing is a miracle.

WILLIAM PARKER Painter's Spring

Album · 2000 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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New York acoustic bassist William Parker started his musical career in jazz as far back as the early 70s, collaborating with Don Cherry and, more notably, Cecil Taylor. Still, it was already the 90s when he became one of the main figures in the down town avant-garde jazz scene, experiencing hard times once again - this time being deeply in the shade of fashionable-again mainstream jazz.

A prolific leader and collaborator, he became a real star (and probably the leading acoustic bassist on the avant-garde jazz scene) only in the first decade of the new century. Being very physical and muscular, his bass usually sounds tuneful and even lyrical, which is what often makes his music attractive for a wide audience.

With busy drummer Hamid Drake, William Parker played together in one of the most successful Peter Brotzmann projects from the 90s, Die Like a Dog (initially born as an Albert Ayler tribute project). Now, as a trio with the lesser known reedist Daniel Carter, they have recorded a collection of muscular but tuneful, almost catchy compositions, "Painter's Spring", quite straight (by William's standards). All but two of the songs are William's originals, and they all generally sound like a mosaic of paintings (it's a rare case where the album's title means a lot). There is no obvious leader and the music is a product of equal collaboration between all three musicians.

With all of its accessibility and beauty, this album is probably the best entrance to the usually more complex and quirky, but always colorful world of Parker's music.

TOMMY PELTIER'S JAZZ CORPS The Jazz Corps (Featuring Roland Kirk)

Album · 1967 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The general cliché about west coast jazz was that everyone sounded like Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan doing their ‘cool’ thing, and certainly folks on the left coast tended to play with a more relaxed feel, but the west coast was also very open to new ideas (Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry were far more welcome in LA than NYC) as well as influences from around the world, particularly Asia and Latin America. Its within this air of openess that we get this great jam featuring Tommy Peltier’s Jazz Corps and their special guest, the always brilliant Roland T. Kirk ( apparently not yet named Rahsaan at this point).

Peltier and his Corps were an ongoing local staple at the famous Lighthouse jams in Hermosa Beach CA. Often Tommy and his group would open for various headliners such as Cannonball Adderly and Yusef Lateef, which would give the Corps an opportunity to rub shoulders with the greats. I would imagine this is how they were able to secure a recording date with Kirk on board. The resultant album, “The Jazz Corps featuring Roland Kirk” would have been a solid recording even without Kirk, but having Roland on board helps raise things a notch or two. Not only does Roland bring his spectacular solo skills to the mix, but having an extra multi-horn man on board gives the Corps six pieces, including a three horn front line, which helps the band create fresh tone colors to make each tune unique. This is most apparent on the modern ballad, “Serenity”, where two flutes combine with a muted trumpet for a sound all their own.

The lengthy modal improvisations from India known as ragas had a strong influence on west coast jazz in the 60s as many an artist took up a beatnik flavored take on the raga sound with long jams that used one scale or mode, rather than chord changes, for soloists to work with. This modal approach to jamming runs all through “The Jazz Corps” , with an influx of Latin rhythms on many tunes adding even more of a west coast style international mix. Add to all that, this mini big-band ensemble’s use of interesting tone colors and their ability to weave more than one melodic line at once with improvised arrangements and you have a very imaginative record that holds up well to repeat listens.

As mentioned earlier, many of the tunes on here have a relaxed approach, but towards the end of side two the band’s expressed interest in the music of Ornette and Don Cherry kicks in and they move outside during a high energy ride called “Meanwhile”. This cut features Kirk’s most intense solo on the album, a furious assault on the stritch, a sax/clarinet hybrid from the early days of jazz. Overall this is a great album, very unique and featuring a sort of intricate sensitivity and creativity that will soon disappear from jazz for a while, bludgeoned by the heavy-handed conformity of the fusion fad.

YUSEF LATEEF The Blue Yusef Lateef

Album · 1968 · Jazz Related Blues
Cover art 4.27 | 4 ratings
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Sean Trane
Yusef’s generally most acknowledged second half of the 60’s album, The Blue Yusef, indeed the album has some credential at being among his better works in a very prolific career, though some jazz purists would probably beg to differ. As you’ll guess by the title, the album features much blues, a good deal of it being 12 bars, and a rarer 16 bars one, which sounds more mysterious. This could Ysef’s first album for Ahmet Ertegun’s Attlantic label (coming after from his impulse period), as well.

Opening on the bluesy Juba, Yusef brings immediate depth by mixing harmonica (courtesy of Buddy Lucas) and highly evocative from The Sweet Inspirations. The following 8-mins Like It Is has a highly haunting melody, first opening on an enchanted flute, then segueing in a delightful sax, then the underlying Lawson piano unleashes and a string quartet concludes in a masterful way. The exotic sounding (I’d say far-east, mixed with south-eastern Asia roots) Moon Cup is based on Phrygian scales, and it’s probably the least accessible track on the album. Othelia is a rather standard boogie blues with little interest, unlike the train-like rhythms of Back Home, where the harmonica returns, along some demented sax and percussions. Get Over and the rest of the flipside are different versions of blues. Not really YL’s most representative album, but the first and third tracks are among my faves of his.

YUSEF LATEEF Autophysiopsychic

Album · 1977 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.80 | 4 ratings
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Sean Trane
By the later half of the 70’s, most 50’s and 60’s jazz artistes that wanted to survive had to go commercial and do albums that were into soul-jazz or jazz-funk, and one had to wonder how willingly they did so. Certainly YL’s APP was a border case, despite Yusef writing four of the five tracks on the present album, the last one being by producer Matthews – probably an arrangement between him and YL, because of the heavy arrangements on that track and others on the album. This could’ve also been a CTI album (actually it is one, but via the Epic label), as it was produced by Creed Taylor and Eric Gale plays guitar, but don’t expect the soft jazz fusion of the earlier CTI albums: we’re rather dealing with a solid funk album, but the main solo instrument is Art Farmer’s flugelhorn - he gets a special mention on the album’s sleeve. This writer is not particularly familiar with the other musicians on the album, but one would assume that they’re pure funk people: certain bassist Gary King and drummer Madison (the CD booklet surprisingly also mentions Steve Gadd) sound like it’s their main background.

Recorded at Hendrix’ old studio Electric Lady in October 77, the album is definitely more of a funk album with slight jazz overtones - mostly the wind instruments (Yussef’s sax and flute and Farmer’s horns) - and there are plenty of vocals (mainly Yussef’s, apparently. To be honest, while this album may attract your curiosity through a promise of adventurous musical escapades, I find it very repetitive (and weak in terms of lyrics) and relatively shallow; but then again leter-70’s funk albums with an eye onto the disco scene tend to be that way. Does this mean that this is a bad album? Most likely, this is an excellent pure funk album, but if you’re expecting the usual YL albums, you could be in for a solid disappointment. The relatively lengthy songs are just straightforward funk with little deviance from the groove installed and boring lyrics repeated endlessly (“say in touch with your mind” ) and only the (very good) quality of the wind instrument solos to really present interest. Only the YL song present more interest (IMHO, of course) with its slightly different sonics (the arrangements), but even then, it remains very funky.

The album’s title is reminiscent of his Psychicemotus he’d recorded for the Impulse label back in 65, but there aren’t any sonic links between the two. Given YL’s prolific discography and the wide sonic variety he indulged in, this APP release might just be one of his most WTF release, and you might want to approach it carefully, despite the luscious 70’s sounds and production values. Clearly looking for a direction he would feel comfortable with, this was to be the second last album he’d release for a few years, the next one coming in the mid-80’s.

KORLA PANDIT The Universal Language Of Music, Volume 1

Album · 1954 · Exotica
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Our review today involves a talented young African-American jazz pianist from the US south who decided to boost his fledgling career by fabricating for himself a far away exotic birthplace, and an equally exotic new name and attire to go with that alleged birthplace. Now you may be thinking this must be Sonny Blount aka Sun Ra, but instead it is the lesser known John Roland Redd, otherwise known as Korla Pandit from ‘New Delhi‘. Redd was a promising young piano player who was actually from Hannibal Missouri before he decided to move to Los Angelas, first re-naming himself Juan Rolando, and then settling on becoming Korla Pandit, an ‘Indian’ man complete with jeweled turban and all. In the early 50s, Pandit would appear on TV in LA playing a mix of classical excerpts, jazz standards and exotic originals on the Hammond organ while staring directly at the camera without saying a word. For the US in the early 50s, this was unique to say the least. Some credit Pandit with being the creator of the strange genre that became known as exotica and certainly his records, along with the first records by Les Baxter, are some of the earliest recordings in this style.

“The Universal Language of Music Volume 1” is typical of an early Pandit record as it contains some classical excerpts (Clare de Lune" etc), a couple standards ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow" etc) and a few supposed “Indian” tunes composed by Pandit. The alleged Indian tunes don’t sound much like music from India, but more like cheezy belly dancing music from a 50s LA nightclub. Korla often accompanies these exotic melodies by playing the lower keyboard on the Hammond with an open palm producing a sort of electronic bongo drum beat. No matter what Pandit plays, he provides the sort of melodramatic swoops and swells that were common to lounge organ players during that time period. In between the tunes, an unidentified dramatic voice recites corny poetry and trite stories that pre-date new age snake oil 'gurus'.

Getting back to our Sun Ra comparison, I would not be surprised if Sonny pulled some influence from Pandit. For example, on the track “Stormy Weather”, Korla precedes the tune with his idea of a chaotic storm on the keyboard with lots swelling dissonant chords, its avant-garde music gone dramatically cornball and its just humorously excessive enough to sound like Ra himself.

I am sure you have already determined that this record is not for everyone, even some exotica fans may be disappointed in the murky recorded sound, but to some collectors of odd music, that murky sound can only add to this record’s strange appeal. No doubt Pandit’s playing is not a joke, he was an extremely talented performer who could have played whatever he wanted, he’s just one of those quirky individuals who took the path less traveled.


Album · 2012 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Samuel Yirga is a young Ethiopian pianist (perhaps known to fans of ‘Dub Colossus’), whose playing seems most influenced by Jarrett, but whose compositions very much reflect a ‘world’ feel. There’s a mix of Latin, Jazz, Classical and traditional Ethiopian pieces here, but with a fairly slick production, which seems a feature of label Real World.

‘Guzo’ sometimes bring Mulatu Astatke to mind (‘Tiwista’) and can be a very rhythmic album, with tracks like ‘My Head’, ‘Abet Abet’ or the fantastic cover of ‘I Am the Black Gold of the Sun’ bringing a lot of percussion into play. Samuel also has three beautiful solo pieces on the album – my favourite being the haunting ‘Ye Bati Koyita.’

His debut also features some great guest vocal performances, the ‘Blues of Wollo’ featuring the moody wails of Genet Masresha being a real standout. The album has been pretty rewarding over repeated listens and I’m looking forward to hearing whatever’s next for Samuel Yirga.

ARCHIE SHEPP Down Home New York

Album · 1984 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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After a series of mainstream recordings, Archie Shepp changed things up during the late 70s-early 80s with "Down Home New York", a great stand alone album returning more freedom to Shepp's sound.

Released on the Italian Soul Note label, 'Down Home' opens with a ten minutes long modern r'n'b influenced title song, full of energy and pulsating rhythms, openly recalling street-wise hip-hop atmosphere of the time. This Shepp original includes all the band's member's vocals, most probably this song became a reason for negative critical reaction on this album. Some critics obviously were still waiting for Shepp's return to his non-conformist free-jazz of the late 60s, or at least another comfortable hard bop album. Shepp did the unexpected step instead - releasing an album that mixes spiritual jazz, r'n'b and free-bop (which is not really all that far from what he's playing most recently). Anyway, his open eared fans received this album with big respect, and it is now known as Shepp's best work coming from the 80s.

After the title song, Shepp plays thye soulful standard, "Round About Midnight", spiced with freer soloing. After bassist Saheb Sarbib's original "May 16th", and the free-bopish and bluesy "The 4th World", Shepp closes the album with a straight take on Coltrane's "Straight Street". All the musicians are great here, particularly the very physical bassist Saheb Sarbib, and piano player Kenny Werner. Shepp himself is in great form and this release in whole represents one of these rare excellent inspired albums coming from the 80s. Its just a pity it's so short!

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