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XAVI REIJA Resolution

Live album · 2014 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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kev rowland
Xavi is recognized as being one of Spain’s top jazz drummers, and over the last fifteen years has built his reputation by working with artists such Steve Hogarth (Marillion), Gary Willis (Tribal Tech), Monica Green (The Supremes), Caco Senante, O 'Funk'illo and Pep Sala Joaquin Calderon. But he has also been working on his own bands, releasing ‘Two Sides’ with DX Project, two albums with the Xavi Reija Electric Quintet as well as trimming that down to the Xavi Reija Electric Trio who prior to this had released a DVD. Now he is back, again in a trio environment, with Bernat Hernández on bass, and Dušan Jevtović on guitars. Bernat also played with Dušan on the latter’s album ‘Am I Walking Wrong’ which was released last year.

When I first started listening to jazz as a child, it was bands led by drummers that I became most interested in, and the very first jazz album I ever bought with my own money was by Gene Krupa. There is something about music being geared towards the complexity and freedom that comes from a powerhouse at the back that really lifts the overall, and if you normally listen to metal then you would have to agree that Testament’s recent stunning live opus just wouldn’t be half as dynamic if Gene Hoglan wasn’t behind the kit. Only four of these compositions are group numbers, with the other seven all scored by Xavi, but the common theme throughout is the sheer amount of space that these guys have given themselves to work with. That they are all stunning musicians are never in doubt, but they know the importance of simplicity as well as complexity, and know the right time to deliver what is required, with fuzzed distortion adding to the overall sound.

The three musicians work off each other, and the result is an avant garde album that combines improvisation with funk and melody, distortion and feedback with clean struck notes, polyrhythmic sounds with simple timekeeping, so much so that the listener never really knows what is coming next. A very strong production tops off yet another incredibly strong release from the Moonjune label. www.moonjune.com


Album · 2013 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Sean Trane
As with his predecessor Wind, Maalouf decides to continue to explore away from his trad Arab-jazz music he had developed on his first three “Dia” album (Diaspora, Diagnostics and Diawhatever), and indeed Illusions is yet another totally different departure from his “usual stuff”. If his preceding Wind album was a mix of trad jazz and fusion, Illusions is a much rockier affair, somewhere between JR/F and progressive rock and even nearing metal music at times. Recorded in the greater Paris, with a mix of French and Belgiabn musicians ‘Woeste and Delporte) and a trio of trumpet players to accompany his flugelhorn, Ibrahim chose once more for vintage instruments in the KB department. Released under the same kind of single-disc boxset as Wind had been, with a bunch of photos, lengthy liner bilingual notes that don’t reallt shed much light on the compositions (IMHO, of course) and a “digibook” casing inside (with that foam stud in the middle, one can only wonder at the utility of these extra costly features, despite the excellence of the album.

Opening on an almost Post-rock title-track piece with the usual gradual build-up crescendo, it segues directly in the wild and dramatic 8-mins+ Conspiracy Generation, where the fantastic trumpets add plenty of suspense and intensity behind Delporte’s wild electric rock guitar. You could almost believe this was a modern progressive rock album, with constant tempo changes, tricky time sigs, plenty of moods developed. Breathtaking if you’re a rock fan, probably not nearly as much if you’re a jazz-buff and early Maalouf discography addict. The following InPressi enters a trilogy of tracks where three or four ideas are exploited multiple times, mixed, shredded, torn apart and glued back for utmost excitement (and a few goosebumps along the way): the joyful and exuberant call & response between Maalouf and the trumpet section, the three descending notes, and more.

Nomade (No Man’s Land) Slang reprises the theme and takes it to yet another level of excitement and jubilation, only to end inexpectedly calmly… But despair not, because the following 10-mins+ Busy composition exploits the three descending notes again and hovers solemnly around for a while, slowly crescendoing into the chaotic dissonance halfway through, then reverting to the slow start thing. You can clearly hear Maalouf’s “Arabitude” in his interventions, though the title of “lead trumpet” falls onto Yann Martin’s horn. Woeste’s Rhodes opens the funky fusion piece Be A Woman , but once the horn come back, the fantastic theme is again reprised and accommodated with bass and drums glory moments and other solos, but we’re nearing the overdose and the “déjà-entendu” but the riffs are hugely dramatic and overpowering. Unfaitful is actually fairly faithful to its predecessors and tends to redeploy once more the themes and ideas exploited in the four previous tracks, this time almost overstaying their welcome.

The album ends in a very WTF manner with a late-70’s type of AOR track ala Toto or Foreigner with FM-rock vocals that kind of ruins an otherwise perfect album. The lyrics allude to Be A Woman, but this doesn’t make it a True Story. Maybe if there was a tad more guitars, you could think of a Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart collab in 75 or something of that ilk. Outside that obviously ill-advised inclusion (the track in itself is ok, but just not fitting the rest of the album); Illusions is clearly Maalouf’s best and most consistant album, and definitely of one the best surprise of 2013. But to be honest, just like for Wind, the cardboard “Digibook” format casing would’ve been plenty enough, instead of this luxurious (and ultimately bombastic) package. Let this not ruin my overall appreciation of an amazing oeuvre that should bring Maalouf another public, at the risk of maybe losing his old one.

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Live album · 1967 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The lengthy opening cut to this album would make a great subject for one of those blindfold tests. Who are we listening to here … Mingus … Sun Ra? Julius Hemphill or the Art Ensemble of Chicago with a few guests might have been good guesses too, but they weren’t on the scene yet when this album came out. All of those previously mentioned artists would be glad to point out that Duke Ellington was a major influence on them, and on the excursion called “La Plus Belle Africaine” from Ellington’s “Soul Call”, its clear, at least in the case of Mingus and Sun Ra, that influence may have come full circle. The lengthy “Belle African” opens with some jagged African lines on the piano and drums before a massive horn attack announces the main theme, Mingus fans will recognize the base power of this simple line. As this song snakes along with a relaxed and sometimes dissonant African hum, John Lamb plays a dronish solo on the bowed double bass and Harry Carney follows with a bluesy solo on the baritone pushed by extra horn arrangements and more jagged piano from Ellington. When things get a little more quiet again, Jimmy Hamilton enters with a sublime snake-charmer solo on the clarinet that sounds more like Rimsky-Korsakov’s old school exoticism than jazz. Its one more of those odd juxtapositions of the old and the new that make this album unique.

The opener is the highlight, but the rest of the album is no slouch either, and longtime fans may find the band a little easier to recognize now too, ha. Side one closes with “West Indian Pancake”, an up-tempo number with a syncopated Carribean rhythm, and an extended solo for Paul Gonsalves. Side two opens with the high speed bop of “Soul Call”, which is followed by the well known vehicle for drummer Sam Woodyard’s soloing, “Skin Deep”. The album closes with “Jam with Sam”, a fast paced track which allows Duke a chance to announce soloists while they take a quick few bars, its good cheezy fun and played with chaotic abandon by the band. Along with the great music on “Soul Call“, you also get Duke’s discreetly funny ‘charming’ in between song patter that veers between sarcastically suave and borderline self satire. His lines can contain sexual and racial innuendo designed to entertain his band-mates and sail right over the heads of his audience. The crowd noise seems to be a mix of real and canned supplement.

Ellington fans will certainly enjoy this, but particularly those who like some of his more unusual output. Fans of odd albums, such as Sun Ra’s “Angels and Demons at Play”, that mix old and new elements in jazz, might want to give this a shot too. There is also a CD re-issue of this LP available that features many additional tracks.


Album · 1967 · Funk
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE weren't kidding around when they titled their debut album A WHOLE NEW THING which hit the market in 1967. The San Francisco band wasn't only a cutting-edge band musically by fusing soul, funk, rock and psychedelic music, but they were also one of the first successful bands to have a racially mixed lineup that had both girls and boys playing together like good little kids should. Despite all this groundbreaking effort though, the album went virtually unheard by the listening public at large but it was an immediate hit for musicians and those lucky enough to find it on their turntables. A likely story. The material wasn't “commercial” enough and because it was so different and didn't fit in with any radio formats thus receiving no airplay and despite being on a major record label, little was done in terms of promotion. Sly was urged to write more radio friendly tunes and soon after this release of this album, “Dance To The Music” was released which got the band recognized.

Musically this album is far from a throwaway. It shows a promising young act with a whole heap of strong tracks here. Although the songwriting isn't quite as strong as the following two albums for this first phase of S&TFS's career, it certainly has a few winners such as “Underdog,” “Turn Me Loose” and “Run, Run, Run.” In fact most of the album is quite pleasant with the exception of a couple out-of-place mediocre ballads that interfere with the flow. Certainly not the best album the FAMILY came up with but considering how revolutionary this sound was at the time and that there are plenty of interesting tracks to be had, this is required listening in my book.


Album · 2006 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
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British living legend sax player Evan Parker is the same guy who (together with Derek Bailey) founded the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and played on Peter Brotzmann's "Machine Gun". Since then he has developed extended techniques, circular breathing and has released a lot of albums as leader.

His solo sax recordings are not a rarity, but "Time Lapse", released on Zorn's Tzadik label, is different - here Parker uses overdubbing, playing against himself (less significant-he debuted on this album as an organ player as well).

In fact, during the last few decades Parker's music hasn't changed much - he still plays the same repetitive improvised constructions without paying much attention to tune or structure, But the way he does it is always impressive and it doesn't seem to matter if it's your first or tenth listen.

This album often sounds as if there are two or three musicians participating, and this seems to hold true whether there is overdubbing or not. Throughout Parker plays in his signature manner - not screamy, noisy or too "out", but well organized, with a lot of attention to details. It's hard to apply a genre label to this music, is it 'contemporary' jazz or avant-garde, thats how well prepared his improvs sound.

No way revolutionary for Evan Parker, this album represents his current music and can attract everyone interested in original solo sax improvisational music.

ALAN SILVA Luna Surface (with Celestrial Communication Orchestra)

Album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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In one of his interviews, Alan Silva said this about this album: ""Luna Surface" is my idea of landing on the moon". This probably sounded a bit different in 1969, when this album was recorded, but it does give some idea of what one can expect.

Bermuda-born (to a local father and Azorean/Portuguese mother) Alan moved with his mother to New York when he was 5 and grew up in Harlem. During the 50s and 60s he played with many leading jazz musicians, including Sun Ra, Charles Mingus and Albert Ayler among others. "Luna Surface" is Silva's debut as a leader, and one of the most extreme albums of its time (even if that time was full of extreme music).

First of all, this is the first release from Silva's led Celestrial Communication Orchestra - a loose collective which will later play better structured and organized progressive big band music, and often written and conducted by Silva (he wouldn't perform himself on some later albums). The initial line-up contained the high adventure jazz stars of all times, including Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Kenny Burrell, Graham Moncur III, Malachi Favors, and Leroy Jenkins among others.

This album's concept was extreme freedom - everyone plays whatever he wants with no relation to what others do. In other words, each musician was a soloist, and all were soloists at the same time.

As a result, we got a noisy dissonant music which starts nowhere, and being high energy and dynamic, goes nowhere as well. One long piece (28+ minute) without even imitation of structure, development or any scenario. Peter Brotzmann's "Machine Gun" sounds like a well developed and organized work compared with "Luna Surface" (both albums were released at the same time).

But open eared listeners (with some experience in 60s free jazz or just brutal improv fans) will probably find its own beauty in this chaotic sound. To be honest, the main attraction comes from the two violins (Silva himself and Leroy Jenkins), soloing at the same time all album long (Silva plays the violin as a vertical bass, using a lot of the highest frequencies). The rest of the orchestra, most of the time, just produces over-orchestrated musical noise, where it is almost impossible to investigate who plays what. Still, at moments multiple sound layers demonstrate how better this recording could be by reducing the number of members and by using more progressive sound recording technologies.

In all cases, not the album for everyone, "Luna Surface" has been re-released many times and has historical value for sure. It's always interesting to know how some artists more than half a century ago imagined what landing on the moon would sound like.

NEIL ARDLEY A Symphony of Amaranths

Album · 1972 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sean Trane
Amongst the rare works of Neil Ardley that hadn’t received a reissue (CD or other), Symphony Of Amaranths was a major gap, and it finally found its way on Dusk ire in 2012 (much to my relief), though I didn’t find out until a few months ago. Along with its predecessor, Greek Variations, these two albums feature Ardley as a leader of Third Stream fusion (classic and jazz), and it is little wonder some draw comparison between Ardley and Gill Evans or Duke Ellington (as thought of with the previous Greek Variations). Retrospectively billed as the second staple of his “trilogy”, I find Amaranths much closer to Variations than to Kaleidoscope, but also less thrilling than the first. As for musicians, we’ll find the usual suspects, , from Lowther, Carr, Beckett, Barbara, Rendell, Heckstall-Smith, , Tracey,and Jenkins to Ricotti, Clyne, Hiseman, and many others. And in the string dept, you’ll find most of the names found on Variations as well.

The sidelong instrumental title track suite (dedicated to GE and DE) is the main course of the album, and is a good mix of classic music melted in a twirling happy big-band jazz music. The long piece goes through almost every mood, alternating between the string section and the horn section, but never afraid to cross-pollinate and present a hermaphrodite product that can either overjoy or repel the listener. Indeed, the barrier-breaking fusion can be seen as groundbreaking, but can also appear as a sell-out “Night Of The Prom” thing for those who don’t have the historical musical landmarks in mind.

The flipside opens with a big surprise with poems declaimed as narrative Dong And The Luminous Nose: I’m generally wary (if not even dismissive) of such musical cheesy exercise – even worse when rock music is involved: Tull’s Hare in Passion Play or Wakeman’s Journey or Round Table or Procol’s Something Magic - but in this case, we’re dealing with a very well written piece over texts from Edward Lear, James Joyce and Lewis Carroll that avoids cheesiness or ill-attempted humour and involves the spoken words (courtesy of Ivor Cutler) evolving to singing or almost rapping (ala Gill-Scott Heron), partly because the pace is gradually and dramatically increasing throughout, backed some tremendous instrumentation like Ricotti’s vibraphone. Ardley goes one further with Three more Poems, this time sung by the unavoidable Norma Winstone with a fun-time big band, though in this case, we’re closer to crooner singing, if it wasn’t for the advanced un-mainstream arrangements of the music behind her.

Of course, with the fad of bonus material added on to classic albums, they often don’t add up to much or are completely out of context and it is the case here, with the God Saves Tango version. Forgettable and best forgotten, really, as it kind of ruins the experience of the album.

Though SoA and GV are very audacious albums (if the present is a tad syrupy, because of the string section being too present), Ardley would go one step further (if not two) with Will Power (subtitled Shakespeare Birthday Celebration Music), but that is simply a step too far for yours truly. Thankfully enough, Ardley found the light and went back to safer grounds with the excellent Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows (76) and Harmony Of The Spheres (79), though both were quite unique and Ardley-esque in their own rights. In the meantime, Amaranths is a very solid (and unsettling) album that deserves to be heard by all Third Stream fans. And if you’re curious about the slogan of “Britain’s answer to Evans and Ellington”, you might want to check it out, to see if it isn’t usurped. Though Duke might seem a bit of a stretch (the recording technology and time lapsed is too big), comparisons with Gil are certainly valid. OK, Dusk Fire, bring on “Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe”, the last brick in Ardley’s wall.

NEIL ARDLEY Greek Variations

Album · 1970 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Sean Trane
After contributing to the Rendell-Carr Quintet and founding the seminal New Jazz Orchestra, a centrepiece of the Singing London jazz scene, Ardley started working on his first solo album, when it became obvious that NJO was nearing its end. But it’s like Neil went far to find collabs for his project, as most of the cast for Greek Variations played in the NJO at one point or another. We’ll find Rendell, Carr, Gibbs, Jenkins, Barbara, Clyne, Ricotti Marshall, Tomkins, Whitehead, but a bit more surprising Spedding and Jack Bruce. Some writers (and Ardley himself) tend to present Variations as the first chapter of a trilogy that also include Amaranths (Ok, that makes sense musically) and oddly enough Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows - I’d have named the flawed Will Power instead. So this album is attributed to Ardley, but to Ian Carr and Ron Rendell as well, (all three were part of the RCQ’s first line-up), but Ardley’s composition takes the whole first side, while Ian’s and Don’s share the flipside

The sidelong instrumental title track is based on Greek folk tunes, but given the heavy-handed jazz and classic arrangements, it’s not that easy to spot them - not that I’m any kind of expert in Greek music, much less ancient themes. Yup, I could hear certain intonations or motifs reminiscent of the Greek heritage in each of the six movements, but the whole concept is explained in the original liner notes (better find your looking glass though, because of the small print) much better than I could. Ian Carr’s quarter album is a very quiet and calm one, despite the fact that the line-up is of the first Nucleus – Spedding included – and you won’t find much of the fire and volcanic activity on their own fusion albums. Surprisingly enough Don Rendell’s tracks are a little more upbeat than Ian’s, but remain jazzy and lighthearted like the rest of the album.

Generally regarded as Neil Ardley’s first solo chef d’oeuvre, Greek Variations & Other Aegean Exercises is indeed quite a semi-lost classic of 60’s & 70’s British jazz, one that would deserve a lot more interest both among specialist and casual jazzheads. The only CD reissue I’m aware of is the Impressed-Re-pressed label one, under the Universal patronage, which might appear odd, since the vinyl was released on the Columbia-UK label, but let’s leave it the benefit of the doubt, since it’s Greek Variations is simply too stunning to be ignored on pure honesty principles. Definitely one of Britain’s best jazz albums, GV is the living proof of Neil Ardley’s extraordinary composition and directing talents.


Album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.98 | 3 ratings
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One of the four Elton Dean albums released in 1977, "El Skid" (what comes from Elton + Skidmore), is the only one of them released outside of his home country (on the tiny German Vinyl Records), all the others come from the English Ogun label.

The quartet on here is led equally by two British sax players, Elton Dean and Alan Skidmore, and also includes acoustic bassist Chris Laurence and ex-Soft Machine drummer John Marshall. Released during a time when Soft Machine had become inactive but still retained name recognition. It's not unusual that the music recorded by this band's living legend Elton Dean (plus one more ex-Machinist) attracted a lot of attention from their former band's fans, but it wasn't necessarily for good at all.

Even if the album's opener, "Dr. Les Mosses", sounds quite close to early 70s "Softs" fusion, the rest of the music is pure jazz, and even more - quite straight-ahead jazz (at least compared to many of Dean's freer works). This co-led quartet plays quite melodic free-bop and blues-rooted groovy music, the kind one can hardly find on other Dean albums. Four long compositions are influenced more by Eric Dolphy and Sonny Rollins than the Canterbury scene they came from, or the quirky English improv-based avant-garde jazz of that time.

Reissued in 2001 on the UK Voiceprint label which specializes in the Canterbury scene and other rock-jazz reissues and vault material releases, this album missed its second chance to find the right listener and it's a pity, since it contains some really good jazz coming from one of Dean's most fruitful periods. Anyone coming from an interest in the Canterbury scene and wanting to dig deeper into the Elton Dean solo works can start here - this free, but quite accessible album could become a good entry to his other, often more "out" and quirky solo music.

COLEMAN HAWKINS At Ease With Coleman Hawkins

Album · 1960 · Swing
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Mood music was a phenomena that arose in the 50s with the arrival of the long playing album and was designed to provide a ‘relaxing atmosphere’ for people during times of leisure. Often these albums consisted of rather faceless orchestras playing classic ballads in a rather bland and unobtrusive manner, but a not uncommon alternative to the generic orchestra would involve having a well known jazz musician play the ballads instead. Big stars from Charlie Parker to John Coltrane have recorded such albums and these sides can range from cheezy and forget-able to decent sets of jazz, albeit a bit laid back. Fortunately, Coleman Hawkins’, “At Ease with Coleman Hawkins”, falls into that latter group.

If you had to pick the nicest tone in saxophone history, Hawkins would rate at the top along side fellow reed men like Johnny Hodges and Lester Young. For those unfamiliar with his history, Hawkins, pretty much by himself, invited modern saxophone playing in the late 20s and made the saxophone a competitive solo instrument with his virtuoso solos and smooth tone that is still hard to match today. Coleman brings all that virtuosity to “at Ease”, but keeps things in a relaxed manner as required by the mood music setting.

In comparison to other jazz albums that double as easy listening, “at Ease” rates very well. One big plus on here is that there are no background strings weighting down the sound, often a big problem with other jazz mood albums. Instead, the only instruments you get on “at Ease” are a simple four piece combo with the great Tommy Flanagan on piano. A second big plus is the choice of tunes. Easy listening albums are notorious for featuring songs that have been played to death, not so on this one, apparently Hawkins picked the tunes himself, and his choices are thoughtful and unique. Fans of Coleman Hawkins don’t need to be afraid of this one, Hawkins keeps it mellow, but he doesn’t necessarily check his genius at the door, there is a lot of great playing on here, inventive and unique as always.

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