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MATTHEW SHIPP Root Of Things

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The most difficult artists to write about are those whose artistic vision is so unique and personal that it is hard to come up with comparisons and references, and such is the case with pianist Matthew Shipp and his latest trio outing, “Root of Things”. Early in his career Shipp displayed much influence from the high speed jagged and aggressive piano assaults of Cecil Taylor, and you can still hear some of the Taylor influence, but Shipp has distilled and reduced the Taylor approach, taking out much of the extravagance and leaving a more refined core. Is Shipp’s playing a ‘lounge’ version of Cecil Taylor’s pyrotechnics, that would be an odd way of putting things, but it could almost suffice as a layman’s description, but its also a bit shallow because Shipp is much more than just that. If Matthew has a possible reference in today’s world of pianists, Craig Taborn might be as good as any. Both Shipp and Taborn are drawn to thick busy contrapuntal textures that owe much to serial composers, and both favor a tonality that deceptively slips from extended harmonies to atonality and in-between areas that are not clearly one or the other. Apologies are due if this all sounds too technical, but Shipp’s music is not exactly easy listening.

On this CD you get two tracks with busy, but introspective piano work; “Root of Things” and “Code J”, while “Path” centers around bassist Michael Bisio, and “Pulse Code” is for drummer Whit Dickey. The more energetic work-out tracks are “Jazz It” and album closer “Solid Circuit”. “Jazz It” is probably the CD’s top cut. As the title implies, this is the ‘jazz number’ and the only cut that ‘swings’. It opens with a bluesy Monk like groove, but as Shipp goes into quadruple time while soloing, the rhythm section feels compelled to follow and keeps slipping into chaotic high speed romps. Overall, “Jazz It” has more humor and good times slap bang chaos than most of the rest of this CD, which often sounds more like concert hall music than post bop. Dickey’s solo on “Pulse Code” is nice because he goes more for interesting layered poly-rhythms ala Billy Higgins, rather than boring displays of flash. Closing number “Solid Circuit” is probably closest to the old days of free jazz blowouts, but even on this one, the trio shows much care and restraint in their interactions.

This is one of the better jazz CDs to come out so far this year and it should hold up well to many close listens for modern post bop fans, avant-garde listeners and even concert hall devotees who like the jazz as well. If every cut on here would have been as strong and imaginitive as “Jazz It”, this would have been close to album of the year.

WADADA LEO SMITH Wadada Leo Smith / George Lewis / John Zorn : Sonic Rivers

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
John Zorn's prolific Tzadik label started a new SPECTRUM series with an excellent collaboration between three modern creative jazz giants culminating in the album, "Sonic Rivers". Three horn players - trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, trombonist George Lewis and Zorn himself on saxes, play a restrained session full of bursts and free jazz beauty.

I was expecting this album's concept to recall one of the legendary works between George Lewis and John Zorn in collaboration with guitar genius Derek Bailey resulting in the album "Yankees",released on the Celluloid label in 1982. Even if more than three decades separate these two releases, besides the line-up, they have some more things in common. Both "Yankees" and "Sonic Rivers" radiate that adventurous and creative jazz spirit which becomes more and more rare in the current jazz scene.

Wadada Leo Smith and George Lewis are two key artists of Chicago's AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) movement, which began in the mid 60's. Both are not only musicians, but composers as well, known for their experimental works. John Zorn is probably the most influential figure on the NY downtown avant-garde scene for the last few decades, known for his explosive dissonant playing and his many compositions as well.

Here, on "Sonic Rivers", one can find a very successful balance between the non-jazz avant-garde and the non-traditional compositions of the Chicago school, plus the New York eclectic explosive mix of all styles in one. Surprisingly enough, no-one of these three musicians dominates on these recordings. Even Zorn, adding his dissonant sax soloing, leaves a lot of space for the others. In all, this music sounds very aerial, almost minimal in moments, but still full of content - the characteristic by which one can usually separate the best free jazz albums from all the others. Lewis uses some electronic devices on a few compositions, but generally it's three horn players building multicolored acoustic pictures.

Critically thinking, there is nothing revolutionary different or just really new here. Mainly this music's value is that it reinvents that creative spirit which made so many 60s and 70s jazz releases great listening, even till now, and in a big part, almost forgotten in these modern days of music. The modern jazz scene really needs more of this inspiration today.

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STEVE LACY Disposability

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Lacy is one among a few jazz star saxmen playing exclusively soprano.His name is well known for jazz fans,but quite surprisingly his music is far not so popular as it could be. I expect one of main reasons is he was extremely prolific musician,often using same musical themes again and again,so his recorded legacy is huge and not all of the same high quality. Inexperienced listener sometimes can be mistaken trying to explore Lacy's music from his not the best place.

For very brief orientation, it's important to note that Lacy's early solo works (he played mostly all the time with greatest jazz musicians of the time as Don Cherry,Mal Waldron,Elvin Jones,Roswell Rudd,etc)are all straight-forward jazz of early 60s up to late 1965.Some critics count Lacy's first four albums as his best music ever,and this point of view is not so strange,at least not for the jazz purists.

"Disposability", Lacy's fifth album released in 1966,is his first trio recordings and and his first album containing original material (together with three Monk compositions,one Carla Bley and one Cecil Taylor's).Recorded in Rome right before Christmas,"Disposability" is first Lacy's album where he switched from hard-bop towards much more adventurous and free music. Rhythm section of heavyweight and extremely quirky Italian drummer Aldo Romano and advanced bassist Ken Carter build very unusual frames comparing with Lacy's previous works. Actually there're them two who push his music ahead. Lacy clear and vibrato-less sax soloing doesn't always fits well over sometimes too-heavy often far not all that subtle drummer constructions, but more interesting and important fact is how well Lacy feels in much freer atmosphere.

Far not his most advanced album,"Disposability" is great border-stone evidence,separating straightforward (and really great) early Lacy music from upcoming decades of his free jazz glory.Still quite accessible album is one of good entrances to Lacy music as well - if it sounds too quirky just go to his earlier music,for those attracted with Lacy's adventurous playing there are lot of excellent later works.

DIZZY GILLESPIE Sweet Soul

Live album · 1977 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Dizzy Gillespie started out his career as one of jazz’s most important trailblazing innovators. Like most musicians who stick around long enough, Dizzy’s later career was a mixed bag with the always good-natured Diz willing to participate in endeavors that were sometimes less than stellar, which leads us to this pop-RnB soul jazz LP that is sometimes titled “Sweet Soul”, and other times, “Azure Blue”. Whatever it is titled, it is actually Dizzy's "Soul and Salvation", released in 1969, and it sounds very much like a 60s RnB production geared for am radio and automobile dashboard speakers.

Soul jazz in itself is a genre that ranges from excellent sides by folks like Eddie Harris and Herbie Mann, to pure commercial fluff put out by others. “Sweet Soul” falls somewhere in-between those two extremes with about half the cuts featuring solid RnB/jazz riffs, while the other half can range from trite to outright annoying. The credits on here are very sketchy, but there is a very prominent saxophonist on here who carries most of the melodies and a lot of the solos too, quite possibly it is James Moody, but there are several other saxophonists on here as well as a couple more trumpeters besides Diz.

“Sweet Soul” starts out fairly strong with the first five cuts all being fairly catchy RnB pop songs, third track “Azure Blue” is particularly striking with a great solo from Diz. Track six, “Party Man” introduces one of this album’s biggest faults, wordless vocals (“yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”) that repeat every couple of bars throughout the entire song in a very mind-numbing fashion. Its really hard to make it through the entire song after you have heard that refrain more than three or four times. A couple more songs also contain the overbearing vocals and as the album wears on you begin to realize that a lot of these songs are very similar to each other. Adding to this album’s cheapness and lack of credibility is this hilariously polite canned applause that starts and ends each song. I seriously doubt this is a “live” record as the applause is exactly the same every time it comes around.

The main plus on here is that Dizzy’s soloing is high energy on every cut, even the banal ones. Fans of rare groove and classic soul jazz may want to pick this up, there are just enough good cuts on here to make it worthwhile, but anyone looking for Gillespie’s outstanding contributions to jazz will want to pick up something from earlier in his career.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER High Voltage Festival

Live album · 2010 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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EntertheLemming
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"We rehearsed for five weeks, which I could never understand why we needed to rehearse that long, Upon hearing the recordings, maybe five weeks was not long enough. It wasn't to the standard that I liked and I didn't think it sounded that good" (Carl Palmer)

They sound like a hungover pub band bluffing it under the delusion that only friends and family are in attendance. On the evidence of this superannuated bumper pay day that the trio repaid with their greatest hits karaoke, it saddens me to report that ELP are no longer even the best ELP tribute band around. Many of their missed entries and cues conspire to sound rushed and tardy, too early and too late which makes for a very nervy listening experience for this self-confessed ELP fanboy. Bum notes proliferate throughout making parts of Take a Pebble and Fanfare for the Common Man stray perilously close to self-parody. (I could swear Emerson is wearing mittens during Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2) Musicians of this calibre however, cannot be uniformly abject for 90 minutes (which is exactly how long a soccer match lasts but it probably feels longer seeing as how we're watching Chelsea's pensioners, one of whom is certainly worthy of a red card or failing that, a red face Greg...) The FOH mixing boffins were clearly unable to tame the sonic gremlins that spoil much of this performance: the drums at the outset sound alternately like Tupperware surdos or timpanic watering cans. The Barbarian they portray here would probably break into your apartment, dust the place, tidy up the rooms and leave behind some baked fruit scones. Similarly, the extant Tarkus critter has been lobotomised into some sort of de-fanged proggie moggie who answers to the name of 'Frisky'. Lake's bass on Knife Edge approaches 'twangy brittle' rather than the required 'guttural brooding' although in mitigation, the aforementioned knob twiddlers have managed to perform some much needed running repairs to the appalling sound quality in the interim. On the up side, there appears a genuinely innovative moment re the unconventional piano intro to Lake's habitually guitar led From the Beginning which explores the implied jazz flavour of his 9th chord vamp quite beautifully. The synth patch used on Keith's outro solo is alas, a disaster, coming across like a busking Rolf Harris armed with Casio's flagship stylophone. Touch and Go lives up to it's associations with a completely fumbled/dropped ball intro from Keith that seems plain vanilla senile (How does this one go again lads? high dotage/dosage?) but settles down thereafter into a reasonably robust reading of what is probably the only classic post 80's ELP number by any permutation of those initials. I'm trying hard to accentuate what few positives there are but why is everything on here just so damn half-baked, wimpy and soulless?

"For me, it's just a pride thing Unless it's as good as what it can be, then I can't do it. I would have carried on if it had been as good as it was. I don't believe it was and I don't believe it would have ever gotten back to that standard". (Carl Palmer)

The piano improvisation through which Emerson negotiates from Take a Pebble to the Tarkus medley is brilliantly realised and the resultant Stones of Years is spared the indignity of degenerating into any anticipated 'Gallstones of Tears'. Things have perked up considerably hereabouts and Keith's organ solo is a veritable highlight of the set. Rather bizarrely, Greg deems it prudent to attenuate the feedback present on this number by erm, shouting 'feedback x 3' into the microphone as if this will somehow make it less noticeable? Worse than that, the now spherical blimp has the chutzpah to regale us with Mass without a trace of knowing irony. Although it's hardly a stand-out in their songbook, it's refreshing to hear a live version of Farewell to Arms from the criminally neglected Black Moon album. This has a quiet and understated dignity about it that survives Lake's habitually treacly 'spoken tag-line' bathos and the odd lapse into poorly digested Elgar betrayed by the arrangement. The grazing anti-warhorse that is Lucky Man benefits from a slyly ingenious piano intro which seems rather wasted on what has always been for me, a very insubstantial ballad. What weight it might possess is further undermined by it's author forgetting the lyrics to the first verse. Keith's gritty and ballsy organ certainly beefs things up considerably but once again, this is a brownie with delusions of being a three tiered wedding cake. To be fair to Prog's favourite law firm, (Emerson, Lake & Palmer est 1970 prop G. Lake esq) they offer a very spirited and in places, moving retread of Pictures at an Exhibition which follows the latter day truncated versions as contained on the likes of the Return of the Manticore. Here the band at least exemplify the hard won lesson that despite the stubborn excesses of their Prog lineage, 'less' is finally acknowledged as begetting a more satisfying and economic 'more'.

Much of the raggedness and inaccuracies that crept into Emerson's playing circa the early 90's were attributable to a trapped nerve condition that eventually required corrective surgery. Although the operation was considered a complete success it did have a debilitating effect on Keith's pianistic abilities thereafter. He had to pare down and relax his playing style somewhat compared to the shredding pyrotechnics of his 'gun-slinger' years. However, based on the evidence of the subsequent Keith Emerson Band studio album and Live in Moscow recordings with Marc Bonilla, his playing is unfailingly top notch on both so I'm at a loss as to why there are so many clinkers on High Voltage

By this point ELP didn't even have either 'Ham or Cheese' to offer their famished but faithful fanbase but we can at the very least finally answer that nagging question first posed in 1971: Are You Ready Eddy to pull those faders down? Yep, and turn out the lights when you leave the building thanks, this show ended 30 years ago.

THE BRAND NEW HEAVIES The Brand New Heavies (N'Dea Davenport vocals)

Album · 1991 · Acid Jazz
Cover art 4.04 | 4 ratings
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There is a certain amount of confusion surrounding The Brand New Heavies’ first album (also called “The Brand New Heavies”). The original release featured Jay Williamson (named Jay Ella Ruth at the time) on vocals and was released in England in 1990. It was quickly replaced by a new version with a lot of the same songs, but with the much stronger N’Dea Davenport from the US on vocals. This version of the album was released first in the US and was also used later for any re-issues of the album worldwide. This review is also based on the Davenport version, as that has become the definitive version of the album for most.

This was the first album from England’s late 80s acid jazz fad to actually connect in the US. Although popular with the rave kids in England and elsewhere, acid jazz remained a mystery in the US, with only a few big cities on the coasts picking up on its trendy mix of 60s soul jazz, 70s funk and 80s DJ music. Early English acid jazz bands such as The James Taylor Quartet were a little too exotica cute and loungey to connect with the more funkified US RnB/dance/jazz scene. The Brand New Heavies, on the other hand, carried a lot more of the street rhythms and funky grooves that made them recognizable to the Americanos.

Musically the Heavies first album is similar to what The Commodores and Kool and the Gang were playing in the late 70s, a blend of pop and funk with very dance-able rhythms, but not as down and dirty as the more hardcore early to mid-70s funk sound. Every song and every riff on here is great, but its all done with a certain cleanliness that some funk fans may find a little on the lite side. Likewise, the instrumental numbers are similar to The Brecker Brothers, but not with the same blazing bebop chops. Davenport is a great singer, but her voice lacks character and personality, she sounds like the top notch back-up singer all of a sudden promoted to lead. It all adds up, this is a good album, but it would have been tops with a little more grit and grease.

Although most of this album stays on the pop-funk vibe, “Put the Funk Back In It” slows things down for a heavy p-funk groove, while follow up song “Gimme One of Those” takes the guitar riff from Funkadelic’s “Loose Booty” and tops it with classic James Brown style synth noodling. You’ll swear you’ve heard this song before somewhere back in the 70s. Live funk bands were a rarity in 1990, and this band was a real breath of fresh air and a wake up call to other musicians that the funk was back. It also still sounds great today, although maybe not nasty enough for the hardcore funk fans.

TOHPATI Tohpati Ethnomission: Save The Planet

Album · 2010 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.75 | 3 ratings
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Tohpati Ethnomission's a group from Indonesia, yeah, Indonesia. And probably the first thing we have in mind when we think about this country is some kind of exhotic music, well, it's not that the exhotic don't make any part of the group's music, but it's not the main focus here, the 'thing' here is gather both together, exhotic and 'secular' music, like jazz/fusion, progressive rock and rock n roll. The mind behind the group is Tohpati (guitars), that is also part of simakDIALOG. In Save The Planet, first album of Tohpati Ethnomission he's with Indro Hardjodikoro (bass), Endang Ramdan (percussion), Demas Narawangsa (drums and percussion) that had only 16 years old on the time they recorded, Diki Suwarjiki (suling, a kind of flute) and Lestari (voice on track 2).

What we have in Save The Planet is quite good, in fact, more than good. Highlits like 'Selamatkan Bumi' and his 9 minutes long, 'Drama' (that reminds some King Crimson's Robert Fripp moments), 'Ethno Funk', 'Inspirasi Baru' (and the great bass solo), 'Perang Tanding' (moments that resembles some Frank Zappa) and 'Amarah' (and the various guitars), shows us that the band have A LOT of potential.

But unfortunatelly the group sometimes bet on calm and slow compositions, which I don't like, I don't think it fits their style.

But all in all Save The Planet worth the hearing! Specially when it comes to jazz rock/fusion lovers. The album have some irregularities but shows clearly the bright future Tohpati and his mates can have if they keep playing and writing like that. It's a waiting game, but in my opinion it'll worth.

CHARLIE HADEN Silence

Album · 1989 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.02 | 2 ratings
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snobb
In September 1987 Charlie Haden recorded an excellent piano trio album with pianist Geri Allen and drummer Paul Motian called "Etudes". Released the following year on the Italian Soul Note label, it opened with Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and continued with mostly originals by the band members, all boppish and swinging.

Three months after the "Etudes" sessions, Haden recorded more material in a Roman studio, but with a very different team this time. Billy Higgins replaces Paul Motian, lyrical Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi replaces Geri Allen, and even more, now there is a trumpeter on board, none other than Chet Baker. The end results became the album "Silence".

As one can expect, the music on "Silence" is different from "Etudes". With full respect to Baker's early albums, his participation on jazz albums in the 80s hardly adds a lot of pluses. His name and his voice can still attract nostalgic listeners, but his trumpet playing is hardly competitive compared with the artists he is working with. Even worse, there seems to be a rather pointless and commercial attempt to exploit Baker's past, you can't return the atmosphere back to the cool jazz era in the late 80s, added with Pieranunzi's melancholic mainstream slick piano sounds, its all quite artificial, out of time and place, a not too successful imitation.

This is still a product of classy musicians, so maybe it could attract fans of sentimental Italian jazz from the 70s, which, with varying success tried to combine American jazz traditions with Italian melodic lyricism and sentimentality.

ZU Carboniferous

Album · 2009 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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ZU is an atypical power trio emerging from Rome, Italy in the 90s delivering some energetic and unconventional hybrid music. I was totally unfamiliar with this group before their 11th studio album CARBONIFEROUS and I have not heard any other albums before this but from what I have read they have taken on a more heavy and distorted take on their RIO / Avant-prog meets math rock music. There are a several groups this band reminds me of. They have a musical delivery approach like the avant-jazz French group Jean Louis but the heaviness and chord changes have a Fantômas feel as well which is particularly true on the two vocals tracks that have Mike Patton making a cameo appearance. This could be due to the fact they toured with Fantômas and Melvins in 2006. ZU also has a groove on some tracks similar to another strange band called Chrome Hoof. This is especially noticeable on the first track “Ostia.”

Any way you slice it ZU is an RIO band in structure with an avant-jazz-metal veneer consisting of the unconventional trio of instruments that includes bass, drums and baritone saxophone. We do get a couple guest guitarists lending a hand on “Chthonian” and “Obsidian” but Massimo Pupillo's extremely heavy fuzzy bass pretty much delivers as much distortion as the music can handle and Luca Mai's sax playing takes the place of the traditional guitar. He handles rhythmic duties for the most part but also contributes some sizzling solos that bring John Zorn to mind. Jacopo Battaglia has a jazz drummer's method of dancing around the strange chord progressions and contributes more of a complementary sound than an expected backbone of the band. The musicians spend their time weaving around each other in a way that makes it hard to focus on any one particular instrument that stands out but there are times when solos are thrown in.

This music is highly addictive. It was love at first listen for me but it only got better the more I listened to it. The band makes full use of tones and distortion as a key part of the musical structure and the musicianship is top-notch. By blending various aspects of math rock, noise rock, punk, jazz, grindcore and a touch of repetitive drone doom at times, they have created a very intricate and disciplined style of music that doesn't come off as being as complex as it is. A true treasure tucked away under the various categories of RIO, avant-prog, avant-garde metal, or free jazz, but nomenclature aside it is simply a unique sound that fans of adventurous, energetic and unorthodox fusion will find most satisfying.

JAN GARBAREK Til Vigdis

Live album · 1967 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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I believe you have never heard saxophonist Jan Garbarek sounding like this! Nothing strange there, most jazz fans have no idea this album exists!

The twenty-year old future Norwegian saxophone superstar is playing in a student club on "Til Vigdis". The album consists of three very free compositions with enough kicking and swinging to be recognized as post-65 Coltrane music influenced. The rhythm section (bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen) are both future Nordic jazz leading figures as well.

Not particularly memorable or musically exciting, this album is unique as probably one of the earlier European free jazz albums, and it also shows Garbarek's early influences as well. He will show much higher class on his next release, "African Pepperbird", but for those who only know Garbarek as a new-agey contemporary Nordic jazz star, this album could open their eyes (and may be ears). This original limited edition is really an expensive rarity though, with i-net prices up to 1500 euro.

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