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jazz music reviews (new releases)

WILLIAM PARKER For Those Who Are, Still

Live album · 2015 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Bassist William Parker is a living legend who started his musical career in early 70s playing with Don Cherry and Cecil Taylor among many others. During last five years he released series of collection of previously unissued recordings, coming from different time periods, but "For Those Who Are ,Still" is most probably most unusual of them all. In fact this 3CD-set contains most unorthodox music recorded by Parker in new Millennium and it doesn't look all that strange none of it has been released before.

Opener "For Fannie Lou Hamer" is 28-minutes long composition,recorded live in 2000 (all other albums music has been recorded between 2011 and 2013). Ten-piece combo with strings plays chamber composition with Leena Conquest soprano vocals and some recitatives,which represents William Parker as composer (he doesn't play here at all). Rest of the CD 1 contains studio recordings of same vocalist but in support of Parker-led acoustic drumless trio (and recorded eleven years later). It still sound a bit chamber, but much freer and minimalist comparing with earlier orchestrated version.Leena's vocals recalls Swiss vocalist Irene Aebi singing,known from some Steve Lacy albums.

Second set's CD "Red Giraffe With Dreadlocks" is world music ecstatic mix containing two traditional Indian singers singing against avant-garde jazz sextet,playing drones and ritual chants seriously reworked in modern creative jazz manner. Even with such heavyweights as pianist Cooper-Moore and percussionist Hamid Drake (besides of Parker on bass)second CD often sounds more as contemporary experiments with Indian traditional music than as jazz.

Third and last CD contains "Ceremonies For Those Who Are Still" - ten-piece suite recorded live in Poland by Parker-led trio (with sax player Charles Gayle and drummer Mike Reed)with local symphonic orchestra and choir. This part sounds quite a lot as chamber music spiced by jazz trio's inserts here and there. As set's opener,all other compositions till this place are all Parkers's originals.

Set closes with 25-minutes long free jazz trio's improvisation (actually recorded by above mentioned Parker-Gayle-Reed trio right before above suite during same concert in Poland). In fact,"Escapade For Sonny"(set's closer title)is the only true jazz song on all release, and it sounds great but too predictable comparing with all what sounded right before.

"For Those Who Are, Still" is a long album, and music presented here is very different and as rule quite unorthodox even for William Parker fans. Still for those interested in modern searches rooted in advanced jazz and all open ears listeners this is a perfect release, one of the best among jazz and jazz related music albums,released this year.

GILAD ATZMON Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble: The Whistle Blower

Album · 2015 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The word ‘Orient’ is a word that is often misused in Western culture, although many have tried to equate the word with southeast Asia, in actuality, the term was originally intended for what we now call the Middle East. It is with this original definition in mind that saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble present their Middle-Eastern flavored fusion on their new album, “The Whistle Blower”. Atzmon and his crew have been around since 2000, and this is their 8th album. As for Gilad’s ‘Oriental’ band, Frank Harrison returns on keyboards, and Yaron Stavi returns on bass, while newcomer Chris Higginbottom is in the drum chair.

“The Whistle Blower” opens strong with the high energy drumnbass/Middle Eastern fusion drive of “Gaza Mon Amour”, Atzmon turns in a furiously intense solo on this one. It’s a great cut, but its also a bit of a tease as the band never plays another track with this kind of upbeat energy for the rest of the album, not that rest of the album is bad, just different. After this opener, Gilad treats us to two ballads, with “The Romantic Church” having the stronger melody. Next is some Coltrane styled ‘spiritual jazz’ in the name of “Let Us Pray”. Atzmon and his band are capable with these sort of post bop modal excursions, but still, Gilad’s solos seem to fit better with that earlier ‘oriental’ fusion approach. The next three cuts reveal two more ballads and another semi-free post bop number. This CD closes with the title track, which is a totally unexpected cheezy ‘exotica’ number that is actually a lot of fun, if a bit out of place.

Many great jazz artists have released albums that were made up entirely of ballads, in fact, it seems like that’s a rite of passage for those who seek immortality. Possibly Gilad should consider releasing such an all ballad album, because on an album like “Whistle Blower”, which features so many slower tempos, the few upbeat tracks seem almost out of place. On the other hand, if Atzmon wants to put out a truly eclectic and colorful album, more tracks like the opener and closer would help diversify things. Still, this is a good album and recommended for fans of Atzmon, virtuoso soprano sax playing and contemporary jazz in general.

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MAGMA Üdü Ẁüdü

Album · 1976 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.04 | 4 ratings
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Another development for MAGMA after the space opera in the form of the Theusz Hamtaahk Triology had run its course. While many of the previous styles and sounds can be heard sparingly on ÜDÜ ẀÜDÜ, this is a much less busy affair with only a few of the many musicians on the album taking part in any particular track. The star of this album is Jannick Top who delivers the funkiest and most in-yer-face bass lines that occur on any MAGMA album. He also handles the brass arrangements and synths as well leaving his indelible stamp on this album that sounds like no other.

The title track begins the album and has the most musicians participating and to be honest is my least favorite track on the album. The repetitive piano roll with the call and response Kobaian vocals with a nice jazzy sax appearing sounds like MAGMA making a tribute to African ritual music or something with its unrelenting rhythms. The problem for me is that it just doesn’t do much with all the sounds going on and seems like a four minute group drone of some kind. The same is also true of the second track “Weidorje” which has a weak groove and vocal phrasings that i find really boring. Not a good start.

Luckily everything changes for the better with the brilliant third track "Tröller Tanz (Ghost Dance)" which starts with a cool synth run followed by an infectious bass groove with awesome interaction between the keyboards. The synth run has a haunting oscillating effect that actually sounds like haunting ghosts. This effect is heard from here on and adds a very effective spookiness to the mix including the other Ghost Dance of “Zombies” that also has a nice dissonant jazziness to it.

Most tracks are short and to the point but there is one progressive behemoth in the form of “De Futura.” I wouldn’t exactly call it more progressive than the other tracks, i would simply call it longer. It utilizes the exact same formula with beefy groovy double bass lines, oscillating ghost sounds and alternating themes and tempos, and basically it pretty much takes different songs and sows them together into an 18 minute monster that morphs into another track instead of being separate. It is the perfect way to end the album. Another successful MAGMA release in my book and although not as perfect as others, still quite a worthy addition.

I was surprised by the addition of"Ëmëhntëht-Rê (extrait no. 2)” as a final track until i realized it’s a bonus track on the CD, but since it sounds more like the operatic craziness from MDK it is a nice reminder just how different ÜDÜ ẀÜDÜ is in comparison and how lucky we are to get a band that can not only invent a progressive rock sub genre out of the sonic boiling pots of jazz, classical and rock but that they can reinvent it with every move they make. Although MAGMA would not continue this sound beyond this sole album, keyboardist Patrick Gauthier and bassist Bernard Paganotti would leave MAGMA to carry it on with their own group Weidorje which not only took on the sound but the name from the track as well, and i personally think they did an excellent job at perfecting this style of zeuhl.

MAGMA Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.48 | 5 ratings
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Although MAGMA had released two wonderful jazz-fusion albums and already invented the whole mythology revolving around the planet Kobaia for which drummer and band leader Christian Vander even created a fictitious language to articulate the vocal utterings that would augment the instrumental nature of the compositions, the sound suddenly changed from a frantic all-over-the-map approach that incorporated myriad influences to a more focused sound that simply utilizes the zeuhl sound as a basis which of course is of their own inventiveness that emerged on the very first album. MËKANÏK DËSTRUKTÏẁ KÖMMANDÖH came out in 1973 and to critical acclaim Nothing like this had emerged on the jazz rock scene not even from the Kobaians themselves.

MDK apparently tells the tale of a Kobaian prophet named Nebehr Gudahtt, who warms the human race that they are destroying their planet and have to change their naughty ways. When all is said and down the people rise against him and through throughout the album's ups and downs and twists and turns the people finally begin to adopt the ways of the Kobaians in order to redeem themselves. I'll have to accept that since i no speako Kobaian but it sounds like a logical story that is a mere segment of a much larger tale drawn out in the many album that MAGMA put out in the 70s.

The music is melodic and bombastic. To the max. This must have been some of the most ambitious music of the time even topping all the other progressive goodies that were coming out. Although the music is based on simple bass line cycles that incorporate two competing choirs that often sound like orgasmic ghosts, it is the sprinkling of jazzy parts, rock attitude and Carl Off a la “Carmina Burana” rhythmic phrasing that really puts a percussive punch in the whole thing. Musically this is akin to organic chemistry where long repetitive carbon chains create an extremely strong yet flexible backbone to support the smaller elements that cling onto it.

Upon first listen I thought this was too repetitious and I do like this a tad less than the first more chaotic albums with far more influences than this but this was a grower and has blossomed into an outstanding album in its own right. If you want one of the most over-the-top rock operas ever to grace not only planet Earth but apparently the entire Universe than you simply must experience MDK for there is nothing else even remotely like it not even within their own alien and eclectic discography.

MAGMA 2 (aka 1001° Centigrades)

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.68 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The Kobaian zeuhl rhythms that came bursting forth on the debut album seem to have wrested control from the other jazz-fusion tendencies of Christian Vander and his strange new musical entity MAGMA. On their second album 1001 DEGREES CENTIGRADES, that zeuhl bursts onto the scene right away indicating that a transition was taking place from the all encompassing type of a fusion to a more focused one that was quickly establishing itself as an entirely separate subgenre within the progressive rock world. However despite the ongoing battle between the newly formed zeuhl sound and jazz, it is the jazz-fusion aspect of the music that ultimately dominates the soundscape as it still retains a horn dominated arrangement. The operatic Orff inspired female vocals haven't come to be yet and the band began the continued decline in band members due to disagreement in musical direction. On this album Claude Engel took off leaving one less guitarist two other band members left and were replaced.

I love this album a lot. It takes a lot of the zaniness of the debut but it is clearly more refined and focused. The zeuhl developments seem to add a stabilizing effect to the whole thing. The midway point between the full-on frenzy of anything goes jazz-fusion to the total loss of it is a successful formula that finds zeuhl rhythms accompanied by beautiful jazz tinged melodies that have beautiful horn passages, lovely flute and clarinet parts and of course, frantic and frenzied Kobaian language skills finding itself shouted, screeched, screamed and uttered in startling ways. This album like the debut is one of my favorite MAGMA albums and although I love their entire output it is these first two that I find the most exotic and adventurous and unpredictable. As Christian Vander kept pushing the band towards the fully fledged zeuhl that would come to be on “MDK” it caused a rift in the band and ultimately saxophonist Jeff Seffer and keyboardist Francois Cahen would leave to form Zao which would continue the musical style of the first two MAGMA releases.

DUKE ELLINGTON Duke Ellington's Greatest Hits (aka The Duke Lives On)

Live album · 1967 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Calling the album in question here, “Duke Ellngton’s Greatest Hits”, might have been an attempt to make it more appealing and increase sales, but it is very misleading as this is not a collection of old original studio recordings, but is actually a live concert recorded some time in 1963, while the band was on tour in Europe. Sure the band covers a lot of their old favorites, but that was true of almost any Ellington concert over the years. Actually, if this record had been labeled as the live concert it really is, that would have helped sales more than the bogus “greatest hiits” tag. Ellington 'best of' albums are a dime a dozen and most Ellington fans don’t need one more re-packaging of studio recordings they already own, but they would probably be a lot more interested if they knew that this is an excellent live recording that shows the band to be in top form as they play some old favorites, but in ways that differ significantly from the originals.

Ellington was known for not playing tunes the same way twice, and that is apparent as you re-visit many of these well known songs. “Satin Doll”, and “Creole Love Call” are tossed off rather quickly and they don’t even play the recognizable main melody to “Love Call”. On the other hand, “Black and Tan Fantasy” is stretched out with more space at the end for the clarinet(s). Another top track is “Pyramid”, a real gem in that Ellington exotic pseudo-African style that influenced many, from Sun Ra to Les Baxter. All of the remaining tracks are good because the band sounds particularly cohesive and in tune with each other. I would guess that a lot of the good vibes come from the fact that the band was touring Europe where they were likely to get treated better than in the states. The band sounds relaxed and happy and all the subtle colors that the Ellington band is capable of sound very rich and delicate. It seems playing for a European audience really brings out the influence of French impressionism in the Ellington ensemble sound.

Unfortunately, this record has slid into obscurity and is mostly ignored and forgotten, most likely because of the misleading ‘greatest hits’ title. If you are an Ellington fan and can find this vinyl in good shape, pick it up, you won’t be disappointed. The recorded sound on here is excellent, and the band is in very good form, the ensemble tone colors are superb. This is a hidden gem in the vast Ellington discography, where good things can easily be lost and forgotten.

JACQUES COURSIL Minimal Brass

Album · 2005 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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French trumpeter Jacques Coursil is known by his two great free jazz albums, released on French BYG label in 1969-70(with such collaborators as Anthony Braxton and pianist Burton Greene among others). Classically trained in Paris, he left for New York in late 60s to become a part of American free jazz scene.Later he left active music for studying literature and mathematics ans than worked as University lecturer in France and Martinique for decades. In his early years in New York where he needed to work as French language teacher to receive a visa,young John Zorn was his pupil and even visited his concerts.

Thirty-five years later Zorn offered to Coursil to record an album, first from 1970. Jacques,who never really left music,surprisingly enough suggested to record solo trumpet music. "Minimal Brass", released in 2005 is a result of this project.

Three compositions lasting less than 35 minutes, just trumpet (with some overdubs), and it doesn't sound like angry free jazz improvs from 70s. Coursil uses circular breathing and plays lot of tunes without playing melodies.Music is quite lyrical,warm and minimalist, obviously influenced by Terry Riley works. There is no rhythm or organized structure,just circles of quite beautiful trumpet sound.It starts nowhere and goes to nowhere but differently from many ambient music recordings it has life and mind. Being short,this album doesn't last too long to become repetitive or boring.

After the release of "Minimal Brass" Coursil returned to more intense musical activities releasing an album every few years (non of them contain music,similar to this though).

DENNY MCLAIN Denny McLain At The Organ

Album · 1969 · Exotica
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Is it an album cover, or is it a vintage baseball card? The cover of Denny McLain’s “At the Organ” certainly looks more like a 60s baseball card than your usual jazzy LP. For those who don’t know him, Denny McLain was a star baseball pitcher who also played cheezy lounge music on the Hammond B3. At the height of his baseball career, he was allowed to capitalize on his sports popularity by releasing a couple of albums. If he had not been a star athlete, I don’t think these recordings would have ever found their way on to a Capitol release. An interesting and flamboyant individual, McLain was rowdy and outspoken and often involved with mobsters and illegal gambling. Living a life that was more like the gangster 20s than the hippiefied 60s, McLain would eventually serve jail time for a variety of charges.

Having said all that, this album is not a joke or a total fluke, instead, McLain has some decent chops on the Hammond (the new X77 model on this album) as he plays some of his favorite pop and lounge tunes accompanied by a couple horns and a rhythm section. McLain does not take any solos, but his melodic playing is done in a full chordal style similar to George Shearing on the piano. As Denny plays the melodies he displays much creativity in utilizing the tools of the Hammond, such as constantly changing sounds and textures with the drawbars, and those dramatic swoops that come from sweeping your hands up the keyboard. No doubt, McLain had plenty of previous playing experience before he recorded these tracks.

Most of these tracks are fairly corny pop tunes, and would probably only appeal to hardcore exotica collectors, but there are few cuts where McLain shows a slightly weirder side. “Hurdy Gurdy Man” uses a proto trip hop beat while McLain plays the psychedelic chords of Donvan’s tune with an odd stuttering attack. “Cherish” has a baffling bizarre arrangement that keeps shifting tempos, and on “By the Time I get to Phoenix”, McLain eschews the melody and just outlines the chords in a more psychedelic fashion. Hearing these odder cuts does make you wonder what sort of untapped potential lies within the mind of Denny McLain.

Although McLain has some decent skills on the keyboard, I think most jazz fans would run from this recording in horror, this is definitely more for collectors of exotica and weird pop music. The exotica revival has been very good for McLain’s legacy as he was mostly forgotten as a musician until his tracks started showing up on mid-90s exotica revival collections such as “Organs in Orbit” and other space age bachelor pad type compilations.

FRANK ZAPPA Hot Rats

Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.41 | 49 ratings
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I'll admit to not being familiar with a lot of Frank Zappa's output. If only we adults weren't limited by time and a multitude of distractions from exploring all the music we want to explore! I can't really compare Hot Rats to Frank's other albums. I'm posting my thoughts on JazzMusicArchives as this album compares to other Jazz Fusion music I've heard.

The longer songs here are a bit drawn out IMO. I think that comes with the Jazz Fusion territory. However, that's really the only issue I have with Hot Rats. The playing on the album is brilliant; we would expect no less from Frank and whoever he chooses to work with. My favorite songs come from the second half of the album, but everything here is enjoyable. As a whole, Hot Rats is a great release from one of the early pioneers of Jazz Rock Fusion.

GARY PEACOCK Tales of Another

Album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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Acoustic bassist Gary Peacock's "Tales Of Another" album is significant in many senses. First of all, it's his first ever album as leader released in Western world(two previous Peacock releases come from Japan where they were recorded with local artists in early 70s). Than,it is first ever recorded evidence of his trio with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette (what later will become known as "Jarrett Standards trio" - his second best band after "American quartet").

"Tales Of Another" is Peacock's debut on ECM, the beginning of his long lasting collaboration with world's most prestigious jazz label and one of representative example of what is known as legendary "ECM sound".

Six Peacock originals are played by trio of equal greats,each has enough space and freedom for his improvisations. Peacock already played with DeJohnette and Jarrett before,and it's obvious how good communication have all three of them. Musically album contains characteristic for early ECM sophisticated mix of (still) groovy tuneful straight jazz,free improvisations and European chamber aesthetics. It doesn't sound as Jarrett American quartet raw recordings from early 70s, but has much more life and groove comparing with his European quartet music (and many other recordings of North European artists on ECM of that time). Peacock and DeJohnette are generally quite muscular rhythm section and Jarrett still doesn't sound as arrogant and formal as on series of his later albums(he "sings" a lot here though what can destroy good impression from this music for some his "singing" haters).

For Peacock,who didn't record lot as a leader,this album is probably one of his best works ever. For Jarrett-Peacock-DeJohnette trio it was a start of long-lasting successful career which still continues. ECM improved their once-found stylistic exclusivity exploring (and over-exploring) once-found formula for decades to come.For jazz fans interested in early (still advanced) label's music it is a good example that ECM hasn't always been the home of safest jazz in the world.

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