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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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YUSEF LATEEF The Golden Flute

Album · 1966 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.84 | 4 ratings
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Sean Trane
I believe this is Yusef’s last album for the Impulse label, and he’s in a quartet formation with Lawson on piano, Wright on bass and Brooks on drums. With an “iffy” title of Golden Flute (sounds like a compilation of Zamfir or something like that) and an OK sleeve, the album features a bunch of covers of 40’s standards, which IMHO don’t exactly fit with the Impulse “New Thing” image – so allow me to take the “!” away from this review.

Opening with the “standardy” Road Runner (written by Yusef about life on the road), Lawson’s piano and Lateef’s sax bounce over each other to make it vibrant and even swingy. Some more gentile swingy-bop is coming up with the following Straighten up is a reprise of Nat Cole, and it will be joined a little later by Lester Young’s slow ballad Ghost Of A Chance and a bit later Exactly Like You (with a rare oboe). The album’s title only starts to fulfil its promise with the Yusef-penned Oasis, which features the flute and a light and slightly mysterious eastern (Arabian) ambiance.

The flipside opens on the promising Yusef-penned Golden Flute, built on a JS Bach inspiration, where the flute returns with a haunting mysterious aura. That aura is destroyed by another 40’s reprise of Rosetta. Lawson’s Head Hunters is a brilliant piano-dominated piece and the closing 7-mins+ Brooks-penned Smart Set is an outstanding modal piece with all members cruising along, just interrupted by a short drum solo, only to return to its haunting pace.

Unfortunately, while the album contains a few magic pieces, it’s rather clear that most (if not all) 60’s jazz label still didn’t know how to build an Album (yes, with a big “A”), as would be shown in the next few year by the “rock crowds”. This writer kind of wishes that all the covers of this album would’ve been grouped on one side; while the quartet’s original composition (much more interesting – and not just IMHO, I believe) would’ve made the flipside. Oh, yeah: this album’s major flaw is that it doesn’t feature enough of the instruments it draws attention to: two tracks only, even if they’re the best two of this slice of wax, it’s a little too few for my tastes.

YUSEF LATEEF Psychicemotus

Album · 1965 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.39 | 4 ratings
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Sean Trane
Between Yusef’s better known Prestige label era (where he recorded his most famous Eastern Sounds) era and his next Atlantic label days, Lateef spend a couple of years on the seminal Impulse label, and the present Psychicemotus is (I believe) his second last for the orange house. Released in 66, the album was recorded in the summer of 65 with the inevitable Reggie Workman on bass and more importantly Franco-Greek pianist Georges Arvanitas

The opening title track is a very interesting modal piece that can recall Trane’s Africa/Brass album with some Sun Ra-like percussions that give it a slightly dissonant flavour courtesy of Arvanitas’ piano. Bamboo Flute is (as you’ll guess) a slow blues with a bamboo flute. Logical enough, uh?? Semiocto is definitely more Trane-ian, and has Yusef going wild on his sax, while dummer Black solos briefly. The reprise Why Do I is your standard 50’s stuff .

On the flipside, the jazzified Satie piece Gymnopédie features some quiet flute over gentle piano. The following Medula Sonata sounds like Yusef also listened to Debussy or Sibelius. Always Be In Love is one of those 3AM syrupy jazz ballads, including soft piano and oversweetish sax. Arvanitas’ piano dominates the closing reprise Ain’t Misbehaving.

While the present album has excellent moments, compared to what else was going on the Impulse label, Yusef’s album might not merit the “!’ on the label logo on the front sleeve. Indeed, the “New Thing” appears only as a “thingette”.

KAZUTOKI UMEZU Another Step (with Mal Waldron)

Album · 1982 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Sax player Kazutoki Umezu came on Japanese jazz scene too late to participate in explosive introduction of free jazz in 1969-71.As a musical student he spent mid-70s in States playing around in New York lofts. Oliver Lake,Lester Bowie and David Murray were his influences. Still being a student he formed his first band Seikatsu Kōjyō Iinkai (with bassist William Parker and trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah among others), which recorded three loft-type free jazz albums. After return to Japan in 1976 Kazutoki tried to find a place for adventurous improvisational music what wasn't easy - it was a time of j-pop and j-fusion.

His first album as leader "Bamboo Village" was recorded in trio format (with legendary free-jazz percussionist Masahiko Togashi and American bassist David Friesen)and contained still same free jazz - no surprise it haven't been noticed in year 1980.Probably it pushed Kazutoki to quite unusual step - two years later he formed quartet with cult status in Japan having pianist Mal Waldron and recorded collection of five standards (incl."'Round Midnight")!"Another Step", Japan-only released album, stays Kazutoki's only hard bop album till now.

It would be not really correct to speak about "Another Step" as true mainstream album though. Differently from first generation Japanese free-jazzers known by their noisy,scratchy and often brutal,rock-influenced sound, Kazutoki's playing is closer to bluesy and tuneful free-bop.

"Another Step" was obviously oriented on traditional Mal Waldron's music Japanese listener and didn't add popularity to Kazutoki.Soon he will switch towards really new sound - mixing rock,avant-garde jazz,fusion,klezmer and funk - and will become the leading sax player of Japanese post-fusion generation.

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 Hush 'n' Thunder

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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Sean Trane
This HnT release might seem somewhat of an oddball to YL fans, maybe because most of the tracks are attributed to pianist Kenny Barron, who happens to be all over it. Recorded at Atlantic’s studio in 72, the album is fairly representative of those days’ 60’s jazz artistes trying to find their way through a changed music landscapes where they had lost their spot.

Opening with Duke’s Come Sunday with only Yusef’s flute and a cello, the album veers fusiony with the following funky The Hump that prefigures the later-70’s jazz-funk - and YL’s own APP release four years later. The two-parts 8-mins Opus is much more of a pure fusion piece, despite opening very softly, but Barron’s Rhodes and Yusef’s flute, both underlined by a lovely cello, are pure bliss; the second movement slowly gains momentum and we can hear YL’s heavy air intake to blow in the flute, much like what Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson did and included it in his music. Closing the A-side is a weird semi-gospel and NO jazz This Old Building piece that opens on construction machine noises. Definitely out of context, if you ask me.

The flipside opens on the funky Prayer that features the shannai (that’s an Indian wind instrument that looks like a kazoo – its spelling varies) and a pneumatic flute (wtf is that?? ;-), but we’re again dealing in the region of The Hump. The almost 8-mins Sunset is dissonant and could be compared to Mwandishi’s calmer moments. The Sparrow cover piece is a return to the gospel thing, and personally, I find it insufferably long and overstaying its welcome by the third of its duration (gospel is really not the thing of this atheist). The closing Destination Paradise is an atmospheric piece that relates well with the Opus and Sunset fusion pieces.

I’m not sure I would define this album as post-bop, because it’s an extremely varied affair, ranging from gospel-soul to pure fusion. I personally fully endorse its adventurous fusion part and to an extent its funk extension, but personally can’t stand the gospel part, which I not only find intrusive, but ruining the album’s cohesiveness.

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