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jazz music reviews (new releases)

SLY5THAVE The Invisible Man : An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre

Album · 2017 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I have to admit that the idea of an ‘orchestral tribute to Dr Dre’ first hit me as some kind of joke along the lines of The Monkees play heavy metal, or Mozart goes reggae mon. It was hard to imagine the sparse hip-hop arrangements of Dr Dre in an orchestrated format, but Sly5thAve’s new album, “The Invisible Man, an Orchestrated Tribute to Dr Dre”, has certainly proved me wrong. In a year laden with highly creative artsy RnB albums, “The Invisible Man” has been able to stand out as one of the best for 2017. The combination of Dr Dre’s laid back grooves and Sly’s hip, slightly retro, orchestrations are an irresistible combination that may have you playing this one over and over.

Sly5thAve is actually Sylvester Uzoma Onyejaka II, a versatile saxophonist who also produces and doubles on a variety of instruments. His talents have brought him work with many including Prince, Maceo Parker, all of the Marsalis Brothers and many other top RnB, pop and jazz musicians. “The Invisible Man” is just Sly’s second full length album, but it sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran. Right off the bat these orchestrated soulful tracks may have you thinking Isaac Hayes and Quincy Jones, and there is some of that sound here, but even closer is the arranger that Dr Dre was fond of sampling from, David Axelrod. Sly’s use of pulsing steady rhythms often recall Axelrod’s sometimes processional sounding arrangements that could almost border on regal and militaristic in an almost campy sort of way. In that respect, another similar famous arranger comes to mind, and that’s George Martin, the exotica composer who also did arrangements for the Beatles, particularly the ‘Sgt Peppers’ album. Still, with the Dr Dre’s iconic beats and attitude going on, Sly’s orchestral creation stands in a world all its own.

The hip-hop world was all over this record when it came out, but the jazz world didn’t seem to take much notice, which is unfortunate because there is plenty here for a fan of contemporary jazz to like. Many of these tracks feature jazz solos by a variety of top notch musicians, for instance the burning guitar solo by Patrick Bailey on the hard driving “Curtis”, or Sly‘s Eddie Harris like electric sax ride on “The Jam Part III“. Although this album lists 23 total tracks, many of the tracks blend together to make just one song, such as the ultra funky string of tracks that start with “No Diggity”. For those who may be rapaphobic or raptose intolerant, although this is a Dr Dre tribute, there is no rapping on here. Meanwhile. others may want to use these tracks to back up some original free verse.


Album · 2017 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Remember the days when jazz was the music for wild hell raising parties and secret drug dens? No, …me neither, because just like you I was not around from the 1920s to the 1940s. Instead, just like you, I came up in that post Miles/Coltrane era when jazz moved out of the dens of sin and into the universities where it now competes with classical music for student dollars. This is not a bad thing because a lot of great jazz has come out since the 50s. While jazz was transforming, Little Richard and Chuck Berry borrowed parts of jazz, gave it a more pronounced backbeat, and created a whole new music for hell-raising and wild parties, rock-n-roll and RnB. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s new album; “So It Is”, doesn’t sound anything like 20s-40s jazz, but it does return jazz to a partying foot-stomping vibe, only with a more current sound.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was started back in 1961, and for many years they did exactly what their name implies, they played original New Orleans jazz the way it is supposed to be played, and provided many a good time for tourists on their visit to New Orleans. Starting in the late 90s, under the guidance of a whole new generation that had joined the band, the band began to open up their horizons and started to take on a myriad of jazz styles, as well as music from outside the jazz world. On this latest offering, they find a rhythmic common ground between New Orleans jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz and Calypso, and produce smoking hot beats that make it hard to sit still. On top of these pressure cooker grooves, they layer classic minor key noire melodies, the type preferred by Ellington and others of the swing era, and also often found in early Jamaican ska and Afro-Cuban mambos. The end result is exactly what people are talking about when they refer to ‘hot jazz’, because this is one of the hottest for 2017. This is not background music, try to play this in the car and keep the volume down, you won’t be able to. All seven tracks are great, but if all of them reached the peaks of “Santiago”, “La Malanga” and “Mad”, this would be a five star album. On another plus, all of these tunes are original. One can only hope The Hall Band can deliver more like this the next time out.

ELLIOT GALVIN The Influencing Machine

Album · 2018 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Judging by all the awards he has won, there is no doubt that pianist Elliot Galvin has some serious jazz chops, and that comes through at times on his latest album, “The Influencing Machine”. Elliot also knows how to rock out too, but the music on this album really couldn’t be called jazz per se, nor could it be called rock or fusion either, instead this music exists in a genre all its own and is one of the more creative and interesting albums to come out so far this year. The title for this album comes from a book by Mike Jay about the 18th century philosopher, polymath, double agent and paranoid schizophrenic, James Tilly Matthews, who thought his life was being controlled by a machine. Given the extant to which machines interact with our lives today, Matthews seems like a prophet. Throughout “Influencing Machine” Galvin explores that intersection of machine and human as his acoustic piano often struggles bravely against an onslaught of electronic blips and sampled voices.

There is a lot of variety on here, “Society” sounds like 20th century classical along the lines of Poulenc and Scriabin, while “Red and Yellow” features pounding rock piano backed with a broken stuttering drumbeat that battles with a host of escalating crazy vocal samples. “Planet Ping Pong” uses sounds from 80s video games and toy pianos, while “Bees, Dogs and Flies” sounds like a Keith Emerson type prog rock progression. On any track, when Elliot cuts loose with flurries of jagged notes he can recall Matthew Shipp or Cecil Taylor, and since Galvin is British, I suppose Keith Tippet might be an influence too. I’ve done my best to describe this, but really this is one you will have to listen to for yourself to get a better understanding of what is happening. Music without much precedent is always the hardest music to describe.

SONS OF KEMET Your Queen Is A Reptile

Album · 2018 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.98 | 3 ratings
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They say there's no jazz for young people? Wrong, just look at the burgeoning London jazz scene! British-Caribbean reedsman Shabaka Hutchings rules there with his space jazz project, Comet Is Coming, plus Afrobeat Ancestors and the spiritual jazz of Sons Of Kemet.

New "Sons'..." album (already third) is just released and it burns. If Shabaka's "Comet..." is hardly jazz in traditional sense with lot of danceable electronics, "Sons..." music is rooted in jazz tradition for sure. Its an unorthodox band containing sax player, tuba player and two drummers playing music which comes right from the Paris clubs of the late 60s (Art Ensemble of Chicago's early European years) and London's Notting Hill of the late 70s (read - 2-Tone ska). Add modern rap on some songs (in a nod to the Afrocentric poets of the late 60s) - there it is.

Even more - "Your Queen Is a Reptile" is a politically sharp criticism on the British Monarchy, growing nationalism and anti-immigration moods. By its atmosphere this music is closer to BLM and anti-fa punk than more conservative jazz. Shabaka builds his own Monarchy by coronation of more or less known black women (incl. activist Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Ashanti queen mother Yaa Asantewaa and yes - his own great-grand mother Ada Eastman among others). Possibly surprising, the album's music is not particularly angry at all, more relaxed and even danceable in moments.

Right from the very first seconds of the opener, "My Queen is Ada Eastman", the listener is caught by the drummers' African rhythms and sax/tuba tight collaboration (ok, vocalist Joshua Idehen's rap is a matter of taste, but many will dig it). Then you get Caribbean tunes, dub and more African rhythms - all spiced with quite free jazz sax and tuba solos. Different from decades of modern jazz evolution, where complexity is usually a mandatory attribute of the genre, "Sons..." keep their music in the pocket.

The single (and one of the strongest album's songs) "My Queen Is Harriet Tubman", has been released prior to the album's release and received strong media exposure, start on this one in case of doubt. It's interesting that the album itself is released on legendary in past "true" jazz label "Impulse!", home for John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders among many other jazz greats of their generation.

Here is a jazz for our modern days, returning back to the streets, and away from concert halls, arrogant city intellectual clubs and marginals fests, becoming people's music as it was in the late 60s (and as it was with the punk/ska explosion in London in the late 70s).


Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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kev rowland
Dominique Vantomme is a pianist, keyboardist, composer, band leader, music educator and producer, equally well known for his work with many European pop and rock acts as for being the jazz piano instructor at the Music Conservatory in Kortrijk, Belgium. In 2016 he travelled to Holland to see Stick Men, and after befriending the Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Stick Men plus, literally, countless others), they decided to record together. They were joined in the studio by guitarist Michel Delville (The Wrong Object; douBt; Machine Mass), and drummer Maxime Lenssens, and with Dominique providing the musical sketches, it was then just a case of everyone else settling down and letting the music take them wherever it needed to. The whole album was recorded in just one day in October 2016, and one can’t imagine this being a highly constructed and layered affair as the four musicians are just bouncing ideas off each other and seeing where they will go.

I have known of Michel Delville and his other bands for a number of years now, and here he is at the fractured best that I would expect of him. Tony is melodic, keeping things tight and mellow, while the drums keep playing ahead of the beat to drive things along while Tony holds into the leash. Then there is Dominique also keeping things in a melodic vein with fine organ, but Michel is out to take the music in quite a different direction, and it is the energy between the four as they ride the musical stallion and try to all keep it in the same direction although they all want to go off in different directions, that really makes this work. This is fusion and improvisational jazz working together to create something that is quite special.

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CHICO HAMILTON The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet

Live album · 1960 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The early part of the Chico Hamilton discography is a bit of a confusing mess to descramble with many tracks showing up on more than one album and many albums bearing the same title such as “The Chico Hamilton Quintet” or “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” etc. To clarify the situation, this “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” album that is being reviewed here was part of a live concert recorded at Strollers back in 1955, but not released until 1960, probably to cash in on the rising popularity of the band. This concert shows Hamilton’s creative group in fine form as they combine a wide array of styles including west coast bebop, hard bop, classical chamber music and rhythms from Africa and South America. All of this music was presented with that distinctly 50s west coast style that came to be called ‘cool’. You really couldn’t call Chico’s quintet avant-garde, but they were one of the more experimental and unorthodox bands of the time, definitely beating out a path all their own.

The album opens with two well known standards, “Caravan” and “Tea for Two”, which the band gives signature creative arrangements. The version of “Caravan” shows the cross-relationship between west coast jazz and the lounge exotica scene of the time, no surprise as many exotica records were performed by west coast jazz musicians. Two up tempo numbers follow with “Fast Flute” living up to its name as Buddy Collete fires off a frantic flute solo while backed by Hamilton’s driving rhythm, which sounds rooted in the music of Africa or Brazil. On track six, “A Mood”, the band shows their specialty, a cleverly arranged melody with shifting time signatures and a surprise around every corner. Something for ‘deep listening’ that still has the snap of a catchy pop tune. “I’ll be Loving You” is their ballad offering and features Buddy’s flute playing melodic exchanges with Fred’s cello. Another up-tempo bop number closes out the set in energetic fashion and features a very musical drum solo from Hamilton, always a master of that peculiarly west coast ‘playing with brushes’ sound.

“The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” is a good example of a young jazz group all excited about the new possibilities that are being offered to them as they learn from each other. If there is a drawback to this album, the sound quality of the recording is okay, but a little murky, especially the guitar. I’m going to guess that maybe this was not meant to be a released album until the record label saw how popular the band had become.

TON-KLAMI Paramggod

Album · 1995 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Three years after their debut at the German Moers Festival (recorded and released in Japan in 1993), the Ton-Klami trio returned to the studio to record their first (and only) studio album. The same line-up (Japanese avant-garde legend pianist Masahiko Satoh, leading Korean reedist Kang Tae Hwan and lesser known Japanese percussionist Midori Takada) are improved here on three songs with New York downtown unorthodox reedist Ned Rothenberg (on alto sax and bass clarinet).

Ton Klami generally play the same music they presented on their debut album, just here on "Paramggod" it sounds more mature with better interplay - and a much improved recorded sound. In the early stages of Japanese jazz, one of the more important (philosophical) problems was whether Japan could have its own unique take on jazz, or would they just be copying Western artists. Besides percussionist Masahiko Togashi, pianist Masahiko Satoh was one of the first Japanese artists who was trying to find a specific Japanese way of playing jazz. In the mid 70s, a lot of those experiments were quite formal, but here on this album, one can hear that Japanese (or being more correct - Far Eastern) jazz exists with no doubt. Thanks to the very original Tae Hwan and his sax improvisations (very "out", cool and dzen, at the same time being very close to Western free jazz traditions), this trio's music sounds as unique as you can only imagine, a true Asian take on free jazz. Satoh himself plays in his usual manner, combining European (German) technocratic/teutonic piano sounds with some Japanese meditative atmosphere.

Guest reedist Ned Rothenberg's participation on three compositions gives some additional attractiveness, fortunately his improvs are ascetic and fit well with the main trio's building atmospheres.

One of better Satoh albums from the 90s, it's just a pity the Ton-Klami trio didn't recorded more music after this release.


Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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After some more or less successful fusion releases and a series of neoclassical piano albums released during the late 70s and 80s, Japanese early avant-garde jazz legend Masahiko Satoh returned back to his roots in the early 90s, forming Ton-Klami trio with Korean reeds player Kang Tae Hwan and lesser known Japanese percussionist Midori Takada.

The trio's debut album is their live recordings from the Moers Festival in Germany 1991, released that same year by Nippon Crown in Japan. Without a doubt, besides Satoh, the other interesting musician on this recording is Tae Hwan (playing exclusively alto sax here). Korea isn't a jazz friendly country even now, in the early 90s there were very few musicians playing jazz there at all. Reedist Kang Tae Hwan is probably the best known of them all, at least outside of the country. His sax sound is very different from any Western sax player, dry and very "out", strongly influenced by East-Asian musical traditions and Buddhist culture. At the same time, he is a real free jazz musician without overt sounds from other music.

Masahiko Satoh is known for his cold, technical piano playing. Here on this album he is even more formal, combining "teutonic" free improvisation with academic musicianship. Percussionist Midori Takada is obviously in the supporting role to the two leaders, who don't always interplay successfully. It's even more strange that here in this live recording, in fact all concert long, Satoh and Tae Kwan exchange with each other on solos almost without having a common ground for their music.

A few years later this trio will release their next album, a studio one this time, with guest New York reedist Ned Rothenberg, who demonstrates a much better communication and really better realized potential. Still, on "In Moers", they demonstrate some raw ideas more than real musicianship.

For Tae Kwan though, this collaboration was an important step towards his quite successful international solo career.


Album · 2015 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.68 | 6 ratings
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kev rowland
Some four years on from their second album ‘Bani Ahead’, this the Italian masters of progressive gypsy electro-eclectic jazz returned in 2015 with ‘All You Can Eat’. As with their previous album. this is again fully instrumental, primarily because there is just no room at all for any vocals. They just wouldn’t fit! Yet again there had been a slight line-up change, with bassist Domenico Angarano making way for Vincenzo Lamagna. Here is band that is continuing to push the boundaries of progressive jazz rock, taking the likes of Zappa into areas that even he hadn’t thought of. Ricccardo Villari (electric and acoustic violin) has obviously been heavily influenced by the great Stéphane Grappelli, but whereas he normally only had to battle against a guitarist (admittedly he made his career working opposite one of the greatest of all time), here we also have a sax player, a trumpeter, plus Derek Di Perri on harmonica. Derek isn’t a blues wailer either, he is short and sharp, tying in the rest of the brass to provide a structured wall for the others to play against.

There are times when the guys are languid, structured, layered, all taking their time to add their touches to the music, while at others they are battling, with the brass and violin competing against the electric guitar to see who can be the most dominant and have major impact. Then behind it all Salvatore Rainone is keeping it all together on the drums, and Vincenzo has a wonderfully warm bass sound and feel that provides the foundation for the others. The title suggests that there is room here for over-indulgence, and the musicians, both individually, and collectively, do push proceedings well into the realm of excess, allowing themselves the joy complex arrangements and dramatic compositional shifts and transitions, until they are finally satiated and there just isn’t space for another morsel. Moonjune Records keep releasing amazing albums by fine artists, and this is yet another.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette (aka Spectacular!)

Live album · 1955 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” is not the first Chico Hamilton album, but it’s the first to present his popular quintet and its west coast flavored ‘chamber jazz’ sound. In current times, the term chamber jazz has become vague and often misapplied to jazz that has more in common with art pop and new age music, but in the 1950s, chamber jazz actually meant jazz with a pronounced element of classical chamber music. In other words classical music written for small ensembles. This album is a sort of slap together type affair with supposedly half the tracks coming from one studio session, and the other half from a live date, but judging by the different production values of some of the tracks, I would guess there may be even more sources for these tunes. For the most part, the studio tracks reveal intricately arranged chamber works, while the live ones get into a mellow west coast hard bop swing.

“A Nice Day” opens up the album, and it sets the mood for the Hamilton chamber jazz sound as carefully arranged cello and clarinet lines sometimes give way to concise solos, but mostly its about the creative arrangements. This sound is featured on approximately four tracks, while most of the rest feature Hamilton and crew playing relaxed hard bop jams live at a club with very sparse arrangements and plenty of solo space for guitar and saxophone. If cellist Fred Katz appears on the live cuts, then he must be mixed very much in the background. Studio track, “Blue Sands” is a very interesting ‘exotic’ number that hints at Hamilton’s world fusion direction in the 60s, but the recording is very murky and sounds like it was recorded somewhere different from all the other tracks. Amongst the live tunes, “Free Form”, is an odd experiment, not really free jazz as such, but more like an improvised modern classical piece, it sort of works, but mostly seems almost out of place with the mellow west coast bop numbers.

“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” isn’t a bad album, and fans of Chico and 50s creative west coast jazz in general, may want to get this, but for somebody looking for their first Chico Hamilton record, this is not the one to get.

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