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DAN BONSANTI The 14 Jazz Orchestra : Cartoon Bebop

Album · 2021 · Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Dan Bonsanti is a music educator and arranger working out of the Miami area for several decades now. Since 2015 he started a big band project called The 14 Jazz Orchestra, so named for the number of musicians in the band for performances. “Cartoon Bebop” is the band’s third album, and although the album title might imply some silliness, and the band does seem to have a lot of fun, but this album is mostly really solid contemporary big band arrangements and musicianship. Usually the band relies solely on local Miami players, but due to Covid, Dan had to reach out to musicians all around the country to complete this online endeavor. Although the parts were recorded separately using remote methods, you would not be able to tell unless someone told you. All of the performances are as lively and kinetic as you would get if all the players were assembled in one room.

The opening title track gets its name from the fact that the main theme borrows from the well known Bullwinkle and Rocky cartoon theme. Oddly enough, it ends up sounding like late 70s Weather Report, which is furthered by the fact that Peter Erskine from WR supplies the drum beat and Dan used to work with Jaco in big band settings. “Got a Match” is blazing fast bebop and features a furious sax solo from Ed Calle, who throws in a few Yardbird clichés, but often recalls Randy Brecker. Misturada and Dayride have Latin flavors that fit this band well and it would have been nice if Cisco Dimas’ trumpet solo could have gone on a little longer. “Driftin”, by Herbie Hancock, sports an arrangement that is a dead ringer for Quincy Jones, and “A Day Tripper’s Blues Buffet contorts the well known Beatles melody into a Texas blues shuffle with Lindsey Blair filling in for Stevie Ray Vaughn or Billy Gibbons.

Not everything on here is high energy, Bonsanti also includes a few ballads and waltzes to show off his use of tone colors that tend toward light, transparent textures, not heavy big band bombast. Of the mellower tracks, Chick Corea’s “Duende” carries dark noir sound colors and Wayme Shorter’s “Infant Eye’s” strikes an air of mystery with its exotic guitar melody. Its very impressive that Bonsanti and crew pulled off such a warm and energetic performance while recording by remote.


Live album · 2021 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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This album "Vale Tudo" (in Portuguese, anything is alright), released on January 16 2021, was created / produced by Yuji MUTO & Nana OMORI, the third free / improvised jazz duo project of Yuji. The material for this creation has been recorded live on August 22 2020 at Jazz Club Intersat. Yuji's recorded and released other two albums in collaboration with great drummers like Mieko SAKAI or Mako KIMATA, and we have been looking forward to his forthcoming opus cooperated by a pianist of multiplicity Nana. Yes they do not betray our expectations.

Just curious how Nana synchronizes Yuji's kaleidoscopic guitar plays, and we can notice two musical cogwheels can engage with each other in a complex and perfect manner. Already we know well Yuji plays the guitar diversely (jazz, rock, metal ... and so on) but Nana's piano sound launching should not be defeated at all. Take a listen to the first track "Introduction" and we can get immersed in his smooth, sliding guitar plays, followed by Nana's sensitive but vivid piano performances. The power of their combination expands dozens of times actually. "Bloodshed On The Desert" is another revolution of sound, lyrically combined with two talented activities just like a fireworks display. Via the three Improvisations we can enjoy their natural appearances in the air. Wondering why they can work together quite smoothly and precisely. And another highlight: In "Desert Yellow" Nana's heavy desert piano oscillations are completely chasing Yuji's metallic dissonant guitar paranoia. On the contrary, the last "Someday My Prince Will Come" is soft and quiet, as if they would appreciate the prince, namely the upcoming era we will be safe and sound.

Sounds exactly like the two virtuosi say 2021 will not be bad. Believe them, and make a toast for the new year with such a tremendous creation.

MORILD Brazilian Soundscapes

Album · 2020 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Morild is a somewhat unorthodox duo consisting of Dag Einar Eilertson on alto trombone and Marius Noss Gundersen on classical guitar. The alto trombone has a rich mellow tone somewhat similar to a flugelhorn, only a bit deeper and makes for an excellent soulful melodic voice which works well in their music which tends to emphasis melody over technical showmanship. Their first album, "Nordic Landscapes", reflected their Norwegian roots with somber tunes that fit well with warming oneself by a cozy fireplace. On their new one “Brazilian Soundscapes”, they head to much sunnier climes. Despite their north European roots, both of these artists are well versed in Latin jazz and have performed in that style together for over ten years. Gundersen’s solo work is usually in either a Brazilian or classical tradition.

A lot of us probably tend to associate Brazilian music with upbeat celebrations and sexy beach music, but Morild’s performance also reminds us that there is also a lot of sensitivity and delicate melodies in Brazilian music. A couple tracks on here can recall the more reflective nature of their first album, while other songs get into that characteristic upbeat samba rhythm. If you have any familiarity with Latin jazz you will recognize the composers represented on here, particularly Jobim and Gismonti. Fortunately there are no one note sambas, girls from Impanema, waves or any other wore out overplayed hits. The selected tunes all sound refreshing and still new, or nuevo.

There is a bit of horn double tracking here and there, which makes for interesting tone colors that this group could probably explore further. Six tracks feature added bass and percussion, which adds some depth and variety, I just wish that Luis Landa-Schreitt’s percussion had been mixed a little louder, particularly on the more up tempo numbers.


Album · 2020 · RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Japanese jazz is traditionally accepted as an unorthodox deviation from predominantly Western (or being more precise - Western of African roots) genre. Still fans familiar with at least some of the Japanese scene know that there was an extremely creative period of time there lasting from the end of 60s and up to mid 70s, which gave to the international jazz world such artists as pianists Yosuke Yamashita, Masahiko Satoh or sax player Akira Sakata among others. Still, from the late 70s partially influenced by the wave of fusion popularity, Japanese jazz for decades became better known by its quantity than quality.

There are a few name players of world level there on the Japanese scene, incl. Satoko Fujii, fusion pianist Hiromi and still active Akira Sakata among others, but they are shamefully rare for one of the world's biggest jazz lover nations. And even more rare are brighter jazz artists coming from a younger generation.

With "Fly Moon Die Soon" Kobe-born forty year old trumpeter Takuya Kuroda makes a serious request to the A-list. New York-based from early 00'. Kuroda already released five albums before playing music ranging from hard bop to funk jazz and electronics. On "Fly Moon..." he brings all of his influences together mixing them in one stylish cocktail of old and new without plagiarism.

From the very first second of album's opener "Fade", the listener is invited to dreamy neo-soul with flying soloing trumpet and Corey King's vocals. Richly arranged and instrumented piece sounds as you're in 70s and in today's world at once."ABC" with horn section, African rhythms and funky groove is again something what comes from Earth Wind & Fire golden era, or today's vibrant London scenes.

Many pieces are funky, but not physically deep, more flat and electronically danceable, but that more modern sound is heavily influenced by the Moog, not 21st century electronics. Ohio Players "Sweet Sticky Thing" cover (with Russia-born singer Alina Engibaryan) sounds as brass-decorated pop-soul song. Herbie Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story", coming right after, will remind you the fusion of the late 60s and Miles Davis.

Title track is more nowadays music, with electronic rhythms, neo-soul vocals and Kuroda soloing trumpet over it. Being very versatile in genres, this album doesn't sound as an overly eclectic collection at all. Kuroda successfully mixes different influences to new music with respect to tradition and a touch of modernity. This album is for a much wider circle of listeners than just regular jazz fans, and one of the rare great releases from today's Japanese jazz.

* UK vinyl edition, released month or so later after original Japanese release contains one song less comparing with the Japan edition.

MAX HAYMER Whirlwind - Live At Sam First

Live album · 2020 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Continuing my relentless pursuit to bring forth those artists who are not getting near the recognition they deserve, I think many a jazz fan would do well to check out pianist Max Haymer. This man is an absolute powerhouse on the piano with a highly developed technique in the league of Art Tatum, Eddie Palmieri and the young pre-scientology Chick Corea. I also hear a lot of Ahmad Jamal, not just Jamal’s lounge tendencies, but also his fired up free fusion performances. Max isn’t just a technician though, there is an abundance of imagination in his solos as he will often rapidly cut from one idea to the next while quickly throwing in perfectly executed jaggedy syncopated Latin rhythms. This is a very physical pianist, that fact that he was also a top notch soccer player in college comes as no surprise. As a long time piano teacher and former athlete, I can attest to the close relationship between sports and musical performance. So often my students who devote themselves to a skill in sports will also develop the quick intuition and reflexes of a strong music performer.

‘Whirlwind’ is only Max’s second album as a leader, so possibly that is why he is not better known. Some of you may already know him from his usual main gig as pianist for Arturo Sandoval. Haymer has also worked with many other well known jazz artists, which is also true for his backup band, David Robaire on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums. Dan plays in today’s modern post bop style, which is to say he is constantly all over the kit in a robust conversation with Max. David plays the bass like it should be played, he stays on the low end of the instrument while staying nimble enough to offer support to his rapidly moving band mates.

So many good tracks on here, but some that stand out would include a burning high speed version of ‘Love for Sale’ and a complex rhythmic original called ‘Gold Plated Dime’. ‘Welcoming’ is the mystical track sounding much like an impressionistic concert hall piece. “Speak Low’ is the one track where that Jamal influence really comes through as Max starts off in lounge mode and then keeps throwing surprise curveballs as the song develops. I searched various top pianist lists for Max’s name but was surprised not to see him, hopefully ‘Whirlwind’ will change that.

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Album · 1997 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard

Recorded in 1993, mixed in 1994, but not released until 1997, Kenny Wheeler's All the More is nothing short of a quartet masterpiece. Sadly, even many from Kenny's worldwide following have not heard this album, as it only appeared on an obscure Italian label, Soul Note. Not only that, but it was competing in the marketplace with the much higher-profile ECM album, Angel Song, with which it shares a common composition, "Nonetheless". The two albums will not be compared as they are very different, but I really wish All the More had been better marketed and distributed, as it is truly one of Wheeler's best albums over a long and checkered career.

This album's instrumentation (trumpet/piano/bass/drums) should remind many of another well-known Wheeler album. Backed by Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette, 1976's Gnu High first brought Wheeler to international attention in his mid-40's. All the More is a much longer and more fiery album than Gnu High, and Wheeler plays far more trumpet than flugelhorn. Pianist John Taylor and drummer Joe LaBarbera have backed many different performers over the years, but have never sounded as impassioned as they do on this album. I was not familiar with bassist Furio di Castri until hearing this performance, but he more than holds his own and makes a major contribution throughout. The ever-generous Wheeler makes sure everybody receives extensive time in the solo spotlight. There's even room for a Bill Evans tribute, LaBarbera's composition "Kind of Bill".

The multi-faceted work of Kenny Wheeler includes free jazz, avant-garde jazz, and a huge pile of compositions for both big band and much smaller ensembles. His biggest sellers are sometimes dismissed with pejoratives such as "pensively lyrical" or "ethereally haunted". While it's possible to understand where these critics are coming from, none of these adjectives apply to All the More, which is not only one of his best, but also one of the most significant (in spite of its obscurity) jazz albums of the late 1990's. The fact it didn't have the distribution of an ECM album makes it harder to find, but the search will be more than repaid to fans of the players involved. Let it also be known that this album shares a composition ("Mark Time") with Wheeler's other masterpiece, 1984's Double Double You.

TOMASZ STAŃKO Tomasz Stańko Quintet : Dark Eyes

Album · 2009 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.46 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard

Inevitably, this album will be compared to Stanko's three preceding albums for ECM, Soul of Things (2002), Suspended Night (2004), and Lontano (2006). The Polish quartet has been replaced with a Scandinavian quintet, and while the Stanko trumpet sound remains the same and there are some similar tonal textures, Dark Eyes is also something very different. Most significantly, the addition of electric guitar and electric bass produce a fuller, more modern, even urban soundscape. Where some will recognize a natural progression from the experimental Lontano, surely others will lament the loss of the classic quartet atmosphere. Dark Eyes is a shorter album (61:44) than the quartet albums, and with a variety of moods takes some time to come to grips with. This is definitely not an avant-garde side-street, but it's also not an accessible "start here" recording.

The album begins with the pace-setting, scratchy-toned "So Nice". It's unusual, after the three piano/bass/drums albums, to hear a guitar backing Stanko. Dark Eyes was my introduction to guitarist Jakob Bro, and he plays moodily and unobtrusively throughout. The thunderous drumming of Olavi Louhivuori and the rumbling bass of Anders Christensen are the highlights of "Terminal 7". Many of the songs begin hesitantly, such as "Amsterdam Avenue", "Samba Nova", and "Grand Central", which stops completely before resuming. Pianist Alexi Tuomarila takes his best solos on these three. The album closes with a call-back to 1976's Balladyna album, "Last Song", and the poignant "Etude Baletova No.3".

Special mention must be made of the following stand-outs: "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch" is this album's instant classic, beginning as a dirge before Stanko launches into his wildest solo on the album. Over tolling piano chords and splashing cymbals, Stanko wails and Bro plays an airy solo on "Dirge for Europe". The ethereal "May Sun" does without Stanko entirely: a simple piece for guitar and piano, reminiscent of a Chick Corea "Children's Song".

While risks are taken, Dark Eyes is an overwhelmingly subdued album. The melancholy ECM sound is ever-present and will repay repeated listening. The first two quartet albums notwithstanding, this album sits very securely among the best of the now complete Stanko oeuvre. And lest any doubt be raised, the greatest trumpet with electric guitar albums remain Miles Davis's In a Silent Way (John McLaughlin), and Enrico Rava's The Plot (John Abercrombie).


Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Philadelphia's Sounds of Liberation created an excellent, yet obscure, jazz/fusion LP. The year was 1972 and the doors of creativity that were kicked open in the late 1960's had not yet been closed by the increasingly corporate music industry. The music scene was still fertile and the Sounds of Liberation were keen on capitalizing on the opportunity to create something unique. New Horizons is an intoxicating mixture of jazz rock/fusion, free jazz, and African music. All of this is wrapped in a slightly psychedelic aura. The opening track, "Happy Tuesday," even has a Krautrock vibe to it. The 19-minute song features a driving, repeating rhythm accented with African percussion instruments, while the rest of the band jams along. A wonderful trip! The rest of the album does not disappoint, continuing on a similar sonic path. The performances are excellent and the recording and production is decent for an independent release of that time. A highly recommended lost fusion classic!


Album · 2004 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Rodrigo Amado was one of the key figures in new Portuguese adventurous jazz during first decade of the new Millennium. On the wave of his homeland avant-garde jazz scene's popularity explosion, Amado's lead projects won respectful reputation around Europe and partially in the States. Still, differently from series of recordings under his own name, Rodrigo's earlier project Lisbon Improvisation Players stays in the shade, and it's a shame since Player's music is right on the level of any of Amado's later bands, and in moments even overtakes many of them.

For "Motion" Rodrigo forms Portuguese-American quartet where he plays tenor and baritone in a company with American soprano/tenor Steve Adams with support from Portuguese drummer Acacio Salero and American double bassist Ken Filliano.

All of the album's material is pure improvisation, but same way as with many other Amado's works, it sounds well organized, full of tunes and generally quite accessible. Based on so-called "improvisational composition" techniques, Amado adds a lot of tuneful snippets to his music and even if each of the four quartet's members are soloist here nothing sounds too chaotic or extremely "out". Even more - the opener "Perpetual Explorers", is an improvisational composition of rare beauty containing lots of lyrical tones, fragile grace and in all sounds quite close to modern academic composed music. "Motion" coming after has more muscle and is more free-jazz rooted still having all that melodic charm.

If only the whole album was like these two songs it could be crowned as modern creative jazz masterpiece. Still, the album's central part loses this highest level of sharpness a bit still staying an excellent example of truly reflective high-class musician's collaboration.

Lasting near an hour, this album doesn't leave a feeling it's too long or too complex what is quite a common case with improvisational music. The main reason is Rodrigo's ability to make even quite quirky music to sound attractive and accessible (this ability with no doubt is a main reason of the success of many of his other albums as well).

More relaxed, more experimental and surprisingly often more beautiful music than one can find on other better known and more popular Rodrigo Amado albums, it can become a great surprise for fans of Amado's later works and with no doubt is a "must have" release for everyone with interest to Portuguese creative jazz.

GRANT GREEN Green is Beautiful

Album · 1970 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 3 ratings
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Green is Beautiful” is a transitional album for Grant Green as it finds him moving more from the hard bop of his early career and more towards a funk/RnB sound. Like a lot of soul jazz LPs form this era. ‘Beautiful’ is kind of hit and miss with about one half good RnB jazz grooves, and about one half pop ditties that are forgettable. Side one opens with a cover of James Brown’s “Aint it Funky Now”, and it’s a solid cooker with great solos from the whole crew, including saxophonist Claude Bartee, who might remind some of Eddie Harris. This side closes out with the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. This song was popular with soul jazz musicians, but it never works well. Although it’s a good song in its original format, the different changes in the arrangement don’t lend itself very well to jazz or RnB solos.

Side two opens with another JB’s style groove, “The Windjammer”, which is followed by a very lackluster “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”. I’m not sure whose idea it was to include this very cheesy pop song, but it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. It’s a bad song to begin with and there is no way to save it, or make it better. The album closes with the best track, “Dracula”, another funk number and one of the few tracks with a very strong melody. If you keep the three best tracks on “Green is Beautiful”, you have a decent funk jazz album, albeit one that mostly sounds like a jam session. It doesn’t hurt that Green in his crew know how to turn in hot solos over an infectious groove.

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