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VIJAY IYER Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith : A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke

Album · 2016 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Vijay Iyer are both brightest representatives of two different jazz generations and ambiences. Smith is one of AACM founders,who played with Anthony Braxton and in late 90's - first decades of new century became one of the leaders (together with Henry Threadgill) of re-vitalized crossover avantgarde jazz releasing series of large-format albums.

Vijay Iyer came to jazz scene in 90s and during next two decades built the reputation of one of leading pianist playing world fusion,avant-garde jazz even mixing both with contemporary classics.

"A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke" is first duo's album. Released on German ECM label,it sounds according to label's standard - sound is crystal clear and emotionally quite cool.

Iyer plays piano, Fender Rhodes and uses some (lap top?) electronics which often sounds like early analogue Moog.

On a mid-tempo compositions Smith's trumpet flies over Iyer's almost chamber piano or,alternatively, electronics bass pulsation weaving unique aerial and meditative in moments aural sculptures where European and Indian classic roots are mixed with American minimalism and avant-garde jazz aesthetics.

If Iyer's few previous works for ECM already prepared listener for such sound, for often massive and even bombastic Smith's music of last decades it's quite unusual turn. Fortunately, all sound perfectly showing more intimate side of Smith's musicianship.

Structurally album contains opener, seven-part suite and the closer, and requires repeated listening. Not a jazz in a traditional sense, but no-one expects too traditional music from such duet. Excellent work, setting up new standards for jazz in contemporary world.

BORIS SAVOLDELLI Savoldelli Casarano Bardoscia : The Great Jazz Gig In The Sky

Album · 2016 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The world doesn’t need another faithful tribute to Pink Floyd’s much ballyhooed “Dark Side of the Moon”, which is why Boris Savodelli’s “The Great Jazz Gig in the Sky” is such a relief. This isn’t a tribute as much as it is a radical deconstruction and subversive re-creation, while still maintaining a sense of integrity with the original album. This new album sounds like “Dark Side” in a post-apocalypse future, the original album’s big stadium rock sound has been gutted and replaced with whispering industrial drift, echoed sax melodies and mournful bowed strings. Although Savodelli is one of the top singers of today, he delivers these songs with a dry raspy voice that sounds like someone telling their last tale before checking out for good. ’Great Jazz Gig’ is dark and troubled, yet oddly attractive, and even ‘pretty’ at times due to Raffaele Casarano’s sweet tone on the saxophone.

Only three musicians make up this album, the aforementioned Savoldelli and Casarano, and double bass player Marco Bardoscia, who supplies lonely walking bass lines and faux string quartet bowing. All three musicians expand their presence via various looping and echo devices, and everyone in the group manipulates various electronic processing devices. Their overall sound together is of the hypnotic psychedelic ‘nu-jazz’ variety, with an uneasy industrial hum lurking in the background. Fusion guitarist Dewa Budjana joins for a lengthy psychedelic solo on “Us and Them”.

Many consider the original “Dark Side of the Moon” to be a rock and/or ‘progressive rock’ classic, yet when ’Dark Side’ first came out, it was actually met with some trepidation amongst early Pink Floyd fans, as well as fans of early prog rock. Many saw the album’s big stadium sound and simplified music as a calculated move by bassist Roger Waters to achieve greater popularity and more money. This proved true as Floyd paved the way to the heartland of US suburbia for other bands who adopted a similar approach. Savoldelli’s off-the-wall ‘Great Jazz Gig’ returns Floyd to their original intricate and experimental state as originally initiated by Syd Barret, Richard Wright, Nick Mason ... and Roger Waters when he was younger.

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Album · 1977 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Of all the progressive rock bands from the USA that made the grade in the prog rich decade of the 70s, none were so eclectic and far reaching as HAPPY THE MAN which began its days as far back as 1973 in Harrisonburg, Virgina when guitarist Stanley Whitaker and bassist Rick Kennell met in Germany and once they returned back to the US decided to share their passion for progressive rock and form a band. The band actually took their odd name from a quote from Goethe’s “Faust.” (“Oh happy the man who can still hope”) After several lineups along the way, the band spent some years as a cover band glorifying the bigwigs of the day such as Genesis, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. On one fortuitous day playing in Washington DC, the band caught the attention of an exec from Arista records who was so impressed that he showed interest in signing the band which was quite surprising considering the year of 1976 was seeing the major decline of prog and more interest building towards punk and arena rock. In that very same year, none other than Peter Gabriel was scouting out musicians for his solo career and although after hearing them play decided their sound wasn’t compatible with his, did manage to help secure a contract with Arista for a 5 year multi-album deal but would actually end after only two releases.

HAPPY THE MAN the band released their eponymous debut album in 1977 and as you would might have guessed, failed to make any type of commercial impact at all but did manage to create a unique eclectic symphonic prog meets jazz-fusion type of sound. The album begins innocently enough sounding like something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Weather Report album as the suave jazzy passages slink around like a smooth syncopated caterpillar walk but soon displays the band’s tendencies to erupt into serious prog frenzies with keyboards as spastic as Keith Emerson accompanied by extreme musical travails with complex arrangements and instrumental gymnastics. While most tracks on the album are instrumental there are some such as “Upon The Rainbow” that are slowed down and focus on the lyrics. These make me think of what a much more adventurous Steely Dan might sound like if they turned the prog and jazz-fusion up a few notches. I would however say that the vocal parts are my least favorite parts even though they aren’t bad or anything. The band just shines so much more brightly when they let loose and erupt into prog outbursts.

This is a symphonic prog lover’s dream come true with lush Hammond organs, rhodes pianos, minimoogs and clavinets dishing out dreamy synthesized jazzed up melodies often overlapping and creating complex polyphony accompanied by rocking bass and percussion and frequent slick solos that crank it up and run wild. While guitar is included in both six and twelve string form, it is more subdued and is more than drowned out by the heavy dominance of the symphonic elements swirling around like a wild tornado that can calm to a gentle ocean breeze in the blink of an eye. While the tempo shifts can be abrupt, the music is always allowed to breathe and carry out its intended effect. On the jazz side of things the band includes a sax in various sections and also on board is the use of flute and marimba for the occasional folk and ethnic influences, however for the majority of the album’s running time we are simply treated to an all assault on the senses with polyphonic keyboard runs overlapping and creating interesting dynamics. HAPPY THE MAN is one of those band’s that reminds you of many others (Genesis, Camel, Weather Report, ELP) but always keeps their sound unique and truly their own. This band is one of my favorites of the 70s to emerge from the US where prog bands were always several steps behind the European scene. Along with Kansas, Zappa, Santana, Yezda Urfa and The Muffins, HAPPY THE MAN were in the upper tier of United Statesian prog.


Album · 1956 · Big Band
Cover art 4.66 | 4 ratings
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One of the more polarizing artists in the history of jazz, there seems to be no middle ground with Stan Kenton, people either love him or hate him. Kenton kicked off his band leading career in the 1940s and quickly established himself as a bit of a radical as his bands often dealt with rather complicated charts and concert hall type concepts that some saw as at odds with the essence of jazz. His bands could be huge and often emphasized sheer power and volume over more subtle qualities. Critics often pointed out that Kenton’s music was clumsy and it didn’t ‘swing’. As is often the case with polarizing figures, the truth about Kenton’s music lays somewhere in the middle of popular opinion. His music may be a bit heavy-handed at times, and his charts may lack the grace and charm of other classic big bands, but there is still a lot of interesting music within the Kenton catalog, and saying his bands couldn’t swing is overstepping a bit.

In the mid-50s it became very popular for big band leaders to re-record their more famous hits in the new ‘hi-fidelity’ stereo format. So it is in 1955 that Kenton joins this growing trend by recording “Stan Kenton in Hi-Fi”, a collection of past hits re-recorded with a massive modern (50s) stereo sound. Listening to these tracks is exciting, this is a very dynamic band and they play plenty of high energy swing numbers with a few more reflective numbers scattered throughout. Kenton’s often reliance on sheer power is in evidence with plenty of screaming trumpets, but overall these are fun tracks with an upbeat positive vibe. There are plenty of good solos, but honorable mention should go to tenor player Vido Musso who has a very original voice and is one sax player who deserves wider recognition.

Kenton’s sound was heavily influenced by Jimmie Lunceford, and you can also hear some Ellington too. Comparing Kenton to the other big band greats, you could say that he does not have the irresistible groove of Count Basie, nor the slinky subtle tone colors of Ellington, but Kenton’s band has good youthful energy and then there is always that sock-to-the-jaw sheer power. That youthful energy is always a part of the Kenton appeal, and this album reveals just a hint of mid 50s rock-n-roll as it seems that Kenton was often aiming for that frat boy party vibe.

There are plenty of good cuts on here and no duds. Some standouts include the up-tempo rush of “Artistry Jumps”, the Latin groove of “Peanut Vendor” and the third stream ambitions of “Concerto to End All Concertos”. Sure Kenton may not be as cool as Duke or the the Count, but people should not write him off, despite his reputation for stiffness, this is decadently fun and dynamic music.

MAGMA Attahk

Album · 1978 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.32 | 5 ratings
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The musical times were a-changin’ and even the Kobaians were influenced by the heavy gravitational forces of the music industry. MAGMA had broken up for a year after “ÜDÜ ẀÜDÜ” but Christian Vander decided to resurrect the band two years later with an entirely different lineup and with it an entirely different sound. Out of the thirteen musicians and vocalists to be on the previous album, only Vander himself, vocalist Klaus Blasquiz, vocalist Lisa Bois and keyboardist Benoît Widemann returned for the sixth MAGMA album ATTAHK. Out were Bernard Paganotti and Patrick Gauthier who left to form Weidorje as well as the enigmatic Jannick Top whose contribution was seemingly irreplaceable and the musical cast has been trimmed down to a mere eight performers. This is a strange album in the MAGMA discography as it seems utterly disjointed from the rest (still haven’t heard “Merci” though.) Gone are many of the complexities from the first few albums and gone are the interesting developments of “ÜDÜ ẀÜDÜ” and instead what we do get is a more watered down version of zeuhl mixed with a lot of more accessible musical styles.

A lot of this is a matter of personal taste, of course, but i just don’t find this album as enchanting as the rest. Kobaian music, after all, isn’t supposed to be designed for Earthly consumption. It is supposed to be alien and take you somewhere you never considered. ATTAHK never seems like it is going anywhere specific and randomly lollygags through a rather MAGMA-by-the-numbers approach of shortened takes on previous albums. Take the first track “The Last Seven Minutes” for example. What we get here is a zeuhlish take on funk where it sounds like Vander is trying to take his vocals to new levels. After several minutes of this funky zeuhl we get some of his most intense screeches and high pitched squeals ever. The only problem with this for me is that it ends up sounding like a cross between the high falsettos of Prince from the “Lovesexy” album mixed with the trills of an orgasmic Edith Piaf. It seems incessant at the end and i am left wondering just what he had in mind with this one.

For some reason i’m just not keen on this simplified version of MAGMA. I am hardly against pop music and when progressive pop works for whatever reason i am quite receptive but this album drifts hither and tither without developing those elements sufficiently. That said, this album isn’t totally without its merits. It’s really the first two tracks that turn me off totally, but starting with “Rindë” (which would be stolen and incorporated into “Ëmëhntëht-Ré” like tracks from other MAGMA albums) the pace picks up and although the tracks are short, sweet and to the point they at least sound more within the Kobaian universe of intergalactic Top 40 hits at least. There will be many familiar elements from the past only embellished with much more Vander falsetto squeals laced with healthy doses of funk, R&B, gospel and pop elements. My favorite track on here is the closing “Nono” which has a bass worthy of the departed Jannick Top being on board.

This is an album that is hard for me to get excited about but is an ok listen when all is said and done. Just expect a MAGMA lite and you won’t be too disappointed. Definitely one of the weaker albums in the discography but this is MAGMA after all and even the bottom of the barrel has a lot of interest and worthy of adding to any collection. I personally like the album cover a lot but despite its über-hipness by H.R. Giger, the music just doesn’t measure up to the expectations i had for it. As good as some of these tracks are it isn’t quite the otherworldliness that the Kobaians have been so adept in spoiling us with. This MAGMA stream isn’t exactly a steaming hot pyroclastic flow of originality laced with Kobaian litanies of tales of extraterrestrial phenomena but hardly a throwaway album either.


Album · 1984 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.67 | 3 ratings
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Wow! Is this MAGMA or Earth, Wind & Fire? Christian Vander, are you there somewhere?!! Did the Kobaians beam you all back up to your planet? Or did they implant those dreaded disco soul chips in you again. What can we think of the most hated album in the MAGMA discography. After the excellent run of originality and channeling of otherworldly forces that lasted from their debut in 1970 to “Üdü Wüdü’ in 1976, it seems even advanced technology could not help the Kobaians hold back the backlash that dethroned progressive leaning music of the early 70s. While some bands like King Crimson were wise enough to call it a day before the great shift, others who stuck around found themselves watering down their output album by album, whittling away their loyal fan bases and becoming shallow caricatures of their innovative glory years.

Even the Kobains succumbed to these pressures as heard on the watered down “Attahk” in 1978, add to that the financial pressures of operating such a huge number of musicians on board with an ever chaining cast of members and it’s really not hard to imagine the temptation to dummy down the innovations and go for the gold in the highly profitable pop music world of the 80s. Perhaps a good idea at the time but considering this is a whole different band of musicians on board (at least 25!), Vander could have had the decency to at least release this under a different moniker that wouldn’t tarnish the image of one of the 70s’ most unique forces in the prog world. After six years of inactivity the album was a hodgepodge of tracks recorded throughout the early 80s and at this point Vander was bored with the whole MAGMA thing anyway and after the release of MERCI would suspend activities with the band and focus on his jazz-fusion oriented Offering albums.

“Call From The Dark” begins the album and after a few tinkles of some strings and immediately begins what sounds like something you would hear on a disco soul album around 1979 leaving a first time listener accustomed to all the zeuhlisciousness of previous MAGMA offerings totally bewildered and just a few notes away from pumping out “Boogie Wonderland.” While the music itself is perfectly decent for that type of sound, complete with beautiful vocals, a horn section to die for and a nice booty shakin’ rhythmic section, it’s like whoa!!! Is this MAGMA? WTF?

The second track “Otis” is less danceable and at least has a faint trace of the vocal trade offs of Vander and female vocalists from the past, but this song is particularly weak although perhaps acceptable for aging Kobaians in nursing homes or doctor’s offices. Vander’s screams in the middle sound like a mating cat and totally out of step with this mellow repetitive soul music. “Do The Music” is a rather strange little track as it sounds like zeuhl is battling it out with disco leaving the listener with no clear winner but admittedly a unique experiment that does make me think of going to the disco on Kobaia! I mean, they need to get a little light now and again too! “Otis (ending)” is a gospel sounding organ track with Vander screeching. Hmmm. No comment.

The one long track on here “Eliphas Levi” is the anomaly. It actually feels more like the zeuhl music we were expecting albeit more serene, pacified and stripped down in both instrumentation and feel. It does however have those ratcheting vocal deliveries that build in repetition accompanied by piano and percussion. This one is actually pretty enjoyable although very much on simmer as opposed to the full intense pyroclastic flow MAGMA usually delivers as the track drags on for over eleven minutes and feels like it never gets up to expected speed. The vocals are quite pleasant though and this is probably the best track on board and has a pleasant complex interchange at the end.

The album ends with the appropriately titled “The Night We Died” suggesting a now neutered MAGMA calling it a day and throwing in the towel. This is basically a sombre piano ballad with the Kobain females singing in unison. Overall i end with the same impression as i began. WTF? This would be perfectly good music for the most part for a Motown act trying to revive their career although a little unfocused but this MAGMA! Those who are held to a higher standard of complexity and innovative incremental progression as well as a higher energy level. This album is too mellow for its own good with the most energetic track sounding like a Michael Jackson B-side with Earth, Wind & Fire backing it up. Nothing on here is bad per se but for a band that carved its own niche in music and continued to ratchet it up album by album, this is surely a let down. After hearing this, it’s very hard to believe they would come back stronger than ever 20 years down the road.


Album · 1976 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 1.95 | 12 ratings
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OK, so I'm laughing over this cover. I knew I had to get this album for the cover. What was John McLaughlin thinking to pose shirtless on this cover? Grand Funk Railroad, maybe? McLaughlin hardly seems the kind of guy who'd take something like Grand Funk seriously, but he's certainly taking after Mark Farner's tendency of going shirtless (at least Farner had an excuse, it's rock and roll, for one thing, and the girls started screaming when he took off his shirt at Grand Funk concerts, which I'm sure if McLaughlin tried the same thing at Mahavishnu concerts, he won't get the same reaction, probably laughed at, but then I'm sure he only went shirtless for this album cover).

Inner Worlds is the last album (until a 1980s reunion) of Mahavishnu Orchestra. At this point, Gayle Moran had departed, to join her husband Chick Corea in Return to Forever for their apparently forgettable Magicmusic. Jean-Luc Ponty also departed, to continue embarking on his hugely successful solo career. In comes Stu Goldberg on keyboards, no violin this time, with Narada Michael Walden and Ralphe Armstrong remaining. Visions of the Emerald Beyond is easily the best album they did outside the original lineup. Vocals, while present, were kept to a minimum, allowed for more great instrumental workouts for the band. Now comes Inner Worlds. Is it really that bad? The instrumental stuff, which there still is plenty is actually quite good, but what throws people off are the vocals cuts. I actually like a couple of them, "Planetary Citizen" has a funky vibe going on. I think people are simply thrown off by the vocal cuts (most of them sung by Michael Waldon, one sung by Ralphe Armstrong) and the soul/R&B influence seems to collide with the instrumental fusion found on the album. If they stuck to what they did on the previous album, only a couple of vocal songs, and the rest was instrumental, they'd probably not get the negative reactions they did here. Strangely I don't find this album that bad, even the vocal cuts, as out of place as they are, are, for the most part, pretty enjoyable to me. I doubt this review will make you change you mind on Inner Worlds, so this is pretty much my opinion.

FLETCHER HENDERSON Quadromania: Wrappin' It Up

Boxset / Compilation · 2005 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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These Quadromania CD compilations are extremely inexpensive, which makes them suspect at first, but this four CD collection of Fletcher Henderson tracks called “Wrappin It Up” is surprisingly good, especially when you consider the bottom barrel price. Fletcher Henderson is probably the most under appreciated figure in popular jazz history. A contemporary and early band mate of Louie Armstrong, and a precedent for Ellington’s orchestra, Henderson’s importance in the development of jazz is topped only by Armstrong, Ellington and Charlie Parker. If Henderson remains a mystery to you, then this compilation will make for an excellent introduction.

Jazz music was at a peak in the late 20s and early 30s, when most of these tracks were recorded. The music had become far more sophisticated and arranged after leaving New Orleans for New York, but at the same time, this period of jazz was often more experimental and devilishly intense than much of the swing music that followed in the late 30s. Listening to these tracks reveals complex and difficult arrangements topped with crazy hot solos, all played with mind boggling ease and confidence by artists who often went on to more fame with the Ellington Orchestra and others. Coleman Hawkins is all over this collection, but you will also hear the early careers of Russell Proscope, Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladner, Buster Bailey, Don Redmond and many other greats. The recorded sound and flow from track to track is quite good. Some CD collections of older music feature jarring differences between tracks, fortunately there is none of that on “Wrappin It Up”.

Sometimes modern (especially Western) ears have a hard time hearing details in music like this. The big sound of rock and RnB that originated in the 70s becomes a barrier to understanding music from other time periods and cultures where ‘production’ is non-existent. Whether its Indonesian Gamelan, Bach harpsichord inventions, early blues or 20s jazz, the difference from post 70s music is remarkable, and sometimes preferred by some. The other barrier to understanding 20s jazz is its tonality. This was a time when the brightness of major scales was the dominate sound. Since the 50s, the minor blues scale has come to dominate Western music including hard bop, modern blues, hard rock, metal, modern RnB and hip-hop. Some may interpret the bright sound of late 20s jazz as ‘happy’, but a giddy cocaine fueled exuberance would probably be a more fitting description. This was, after all, music for gangsters and illegal partiers, and it was outlawed in many parts of the US.

The big difference in this music compared to jazz today is in the ensemble work. The guys in Henderson’s band traveled together and played long strings of one night gigs while playing the same tunes night after night. The way this band can move together while playing high speed complex syncopated arrangements is something you will not hear today because today’s musician has to play in four or five different ensembles just to keep busy and pay the bills. Unfortunately, the sort of commitment needed to play in an ensemble like this is not usually available anymore.


Album · 1979 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.33 | 6 ratings
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Despite the debut album being a complete commercial flop, PRINCE quickly followed up with a successor releasing his eponymous second album in October of 1979 and once again basically every single aspect of the album was handled by PRINCE himself including the songwriiting, production, arrangements and musical performances. This album showed PRINCE expanding his eclectic tentacles even further into the nooks and crannies of the musical world. While the album still retains a dominant R&B and synth funk presence, on album number two we get a lot more indicating telltale signs that the future purple one is unfurling his talents just a like a lotus flower unfolding its petals into full bloom. He is also showing first signs of loving to be naked! A shirtless PRINCE graces the cover and he is gleefully riding a unicorn unclothed on the back.

While the first couple of tracks are his usual shtick of synth funk verging on disco exclusively done in falsetto, on the third track “Sexy Dancer” we get a glimpse into some of the future purple one’s sound with a funk guitar taking control fortified with a groovy bass line and a healthy libido oriented lyrical litany complete with heavy breathing rhythmic accompaniments. Actually an early glimpse into the mega-hit “Kiss” to emerge a few years later.

Unfortunately some of my least favorite aspects of PRINCE are present here as well. I’m speaking of the over sappy ballads displayed here with “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow.” OK, maybe if you’re all hot and bothered by the album cover then this might do it for ya, but i’m sorry it’s not working for yours truly. Same goes for “With You,” the very next track which shows that the purple one hadn’t quite learned the art of pacing upbeat tracks with the slower moon howlers that i can’t stand. “Still Waiting” is the exception where PRINCE has a catchy piano man persona and has a beautiful melody that technically is a ballad but has a mid-tempo beat and a more interesting flow of chords, rhythms and harmonies.

The sixth track “Bambi” changes everything and debuts PRINCE’s brilliance of incorporating rock ’n’ roll into his synth funk visions. This track has a nice distorted guitar accompanied by a more real rocking drum beat. While this one rocks complete with little licks that would develop into PRINCE’s unique guitar soloing style, this one is still in tandem with the rest of the album with his falsetto only vocal style and funkified song structure. Still though, a prototype for his more rocking mojo of future hits such as “Let’s Get Crazy” and “U Got The Look.”

While this second album failed to score any significant chart climbing singles, it did hit number 22 on the Billboard album charts and was certified gold in the not too distant future. Despite the lack of singles it did however hit the R&B charts with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?.” This album is also notable with the eighth track “I Feel For You” which was remade by Chaka Khan in 1984 and proved to be a huge hit which would be the first of songs written by PRINCE and performed by others to prove major chart success. Proof that PRINCE was first and foremost a songwriting behemoth who would go on to write countless tracks for other artists (think The Time, Stevie Nicks and of course Sinead O’Connor as well as the countless acts he spawned over the years.)

JIMMIE LUNCEFORD Lunceford Special

Boxset / Compilation · 1967 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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About half of the Jimmie Lunceford compilations out there are titled “Lunceford Special”, named after his most popular song, so to specify which “Lunceford Special” this review is covering, it should be pointed out that this is from the Columbia Hall of Fame series released in the late 60s. Even non-jazz fans will recognize the names of Count Basie and Duke Ellington as being two of the greatest big band leaders of all time, but only the hardcore jazz fans know that in his heyday, Lunceford’s band was often more popular and more musically formidable than either of those two giants. Why Lunceford’s popularity has waned over time is easily explained by the fact that he passed away a couple decades before the other two, and did not get a chance to further improve his legacy and fame in the more promotion savvy 1950s-70s. More than likely, more passing of time will work to Lunceford’s advantage and hopefully he will eventually return to his place as big band leader supreme. To understand why Lunceford was so popular, you only have to give this record a spin and you will hear how hot and dynamic his band was.

While Ellington’s band was known for their smooth sound and classical ambitions, and Basie’s band was known for its hard rockin dance beat, Lunceford’s band fell in between the two. Lunceford’s band had a driving rhythm section which made them a favorite amongst the dancers, but their arrangements are deceptively complex, full of interesting change-ups, counter melodies and rhythmic juxtapositions. Their set material often featured popular sing along melodies for the dancers, cloaked in crazy jazz arrangements for the more serious listener.

Of the two sides of this LP, side two is the better. On this side we get less of the ‘jokey’ double entendre dirty lyrics of side one, and more arrangements that feature hot solos and complex ensemble work, and no vocals. Most of the tunes on here are from 1939, when the band was at a peak, but “Flaming Reeds and Screaming Brass” from 1933 is a real eye-opener with its fierce energy and bizarre arrangement that foreshadows Charles Mingus. Another top cut is title tune “Lunceford Special”, with its simple but effective repeating riff that conjures up instant images of dance floor mayhem. The sound on this album is not too bad, it sounds like a lot of high end was cut off of the eq to get rid of surface noise, there is always a trade off in dynamics when you do that. Also, the copy I have was ‘re-channeled’ for stereo, always a bad idea and an unfortunate practice that faded with the end of the 70s.

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