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jazz music reviews (new releases)

JOHN DAVERSA Wobbly Dance Flower

Album · 2017 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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No doubt there is a lot of creative abstract intellectual jazz coming out these days, which is all fine and good, but sometimes you may be asking yourself, ‘where is the heat’? Where is that hot jazz that blasts you in the face with kinetic unstoppable energy. A couple years ago it was Walking Distance with their “Neighborhood” album that supplied some much needed fire. This year its John Daversa and his more fun than a drunk barrel of monkeys, “Wobbly Dance Flower”, that is bound to get you up to get down. What we have on this fine disc is a great blend of high speed neo-bebop, soulful hard bop grooves and anarchistic free blowing that all adds up to one of the hottest jazz CDs of 2017. Mostly known for his modern big band arranging, Daversa also adds plenty of interesting changeups and arrangements to keep these tunes far from anything cliché.

Opening track, “Ms Turkey” will grab your attention with one of this CD’s salient features, and that is the aforementioned high speed neo-bebop that exists somewhere between the worlds of Diz n’ Bird, and early Ornette with Don Cherry, but rendered with a modern sensibility that shows no trace of nostalgia. “Be Free”, as the title would suggest, is a free jazz jam that uses the same up tempo bop as a starting point, but then utilizes modern tempo changes that shift and dissolve without warning. Things cool out for the soulful and melodic “Brooklyn Still”, as well as the B3 groove of “Jazz Heads”. “Meet Me at the Airport” is a another B3 soul jazz number that closes with a climbing fusion riff reminiscent of Larry Young’s work with the Tony Williams Lifetime. After this, the album closes out with more short and sassy high speed romps.

The playing on here is excellent. Daversa has a clean and precise tone on the trumpet that recalls Clifford Brown, infused with the energy of Dizzy Gillespie. He is joined by the well known Bob Mintzer on sax and bass clarinet, as well as Joe Bagg on piano and B3, a keyboard player who deserves more recognition. Zane Carney, Jerry Watts Jr and Gene Coye keep things moving in the rhythm section. Looking for your modern le jazz hot, here it is.


Album · 2017 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.05 | 3 ratings
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Kubikmaggi are piano trio from St.Petersburg,most European Russian city founded on eastern Baltic shores by Peter the Great, most "European" of all Russian czars to date. Built on former Sweden-controlled territories by best French and Italian architects of the time, it was a result of an ambitious czar's project "to cut the window to Europe" for Russia. The project itself has been always a big challenge never fulfilled in full, but it gave to Russia and the world one beautiful place with very specific atmosphere, true "east meets west"(Eurasia Meets Europe),true creative boiler where Nordic rationalism is mixed with Russian metaphysical spirituality.

Originally a piano trio (or sometimes quartet), Kubikmaggi are not only a product of few hundred years of intellectual exclusivity and grey St.Peterburg's sky but as well a continuation of modern Russian avant-rock tradition, similar to Western RIO movement. Nothing's strange - Kubikmaggi's pianist and vocalist Kseniya Fedorova is a daughter of Russian avant-rock cult figure Leonid Fedorov, leader of Auktyon band.

Kubikmaggi's evolution from their debut "Needless"(2008) music till now is very impressive. Started as alternative rock quartet (with guitarist) on their debut, band sounded as bunch of students singing pretentious lyrics and adding odd sound effects trying to be different and attract attention at the same time (don't even want to mention terrible "experimental" sound mix). Here on "Things" they sound much more mature. Sound is very soft and uncompressed, not a classic "Nordic" one though. There is lot of blood and groove in album's music,with successful addition of saxophone on one song(opener).

Paying main attention on music itself,Kseniya sings only in a few places (incl. reworked in reggae key Little Tiger's song "Laying Under The Sun" from popular Soviet times children cartoon). Sounding more jazzy (partially because of sound mix),new album's music is better balanced but still contains same components as before - alternative rock's energy, snippets of brilliant tunes, some jazzy arrangements and in whole accessible and crazy mix of rational and irrational (an obvious Fedorov's genetic roots in father/Auktyon's music).

Not as screaming,intimate and sharp as Auktyon, Kubikmaggi with their third album continue the honorable tradition of St.Peterburg's avant-garde rock (and around) musical scene, and they do it well.


Album · 2017 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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On Dustan Jevtovic’s previous album, “Am I Walking Wrong?”, he served up noisy guitar textures backed by a muscular jazz rock rhythm section. If you were expecting more of the same on his follow up album, “No Answer”, you may be in for a surprise as Dusan has decided to change up direction quite a bit. The heavy fusion drum and bass rhythm duo of the previous album is gone, and in their place on this new CD is a more swingin jazzy fusion drummer in Asaf Sirkis, plus the romantic classical meets post bop keyboard work of Vasil Hadzimanov. Dusan has also changed his approach to the guitar on “No Answer” as well. Whereas on “Walking Wrong” he veered away from solos per se and concentrated more on dissonant sounds and metallic textures, on “No Answer”, he provides scorching jazz fusion rides and plenty of fleet fretboard work. The combination of Dusan’s heavy guitar and Vasil’s fluid acoustic piano might seem like an odd match, but they make it work while they produce a sound that is quite different from anyone else.

Lots of interesting cuts on here, “Lifetime” is the rockin number, and possibly it is a tribute to the Tony Williams group of the same name. On “Yo Sin Mi” they almost sound like vintage Pat Metheney and Lyle Mays, only darker and less pastoral. Title cut, “No Answer“, features dramatic Eastern Europe piano chords topped with a snarling guitar solo, and “Prayer” sounds like its name in a Middle Eastern tonality. There’s even a taste of post bop swing on “El Oro”. Throughout this CD there is often a East European and/or Middle Eastern flavor to the melodies, while the sound production reflects a modern darkness and somber ambience.

THE CHEAP ENSEMBLE Patrick Arthur , Dana Fitzsimons, Chris Otts : The Cheap 3nsemble

Album · 2017 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The Cheap 3nsemble is a leaderless trio operating out of Atlanta, and their CD of the same name is their debut recording. Despite the somewhat sarcastic name, there is nothing flippant about this trio’s music, instead, they provide compositions and improvisations that are very thoughtful, and even delicate at times, but also muscular as well, depending on how the collective muse moves them. The opening three tracks show an attachment to the early innovations of the ECM label, with saxophonist Chis Otts in particular echoing an influence from Jan Garbarek. But later tracks reveal a band that is far more diverse than mere copycats. Joining Otts in this trio is drummer Dana Fitzsimmons, whose freewheeling approach to the drums may remind some of Paul Motian, and guitarist Patrick Arthur, whose combination of floating space contrasted with gritty distorted muscle may recall the young John Abercrombie.

Along with the aforementioned opening tracks, some other interesting cuts on here include Chick Corea’s abstract post bop classic, “Matrix”, which the ensemble deconstructs into a noisy heavy avant-rock work out. Modern standard, “Pure Imagination” is barely recognizable as Chris stretches out the melody with long silences before the bands turns it into another broken beat rock affair. Arthur’s “Front” features the guitarist playing melancholy arpeggios that sound like a tuned hand drum behind Ott’s freely floating sax melody. Overall, there are no bad cuts on here, everything provided is well considered and treated with the challenge of making something original and new, or nu, if you will.

Going back to the earliest days of the fabled ‘cutting contests’, much of the jazz world has always been based around astonishing technique and virtuosity. It takes a certain amount of bold risk and conviction to check your extended chops at the door and play music that utilizes open space and slow unwinding melodies, but that is the risk that the Cheap 3nsemble has taken on in this debut CD. The end result, combined with the fractured rocking moments, is a new (nu) kind of jazz, something that the millennial generation can call their own. This music constitutes a remarkable debut, lets hope we here more from the cheap 3some, much of their potential is probably still untapped.

SIMON SAMMUT Crossing - A Visual and Music Experience

Album · 2017 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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As humans, we have been enamored with acts of crossing, be it literally of figuratively, since the beginning of time. There is always a point where a person crosses into something, into a field or mindset of adventure, leaving the known limits of the world of point “A” and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm or mindset where the rules and limits are unknown to get to point “B.” Bassist and composer Simon Sammut uses the crossing as a point of inspiration, to bring meaning to the act through music. Using specific events in history and mythology, Sammut focuses his musical mind by using visual art by Anthony Catania that depicts the events related to crossing, to form the mechanics of his compositions. His new project is entitled, Crossing and it marks the combining of music and visual art, forming beauty and color. Both music and paintings expressing emotions and ideas, and in this project work together to create something truly striking and unique.

Sammut’s artistic pallet is vast on both the upright and electric bass. On the electric bass especially, his use of chords possesses a color pallet that far exceeds the usual spectrum of a bassist. He cites Jaco Pastorius as an influence, and like Jaco, Sammut’s ability to convey complex harmonies using chordal movement on the bass, is dynamic and adds a great deal to the music. Sammut additionally uses orchestral colors of voice, guitar, melodica, keyboards, percussion, electronics, brass and woodwinds. “The Tin Soldier’s Last Dance” displays this ability perfectly. Sammut’s chordal work on the bass is wonderful. The tune has a strong melody and a form that keeps the music marching forward.

On “Promethean Man,” Sammut’s inspiration is that we are not alone in our journey, but ultimately guided by a higher intelligence that is involved in our Crossing and change, the process brought to us through the world. Sammut’s upper register melody on the bass starts the melodic journey. Developing into programmed drums with keyboard swells and backing, Sammut continues to take the lead melodic role. Sammut’s bass solo is tuneful, with lines the build a story and again he uses chords in his solo in a inimitable way.

Sammut’s compositions are focused and provide a sonic delight for Crossing, taking the listener on a journey into the magical world music. The bassist’s impressionistic soundscapes contribute to the album’s success as well. Crossing is a consistently musical and entertaining listen from beginning to end. Highly Recommended, and an enlightened melding of art and sound.

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DIZZY GILLESPIE The Dizzy Gillespie - Stan Getz Sextet

Album · 1954 · Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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“The Dizzy Gillespie-Stan Getz Sextet” may not seem like a particularly imaginative album title, but when this album came out in the early 50s, grouping those two artists together was all it took to grab people’s attention in anticipation of what they may come up with. In those days, Dizzy was the master of east coast high energy be-bop, while Getz was the king of west coast cool, this may have seemed like an unlikely pairing at first, but when they recorded together, they meshed and pushed each other to come up with a sum that was even greater than its talented parts. Adding to the attention grabbing aspects of this record, the backup band is an all-star one with Max Roach on drums, Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar.

The album opens on fire as they take on a high speed bopped out version of Ellington’s “It don’t Mean a Thing…”, Getz shows he can hang with some of the best high speed soloists of the time as his fiery solo is sandwiched in between Dizzy and Oscar’s euphoric rides. This number is followed by the recognizable melody of Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”, which finds the band in a more relaxed mode. This swing groove will also carry over to the following track, “Exactly Like You”. On both of these numbers Dizzy often plays in a softer mode, possibly a nod to Stan’s west coast sensibilities. Throughout the entire record, Stan and Diz engage in creative interplay, often both will state a melody at the same time in their own style which then comes together in unexpected ways. Max Roach’s interesting and unorthodox approach to the drums also adds to that element of surprise. The album closes with the ballad, “Talk of the Town”, on which Getz’s main talent shows through as he was already becoming known as one of the smoothest ballad players since Lester Young.

This is an ‘album’ from the early days, which means a 10” record and about twenty minutes of music. In later years, this record, plus other material that was recorded that day, will come out on various LPs, often with tiles such as “Diz and Getz”. This session features some of the best jazz musicians of all time in a one time only get together, and they don’t disappoint as they work together as if they had been together a long time. Its the relaxed and creative musical conversation that takes place among the participants that puts this album on the 'genius' level.

MAGMA Félicité Thösz

Album · 2012 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.79 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Originally composed in the years 2001-02, like many MAGMA releases FÉLICITÉ THÖSZ saw a delayed release but in this case didn't have to wait decades to grace our ears with Kobaian love music. This one only took one ten year period to ferment into the musical fluffiness that we hear! This is perhaps one of the softest and gracefully uplifting MAGMA albums ever to hit planet Earth. While it seems every previous album was some kind of piece to some ridiculously convoluted story about the Kobaians coming and going from planet Earth, FÉLICITÉ THÖSZ simply sounds like their version of a Sunday service where all chants, vocals, guitars, vibraphones, bass and drums are conspiring to celebrate their decades long achievement and to give thanks to the universe for allowing their muddled history to unfold and bring them to a place of eternal peace.

On this release we hear Stella Vander lead the group with a nice diva driven vocal range only much less aggressive and bombastic as on previous offerings. This musical journey contains ten tracks but in reality you cannot really distinguish them separately because they all flow together just perfectly making a very long epic track. This is one of the shorter MAGMA albums clocking in just past the 32 minute mark, but what graceful beautiful music this is. I would almost call this whole album one long Kobaian ballad as the piano and female vocals are what dominates the soundscape. Christian Vander has never sounded so subdued with his percussion skills and as a huge fan of vibraphones, glockenspiels and bells, this really hits me where it counts!

Soft and sensual and occasionally bombastic, this Kobaian journey takes us through the familiar zeuhl melodies and rhythms but once again MAGMA surprises us with yet another take on their sound. This album is very much focused on female vocals but male vocals are essential as well. In general the vocal harmonies are very much the focal point of the whole thing. Hypnotic and exercising control in minimalism, FÉLICITÉ THÖSZ continues the MAGMA legacy keeping the Kobaians relevant in yet another decade in the 21st century. While this band has more masterpieces than should be possible, i find FÉLICITÉ THÖSZ to be yet one more MAGMA- nanimous edition to their outstanding discography.


Boxset / Compilation · 1992 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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What originally drew me to the obscure Bill Evans album known as "Loose Blues" was primarily the lineup. This was the first album I'd come across where Bill Evans was playing with the bassist Ron Carter, who I'd known primarily through his work with Miles Davis' second great quartet as well as on other quintessential albums of the 60's. The appearance of Philly Joe Jones on drums wouldn't be a first for Evans.

It came as no surprise from the start of track 1, "Loose Bloose," that the groove created between bass and drums swung significantly stronger than the more airy atmosphere usually created in Bill's more usual rhythm sections. What made the mix all the more interesting was the obvious contrast between the rhythm section and the rest of the band. Playing the tenor sax was the soft-spoken Zoot Sims, who I admit to having little knowledge of. Jim Hall, who makes appearances on other Bill Evans albums, plays guitar. The resulting effect, perhaps an exaggeration, is that the bass and drums swing harder than anybody else in the band. Everybody else floats over the groove like a pillow fort built on cinderblocks.

Plus, the combination of piano, guitar, and Sims' delicate tone made for very nice timbres. Whether it's in "My Bells" where the tenor sax is placed with a backdrop of cascading guitar and piano chords, or in the beginning of "Loose Blues" where the melody is played monophonically by Evans and Sims with Hall complimenting the bass line, the combination is unique and enjoyable.

According to the linear notes, Orrin Keepnews actually found the experience and circumstances of recording this album to be quite stressful and frustrating. One of the tunes, "My Bells" features a tempo change partway through the form. It makes the solos interesting to listen to, but recording it was another story. The studio had little money for rehearsal, and the group went as far as Take 25 before having enough material capable of splicing together. As haphazard as the circumstances turned out, the album was ironically not released until 20 years later.

TOPAZ The Zone

Album · 2002 · Acid Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It had already been five years since tenor saxophonist Topaz McGarrigle's Texan jazz act made it's debut by the time the group's third studio album rolled around. It's hard to judge whether or not they were earning the fruits of their labor because, other than the occasional resurfacing of McGarrigle such as his new band Golden Dawn Arkestra, the group has practically erased themselves from all the books.

Topaz were hampered down their whole career by a changing music scene after their pilgrimage from Texas to bustling New York City. McGarrigle's idea was to take advantage of the reinvigorated neo-futurist (as I like to call it) jazz casually gaining momentum in the 90's and market his and his groups talents within it. Problem was, hip-hop and R&B had been gaining momentum much more within the same decade, so much so that the hype for this new medium basically snuffed the jazz candle from any mainstream success. Although Topaz never truly made it to any high status or really even cult status sadly, they nevertheless delivered several great releases as they continued to evolve, regardless of how much attention they were getting...or lack thereof.

Topaz' music isn't exactly revolutionary, nor is it exceptionally technical like you might expect a contemporary jazz fusion act might be. Of course, McGarrigle's work on the sax is extremely proficient in both standard style and avant-garde, as well Squantch on the trombone. But what Topaz's The Zone exudes more than anything is personality. Tight knit instrumentation can bleed perfectly into rich improvisation, making the entire group, while not exactly attempting to show themselves as the most technically robust jazz act out there, still manage to make themselves seem like living legends with class alone. This could in part be due to the influence electric-era Miles Davis had on them, and to which they owe much of their structural composition. Yet other genres progressively ooze their way onto the set, particularly on the funky bass licks being the driving force on many tracks, such as the almost 8 minute long swagger of 'Walkabout'. The funk attitude is also present on heavy groovers like 'Fat City Strut', and with a name like that I'd expect nothing less. A tinge of psychedelic aura on many of the songs, especially the opener 'Minha Mente', reinforced by the mesmerizing drum fills by Christian Ulrich, make for a well-reinforced acid-jazz environment.

Some dubious elements also make themselves present though. The occasional vocal breaks on some of the songs, like the overly cheesy ones of 'You & Me', tend to disrupt the flow of what would otherwise be a very maturely structured song. Along with that and a fair bit of annoying repetition in many of the songs (in the percussion section especially) do make The Zone withstand a bit more quality it otherwise would have.

Topaz's third album marks another rather good release for the band after 2000's Listen!, and also marks the band's continued level of quality even as they progressed towards their dissolution.


Album · 2014 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I would imagine that this imaginative album slipped under the radar for almost all jazz fans when it came out in 2014, which is a shame because this is one of the better fusion related albums of the new century. A broad description of “For a Mouse” could label this as ‘psychedelic fusion’, a moniker that mostly fits, but it can imply both good and bad things. Certainly the heyday of psychedelic sounds in jazz fusion happened back in the early 70s when some very interesting albums such as Herbie’s “Crossings” and Miles’ “Big Fun” explored the use of electronics and studio manipulation in a jazz format. Along with those innovative albums though, there was also some fluff that tried to cover a lack of ideas with cheap candy coated psychedelia, Donald Byrd’s “Electric Byrd” comes to mind, but in all fairness, there were a few good tracks on that one too. Flash forward to the new century and there has been a renewed interest in electronic flavored ‘trippy’ fusion, and that is where Scott Bevins’ “For a Mouse” enters the picture.

Despite the use of mindbending sounds and studio devices, there is no shortage of compositional ideas or hot chops heavy solos on here. Scott and his crew enjoy using the all the electronic effects they want, but they don’t lean too heavily on them, these guys would sound great with or without all the devices. The influences at work on ‘Mouse’ range from ambient repeating figures on piano and guitar, to all out intense free blowing saxophone solos from Evan Shay. The range of expression goes from the noisy avant jazz-rock of “Bad Pho”, to the gentle pastoral sounds of “The Wilhelm Scream”. Speaking of the latter track, dig the sound of the sax and horn playing the melody together, fans of Miles’ “Big Fun” will get chills when they hear that familiar sound. Overall though, this is not a nostalgic album, this is psychedelic fusion for the new century with sounds that reflects today’s nu jazz scene and a bit of the trip-hop sound too, but also don’t expect anything too formulaic, these guys are well versed in how to free form jam with or without a steady groove. A perfect blend of nu jazz, classic fusion and the avant-garde, “For a Mouse” is an album that deserves much wider recognition.

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