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DWIKI DHARMAWAN Rumah Batu

Album · 2018 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.32 | 3 ratings
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js
In recent times there have been several artists who have attempted to merge traditional Indonesian music with modern jazz fusion, some have been more successful than others, but possibly the artist who has created the ultimate seamless mix is pianist/composer Dwiki Dharmawan. On his latest album, “Rumah Batu”, Dwiki displays how he builds this unique synthesis. Unlike some others who try to force unlike components against each other, Dharmawan uses the essence of Indonesian music as the foundation for his fusion excursions, hence the two worlds become organically connected in a way that flows naturally. Dwiki takes these jazz and Indonesian elements and creates lengthy tracks with sprawling busy arrangements presented with a big production sound that recalls epic movie soundtracks or equaling epic gatefold album cover classic prog-rock.

The two lengthy opening tracks on “Rumah Batu” contain some of the album’s most exciting fusion jams. Dwiki and his band mate’s approach to fusion is very high energy and over the top as they veer into free jazz territory. Dharmawan’s massive assaults on the piano can recall McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Vijay Iyer, while guitarist Nguyen Le’s distortion drenched fiery leads may remind some of Larry Coryell or Pete Cosey. After these two openers the band settles into a beautiful vocal number sung by Dewi Gita. The vocal style presented here may be different than what western ears are used to, so maybe its time to open up and try some new things. The first part of “Rumah Batu Suite” is a funky jazz rock jam with some improvised vocalizing, while the second part is an all out free jazz free-for-all. The album closes with the folksy “Selamatkan Orangutan”, a pleasant farewell after the intensity of the previous tracks.

SARATHY KORWAR Sarathy Korwar & The UPAJ Collective : My East Is Your West

Live album · 2018 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
US-born, India-grown and London-based percussionist and tabla player Sarathy Korwar debuted as leader two years ago with studio album "Day To Day" recorded in India (participating was one of the new British jazz scene's leaders - tenor Shabaka Hutchings) and released on hip Ninja Tune label. The album contained an eclectic mix of Indian music, dialogues, electronics and London sound and was a partially successful debut, hardly more.

"My East Is Your West", Korwar's second release,is a strong improvement. Massive triple-vinyl live set is all-organic and contains all-new material. Band's line-up is slightly modified with British female tenor Tamar Osborn replacing Shabaka Hutchings, additional alto sax player Jesse Bannister and improved Indian instruments section (incl. Santoor/Tabla player John Ball, Mridangam / Kanjira player B.C. Manjunath and Bansuri player Aravindhan Baheerathan).

As a result, the new band (named Upaj Collective) sounds much more "Indian" and recalls Shakti's Indian fusion sound. This is not strange, third album contains a John McLaughlin composition, "Mind Ecology". And that's only for starters - album's songs are covers of renown spiritual jazz, fusion or World fusion songs, just seriously reworked and presented as Indian music scented longish pieces.

Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has A Master Plan" lasts almost ten minutes and besides of main theme's intro and some snippets sounds quite different from original. Cover of Alice Coltrane "Journey In Satchidananda" is closer to how it sounded decades ago, as well as Ravi Shankar's "Mishrank". One can find Abdullah Ibrahim's "Hajj", Don Cherry's "Utopia And Visions", and Joe Henderson's "Earth" on a list among others.

With no doubt a significant component of successful result is not only strong material, but HOW the band plays it. Multicultural collective of authentically trained Indian instruments players and Europeans find a unique balance between two cultural traditions. The music is obviously Indian-influenced with characteristic arrangements, techniques and sound, but at the same time it never slips toward esoteric meditative repetitive noodling which undermined some of Shakti's later releases. Instead, the Europeans add more framed structures, rhythmic order (almost groovy in moments), and in general more accessible, slightly "westernized" sound.

A bit conventional for today's fashion, acoustic-only sound makes this album probably a bit less hip but at the same time builds a bridge with spiritual jazz and Indo-fusion of the 60s and 70s producing a music which has bigger value than just a hit of the day. One among stronger world fusion albums of the last couple decades.

BETTY BRYANT Project 88

Album · 2019 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
As jazz history continues to grow, more than likely there will be those who will point to the emergence of college level jazz education as one of the more defining characteristics that has come to differentiate early jazz from modern jazz. Certainly the music has changed, but even more so, the atmosphere and attitude of jazz has changed considerably. Jazz used to be a music for outsiders who existed within, or very near, the criminal world. It was music for terminal hipsters who scoffed at the squares and their law abiding mundane existence. My how times have changed, these days squares are studying altered chords and metric modulation at Berklee while taking sax lessons from a major NYC star via skype along side their internet bros in Europe who are working on government grants to keep their free jazz quartet afloat. If all this collegiate endeavor leaves you a little thirsty for some soul, then you can take solace in knowing that there are still a few hep cats around who still have that ‘attitude’, that thing that Dizzy personified, that thing called cool.

“Project 88” is the title of Betty Bryant’s new CD, and the 88 refers not only to the 88 keys on her piano, but also to the fact that she just turned 88. Betty’s career in jazz goes back to the aforementioned ‘bad’ ole days, and it shows in very good ways. Its in her relaxed vocal delivery, her clever lyrics and her bluesy piano riffs, this is a woman who gets cool in every sense of the word, and she knows how to convey this attractive point of view to us squares who want just a bit of her hipness to rub off. “Project 88” sets off an atmosphere that can not be faked and is becoming rarer by the day.

Betty presents a mix of originals and standards on here. The prevalent style is bluesy swing, but there is a bit of soul jazz and a couple Latin numbers too. She sings on almost every one, but also includes a few instrumentals so as to showcase her signature piano skills that reflect her Kansas City background and Count Basie influence. The make-up of her band varies per track, but possibly the best treat is a couple of songs recorded with a mini big band ensemble.

THE WAY AHEAD (ROLIGHETEN / ALBERTS / BARNO / ALEKLINT / STAHL / HOYER / OSTVANG) Bells, Ghosts And Other Saints

Album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
The Way Ahead is a new Nordic mini-big band in a tradition of popular co-patriots Angles. Their debut's title says a lot about the source of inspiration - "Bells" and "Ghosts" are well known Albert Ayler compositions, and (Marching)"Saints" are both Ayler spirit and his music roots.

Similarly as "Angles" a decade ago (who grew up from sextet till nonet in few years), "The Way Ahead" are a brass-section centered septet with vibist playing heavy-brass arranged soulful compositions in a manner of marching bands. The main difference is Angles's source of inspiration were Balkan rhythms and Serbian Guča Trumpet Fest folk marching bands style, The Way Ahead are inspired by Albert Ayler interpretation of early New Orleans marching bands jazz.

Both play music without trying to sound authentic - both bands' starting point and interpretation method is free jazz first of all. Similarity in sound isn't accidental though - trombonist Mats Aleklint and vibist Mattias Stahl are members of both projects. Swedish trumpeter Niklas Barnö is a member of another extremely successful and influential modern Swedish progressive big band Fire! Orchestra (led by Mats Gustafsson).

No strange that having such genes new project from their very first release sound as very professional and matured collective. They don't try to sound as raw as Ayler or original early New Orleans marching bands, instead they uses their legacy producing more rounded European sound still having lot of fun but partially attracting more sophisticated listener.

"Bells,Ghosts And Other Saints" doesn't sound revolutionary, it is an evolutionary continuation of Angles/Fire! Orchestra works which most probably will attract fans of both above mentioned bands.

PHILLIP JOHNSTON Phillip Johnston & the Coolerators : Diggin' Bones

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
At the same time as releasing Johnston’s soundtrack album, Asynchronous are also releasing the debut album by Johnston with his band The Coolerators, a band he formed after moving to Australia in 2005. On this album he provides both soprano and alto saxophone, and he has been joined by Alister Spence (organ), Lloyd Swanton (bass) with Nick Cecire (drums). Here we have a band showing that when it comes to playing jazz and blues there is often an overlap, here brought together with a huge amount of swing and funk. Swanton and Cecire do their best to provide a structure for the other two to work on, and then stay out the way while also displaying their own wonderful musical ability. Cecire is the more flamboyant of the two, with an impressive work rate on different areas of the kit, but Swanton keeps it all tied down and doesn’t let the band get too out of control.

Given the way Johnston and Spence combine together, or against one another, mixing in multiple influences and styles that is indeed no mean task. The title song sounds influenced by South America, India, Morocco and the Middle East but somehow all comes together and makes sense as Spence allows Johnston to take a far more prominent role. Two albums released at the same time, but two very different styles indeed, and it is hard to say which one is better, so best say instead that they are both indeed well worth investigating.

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SHABAKA AND THE ANCESTORS Wisdom of Elders

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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snobb
"Wisdom Of Elders" has been recorded by London's new jazz scenes' leading figure reedist Shabaka Hutchings in one day without rehearsals in Johannesburg, South Africa with leading domestic musicians (stated as Ancestors).

As with Hutching's other projects, music here sounds not nostalgic but very modern. Oppositely different from over-exploited Afro-beat, "African" part of the program comes from what some decades ago was known as "Cape jazz" - relaxed soulful melodic songs well known from Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) music. Half-a-century ago this music reached to England with a wave of South African jazz musicians, running from apartheid(Louis Moholo, Johnny Dyani,etc) and was adapted as part of British avant-garde jazz of the time.

Other significant element of album's music comes from Shabaka's Caribbean background. It's really impressive how organically both parts fit producing beautiful mix of blues, calypso, spiritual jazz and elegant Cape jazz rhythms.

Released three years ago "Wisdom Of Elders" is another cornerstone of burgeoning London's young jazz scene.

ERIC B. & RAKIM Follow The Leader

Album · 1988 · Jazz Related DJs/Electronica/Rap
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Eric B. & Rakim have long been recognized as one of the top innovators in hip-hop, but they never seem to get recognition for one of their more notable achievements, bringing the musical worlds of jazz and hip-hop together in ways that made sense. Early rap tended to either be ‘electric boogaloo’ oriented, or centered around rock beats like “We Will Rock You”. While there was a trend developing, from bands such as Stetsasonic, to bring in superficial jazz elements such as a trumpet solo or acoustic bass sample, it wasn’t until Eric and Rakim started releasing albums that a true fusion of jazz and hip-hop happened. Eric’s samples and DJ slices favored classic funk and soul jazz, while Rakim’s rhymes on the mic had a syncopated swing and non-stop flow that had him sounding like the Charlie Parker of rap. Although the pair’s first album contained much potential, it wasn’t until the sophomore follow up, “Follow the Leader”, that Eric and Rakim brought the jazz and funk elements much more into the mix.

“Follow the Leader” is the perfect title for this album because it went on to be imitated and followed by others for decades. Eric may not have been the first person to sample and loop a James Brown beat, but on this album he is one of first DJs to create a monster groove around such a technique. Needless to say, sampling Brown became an epidemic after a while, but it still sounds great on here. Sampling was still in its infant stage at this time, but Eric and crew have no problem creating mixes with soul jazz saxophone riffs, Middle Eastern melodies and funky bass lines. Most of the tracks are good, with possibly the best being “Musical Massacre”, which features a driving double time Afro-Latin riff reminiscent of Mandrill or Osibissa. There are a couple lackluster cuts, mostly a few instrumentals which sound dated and repetitious

ROSE ROYCE Car Wash (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Album · 1976 · Jazz Related Soundtracks
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Those who seek obscure funk jazz tracks and rare groove know that soundtracks from 70s African-American movies can sometimes be plentiful in exotic jazzy instrumentals. The movie “Car Wash” was a huge hit in the 70s, and is still popular to this day, but it seems much of its brilliant soundtrack has been overlooked. The main hits from the movie, including the title track, are all well known, but what a lot of people are missing is that this double album is loaded with excellent instrumentals. The main players here are the then brand new RnB group Rose Royce, famous Motown producer Norman Whitfield and guest guitarist Wah Wah Watson, who some may know from his work with Herbie Hancock. As the story goes, Whitfield was working with Royce on their new album when he got the call to do the soundtrack to a new movie that was bound to be big as it boasted the huge drawing power of both Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Whitfield decided the best thing to do was just take the work he had started with Royse and make that the soundtrack to the movie.

The handful of RnB pop tunes that Whitfield crafted for the album are all good, and they reflect his work with The Temptations, but the jazz and rare groove fans will want to check out the plentiful instrumentals. The hard charging funk of “Mid Day DJ Theme” and “Righteous Rhythm” are tops, and you can hear all of Wah Wah Watson’s signature guitar riffs, the same ones he used to build Herbie’s “Hang Up Your Hang Ups”. “Crying” is laid back space groove and “Sunrise” sounds like a modern nu jazz cut with its repeating minimal riffs. Really, everything on here is gold and all of it has that classic mid-70s funk sound that can’t be faked.

SAM MANGWANA Lubamba

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Sam Mangwana has lived, played and sang Rumba right through the golden period of African music accompanying and packing stadiums with Franco Luambo’s TPOK Jazz throughout the seventies to the early eighties and prior with Tabu Ley Rochereau in the late sixties in his African National Fiesta with another stint to follow in the late seventies with him. Considered one of the elder statesman of African music pertaining more to the Central area with his take on Congolaise music with touches of Angolan and Zimbabwean at times thrown in from his parents birth place one could say he pretty much had done it all within this genre with the popularity to go with it. Although Sam was in Franco’s TPOK Jazz and Tabu Ley’s band Afrisa he was still doing solo material and releasing his own albums as well with his second one giving him the big hit “Maria Tebbo” in 1982 albeit his biggest one with Franco was still to come in the same year being “Cooperation” ( Odongo). Still within all these bands and solo material Sam Mangwana has been far from one dimensional with Rumba being his staple and later heading towards a not so hard Soukous Sound as well as taking on Caribbean rhythms, Acoustic albums but in his later material he has returned to his Rumba roots which is what the majority of “Lubamba” contains with a beautiful laid back palm tree sound added with a slight Caribbean influence included.

It’s the album ‘s title track “Lubamba” with the horns opening within this Rumba having Sam’s smooth vocals to follow with mentions to his native Africa throughout with a delightful guitar solo placed within the song. The following “Felicite” the tempo picks up slightly with more of that beautiful Rumba guitar taking the song to a chorus with a beautiful guitar input. “Juventude Actual” based on today’s youth and sung in Portuguese has another African statesman present being the great Cameroon saxophonist Manu Dibango included within the song’s predominant guitar Latin influence with Manu just providing sax throughout the chorus and the addition of a beautiful solo included but no vocals with just Sam doing that job within this number. The tempo and bounce picks up for “Georgeta Marcory” with that Sam swing included and the following song has an electronic keyboard opening for “Luvueso” which quickly is put to the side for more of that Rumba guitar and great African chorus. “J.B. Kavungu”, “Lokossa Yo Nzombo”, Luzingu Ke Novela Ko” are the last three of the eight songs included and all are Rumba based of course within this delightful album keeping up the Tropical theme.

He has come a long way from singing in The Salvation Army choir as a child in Kinshasa up until today and I for one was pleased to see a new release from Sam Mangwana as I have always loved his take on Congolaise music with all its swing. It has been a long break for fresh material from Sam as his last prior album was “Cantos De Esperanca” in 2003 with only reissues that have followed to the release of “Lubamba” in 2016. Still the album is good but really it is for the fans and if you are looking for Soukous you won’t find any here just the old beautiful Rumba influence but really, Sam actually does not have a lot to say that’s new.

KETIL BJØRNSTAD La notte

Live album · 2013 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Commissioned by the Molde International Jazz Festival and Recorded Live in 2010 at the Norway Festival for later release By ECM records has the multi talented Norwegian Ketil Bjørnstad presenting his perception in music on Italian Filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni with his 1961 film sharing the title of this very album from Ketil Bjørnstad “La Notte” ( The night). Ketil Bjørnstad has been around since the late sixties since playing Classical piano in his later teens but in the seventies headed for Jazz and Folk with a distinct Northern European influence of retaining Classical elements within his compositions. He has recorded over fifty albums as well most likely written as many books, hence the multi talented which is often used to describe his artistic output. Although this album was recorded in 2010 ECM did not release it until three years later in 2013 due to most likely the fact they already had an album recorded by Ketil prior, still in the can being “The River”.

The album line up is a Sextet with the majority involved having played with each other in various ensembles and bands with Arild Anderson the bassist having the most extensive experience with Ketil Bjørnstad and just about everyone else in European Jazz. The cellist David Darling who has played with Ketil extensively in the past is not present and has been replaced with the stunning German born Anja Lechner who usually you will find in ECM’s New Series having played with the Rosamunde Quartet, Tarkovsky Quartet, the pianists Vassilis Tsabropoulos and Francois Couturier as well as the great Bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi. Andy Sheppard who is usually in Carla Bley’s ensembles or leading his own these days is on tenor and soprano saxophone, Marilyn Mazur is on percussion and drums having played with Jan Garbarek for one as well as doing her own albums and also included is Eivind Aarset also an artist in his right as well as playing with Andy Sheppard above and who also has many well known productions behind him is playing guitar and providing electronics.

Ketil Bjørnstad has composed eight parts within the album’s structure with “La Notte I” commencing with a slight electronic drone and touches of bass and percussion with the sound picking up as the introduction of piano and cello is added in this mediative opening number. Andy Sheppard’s tenor and Eivind Aarset’s guitar inject two lovely pieces with Ketil’s piano and Marilyn’s percussion as the base in the bolder “La Notte II”. The ensemble delivers a delightful mix within “La Notte III” with Andy Sheppard’s saxophone barely noticeable coming in over Anja Lechner’s cello with a superb middle timed underlay from the rest of the musicians within the piece. It’s a slow tempo for “La Notte IV” primarily comprising piano and more of that beautiful cello from Anja Lechner who I have to say is the star amongst all these musicians within these beautiful compositions from Ketil Bjørnstad. The album continues with more of the stunning mediative input for “La Notte V and VI” with more stunning cello, soprano sax and Marilyn Mazur’s just right percussion comprising the odd chimes, beat etc with the ensemble picking things up again in “La Notte VII” with Arild Anderson’s superb bass opening and Eivind’s fabulous guitar solo. The album comes to an end with another beautiful slow relaxing piece in “VIII”

Leaning towards Classical at times and leaning towards some great Fusion at others in this highly interesting album which after quite a few plays with many in a row, I still have not tired of. One other note although the album states it is Live there is not a whisper of audience sound to be heard.

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