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jazz music reviews (new releases)

JOSH NELSON The Sky Remains

Album · 2017 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Josh Nelson’s “The Sky Remains” is a tough one to define. What do we have here, a modern art pop concept album, a contemporary third stream jazz album, a cinematic soundtrack to a movie not made yet? Possibly the best definition would be that this is a composer’s personal pastiche that combines all three of the aforementioned elements, but in all fairness, not all of these compositions are Josh’s, but although some of the pieces were penned by others, they all combine to create Nelson’s very moving look at a select history of the city of Los Angeles. Its hard not to think of Joni Mitchell when you encounter a bittersweet ode to ‘the city of angels’ such as “the Sky Remains”. Truth be told, sometimes Josh’s combination of thoughtful folk pop, jazz and panoramic soundscapes can recall Joni’s best work, but then there are other elements that help Josh’s work stand apart on its own.

The soundtrack like sound of this album appears right off the bat on the opening cut on which soaring wordless vocals state a theme that might have you picturing a favorite Robert Altman ‘Americana’ flick. Apparently concerts of these peices have featured movies and pictures, how perfect for a concept album about the city of movie making dreams. As we move past this opening track we encounter many great treats such as “Ah, Los Angeles, with its repeating buildup chorus recalling the heyday of great art pop in the early 70s. Russ Garcia’s enchanting “Lost Soul’s of Saturn” combines exotica and Latin jazz, its hard to think of two genres that personify Southern California more than those two. “The Architect” is the ‘jazziest’ number as it allows the soloists a chance to go off. Elsewhere, this album’s blend of creative vocal songs and jazz influenced composition blend to build the sometimes melancholy, but always hopeful atmosphere of a city that has a richer history than many would give it credit for. An added plus is a booklet that comes with the CD that explains many of the fascinating stories that inspired this music.

MARIA GRAND TetraWind

EP · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Carmel
Maria Grand is certainly becoming a well-known name in the modern and Avant Garde circles, with her affiliation to Steve Coleman, affording her a strong calling card of recognition. But it is with the release of TetraWind, Grand decisively catapults her creativity to the forefront.

A socially conscious offering that mixes elements of poetry, and almost ala-hip-hop sound at times, with raw and raucous saxophone sounds that are masterfully articulated in the hands of this well-schooled saxophonist. TetraWind additionally has a feminine quality to it, an almost heroine feeling, as Grand is not afraid of her voice, muscularity, and prowess of sound. Tunes like “South (Quantum),” are an exceptional example of this quantitative quality.

Where “East (Land of the Living),” gives a more international sound, integrating a full register of comprehensive colors. Grand is not afraid to utilize the upper and lower registers of her saxophone, while digging into the tonal qualities that her instrument has to offer. What struck me most about this young saxophonist was her emotional competence on her instrument, this is a quality that cannot be learned in school alone, it is normally gained on the bandstand through the interpretive interaction between musicians. It is clearly apparent that Grand has this maturity within her wheelhouse.

On “North (Self. Real Power),” Grand evokes another instrument into the mix, her vocals – that convey a sense of mother nature. Which Grand attests to the inspiration of this creative release. Grand explains; “For this project, I also wanted to supplement the musical meaning with actual words, to allow the listener to hear another angle as well. Some of the lyrics are more abstract, and the last track is more political. Music cannot be divorced from the times and from whatever is happening socioeconomically at any given moment.” Speaking of the last track, “West, (Shut Shun)” is filled with tension notes, almost conveying the struggle of the times we are in as the age of Aquarius is once again upon us, which is the eleventh sign of the zodiac, which is now controlling the cosmos, which means we're entering a period of revolution fueled by invention, social media brazenness and free sexuality, say astrologers. Grand has her own take on the reasoning behind this track, she explains “It’s really important that conditions change and improve for everyone right now, we need to treat our Earth and each other a lot better. There’s a lot of greed going on, and a few people are holding on to most of the wealth; I’m not sure exactly why we’re letting this happen, but things have to change. Racism is a plague, sexism is a plague. I want my music to speak on those issues.”

Overall, TetraWind is a compelling listen, from a technically engaging journey, to a rebirth of creative ideas, Grand has captured a sentiment musically, and thematically that will leave a lasting telling piece in her creative catalog of continued depth.

MANNY ECHAZABAL Short Notice

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
One of the reasons why post bop has endured and grown over time as a musical genre is that it’s a very open and malleable musical form that is able to stretch its shape and morph into any new influence that crosses its path. Be it Latin, fusion, free jazz, drumnbass or any other style, post bop is able to absorb all of this and maintain its current relevance, which leads us to “Short Notice”, a very eclectic and modern post bop CD by saxophonist Manny Echazabal. On this new album, Manny takes on a myriad diversity of influences and throws them in the post bop blender to create something that is intellectually challenging, as well as energetic and enjoyable to listen to. Manny cites Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter and Kenny Dorham as influences on his playing, and names Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland and the aforementioned Henderson and Shorter as influences on his compositional style. All of these influences show, but you could also add the compositions of Kenny Garret as similar too, in the way that he combines many diverse influences underneath the post bop umbrella.

None of the members of Echazabal’s backup band are particularly big names yet, which should change as this crew could hold their own against anybody. A good reference for how these guys interact could be Herbie’s explosive VSOP band that featured Shorter and Tony Williams. Much like that band, Echazabal’s group keeps a flowing high energy conversation going as they all interact with the soloists in rhythmic interjections. Drummer David Chiverton knows how to push a soloist, but also stays more in the pocket than the previously mentioned Williams. Pianist Tal Cohen is outstanding as he builds his free wheeling solos in tandem with Chiverton’s propulsions. There is a definite Hancock influence in Tal’s playing, but Tal also shows a little more mischievous humor when he does things like repeating two notes back and forth in building phrases.

All of the tracks on here are great, but some standouts include the high energy straight ahead swing of “Short Notice”, the stuttering broken rhythms of “The Green Monk” and the avant-garde excursions that make up “Abraham’s Warriors”. There is a lot to hear here, after many listens, I’m still finding things I missed before, there is much to be absorbed. “Short Notice” is excellent modern jazz for those who are into such things.

MACHINE MASS TRIO / MACHINE MASS Plays Hendrix

Album · 2017 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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js
If you are going to make a tribute album, you might as well aim high, and that is what Machine Mass has done on their latest outing as they take on the timeless songs of Jimi Hendrix. Not only was Hendrix a pyrotechnical guitar wizard, but he was also a gifted songwriter and tireless innovator in the studio. It’s a tall order to try and do something new with these Hendrix creations, but Machine Mass does well in rising to the occasion, mostly by not trying to imitate Jimi too much. Instead, Machine Mass manage to draw something new out of these well known tracks by following their own musical instincts. For those unfamiliar with the group, Mass consists of Michel Deville on guitar and electronics, and Tony Bianco on drums. On past albums they were joined by a guest woodwind player, but this time around they opt for avant art rocker, Antoine Guenet from Universe Zero, on keyboards, who brings much to the Mass mix.

This CD opens strong with a roving psychedelic jam on “Third Stone from the Sun”. Delville quite wisely does not attempt to imitate Hendrix, but instead supplies his own blazing fusion/rock solos. Bianco’s drumming, on the other hand, does seem to be a tribute to the style of Mitch Mitchell, a stylistic tribute that Bianco maintains throughout the whole album, although Tony flavors his Mitchell type approach with a bit more free post bop swing. The end result is one can hear just how jazz influenced Mitch was when he was jamming with Jimi, its not a far leap from Mitchell’s drum style to a more free-form post bop approach. Some of the other best tracks on this CD come early on, especially “Spanish Castle Magic”, which gives Guenet a chance to provide an over the top B3 solo that is parts Jamie Saft, the young Jon Lord and classic horror movie soundtracks. It would have been nice to hear more Guenet B3 solos on here, he has a very unique and intense take on organ soloing.

Generally, the songs on here don’t adhere too closely to Jimi’s versions, but instead use his music as a jumping off point for free form psychedelic fusion jamming. If you can imagine Ozric Tentacles with a post bop drummer, that might get you close to the sound on here. This mostly works, except for a couple tracks where things get a bit murky, particularly “Little Wing” and “You Got Me Floatin”. Whether one would have wanted Mass to stay closer to Jimi’s melodies and chord sequences is probably a matter of personal preference. Overall, this is a very good tribute by the Mass gang, and a strong addition to the many Hendrix covers already in existence.

JOHN DAVERSA Wobbly Dance Flower

Album · 2017 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
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.

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THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.80 | 14 ratings
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Not only is “Brilliant Corners” one of Thelonious Monk’s best albums, but its also considered one of the better recordings in the history of jazz. Don’t expect a lot of fireworks from this one though, instead, most of these blues based tunes are played in laid back medium tempos, or even slower, but do expect maximum creativity and a brilliant ensemble that moves together as one mind. Monk does have a particularly strong crew assembled here, with Sonny Rollins and Max Roach on board, plus Ernie Henry and Oscar Pettiford are no slouches either. Clark Terry and Paul Chambers replace Henry and Pettiford for one cut, but they too are up for the great interplay that goes down on this disc.

The album opens with the title cut “Brilliant Corners”, and what a tour de force this one is. This composition has Monk working with rapidly changing tempos and time signatures, such things may be more common today, but this was fairly new ground in 1957, and “Corners” still sounds very modern and ‘cutting edge’ today. This is followed by the laid back avant-blues of “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are”. Although “Bolivar” may not be as radical as the album opener, it still leaves plenty of room for ‘Monkish’ off-kilter solos and slippery interactions. Side two opens with the ballad like “Pannonica”, on which Monk plays the delicate bell like celeste. His odd approach to harmony sounds even more peculiar on this keyboard, the resultant exotic sounds might have you thinking that we are now in a universe parallel to Sun Ra.

“I Surrender Dear” is a standard that Monk plays in old school stride style and it is the only non-original piece on the album. Its presence acts as an interesting contrast to the more ‘out there’ aspects of the other numbers. The album closes with the Afro-Carribean flavors of “Bemsha Swing”, on which Max plays rumbling tympanies behind the soloists. Monk’s second solo after the trumpet is just splashes of sound and color, foreshadowing the world of avant-garde jazz that was right around the corner in ‘57. If you want to hear why so many jazz fans get effusive when discussing Thelonious Monk, give this one a spin.

LILAC ORCHESTRA / СИРЕНЕВЫЙ ОРКЕСТР Tsunami

Album · 1994 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Early 90s were awful time in Russia which experienced all pretties of "wild capitalism"(what in Russian case actually meant just an ex-Soviet bureaucracy stealing of state assets, organized criminals racketeer them and young growing private business and huge part of simple people got lost and just trying to survive, often in poverty). At that time four young guys with musical education founded a jazz-rock band in provincial town of Penza, 600 km south from Moscow (what again in Russian case meant "in the middle of nowhere").

Russia had a difficult relations with rock music in general - during 70s and 80s millions of young people there saw in it one of almost religious attribute of freedom, (then still extremely) attractive for them Western culture and democracy. It was strictly controlled and often banned by Communist authorities though, so it developed mostly as underground protest culture, opposite to pop culture and classical music, both often were seen as part of establishment. No strange that early (and most popular) Russian rock bands all contained vocals with socially sharp, critically oriented lyrics, simply catchy melodies and usually were based on DIY musicianship level. After the end of Communism era nothing has been banned anymore (at least for decade or two) but total economical decline and political crisis pushed the rock culture (and almost all other kinds of cultural life) backstage for years.

Lilac Orchestra on their debut demonstrates high technical level of musicianship mixing high energy rock-jazz (close to Czech jazz-rockers from 70s), classical composition elements, some characteristic Slavic folk-pop sensual melodies and funky guitars.

Taking in account time/social situation and domestic rock scene tradition, that's no strange their debut album "Tsunami" passed virtually unnoticed. Reissued later on CD, it is interesting example of very rare for the country's scene example of high level musicianship and wide use of funk guitars,what was an obscure element on domestic rock culture. Lot of heavy metal-like guitars soloing on the front and heavy drumming could potentially make this album more popular, but cold emotionless musicianship and wide use of classic compositional tricks (without clear structure or concept,what made album's music quite directionless and bulky) didn't help as well.

I believe at the time of release this album sounded as "aliens music" in that time's Russian province. Even now, almost a quoter of the century later, it is mostly a collectors item evidencing one interesting but not viable stream in Russian rock of 90s.

TOPAZ Listen!

Album · 2000 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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aglasshouse
Cranking out their debut in the bright Spring of 1999, NYC jazzists ambitiously forged ahead with the determination to make a name for themselves. Listen!, the follow-up record, makes its presence known by giving a silent nod to the jazz greats of yore like Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis and their grandfathering of jazz fusion and jazz funk. But a simple recitation of said artists' styles would not only be lazy but counter-intuitive to McGarrigle's dream to make a name for himself in the New York City streets as a distinguished member of his craft.

So then, let's show 'em what we can do!

Listen! is Topaz' call to action, and duly a showcase of what this small-time NYC group could do. They start out on a brusque foot with a sweeping cover of Donald Byrd's 1972 funk classic 'The Emperor', and is one the big indicators of a duality present on this record as it leads directly into the asimilar 'Let Go'- a freewheeling fun side, and a more eloquent, thoughtful side. The former makes itself clear on the powerhouses 'Rez' and 'Let Go', whilst the latter is abundant on the elongated and often psychedelic-laden jams like 'Dharma' or even the title track. This duality truly keeps this record afloat even throughout the more dull and repetitive moments, although not exactly numerous, with the anticipation of what new bass groove, keyboard tone, or tempo change will come next always keeps you on your toes. Even the soppy 'Peyote Eyes' has quite the inviting atmosphere and is appropriate even as it follows up the rocker of 'Rez', although to call the vocals appropriate to its atmosphere would be a bit of a stretch. Also, be ready to rapidly digest sometimes overwhelming torrent of dynamic sound, because "fill" seems to be one of the only words in McGarrigle and crew's lexicon.

The complete experience this album delivers is a warm and inviting one. Perhaps Topaz will never ascend to the greats, or frankly ascend from being split-up, they've left quite an impact with the succotash they've given me.

KENNY BURRELL Midnight Blue

Album · 1963 · Jazz Related Blues
Cover art 4.49 | 10 ratings
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In the early 60s, jazz artists cutting a blues album was not an uncommon thing at all. Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and others put out some of their most successful albums during this time by applying their be-bop chops to some well known blues changes. In early 1963, when Kenny Burrell approached Blue Note head, Alfred Lion, about cutting a blues album, this propisition probably came as no surprise to Lion who was more than happy to let Kenny in the studio to create his blues masterpiece, “Midnight Blue”. The title of this album tells you everything you need to know, this is definitely late night blues with an emphasis on laid back tempos and soulful solos, as opposed to extroverted blazing technique. The band Kenny assembled on here was perfect for the date, with the aforementioned Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Ray Barretto on congas, Major Holley Jr on bass and the understated Bill English on the traps.

Although all of these tracks could be labeled as laid back blues, there is some variety to keep things from becoming too stodgy or predictable. “Wavy Gravy” is notable for being that rare blues tune in waltz time, while other closing and opening tracks on both sides of this record pick up the tempo into a medium swing groove. “Soul Lament” features Kenny on his own, and “Gee Baby ain’t I Good to You” is the only standard, but it too is essentially a blues song. The best thing about this album is its rock solid integrity, drop the needle anywhere you want and you will get the same feeling, no matter the tempo. This is one very sure artistic vision about the blues from start to finish. Even the instrumentation backs up this album’s cohesion, an added piano player would have made things too cluttered, and a B3 player would have made things syrupy and heavy handed, everything is exactly in its place as it ought to be. The addition of Barretto’s subtle conga work is the icing on the cake, as these sort of slow tempos need a little double time action to help keep the groove together.

Although the current ‘vinyl revival’ seems a bit hokey and fabricated by salesmen, its still nice that you can now buy classic jazz records in pristine condition for an almost reasonable price.

NIECHĘĆ Niechęć

Album · 2016 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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progshine
This young Polish band was a complete surprise for me!

On their second album, the selt titled Niechęć (pronounced Niehenti) managed to do the feat of mixing quite disparate things like Post Rock and Jazz Rock and making them work together!

At various times the Jazz Fusion school, which is so strong in Poland, takes us by storm and even I, who do not like Jazz Fusion, just gave up and enjoy their music.

44 minutes of quality music that is worth checking and, even though I didn't hear many new albums in these last two years, one of the best albums released in Poland in 2016!

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