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jazz music reviews (new releases)

DAVE BASS Trio Nuevo

Album · 2024 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
After starting his recording career working with larger groups, in 2010 pianist Dave Bass decided he wanted to record in a trio format. As Dave explains it, “The spotlight is on each player, forcing you to play at the highest level. But its also the most satisfying configuration, because you can really develop a kind of telepathy with the other musicians:”. This year’s release, “Trio Nuevo”, is Dave’s fourth album in a trio format and presents his Nuevo trio, Tyler Miles on double bass and Steve Helfand on drums. The telepathic interplay that Bass talks about is on full display here. Tyler’s bass is almost on an equal footing with Dave’s piano as Tyler is apt to present melodies solo on the arco bass, or in harmony with Dave. Likewise, both bass and drums are afforded ample solo space as well as a place in the conversation when trading bars.

Along with being active in the SF bay area jazz scene, Dave also plays his share of Latin gigs and his Latin influences are very apparent on many of the tracks. Both “Sandino” and “Gone” have a tango like influence, only played in a very forceful and aggressive style. Bass’ Afro-Cuban style piano buildup is particularly appealing on “Sandino”. The up tempo “Baby Melon” sounds like classic west coast jazz with its brush work on the drums and double time feel. Likewise, Dave’s interest in contrapuntal lines on his “Three Views of Bach”, also recalls the sound of classic west coast cool. Today’s modern abstract sound are represented with “These Times” and a cover of Andrew Hill’s “Duplicity”. Dave presents an Ahmad Jamal type elegance on ballads such as, “As Time Goes By” and “One Look”.

SARAH MCKENZIE Without You

Album · 2023 · Bossa Nova
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Carmel
Kicking off our review of Sarah McKenzie's "Without You," we're diving into an album that intertwines the diverse styles of vocal Brazilian jazz. With her love for Brazilian music, McKenzie brings us an enchanting setlist as she journeys through Rio de Janeiro, which is filled with encounters with Brazilian music legends.

McKenzie, a pianist and vocalist, anchors this sonic voyage with elegance and precision. Enter Jacques Morelenbaum, whose cello weaves layers of depth with his warm tones, and Romero Lubambo, whose guitar exudes the authentic spirit of Brazil and its romance. The rhythm section, led by the versatile Peter Erskine on drums and Geoff Gascoyne on bass, pulses with vitality, creating a foundation where melodies dance with Brazil's dreamy rhythms. Rogerio Boccato's percussion adds intricate and authentic rhythms—the heartbeat of Brazilian music—while Bob Sheppard's flute and saxophone elevate the compositions with impassioned solos.

At the heart of "Without You" lies McKenzie's homage to Antonio Carlos Jobim's repertoire. "I've always loved the music of Brazil, Tom Jobim, Elis Regina, and of course Astrud Gilberto," says Sarah McKenzie. "What I especially love about Jobim is the simplicity and clarity of his melodies, songs that one can remember and sing." Her renditions of "Gentle Rain" and "Corcovado" pay homage to the rich heritage while showcasing her unique vocal and piano style.

McKenzie's originals—"The Voice of Rio," "Mean What You Say," "Quoi, Quoi, Quoi," and her lyrical addition to Lubambo's "Without You"—reveal her vivid imagination as a composer and lyricist. Rooted in Brazilian rhythms and harmonic patterns, these tracks bear McKenzie's unmistakable signature, offering fresh and innovative contributions to the genre. Each track that features Lubambo exudes an aura of class and romanticism, hallmarks of his masterful playing, but it's McKenzie's unique touch that truly sets these songs apart.

Erskine, Gascoyne, Boccato, and Sheppard bring a level of musicianship that complements McKenzie's vision as synergy and unified purpose shine through. Boccato's percussion and Erskin and Gascoyne provide a vibrant backdrop to McKenzie's lush vocals as she navigates these melodies with an acute focus on Brazilian rhythms and precise accents and articulations. Sheppard's solos, as in "Quoi, Quoi, Quoi," bring a fiery elegance to the project.

McKenzie's melodic approach showcases her musical intelligence. Her ability to phrase melodic lines with clear diction while tapping into the emotional essence of the lyrics allows her to explore new dimensions within the music. Like in "Dindi," "Bonita," and "Fotografia," featuring Morelenbaum's arrangements, she takes us on a journey through the familiar melodies, but with a twist of new phrasing, keeping us engaged and excited.

"Without You" is a heartfelt homage to Brazilian music, where McKenzie honors the giants of the genre while carving out her own unique space within its rich textures. This tribute showcases her deep respect for the music but also connects us, the listeners, to the rich heritage of Brazilian jazz.

TROY ROBERTS Green Lights

Album · 2024 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Carmel
On "Green Lights," saxophonist and composer Troy Roberts embarks on a unique musical journey, illuminating the corridors of modern jazz with his vivid compositions and dynamic playing. His music draws a rich, emotive line through the map of his musical and geographical migrations, inviting the listener to connect with his personal experiences. This album, released under Toy Robot Music, reflects Roberts' artistic and personal journeys and marks the first time this gifted ensemble has recorded together under Roberts' leadership.

From the opening track, it's clear that "Green Lights" is based on conversational jazz between musicians who enjoy and respect each other. Roberts, alongside guitarist Paul Bollenback, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Jimmy MacBride, establishes a seamless dialogue that sounds telepathic. The ensemble's responsiveness and mutual intuition are the bedrock upon which this album is built.

"Green Lights" opens the album with a flourish. The synergy among the musicians is palpable, marked by Roberts' robust, expressive saxophone and the ensemble's crisp, fluid interaction. Bollenback's guitar, with its rich Fender Rhodes-like tone, and Patitucci's growling bass lines create a lush, rhythmic tapestry, setting the stage for an album that feels both explorative and grounded.

"The Question" and "By Your Side" are prime examples of the band's versatility, showcasing contemporary harmony and rhythm and a traditional jazz waltz, respectively. In "The Question," the ensemble skillfully navigates through the well-written composition, allowing Roberts to display his deft control over the tenor saxophone during his impressive solo. Meanwhile, "By Your Side" offers an emotive contrast, emphasizing lyrical solos and traditional jazz aesthetics. This diverse range of musical styles keeps the listener engaged and excited throughout the album.

"Solar Panels" is an up-tempo swing, based on a standard that allows the ensemble to weave through the progression with finesse and fervor. "Harry Brown" and "Jive Dumpling" further highlight the ensemble's chemistry and interactive playing. "Harry Brown" delves into modal jazz, while "Jive Dumpling" mixes modern and contemporary jazz for a playful, rhythmically intricate track that will surely put a smile on your face.

"Up To No Good" and "The Scotsman's Ballad" each offer different feels for the ensemble to express through. The former showcases modern jazz sensibility meshed with tight compositional structure, and the latter is a tender, profoundly emotive ballad highlighting Roberts' sensitivity and control. Ending with "Stretch Armstrong," the album revisits the roots of jazz in a straight-ahead swing that allows each musician to shine individually and, as a whole, bring the album to a compelling close.

"Green Lights" is an album built on camaraderie, resulting in an auditory journey that resonates with anyone who appreciates the beauty of skilled jazz musicianship and the stories it can tell.

NUBIYAN TWIST Find Your Flame

Album · 2024 · RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Finally they did it! This London-based nine-piece band just released the album, which with no doubt will become one of the upcoming summer's soundtrack. Danceable, tuneful and radiating positive energy, this music somehow catches the vibe of the moment transferring it to a brilliant sound.

Nubiyan Twist are a significant act on the British scene for the last decade, partially with the very strong 2021 "Freedom Fables" release. Still, they somehow were not really essential, with sporadic releases and snippets of ideas and sounds. "Find Your Flame" puts everything in the right place though. Recorded in freshly-fashionable 70s retro r'n'b key, under the skin the album contains much more.

From the opener "Lights Out ", a groovy r'n'b piece with guest veteran Nile Rodger's guitar licks, the listener finds himself participating in a moody r'n'b fiesta, Tower of Power style. "All The Same", contains guest rising artist Ria Moran and offers more contemporary electronic sound plus dreamy vocals and the regular Nubiyan Twist's brass. Still very danceable.

On "Woman", the band switches all power mixing African rhythms and multilayered vocals and rap. "You Don’t Know Me" is another richly arranged r'n'b piece with powerful vocals and a touch of electronics near the brass soloing. "Carry Me", a true Afro-beat song, features Seun Kuti as guest. Side A closer, "Battle Isn’t Over" is a beautiful neo r'n'b song with tasteful arrangements.

"So Mi Stay", initially a single, released to advertise the whole upcoming album, is quite comfortable but far non-boring song with a touch of electronics and vocals/rap. "Pray For Me Part 1" moves towards soul tradition and contains marching brass on the back (in a Shabaka Hutchings fashion) and rap vocals as well. "Pray For Me Part 2" is, oppositely, an African fiesta.

"Reach My Soul" is a tuneful and soulful richly orchestrated ballad with African rhythms. "Find Your Flame" starts from electronica infected rhythms but develops towards an African danceable song very soon. "Slow Breath", the closer, fits here very well being a mid-tempo soulful Afro-Caribbean piece.

All songs are very diverse, well-written and perfectly executed. As a result, the whole album sounds as one big piece of beautiful music, by it's vibe and atmosphere recalling very much best r'n'b releases, coming from early 70s.

BLANKFOR.MS BlankFor.ms, Jason Moran, Marcus Gilmore : Refract

Album · 2023 · Jazz Related Electronica/Hip-Hop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Attempts to combine electronic artists with jazz artists in a recording or performance setting can often be clumsy and ineffective, often leaving the two camps in separate worlds while sharing the same space. Patrick Gleeson’s work with Herbie Hancock was successful, but they were the exception. Since the early 90s or even earlier, many contemporary acid jazz and nu jazz artists have made extensive use of electronics to good effect, but any attempt to fuse an electronic performer with a live band usually ends up with nothing more than some gratuitous scratching and repetitive sample bites that don’t really do a lot for the spirit of live improvisation.

In 2023, sound artist BlankFor.ms (Tyler Gilmore) set out with a new project in which he manipulated the live performances of pianist Jason Moran and drummer Marcus Gilmore and the result is one of the more successful mergers of live electronic artist and jazz artist to date, and it is all presented on Tyler’s album, “Refract”. In this performance, Marcus and Moran improvise while Tyler loops there efforts on the fly and in general morphs and bends what they play into new shapes. Their interplay is absolutely seamless, it is really hard to tell what is being played and what has already been played and is undergoing treatments, it’s a truly captivating performance and a real breakthrough in the world of improvisation. It doesn’t hurt that such creative and eclectic musicians such as Jason and Marcus are involved, Moran in particular is probably one of the most versatile and creative pianists happening today.

The music is very varied, moving from intense atonality to drifting ambience and many points in between. Some highlights include “Inward Curve”, on which Tyler takes Marcus’ busy drum work and turns it inside out while Moran takes flight on a solo. “Tape Loop A” also takes drumnbass type beats and scrambles them up. “Release”, features Moran’s piano work while Tyler grabs bits and pieces and loops them. This sort of busy activity is the highlight of the album, but there is also a fair amount of ambient tracks as well. The ambient tracks can be effective, but this sort of thing has been done before as some of this sounds like it could be on the next Roger Eno album. Unfortunately, for the last third of the album Marcus is barely present which is a shame. If these three do another project together, it would be nice to hear more of the scrambled beats and intense piano work outs.

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DAVE GRUSIN The Fabulous Baker Boys: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Album · 1989 · Jazz Related Soundtracks
Cover art 3.14 | 2 ratings
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Matti P
The American pianist, composer and band leader Dave Grusin (b. 1934, still alive!) was highly active in the field of film music. The movies I'm familiar with include e.g. Pollack's "Three Days of the Condor" (1975), Warren Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait" (1978), Oscar-magnet "On Golden Pond" (1981), the gender comedy "Tootsie" (1982), and - perhaps my favourite film of these - "The Fabulous Baker Boys" (1989), a musical drama with romantic undertones, starring real life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges as a jazz piano duo of brothers, and Michelle Pfeiffer as a singer joining them.

The most memorable musical moments in the film are definitely those where Pfeiffer performs with the Baker brothers: 'Makin' Whoopee' and 'My Funny Valentine'. They are the highlights of the soundtrack as well. Pfeiffer's vocal abilities were surprisingly good. Grusin's original soundtrack music is fairly enjoyable too, although some of it hasn't aged so well. The core combo - featuring e.g. Grusin on keyboards, guitarist Lee Ritenour, a tenor saxophone and a trumpet - is often accompanied by strings. Occasionally the arrangements lean towards big band stuff.

'Main Title (Jack's Theme)' is a nice, groovy and elegantly arranged jazz piece. 'Welcome to the Road' is among the most eighties sounding tracks. The drumming is too loud in the mix and synths sound rather thin. 'Suzie and Jack' is a pleasant, slow-tempo romantic piece. Even more beautiful is the melancholic and moody ballad 'The Moment of Truth'.

The album also contains Grusin's arrangement of 'Lullaby of Birdland, and 'Moonglow' performed in 1936 by the Benny Goodman Quartet. The album is a bit uneven to listen to, and sometimes the original music is terribly 80's, but the highlights justify sympathetic three stars.

SUKELLUSVENE Vesi- Ja Lintumusiikkia

Album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.38 | 3 ratings
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Matti P
Founded in the early seventies, Finnish band Sukellusvene (= Submarine) already had a colourful past when they spent four days in a recording studio in the autumn of 1978. The result, this sole album with a title meaning Water and Bird Music, was released by then-dying Love Records in May 1979, and it sold 300 copies. For a long time it was a collector's item remembered only by a limited number of people, but Svart Records re-released it with interview-based liner notes (written by yours truly), first on vinyl in 2016, two years later also on CD.

Although the band had performed also vocal songs, their recorded output is entirely instrumental. At this point featuring two guitarists, a keyboard virtuoso, saxophonist-clarinetist and a rhythm section (all members being highly gifted, educated musicians), Sukellusvene created a six-piece album that doesn't much pale in comparison to fusion's leading names such as RETURN TO FOREVER and WEATHER REPORT, or their countryman JUKKA TOLONEN. Sadly the flautist Maikki Talasmo, sister of Lassi's, didn't get the chance to play on the album. Flute would have been a nice addition to the sound.

The opening track composed by guitarist Jukka Mäkinen is called 'Hiilijuna'. That's Finnish for "coal train", hinting at the certain jazz giant. After a classically oriented 3-minute piano intro it starts to groove, several enjoyable solos following each other in a lively and elegant manner. The other guitarist Tapani Tuomanen's melodic composition 'Metsän takaa nousee' is reminiscent of Camel's instrumental stuff. Bassist Pekka Muhli wrote 'Ilmojen halki' (= Through the air) which is a bright and happily jazzy number. Again solos for various instruments appear in turns, always serving the coherence completely; there were no clash of egos in this group.

B-side of the vinyl starts with two pieces written by keyboardist Kari Litmanen. More than the rest of the album, they are spiced with funk, but they still are pure fusion. I'm not a friend of plain funk, but when it's an ingredient of fusion music, it often works really well, like it does here.

The re-release contains also the tracks from the single released the same month as the album. 'Savitaipaleen polkka' is a good-humoured Finnish traditional song. Sukellusvene turned it into a speedy jazz-rock number that really grooves. Within the limited length (2:28) the group manages to include brief solos for electric guitar, organ and alto saxophone. 'Sea Journey' is a cover of a Chick Corea composition. Soprano sax and synths are soloing in turns in this airy, lively and enjoyable piece.

Even with some imperfection in the sonic quality, this album is a delight to a listener of the 70's fusion.

JOHNNY GRIFFIN Night Lady

Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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When it comes to discussing the top jazz saxophonists, Coltrane and Parker are givens, often followed closely by Rollins and Dolphy, but who is next in line. One name that doesn’t get mentioned often enough is Johnny Griffin. Early in his career, Griffin was often billed as “the world’s fastest saxophone”, but for some reason, the passing of time has eased Johnny more into the background. Possibly it is because Griffin was never particularly controversial, no publicized problems with drugs and alcohol or an early death to help immortalize him, Johnny was just a damn good saxophone player, maybe that’s not enough to hold the public’s wandering attention.

Griffin’s “Night Lady” was released in 1964 and finds the tenor man in fine form. This was recorded after Johnny had moved to Europe and was working with the big band led by Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland, as well as working with other artists too. To assemble the quartet for this recording, Clarke on drums and Bolan on piano were obvious choices, with Ellington sideman Jimmy Woode taking on the bass. This is a talented band with the extroverted Clarke playing all over the set in a style similar to today’s post bop drummers. Much like Griffin himself, Francy is also an under rated talent. Although Danish by birth, Francy’s playing has a lot of funky gospel and blues to it. A favorite technique of his is to grab a gospel riff and then insistently repeat it with slight variations as he hammers his point across. Every member of this band plays with a sense of contagious enthusiasm and smart-assed wit.

Apparently Griffin’s playing style had mellowed some since moving to Europe, but that might have been more about changing musical styles as laid back bluesy hard bop and soul jazz replaced the more frantic bebop of Johnny’s youth. A lengthy jam on “Night Lady” opens the album and finds the band swingin the blues, this style also covers much of side two as well. Of the standards herein, Griffin plays endless variations on the melody of “All the Things You Are” and manages to get some fire going on the usually tired sounding “Summertime”. “Little Man You’ve had a Busy Day” is one of Johnny’s favorite ballades and features an elegant solo from Francy. This is a great album for those who like pure jazz with no unnecessary additives or phony flavor enhancers.

SEED ENSEMBLE Driftglass

Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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snobb
England-born composer, band leader and sax player Cassie Kinoshi is on the top now writing music for orchestras, theater, dance and visual-arts. Just a few weeks ago she released the second album of her popular SEED band, recorded mostly live with an orchestra. Still, everything started five years ago, with the debut release of Cassie Kinoshi's initial project, the ten-piece SEED Ensemble's "Driftglass".

"Driftglass" combines some lesser known London scene artists and already popular ones (such as Ezra Collective keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones and Sons of Kemet's tuba player Theon Cross among others). Cassie's band released an excellent soundtrack of the time - richly orchestrated Afro-Caribbean based spiritual jazz album with sweetly-sour tunes, knotty danceable rhythms and in general a relaxed and exhilarating feel.

Some songs contain spoken word poetry or vocals, others are just moody instrumentals, but they all vary enough in mood and arrangements making the whole album versatile and non-monotonous at all. Unrepentant atmosphere of early 70s r'n'b and fusion organically mixes with the more contemporary Caribbean rhythms and tunes of nowadays London. It is a great start. Not really a prolific recording artist, Cassie Kinoshi still has more than enough to say.

IRA KASPI You And The Night And The Music

Album · 2012 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Matti P
This is the seventh album by the Finnish jazz vocalist IRA KASPI (b. 1964). Seemingly, surprisingly, it's still her latest. On her earlier albums she's more or less oriented towards new compositions made for her (sometimes also co-written by her), but this one's dedicated to international classics -- although not entirely. The musicians in "Jazz Diva Band" are pianist Mikael Jakobsson, Jussi Kannaste on tenor sax, Ape Anttila on guitar, bass and percussion and Markku Ounaskari on drums. "With Strings" refers to the Lohja Town Orchestra led by Esa Heikkilä.

On her debut album Inner Voices (2001) I sensed a little Suzanne Vega in her voice. I liked that, but I don't deny her expression has matured in eleven years.

Kaspi herself was especially pleased by the beautiful orchestration on the opening song 'Don't Go to Strangers'and I fully agree, it is gorgeous in its romantic feel. An obvious highlight. The title track where the arrangement focuses on the band has a nice atmosphere that makes you forget that the piece is so often covered. Slightly melancholic 'How Do You Keep Up the Light' was written by Kaspi and Anttila but it fits in harmonically among the standards.

I've heard great interpretations of 'Someday My Prince Will Come', by e.g. Cassandra Wilson, and IMHO this relatively lighthearted version loses the needed romantic aspect. 'The Gentle Rain' was composed by Luiz Bonfa and originally (?) performed by Astrud Gilberto whose soft expression I prefer. The orchestration is nice, though. 'Call Me Irresponsible' emphasizes the band, especially the sax.

'The Good Life' immediately makes me think of Tony Bennett. Kaspi's version also has romanticism in the delicate arrangement, making this one of the better tracks. After two further standards the album closes with another Kaspi-Anttila composition 'The Best Is Yet to Be Coming'. It is surprisingly uptempo and groovy, but apart from a cool piano solo it's not among my faves here.

All in all, I think years back I liked Kaspi's aforementioned debut over this one. I would have wanted more of the lush orchestrations that are at their finest in the opening piece, and the set feels slightly worn-out and unoriginal. Worth three stars anyway.

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