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jazz music reviews (new releases)

STEVE HECKMAN Steve Heckman & Matt Clark : Some Other Time / Slow Cafe

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
The hardest group format to work in when it comes to keeping a groove, and, as they say, ‘swinging your ass off’, has to be the duo configuration. Playing solo is easier because you have no one else to match to, you can wander as far off the beat as you want and no one is going to complain, except maybe your audience. Likewise, once you get up to three or more participants, more than likely you will have a drummer keeping time, or at least a bass instrument, but when it is just the two of you, both of you need to have killer time instincts and a swingin beat in your head or the resultant train wrecks will come soon and often at that. Having said all that, on their new CD, “Some Other Time/Slow Café”, saxophonist Steve Heckman and pianist Matt Clark easily show that they are ‘those guys‘, the ones with an impeccable drummer keeping time in their hearts and minds. This is a great CD, with an excellent choice of material made up of lesser known standards plus four originals, three by Heckman and one by Clark. It says a lot about your writing ability when your own originals can blend with proven standards and not stand out in a bad way, but such is the case, especially with Heckman, whose originals are often the highlight on this album.

My only prior experience with Steve’s playing was hearing his previous Coltrane tribute. Possibly it had to do with the pressure of paying tribute to Coltrane, but Steve sounds so much more relaxed and fluid on this new album, not that there was anything wrong with his earnest take on Coltrane classics, but “Some Other Time/Slow Café” shows more variety and personal approaches than what was heard on his previous effort. Some highlights on here include the lofty ballad “Some Other Time” on which Heckman’s breathy tenor tone recalls one of his favorite influences, Lee Konitz, I also thought I heard some Coleman Hawkins on this one too. Two Heckman originals stand out, “Sheila’s Sunday Song’ on which Steve shows that he has a nice full tone on the flute, and the soulful RnB/pop of “Slow Café”. Two tracks by Duke Pearson have the duo in a hard bop/soul jazz groove with Matt walking the bass on the low end of the piano, and then there’s Monk’s “Ugly Beauty”, on which Matt shows off those signature Monk style whole tone scale runs.

Don’t expect fireworks on here, instead, this is a very unpretentious and warm jam session from two guys who really click, give this album a chance and it will grow on you. There is another plus on here and that’s the piano sound. Often times modern acoustic jazz sounds too bright and artificial, I don’t know what they did right on here, but the piano has a natural presence with just the right amount of normal room ambience and reverb, absolutely no artificial sweeteners at all. The CD cover works well too, instead of the expected urban jazz scene, you get what looks like a somewhat surreal warm quiet café in a rural winter landscape, it fit’s the music perfectly.

ED PALERMO The Adventures Of Zodd Zundgren

Album · 2017 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
There is no doubt in my mind, and also in that of many others, that two of the most important musicians to come out of America in the Sixties were Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren. They both had/have a unique take on music, and were never afraid to follow their own paths and do exactly what they wanted. I was lucky enough to see Todd in concert, when he made his first appearance on NZ soil a few years ago and he was incredible, but sadly only really started investigating Zappa in the last five years or so, long after his passing. Ed Palermo has now brought together two major influences from his high school years, and has created the album ‘The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren’, which is a homage to both of them. Here we have 25 songs, from either Zappa or Rundgren, fully arranged for his big band. Some are treated as instrumentals, while others do have wonderfully laid-back vocals, and the result is an album that captures the spirit of both of these musicians, and is absolutely essential to anyone who has ever remotely enjoyed their music.

Zappa’s soaring fanfare “Peaches En Regalia” is inspirational, with a particularly eloquent alto sax solo by Cliff Lyons, while a brisk and forthright version of Rundgren’s “Influenza” showcases violinist Katie Jacoby, Palermo reaches deep into the Rundgren songbook for “Kiddie Boy,” a stinging blues from 1969’s ‘Nazz Nazz’. Drawing from the original horn arrangement, Palermo displays some impressive guitar work on a vehicle for Bruce McDaniel’s blue-eye vocals. Napoleon Murphy Brock delivers a poker-faced rendition of Zappa’s surreal “Montana”, (one of my personal favourites, both as the original and on the album) and McDaniel and Brock join forces on Rundgren’s deliriously silly “Emperor of the Highway”.

I really do feel that I could rave about this album for hours, with numbers such as “Song of the Viking” (Todd) just superb with an introductory arrangement for harpsichord and tuba that is inspired. The original was on the classic ‘Something/Anything’, and one has to say that playing one after the other I actually prefer the new version! Apparently Rundgren has also given this release his seal of approval, as I saw some photos on Facebook the other day of him attending one of the gigs promoting this, and having his photo taken with the band. This is an essential purchase, as is the case with many of Cuneiform’s albums.

HASHIMA The Haywain

Album · 2017 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Serbians Hashima debuted two years ago with album which sounded like chamber rock band play fusion, with precisely composed and executed songs and calculated sound. The only imperfection in their music was very static,almost academic take on jazz/rock, the music which by its origin is dynamic and vibrant.

Now, two years after, they return with their second release - Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch's "The Haywain" inspired work which seriously differs from their debut. Dark and pessimistic as Northern European painter's art, Hashima's music is low-tempo and liquid, but contains lot of internal energy and sharpness. Closest example are Finnish Black Motor playing avant-garde jazz like if they were blues-rooted heavy metal power trio. Still Hashima music's roots are quite different and on "The Haywain" they sound more like unusual post-rock quartet with double bassist and tenor sax player on board playing avant-garde jazz.

The opener (and longest album's song) "Dance No.3" is a true bomb. Spiced with Portuguese rising star Susana Santos Silva trumpet vibrato soling (which surprisingly adds more Balkan feel to music then rest of the band) it blows your minds away. Everyone familiar with Nordic project "Angles" music can think about "Dance No.3" as minimalist "Angles'" hit with better controlled emotional coloring, like walking on the edge but never crossing the danger border.(Susana Santos Silva's fans have possibility to see her as part of probably best European progressive big band Fire! Orchestra just a few month ago; Angles and Fire! Orchestra both have some same musicians on board).

Rest of the album is played by quartet themselves and without free trumpet solos they become even slower,darker and more...chamber. Similarly as on their debut, music here develops as on rock and not a jazz album. Songs all are perfectly composed and precisely played/recorded, just rhythm/melody changes right in the middle of any composition without even a trace of preparation for such a change moves all music somewhere towards modern avant-garde field. Still, all components are such melodic and never too long-lasting, that quite complex music in whole sounds as good contemporary avant-rock album (think Kayo Dot) rather than the avant-garde jazz one.

There even are a shredding guitar sounds and thunder-like drums dueling with tenor sax, and whole album lasts just forty minutes - as good rock album from the times when good rock albums still existed (and we all know that it was such times when music has been released on vinyl since CDs were just something from futurologists dreams). Guys don't try to demonstrate technical abilities or speed at all, music sounds quite simple (but is far not so simple!), but at the end of the day I felt like I'm back in 70s and just listened to my another new great rock album.

Is jazz a new rock in 2017? I am not sure but I can seriously recommend "The Haywain" to open ears progressive rock fans unsuccessfully trying to find a new King Crimson during last two or three decades.

Not really a jazz album (from jazz purists point of view), this is the music I listened again and again last few days and one of the biggest discovery of last years. Balkans' jazz has their heroes from now.

P.S. And - I imagine that Hashima and Susana Santos Silva's whole common album could be a great thing as well!

BROOKLYN RAGA MASSIVE Terry Riley in C

Live album · 2017 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
Terry Riley’s “In C” was a groundbreaking work within the confines of Western concert hall music. Its use of small melodic fragments that the members of the orchestra could choose to play at will helped introduce improvisation to the Western concert hall world, while its pulsing rhythms and homogenous tonal sound spearheaded a movement that became known as ‘minimalism’, something that was quite different from the 12-tone serialism and atonality that preceded “In C“. Since the late 60s, when “In C’ made its first appearance, it has been re-interpreted in many guises, including versions for ensembles who created African and Chinese versions of this malleable composition, which leads us to this latest version by Brooklyn Raga Massive . Brooklyn Raga Massive is an open-minded collective of performers who are well versed in the art of Indian classical music, but they are also willing to experiment with other musicians and styles of music too. This new version of “In C” is quite different from the original in may ways, and whether or not that is good or bad will probably vary from person to person.

The original “In C” had no one keeping time, there was an implied pulse, but the lack of strict time gave the piece a hallucinogenic ebb and flow that was one of it’s main appealing features. Featuring a different approach, this new version by the Raga Massive has a steady pulse supplied by the tabla, which gives the piece a groove more in common with modern ambient electronica. This trance element works well when the piece first opens, but after a while you may find yourself missing the more vague and slippery nature of the original. Terry Riley himself listened to this Raga version in rehearsal and was pleased with what he was hearing, but maybe he too was concerned about possible tedium in this new version because he suggested that the ensemble should add solos to the mix. This turned out to be a brilliant idea as the solos on sitar, violin, flute, vocals and other instruments add much more interest and excitement to the piece.

So once again “In C’ is given another face lift, as will probably happen again and again for many decades to come. Try out the original and this new version and see if you prefer the more dreamlike, yet insistent original, or this more Indian fusion meets techno-trance with driving solos modern version.

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.

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HERBIE HANCOCK Dedication

Live album · 1974 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
First Hancock Japan-recorded album and true obscurity, "Dedication" in some sense is a real sensation. At the time of his funk-jazz glory (recorded in July 1974, it is closest to Hancock's "Thrust" and "Man-Child" excellent studio works with band), Hancock recorded four tracks in Tokyo in one day during his Japanese tour.

"Dedication" is not only very first Hancock solo piano album (one among a very few recorded later), it contains quite unusual music for the time. Of four Hancock album's originals, side A contains two acoustic piano songs,"Maiden Voyage" and "Dolphin Dance", both played in unusual for Hancock romantic/sentimental manner, slow-tempo,almost ballads,with complex airy arrangements.Can't remember him ever playing like that before or after. Closest example is probably another Hancock's acoustic solo piano album "The Piano"(another Japanese release, from 1979), but there he already sounds much more pop-jazz influenced.

Side B brings even more surprises - two his other songs here are both "electric", but surprisingly sounds a bit different from his regular music, recorded with band of the same time period. "Nobu" is masterpiece of sort sounding far ahead of its time. Hancock plays electric keyboards over sample-and-hold feature of an ARP 2600 synthesizer, producing techno-rhythm. Very spacey and futuristic, this composition sounds more modern and futuristic than his regular funk-jazz of the time, but without commercial trickery so usual for Hancock later electronic albums.It's interesting that in modern techno-circles this track is often mentioned as first ever recorded techno-song.

Album closes with renown "Cantaloupe Island" played by Herbie on analog keyboards over pre-recorded synth bass-line. In all, eclectic (and even eccentric) choice of music for one album, but surprisingly it works and is a perfect illustration of creative atmosphere of the time.

"Dedication" survived at least seven re-releases in Japan but was almost unknown outside of the country. First ever non-Japanese edition has been released in US in 2014 only (on Wounded Bird) and makes this music a bit more available for obscure great music from the past seekers.

JOHN CAGE John Cage Assisted By David Tudor : Variations IV Volume II

Album · 1965 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
If a group of humans improvising some music might be called a jazz combo, then what would you call a group of record players, radios and room microphones doing the same? You might call that John Cage’s “Variations IV”, because that is what this recording consists of, a collage of sounds that come from a couple of phonographs, some radios and some strategically placed microphones all ‘jamming’ together at the same time. For those unaware of the work of John Cage, he was a clever composer who tried to find ways to change people’s perceptions of what could be considered music. His infamous composition “4:33”, consisted of four and a half minutes of silence which challenged the listener to notice the sounds around them as if they were listening to a piece of music. “Variations IV” continues in that vein as we hear all of these different incongruent sounds colliding to form what might be called ‘music’ for those who want to hear it that way.

The original “Variations IV’ concert took place at an art gallery in Los Angeles. Cage, and his assistant David Tudor, manipulated the different record players and radios while microphones picked up street noise from outside the gallery, as well as laughter and conversation in the gallery bar room. The entire recorded concert lasted for six hours, so this LP, “Variations IV Volume II”, contains just a segment of the original performance. Obviously, ‘music’ like this isn’t for everybody, but if you enjoy this sort of thing, “Variations” makes for a great listen. Since this was recorded back in the mid-60s, the various music segments that appear on here reflect that time period. There is no heavy rock, rap, disco or techno, instead, you get a lot segments from classical pieces, as well as spoken word recordings, some jazz, folk and other things that are somewhat unintelligible due to all the ambient noise. Whether or not this recording is ‘music’ is probably debatable, but speaking for myself, I find listening to this to be not only interesting, but also very enjoyable, and although I don’t listen to it often, I still consider this to be one of my prize LPs.

JOACHIM KÜHN Situations

Album · 1988 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
NOT FOR MASSAGE THERAPY

For those of you who weren't there, the late 1980s were a very unique time in the history of jazz. Suddenly the music was acceptably hip, and was seen and heard everywhere, all with the media's full support and approval. It was what some have called the "Armani Suits/Skinny Ties" era of jazz, and many peripheral figures briefly found themselves in the spotlight for 15 minutes of fame. Such was the case for Joachim Kuhn when he released this album in early 1988.

Kuhn, best known in Europe, had been recording since the mid-1960s and was even a semi-prominent figure in the mid-1970s fusion scene. By the time Situations was released, he had already recorded a number of solo piano and piano trio albums, most of which had hideous cover art and were only sporadically available to his small-but-devoted following. When George Winston albums started going multi-platinum, Atlantic Records gave this album a major push before (naturally) dropping and forgetting all about him after the moment had passed.

So why are we discussing Situations today? Because it's a masterful solo piano album that truly transcends its release date. Don't for a moment think this is background music for candlelit dinners. The virtuosic "Delicate Pain" begins with startling vigor and passes through many tempo changes before returning to the original passionate fire it opened with. The impressionistic "Lunch in the Rain" betrays Kuhn's classical background, moving from a stately opening, through reflective moods, before reaching a crystalline peak. The best known song on this album, "Hauswomen Song" originally appeared on a compilation entitled Piano One, released on the Private Music label in late 1985. This longer version is one of Kuhn's most memorable compositions ever, brimful of hummable melodies. "Sensitive Detail" is a leisurely intermezzo before an indefinite conclusion, and the album closes with the dark-yet-warm beauty of "Refuge". Yet it's the first track, the exploratory "Situation", that most effectively captures the contemplative mood of its time.

The uncreditted package design (and the late 1980s zeitgeist) probably led many people to unfairly file this album under the dreaded moniker of "New Age". Situations far surpasses the music usually associated with that unfortunate label, and should interest far more than just Joachim Kuhn listeners. For jazz solo piano fans, this one is truly worth any efforts expended toward tracking it down. While so many contemporaries were going electric or exploring "World Music", Situations should be remembered as one of the defining statements of its era.

CHICK COREA Return to Forever

Album · 1972 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.37 | 35 ratings
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js
It seems that in any musical genre, the most creative work goes down during the days in which said genre is being created. For sure the most intense bebop happened in the early 40s, and although you may still hear some good bop to this day, it will never be quite the same again. The same could also be said for jazz fusion, a genre that became an easy target for criticism over time, but in the heady days of its inception, some really interesting music was created under the fusion moniker, which leads us to Chick Corea’s first attempt to lead a fusion group while recording the album, “Return to Forever”. Chick was hardly new to the fusion world at the time of this recording, he had already participated on several ground breaking albums by Miles Davis, but, as stated earlier, “Return to Forever” was Chick’s first fusion recording as band leader. Corea’s albums as leader prior to this were definitely shaking up the jazz world, whether he was making cutting edge post bop tracks with Roy Haynes, or avant-garde excursions with Anthony Braxton, Chick was definitely a pianist to watch in the early 70s.

Like many early fusion recordings, a ‘mystical’ scent of hippie incense hangs heavy over “Return”. Psychedelic rock and progressive rock were at a peak during this time, and their sometimes indulgent excesses were an influence on many early fusion albums. The lengthy multi-sectioned songs on here, as well as Flora Purim’s exotic wordless vocals and a good dose of spacey reverb give “Return” a definite art rock flavor, but the long-line virtuoso solos from Chick, and everyone else, are brought about by these musician’s well trained background in jazz. Chick’s solos during this time were heavily influenced by his interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, his montuno driven rhythms contain some of the fiercest playing of his entire career. Unfortunately, in a few years after this recording, much of that aggressive Afro-Cuban influence will leave Chick’s playing for good. Rising to Chick’s energetic challenge, bassist Stanley Clarke man handles the difficult and bulky stand-up bass to play driving rhythms reminiscent of Cream and James Brown, the sort of bass lines that are more easily played on an electric bass.

All of the tracks on here are excellent, but title track, “Return to Forever” and side two’s lengthy “Sometime Ago-La Fiesta” stand out in the way that the whole band comes together for some very intense interplay driven by Corea’s quasi-montuno rhythmic figures. This will always be Chick Corea’s best fusion album, later attempts in this genre by him seem to get bogged down with too many compositional ideas, and too much ‘cheerful’ cuteness.

THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.80 | 14 ratings
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js
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.

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