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jazz music reviews (new releases)

NICOLAS MEIER Nicolas Meier World Group : Peaceful

Album · 2019 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Nicolas Meier’s new album may be titled “Peaceful”, but don’t expect music that is timid or dull, instead, the music on here is exciting, energetic and very rhythmic. More than likely the term peaceful alludes to the positive vibes and peace encouraging all inclusive international flavor of Meier’s latest opus. For this one Nicolas has assembled his all acoustic World Group Quartet, consisting of himself on fretted and fretless guitars, Kevin Glasgow on bass, Richard Jones on violin and Demi Garcia on percussion. Together they take on musical styles from all over the globe including Gypsy, Samba, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Turkish and more. Meier takes most of the solos, and much like fellow guitarist George Benson, Nicolas makes his fleet scale runs sound easy, as if he is never breaking a sweat as he pulls of runs that would fatigue most. Jones takes a few solos too, but often backs up Nicolas with harmonies and background pedal points.

“Peaceful” opens with, “Besiktas”, a very continental flavored waltz with a bit of gypsy to it before they head into the high energy “Manzanita Samba”. The CD title track is a floating middle-eastern flavored ambient track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bill Laswell album. Many of the following tracks continue the middle eastern theme, often with very pronounced percussion driven grooves. “Water Lillies” takes us to Spain complete with the requisite hand clapping rhythmic backing. The album closes with “Soho Square’, a bluesy number with a loping rhythm somewhere in between gospel and western swing. Quite simply, “Peaceful” is as pleasant as the title implies, but never placid.


Album · 2019 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Brits Portico Quartet always had very special place on British nu jazz scene since they arrived more than a decade ago. Among very firsts in a genre their sound was closer to Brian Eno ambient than melodic chamber jazz/songs-oriented soft fusion of their scene's colleagues. But even more important - their ambient-jazz was very organic thanks to the use of exotic "hang"(form of steel-pan) instead of modern electronics of more club-oriented bands.

They received an early fame and some decline, changes in line-up and hardly successful flirting with vocal-based pop. With "Memory Streams" they return back to basis and it's their true return to form of sort.

Oppositely to their very early releases, band's fans wouldn't find an unexpected sound and very new music in general; on Portico's new album they play mostly everything they already played before. But they do it well.

Very melodic well executed "organic" ambient jazz,very accessible and often balancing on the dangerous edge with "elevators music" but fortunately never crossing the border. Not really a listening for one's brain but simply beautiful music for many's heart.

Band's traveling Europe with new program these days so don't miss your chance to see them playing life.


Album · 2019 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Jason Harnell is a top notch jazz session drummer who has worked with big names such as Dave Douglas, Maynard Ferguson, Larry Goldings, Alan Pasqua and many more. “Total Harnage” is his first and only solo release and finds him playing selections from the drum solo show he performs at the Oyster House Saloon in Studio City Ca. Jason doesn’t just play the drums, but instead acts as a one man band by singing and utilizing electronics, loops, samples and apps to accompany his compositions. Essentially what we have here are oddly orchestrated drum solos, each with a totally different sound and approach. When I mention ‘drum solos”, don’t picture the thunder and flash of the Billy Cobham and Neil Peart crowd, instead, Jason is a subtle “thinking man’s” drummer and is more similar to masters of abstraction such as Eddie Blackwell, Paul Motian, Chico Hamilton and Max Roach. There is also a lot of Africa and India in Jason’s percussive excursions. Although there are many different tracks on here, they all seem to flow together, connected by Jason’s rambling rhythms.

It does not matter how much avant-garde music you have listened to, you have never heard anything like “Total Harnage”, not because it is particularly difficult or dissonant, in fact when Jason sings “When Your Smiling” to sparse drum accompaniment, it just sounds like an old radio broadcast, only a little off kilter when it ends with the sound of a Pac Man session closing down. Jason isn’t just off the beaten path on here, this album is it’s own path by itself. This LP should have special appeal to fellow drummers, in fact much of this reminds me of drummer comedian, Fred Armisen, who has entire comedy routines best appreciated by other drummers and pro musicians who have to deal with that one guy in the band ‘who really isn’t a musician’. Some highlights on here include Jason drumming along with Glenn Gould performing a Bach prelude, and another cut that has him adding percussion to Quint the Shark Hunter’s ‘bad fish’ speech from the movie “Jaws”. Harnell also performs George Crumb’s “The Magic Circle of Infinity”, as well as some ambient trance compositions of his own.

“Total Harnage” is a very non-cliché listen that has grown on me as I hear more, and many of these tracks would work great as change ups in a radio show or mix tape of unique music.


EP · 2019 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Just half a year after the release of their second full-size album "Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery", Londoners The Comet Is Coming come with new half an hour EP "The Afterlife". As other Shabaka Hutchings' musical projects, "The Comet..." is in a forefront of burgeoning English jazz scene, so there is not all that strange the trio releases their next work same year. "The Afterlife" contains outtakes from same sessions which made "Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery" and surprisingly enough, this newest release sounds even partially stronger for my ears.

The opener,"All That Matters Is the Moments", is a true bomb and contains Joshua Idehen narration (he is already known to Shabaka's fans from previous "Comet's..." releases and from the other Hutchings' project - Sons Of Kemet as well). Comparing with the album, released earlier this year, music on this EP is not so heavy,less aggressive, a bit more spacey with lot of analog electronic effects, relaxed in moments and is closer to spiritual jazz than fusion of previous work.

Shabaka's sax plays impressively remember-able tunes, framed with loops and twists from synths and repetitive minimalist drumming,recalling Sun Ra and Germans Can at the same time.

There is more soul in "The Afterlife", less brutal power and quite often whole music sounds closer to "Comet's..." another album, "Death To The Planet", than to closer related "Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery". The trio is touring Europe now, I expect they should sound impressive when playing live. Not all songs are equally strong though, in moments it feels that it's an outcuts album, but it is a strong outcuts album anyway.

One of the best what modern London's jazz scene offers.

BIG BEAT Sounds Good. Feels Good

Album · 2019 · Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Big Beat is a new big band originating from William Patterson University in New Jersey that also doubles as a hot horn driven RnB outfit with Allison McKenzie on vocals, plus when they break it down to the rhythm section, they are also an intense fusion combo that is not afraid to take things on an ‘outside’ trip. There is a lot of versatility at work here as each song on “Sounds Good Feels Good” displays a different side of the group. Although this is very much a modern ensemble, there is a healthy 70s style looseness to the group, as well as a similar open-minded approach to eclectic material.. It’s no surprise then that their playing often recalls other 70s big band leaders such as Thad Jones, Don Ellis and Gil Evans who embraced, fusion, RnB and experimentalism in wide open anything goes arrangements.

Allison McKenzie sings lead on seven of the nine tracks and she has the sort of range and versatility that should make her well known with or without her fellow band members. Her style easily shifts from jazz to RnB, making her the perfect vocal front person for this versatile group. Her solo voice is good enough, but occasionally she double tracks her voice into some very interesting harmonies and vocal arrangements. The two instrumental numbers give the band a chance to get crazy. On “Just Too Much”, Will Dougherty’s electric piano solo pushes drummer Joe Spinelli into some free form mayhem, and on “A Penny for Your Thoughts”, the band peaks with an aggressive hard rock drive topped with an equally intense electric trombone solo.

Four of the vocal numbers are McKenzie originals, and they hold up well against some classic covers composed by Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and the Jackson 5. This band is just getting started, and if they can keep this together the future looks very bright as they hit a good balance between bring the party energy and complicated and challenging arrangements. I would imagine that this is a band best enjoyed in a live situation.

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AMIRTHA KIDAMBI Elder Ones : Holy Science

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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New York based singer and composer Amirtha Kidambi just released her third album as leader - on Astral Spirits(Phase Eclipse), already second new album coming this year(From Untruth - just released in Japan, after the US release, as well).

Her debut, released three years ago, Holy Science, passed somehow unnoticed,and that's a shame. Born in US of Indian origin, Amirtha combines in her music some best traditions of India’s Carnatic,American free jazz and modern drone.

Just four lengthy tracks,each as a part of "Yuga" suite,contain Amirtha's (predominantly wordless) vocals recalling Jeanne Lee under strong accompaniment of lesser known but perfectly working sax-bass-drums trio. The music,if a bit ascetic,is complex and multilayered with each listening opening more new details.

Excellent debut on the edge between jazz/non-jazz avant-garde and Indian classic.


Live album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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After discovering Hans Koller's impressive 1974 release, "Kunstkopfindianer," I came across this live recording of the same line-up for that album. This CD release is on the B.Free label, which is listed as a bootleg label on Discogs, yet the parent label, Be!Sharp, is not listed as such. Bootleg or not, the sound quality on this release is excellent. The packaging states that it was recorded May 15, 1974 in Cologne, Germany "from the original tapes in pristine audio," and it certainly sounds that way. This was apparently taped for a radio broadcast. Along with Koller are Wolfgang Dauner on keys, Zbigniew Seifert on violin and alto sax, Adelhard Roidinger on bass, and Janusz Stefanski on drums.

This live recording draws from the material on the album "Kunstkopfindianer," but, like any good live performance, expands the boundaries of the studio recordings. The avant-garde/free jazz aspects of "Kunstkopfindianer" are further explored here, making it a more challenging listen than the studio versions. That's not to say it isn't good, you just need more attention and patience when listening. "Nome" (the song) is a whopping 40 plus minutes long, a huge leap from the mere 6 1/2 minutes of the studio version. The remaining 35 minutes consist of 3 other tracks from the studio album and some needlessly included announcements.

As would be expected, the musicianship displayed here is top-notch, and, as mentioned above, the recording is impeccable. Overall, a wonderful document of a great group of musicians at the top of their game. If you like "Kunstkopfindianer" or Dauner's experimental jazz and fusion, then this is a must-hear. 4 stars.

HANS KOLLER (SAXOPHONE) Kunstkopfindianer

Album · 1974 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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I came across this album while searching works by Wolfgang Dauner in Discogs and decided to give it a listen. I was happy I did, for this is an excellent example of experimental fusion from that era.

While the album is under saxophonist Hans Koller's name, it is heavily influenced by Dauner's experimental work of that time period. This is really more of a band project, with Koller being just one of the equally important members. Koller, the elder statesman in the group, was in his early 50's at the time, and I give the man credit for releasing music like this at this point in his career. I haven't heard much of his earlier work, but what I did listen to was firmly in the bop tradition. "Kunstkopfindianer" is something quite different.

I would describe this album as a mix of fusion, avant-garde/free jazz, and hard bop. The free jazz/avant-garde aspects of the music never goes too far before becoming grounded by some element of structure and melody. All of the musicians give superb performances, and all but drummer Janusz Stefanski contribute compositions. Stefanski does, however, lay down some incredible, at times ferocious, drum-work throughout the LP. Dauner is his usual genius on the keys, while bassist Adelhard Roidinger is all over the place (in a good way) on his instrument. Koller delivers a convincing performance in the mix, like he'd been a free jazz master all of his life.

I truly enjoy listening to this album and would recommend it to those who like Dauner's experimental work, such as Et Cetera. I give it a solid 4 1/2 stars - an obscure, yet essential album of experimental 70's jazz fusion.

PIGBAG Dr Heckle And Mr Jive

Album · 1982 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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If you have been keeping up with current sounds from England, then possibly you are familiar with today’s youthful streetwise high energy music that features a charged up punky approach to Afrobeat, often with some hip hop, spiritual jazz and other urban flavors thrown into the mix as well. Likewise, if you have followed UK’s popular music for many decades then possibly your initial introduction to today’s sound might have carried some reminders from the past, if so, then its possible you are recalling a short lived early 80s outfit known as Pigbag. Its hard to believe that Pigbag happened almost 40 years ago, but back then they turned a lot of heads with their hyperactive and free wheeling approach to current African dance music. There are some big differences between today’s scene and Pigbag. The scene today is driven by those of African descent who are bound together in political and cultural struggle and their music reflects that. Pigbag, on the other hand, was predominantly (if not entirely) Caucasian and not particularly political. Another difference is that today's players are more sophisticated and technically developed than Pigbag. At this point it should be pointed out that the originator of street level politically charged African dance music is of course Fela Kuti and his Afrobeat bands. Pigbag was merely an approximation of what Fela was all about.

The band was started by Chris Hamlin and Roger Freeman, but when Chris Lee and James Johnston joined, the ability to move beyond just jamming with friends to more professional level aspirations became possible. In the early 80s they were the right thing at the right time. The English youth had burned out on punk rock and a more biracial music scene was building around the 2-tone ska movement. It was during this initial heady success that Pigbag released their first long player, “Dr Heckle and Mr Jive”. Within these grooves you can hear their recipe for success as they play hyper African dance beats topped with electronic sounds and screeching horns. Pigbag was not a particularly technical band, their rhythms were solid and the horn charts were tight, but no one in the band could really build a solo, no big deal, this was dance music, not jazz. To this day this is still a fun album, not great for deep listening, but perfect for a party, and given what is happening today, it still sounds somewhat contemporary.

ANTHONY JOSEPH People of the Sun

Album · 2018 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I really like having the opportunity to hear your beloved album at a live concert, it doesn't happen as often as I would like unfortunately. In case with Anthony Joseph "People Of The Sun" I was lucky enough to experience that.

Released on the tiny French label Heavenly Sweetness, "People Of The Sun" demonstrates fashionable new London jazz with its Caribbean influences. Trinidad-born band's front man Anthony Joseph (who is a professor of creative literature at London University) prefers to call himself a poet, and is obviously rooted in the free jazz and spoken word traditions of the late 60s and Gil Scott-Heron legacy. Joseph is more Caribbean Leonard Cohen than Amiri Baraka.

Album music is full of calypso, salsa, reggae, steel pans sound and Latin accent. Anthony combines his homeland rhythms with funk and spiritual jazz adding slightly melancholic lyrics without avoiding sharper themes such as slavery or problems of more current life in the Caribbean. All of this is offered with philosophical elegance and doesn't quite sound similar to an "angry men" street manifesto at all.

With fifteen musicians participating, the musical part is well-arranged with a percussive relaxed sound, accessible and very dance-able. Short instrumental solos are presented here and there as spices in a brew, it adds to the music's very livable and even hip feel, being in reality not all that simple, the album is very accessible and vibrant.

Returning back to their show, there was a smaller band of slightly different line-up playing live. They sounded much heavier, less refined and recalled more funk-rock garage band than relaxed Caribbean orchestra as heard on album. The compositions played were mostly all more extended with burning long soloing (partially Jason Yarde sax, wah wah guitar or percussion) and very charismatic dynamic Joseph on the front. It perfectly demonstrated band's live energy - opposite side of generally quite relaxed studio material.

One great example of today's London jazz scene great both for your legs, your heart and your head.

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