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Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The most difficult artists to write about are those whose artistic vision is so unique and personal that it is hard to come up with comparisons and references, and such is the case with pianist Matthew Shipp and his latest trio outing, “Root of Things”. Early in his career Shipp displayed much influence from the high speed jagged and aggressive piano assaults of Cecil Taylor, and you can still hear some of the Taylor influence, but Shipp has distilled and reduced the Taylor approach, taking out much of the extravagance and leaving a more refined core. Is Shipp’s playing a ‘lounge’ version of Cecil Taylor’s pyrotechnics, that would be an odd way of putting things, but it could almost suffice as a layman’s description, but its also a bit shallow because Shipp is much more than just that. If Matthew has a possible reference in today’s world of pianists, Craig Taborn might be as good as any. Both Shipp and Taborn are drawn to thick busy contrapuntal textures that owe much to serial composers, and both favor a tonality that deceptively slips from extended harmonies to atonality and in-between areas that are not clearly one or the other. Apologies are due if this all sounds too technical, but Shipp’s music is not exactly easy listening.

On this CD you get two tracks with busy, but introspective piano work; “Root of Things” and “Code J”, while “Path” centers around bassist Michael Bisio, and “Pulse Code” is for drummer Whit Dickey. The more energetic work-out tracks are “Jazz It” and album closer “Solid Circuit”. “Jazz It” is probably the CD’s top cut. As the title implies, this is the ‘jazz number’ and the only cut that ‘swings’. It opens with a bluesy Monk like groove, but as Shipp goes into quadruple time while soloing, the rhythm section feels compelled to follow and keeps slipping into chaotic high speed romps. Overall, “Jazz It” has more humor and good times slap bang chaos than most of the rest of this CD, which often sounds more like concert hall music than post bop. Dickey’s solo on “Pulse Code” is nice because he goes more for interesting layered poly-rhythms ala Billy Higgins, rather than boring displays of flash. Closing number “Solid Circuit” is probably closest to the old days of free jazz blowouts, but even on this one, the trio shows much care and restraint in their interactions.

This is one of the better jazz CDs to come out so far this year and it should hold up well to many close listens for modern post bop fans, avant-garde listeners and even concert hall devotees who like the jazz as well. If every cut on here would have been as strong and imaginitive as “Jazz It”, this would have been close to album of the year.

WADADA LEO SMITH Wadada Leo Smith / George Lewis / John Zorn : Sonic Rivers

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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John Zorn's prolific Tzadik label started a new SPECTRUM series with an excellent collaboration between three modern creative jazz giants culminating in the album, "Sonic Rivers". Three horn players - trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, trombonist George Lewis and Zorn himself on saxes, play a restrained session full of bursts and free jazz beauty.

I was expecting this album's concept to recall one of the legendary works between George Lewis and John Zorn in collaboration with guitar genius Derek Bailey resulting in the album "Yankees",released on the Celluloid label in 1982. Even if more than three decades separate these two releases, besides the line-up, they have some more things in common. Both "Yankees" and "Sonic Rivers" radiate that adventurous and creative jazz spirit which becomes more and more rare in the current jazz scene.

Wadada Leo Smith and George Lewis are two key artists of Chicago's AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) movement, which began in the mid 60's. Both are not only musicians, but composers as well, known for their experimental works. John Zorn is probably the most influential figure on the NY downtown avant-garde scene for the last few decades, known for his explosive dissonant playing and his many compositions as well.

Here, on "Sonic Rivers", one can find a very successful balance between the non-jazz avant-garde and the non-traditional compositions of the Chicago school, plus the New York eclectic explosive mix of all styles in one. Surprisingly enough, no-one of these three musicians dominates on these recordings. Even Zorn, adding his dissonant sax soloing, leaves a lot of space for the others. In all, this music sounds very aerial, almost minimal in moments, but still full of content - the characteristic by which one can usually separate the best free jazz albums from all the others. Lewis uses some electronic devices on a few compositions, but generally it's three horn players building multicolored acoustic pictures.

Critically thinking, there is nothing revolutionary different or just really new here. Mainly this music's value is that it reinvents that creative spirit which made so many 60s and 70s jazz releases great listening, even till now, and in a big part, almost forgotten in these modern days of music. The modern jazz scene really needs more of this inspiration today.

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BILLY BANG Billy Bang / John Lindberg : Duo

Live album · 1981 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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This album, recorded at KPFK Radio in Holywood in 1979, contains three free form improvisations that were a revitalization of some of Dave Holland's early works ("Music For Two Bases", etc), released a decade earlier.

Acoustic bassist John Lindberg studied with Holland and played with Anthony Braxton among many others. Together with guitarist James Emery and Billy Bang, they founded The New York Strings Trio in the late 70s (as an alternative to the World Saxophone Quartet) with the intent of participating in New York's loft jazz scene, a re-incarnation of the free jazz scene of the late 60s. Lindberg had already released a solo bass album in 1979, and later Billy Bang released a solo violin improvisation album in 1980.

So this Lindberg-Bang duo album, called "Duo", could be placed between their solo albums and The New York Strings Trio music, all released at about the same time. Without any big surprises, listeners can find on this album perfect interplay between two young and very innovative artists, playing music full of life, emotions and even tunes and soul - not always a characteristic case for some free form string duo releases.

Lindberg's physical bass is obviously influenced by early Dave Holland, but he doesn't sound like a clone at all; the late 70s was a short but very grateful period for those searching for their own voice and willing to explore. Billy Bang, who will soon after this release become an almost free jazz celebrity, mixes adventurous free improvisation with blues and more traditional jazz forms, and shows how great the violin can sound in free improvisational jazz (without being scratchy, noisy or openly dissonant).

This is a perfect album for fans of string driven free jazz (Dave Holland, Barre Phillips, etc) - adventurous and accessible at the same time, there are just a few such albums around.


Album · 1962 · Exotica
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Although Laurindo Almeida was involved in many top notch authentic Bossa Nova albums, he was hardly a purist and didn’t mind mixing pop elements with Bossa Nova with the intent of reaching a broader audience. Such is the case with “Viva Bossa Nova!” from 1962, the rhythms are pure Bossa Nova, and they are expertly played, but the melodies come from popular movies and TV shows. Adding to the early 60s pop appeal is Jimmy Rowles playing a beautifully cheezy electric organ, the ultimate in ‘lounge cool’ in this pre-hippie era. It all adds up, real Bossa Nova fans may not dig this, but its perfect for fans of exotica and 60s bachelor pad mystique.

Although this was mostly meant to be a pop album, none of these excellent musicians checked their creativity and talent at the door. All of the arrangements are varied and interesting and almost every tune provides a solo or two. Some top tune honors go to “Maria”, with a great sax solo from Bob Cooper, and “Petite Le Fleur” with a beautiful bass flute melody from Justin Gordon. “Mr Lucky” and “Theme from Route 66” are also successes in arrangement and execution. Throughout this album, Almeida and his producers stay away from overplayed tunes and the kind of super corny songs that can often drag these kind of records down. “Moon River” is probably the only song close to that category, everything else on here sounds fairly fresh.

Although the choice of songs pushes this album more in a pop/exotica type direction, the high musicianship and general good-taste in presentation might make this appealing to fans of real Bossa Nova too.


Album · 1985 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 2.92 | 6 ratings
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Sportin' Life came as a breath of fresh air when it was released in 1985, with Weather Report sounding more spontaneous, and Wayne Shorter contributing more than he had on some recent releases. The album followed two of the best releases since 1977's Heavy Weather - 1983's Procession and 1984's Domino Theory. My personal Weather Report favourites are Mysterious Traveller, Tale Spinnin' and Black Market, from the era that was the band's and jazz fusion's high point, and Sportin' Life harkens back to that era. I quite like it. Here's what the trades have to say about the album's merits: (Editor's note) Unfortunately I had to remove the other two reviews that were attached to this original review. Here at JMA, we are only interested in original reviews, not reviews taken from other sources. Thank you for your understanding.


Album · 1949 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Duke Ellington was such a prolific composer and performer that there are bound to be some overlooked gems in his vast recorded arsenal, and such is the case with “The Liberian Suite”, recorded in late 1947 and released in 1949. This suite was commissioned by the government of Liberia, who were celebrating the 100 year anniversary of their founding by freed slaves from the US. The original “Liberian Suite” was initially released by itself on a 10" LP. Later it was teamed with “A Tone Parallel to Harlem” for release on a 12” LP. After that, “Liberian Suite” was not re-issued often until recently when Columbia included it on their CD re-issue of “Ellington Uptown”.

“Liberian Suite” is not one of Ellington’s most ambitious works, especially compared to the “Black Brown and Beige Suite” that preceded it, and “A Tone Parallel to Harlem” that will follow in a few years. Instead, the ideas on “Liberian” are more direct and easier to absorb, creating a work that is more cohesive and easier to follow than some of Ellington’s more sprawling musical architectures. That’s what is special about this suite, it really works and it really connects with the listener. As is usual with all of Ellington’s ‘suites’, “Liberian” does not follow classical forms or imitate the classical composer’s tendency toward thematic development and recapitulation, instead, this piece wanders from one idea to the next, but with a creative flow that makes total sense and keeps the listener thoroughly engaged. Its hard to think of another composer who can work with such constant forward motion and still come up with something this logical and coherent.

As is usual, Duke’s band is outstanding on here. Ellington was smart enough to pay his men better than most, insuring that he had a very cohesive unit made up of musicians who were often with him for several decades. There are many highlights on here, Al Hibbler’s understated and thoughtful vocal delivery on the semi-mystical “I Like the Sunrise”, and Tyree Glenn’s exotic vibraphone solo on “Dance Number 2” are both worth mentioning. Another top contribution is Sonny Greer’s imaginative tympani playing that drives the band with a mix of African and western symphonic musicality. There are so many more inspired musicians and moments on here that is pointless to list them all, but to sum up, this music was ahead of its time then, and will continue to be so for many years to come. No one else in the world sounds like this. Its also worth mentioning that no doubt Ellington’s very important co-contributor, Billy Strayhorn, had much to do with the writing and arranging on here.

YES The Yes Album

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.83 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
In a world rife with heinous harrumphitude and tantrum yoga, the purveyors of positivity released this phenomenal transitional album way back in1971. One of my earliest introductions to progressive rock music was THE YES ALBUM which burst onto the scene in 1971. So powerful is this album that it completely overpowers the first two which often get completely ignored. Many erroneously believe this to be the first YES album because it is the first of the string of masterpieces that grace the early to mid-70s.

What we have here is a band who had already developed their sound quite successfully and ratcheted it up to the next several levels and deliver it with a sense of bravado not quite developed on the first two albums. Exit Peter Banks who contributed his signature progressive guitar runs over the basic blues licks of the 60s and in is alien extraordinare Steve Howe who took that sound and jazzed it up with gusto. In still is Tony Kaye on keyboards who just couldn't let that 60s moog sound go. Ultimately he exited stage right because of his unwillingness to progress with the band but on this sole album the crossroads are fertile creating a little musical goldmine in the process. Also gone are the covers and this is the debut of all original YES material which signifies that this band is now ready for prime time. Bill Bruford manifests his love for jazz on the drums solely taking YES into the realms of jazz-related rock.

The magic of this album is how accessible and complex it is at the same time. Just listen to this next to say, “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” or “Relayer” and it's obvious how easy it is to love instantly. That matters not because it is so brilliantly executed. The melodies are contagious but the band is on fire!!!! The passion pit is sweltering with the coals of long lost musical tidbits resurrected to create a renaissance of musical magnificence. Steve Howe's solo piece “The Clap” is a perfect example of how he brings a sorta homey feel to the complexities that arise. The acoustic guitar virtuoso displays a good old countrified bluegrass ragtime blitzkrieg that only replicates itself amongst the more spacey and progressive tracks on this album thus keeping the tunes from spiraling into the stratosphere and reining them in to the accessisphere. A classic of classics that is the perfect place to dive into the wonderful world of YES where even the most hardened progger can entertain melodic magnificence with melodramatic progginess seeping into every nook and note. Hippy dippy and WTF lyrics rule here but that is what makes it so cute and charismatic at the same time. YES! I love this album! YES! Oh God YES!

STEVE LACY Disposability

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Lacy is one among a few jazz star saxmen playing exclusively soprano.His name is well known for jazz fans,but quite surprisingly his music is far not so popular as it could be. I expect one of main reasons is he was extremely prolific musician,often using same musical themes again and again,so his recorded legacy is huge and not all of the same high quality. Inexperienced listener sometimes can be mistaken trying to explore Lacy's music from his not the best place.

For very brief orientation, it's important to note that Lacy's early solo works (he played mostly all the time with greatest jazz musicians of the time as Don Cherry,Mal Waldron,Elvin Jones,Roswell Rudd,etc)are all straight-forward jazz of early 60s up to late 1965.Some critics count Lacy's first four albums as his best music ever,and this point of view is not so strange,at least not for the jazz purists.

"Disposability", Lacy's fifth album released in 1966,is his first trio recordings and and his first album containing original material (together with three Monk compositions,one Carla Bley and one Cecil Taylor's).Recorded in Rome right before Christmas,"Disposability" is first Lacy's album where he switched from hard-bop towards much more adventurous and free music. Rhythm section of heavyweight and extremely quirky Italian drummer Aldo Romano and advanced bassist Ken Carter build very unusual frames comparing with Lacy's previous works. Actually there're them two who push his music ahead. Lacy clear and vibrato-less sax soloing doesn't always fits well over sometimes too-heavy often far not all that subtle drummer constructions, but more interesting and important fact is how well Lacy feels in much freer atmosphere.

Far not his most advanced album,"Disposability" is great border-stone evidence,separating straightforward (and really great) early Lacy music from upcoming decades of his free jazz glory.Still quite accessible album is one of good entrances to Lacy music as well - if it sounds too quirky just go to his earlier music,for those attracted with Lacy's adventurous playing there are lot of excellent later works.


Live album · 1977 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Dizzy Gillespie started out his career as one of jazz’s most important trailblazing innovators. Like most musicians who stick around long enough, Dizzy’s later career was a mixed bag with the always good-natured Diz willing to participate in endeavors that were sometimes less than stellar, which leads us to this pop-RnB soul jazz LP that is sometimes titled “Sweet Soul”, and other times, “Azure Blue”. Whatever it is titled, it is actually Dizzy's "Soul and Salvation", released in 1969, and it sounds very much like a 60s RnB production geared for am radio and automobile dashboard speakers.

Soul jazz in itself is a genre that ranges from excellent sides by folks like Eddie Harris and Herbie Mann, to pure commercial fluff put out by others. “Sweet Soul” falls somewhere in-between those two extremes with about half the cuts featuring solid RnB/jazz riffs, while the other half can range from trite to outright annoying. The credits on here are very sketchy, but there is a very prominent saxophonist on here who carries most of the melodies and a lot of the solos too, quite possibly it is James Moody, but there are several other saxophonists on here as well as a couple more trumpeters besides Diz.

“Sweet Soul” starts out fairly strong with the first five cuts all being fairly catchy RnB pop songs, third track “Azure Blue” is particularly striking with a great solo from Diz. Track six, “Party Man” introduces one of this album’s biggest faults, wordless vocals (“yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”) that repeat every couple of bars throughout the entire song in a very mind-numbing fashion. Its really hard to make it through the entire song after you have heard that refrain more than three or four times. A couple more songs also contain the overbearing vocals and as the album wears on you begin to realize that a lot of these songs are very similar to each other. Adding to this album’s cheapness and lack of credibility is this hilariously polite canned applause that starts and ends each song. I seriously doubt this is a “live” record as the applause is exactly the same every time it comes around.

The main plus on here is that Dizzy’s soloing is high energy on every cut, even the banal ones. Fans of rare groove and classic soul jazz may want to pick this up, there are just enough good cuts on here to make it worthwhile, but anyone looking for Gillespie’s outstanding contributions to jazz will want to pick up something from earlier in his career.


Live album · 2010 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Varicose Vein Salad Surgical Stockings

"We rehearsed for five weeks, which I could never understand why we needed to rehearse that long, Upon hearing the recordings, maybe five weeks was not long enough. It wasn't to the standard that I liked and I didn't think it sounded that good" (Carl Palmer)

They sound like a hungover pub band bluffing it under the delusion that only friends and family are in attendance. On the evidence of this superannuated bumper pay day that the trio repaid with their greatest hits karaoke, it saddens me to report that ELP are no longer even the best ELP tribute band around. Many of their missed entries and cues conspire to sound rushed and tardy, too early and too late which makes for a very nervy listening experience for this self-confessed ELP fanboy. Bum notes proliferate throughout making parts of Take a Pebble and Fanfare for the Common Man stray perilously close to self-parody. (I could swear Emerson is wearing mittens during Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2) Musicians of this calibre however, cannot be uniformly abject for 90 minutes (which is exactly how long a soccer match lasts but it probably feels longer seeing as how we're watching Chelsea's pensioners, one of whom is certainly worthy of a red card or failing that, a red face Greg...) The FOH mixing boffins were clearly unable to tame the sonic gremlins that spoil much of this performance: the drums at the outset sound alternately like Tupperware surdos or timpanic watering cans. The Barbarian they portray here would probably break into your apartment, dust the place, tidy up the rooms and leave behind some baked fruit scones. Similarly, the extant Tarkus critter has been lobotomised into some sort of de-fanged proggie moggie who answers to the name of 'Frisky'. Lake's bass on Knife Edge approaches 'twangy brittle' rather than the required 'guttural brooding' although in mitigation, the aforementioned knob twiddlers have managed to perform some much needed running repairs to the appalling sound quality in the interim. On the up side, there appears a genuinely innovative moment re the unconventional piano intro to Lake's habitually guitar led From the Beginning which explores the implied jazz flavour of his 9th chord vamp quite beautifully. The synth patch used on Keith's outro solo is alas, a disaster, coming across like a busking Rolf Harris armed with Casio's flagship stylophone. Touch and Go lives up to it's associations with a completely fumbled/dropped ball intro from Keith that seems plain vanilla senile (How does this one go again lads? high dotage/dosage?) but settles down thereafter into a reasonably robust reading of what is probably the only classic post 80's ELP number by any permutation of those initials. I'm trying hard to accentuate what few positives there are but why is everything on here just so damn half-baked, wimpy and soulless?

"For me, it's just a pride thing Unless it's as good as what it can be, then I can't do it. I would have carried on if it had been as good as it was. I don't believe it was and I don't believe it would have ever gotten back to that standard". (Carl Palmer)

The piano improvisation through which Emerson negotiates from Take a Pebble to the Tarkus medley is brilliantly realised and the resultant Stones of Years is spared the indignity of degenerating into any anticipated 'Gallstones of Tears'. Things have perked up considerably hereabouts and Keith's organ solo is a veritable highlight of the set. Rather bizarrely, Greg deems it prudent to attenuate the feedback present on this number by erm, shouting 'feedback x 3' into the microphone as if this will somehow make it less noticeable? Worse than that, the now spherical blimp has the chutzpah to regale us with Mass without a trace of knowing irony. Although it's hardly a stand-out in their songbook, it's refreshing to hear a live version of Farewell to Arms from the criminally neglected Black Moon album. This has a quiet and understated dignity about it that survives Lake's habitually treacly 'spoken tag-line' bathos and the odd lapse into poorly digested Elgar betrayed by the arrangement. The grazing anti-warhorse that is Lucky Man benefits from a slyly ingenious piano intro which seems rather wasted on what has always been for me, a very insubstantial ballad. What weight it might possess is further undermined by it's author forgetting the lyrics to the first verse. Keith's gritty and ballsy organ certainly beefs things up considerably but once again, this is a brownie with delusions of being a three tiered wedding cake. To be fair to Prog's favourite law firm, (Emerson, Lake & Palmer est 1970 prop G. Lake esq) they offer a very spirited and in places, moving retread of Pictures at an Exhibition which follows the latter day truncated versions as contained on the likes of the Return of the Manticore. Here the band at least exemplify the hard won lesson that despite the stubborn excesses of their Prog lineage, 'less' is finally acknowledged as begetting a more satisfying and economic 'more'.

Much of the raggedness and inaccuracies that crept into Emerson's playing circa the early 90's were attributable to a trapped nerve condition that eventually required corrective surgery. Although the operation was considered a complete success it did have a debilitating effect on Keith's pianistic abilities thereafter. He had to pare down and relax his playing style somewhat compared to the shredding pyrotechnics of his 'gun-slinger' years. However, based on the evidence of the subsequent Keith Emerson Band studio album and Live in Moscow recordings with Marc Bonilla, his playing is unfailingly top notch on both so I'm at a loss as to why there are so many clinkers on High Voltage

By this point ELP didn't even have either 'Ham or Cheese' to offer their famished but faithful fanbase but we can at the very least finally answer that nagging question first posed in 1971: Are You Ready Eddy to pull those faders down? Yep, and turn out the lights when you leave the building thanks, this show ended 30 years ago.

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