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Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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I really enjoy the return of guitars jazz popularity during some last years. Being one of important instruments in 60s, it lost its attraction with fusion revolution,which first stole it and then shamelessly destroyed it with myriads of unimaginably shredders and three-chord copycats.

With coming of a new century guitar timidly returned to jazz scenes backstage, and the second decade evidences true guitar jazz renaissance.

Danish guitarist Pierre Dorge in his late 60 is far not a newbie, he played with John Tchicai and led New Jungle Orchestra for decades. But it's probably the fashion of the day is what pushed him to record guitar quartet album - really rare case in his prolific discography."Blui", recorded in New York last December with international quartet,is released on SteepleChase label, what is another quite unusual event. Danish SteepleChase is most probably European leading mainstream jazz label for decades. Searching for quality hard bop or conservative post bop album one can literally chose any SteepleChase release even if artist's name say him nothing - one will hardly make a mistake here.

"Blui" isn't mainstream jazz album at all. Those not familiar with Pierre Dorge music most probably know at least two of three his collaborators - Americans veteran drummer Hamid Drake and younger generation's New York-based clarinetist Kirk Knuffke are both well known to adventurous jazz fans.

"Blui" contains perfectly played by four equal excellent musicians well-framed free form tuneful jazz, mostly mid-tempo or even slow in moments, relaxed but no way lazy. Quartet mixes hard-bop with klezmer,North African and Middle Eastern rhythms producing rarely beautiful and quite accessible music,full of internal harmony and radiating positive energy. Oppositely to domination of scratchy and angry noisy destructive guitar bands around on both European and American scenes, Dorge quartet's aesthetics are closer to 50s beatniks or 60s hippies without sliding to noodling or esoteric meditative.

At the same time, album's music generally sounds quite modern, not without help of New York downtown-influenced Kirk Knuffke clarinet soloing.

Very good album melting best elements from past and current,different cultures' influences but what is even more important - rare high quality modern jazz album, radiating so big amount of positive energy.


Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Walking Distance’s “Neighborhood” was released back in January and seemed to slip under the radar as it has not received near the attention it deserves. In this era of cool and somber reserved jazz, its nice to hear something this ‘hot’, and “Neighborhood” is one of the hottest jazz albums to come out in a while. Walking Distance is an acoustic four piece that consists of two saxophones, bass and drums. The lack of a rhythm section gives them a distinctly open sound in which you can hear every note. Although the horn section consists of two saxes, their unison lines and interactions often recall classic trumpet-sax pairings such as Diz and Bird, Ornette and Don Cherry, and Dolphy and Booker Little. Although Walking Distance can evoke classic past artists like the aforementioned, this is not a even close to a retro act, instead, Distance has that modern nervous ‘punky’ energy and quick-change sensibility that informs much of today’s downtown NY scene. Still, if you appreciate the manic energy of early be-bop, Walking Distance is one of the few modern bands I’ve heard that can play with that kind of emotional dedication and fire.

Although Walking Distance’s music is definitely on the avant-garde side of the jazz world, there is not much on here in the way of old school free jazz, instead, many of Distance’s tunes seem to work with vague harmonic structures that give soloists some sort of framework to deal with, but nothing is laid out in a too obvious fashion. Walking Distance also gives us some interesting variety, with “Cartoon Element” and “Neighborhood” providing high speed frenetic energy, while “April 10th” and “Singing in Circles” are abstract and more relaxed. There is a lot of free wheeling humor to this band, and that comes out on album closer “Willoughby Greene”, on which the band builds into one of those repeating “Hey Jude” style chord sequences to close the album in a manner which mocks a classic 70s art rock album.

“Neighborhood” is walking Distance’s first album, and at this point it seems like the future potential for this band is very high. It will be interesting to see what this band’s next album will be like, as there is a restless creativity to this group that will probably avoid anything too predictable.

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Album · 2003 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.09 | 3 ratings
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Dave Douglas is usually known for his very complex and demanding music that tests his fellow musician’s skills to their limit, but on “Freak In”, Douglas takes a bit of a vacation and re-visit’s the 70s and the sound of psychedelic fusion, particularly Miles Davis albums such as “Big Fun” and “In a Silent Way”. While a little more casual than Douglas’ difficult acoustic post bop sets, “Freak In” still presents some excellent tracks, plus a few that are less than excellent. Dave gets a lot of help on here from an all-star cast of modern electronic jazz musicians, particularly Jamie Saft on keyboards and Marc Ribot on guitar. Meanwhile, Karsh Kale on tabla and Ikue Mari on electronic percussion provide the exotic tone colors that are necessary to make this style of fusion interesting.

“Freak In” opens strong with the blazing title track, which is probably one of the more intense fusion tracks recorded n this new century. Unfortunately, opening a CD with your best track means it’s a bit downhill from there. Only “The Great Schism” and “Traveler There is No Road” come close to capturing the fire of the opener. Of the more atmospheric tracks, “November”, “Porto Alegre” and “Maya” are all very nice. The rest of the tracks include a couple of plodding rockers and some incidental music that is not particularly memorable. With a little editing this could have been a very good 40 minute album, but stretching it into an 80 minute CD means some of the additional music is not on a par with the best tracks. Usually Douglas’s compositional skills are very high, but that doesn’t show much on this CD until you get to the bizarre closer, “The Mystic Lamb”, which is a short closing theme stretched into infinity with all manner of variations. Possibly this cut is a tongue-in-cheek humorous salute to Miles’ time stretching classic, “Great Expectations”.

As is the case with this sort of psychedelic music, the sounds and tone colors are almost more important than the notes, and in this respect, Douglas and his crew do not disappoint as they provide plenty of pretty electronic ear candy. Overall “Freak In” is not one of Douglas’ better albums, but it is an enjoyable departure from his usual, and with a little editing, you can put together a very good modern/retro fusion joint.

ORNETTE COLEMAN Something Else!!!!: The Music of Ornette Coleman

Album · 1958 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.16 | 9 ratings
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ORNETTE COLEMAN shook up the jazz world right from the beginning despite his debut album being quite tame (for him anyway) and more in the lines of traditional 1950s bebop. While working as an elevator operator in a Los Angeles department store, COLEMAN found time to assemble his first array of jazz newbies in the group form of Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (double bass) and drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, the former who would join the The ORNETTE COLEMAN Quartet starting with “This Is Our Music,” and the latter who would sign up right from the beginning hang around with the band for a few albums. He would soon meet music producer Lester Koenig of Contemporary Records who recognized his unique vision of revitalizing the union of blues and jazz and was one of the few of the day who also understood his early free jazz leanings to loosen the harmony and chord progressions and the structuring of pitch changes between the notes which would earn him the reputation of playing out of tune. COLEMAN would release two albums on Contemporary before hitting the big time with Atlantic Records which would debut his classic masterpiece “The Shape Of Jazz To Come.”

The debut album SOMETHING ELSE!!!! was only the beginning of COLEMAN’s eccentricities unfurling themselves in his song structures however despite the format being looser and freer of contemporary jazz, on this debut album we more or less find a fairly restrained COLEMAN in an incipient stage of leading his band mate’s into the strange new realms of breaking free from the tradition bebop format and giving the world a mere sampling of what was to come without opening all the floodgates at once. This is the only album in COLEMAN’s discography that contains a substantial role for the piano (handled by Walter Norris) giving this album a very traditional hard bebop structure before he would start to de-emphasize the role of the keyboards and often eliminate it altogether on future releases. Strange magic is afoot here for upon first listen you might mistake this for a rather standard hard bop album of the day. After all the percussion, bass lines and phrasing are fairly standard but there is certainly something strange lurking under these swinging rhythms and syncopation and it comes not only from COLEMAN’s style of sax playing, but also from the compositions themselves.

COLEMAN is credited with restoring the blues to their original roots in African music with unhooked harmonies, thus incorporating traits like the 17 and 25 bar blues. A musical nerd’s dream come true, SOMETHING ELSE!!!! incorporates all kinds of musical innovations that were unmatched for the day except by perhaps Cecil Taylor who was seemingly on a similar free jazz musical trajectory. This is one of those albums that is brilliantly executed as a standard hard bebop album of the day but also undertakes many innovative factors that would blossom just a few years down the road. While many artist’s are only getting their feet wet on their debut album, ORNETTE COLEMAN displays on SOMETHING ELSE!!!! that he has already dived into the swimming pool. It is clear that he is striving to break into a freer state of jazz but is band-oriented enough to understand the limitations of the participating members and only takes his vision as far as possible under the context of this stage of development. A mandatory listen for COLEMAN fans!


Album · 1993 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.81 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard

This is definitely not Eberhard Weber's most accessible album, but it is one of his very best. In fact, it can stand head-and-shoulders next to masterpieces like Yellow Fields and Silent Feet in spite of being very different from those two albums. This otherworldly music is produced entirely by Weber himself with the assistance of an echo unit, and the results are unlike anything you've ever heard. Don't expect a typical bass soloist album: at times, it sounds like there are at least five different players/instruments (including percussion) performing at one time. Much thought has gone into the final product, as these are wholly-conceived compositions, not rambling solos.

From the fluid virtuosity of "Street Scenes" to the hauntingly nostalgic "Silent for a While", every track is a show-stopper and a world unto its own. The sometimes dreamy atmospheres and textures could elicit accusations of "new age", but the material never settles for simple prettiness. Conversely, don't let the scratching, searching arco performances scare you: there are experimental explorations, but they never degenerate into ugliness or contemptuousness. With Pendulum, Weber reaches his absolute peak as a composer, performer, and sound-painter, and if you have any familiarity with his group albums, this album is a quintessential must-own. One would be hard-pressed to find a better, more fascinating ECM release from the entire decade of the 1990s.

CLIFFORD BROWN Clifford Brown Big Band in Paris

Album · 1970 · Big Band
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Much like Hendrix, Dolphy and Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown was one of those brilliant artists who died way too young, and just like the aforementioned three artists, his fans still scramble to find anything he recorded and put it out in various slapped together collections. The title “The Clifford Brown Big Band in Paris”, is misleading, as the musicians on here were never part of any Clifford Brown Big Band. Instead, this is a collection of tracks that were recorded by musicians who were on a 1953 tour of Europe with Lionel Hampton’s big band. This core of American jazz musicians was supplemented by some local French musicians as well. The sessions were put together by French pianist Henri Renaud, and heavily feature the solos of Clifford, who was a rising star at that time. Also of note is the presence of the young Quincy Jones, who provides some compositions, arrangements and even piano comping on one track. There is some good music on here, but some tracks feature less than great recording quality, and the inclusion of alternate takes and little incomplete excerpts make this much more for Clifford Brown collectors than casual listeners.

The CD opens with a big band playing two takes of “Brown Skins”, two takes of “Keeping Up with Jonesy” and one take of “Bum’s Rush”. The alternate takes on any of these songs can only be interesting to Cliff Brown fanatics, and since they are placed in sequence with the good tracks, they become a nuisance to someone who just wants to hear some good music. Having said that, the playing is quite good, but the recording is not great, it sounds like there was one mic for the whole band in a small radio performance style recording setting. On the plus side, Brown plays some great solos, and Quincy Jones fans can hear the young Quincy working out his new big band style on his two originals.

The rest of the CD features two different eight piece bands playing two takes each of “Chez Moi” and “All Weird”. Once again, the alternate takes are sub-par, while the two good takes feature much better recording quality than the previous big band tracks. The final takes of these two tracks are what make this CD worth the purchase, even if some of the musicians seem to struggle with the complex changes to Brown’s “All Weird”. The other factor that makes this CD worth the purchase is its extensive and helpful liner notes. Clifford Brown collectors should also note that this CD is the third in a three part series that deals with Brown’s 1953 tour of Europe. Of course this CD is highly recommended for Clifford Brown completionists, and be-bop collectors, but for someone just looking for something to listen to, the weak alternate takes and incomplete tracks need to be taken out, then you might have an okay CD.

HATFIELD AND THE NORTH Hatfield and the North

Album · 1974 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.51 | 18 ratings
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The Canterbury Scene is without a doubt an incestuous one with virtually every representative band having members engaging in the ole switcheroonie with one another throughout the style’s heyday in the 1970s. While many bands came and went, none would be able to exemplify this particular type of whimsical jazz-rock-fusion more than the supergroup HATFIELD AND THE NORTH. This band meant business and was in effect a culmination of all the Canterbury styles that came before. A sifted, refined and filtrated jazz-rock-fusion enigma that still sends shockwaves into the first-time listener by impregnating the casual progressive rock lover’s ears with music so flirtatious and sublime that if one is not addicted to this particular brand of music yet, the gravitational forces of such magnanimous music will surely be the boon or bane to one’s finances, for this particular album in general is one of my utmost gateway drugs into the extremities of the progressive rock archives and beyond the comfort zone from the more familiar and accessible sounds of Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis. My bank account has never been the same since :P

This is one of those albums that really demands multiple listens for the magic to unfold. Upon first listen i was only dumbfounded. I was not at all accustomed to music like this. This takes the most adventurous of both the jazz and rock worlds and melds them together seamlessly which is a testament to the top notch musicians involved in this rarest of projects, one that is so daring and oblivious to contemporary trends that it actually succeeds in transmogrifying the listener’s consciousness into a state of sonic bliss that feels as if it is taking place in a dream state or in an alien setting far away from the mundaneness of the every day world. While i would have never even dreamt of this existing in my top tier of musical pleasures upon first listen, this eponymous debut album with the equally magnanimous followup “The Rotter’s Club” have only recently gained enough mojo to blossom into new musical arenas in my world, one where musical genres blur in a sonic firestorm that only tintinnabulates the most pleasant of musical expressions.

Let me speak a bit about this unbelievable music. This is music for the gods and of the gods, for this is truly a prog supergroup of the highest level. This eponymous album comprises the absolute best in the Canterbury jazz-fusion scene and although the music itself focuses more on intricate instrumental prowess, there is more than enough comedic lyrical whimsy to suck the ego out of the transpositional chromaticisms and instead create a beautiful universal sound of surrender where the musical deities take the rei(g)ns and lead to one splendid sounding piece of work. The main players in this game are Phil Miller (Delivery, Caravan, Matching Mole), Dave Stewart (Arzachel, Delivery, Egg, Khan), Richard Sinclair (Wilde Flowers, Caravan) and Pip Pyle (Delivery, Gong) but the subordinate cast is JUST as essential for this brilliant soundscape which is deviously melodic with occasional touches of pure surrealism.

These subordinate entities include Robert Wyatt on vocals, Geoff Leigh (sax, flute), Didier Malherbe (sax), Jeremy Baines (pixiephone, flute), Same Ellidge and Cyrille Ayers (vocals) and the beautiful enchantresses called the Northettes: Amanda Parsons, Barbara Gaskin and Ann Rosenthal. All the tracks connect like an early Soft Machine album and elements of all the contributing players unfold here into a frenzy of some of the most sophisticated music ever to exist in the rock world. HATFIELD AND THE NORTH just nails it. I have to emphasize that this is an acquired taste but just like triple IPA beer or certain stinky varieties of cheese, one that is well worth the effort. This kind of music is truly unparalleled at this point of time and still to this very day remains some of the most demanding yet satisfying music that exists. A veritable masterpiece of the ages that just hasn’t been discovered by everyone yet. Inaccessible like the tombs of a long lost undiscovered Pharaoh but beckoning the progressive rock love to explore the nooks and crannies of some of the most sophisticated music ever. Can you tell? I love this one :O

YOSUKE YAMASHITA New York Trio : Kurdish Dance

Album · 1992 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Two decades away from his short-lived stardom of "Mina's Second Day" or "Clay",Japanese pianist Yosuke Yamashita is one of rare country's musician who didn't disappear from big jazz scenes after free jazz revolution in Japan just fade away in late 70s.

With newly formed (in 1988) so-called New York trio (with Americans bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Pheeroan akLaff),Yosuke returned back on European festivals scenes (incl. Montreux in 1993)and appeared regularly at Sweet Basil in New York becoming most popular Japanese jazz pianist in States at that time.

"Kurdish Dance", released in Japan in 1992 and re-released by Antilles in US the year after,is New York trio's best known and in whole best ever work. Differently from his earlier works, Yosuke's material for this trio is mostly pre-written,not fully improvised, and evidences him as great composer(all songs are Yosuke's originals here). Album's opener "Kurdish Dance" is excellent song, true jazz standard.Trio's line-up for this album is improved with addition of tenor Joe Lovano, who steals the show on many compositions.

Big part of album's songs have strong tunes, sometimes based on Oriental or Mediterranean folklore. More important, all compositions are deeply based on post-bop roots,what in combination with catchy melodies and strong control on improvisation builds quite accessible music. Still one doesn't need to be afraid that Yosuke went commercial - known for decades as "Japanese Cecil Taylor" for his techniques,Yamashita demonstrates free and impressive piano soloing almost on every composition.

The main difference from Yamashita's earlier music is here he isn't uncontrolled leader/dictator any more: quartet's main target is collective musicianship producing complex and well-executed compositions with strong improvisational element but totally framed and generally sounding as attractive and easy accessible listening. All four musicians really succeeded in it - the album has been received positively not only by freer jazz fans (and won Jazz Prize of The Year in Japan),same line-up recorded "Dazzling Days" next year(more relaxed and somehow better polished work).

Being quite easy accessible for purchase,"Kurdish Dance" is one great example of best Japanese jazz coming from 90s - time period far not all that well known in Western world.

THELONIOUS MONK Genius of Modern Music

Album · 1951 · Bop
Cover art 4.88 | 2 ratings
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Its not good for reviewers to engage in excessive hyperbole, but when it comes to Thelonious Monk’s “Genius of Modern Music”, we’re going to throw all restraint out the window and just come out and say that this is quite possibly the most important LP in jazz history. Keep in mind that the salient works by Armstrong, Ellington and Parker went down before the arrival of the LP, so that takes them out of the competition, but Monk’s first shot at a major label release came along just as the LP format was finally being given to jazz artists. “Genius of Modern Music” did not make a strong impact at first, many critics and jazz fans were dismissive of Monk’s odd approach, while many others didn’t even notice this album came out at all. But, it was different with many of the musicians, they heard what Monk was doing and they were interested, and over the decades, many more musicians would turn to his very personal take on what jazz could be to find their own inspiration. To this day, from Matthew Shipp to Vijay Iyer and everyone else as well, Monk remains one of the strongest influences on modern jazz piano and composition.

Despite his exaggerated reputation, Monk was not a naïve iconoclast, throughout “Genius of Modern Music”, you can hear Monk’s roots in the stride piano he grew up on, as well as the innovations of the young be-bop players of his day, but somehow Monk transforms everything into such an assertive personal statement, that there is no way for anyone to imitate him, try as they often do. The number one salient feature of Monk’s playing is his bizarre rhythms. Somehow he juxtaposes figures and introduces abrupt changes that challenge our perception, you find yourself wondering, “did I hear that right?” Secondly, his harmonic language was quite dissonant for the time, and although such dissonance has become more common in modern jazz, Monk still maintains a language that is unmistakably his. Finally, there is a mischievous humor to Monk’s music, a playfulness that slips in a crude joke when your attention might be slipping. He’s the favored uncle in the family, although no one is quite sure why.

This is a power packed line up of songs, many of these tunes went on to be classics, and are still played today, particularly “Round bout Midnight” and “Well, You Needn’t”, but no matter who plays them, they will not sound like the versions on here.

MASAHIKO SATOH Randooga: Select Live Under The Sky '90

Live album · 1990 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Pianist Masahiko Satoh,one of cornerstone figure of modern Japanese jazz, founded Randooga group in 1990.The project's concept was very simple: each member improvise based on knowledge of folk melodies from different cultures and doesn't try to arrange his musicianship according to common musical harmonies. More than thirty years ago bassist Alan Silva recorded the album ("Luna Surface"),based on similar concept,which sounded almost as cacophony. In Masahiko Satoh version, it sounds much more accessible and tuneful though.

For the first Randooga's release Satoh formed the all-stars big band including leading Japanese and Western jazz artists: sax players Wayne Shorter,Kazutoki Umezu and Kohsuke Mine,trombonist Ray Anderson,drummer Alex Acuna,percussionists Midori Takada and Nana Vasconcellos, guitarist Takayuki Hijikata and Akira Okazawa on bass.Recorded during live gig, this album contains quite eclectic mix of Japanese traditional tunes,jazz-rock,Latin percussion,contemporary classical composition,tuneful saxes soloing,big band's arrangements and pop-songs attractiveness.

Oppositely to above mentioned "Luna Surface" or many other similar Western recordings,music here isn't hot, attacking or just high energetic at all. Never too slow or lifeless to become boring, it still contains lot of Japanese Zen tradition and flows quite relaxing enjoying ever-changing tunes and rhythms. Interesting mix of spontaneous but well-controlled folk-tunes based orchestral improvisations, this formula doesn't work well all the time. Some part of 73-minutes long recording sounds as orchestra playing out of tune or just missing the direction. It always returns back on track,but the feeling of regular losing of direction stays with listener all album long.

Satoh continued his Randooga project for years ahead,releasing some albums and even founded in 1993 Randooga Dojo - a school of free improvisation for children and adults, the only such kind of professional education available in Japan(knowing jazz popularity in Japan it's a big surprise that young Japaneses,dreaming about jazz musician career,need to study in Berklee,US). Satoh Randooga's "Live Under The Sky'90" is a representative example of decades-long Satoh's (as well as some other sound Japanese jazz artists)search of "Japanese way in jazz", the experiments he never abandoned to continue.

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