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GEIR SUNDSTØL The Studio Intim Sessions vol. 1

EP · 2022 · Dub/Ska/Reggae
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Every now and then you come across an album on which every note is so perfectly placed that it sparkles like a rare gem. Such is the case with Geir Sandstol’s “The Studio Sessions Volume 1”. Geiris is a very popular session musicians who specializes in a variety of string instruments such as guitar, dobro, pedal steel, banjo and the Indian Shankar guitar. He occasionally releases solo albums which are usually sparse ambient affairs that reflect the wide open spaces of Norway, but his new album reveals something entirely different, dub reggae from Jamaica. The Nordic guitar work is still there, but everything is backed with very well played dub riddims.

This music is attractively somber and melancholic, often reminding one of early Bill Laswell albums such as “Hear No Evil” and “Hallucination Engine”, and also Ry Cooder’s sparse slide guitar work for the “Paris Texas” soundtrack. This is music for reflection that reaches deep into your soul. Every track is thoughtful and essential, there are no wasted moments on here. Album opener, “Gem”, features the purest dub, while other tracks are closer to dub fusion similar to the work of Laswell again, and Jah Wobble. The Indian Shankar guitar blends with the pedal steel guitar providing nice tone colors on “Dogg”. On “Snik”, Geir plays the stringed harp producing an exotica styled melody. Sampled choir gives album closer, “Whole” a spiritual impact. The top track though may be “C’est Vide en Ville”, on which Middle eastern melodies alternate with a folk melody sung in French. Throughout the entire album the expected dub style ambient breaks and psychedelic effects add to the soundscapes.

TRITONE ASYLUM The Hideaway Sessions

Album · 2022 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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I’m not really sure how the band Tritone Asylum got their name. The tri tone is the name of the most dissonant harmony in western music. When I first heard this band name, I expected some severe avant-garde jazz of the blaring horns variety, but instead, the Asylum performs fusion that is energetic and creative, but also quite often ‘radio friendly’. This is a Los Angeles based collective led by Phil Topping and Peter Sepsis. Peter plays the bass and Phil, who was originally a trumpet player, had to switch to EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) because of an injury to his lip. They cite Herbie Hancock, Eddie Harris, The Brecker Brothers and Pat Metheny as influences. The performers on here are top notch, and the songs are often good too, although there are some that are better than others.

“Grasshopper”, one of the best tracks, leads things off with an ear candy melody voiced with double tracked trumpets that recall Herb Alpert, and that is a complement. There are two ballads on the album, the best of which is “The Road to Hue”, on which flute and electronic instruments blend for a nice pastoral effect. “Malawi” features Baba Sissoko, from Mali, on vocals and percussion. The song’s syncopated rhythm brings out the best in the soloists, particularly pianist Mitch Forman who builds an almost orchestral solo on top of the rhythmic foundation. The best cut for jamming is the live, “Simple”, featuring Ian Vo’s swinging tenor sax and the searing electric guitar of Andy Waddell. These are all good points, on the down side there are a couple tracks that just don’t seem to elevate as well. The EVI, (not to be confused with EVO), may be an acquired taste for some. At best, it sounds like a keyboard synthesizer, at worst it seems to have a wobbly intonation and a very wide track vibrato at times. Overall though, this is a solid fusion album that features some very top notch soloists

SHEMEKIA COPELAND Done Come Too Far

Album · 2022 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
American singer Shemekia Copeland spent the last decade releasing strong blues albums, rooted in tradition, but with a touch of freshness. Her voice is easy recognizable, and her straight-to-face, often naïve lyrics, are both her strong trademarks. Shemekia's previous album, "Uncivil War", released in 2020, offered faster and a more rhythmic touch on blues, still being a mixed bag containing some top-songs and fillers as well. With "Done Come Too Far", Copeland explores the new territories even deeper. Still with strong blues roots, she bravely moves towards high-energy blues-rock. From the very first sounds of the new album, she offers simply, groovy pieces, which blow listener's hats away from their heads. "The Talk", strongest album's blues, demonstrates how great a blues singer she really is. "Gullah Geeche" is an acoustic country-blues with banjo and fiddle on the front, and "Why Why Why" is an old-fashioned ballad. "Fried Catfish and Bibles" is pure Americana, with banjo and fiddle again, really danceable. Shemekia returns to heavy blues-rock on the title song, a duet with guitarist and singer Cedric Burnside. "Barefoot in Heaven" is already characteristic Copeland RnB with soloing from Will Kimbrough's electric guitar. She returns back to a country piece with "Fell in Love With a Honky". "The Dolls Are Sleeping" is an acoustic ballad (with Oliver Wood on acoustic guitar). On "Dumb It Down", one can enjoy electric organ. "Nobody but You", the closer, is straight-ahead heavy blues rock again.

As many previous Shemekia's albums, the newest one is a mixed bag of some strong songs and some fillers, offering a wide range of blues and Americana this time. Her best songs are really great songs, those which are not as successful, can sound a bit boring. Still, she offers here on this album a lot of what her fans love most of all - her unique voice.

JIM WITZEL Feelin' It

Album · 2022 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Jim Witzel is a veteran jazz guitarist who has worked with artists such as John Patitucci, Ernie Watts, John Abercrombie and many others in LA, San Francisco and elsewhere, but “Feelin It” is only his second album as a leader, and it comes a full twenty years after his first album. Witzel’s style is blues based hard bop, but he plays with a soft tone similar to Jim Hall or Pat Metheny. He counts those two, as well as Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Martino and John Abercrombie as influences. Jim is joined on here by some old friends and jam session cohorts, Jason Lewis on drums and Brian Ho on B-3, making them a classic soul jazz organ trio. On three tracks they are joined by tenor saxophonist Dann Zinn. Dann is probably the most fiery soloist here as he veers from blues based licks to fast flying sheets of sound that recall Coltrane or Johnny Griffin. Brian has an interesting style on the B-3 in that he avoids a lot of the standard B-3 soul jazz figures and instead plays with a more flowing melodic style that can build in intensity.

The two opening tracks and “Beyond Bejing” are fast moving swingin hard bop, while the two closing tracks take on a more medium groove 60s Blue Note feel. In between we have a relaxed, almost spacey take on “Norwegian Wood” and a ballad rendition of “I Loves You, Porgy” that has Jim double tracking his guitars. “If Ever I Would Leave You” starts with a Latin feel, but then goes into an aggressive swing feel for one of Brian’s best B-3 buildups. Three of the tracks are Witzel originals.

GRANT GEISSMAN Blooz

Album · 2022 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Grant Geissman has recorded a lot of albums during his busy career, but never one quite like “Blooz”. Geissman has always been a fan of the blues but this is the first album he has recorded featuring the genre. Its not really a ‘pure blues’ album, or as Grants says himself, “ The album is called “Blooz” because its my take on the blues. It’s a fairly wide interpretation, and not always traditional.” So with that in mind, its no surprise we find many variations on the blues featuring influences from jazz, Latin rock, rockabilly, rhumba, boogaloo and more. A rotating cast of musicians are featured here, and many you have probably heard of before such as Tom Scott, Randy Brecker, Robben Ford and Joe Bonamassa. In many ways this may seem like a guitar player’s album, with Grant listing which vintage guitar he is using on each track, but horns and keyboards, especially the B3, all add their own colors.

“Carlos En Siete” is Latin rock in 7/4 time and is Grant’s tribute to Carlos Santana. Geissman’s solo on this one reflects the influence Carlos has on Grant’s playing. “Rage Cage is a rock boogie in the style of ZZ Top, with Jim Cox’s B3 solo taking the jam into soul jazz territory. “Preach” and “Fat Back” sound like classic 60’s Blue Note with Randy Brecker adding his horn to the former, and Tom Scott adding his saxophone to the latter. “One G and Two J’s” has a Bo Diddley beat and features a three guitar lineup when Grant is joined by Josh Smith and Joe Bonamassa. “Blooz” is a fun ride, liven up your nest outdoor BBQ with some contemporary takes on the blues and soul jazz.

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ANDY SUMMERS Earth + Sky

Album · 2003 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
21ST CENTURY SUMMERS

After recording two tribute albums to Monk and Mingus, guitarist Andy Summers returns to his own compositions on 2003's Earth + Sky. By this time in his career, Summers had long since eschewed the pop/commercial sounds that had made him world famous. With a long string of mostly instrumental albums behind him, Summers no longer even had a record label to release his work in the USA (I had to import my copy from Germany).

For all the comparisons Summers receives with guitarists like Robert Fripp and David Torn (both of whom he has recorded with), on Earth + Sky his sound palette is much closer to someone like Kevin Eubanks than ever before. Listen to tracks such as the light and airy "Now I'm Free" or "Return" and you will hear this album leans more toward the jazz end of the spectrum. Then there's his trademark boundary-pushing on the title track (a multi-layered guitar extravaganza), "Circus" (where his bluesy lines are doubled with a saxophone), and "Red Stiletto" with its brash chords that lead to a funky jam. When you hear the opening drum flourish on "Above the World", you can be forgiven for thinking it's Stewart Copeland sitting in. Actually it's Vinnie Colaiuta, who at various times all but steals the aural spotlight away from the other players. Summers is also backed by longtime session bassist Abraham Laboriel and two keyboardists who effectively capture the "Fender Rhodes through a Leslie cabinet" tones that add a touch of fusion timelessness.

Acoustic guitar textures are heard on "Parallels" and "Roseville", and the album closes with the ambient blues of "I Choose You". At 51:08, this album doesn't overstay its welcome, although some listeners might have wanted more of the guitar-synth weirdness found on albums such as 1990's Charming Snakes (which receives my vote as his solo masterpiece). Earth + Sky effortlessly brings Summers into the 21st Century, and his compositions and guitar tones are more relevant than ever. If you are a long-time Summers listener, there is much to enjoy here, and this album is highly recommended.

SUN RA Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra : Secrets of the Sun

Album · 1965 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.57 | 3 ratings
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It is so nice that you can go in record stores now and get classic Sun Ra records in brand new condition. “Secrets of the Sun” originally came out in 1965, but it has been recently re-issued and is available at better record stores today. The cover credits this album to Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra, but actually this is one of those Sun Ra small group albums, which are often special and unique. If you are familiar with “Angels and Demons at Play” and “Night of the Purple Moon”, then you are familiar with some of Sonny’s small group albums, but unfortunately, “Secrets” is not quite as good as those two masterpieces, but its not bad either. Like all 60s Sun Ra albums, the recording quality is not great, the piano is out of tune, and the mixing is just bizarre, but all these things are standard trademarks of classic Sun Ra.

The first two tracks on side one feature somewhat laid back semi-free jazz played over vague rhythmic ostinatos, with performers wandering in and out of the mix. Ahrt Jnkens (possible fake name) plays the ‘space voice’, which sounds like someone vocalizing through a horn and changing the sound with a plunger. It sounds like Ellington’s horns on acid and downers. It’s a little bit annoying but seems to fit in with the vibe okay. Closing track, “Space Aura”, is the closest thing to a real jazz song on here as the combo hits an off-kilter hard bop groove while Pat Patrick, John Gilmore and Marshall Allen turn in solos.

Moving on to side two, on “Love in Outer Space”, Marshall Allen solos on the ’morrow’, which sounds a lot like a bass clarinet, while accompanied by somewhat faint and distant percussion. “Reflects Motion” is the closest track to sounding like classic 60s free jazz, with John Gilmore and crew sounding similar to what Archie Shepp was doing during this time period, but of course it was Archie who learned all this from John in the first place. This track has a bizarre opening as Gilmore and Marshall Allen play a fast and lengthy unison line that sounds like a cross between be-bop and an atonal tone-row concoction. Throughout this album Sun Ra focuses his piano solos on playing dense block chords in interesting rhythmic juxtapositions. It is somewhat similar to things Dave Brubeck would try, but Dave sounds so square and forced compared to what comes to Sonny with ease. “Secrets” is a good album for Ra fans, its just unique enough to add another facet to the Sun Ra legacy. it’s an interesting album, but not a great one.

YES Magnification

Album · 2001 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.74 | 8 ratings
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tupan
Very good! I was curious about the most recent albums of Yes, because I've only listened to their ultra classic Fragile - one of my favorite albums of all time. Magnification is a truly "symphonic" album: the keyboards were been replaced by real orchestration, conducted by Larry Groupë with maestry. This gave a more organic feel to this album, a very positive achievement in my opinion. This album have many highlights: Spirit of Survival (good lyrics), Magnification, Don't Go (nice lyrics too), Give Love Each Day, the epics Dreamtime and my favorite, In The Presence Of. The short songs are interesting too, there's no filler in this album! I recommend Magnification to all the fans of symphonic prog.

JOHNNY GRIFFIN The Little Giant

Album · 1959 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Johnny Griffin is a power house tenor player that deserves more recognition, but really, almost any great sax player who is not Coltrane or Charlie Parker could use a little more props. Johnny’s album, “The Little Giant”, came out in 1959, right in the middle of that mid 50s to mid 60s period in jazz when all the recordings sounded great and so many musicians were at a creative peak. Joining Griffin on here is an all-star cast, including a very young trombonist, Julian Priester. Julian will go on to perform avant-garde jazz with Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock’s electronic sextet and also some very out there combos of his own, so its interesting to hear him playing swinging solos in a hard bop context. The three man horn line is completed with Blue Mitchell on trumpet, giving the group an almost big band sound at times.

The three songs written by Norman Simmons make the most of this horn ensemble with complicated arrangements that often imitate big bands in their call and response between horn sections, and between soloist and ensemble. His, “Olive Refractions”, opens the album with high speed bop and the best arrangement on the album. Other tracks include Babs Gonzazlez’s, “Lonely One”, an exotic number that has Griffin playing a melody over tympani like tom toms before moving into a high speed free modal jam. “Playmates”, by Saxie Dowell is an odd choice with its bright major key contrasting with all the minor blues on this album. The song sounds like a cross between early New Orleans jazz and a TV beer commercial, but its sunny flavor does make for an interesting contrast. Griffin penned “63rd Street Theme”, a noire blues that would work great as a ‘crime jazz’ soundtrack.

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Cannonball Adderley Sextet : Planet Earth

Boxset / Compilation · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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“Planet Earth” is an excellent album, yet few seem to know it even exists. The cover says that these songs have been released before, but doing a short casual search I could only find two of the tracks on Cannonball's Sextet in New York live album. The first four tracks feature the same band and all in live settings. It certainly does not sound like a comp until you get to “Seventh Son”, which is quite different from the other tracks. Technically this is Julian’s (Cannonball) album, but it seems more like a Yusef Lateef album. Yusef wrote the four live tracks, and the music reflects his semi avant-garde post bop with some Eastern modal leanings. The songs are very forward looking and in many ways sound a lot like the jazz you hear today in the second decade of the new century. Louis Hayes’ drumming in particular reflects today’s style in that he swings, but he does not confine himself to the ride cymbal, instead he is all over the set.

The two lengthy tracks on side are both up tempo modal hard bop. Yusef goes Coltrane-beast on the first track, but then breaks out the oboe for some Eastern flavored runs on “Brother John”. Hearing his oboe may remind some of how influential Yusef was on Les McCann’s mystical, “Invitation to Openness”. The Adderly Brothers show their bop roots, but also branch out into some odd sounds and effects while Zawinul is in full bop mode as he channels Bud Powell. Over the years Joe will not play this way much again, so its interesting hear him in this style on here.

Side two opens with another energy track, but then switches gears for the more abstract and mysterious “Syn-Anthesia” which has the group working like a small orchestra. The album closes with Zawinul’s “Seventh Son”, which sounds like another one of Joe’s somewhat commercial soul jazz tracks. Julian and Yusef do not appear on this one as Nat dominates with a bright sunshine muted trumpet solo. As mentioned earlier, this album has almost disappeared from known discogs. I found it in a used record shop and I seriously doubt this will ever be re-issued.

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