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MATTHEW SHIPP Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zurich

Live album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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With such an abundance of talented jazz pianists these days, its hard for anyone to rise above the pack, but more than likely, as we move forward in time, music history will be very kind to Matthew Shipp. A powerhouse performer, Shipp’s improvisations embrace the world of modern jazz and hint at contemporary concert hall composition, while wrapping all this up into a musical language that sounds like no one else. Although Matthew is known to engage in spirited free improvisations with many stars of the free improv world, when playing on his own, his music takes on a different character, not so much free improvisation as spontaneous composition. Much like one of his favorite influences, Cecil Taylor, Shipp’s constructs pour out at a furious pace, yet always seem to contain a sort of logic found in the best of contemporary composers. It’s in his solo works that the true mind of Shipp is able to take shape, and that is one of the many things that make “Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zurich” such a special offering, this is Matthew all by himself in a live setting, a pure un-distilled outpouring from a modern genius.

In his own words, Shipp claims that while he was developing his musical language, he decided to ignore the popular post-bop trio of Bill Evans, Keith Jarret and Herbie Hancock, and instead focused on an older musical language of the bop and pre-bop pianists such as Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum. Herein lies one of Matthew’s big differences within the modern jazz world, his playing harks back to an earlier age when the solo pianist was meant to be a mini-orchestra with a huge two handed sound that filled up space. This is not the ‘less is more’ approach of the post bop crowd, this is the ‘more is more’, and plenty more where that came from approach. As we listen to the eleven cuts on this CD, our mind becomes occupied by musical ideas that fly by at a rapid rate, yet these ideas never lose a sense of purpose, every note that is needed is there. Along with the aforementioned jazz influences, one can also hear 20th century composers such as Charles Ives, Arnold Schoenberg and Henry Cowell, but this is no pastiche approach, every influence is blended into a seamless whole.

This is an unusual concert in that Matthew does not take a break between songs, which can be a plus or a minus. The plus being that this whole concert becomes like an ocean of musical ideas to immerse yourself in, with the minus being that some of the individual songs loose their individuality as they become swamped by the entire mass of music. Two tracks in particular might have been more powerful had they stood on their own, one being the imaginative reading of the standard, “Tenderly”, in which the original melody battles with a more dissonant counter melody, and the almost romantic “Blue in Orion’, which is quite different from the other tracks. Still, with all the tracks blended, we can see how some similar devices show up in more than one piece, such as Matthew’s thunderous low end tone clusters, and his skittering two voiced scattered polyphony.

For those who have not checked him out yet, this album makes for a great introduction to the world of Matthew Shipp and comes highly recommended for fans of modern jazz, as well as fans of modern concert hall music as well.

THE COMET IS COMING Death to the Planet

EP · 2017 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"Death To The Planet" is only new music released by hottest London jazz trio "The Comet Is Coming" in 2017. And it is even not a true album but vinyl-only four track EP, coming as Record Store Day's limited edition.

Surprisingly, this less than half-an-hour musical collection illustrates last year's burgeoning London scene in a best way, especially looking from the very first days of new 2018 year, right after all those end-of-the-year TV analytics, future modelling and apocalyptic visions.

Differently from trio's first two releases, "Death To The Planet" contains less psychedelic rock and more jazz, mixed with hip-hop and Squarepusher's-style electronic grooves. Songs are dark, tuneful, full of passion and as much commercial as anti-commercial.

This music is easy accessible and danceable, but at the same time it sounds as hottest news soundtrack - you almost can see all these explosions on the streets of European capitals and chemical attacks in Syria, Russians maintaining their nuclear missiles, already placed in occupied Crimea's coast and immigrants boats sinking near African and Italian shores.

This music sounds as rock when it was young, as punk in late 70s, as early Blondie and Talking Heads albums, as Patty Smith and Iggy - it sounds as if best music is socially sharp again and it returns back on the streets.

And to be honest I even feel happy that it's just an EP - in our time when technical abilities so often exceed creative content and artists are filling 80 minutes space of blank CDs with useless sounds just because there still is a bit of empty place, I started liking vinyl album size releases again (doesn't matter is it true vinyl or vinyl album-size CD release), it's always better to stay in silent if you have nothing important to say...

Nothing is revolutionary here - simply from all last year's releases this one possibly sounds closest to real music from the times, when it was a significant part of everyone's life, not a pale soundtrack to ageing, bored and tired of consuming society.


Album · 2017 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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On their previous album, “The Stonehouse”, guitarists Mark Wingfield and Markus Reuter introduced a sort of free form improv approach to jazz fusion that was backed by the rhythm section of Asaf Sirkis on drums and Yaron Stavi on bass. On their new one, “Lighthouse”, they feature a similar musical approach, only this time there is no bass as Wingfield, Reuter and Sirkis wing it as an improvising trio. This smaller bass-less lineup changes the music somewhat as they are now a little less anchored and are able to drift further from their jazz-rock roots and more into free improvisation without a set groove. Whether or not this is an improvement may be a matter of personal preference.

“Lighthouse” opens strong with the rampaging fusion rock of “Zinc”. Although there is no ‘bass’ per se, Reuter’s TouchGuitar provides a massive bottom for Wingfield’s soaring guitar solo. The huge psychedelic sound being served up by only three people is very impressive. Follow up fusion cooker, “Derecho”, keeps the energy flowing until they settle into some ambient drift on “Ghost Light”. This first ambient number works fairly well as Wingfield plays mournful melodies over Reuter’s shifting psychedelic backdrop, but subsequent returns to this sort of atmosphere that appear later on the album don’t have quite the same focus. Track four, “Magnetic”, starts with an abstract jazzy beat and some crackling solos before they settle back into drifting mode, this will continue until they get to the final number. The album closes with the noisy hard rock of “Surge”, which starts strong but never really settles.

The opening four tracks of “Lighthouse” are the best and should appeal to fans of this sort of free form psychedelic fusion, but the later tracks just don’t have the same impact. It’s a bold endeavor for these guys to step up and start flailing away without any set blueprint, there are bound to be some ups and downs

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

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

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

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

ED PALERMO The Adventures Of Zodd Zundgren

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

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

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

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Boxset / Compilation · 1955 · Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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“Diz and Getz” is a re-issue that combines two previous albums, “The Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz Sextet” and “More of the Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz Sextet”. “The Dizzy Gillespie-Stan Getz Sextet” may not seem like a particularly imaginative album title, but when that album came out in the early 50s, grouping those two artists together was all it took to grab people’s attention in anticipation of what they may come up with. In those days, Dizzy was the master of east coast high energy be-bop, while Getz was the king of west coast cool, this may have seemed like an unlikely pairing at first, but when they recorded together, they meshed and pushed each other to come up with a sum that was even greater than its talented parts. Adding to the attention grabbing aspects of the record, the backup band is an all-star one with Max Roach on drums, Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar.

“Diz and Getz” opens on fire as they take on a high speed bopped out version of Ellington’s “It don’t Mean a Thing…”, Getz shows he can hang with some of the best high speed soloists of the time as his fiery solo is sandwiched in between Dizzy and Oscar’s euphoric rides. This number is followed by the recognizable melody of Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”, which finds the band in a more relaxed mode. This swing groove will also carry over to the following track, “Exactly Like You”. On both of these numbers Dizzy often plays in a softer mode, possibly a nod to Stan’s west coast sensibilities. Throughout the entire record, Stan and Diz engage in creative interplay, often both will state a melody at the same time, in their own style, which then comes together in unexpected ways. Max Roach’s interesting and unorthodox approach to the drums also adds to that element of surprise. The first side of “Diz and Getz” closes with the ballad, “Talk of the Town”, on which Getz’s main talent shows through. At this time he was already becoming known as one of the smoothest ballad players since Lester Young, who happened to be his main influence.

Side two of “Diz and Getz” opens with a high speed blues-bop jam that builds in intensity as the solos are passed from Oscar to Herb, then Stan and finally Dizzy. When Gillespie hits his ride, Herb Ellis’ loud ferocious comping pushes Dizzy to new heights in a wonderfully chaotic buildup. This track is followed by a mellow blues original by Dizzy which he recorded with a different lineup from the all-star cast that makes up the rest of this album. This doesn’t mean there is a drop off in the quality of the playing though, Oscar Peterson may be a technically brilliant player, but Wade Legge’s more lyrical approach may be more interesting. The third cut, “Girl of my Dreams”, continues with the mellow vibe, this time with the all-star support group back on board. The final two cuts are two different versions of “Siboney”, first played as an up-tempo bop number, and secondly, in a Latin jazz style. These final two tracks are possibly the highlight of the album as Stan and Dizzy both turn in inspired solos. Its also interesting to note that Stan and Diz will continue their interest in Latin jazz, with Diz going in an Afro-Cuban direction, while Stan will pursue the Bossa-Nova fad.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Album · 1988 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard

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

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

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

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

CHICK COREA Return to Forever

Album · 1972 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.37 | 36 ratings
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It seems that in any musical genre, the most creative work goes down during the days in which said genre is being created. For sure the most intense bebop happened in the early 40s, and although you may still hear some good bop to this day, it will never be quite the same again. The same could also be said for jazz fusion, a genre that became an easy target for criticism over time, but in the heady days of its inception, some really interesting music was created under the fusion moniker, which leads us to Chick Corea’s first attempt to lead a fusion group while recording the album, “Return to Forever”. Chick was hardly new to the fusion world at the time of this recording, he had already participated on several ground breaking albums by Miles Davis, but, as stated earlier, “Return to Forever” was Chick’s first fusion recording as band leader. Corea’s albums as leader prior to this were definitely shaking up the jazz world, whether he was making cutting edge post bop tracks with Roy Haynes, or avant-garde excursions with Anthony Braxton, Chick was definitely a pianist to watch in the early 70s.

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

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

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