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DEWA BUDJANA Naurora

Album · 2021 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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After excursions into hard rock and classical music, “Naurora” finds Dewa Budjana returning to what he does best, performing jazz fusion flavored with the sounds of southern and eastern Asia, progressive rock and big cinematic arrangements. Many well known guests join Dewa on this one, including Joey Alexander, Gary Husband, Dave Weckl, Paul McCandless and many more. “Naurora” continues a trend we have been seeing more of lately, and that is a CD whose length is equal to the length of a vinyl LP. Eighty minutes of music can be fatiguing, whereas about forty minutes seems to be just about right.

The best tracks on “Naurora” come early on with the first three leading the way. Album opener, and title track, “Naurora”, displays what Budjana is best at. Here we have that big soundtrack style production within a multi-sectional arrangement that often uses Indonesian gamelon type figures. Within this arrangement we are given lengthy solos from Dewa, as well as Joey Alexander on piano. The following song, “Swarna Jingga”, continues with the lavish arrangements and introduces Mateus Asato on guitar. As good as Budjana is, he is almost out shone by Mateus, who performs an excellent exchange with Dewa. Possibly the best number on the album is the ballad, Kmalasana”. This is a beautiful melody played on a guitar that is capable of South Asian style note bends. As the song builds, repeating guitar lines sound like a grand mid-70s Genesis opus, I was almost expecting Phil Collins’ vocals to come soaring in for the last refrain.

The rest of the album is good, but its those first three that really shine. Dewa really deserves to be better known amongst those that appreciate supreme fusion guitar flights. If you like performers like John McLaughlin and Alan Holdsworth, then there is a good chance this album, as well as many of his other albums, will be what you are looking for.

RON CARTER Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette & Gonzalo Rubalcaba : Skyline

Album · 2021 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Super-trio album, "Skyline", reunites Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba with his American mentors - drummer Jack DeJohnette and acoustic bassist Ron Carter. Rubalcaba played with them in the late 90s, when he arrived to Miami from the Dominican Republic.

On "Skyline", all three musicians offer some of their previously played tunes. So, this album is more about collaboration and emotional colors than about really a new thing. The opener, "Lágrimas Negras"(traditional Cuban "Black Tears" from 20th) played as a bolero is an absolute winner. "Novia Mia" is another Cuban classic, dreamy and melancholic.

Still, the main album's flow is mainstream jazz, with swinging rhythm section and lots of groove. Ron Carter adds his "Gypsy" (originally released in 1979 on his album with Chick Corea) and “A Quiet Place” from his 1978 album, "A Song for You", (Jack DeJohnette played on the original version as well). DeJohnette offers “Silver Hollow”, originally recorded with his fusion project New Directions in 1978, and “Ahmad the Terrible” - his dedication to Ahmad Jamal. Rubalcaba's addition is “Promenade”, from his late 90s album, and “Siempre Maria” - another Cuban rhythm scented song, originally released by him in 1992. The album's closer, "RonJackRuba", is a bluesy improv, which was born right in the recording studio.

During the decades of the genre's existence, acoustic trio post bop experienced many ups and downs, and nowadays it is far not so noticeable and dominating as it was in late 60s or early 70s. Quite often new generations of jazz fans are more familiar with once widely influential fusion or more modern jazz sounds of the late 90s and New Millennium. Still it's post bop which is saving the jazz tradition till now, and sometimes it is undeservedly forgotten. "Skyline" is an album made by the genre's masters, reminding us how great this music can sound again.

JEREMY MONTEIRO Jeremy Monteiro & Alberto Marsico : Jazz-Blues Brothers (2021 edition)

Boxset / Compilation · 2021 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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All that modern abstract cutting edge cerebral jazz is cool and all, but sometimes you want to hear something that might inspire more of an extroverted party vibe, and that’s where an album like “Jazz-Blues Brothers” comes in. The Jazz Blues Brothers are Jeremy Monteiro on piano and Alberto Marsico on organ, two super hot blues and jazz keyboardists who really deserve more press and recognition than they currently receive. No less than Joey DeFrancesco has described Marsico as one of his favorite organ players. The rest of the band is top notch as well with Eugene Pao supplying rapid jagged bebop and fusion lines on the guitar, and also going full on rock star on a couple tunes as well. Shawn Letts is the required funky tenor player that is essential for soul jazz outings and Shawn Kelley holds down the groove on the drums. Powerhouse blues vocalist Miz Dee Longwood also joins for “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” and “I’d Rather Go Blind”, both recorded live with the band.

So many good tracks on here, “Opening Act” sets the mood with a classic hard bop swing and “Olympia” follows with some funky RnB. “Mount Olive” sounds like classic Eddie Harris and “Catastrophy” is rapid bebop that lets everyone show off their high speed chops. As mentioned already, there are also a couple of blues vocal numbers too. The real draw for this album though is the skill of the players. Marsico is easily one of the very hottest B3 players around, and Monteiro has a massive piano attack that recalls past masters like Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. Add to that, Guitarist Eugene Pao, whose fiery guitarisms bring much to this soulful affair.

MAHOGANY FROG In The Electric Universe

Album · 2021 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Mahogany Frog is a modern instrumental group that often gets lumped in with the contemporary prog rock crowd, but there is so much more to their music than what a simple genre label like that can describe. The Frogsters describe their music as a meeting of today’s electronica with 70s progressive rock, 60s psychedelia and 50s exotica. This isn’t too bad a description, especially if you add in movie soundtracks, particularly of the Italian persuasion. As far as the prog rock influence goes, we are not talking about the heavy-handed clichés that took hold post 1972, but more about all that great experimental music that ran from 1966 to 1972. Frog's latest outing, “In the Electric Universe”, took much longer to conceive than their previous albums and this shows in the very careful sound sculpting that takes place on here. Sounds, noises and sonic textures play a big part on this new one, and whether or not you think that emphasis has weakened their melodic content would probably be a matter of individual taste.

The opening track, “Theme from P.D.”, is like a suite with its many themes and developing sections. The next two tracks feature Frog's interest in late 60s psychedlic progressive rock filtered through an electronica lens. Follow up number, “CUBe”, is a heavy trip-hop/rock groove with a phat synth bass line. "Octavio" has a grand sound as it moves from modern RnB to cinematic glory rock. Album closer, “Sun Dog”, has a beautiful ambient melody that is slowly engulfed in noise only to finally emerge again. Much more than just a ‘rock band’, fans of electronic jam bands, classic exotica and movie soundtracks should give Mahogany Frog a chance. These guys are creating instrumental monuments that are hard to equal.

KERRY MOFFIT What Goes Around Comes Around

Album · 2021 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Today’s entry in the ongoing series on musicians who deserve wider recognition goes to Kerry Moffit and his debut album as a leader, “What Goes Around Comes Around”. Kerry has been performing, arranging and composing for over 40 years, yet chances are you are not familiar with him. One reason for this is that much of Moffit’s career has been in working with US Air Force bands, both in the states and in Europe. The Air Force band program provides a great resource for musicians who need to be working steadily because they have a family to raise. Its just not practical for a struggling musician to take his family to a small cold water apartment in NYC while he searches for work, so the Air Force provides top notch professional gigs for those who choose that route. Since leaving the Air Force in 2015, Kerry has been working with top talent such as Chuck Mangione, Louis Bellson, Arturo Sandoval and more.

The music on “What Goes Around…” centers around contemporary hard bop plus some Latin grooves and a few impressionistic ballads. Moffit is a virtuoso on trumpet who mostly avoids gimmicks and ’sounds’ and instead plays clean and fast streams of notes. I suppose this would be a continuation of the Clifford Brown school of boppin trumpet. The rest of the band is equally adept at their instrument with special mention going to Seth Ebersole’s sweet and fluid alto sax that recalls Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderly. A big plus on this record are Kerry’s creative arrangements. Moffit treats his three horn front line like a mini big band with sectional trade off’s that recall Duke Ellington and other Moffit influences such as Sammy Nestico and Neal Hefti. My ears also hear a lot of 60s Quincy Jones, especially in the TV theme flavored “This I Dig of You” and “Katrina Ballerina”.Half the tunes on here are standards and the other half are Moffit originals. Some top originals include “Free for All”, which is high speed hard bop with an interesting Ornette styled stop-start opening theme, and “20-4” Jam”, which has a Latin fusion flavor and features simultaneous soloing from all the horns towards the end of the track.

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MUNDELL LOWE TV Action Jazz!

Album · 1959 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Its hard to beat the sound of 50s jazz when it comes to classic black and white noir crime TV. So successful is the pairing that exotica collectors coined the term ‘crime jazz’ to describe the dark urban music that accompanies TV detectives and the hoods they stalk. Henry Mancini’s music for “Peter Gunn” is often given credit for inventing this genre, so it comes as no surprise that when Mundell Lowe put together his “TV Action Jazz!” LP, he included two tracks from Mancini’s popular soundtrack. “TV Action Jazz!” might seem like a totally kitsch album, and that element is there, but it also features some excellent jazz arranging and solos from top stars of the day like Herbie Mann and Donald Byrd.

The style on here is laid back hard bop and cool jazz, but this isn’t an entirely west coast band on here, more like a meeting of west and east coast cool schools. Lowe has an octet to work with and takes advantage of that set up to create creative arrangements and mini-big band tone colors. Mundell takes a majority of the solos, and his mix of bop and blues guitar riffs recall Joe Pass, only more laid back and with some interesting twists and turns here and there. Tony Scott has a beautiful tone on the clarinet which sounds great on the slinky opening melody to “Mike Hammer Riff Blues”. The young Donald Byrd does not get a lot of solo space, but when he does, he emulates the popular cool players of the era, namely Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Eddie Costas’ solos on piano and vibes carry that cool school tendency toward cleverness, humor and the non-cliché.

Although there are several well known songs on here, such as “Peter Gunn” and “Perry Mason Theme”, Lowe greatly improves these old warhorses with modern abstract arrangements that only hint at the originals. Sure, those that collect kitsch exotica are going to be attracted to this record, but it also contains all those things that made late 50s cool jazz so cool. it’s a win-win on both fronts.

WEATHER REPORT Domino Theory

Album · 1984 · Fusion
Cover art 3.44 | 12 ratings
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UMUR
"Domino Theory" is the 12th full-length studio album by US jazz/fusion act Weather Report. The album was released through Columbia Records in February 1984. It´s the successor to "Procession" from 1983 and features the same quintet lineup who recorded the predecessor.

"Procession" was the first Weather Report to more prominently feature vocals and lyrics, although the band had made brief experiments with vocals on earlier releases too. The trend to include vocals continues on "Domino Theory", which opens with the stunning "Can It Be Done" (sung by Carl Anderson), but Weather Report have not abandoned their jazz/fusion instrumental work, which is as impressive as ever on the 11:10 minutes long "Db Waltz", which follows. That track also features brief moments with vocals, but no lyrics. We´re treated to funky and jazzy rhythms and bass work, Wayne Shorter´s exciting saxophone playing, and Joe Zawinul´s always intriguing and creative use of keyboards/synths.

While some of the material are quite brilliant, there are other times when I don´t think Weather Report quite hits the mark. "The Peasant" is for example unnecessarily long and becomes a little tedious with its ambient sound, and few climaxes. "Predator" features a lot of nice rhythmic playing, but it´s also a track which isn´t really leading to anywhere. The same can unfortunately be said about "Blue Sound Note 3", which is a relatively experimental affair, but again lacking direction and catchiness, until about 5 minutes in, when some melancholic saxophone melodies come in to save the day. "Swamp Cabbage" is decent enough, but not exactly a mind blowing track. I like the dark and haunting atmosphere of the title track, but it´s another ambient track, and "Domino Theory" could definitely have been a little more interesting with fewer ambient moments.

"Domino Theory" features a detailed, organic, and well sounding production. Some people may not appreciate some of the 80s synths choices, but Zawinul is a master of his craft, and anything he touches is at least interesting to listen to. Upon conclusion "Domino Theory" isn´t the greatest release by Weather Report. It starts out strong with "Can It Be Done" and "Db Waltz", which to my ears are the two best quality tracks on the album, but from then on the highlights are few and far between. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

MELVIN VAN PEEBLES Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Soundtracks
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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An intense movie deserves an intense soundtrack, and that’s what we get with “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Revenge”. A controversial movie when it was released in the early 70s, “Sweetback” is considered one of the first of the “blaxploitation” genre and the first film to feature a militant African American man in confrontation with the authorities and succeeding. Whereas some soundtracks can stand alone musically with plenty of songs that you can listen to apart from the movie, not this OST. Much of this album features sounds, jarring noises and dialog from the movie, not just music. This is a very intense album, almost avant-garde in places when snippets of dialog overlap with gun shots, police sirens, snarling dogs, yelling, screaming, pure chaotic noise, sexual climaxes and gospel choirs. No, this one is not for the timid, and if played loudly in a dark room, it can be downright intimidating. But, boring it is not. Any collector of the unusual and the bizarre in music ought to check this one out.

Side one opens with main character Sweetback answering a gospel choir acting as a sort of ‘Greek chorus’ letting him know what he is up against if he takes on ‘the man’. There is plenty of noise interspersed as this soundtrack builds a hallucinogenic inner city nightmare of confusion. “Running Song” is a fast paced jazzy rock groove with Sweetback saying over and over to his feet and legs to get moving as he runs from the law. This side ends with a relentless jazz funk workout. The band on here is no other than Earth Wind and Fire making one of their first appearances and playing a lot of old school funk and soul that sounds nothing like the slick sophisticated style they would develop later in their career.

Side two opens with a couple of RnB numbers that are probably the closest to regular music that you will hear on here, but when the off-kilter sounds of “Sanra Z” enter, it sounds like the band is falling down drunk and we are back into chaos land. What follows is some of the most intense moments yet as sections of dialog are layered on top of each other with plenty of yelling, cussing and racial epithets to spare. This album is not for everyone, but those who seek the unique and unusual will find a goldmine here.

JOE BONAMASSA Royal Tea

Album · 2020 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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American blues rock guitarist and vocalist Joe Bonamassa is probably one of the known blues-rock artists of his generation. Different from previous generations of American bluesmen, his influences were the British blues-rock of John Mayall and Cream, as well as early bluesy prog rockers (Jethro Tull, etc). Starting his recording career in 2000, Bonamassa jumped up right to the forefront of the modern blues rock scene, combining American blues and r'n'b roots with British rock energy and prog complexities.

Still it took two decades before he did the next step in the same direction-recording a British blues rock album at Abbey Road studio in London with some of the genre's leading legends on support. The result is as great as one could expect.

"Royal Tea" sounds as if it had been recorded in the early seventies, or late 80s, in Britain. Nothing strange - almost all of the song's co-authors are Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden and former Cream lyricist Pete Brown. Marsden participates as backup vocalist as well as another British celebrity, Jools Holland (co-author/piano on one song).

The opener, "When One Door Opens", is a big sound high energy hard rock hymn recorded with The Bovaland Symphonic Orchestra. Rest of the songs are all perfectly recorded in a fashion of Cream's early albums - full bodied soft clear sound. Most important thing is Bonamassa doesn't try to copy or imitate his heroes, he just plays original music that could be created in England during the late 60s. His band's drummer, Anton Fig, (who played on tours/recordings with Madonna, Mick Jagger and Kiss among many others) does a fantastic job creating an atmosphere of the stadium rock era.

Album's first half is all winners with the heavy ballad, "Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye"(influenced by both Cream and Whitesnake), groovy rocker "Lookout Man!", and the album's trade mark "Royal Tea". When listening, seasoned rock fans can easily recall late 60s/early 70s period of time, when almost any new album was a collection of fresh and extremely high quality songs, no fillers.

The album's second half is strong enough too, but is less influenced by British blues rock and sounds mostly as just another Bonamassa typical "American" album. "Lonely Boy", a Jools Holland influenced rockabilly, sounds quite strange and is out of the place here. The closer, "Savannah", is a Southern rock piece, which looks like it's added just to complete the album's space since there were not enough original material.

Still, the whole album sounds fresh and really inspired, it's material alone could build a strong tour program, which will be released soon (and recorded on Bonamassa's next, live album).

MIROSLAV VITOUS Universal Syncopations

Album · 2003 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
NOT WHAT YOU WANTED

Let me begin by saying this is a very good album and worthy addition to your Miroslav Vitous collection. That being said, it also needs to immediately follow that this is NOT an early-1970s throwback album. Fusion fans must have foamed at the mouth when this was originally released and they scanned the line-up of musicians. So what do we actually have here?

Only 2 of the 5 names appearing on the front cover play on all 9 tracks: Miroslav Vitous (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Both of their performances throughout are outstanding, with "Medium" being a viciously driving duet. John McLaughlin, in only his second appearance on the ECM label, appears on only 2 tracks: "Univoyage" and "Faith Run". His understated contribution to the latter is much more substantial than that on the former, and on both songs, he only plays acoustic guitar. Chick Corea (piano) performs on 3 tracks: "Univoyage", "Sun Flower", and "Miro Bop". Jan Garbarek (tenor sax) plays on 7 of the 9 tracks (with 2 co-composing credits), making this album much closer to a trio album with special guests than a quintet album. "Bamboo Forest", "Beethoven", and "Brazil Waves" feature only the trio. The 5 players, in fact, only appear together on "Univoyage".

The most controversial aspect of this album is the inclusion of a brass trio (trumpet/flugelhorn/trombone) on "Univoyage", "Tramp Blues", and "Faith Run". This ensemble adds light background touches and sound effects here and there, and a punctuation phrase every now and then. These contributions don't ruin the album or overly clutter the sound, but one wonders why they are there at all.

So if you were looking for a 21st Century Mahavishnu, composed and recorded 30 years after their glory days, you've come to the wrong place. Universal Syncopations is one of those albums that will always live in the shadow of what it could have been, and what listeners may have been expecting from these players. Which is a shame, because it's still a very good Miroslav Vitous album, in spite of who is and isn't playing.

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