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jazz music reviews (new releases)

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) The Emancipation Procrastination

Album · 2018 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Duke Ellington’s musical allegory “A Drum is a Woman”, was a clever story that foretold jazz’s future as a musical style that would adapt to every culture on the globe, and even go to outer space, but no matter how far jazz may wander and change, its strength and substance comes from returning to the music of Africa. Drawing upon the rhythms of Africa, as well as African tendencies in hip-hop and Detroit techno, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah continues to add new vitality to the world of jazz fusion with his latest album, “The Emancipation Procrastination“. Scott’s been on his hybrid style for a while now, so if you are familiar with his last couple albums, then you may know what to expect here, well composed melodies over abstract beats that combine Africa, hip-hop, drumnbass and techno all orchestrated with subtle and tasteful electronics and effects.

Along with Scott, another star soloist on here is flautist Elena Pinderhughes. Most of us probably don’t usually think of strength when describing a flute player, but Elena’s playing carries more strength than we would normally associate with the flute. Her solos and orchestrations are a big plus on “Ruler Rebel (re-mix)”, “Ashes of Our Forever” and “The Cypher”. Other notable sidemen include Braxton Cook on saxophone and Lawrence Fields on keyboards. A host of others help out on bass, guitar, drums, percussion and electronics. Much of the music on, “Emancipation” stays in the aforementioned styles that Scott has become known for, but towards the end of this album comes two lengthy tracks that get into more of a sweaty energetic freeform fusion work out. These two closing numbers make for a nice contrast given the length of the entire CD.

DIVA 25th Anniversary Project

Album · 2018 · Big Band
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Singularly the hardest working Big Band in the industry today, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra is lead by superwoman Sherrie Maricle, who not only is the drummer of the band but the collaborative ball of energy that drives the 15-piece group of highly qualified female instrumentalists. The inspiration for DIVA came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band in which Sherrie Maricle was playing the drums. Stanley immediately picked up on her extraordinary talent and began to wonder if there were other women players who could perform at the same level. The search was on and through nationwide auditions, the foundation for DIVA was poured in June 1992, and what emerged is the dynamic musical force that holds forth to the present day.

Though DIVA holds dear the traditional jazz idiom, the release of 25th Anniversary Project includes original compositions by some of the members who are genuine, yet ingenious composers. Maricle explains; “the CD offers our listeners 10 original compositions by 9 remarkable composers, writing for 15 friends in 1 amazing band. It’s DIVA’s mission to continue to swing hard and grow, through the exceptional individual talent within the band and their extraordinary composers and arrangers.”

One such composition is by baritone saxist Leigh Pilzer, titled “East Coast Andy,” a romping tune with high flying horn hits, creatively conceived sections that add to the textural interest of the tune and a burning solo by Pilzer herself, as well as trumpeter Jami Dauber who has a penchant for stomping the gates with her high stepping style.

A beautifully written “Square One,” features alto and soprano saxophonist Alexa Tarantino in the writer’s seat. The tune is harmonically rich with soothing pastoral colorizations and emotional dips, that lead to emotive, conversationally based solos between Rachel Therrian on flugelhorn and Tarantino herself on alto saxophone. The elongated melody is stirring and memorable.

Maricle takes the album out with her original “The Rhythm Changes,” which is aptly titled as it refers to the rhythm of the motif and how it changes through the form of the composition. Soloists, Barbara Laronga on trumpet, Mercedes Beckman on alto saxophone, Noriko Ueda on bass and Maricle on drums create an interactive atmosphere for swing era stalwarts and jazz aficionados to savor. 25th Anniversary Project is certainly a keepsake, when taking stock of its measure, one asks; is it authentic to its source and performed with expertise and awareness, in this case a resounding yes can be heard.

DIALETO Live with David Cross

Live album · 2018 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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My goodness, what got into these guys! Dialeto has always been a talented, mostly instrumental prog rock band, and David Cross, likewise, has always had a solid reputation, but put these two together and all of a sudden you get crazy fireworks in a sure case of the sum is greater than the parts. On the new, “Live with David Cross”, the three members of Dialeto run through songs from their previous album, “Bartok in Rock”, with Cross joining them for several, and then to cap off the concert, the four take on classic songs from Cross’ old alma mater, King Crimson. “Bartok in Rock” was an interesting record, but on this new live album, these same songs just bristle with kinetic energy, and when Cross joins them for “Bulgarian Rhythm I”, the band literally explodes in a Deep Purple ‘Made in Japan’ kind of way. David’s fiddling has certainly grown over the years, and at this point, his fiery solos just about make him the Jimi Hendrix of the violin. He uses a lot of electronic processing sometimes, to the point where it is hard to tell the difference between him and guitarist Nelson Coelho, and when they both start flailing away at the same time, it gets pretty intense to say the least.

The Bartok tracks are really the cream of the crop on this concert CD, but the re-visits to the Crimson court have their moments too, most notably when Cross takes the solo on “Starless” in a fireball of frenzied notes that should have the soloists on the original version of the song more than a bit jealous. Prog rock is not dead, and it doesn’t even ‘smell funny’ in the hands of these guys who realize a big part of the progressive rock equation is the R.O.C.K. Oh yes, there are also moments of introspective sensitivity on here too, but the best comes when these guys set their instruments ablaze.

JOCELYN MICHELLE Live at Viva Cantina!

Live album · 2018 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Jocelyn Michelle is an under-rated Hammond B3 player who performs mostly in Hawaii, and occasionally in the LA area too. “Live at Viva Cantina” is just her second album, and as the title would suggest, this record was recorded live at a Mexican restaurant and music venue in LA. Although this album is live, you will hear very little crowd noise and no clinking of glasses, and the production is quite clean, very much like a studio recording. For her choice of material, Jocelyn reprises some originals from here previous studio album, as well as some crowd pleasing covers too. This is a live restaurant gig, and the choice of tunes reflects that as they cover well known pop hits such as “One Note Samba”, The Pink Panther Theme”, “Groovin” and a few more in this vein. The real musical substance on here though can be found in Jocelyn’s originals, which are all excellent, and really this would have been a better album if they had leaned more in that direction.

Michelle has a rather large band assembled here with two saxophones and two trumpets in addition to a guitar, bass and drums rhythm section. The top soloist is probably Jocelyn herself, who provides punchy rhythmic riffs that stay tight in the pocket, somewhat similar to Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff and Brian Auger. All the other soloists are good as well, with both saxophone players shining through with virtuoso RnB/jazz rides that can recall Grover Washington and Stanley Turrentine. This is a great CD for fans of current soul jazz, as well as people looking for a jazz album with more of an extroverted party vibe to it. With a fair amount of well known pop tunes on here, even non-jazz fans are apt to feel the groove.

As mentioned earlier, the preponderance of pop covers on here is understandable given that this is a live gig and Jocelyn and crew set out on purpose to record a ‘party’ album, but still, it would be great if Jocelyn would make an album of mostly originals, she is an excellent writer and really should think about utilizing those talents more.

AKIRA SAKATA Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi with Masahiko Satoh : Proton Pump

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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On the new "Proton Pump", two Japanese living legends - reedist Akira Sakata and pianist Masahiko Satoh, perform with the younger generation American rhythm duo of Chikamorachi (bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano) - live in Tokyo.

Satoh was a key figure in Japanese free jazz in the late 60s-early 70s, who later flirted with fusion and still releases albums time to time. Akira Sakata was another Japanese celebrity, playing with Yosuke Yamashita trio for years, later he started a solo career and is surprisingly active till now - he's possibly the best avant-garde jazz sax player in modern Japan.

Americans Chicamorachi were founded in 2005 and are very prolific, playing with the world's leading free improv artists, such as Jim O'Rourke, Merzbow, Keiji Haino among others.

"Proton Pump", recorded more than two years ago, is a classic avant-garde album of the old school. Starting from the cover art radiating the spirit of the early 70s, and finishing with a clear perfectly mixed worm sound. Sakata is the dominating figure here, with his mad genius screaming sax solos and shamanic vocalizations, but the whole quartet is simply of the highest class. Satoh plays high energy piano out of his trade-mark "science as significant part of the music" which sounded revolutionary in 1969, but too often destroys many of his later albums. Chicamorachi sound muscular, young and hungry - they add strong modernity scent to the surprisingly unsentimental music of two Japanese veterans.

Just four songs (vinyl album's size - as if CD format still doesn't exist!), perfectly played, well executed, all the time variable, but under full control of the band. A lot of tunes have almost lyrical sax timbres at moments - and not even the smallest trace of nostalgia.

This album is a really rare example of when generally over-explored and too often repetitive music sounds fresh, as if half of this century hasn't already passed.

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KATE GENTILE Mannequins

Album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kate Gentile is New York-based drummer who already played with Anthony Braxton, John Zorn and more important - Tony Malaby,Kris Davis,Matt Mitchell and Chris Speed, among others. "Mannequins" is her surprisingly mature studio debut leading a quartet playing her compositions.

Tim Berne's pianist Matt Mitchell is probably best known of quartet members (he's doubles on Prophet 6 synthesizer and electronics here).Two other members are acoustic bassist Adam Hopkins and tenor/clarinetist Jeremy Viner.

Being a classic jazz quartet by line-up, Gentle's band plays far not so classic jazz though. Complex,mostly groove-less and swing-less songs by their aesthetics fit well somewhere between contemporary classical music and (non-jazz) avant-garde, that's improvisation and soloing what gives this music the right to be classified as "jazz".

Comparing with other modern days recording of similar genre (starting from some Tim Berne works to "New York new avant-garde jazz" to same Matt Mitchell solo works), Gentle's music sounds cooler,better controlled and more ... calculated. Fortunately, there are lot of internal emotions in playing and cold surface always hides internal tension and energy.

Surprisingly enough, "Mannequins" sound quite similar to post-rock - just played by very technical jazz musicians converting genre's simplicity to modern jazz complexity but leaving post-rock "static" atmosphere and rational calculated sound.

Excellent album for everyone with open ears and interested in most current creative jazz.

ABDULLAH IBRAHIM (DOLLAR BRAND) The Journey

Album · 1977 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Recorded and released in 1977, “The Journey” is a different sort of album for Abdullah Ibrahim, who was still going by the name of Dollar Brand at this time. Ibrahim is usually known for his hypnotic African grooves, and you get a good bit of that on “The Journey”, but you also get a lengthy, less typical for him, free jazz excursion featuring some stars from NYC’s pioneering free jazz movement. Ibrahim had just moved to NYC from South Africa before he recorded this, and apparently he was immediately embraced by the avant-garde vanguard, including such renowned musicians such as Don Cherry and Hamiet Bluiett.

Side one opens with an energetic South African calypso that is relatively short and to the point. Abdullah leaves the piano alone for this one and instead gives us a fiery soprano saxophone solo. The lengthy “Jabulani” takes up the rest of this side and features the large ensemble in free jazz mode as they pass the solos around so that eventually everyone gets a free ride. This is that original form of free jazz that sounds like bebop gone berserk, so much more rhythmic and lively than often what passes for free jazz today. Side two is made up of the 20 minute plus “Hajj”, which is an absolute groove monster based around North African rhythms and melodies. Talib Rhynie’s ‘snake charmer’ oboe melodies are a real plus on this one, as is Bluiett’s clarinet solo as most of the musicians all get a turn to play with the oriental mode that comprises the main theme. Abdullah plays piano on this one as he provides a repeating rhythmic figure that is the backbone of the piece.

“The Journey”, with its free jazz excursion, is a somewhat different album for Ibrahim, but really all of this eclectic music comes together and makes total sense, thanks to the talent of the assembled crew here that is equally at home with in the groove playing, as well as going completely outside.

SLY5THAVE The Invisible Man : An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre

Album · 2017 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I have to admit that the idea of an ‘orchestral tribute to Dr Dre’ first hit me as some kind of joke along the lines of The Monkees play heavy metal, or Mozart goes reggae mon. It was hard to imagine the sparse hip-hop arrangements of Dr Dre in an orchestrated format, but Sly5thAve’s new album, “The Invisible Man, an Orchestrated Tribute to Dr Dre”, has certainly proved me wrong. In a year laden with highly creative artsy RnB albums, “The Invisible Man” has been able to stand out as one of the best for 2017. The combination of Dr Dre’s laid back grooves and Sly’s hip, slightly retro, orchestrations are an irresistible combination that may have you playing this one over and over.

Sly5thAve is actually Sylvester Uzoma Onyejaka II, a versatile saxophonist who also produces and doubles on a variety of instruments. His talents have brought him work with many including Prince, Maceo Parker, all of the Marsalis Brothers and many other top RnB, pop and jazz musicians. “The Invisible Man” is just Sly’s second full length album, but it sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran. Right off the bat these orchestrated soulful tracks may have you thinking Isaac Hayes and Quincy Jones, and there is some of that sound here, but even closer is the arranger that Dr Dre was fond of sampling from, David Axelrod. Sly’s use of pulsing steady rhythms often recall Axelrod’s sometimes processional sounding arrangements that could almost border on regal and militaristic in an almost campy sort of way. In that respect, another similar famous arranger comes to mind, and that’s George Martin, the exotica composer who also did arrangements for the Beatles, particularly the ‘Sgt Peppers’ album. Still, with the Dr Dre’s iconic beats and attitude going on, Sly’s orchestral creation stands in a world all its own.

The hip-hop world was all over this record when it came out, but the jazz world didn’t seem to take much notice, which is unfortunate because there is plenty here for a fan of contemporary jazz to like. Many of these tracks feature jazz solos by a variety of top notch musicians, for instance the burning guitar solo by Patrick Bailey on the hard driving “Curtis”, or Sly‘s Eddie Harris like electric sax ride on “The Jam Part III“. Although this album lists 23 total tracks, many of the tracks blend together to make just one song, such as the ultra funky string of tracks that start with “No Diggity”. For those who may be rapaphobic or raptose intolerant, although this is a Dr Dre tribute, there is no rapping on here. Meanwhile. others may want to use these tracks to back up some original free verse.

PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND So It Is

Album · 2017 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Remember the days when jazz was the music for wild hell raising parties and secret drug dens? No, …me neither, because just like you I was not around from the 1920s to the 1940s. Instead, just like you, I came up in that post Miles/Coltrane era when jazz moved out of the dens of sin and into the universities where it now competes with classical music for student dollars. This is not a bad thing because a lot of great jazz has come out since the 50s. While jazz was transforming, Little Richard and Chuck Berry borrowed parts of jazz, gave it a more pronounced backbeat, and created a whole new music for hell-raising and wild parties, rock-n-roll and RnB. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s new album; “So It Is”, doesn’t sound anything like 20s-40s jazz, but it does return jazz to a partying foot-stomping vibe, only with a more current sound.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was started back in 1961, and for many years they did exactly what their name implies, they played original New Orleans jazz the way it is supposed to be played, and provided many a good time for tourists on their visit to New Orleans. Starting in the late 90s, under the guidance of a whole new generation that had joined the band, the band began to open up their horizons and started to take on a myriad of jazz styles, as well as music from outside the jazz world. On this latest offering, they find a rhythmic common ground between New Orleans jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz and Calypso, and produce smoking hot beats that make it hard to sit still. On top of these pressure cooker grooves, they layer classic minor key noire melodies, the type preferred by Ellington and others of the swing era, and also often found in early Jamaican ska and Afro-Cuban mambos. The end result is exactly what people are talking about when they refer to ‘hot jazz’, because this is one of the hottest for 2017. This is not background music, try to play this in the car and keep the volume down, you won’t be able to. All seven tracks are great, but if all of them reached the peaks of “Santiago”, “La Malanga” and “Mad”, this would be a five star album. On another plus, all of these tunes are original. One can only hope The Hall Band can deliver more like this the next time out.

CHICO HAMILTON The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet

Live album · 1960 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The early part of the Chico Hamilton discography is a bit of a confusing mess to descramble with many tracks showing up on more than one album and many albums bearing the same title such as “The Chico Hamilton Quintet” or “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” etc. To clarify the situation, this “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” album that is being reviewed here was part of a live concert recorded at Strollers back in 1955, but not released until 1960, probably to cash in on the rising popularity of the band. This concert shows Hamilton’s creative group in fine form as they combine a wide array of styles including west coast bebop, hard bop, classical chamber music and rhythms from Africa and South America. All of this music was presented with that distinctly 50s west coast style that came to be called ‘cool’. You really couldn’t call Chico’s quintet avant-garde, but they were one of the more experimental and unorthodox bands of the time, definitely beating out a path all their own.

The album opens with two well known standards, “Caravan” and “Tea for Two”, which the band gives signature creative arrangements. The version of “Caravan” shows the cross-relationship between west coast jazz and the lounge exotica scene of the time, no surprise as many exotica records were performed by west coast jazz musicians. Two up tempo numbers follow with “Fast Flute” living up to its name as Buddy Collete fires off a frantic flute solo while backed by Hamilton’s driving rhythm, which sounds rooted in the music of Africa or Brazil. On track six, “A Mood”, the band shows their specialty, a cleverly arranged melody with shifting time signatures and a surprise around every corner. Something for ‘deep listening’ that still has the snap of a catchy pop tune. “I’ll be Loving You” is their ballad offering and features Buddy’s flute playing melodic exchanges with Fred’s cello. Another up-tempo bop number closes out the set in energetic fashion and features a very musical drum solo from Hamilton, always a master of that peculiarly west coast ‘playing with brushes’ sound.

“The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” is a good example of a young jazz group all excited about the new possibilities that are being offered to them as they learn from each other. If there is a drawback to this album, the sound quality of the recording is okay, but a little murky, especially the guitar. I’m going to guess that maybe this was not meant to be a released album until the record label saw how popular the band had become.

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