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MARIEL AUSTIN Runner in the Rain

Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
You normally wouldn’t expect a debut album to be this ambitious and eclectic, but trombonist and big band arranger Mariel Austin is apparently fearless as she does not hold back on her first outing titled “Runner in the Rain”. This is a big band outing, and a very varied and imaginative one at that. Austin touches on a myriad of styles as her narrative arrangements unfold with multiple twists and turns. Many seasoned listeners will be able to tell right away that these are young players, possibly some not quite professional yet, but don’t let that hold you back from giving this a serious listen, these young cats came to play. Much of this music was written in conjunction with Mariel’s education, and the performers are all friend of hers from Berklee and the New England Conservatory. The youthfulness of the production shows in a sort of lack of glossy sheen, but once again, this should not be a problem, so many great jazz artists, Sun Ra and Charles Mingus for example, purposefully tried to avoid such ‘glossiness’ in their music.

As mentioned earlier, Austin likes to work with a wide variety of musical styles. The CD opens with a pounding punkish odd meterd drum beat and trumpet riff before fading into several semi classical passages and eventually back to the beat. Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer” is given one of the most imaginative arrangements as tone colors shift and morph in organic colors. “Mirrorshift” features a closing section with the woodwind section singing exotica style wordless vocals, while “One Way Journey” is a slow jam funk ballad with missed loved ones in mind. Album closer and title track, “Runner in the Rain” ,is a moving art song about loss with well written lyrics and vocals by Nariel herself. Fans of modern big band, and also fans of today’s youthful eclectic approach will want to check this out. Hopefully there are more big band albums coming soon from Mariel Austin.

ANDREW CYRILLE Andrew Cyrille/Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Frisell : Lebroba

Album · 2018 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Seasoned drummer Andrew Cyrille is better known by his collaboration with leading jazz musicians of different time periods starting from Cecil Taylor to Anthony Braxton to Oliver Lake among many others but he has released two dozen albums as leader as well."Lebroba" is his second album for prestigious German ECM label and here he leads a super trio containing living legends trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Bill Frisell.

Don't worry much about unimaginative album's title(Lebroba is a contraction of Leland, Brooklyn and Baltimore, birthplaces of trio's members), the music is really more impressive.

Frisell,who did his name playing with John Zorn's radical avant-garde projects and later moved solo towards trademark Americana-jazz, is in great form here and differently from his many solo works from last decades he plays more inventively and far not such safe. There are even some explosive guitar solos what wasn't heard from him possibly from 80s. Still everyone knowing his sound will easily recognize who's playing guitar here.

Wadada Leo Smith was one of AACM founders in early 70s and he experiences huge renaissance during last two decades after all these years.His trumpet is a main beauty of "Lebroba" music. On many pieces he sounds as early electric Miles but not pushing the music ahed with explosive soloing but slowing it down with aerial and quite dry sound.

Now the music - it is expected for those familiar with Smith's most current works, but still quite different. Low-to-mid tempo songs are well-composed and sound not meditative but dry-calculated, minimalist and contains some internal tension. The opener is renown Frisell song "Worried Woman" sounding here as if Frisell has invited Miles Davis to his small band.

"Turiya:Alice Coltrane Meditations and Dreams:Love" is written by Smith and lasts 17+ minutes."TGD" is written by all three members and last two songs are Cyrille's.

Minimalist, with anchoring drummer and airy guitar and trumpet interplay (what an usual format for a trio!)spiced with tasteful and live-full (and sometimes free) soloing this music is new, beautiful,quite accessible but trully creative.

It's almost unbelievable how jazz veterans (with youngest Bill Frisell(68))can take risks searching for new sounds and succeed doing it.

SOFT MACHINE Hidden Details

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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kev rowland
There can be few British bands that can say that they have had as much impact on music as the mighty Softs, and here a mere 37 years after their last studio album they are back with a new one. Originally formed in 1966, with their debut album in 1968, they have continued to be at the cutting edge of fusion and have had some incredible musicians pass through their ranks. The band officially disbanded in 1978, then reformed briefly in 1981 and then 1984 before returning as Soft Ware in 1999, which in turn became Soft Works, before morphing into Soft Machine Legacy in 2004, and then at the end of 2015 they decided to drop the word “Legacy”. But given that guitarist John Etheridge, bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall were all in the same line-up(s) in the Seventies, they have a more than valid claim to the name. The only member of the band who wasn’t involved back then is Theo Travis, who provides sax, flute and Fender Rhodes. But, he joined Soft Machine Legacy as long ago as 2006, when he replaced Elton Dean after he had passed away.

Anyone who admits to enjoying Canterbury progressive rock or fusion will have multiple Soft Machine albums in their collection, and this one fits right in. John Etheridge is an incredible guitarist, and it takes someone very special indeed to step into the shoes of Allan Holdsworth, not once but twice. He is lyrical, dramatic, restrained yet over the top, simple yet complex, allowing the music to take him where it will. Every musician is an absolute master of his craft, and they push the envelope in so many ways. Jazz, prog, fusion, call it whatever you like but this is intricately crafted music that is both awe inspiring yet inviting, eclectic yet so very easy to get inside of, and the more time spent with it the greater the rewards. Some of these guys are nearly 80 years old now, yet show no sign at all of slowing down. This is an essential purchase.

RACHEL CASWELL We’re All in The Dance

Album · 2018 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
As soon as this album starts, with a delicate and moving rendition of Sting’s “Fragile” (from his 1987 album ‘…Nothing Like The Sun’), one knows that this is going to be something quite special indeed. Rachel is a classic jazz singer, with a voice that is velvet and powerful, as happy providing scat as she is just rolling around the lyrics. Guitarist Dave Stryker has provided all the arrangements and also produced the album, and he has kept her voice very much to the fore and often takes a back seat himself so that Rachel is often just accompanied by drum, bass and piano. Rachel’s sister, violinist Sara Caswell, also adds her talent to proceedings but only on three songs.

Recorded in just one day in May, this really has the feeling of a jazz singer in total control at all times, bringing in a warmth and dexterity with her voice that is a total delight throughout. Jazz singing rarely gets any better than this, and one can imagine her in a New York club holding the audience in the palm of her hand. The title song, originally by Feist, is taken away from the original and moved into something that is a soft jazz classic. This is a truly wonderful album, one which shows off Rachel’s voice and talents, and is a delight from start to end.

THE ODD DOGS Beneath the Surface

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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js
If you think jazz fusion practitioners are still just playing the same styles we heard back in the 70s, then new group Odd Dogs is a band you should check out, particularly their debut album, “Beneath the Surface”. This is a new band experimenting with some new fusion combinations, but the members of this band carry a lot of history with them, particularly drummer Ralph Humphrey. Many will recognize Ralph’s name from the earliest days of jazz fusion when he was playing with pioneers such as Don Ellis and Frank Zappa. Not one to rest on what he already knows, Ralph’s early work was a stepping stone to the sort of rhythmic complexities he works with on “Surface”. The other members of the band, Steve Billman on bass, Jeff Miley on guitar, Andy Suzuki on woodwinds and keyboards, and Billy Hulting on percussion also come from a long history of working with A-list performers.

Billman and Riley started the band as a power trio with Ralph as they wrote contemporary jazz tunes with a decided prog rock influence, but not prog in a cliché pompous heavy handed sort of way, but more in the way that each track often has multiple sections and rhythmic changeups in various odd-metered rhythms. There are some rock-out sections here and there, but mostly this is a jazz record with plenty of syncopated Latin and funk rhythms and some straight up contemporary swing feel too. The various sections of these compositions cover a myriad of jazz and rock styles, but never in a contrived way, all of the tracks have a nice organic flow to them.

Some highlights on “Beneath the Surface” include the fast paced post bop hustle and rapid solos on “Title 5”, the gritty rockin guitar on “The Beast”, and the ear candy folk tune melody of “A Simple Word”. Looking for something new in the world of fusion, the Odd Dogs carry some elements familiar to the long time fusion fan, but ‘beneath the surface’, they are working with subtle and creative new ideas, especially in the realms of rhythm and arrangement.

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DON CHERRY Complete Communion

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.48 | 6 ratings
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js
Recorded in 1966, “Complete Communion” was Don Cherry’s first album as sole leader. Having already spent time as co-leader with the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, Cherry was more than ripe for his turn to lead things. On board with him is Gato Barbieri, who had met Don in Rome and was interested in trying out this ‘new thing’ called free jazz. Rounding out the band is Henry Grimes on bass and Edward Blackwell on drums. Right off the bat this album bears a strong resemblance to Cherry’s early 60s work with Ornette, which is no big surprise since Blackwell is on drums. Eddie’s drumming with Ornette and Don had helped define the group since he joined them in 1960, and likewise his unique skills also help define this outing giving it some Ornette quartet similarity. Yes, there are those similarities in basic style, but “Complete Communion” is hardly a facsimile as both Cherry and Gato spin their unique take on what can happen within this 60s free bop framework.

The whole album was recorded in one take with every tune butted up against each other without break. In fact its not often exactly clear where one song starts and the other ends, which is a good thing. This one take approach makes for a very imaginative arrangement and it is one of this album’s big pluses. The various tunes that come and go owe a large debt to the work of Bird and Diz, which is also a very good thing. Once the players dig into their solos, they often have a four way conversation going, but also there are times where any one of the performers might step to the forefront, particularly Don and Gato. While Cherry is mostly melodic on here, Gato often goes for an Archie Shepp style barrage of notes and above the normal range high pitched excursions. Despite how well he handles all of this, Gato did not stay in the avant-garde scene for long, which is another feature that makes this album unique.

This is an excellent album that, much like what Miles was playing live at this time, rides that border between free jazz and really out there post bop. Fans of Don’s early work with Ornette will dig hearing another possibility of where that music could end up. It also helps that the recording quality on ‘Communion’ is very good. Some are critical of this album claiming that Cherry will find his true voice as a leader when he starts working with African and Asian influences, but taken on its own merit, this album is one hep far out be-bop trip.

JOE TEX Soul Country

Album · 1968 · Jazz Related Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
It was primarily the Southern Soul artists who were not shy in mixing up the two genres together being Soul and Country music with Memphis sitting so close to Nashville it was bound to happen. Many of the Southern greats have taken Country Soul on with Ray Charles who actually started in a Country Swing band being the most famous with his “Modern Sounds In Country And Western” as well as the underappreciated album “The Country Side Of Esther Philips” not even making a dent in the charts in 1965 apart from her previous 1962 single of “Release Me” which made it number two, three years prior. Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter, Bobby Womack, Tina Turner, Percy Sledge, Dobie Gray, Johnny Adams were some of the artists not to mention a couple of white guys writing songs being Dan Penn and Jim Ford but apart from Ray Charles, a bit of Clarence Carter and Dobie Gray’s single “Drift Away” when it came to the Country/Soul crossover predominately under the radar was where they went. Still Joe Tex in 1968 loved his Country music and he gave it a shot with actually what was pretty much current in the Country charts at that time with his release of “Soul Country” making it to 154th in the charts but the cloud did have a silver lining for him with his self written inclusion on the album “I’ll Never Do You Wrong” making it to 59 on mainstream and 26th on the R&B charts. It is a shame actually because although not in the same top class as Ray’s and Esther’s albums this one it is pretty close being full of some wonderful interpretations from Joe singing the current Country songs from this period.

Joe Tex’s own Soul composition “I’ll Never do you Wrong’ with its slow to mid tempo time kicks the album off with some great vocals and backing in this wonderful tune. The Country comes right in with Joe’s fabulous take of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe” concerning that Tallahatchie Bridge. One of Dan Penn’s songs co written with Chips Morman brings more Soul back into the album with a beautiful take for the ballad “ The Dark End Of The Street” followed by quite a nice version of Willie Nelson’s,” Funny How Time Slips Away”. Roger Miller get’s the Joe treatment next in a delightful bounce in the song for Roger’s 1965 single “Engine Engine Number 9” and then for the Lp’s flip it is the Henson Cargill hit “Skip A Rope” that comes first. That old Death Row song “Green Green Grass Of Home” written by Curly Putman which Tom Jones had the massive hit with has Joe taking it on with some great effect followed by another Curly Putman composition in the slow burner concerning a possessive husband in “Set Me Free”. Still there are two more songs that were huge Country hits to follow with Jimmie Webb’s “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” which Glen Campbell made his own and cringe or not it is Bobbie Goldboro’s “Honey” which also made it to number 1 in America, Canada, Ireland and Australia that finishes the album up and of course Joe delivers pathos plus in this one and you may be reaching for the hanky.

Joe sings “Honey I miss you” but you know I also miss all these great songs that I grew up hearing with this album bringing them all back and Joe Tex showing why Country Soul should of been a lot bigger.This album is one of the best of them with the two prior that I mentioned above and if you like either genre of music,grab it.

ART BLAKEY Hard Bop

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Just a year after the original line up in The Jazz Messengers the entire band had changed excepting of course for Art Blakey on drums and since Horace Silver had left perhaps it was from default more than ambition that the name became Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers but all jokes aside the new line up for this release of “Hard Bop” being a Quintet did not last long either and never really attained the fame that the following line up to come would when Bobby Timmons, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, and Jymie Merrit came through the band in the next two years with all of them knowing how to write superb compositions as it was Bobby Timmons who penned their most popular number not all that long after this album being “Moanin”. The folks at Mosaic have rectified this time omission all the same with this 2006 reissue of “Hard Bop” bringing to us this not all that well known or recognised period in the Jazz Messengers history and after hearing this you will realise what a wonderful line up the band contained during this period who recorded some great cracking Hard Bop back in late 1956 for what was originally a 10 inch release being the first five tracks with the following three issued on the album “Drum Suite” with all this combined material included in this cd release being recorded at the same sessions on December 12 and 13th in 1956 including some great compositions from trumpeter Bill Hardman and alto saxophonist Jackie McLean included who both are in this current line up with also Sam Dockery playing piano, Spanky De Brest on bass and of course Art Blakey is drumming.

The Bill Hardman composition “Cranky Spanky” gets things underway in a frantic manner with Jackie, Bill and Sam respectively playing their solos in this delightful high speed Bebop composition with one of the most covered Jazz Standards to follow “Stella by Starlight” and what is nice about this cover is the band comes in mid tempo motoring the track along having a lovely swing with a driving solo from Jackie McLean followed by Bill Hardman on trumpet and Sam again on piano just keeping the Bop coming right throughout it. You may think it is Ballad time for the next being the Rodgers and Hart song my “Heart Stood Still” but one thing for sure with Jackie McLean’s opening solo it is anything but which brings us to the next being the penned composition from Jackie McLean who had already released it earlier on his album “Presenting Jackie McLean” being the Bluesy “Little Melonae” which would become well known in future years which already at this time Miles Davis had recorded but not released with later versions from Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane to come. “Stanley’s Stiff Chickens” is co written by Bill and Jackie to finish this 10 inch album off with once again great superb Hard Boppin’ solos throughout this mid tempo number and the inimitable drum rolls from Art Blakey included. The three remaining bonus tracks included keep up the high standard and a brief drum solo from Art opens “Nica’s Tempo” if that is what you are looking for but as the cd booklet notes suggests for the last track was Art Blakey serious for his “Gershwin Medley” or was it more tongue in cheek, the booklet leans towards the later but still I find, it ain’t bad.

There is no Swing shortage or Boppin’ for that matter, foot will be tapping, fingers clicking on this wonderful early driving release from Art Blakey and one of the album highlights for me is how Jackie McLean’s solo just rips through that ballad “My Heart Stood Still”. Unfortunately all those Blue Note albums seem to have over shadowed this one that was released on Columbia but hopefully people will come to see after a listen what wonderful high speed driving Bop has been recorded here in these two sessions just before Christmas in 1956

MYRA MELFORD Snowy Egret

Album · 2015 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Matt
It is a new Quintet for this 2015 release for pianist Myra Melford named “Snowy Egret” with the album titled the same comprising some highly interesting artists from today’s Modern Jazz scene. Ron Miles is playing cornet, Liberty Ellman, guitar, Stomu Takeishi is on Bass and Tyshawn Sorey is drumming with all these artists having a mix of individual experience at times with Bill Frissell, Henry Threadgill, John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Vijay Iyer, Eric Friedlander, Roscoe Mitchell which gives a bit of a hint to the style of Jazz the band performs. Myra’s compositions within the album were inspired from Eduardo Galeano’s literary work Memoria Del Fuego ( Memory Of Fire trilogy) on colonialism in Latin America and it’s relevant poetry with the actual title for her project being “Language of Dreams” where in concert it was presented with the addition of dance, visuals, poetry but here for the album it is just the Jazz.

Of course it is all about composition incorporated by Myra into the album’s structure with fairly up tempo time with repetition used in the opening track ‘Language” having some great added input from Liberty Ellman on guitar and Ron Miles’ cornet and for the following number “Night Of Sorrow” it is introspection laced with reminiscence with beautiful input from Myra added on piano. “Promised Land” contains great interplay between the band with Myra getting out the Melodica for the following “Ching Ching/ For The Love Of Fruit” with some really interesting results within the track and perhaps one of my favourites. Still everybody gets a go with Tyshawn Sorey roaring in for an opening drum solo for in “The Kitchen” in this more accentuated Avante track with a some wonderful slower material to follow with Stomu Takeishi’s bass and Myra Melford’s piano being the main components in “Times Of Sleep And Fate”. Still my album favourite would the 2nd last composition “ The Virgin Of Guadalupe” as well as the album’s longest with Ron Miles’ solo cornet opening with Myra adding gradual piano and it is always a delight when you barely notice other band members coming in behind throughout this lovely composition. It is a jaunt to finish the album up for “Strawberry” which contains more wonderful interplay between this highly talented Quintet.

Already it has been five years since this album’s recording and a new album with Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret has just recently been released and if the music from this release is anything to go by I won’t even bother to have a pre listen of the new one as it won’t be required, I’ll just buy it.

MANU DIBANGO Gone Clear

Album · 1980 · Dub/Ska/Reggae
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
Released in 1980, recorded in Jamaica on Chris Blackwell’s label, Island Record’s , with quite a few big names included and not only from Jamaica but the U.S.A as well with the Brecker brothers included with Michael on sax and Randy on trumpet with Joe Faddis, Mike Lawrence supporting and Gwen Guthrie being one of the backing vocalists.. Plenty of big Jamaican names also with Ansell Collins, Sly and Robbie, Mikey Chung with a few others from the area as well for Manu Dibango’s Reggae excursion with the album “Gone Clear” which has also been re released on the French label Sonodisc in 1990 under the name “Rasta Souvenir” on two discs which does include Manu’s following Reggae release on Island “Ambassador” on each disc respectively albeit with a slight track order change the albums are still separate in their entirety on each of the discs.

“Full Up” puts the Reggae beat straight to the fore with Manu’s sax riding right over it all on this great album opener being primarily an instrumental with just the backing vocalists repeating the title on occasion. Funk and fairly quick moving is the basis for the highly enjoyable instrumental “Goro City” with some great sax input from Dibango’s sax being all over it and some wonderful band backing. More full on Reggae beat in “Doctor Bird” where we finally get to hear Manu adding those deep vocals and jive he usually does in French and the delight just keeps coming in another great take on his most famous number the Makossa where this time it’s the “Reggae Makossa” and good it is, being delivered in quick time. “Frozen Soul” is vibe time for Manu with a highly similar time to “Full Up” but no matter it is Reggae and the album finishes up with one of its highlights, for me anyway with it s loopy opening and more of those backing vocals and saxes just keeping a firm reminder of the time this music was made in being the late 70’s and early 80’s with that Manu Dibango stamp.

Lovely groover to have on and even if Reggae is not your thing try this as it only fairly mild with its influence and basically it’s still Dibango presenting his style of Cameroonian French influenced African Music but still I really don’t know too many African music fans that don’t like Reggae anyway.

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