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TRIO 3 Wiring (with Vijay Iyer)

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Trio 3 is a collective made up of veteran sax player Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille, formed in the late 90s for playing at European jazz festivals. In the beginning of the new century they found their home at the Swiss Intakt label, which regularly releases their music up to today.

Lately the trio has adapted an interesting format, playing with guest pianists, a different one on each studio album (they started playing with Irène Schweizer, and continued with Gerri Allen and Jason Moran). Here on "Wiring", their new guest is rising US star Vijay Iyer. For European listeners, Vijay is well known by his series of excellent contemporary/world fusion releases on the German ACT label, and his ECM solo debut this year.

Oliver Lake is one of the BAG (Black Artists Group, organization similar to AACM) founders and a key figure in New York's 70s loft jazz scene. Reggie Workman has played with John Coltrane and Art Blakey among many others. Andrew Cyrille is best known as one of Cecil Taylor's band members. So no big surprise that Trio 3 plays advanced improvisational jazz, covering decades of its evolution. All of them (and particularly Oliver Lake) are too large of figures to stay just co-members of this project, so generally all the music on here is played by this Lake-led trio, but with plenty of possibilities for the younger Iyer to participate, fortunately he has enough space and freedom for that.

Still very much Lake's album, it represents his stronger side as a blues and hard bop rooted free improviser with attention to melody and structure. all of these songs all are well-made and executed, and sound fresh enough and non-boring even on an almost 70-minute long album. The rhythms and moods change to avoid sameness,the only problem is some sense direction-less which starts to be noticable during the second half of the album. Better editing and probably some shortening of the album length would help to make it more dynamic and inspired.

In all, very competent modern sounding music with deep roots, one of the better jazz releases this year.

MATTHEW SHIPP Root Of Things

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
The most difficult artists to write about are those whose artistic vision is so unique and personal that it is hard to come up with comparisons and references, and such is the case with pianist Matthew Shipp and his latest trio outing, “Root of Things”. Early in his career Shipp displayed much influence from the high speed jagged and aggressive piano assaults of Cecil Taylor, and you can still hear some of the Taylor influence, but Shipp has distilled and reduced the Taylor approach, taking out much of the extravagance and leaving a more refined core. Is Shipp’s playing a ‘lounge’ version of Cecil Taylor’s pyrotechnics, that would be an odd way of putting things, but it could almost suffice as a layman’s description, but its also a bit shallow because Shipp is much more than just that. If Matthew has a possible reference in today’s world of pianists, Craig Taborn might be as good as any. Both Shipp and Taborn are drawn to thick busy contrapuntal textures that owe much to serial composers, and both favor a tonality that deceptively slips from extended harmonies to atonality and in-between areas that are not clearly one or the other. Apologies are due if this all sounds too technical, but Shipp’s music is not exactly easy listening.

On this CD you get two tracks with busy, but introspective piano work; “Root of Things” and “Code J”, while “Path” centers around bassist Michael Bisio, and “Pulse Code” is for drummer Whit Dickey. The more energetic work-out tracks are “Jazz It” and album closer “Solid Circuit”. “Jazz It” is probably the CD’s top cut. As the title implies, this is the ‘jazz number’ and the only cut that ‘swings’. It opens with a bluesy Monk like groove, but as Shipp goes into quadruple time while soloing, the rhythm section feels compelled to follow and keeps slipping into chaotic high speed romps. Overall, “Jazz It” has more humor and good times slap bang chaos than most of the rest of this CD, which often sounds more like concert hall music than post bop. Dickey’s solo on “Pulse Code” is nice because he goes more for interesting layered poly-rhythms ala Billy Higgins, rather than boring displays of flash. Closing number “Solid Circuit” is probably closest to the old days of free jazz blowouts, but even on this one, the trio shows much care and restraint in their interactions.

This is one of the better jazz CDs to come out so far this year and it should hold up well to many close listens for modern post bop fans, avant-garde listeners and even concert hall devotees who like the jazz as well. If every cut on here would have been as strong and imaginitive as “Jazz It”, this would have been close to album of the year.

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TOSHIYUKI MIYAMA & THE NEW HERD Yotsu No Jazz Composition aka Four Jazz Compositions

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Toshiyuki Miyama is key figure in Japanese progressive big band music. He started playing jazz with his band still before WWII, after the war his big band was a hot name in US Navy clubs in Japan. His first recorded albums contained big band classics and popular tunes of the time up to late 60s,when avant-garde jazz invasion (mostly introduced by young Japanese jazzmen returned back from jazz studies in States) in one day revolutionized country's scene.

Starting from 1967-68 Miyama adapted new sound playing with leading genre local musicians. "Four Jazz Compositions" is not his band's first advanced release, but one among few very early such albums, and one among rarest. Still not its rarity is album's main attraction (unless you are collector), music it contains is quite unique even for that extremely advanced time.

It's public secret that discussions about originality (or better to say its absence) of Japanese jazz had long decades history. Here, on "Four Jazz Compositions" open ears listener will easily find some early evidence of what can be tagged as "original Japanese elements".

Album's opener ten-minutes long "Mumyoju" is Japanese leading avant-garde pianist and composer of the time Masahiko Satoh's composition (he plays on it as well, but percussion,not piano). It begins with silence,pierced with ascetic needles of percussion,minimal brass splashes and ethnically sounding koto. Stll silence (or "free air", as it often called in Japanese avant-garde music) is largest and most important composition's component. Music here is near static,in moments meditative but more often - quite dramatic and recall early Western contemporary avant-garde composers work, just with Eastern touch.

Second composition,"Shirabyoshi" opens as it's just a continuation of the previous one, but very soon piano,bass and brass section take their part - here one can be sure that all Orchestra is in action.From meditative down tempo it grows fast to something what could be tagged as "brass-rock orchestra",but on fourth minutes Miyama cuts the sound - the continuation sounds as well arranged pop-tune, probably movie soundtrack.It doesn't last long though - from sixth minute orchestra move toward full-bodied big band sound with muscular,rock-influenced rhythm section and brass fireworks. Growing tension expoleds close to ten-minutes mark and continues straight as nervous mid-tempo orchestral "Ikisudama", recalling more contemporary avant-garde piece than any form of jazz.The listener shouldn't be bored though - somewhere in the middle music somehow naturally transforms to full bodied big band sound, something what could be played by Mingus, As if it would be not enough, orchestra explodes with distorted sound,lot of almost cacophonous brass soloing,and at the end returns back to base - slow down till almost meditative,even if still nervous in moments avant-garde chamber orchestra sound.

Final fourth composition opens with drums solo and rolls ahead as tuneful richly brass arranged jazz-rock song,very cinematic,but still with some small distortions here and there.At the end this around forty minutes long album stays in memory as gallery of musical pictures,some more organically related than others, but never boring.

Miyama will continue releasing advanced big band releases for some more years,but "Four Jazz Compositions" (together with "Yamataifu","Eternity? ・Epos" and few more)will stay as one of best evidence of Japanese adventurous orchestrated jazz.

RAY CHARLES Spotlight On Ray Charles

Boxset / Compilation · 1962 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
“Spotlight on Ray Charles” is a Pickwick label compilation from 1962 that shows up a lot in thrift stores and used record shops, yet no one seems to know much about it. Pickwick is one of the most notorious cheap labels ever. The unwitting buyer of this album should be glad that the songs are actually performed by Charles, because Pickwick was known for putting out albums on which a famous artist’s songs would be played by Pickwick staff musicians, without a trace of the artist featured on the album cover, a fact often hidden with tiny print.

This album comes with very little information, except some false information about a George Brown Orchestra that apparently does not appear on any tracks. Instead, about half of the songs on here feature Charles from very early in his career (approx 1949) playing and crooning in a laid back jazz/blues trio in a style very similar to Nat King Cole. If you are mostly familiar with Ray’s later revved up RnB hits such as “What I’d Say”, these songs show a whole nother side to brother Ray. The other half of the songs on “Spotlight” are totally different and feature rough early rock n roll/jump blues instrumentals with a very loud honkin saxophone in the style of Arnett Cobb or Jay McNeely. It appears that several of these rockin tunes come from a session in 1952, but no credits were given for that session. Ray was working with a variety of tenor players at that time, so its hard to tell who the lead sax man is. All of these songs are quite good and this could have been a decent compilation if they had put one style on one side of the album, and the other on the other side, but instead they mixed them together in strict alternation for irrational reasons unknown.

Even with the obtuse mixture of styles, this still isn’t too bad of a compilation, and since its Pickwick, it sells for cheap. Anyone interested in hearing what Ray Charles was doing before he became a well known RnB singer, should pick this up. The early jazz/blues tunes are nice, and the honkin RnR should liven up any social occasion. Its interesting hearing some of this old ‘honkin’ rockin sax style, listening to the horn used in such a loud forceful and almost primitive way makes you realize where early 60s avant-garde guys like Albert Alyer and Archie Shepp were coming from, in many ways, they were just bringing back the prevalent jump blues style of the 40s and taking it for an extended ride.

FISHBONE The Reality of My Surroundings

Album · 1991 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.91 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
FISHBONE had been struggling to find a new sound after a phenomenal debut EP. On the next two albums they stumbled around grasping at straws trying to see what would stick with some successes and some to the contrary. On their 4th release (counting the debut EP) all that experimentation came together to create an artistic vision of fusion frenzy perfection. THE REALITY OF MY SURROUNDINGS ushers in former Mile Davis music director John Bigham who contributes his keyboard and guitar talents to the mix of an already impressive musical cast that includes seven full time members and a whole list of guest musicians and background vocalists. This album truly exhibits a circus ring atmosphere where a rotisserie of musicians weaves their magic into the overall tapestry and exuding a huge party feel despite the dark, depressive and biting social critique. Despite it all there is plenty of room for their odd sense of humor to create a swirling dervish of hyperactivity encompassing a passion pit that always make me think of a Voodoo ritual in Haiti where in the heat of the moment you end up dancing on sizzling hot coals and draped with poisonous snakes.

On this album it is clear right from the getgo that this band was busy in the alchemy kitchen of sound fueling the fires to create an alloy of sonic bliss so sincere and advanced that it can hardly fall into any particular genre any more. They jettisoned none of their previous ska punk, groove funk or gospel soul but rather melded it all together with a healthy dose of a stronger groovy funk metal, jazz dissonance and even some slightly progressive time signature tendencies. The first track “Fight The Youth” hits the ground running as it incorporates funky metal riffing to an activist's plea to fight the powers that be. The album is accented by small little ditties in between the actual songs to add as an atmospheric direction change or simply to provide an intro for a following track. The four part “If I Were A... I'd” finds itself strewn about the album using the same music with different lyrics. These bits are under a minute but each time they improvise on a basic riff. The bleak little segment “Asswippin'” is the sound of an African slave being whipped with curdling screams of pain accompanied by tribal drums which ushers in the following “Housework” which seems to be a mix of jazzy funk with honky tonk and New Orleans brass followed by the depressive “Deathmarch” which sounds like a New Orleans funeral parade.

The fusionfest continues with the funk metal pleas of “Pray To The Junkiemaker” to the gospel tinged funk metal contemplativeness of “Everyday Sunshine.” The most humorous side of the band comes out on a story from a pimp's perspective on “Nasty Man” with its incessant funk groove and a bleak ending track called “Sunless Saturday” which is the perfect metal laden rock n' soul finale for an album laden with darkened depressive motifs that are the undercurrent of an exciting upbeat spiritual musical foreground that uplifts and depresses in every brilliantly mastered moment. This is one of my all time favorite albums that never ceases to amaze me of how magical certain moments in time can be for a band when all their stars align. Unfortunately despite having slight success with this album FISHBONE never broke into the big time however their sound was truly inspirational for countless bands that followed ranging from Jane's Addiction to more successful ska punk bands like Sublime and No Doubt. This is one for those who love fusion music so hot and smokin' that it verges on creating its own genre all together. It unduly gets lumped into all encompassing tags such as alternative rock or funk metal, but FISHBONE proved on this album that they could master the storytelling aspects of the best hip hop, the musicianship of the best of jazz and metal and the ability to hold the listener's attention throughout an hour long musical journey. The production is not the best here and FISHBONE albums need to be remastered for the new millennium but neither is it so horrible as to be unlistenable. EXCELLENT album!/;

DIZZY GILLESPIE Diz 'N Bird At Carnegie Hall (with Charlie Parker)

Live album · 1997 · Big Band
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
A short review of “Diz n’ Bird at Carnegie Hall” could sum things up nicely by providing that this is a one star recording of a five star performance. The performance in question took place on Sept 29, 1947 at Carnegie Hall and featured an opening set by Diz and Bird as a quintet, which was followed by Dizzy’s big band. Ella Fitzgerald also performed that night, but she does not appear on the album. The Parker/Gillespie set presented on here consists of five tunes, followed by another ten for Dizzy’s big band. Those five opening tunes by the quintet are the highlight, Parker’s playing is absolutely phenomenal, some of his best ever captured on a recording. Also, the bad sound issues are not nearly as bothersome with the smaller group than with the full orchestra that will follow.

The ten big band tunes that follow are all great, but the recording issues make them hard to listen to. It sounds like there were no special recording mics set up, instead it seems everything is being recorded possibly by one PA mic which was probably set in front of the whole band with the intent of amplifying whoever is the soloist. Needless to say, whenever a soloist leans to heavily into the mic, much of the rest of the band fades to the background. Even without a loud soloist, the balance between band sections is awful with the trumpet section blowing every one off of the recording. Its unfortunate these tunes weren’t recorded better, because many are great. Some highlights include George Russell’s modern pointillist arrangement of “Relaxin at Camarillo”, John Lewis’ early 3rd stream experiment , “Toccata for Trumpet”, and the high speed scatter of “Things to Come”. Overall Gillespie’s band is not about the subtle tone colors of Ellington, or the relentless groove of Basie, but instead is all about hot fiery energy, Latin rhythms and a screaming trumpet section.

This CD isn’t for everyone, but Parker fans may want to get this for the first five cuts which really capture the special sparks that would fly whenever Bird n’ Diz hit the stage together. The rest of the album could be interesting to Dizzy and big band fans who want to hear what Dizzy’s innovative orchestra was up to during this time period.

ALAN SILVA The Shout (Portrait For A Small Woman)

Album · 1979 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Ten years after his legendary debut ("excellent" or "unacceptably chaotic cacophony", depending on the listener's taste) Alan Silva released his third studio album (and first studio recording in ten years) entitled "The Shout (Portrait for a Small Woman)".

At that time, Silva was working as a teacher in the Institute for Art, Culture, and Perception in Paris, and the material comes mostly from his teaching work. He doesn't play any instruments on "The Shout", but instead leads a 21-piece orchestra that is a combination of Silva's "Celestrial Communications Orchestra" plus his students. Silva wrote and arranged all the music and he conducts the orchestra as well.

Musically, this album is not similar to his debut, at least not from the first spin. Seven well structured, completely pre-composed tunes, all under 10 minutes long, are rooted in Ellingtonian tradition and post-bop. But during the listening one can easily hear Silva's background as a late 60s unorthodox experimentalist. All the arrangements contain that non-conformist, even chaotic element, coming from his debut, just here it is presented in a the form of modern European classical composition.

Among the orchestra members, I found just a few known names (at least for me); trumpeters Itaru Oki and Bernard Vitet, and drummer Muhammad Ali are among them, but in all, this collective sounds very professional and inspired playing quite complex compositions.

Much more accessible than the early Silva works, this album still contains lot of his extravaganza, so it could be easily recommended as an entry point. At the same time, it's a great (if obscure) addition to Silva's quite limited collection of releases.

SOFT MACHINE Volume Two

Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.83 | 18 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
OK. Call me a SOFT MACHINE slut for giving their first two albums 5 stars but damn! I really love these guys and a belated introduction to their musical output hasn't dampened my enthusiasm to their sound one bit. In fact it may have enhanced it. I, like countless others, weren't around at the time of these releases to comprehend their musical meisterhood and it seems like many a music fan of the era didn't get to appreciate their ingenious jazz-fusion whimsy at the time of its release. SOFT MACHINE continued their evolution on VOLUME TWO by ratcheting up all the unusualness of their first album and keeping just enough of the familiar poppiness to give a musical structure to embellish upon. The whimsical glee exerts itself full throttle on the first track with their childlike playfulness meets their adult contemplative spirituality on “Pataphysical Introduction.” You know you are in for something special right away.

There had been a few personal changes from Volume One to VOLUME TWO. Robert Wyatt was still in charge of drum duties and lead vocals. Mike Ratledge stayed on board for as keyboardist, but on this release bassist Kevin Ayers was out and Hugh Hopper who guested on the first album was now in. This time around Hugh's brother Brian Hopper guested on the sax (both soprano and tenor.) This album is really two long tracks but because of the advise of Frank Zappa the band broke those two longer tracks into many because of the fact one could reap more royalties that way. The album is actually very short clocking in at just over a half an hour but there is so much going on in that time that it actually feels longer to me.

VOLUME TWO is the logical evolution from “Volume One.” Instead of just jettisoning the psychedelic pop leaning template that had begun before their first album and still utilized on the debut, the band keeps this as a template and simply expands the avant-garde and jazz-fusion tendencies developed on their debut. The result is another superbly excellent album that is short but sweet. The jazz factor is ratcheted up quite a few notches but the underlying flow of the album remains comparable to the debut. As with the previous album this is a grower. No SOFT MACHINE album unleashes its secrets easily. One must listen attentively to let the magic unfold at his or her own time. For me personally, I find this an excellent successor to the debut and a logical bridge between the debut and the even more jazz infused developments of “Third.” Yeah, the only totally unoriginal thing about this band is that they could have been more creative in naming their albums!

SOFT MACHINE The Soft Machine

Album · 1968 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.10 | 17 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
All one has to do is listen to the demos (available as Jet-propelled Photographs) recorded the year before to hear how quickly THE SOFT MACHINE was evolving their sound. It had been a wild ride since the days of the Wilde Flowers for drummer Robert Wyatt and bassist Kevin Ayers to get to this point. Mike Ratledge joined the band in 1966 when they officially formed as keyboardist and fellow ex-Wilde Flower veteran Hugh Hopper (bass) joins in on a few tracks here. Hugh would later join the band as a full member.

Originally the band also included Larry Nowlin on guitar but by the time we get to this debut album there is no guitarist to be found and just as well. It allows the band to emphasize how much a band can do with just a bass, keyboards and drums. Although Daevid Allen (guitars and vocals) was out and would begin his own Canterbury powerhouse Gong, on this debut we get a mixture of his own beatnik philosophy that he left behind, the psychedelic rock that was in fashion at the time and a new found appreciation for jazz that is incorporated into the nooks and crannies of the song structures creating a very new and exciting kind of music.

I personally believe that the sudden evolution can be attributed to the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix with whom SOFT MACHINE would tour. Hendrix was a major catalyst in the musical world at large and such a close proximity to his world surely must have served as an energizing lightning bolt for the band catapulting them suddenly into the more progressive interpretations of their earlier psychedelic pop churned out just a short time prior their debut. The band tackles the songs quite creatively. I love how the leading track “Hope For Happiness” is really one long track but in the middle they insert another track titled “Joy Of A Toy.” That strategy is repeated throughout the album making a smooth. flowing album from beginning to end. The melodies are catchy, the musicianship is excellent and the arrangements are quite brilliant. Ayers and Wyatt trade off vocals complementing each other quite well.

This one was certainly a grower. Upon first listen most of the complexities passed me by and I was more focused on the psychedelic pop aspects of the music. To fully appreciate SOFT MACHINE albums takes patience and dedication to fully unlock the brilliance embedded into the music. Although I liked this album on the first listen, I have grown to really love it for its bold and daring display of creativity as well as for its long lasting influence on not only the Canterbury side of jazz-fusion but for the evolution of progressive music in general. A belated 5 star masterpiece in my world but one that will firmly remain in that status. You'll know you're hooked when “Hope For Happiness” becomes the dominant ear worm beckoning you to put on the album time and time again!

STANLEY CLARKE Live at the Greek (feat. Larry Carlton, Billy Cobham, Deron Johnson & Najee)

Live album · 1994 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.95 | 2 ratings
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DocB
Despite being a jazz fusion fan, somehow I missed Live At The Greek way back when, so it was a treat to discover it. All the players here have pedigree: Stanley Clarke from Return To Forever, Larry Carlton from The Crusaders, Billy Cobham from The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Daron Johnson played with Miles Davis in the early '90s, and Najee, well know in smooth jazz circles, shows his fusion chops here. With this kind of talent, we should hope for something good, and fortunately, we've not been disappointed. The album starts unassumingly with a short (3:26) instrumental version of Minute By Minute, a Doobie Brothers song by Michael McDonald and Lester Abrams, which Carlton previously recorded as a studio instrumental. The next five tracks range from 5:20 to 14:02 minutes, and include three originals, plus Miles Davis' All Blues and Charles Mingus' Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, both being given the fusion treatment here. But the tour de force is a 21:33 minute version of Clarke's School Days. Clarke, Cobham and Carlton get the chance to really stretch out on this track, and the results are worth the price of admission. This would have been a great concert to attend!

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