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Album · 2022 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I had just finished listening to a large part of the Paul Bley discography when the “Faultlines” CD by Dana Fitzsimmons showed up in the mail. Call it coincidence or divine intervention if you will, but the similarities to Dana’s album and a typical album by Bley were striking. Here you have artists that are both just as at home with a lyrical ballad as they are with pure exploratory improvisation, as well as artists who know how to freely improvise in ways that are subtle and attractive to a wide variety of listeners. In Fitzsimmon’s press release, Bley is not mentioned as an influence, but other contemporaries of his are, including Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, but most importantly to Dana as a drummer, the music and drumming of Paul Motian figures prominently on this album. Joining Dana for this outing is pianist Bill Graham and Bassist Brandon Boone. This is not a typical jazz album on which the rhythm section acts only as support, instead all three musicians interact equally in a constant three way conversation. Much of this music is freely improvised, but it is still mostly tonal and rhythmic, but at the same time, very loose and unpredictable. This is Dana’s album, but Graham’s piano work is one of the most salient features on the album with his often relaxed swinging right hand figures that recall Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau, and Bill also wrote many of the tunes on the album too.

The band engages in Tristano styled brainiac bop on “Slant Anagrams” and “Number Six”, and rocks out some on “Borders”, which closes with Graham playing Brubeck style block chords in stubborn repeating rhythms against Dana’s free drumming. The trio gets more avant-garde on “Weeble Wobbles” and “Intersections”, but contrasts that with a fairly straight ahead reading of Richard Rogers’ “Where or When”. Much of the rest of the album centers around rather abstract and spacious moody pieces that aren’t typical ballads, but lean in that direction. The trio closes with Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia”, which picks up a sort of Neil Young flavor with Dana’s lazy but pronounced snare backbeat and Bill’s country flavored piano work. Musically, “Fault Lines” is brilliant, but the production could use a little better focus and clarity, especially on Brandon’s bass and Fitzsimmon’s cymbals, but this is a minor complaint really, overall this album is highly recommended for fans of today’s post-post bop.

KOBE VAN CAUWENBERGHE Ghost Trance Septet plays Anthony Braxton

Album · 2022 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Anthony Braxton (born June 4, 1945) is one of the most respected of creative contemporary music composers and musicians, still active today (just a few months ago he played live in my hometown with his Saxophone Quartet). His early works (coming from the 60s and 70s) are mostly from the avant-garde jazz field, and some are accepted as genre standards. Later Braxton moved towards cross-genre compositional forms, usually related with jazz, but containing elements of contemporary concert hall music, some ancient folk, etc.

Braxton's one remarkable experimental work is his Ghost Trance Music series, inspired by 19th century Native American Ghost Dances and written between 1995 and 2006. The concept of GTM composition is based on idea, that there exists a "primary melody", which Braxton describes as "a melody that never ends". This line of music is written to be played in unison by any performer who wishes to participate in the "ritual circle dance". There is more information on Braxton's musical legacy presented in this nicely designed "organic" CD package's booklet, but generally one doesn't need to learn much before listening. The music itself is complex, but quite accessible.

Belgian guitarist Kobe Van Cauwenberghe, who created the project 'No [more] Pussyfooting', with music by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, and is a member of electric guitar quartet Zwerm, is currently affiliated with the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp for an artistic research project on the music of Anthony Braxton. In 2020 he released "Ghost Trance Solos" - a solo guitar album with three Braxton compositions from Ghost Trance Music. "Ghost Trance Septet plays Anthony Braxton" is a logical continuation of Kobe's work - four Braxton Ghost Trance Music series compositions, recorded by skilled Belgium-Danish septet.

More current Braxton music is rarely played by other musicians and it's a shame. Different from dominating composers, who often combine elements of different genres in one, Braxton returns back to a past trying to find the roots and the rules and codes, and uses what he finds in his new written music, on a genetic level, not like inspiration or imitation. As a result, his music sounds as an engineered work, mechanically, but not formal or dry, since each brick has its own lively soul.

Van Cauwenberghe's septet of guitar (who in moments demonstrates that he is familiar with shredding guitar techniques playing in rock bands), bassist, drummer, pianist, sax player and trumpeter play selected Braxton compositions with respect and their own touch at the same time. For me, the program sounds as if six skilled professionals build a modern building - a unique one, with style and respect to the past, but without nostalgia, bravely looking ahead. Four compositions, 95-minutes of music, recorded on two CDs, happen to be an intriguing listening, which surprisingly lasted less then it was expected. Nicely realized great idea - hope we will hear more Braxton compositions, recorded by younger generation artists more often.

BILL ORTIZ Points Of View

Album · 2022 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Trumpeter Bill Ortiz has worked with many well-known artists over the years, but possibly he is best known for his sixteen years with Carlos Santana (2000-2016) Along with Carlos, Bill has also toured with Bay Area RnB groups like Tony Toni Tone and En Vogue, and has also performed with top jazz musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea. Add to that list many RnB, blues and Latin jazz performers and you get an idea of how much Bill gets around. His latest album, “Points of View”, takes Ortiz in more of a Latin jazz and fusion direction, which is different from his previous albums which were more RnB and hip-hop oriented. There is an amazing all-star cast assembled for this album, too many stars to list, but two of the top contributors include Dennis Chambers on drums and Azar Lawrence on tenor saxophone. Although “Points of View” is very much a modern album, there is a spiritual connection to the 70s with songs by artists like Eddie Henderson, Lonnie Liston Smith and Brian Jackson, but it’s Azar’s big soulful tenor sound that brings that organic 70s vibe more than anything else.

There is a wide variety of music on here, each song has its own unique flavor that stands on its own. Looking at some album highlights, opening track “Sunburst” brings the jazz-rock energy. Although Bill rarely sounds like Miles, on this rockin track he seems to channel Miles’ aggressive riffs from his Live at the Fillmore album. “Okonkole y Trompa” is a mystical African flavored rumba with Bill’s deep toned flugelhorn sounding like an ancient African horn sounding over a percussion groove. The psychedelic Afro-Cuban sound is also found on “Fusion/Noche Cubana", on which Ortiz plays echoed trumpet lines over the percussion backdrop. “Aint Gon Change a Thang” is funky Latin RnB and has Bill playing a processed trumpet that sounds like Randy Brecker’s work combining mutes and wah pedals. And there are plenty more tracks of course. Though out the album, Ortiz’s trumpet playing is bold and forthright, very much in the Latin tradition, and also similar to power trumpeters like Freddie Hubbard and Jon Faddis.


Album · 2022 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Really really surprised at their soundscape, to be honest.

The album "Glow" released in June 2022 was produced by a twin guitar project Yuji MUTO & MIZUKI. Yuji is already known as a guitar virtuoso with musical diversity like jazz, rock, metal, hardcore, ambient, or something, and has been quite active for launching various projects like Next Order, Palstic Dogs, and some duo improvisational jazz rock projects. He invited another glorious guitarist, Mizuki, as a partner for this new unit, and the two geniuses created an enchanting album full of unpredictable but comfortable ambience. I've already heard from Yuji that this album was completely kinda fantastic and an ambient ensemble but could not believe it in a sudden manner ... I assumed there would be something heavy or metallic somewhere in this production, actually. But his words are really true, and I pleasantly find his 'greatly ambivalent' guitar technique with Mizuki's wondrous storytelling can grab my heart out strictly.

From the beginning of the first shot "Thaw", calm, fluent, gorgeous phrases are wrapping the audience up. They extend mysterious polyrhythmic sentences around the turf but we cannot feel any awkwardness via them. Sounds like their eye and mind contacts should have perfectly been united and matured. They play such crazy complicated melodic and rhythmic lines in a normal, 'without-struggle' way. The third "Astral", where female hummings are addictive, is also a complex tune but we cannot find any turbulence nor weariness but heartwarming, relaxing atmosphere deeply in it. "Sakura (Cherry Blossom)" has simple repetitive phrases saturated with momentarily dreamy texture. Very monotonous but never boring nor disappointing. We can enjoy slow tempo peaceful quietness plus brilliant mysticism via "20-6", one of my favourite tracks ... let me say this is a sorta musical icon of theirs. On the contrary, the following one, "Caelum", possesses clear, unambiguous guitar-oriented personal touches all around. Also this should be their flavourful flavour, methinks. The last "Beginning" (pretty sweet that they play the song with such a title at the last of this album) makes us feel their primitive positive intention, regardless of calm, easygoing vibes. Every single track involves heartwarming marvelous aroma. Recommended for lots of people tired under such a tough situation.

WHIT DICKEY Astral Long Form : Staircase In Space

Album · 2022 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Yesterday I used the rare opportunity to visit a retrospective exhibition of renown avant-garde artist, probably better known in Europe than in the States, Marina Abramovic. I made a 200 kilometres-long round trip on a warm summer day, and it was worth it. There were many Abramovic filmed happenings demonstrated on the big screens in a modern art gallery, in total darkness, many screens placed at the same hall. There was one, where she is cutting a five-pointed star around her belly button with a razor blade (so-called "Thomas Lips"), filmed in the year 1975. It was very impressive emotionally (knowing that Marina was born in Belgrade, Serbia, in a family of high level Communist party functionaries of former Socialist Yugoslavia), but at the same time it looked like it's coming from very old past. From the times, when the world was divided between modernists and conservatives, at a time of aggressive feminism, sexual revolution and lots of freedoms coming soon. Quite surprisingly, looking back from now at these protests, and the revolution looks very "organic", and let say "natural". And yes, free jazz was a part of it.

In a modern world, which is thousands years away, we understand all these freedoms as natural, but in fact, we are living in a much more conservative world. We have just a few formal restrictions, but we are not really free. Our lives are complex, and nowadays free jazz is not all that free anymore.

American drummer Whit Dickey is one the great figures of New Millennium creative jazz, working with many leaders of the scene. On "Astral Long Form: Staircase In Space" Dickey leads a quartet with sax player Rob Brown, viola player Mat Manieri and bassist Brandon Lopez. Their music is free, but also well organized, clever, knotty and still dreamy at times. One can hear some (possibly) pre-composed pieces here and there, but it still sounds as spontaneous very much. Tagged by the artist as "channeling ecstatic cosmic vibration", it has nothing too much in common with space psychedelia of the 60s. Being still rooted in Coltrane's legacy, it is very a modern take on things, the music, which is miles away from free jazz of "summer of love" era, its not "organic" or "natural" at all. And it is not naïve, it comes from our clever and already slightly tired world, much more complex than last century's 60s.

And it is among best soundtracks of today's life too.

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ONENESS OF JUJU / PLUNKY & ONENESS / PLUNKY Bush Brothers & Space Rangers

Album · 1996 · RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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On the wave of the unfading popularity of African influenced jazz in England, UK-based label Strut continues their series of US funk-RnB bands from 70s Oneness Of Juju reissues. The band's debut, "African Rhythms", has been reissued by Strut in 2002, and in 2018 once again. Band's second album, "Space Jungle Luv"(originally from 1976), has been reissued by Strut in 2002 and 2021. "Bush Brothers & Space Rangers", chronologically the band's third recorded album, received its European reissue in 2022 for the first time ever (recorded in 1977, this album has been released for the first time in 1996 only, and reissued only once after - in 2002 in Japan).

Oneness of Juju were the mid-70s continuation of early 70s SF/NYC - based sax player James Plunky Branch's avant-garde jazz band Juju, who moved to Richmond, Virginia in late 1974 and switched the direction towards funk and RnB. Their debut album (still partially with old Juju line-up) under the new name, "African Rhythms", was critically acclaimed, and contained more commercially popular music for the time with a mix of funk and RnB with African-spiritual jazz elements.

For their third album, recorded two years later, the band adds guitarist Ras Mel Melvin Glover, drummer Tony Green (instead of Babatunde) and pianist Brian Jackson (both - from Gil Scott-Heron's band) and percussionist Okyerma Asante. As a result, they loose a bit of funky edge, but receive a more sophisticated sound.

The album's opener,"Breezin'", is probably better known from George Benson's instrumental version, but it's originally a Bobby Womack song, and it comes with vocals here, a nice dreamy relaxed RnB piece. "African Rhythms", Plunky's original, is represented here by a longer very percussive acoustic version, and it sounds even better then on the band's debut, one of the album's top tracks. "Nooky", another Plunky original, is placed somewhere between the band's earlier funk-jazz and the more polished RnB, with soloing sax on the front all the time.

Side B opens with an interesting example of an early "ecological" protest song, "Be About The Future". "Afro Beat" is a very percussive funky song. "Plastic (Is Easy To See Thru)" is another one of the album's top cuts, very much a George Clinton-like piece of P-funk. The album's closer, "Rhythms Timelessness", is a two minutes-long funky instrumental with lots of guitar soloing on the front.

Japanese P-Wine reissue for the first time presented 5 never before released bonuses, on the latest Strut reissue they are available as downloads. "West Wind" is a longish relaxed African-ballade with a flute, "All Blues" is a bluesy RnB with lot of sax and piano soloing and strong vocals, sounds a bit out of place here though. "The Stuff To Make You Move", is danceable RnB and the more funky, "Get Your Head Together", with male vocals, both don't add much to the album.

SUN RA Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
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“Celebration for the Comet Kohoutek” is a live concert recorded by the Sun Ra Arkestra on December 22, 1973 at New York City’s Town Hall. The first side of the album is a fairly good recording, at least by Sun Ra standards, of an excellent performance. Side two starts off okay, but then falters significantly for the last half of that side. After a brief opening, side one kicks off with the well known “Astro Black”, sung by the Arkestra veteran, June Tyson. From here the band goes into mixtures of hard bop grooves and screeching free jazz with fiery solos from many of the horn players. Specific credits are not given, but possibly that is Kwame Hadi behind those fiery trumpet solos. As for the other players, you can expect the usual suspects such as Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and the rest of the crew.

Halfway through this side Sun Ra steps in with an incredible analog synthesizer solo. If you have heard his early meanderings on “My Brother the Wind”, you will not believe how much Ra’s technique on the synth developed after those early experiments. He must be using a fairly complex setup because the sounds he is producing, and the way he is able to pull up endless variations, is far beyond what a Mini-Moog is capable of. I know Sonny used the Korg MS-20 some, a pair of those linked together could probably pull off these sort of cross-modulated wave forms. After Ra’s solo fades, the percussion section kicks in for an aggressive African groove over which Sonny at first supplies something close to classic soul jazz riffs. Ra playing in this style is very rare and its quite a treat for long time fans of his, but soon he moves back to supplying more elctronic sounds to the percussion celebration.

After a brief Arkestra intro, side two goes into more synthesizer excursions from Sonny, and once again his technique, control and imagination are very impressive. The way in which the tone colors constantly morph and change recalls Milton Babbit’s “Ensemble for Synthesizer”. I would not be surprised if Ra was very familiar with that landmark electronic piece. After the lengthy solo, the band tries to reappear, but something has happened, they sound like they are in another room way down the hallway. The last half of side two is given to call and response vocal numbers, including the over recorded, “Space is the Place”. These songs get tedious quickly because the arkestra is barely audible while the vocalists are way too loud. When one singer starts doing lounge club RnB type vocals on “Space is the Place”, its time to go ahead and hit the tone arm eject. Overall, possibly the most salient feature on this album is Sun Ra’s extended synthesizer solos. I do not know of any other record of his that contains such a wealth of synth colors. Other albums of his often sound like he is just learning how the device works.


Album · 1995 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard

1995 was a banner year for jazz, and Kenny Garrett's Triology album remains one of the most memorable and re-listenable after all these years. His seventh studio album, Triology does without the melodic "oomph" of keyboards, guitar, or another horn. It's just Kenny on the alto, Kiyoshi Kitagawa (7 tracks) and Charnett Moffett (3 tracks) on bass, and the magisterial Brian Blade on drums. Many listeners dismiss sax trio albums as "dry", "tiring", or "too serious", but those adjectives come nowhere near to describing these recordings. There are no weak links and no showing off, nor is there any hint of "hushed reverence". Triology is the work of a true virtuoso who knows who he is, and where he wants to go.

Let's talk about TONE. Garrett's very unique alto may remind one of the soprano sax from time to time, but it never dissipates into that wispy Paul Desmond sound (and I mean that with NO disrespect). There are no solo pieces on Triology, yet only rarely does Garrett take a breather throughout. Give Kenny credit for not starting with something simple: "Delfeayo's Dilemma" is a barnstormer with the "almost soprano" tone front and center. The pace hardly slackens throughout: "Night and Day", "Giant Steps", and "Pressing the Issue" would all fit comfortably on the "snappy-to-fast" spectrum. "Oriental Towaway Zone" (with a formidable Kitagawa solo) and "What is this thing called love?" could both be described as "blistering". After a Brian Blade intro, Garrett spools off line after line over a bass ostinato on "Wayne's Thang" before teasing with not one, but two false endings. The trio does (relatively) slow down for "A Time for Love" and "In Your Own Sweet Way".

When discussing the alto sax, people always want to compare and contrast with players such as Cannonball Adderley, Marion Brown, Lee Konitz, and Art Pepper. And as great as those players are, Kenny Garrett remains his own man, respectfully paying tribute to the past while forging ahead to the future. It was a great temptation to title this review "Honkin'", that wonderful quality which can certainly be found amidst Triology's 57 minute run time, but that would not do this command performance justice. This album never ceases to amaze me and is far less "tiring" than plain and simply "exhilarating"!


Album · 1977 · RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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You have to admit that “Real Mother For Ya” has a real mother of an album cover . Yes that’s Johnny’s mom pushing him in a baby carriage that has been made to look like a gold Rolls Royce, implying that young Johnny has grown up to do pretty well for himself in the music business, which indeed he did. Starting in the 50s, Watson was a star guitarist and vocalist in the blues world, especially in Houston where he was from. Moving out to LA, Johnny made the transition to a modern funk sound, and did so convincingly, scoring several big hits, while still maintaining much of his blues flavor. One such big hit was this album’s title track, with its humorous tales of ironic disappointment, rip-offs and plain bad luck. These are the kind of lyrics that anyone can relate to and Watson delivered them with plenty of funny asides in his distinctive twangy voice. The song became a real mover on the dance floor with its double heavy bass reinforced with a heavy analog synthesizer. As is typical for dance records, the title track comes first on side one so that DJs will have no problem finding it.

Sometimes albums like this, which are centered around a big hit, have nothing but filler after the hit passes, but the rest of “Real Mother” contains some well written and creatively produced tracks. Johnny covers all the bases on here, writing all the songs, playing all the instruments except horns and drums, and taking care of production as well. Watson is a great producer, different parts stand out and shimmer as he achieves great separation and clarity, and often puts some semi-psychedelic glitter on things. Johnny’s writing style combines blues, RnB, jazz and art pop, like a mix of Curtis Mayfield, The Ohio Players, The Crusaders and The Beatles. Some interesting tracks include the somewhat spacey, “Your Love is My Love”, on which Watson delivers all the vocals through a vocoder foreshadowing today’s frequent use of such vocals and, “I Wanna Thank You”, on which Johnny reveals he is just as good on the piano as he is on the guitar. “Nothing Left to be Desired” has a dreamy middle section on which Watson builds vocal layers over a jazzy chord progression. Johnny’s lyrics are never deep or heavy, but he delivers them with plenty of clever humor and spoken asides. Looking at the horn section, I see frequent Frank Zappa sideman Walt Fowler on trumpet. As many already know, Watson delivered some humorously over the top vocals on Zappa’s “One Size Fits All”.

JOHN COLTRANE John Coltrane/Archie Shepp : New Thing At Newport

Live album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.15 | 5 ratings
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This review of “New Thing at Newport” is based on the original LP on the Impulse! label, and what a beautiful production it is. You get a gatefold album cover with plenty of inside liner notes written by Nat Hentoff and Archie Shepp, plus a nice photo of Archie on the back cover decked out in about the coolest sports jacket you have ever seen. Shepp and John Coltrane share this album, but they do not play together. One track from Coltrane’s evening performance leads off the album, which is followed by four Shepp tracks that took place earlier that day in the afternoon.

Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up” is an absolute powerhouse performance from arguably the hottest quartet in jazz history. This is the last year that Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner will stay with John, but they certainly found their mountainous peak before moving on. The recording quality is pretty bad, but John and McCoy come through loud and clear. The lead melody is a short little RnB riff, but listen how Coltrane works it and develops it. There is a reason why other musicians consider him to be a genius and worthy of emulating. Possibly knowing what Coltrane was going to be doing that evening, Archie decides not to go for the same intensity during his afternoon performance. Instead, he presents an eclectic set of almost chamber-like avant-garde jazz, possibly somewhat similar to Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” album.

The recording quality on the Shepp tracks is much better, possibly the Coltrane set just had way too much sonic volume to deal with. “Rufus” is a free post bop number with great playing from Archie, as well as Bobby Hutcherson on vibes who is excellent all though his part of the album. “Le Matin des Noire” has some interesting arrangements and sometimes resembles a 20th century avant-garde classical piece. “Tracks” is a short little spoken diatribe against heroin and the injustices that encourage it, and “Call Me by My Rightful Name” is a ballad of sorts with Archie shifting between a pretty melody and very odd atonal excursions.

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