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jazz music reviews (new releases)

YUJI MUTO & MIEKO SAKAI Reflection

EP · 2019 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DamoXt7942
You cannot avoid Yuji's phantasmagoric guitar expression and Mieko's drumming in a full-minded manner. This newest call titled "Reflection" created by a super duo Yuji and Mieko was performed and recorded upon stage via an improvised gig. Quite amazing to know the reason the two brilliant artists can get perfectly harmonized and crystallized under such an improvisational situation, and you can realize each player should completely understand the other one, simultaneously tense atmosphere at a gig, in collaboration with the enthusiastic audience.

The first titled track is kinda great touch. Slow, gentle guitar stream in the beginning gives you massive expectation. Percussive, dramatic, and sometimes assertive drumming drives you crazy. Their synchronized battle of play sounds like a dragon flying up to the heaven. Through the second "Desert Yellow" you can hear sorta tough circumstance upon a desert along Yuji's crazy heavy guitar explosions, and something shining via Mieko's strict but heartwarming drumming and percussion play. Colourful sound diversity can be noticed, according to Yuji's guitar sounds inspired by rock, jazz, metal, and so on.

The last and the longest one "The Beginning" can be recognized as one of the most primitive improvisational chasing for the duo. Here is definite flexibility-flooded sound appearance. Speedy, fire-flamed musical crosstalks, dramatic phases like a moonshine, deep, heavy interactive performances will remind you of Eiliff's "Close Encounters With Their Third One". Musically "alternative" should be here for them, let me say. But at the same time simply enjoyable. It's a pity I could not attend their fantastic gig ... wish I could have peered and contemplated their super-artistic play.

And let me say too ... the sleeve is quite fantastic too!

ROB RYNDAK Rob Ryndak & Tom Lockwood : Gratitude

Album · 2019 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
Apparently Rob Ryndak met Tom Lockwood when Lockwood bought a house in Ryndak’s neighborhood. When Rob went over to greet Tom they discovered that they were both pro musicians and educators with similar interests in jazz and world music. Soon Tom was performing in Ryndak’s band and the rest is history as they eventually decided to record an album together. The resultant CD, “Gratitude”, shows the two combining their song writing and performing talents into a diverse set of tunes that combine contemporary jazz, pop, RnB, hard bop, Latin and Caribbean grooves. To assist in their endeavor they brought in a variety of instrumentalists who help give each track its own distinct sound and tone color. Rob plays piano and percussion, while Tom handles all manner of woodwind instruments, to that they also added musicians on bass, drums, guitar, cello, trumpet, percussion, vibraphone and additional piano. Ryndak in particular creates creative orchestrations with his mini orchestra, particularly on the ballad like title tune, “Gratitude”.

Throughout the album, Ryndak’s tunes lean more towards the art pop side of things, while Lockwood’s favor swinging hard bop and Latin jazz. The first track is a Ryndak composition, while the second belongs to Lockwood, the tracks alternate this way for the rest of the album which makes for a nice musical blend. Bob’s song, “Just as They Are”, seems to reference a well known Latin folk song, but I will not give away which one, you will have to hear that for yourself. Most of the tunes are fairly concise and to the point, but there is still room for some great solos from Lockwood, Brian Lynch on trumpet, Sasha Brusin on guitar and Steve Talaga on piano. “Gratitude’ is more or less a jazz album, but there is plenty of melodic material that easily crosses over to fans of all manner of sophisticated instrumental music.

STRATUS LUNA Stratus Luna

Album · 2019 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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js
Stratus Luna is a very youthful ( band members’ ages range from teens to early 20s) instrumental prog rock/fusion band from Brazil who have just released their debut album featuring music with a strong maturity that would lead you to believe you are listening to accomplished veterans. A good reference point for Luna’s music could be early 70s jazzy progsters such as those in the Canterbury scene, or even closer, famed Dutch quartet, Focus. The similarity to Focus is furthered by the band’s size (quartet), the way they alternate melodic guitar passages with Hammond B3 buildups and the fact that keyboardist Gustavo Santiago also doubles on flute. The 70s influence is there, but Luna also adds modern and personal influences from the worlds of electronica, post rock and Brazilian fusion.

Every track features those sort of eclectic arrangements favored by the prog rock crowd, but this is today’s prog, a little more streamlined and less indulgent than their 70s forebears. Ricardo is quite capable of intense fusion solos on the guitar, but he often favors a more melodic approach reminiscent of Phil Manzenera or David Gilmour. Some album highlights include, “O Centro do Labirinto” which features a classic huge Mellotron chorus that builds through upward spiraling chord progressions as it reaches for the heavenly beyond. “Zarabatana” is based on alternating sections of Brazilian fusion and Indian ambiance. “NREM-1” is free floating electronic soundscapes and “Pandas Voadores” features a sort of rock flavored swing feel. It also helps that the recording quality and production on here are excellent, the sound of Stratus Luna in the studio is massive.

JAMIE SAFT The Jamie Saft Quartet : Hidden Corners

Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Pianist/keyboardist Jamie Saft is one of more interesting figure connecting New York down town jazz with burgeoning London jazz scene (through collaboration with London-based RareNoise label). His newest all-star quartet's album "Hidden Corners" continues this direction presenting Saft & Co.s touch on such a fashionable in London spiritual jazz.

Album's opener "Positive Way" is possible the best illustration what "Hidden Corners" are all about - soulful composition influenced by "Love Supreme"/Coltrane circa '65 music will obviously attract fans of Pharoah Sanders spiritual jazz re-birth. It is most memorable song coming from the album, what comes after is quite a mixed bag though. Right after very skilled but not same inspired quartet offers freer journey which is quite bulky and directionless.

Rest of the album contains a songs collection of two types - more soulful and spiritual (though a bit faceless) compositions and freer but too formal and emotionless pieces. Music here is well played but has no chances to win in a competition with enthusiastic youngish British bands dominating on London scene. Today's spiritual jazz attracts new listeners mostly because of its fresh, maybe partially naive, atmosphere and re-invented spirit of late 60s. Saft's quartet sounds as a bit bored bunch of pros playing some fashionable tunes on request (or because of contractual obligation). Not a bad music, but it lacking inspiration.

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Brazilian Guitar Music by Marco Pereira

Album · 2019 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Something wonderful happened in the world of music starting sometime in the 1920s and continuing to today and that is the merging of jazz and European classical traditions to create new modern hybrids. Its hard to think of a composer past the 1920s that wasn’t influenced by jazz’s sophisticated syncopated rhythms, and certainly jazz musicians had no chance to escape the classical influence as more than likely most of their advanced lessons centered around Chopin, Bach and the rest. In today’s musical universe, other musical components can enter the picture as well, such as Indian ragas, Indonesian Gamelan and Latin American traditions. Its within that merger of classical, jazz and Brazilian practices that we find the new album by Marius Noss Gundersen, “Brazilian Guitar Music by Marco Pereira”.

The title says it all, Gundersen’s new album is a collection of compositions for classical acoustic guitar written by Marco Periera, who’s classical compositions are inspired by Brazilian song forms. In the album liner notes Periera expresses his gratitude to Marius for producing the first album entirely devoted to Marco’s music. Marco also includes very helpful notes for every track on the album, which is nice because very few of us are going to be familiar with all of the Brazilian traditions he is referencing, so its good to have some program notes as a guide if you want to learn more.

The compositions are excellent, deep enough for close and repeated listening, but also pleasant enough to be attractive to people who might not know a thing about Latin jazz or contemporary classical music. Marius’ guitar playing is impressive as he tends to bring out the delicate side of this rather difficult instrument. Listening to how well he can control volume as an aid to expression proves that he is definitely in that upper echelon of guitarists. Fast passages sound unrushed and handled with ease, this CD is a treasure chest for fans of nimble finger picking in any style. So many good tracks on here, but some standouts include, “Estrela da Manha” with its mystical mixolydian chord changes, “Bate-Coxa” has an almost Carribean sounding celebratory style, and album closer, Baiao Cansada” with its modernistic Lydian melodies.

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ISAAC HAYES The Isaac Hayes Movement (aka Superstarshine Vol. 31)

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
“The Isaac Hayes Movement” is Isaac’s third studio album and is also the immediate predecessor to his highly acclaimed soundtrack masterpiece, “Shaft”. A lot of the diverse elements that would make “Shaft” such a powerful statement are all here, just not as fully developed yet. There are four songs on “Movement”, and each one has its own distinctive flavor. Album opener “I Stand Accused” is one of those long confessional soul ballads that opens with a detailed spoken soliloquy, a technique used by Hayes before, and also favored by artists like Barry White, James Brown and Betty Wright. In this very convincing spoken word segment, Isaac confesses to his best friend’s girlfriend that he is madly in love with her. Its all here; passion, complication, human frailty and no doubt an inevitable heartache and broken friendships. Side one ends with more modern psychological drama in the form of “One Big Unhappy Family”, a story of a ‘good’ family by all appearances who do their best to hide their emotionally bankrupt lives. This one carries its message with sublime chord progressions and subtle orchestrations, all Hayes trademarks.

Side two opens with more heartache in the form of Burt Bacharach’s “I Just don’t Know what to do with Myself”, like most Bacharach creations, this one is top notch both musically and lyrically. All three of these opening songs are great, but the real masterpiece comes with Isaac’s sprawling arrangement of George Harrison’s “Something”. Its on this track that Hayes’ shows the diversity that will go on to make “Shaft” such a success. During the 12 minute multi-movement “Something” opus, Isaac combines, psychedelic pop, classical orchestral arrangements, soul balladry, big band rave ups, progressive rock, free form jazz rock freak outs and more. It’s a very early 70s sort of creative creation as it slowly builds and finally culminates in a raging electric violin solo by John Blair. If you are looking for Isaac Hayes at his most creative, “Something” has got it.

JOHN ZORN John Zorn / George Lewis / Bill Frisell ‎: More News For Lulu

Live album · 1992 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.05 | 3 ratings
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snobb
John Zorn is one of key figure in New York down town scene for some last decades who for many listeners associates with radical experimentation and/or prolific accessible jazz-related releases long lasting history. Both tags are right, but Zorn has much more faces then just this. In late 80s, besides of developing one of his most shocking and influential Naked City project, based on Japanese brutal avant-rock jazzier interpretation, Zorn played in unusual trio with his regular guitarist of that time Bill Frisell and AACM trombonist George Lewis. Two albums has been recorded - both in Europe.

First one - "News For Lulu" - is mostly studio work, when its continuation "More News For Lulu" contains similar material but this time coming from two gigs - one in Paris and the other in Basel, Switzerland. Unusual trio of sax player, trombonist and guitarist plays Blue Note material,or more precisely - hard bop compositions from Sonny Clark, Hank Mobley, Big John Patton, Kenny Dorham, and Freddie Redd, in addition to one selection from Misha Mengelberg.

Most unusual is the fact that this music, recorded almost in the same time when Zorn worked with Naked City,sounds very bright, swinging, light-full and in general very optimistic. Surprisingly enough, trio doesn't cross hard bop frames too often and their down town touch on material is noticeable mostly by modern arrangements and some freer soloing.

Probably a bit too long (lasting one hour and 18 minutes),the album demonstrates some repetitiveness in a second half, but in all it's an enjoyable example of three highest class musicians' work, one among best music John Zorn ever recorded under his name and excellent entry point for newcomers with mainstream jazz background interested in John Zorn massive legacy and unorthodox modern jazz in general.

MAISHA Welcome To A New Welcome

Live album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Looking from the few years distance on what were a roots of amazing London young jazz scene of today, Maisha's debut requires bigger attention. SE London sextet led by drummer Jake Long plays live on this short release and they do it really well.

Everyone familiar with spiritual jazz legacy from 60s and 70s will easily hear in their music Pharoah Sanders soulful tunes, Alice Coltrane meditative beauty and John Coltrane ecstatic sax soloing. Just three songs but the listener gets enough to jump in that spiritual jazz magic known from the decades ago once again.

It happened for me to listen Pharoah Sanders playing his old songs just a few years ago (yes, he is really popular again, at least in Europe), and it was a great possibility to touch a legend. Still, he sounds now more like a history even if there are already a generation of two who never heard his name before. Maisha play his music (or music which was his and some others almost half a century ago)in a way that makes this music sounding actual again. For young listeners just founding their jazz the band brings that spirit and a beauty of jazz often as a very new experience.

Quite relaxed compositions are all beautiful, with strong jazz roots(post-bop)influence but at the same time scented with African rhythms and enough catchy for being accepted by non-jazz listeners. Sax player Nubya Garcia delivers solos Pharoah himself would be proud of(soon after she will leave starting extremely successful solo career) and participation of electric guitarist Shirley Tetteh injects true blood to this beautiful musical body.

Maisha will release their full-size debut album in 2018 on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings with wider distribution and stronger support but everyone interested in best new London's jazz could be interested in listening to their first release - this small album is worth to be heard.

ERNIE WATTS Ernie Watts Quartet : Home Light

Album · 2018 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
Double Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Ernie Watts is back with the latest album with his quartet, which has had the same line-up of Christof Saenger (piano), Rudi Engel (bass) and Heinrich Koebberling (drums) since 2011’s ‘Oasis’, although Watts originally formed the quartet in 2004. But his own history goes back much farther than that, as he originally won a won a Downbeat Scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While he was there, Gene Quill quit Buddy Rich's Big Band, and trombonist Phil Wilson (a professor at Berklee), was asked to recommend a student as temporary replacement. A young Ernie Watts was referred, and “temporarily” stayed with Rich from 1966-1968 and toured the world, and since then has been a professional musician who works in popular music (Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan etc.), TV and film (“Ghostbusters” among literally hundreds of others), but whose first love is jazz, ever since he was blown away by Coltrane on what was then the brand-new Miles Davis album ‘Kind of Blue’.

When someone has been playing music for as many years as Watts, it is of course no surprise that he has an amazing tone, and when four top musicians have been together for this long, they all know each other incredibly well and bounce ideas off each other with panache. Watts’ sax is often the lead melody instrument, but not always, and the feeling is that this really is a band as opposed to one person with a bunch of supporters behind him. It is fresh, it is exciting, powerful, uplifting music which also includes a sense of fun and joy. It is bright, full of life and light: the sun breaking through on the horizon is a perfectly apt photo for the cover as it ties in directly with this. The band work through different styles from bebop and gospel through to the likes of swing, always with aplomb, care and direction. Watts will even sit back out of the music for complete sections to allow the others to take the lead, knowing he doesn’t always have to be in the thick of it for magic to happen. Ian Patterson at All About Jazz has been quoted as saying about Watts “Not just at the top of his game, but at the top of THE game”, and here is yet another example of why that is the case.

DEWA BUDJANA Mahandini

Album · 2018 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.91 | 2 ratings
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kev rowland
We all recognise certain people within the music world who we respect and admire for one reason or another. These tend to be musicians themselves, but for more than twenty years one person I have been in awe of is Leonardo Pavkovic, who when he isn’t touring with one of his bands is also discovering wonderful musicians and making them available to the wider world. Such is the case with Dewa Budjana, a guitarist who has sold millions of albums in Indonesia but wasn’t recognised outside his home country until ‘Dawal In Paradise’ was released on Moonjune, since when many of us always look forward to the next album with real interest. One of the reasons for that is Dewa is always looking to expand, branch and change. It is rare that he will use the same group of musicians from one album to the next, and records very quickly indeed, capturing energy and then moving on. This album was recorded in one day in January 2018, postproduction and overdubs took place, and then it was mixed and mastered in the March.

This album sees Dewa working with Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment), drummer Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani, Adrian Belew, Trey Gunn, The Mute Gods, Eddie Jobson UK) and bassist Mohini Dey (Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan). There are also guest appearances by John Frusciante (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), fusion guitar veteran Mike Stern (Miles Davis, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius) and by the haunting voice of Indonesian singer Soimah Pancawati.

I don’t think I have previously come across 22-year-old Dey prior to this, and if she is playing like this at her age, I can’t even imagine what she will be doing in the next 10 or 20 years. There are times when I found I was concentrating more on what she was doing than Budjana, such is her impact on this album. There is a section at the end of “Queen Kanya” where the interplay between her and Minnemann is incredible: I would happily keep playing that on repeat as it blows me away each and every time. Rudess is one of the most important keyboard players in the scene, but due to the way the music has been arranged he is often more in the background but playing as perfectly as ever. This album starts with “Crowded”, a song not written by Budjana, a first for one of his solo works, but instead it is by John Frusciante who also provides vocals (as well as on closing song “Zone”). Rudess gently provides the introduction which allows Budjana to pick up the theme before Frusciante comes in. Here we get the flashes of genius which only come when musicians are masters of their craft, and also here coming from different musical areas and joining together to create something special. In many ways this is one of the most commercial songs ever released by Budjana, and in itself it may well create interest from those who have yet to come across him as the rock elements blast, but the gentle sections trickle along like a babbling brook.

Later in the album we are treated to the vocals of Indonesian tradition singer Soimah Pancawati, and this mix of styles works incredibly well, as America meets Asia in a way which only makes sense due to the way the music has been arranged. Each of Budjana’s albums is a delight from start to end, and this is no different. Regarding the title he says “The title Mahandini comes from two words, Maha & Nandini: Maha means means big, great and Nandini means ‘the vehicle that carries the God Shiva’ in indian. Using this word as the name for this great line-up resulted in a good sign, it sounded like I had a Great Vehicle for my music. I was lucky!” So are we.

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