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WADADA LEO SMITH The Great Lakes Suites

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"The Great Lakes Suites", trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith's new release, is one more success. If some his more current recordings come as monumental works for orchestra, "Suites.." is quite different. Although it is a large-scale project by length (released as a double CD, which is quite normal for Wadada), it is recorded by only quartet.

It doesn't always sound like just a quartet though - more of a mini-big band sound (not by intensity of musical flow but by the manner of playing) and often quite close to Wadada's big orchestras. The music flows without peaks and extended solos, but as a complex, even if minimalist, well-balanced wave. Bassist John Lindberg is Wadada's most regular collaborator, drummer Jack DeJohnette already recorded some music with Smith as well. Henry Threadgill (on saxes and flutes) is probably less involved in the trumpeter's most current works, but his music is rooted in the same Chicagoan AACM tradition as Leo's for decades.

I am familiar with all of Wadada's most current releases, and even if his composition manner is obvious on them all (which is only for the good, since he is one of the most original of all living composers in large-format jazz music), "Suites.." is different from his other works in at least one thing - nothing is bombastic here.

Dedicated to the five Great Lakes (one composition to each) plus one more (the final composition, titled as "Lake St. Clair) dedicated to a different Lake - musician Oliver Lake. All of the music on here has that atmosphere which one always associates with big northern waters; geological history, cold water masses, glacial stones and never-ending flows. Nothing is slow in this music, but nothing is nervous, quirky or explosive as well. All four of the musicians build well-balanced complex and often beautiful (as nature itself - without even a touch of sentimentality) music, never pathetic. Here one can hear how Wadada, trumpeter and composer, sounds at his best.

Excellent work, one of Wadada's best for years.

MORAINE Groundswell

Album · 2014 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Groundswell” is the third album for instrumental art rockers Moraine, and it finds them back on a good track again. Moraine’s first album revealed a strong unit aided by two string players which gave them a unique ‘string quartet plus rock band’ type sound. Their second album traded off one of the string players for a saxophone that was run through sound processing that made it sound like a cheap synthesizer. James DeJoi returns on woodwinds for this third album, but thankfully the annoying effects are gone and he sounds like he is playing saxophone and flute, not a portable Casio. Overall, the remaining violin and newcomer saxophone blend is much better now, in fact the whole band has achieved a very congruous orchestral type sound. They definitely make use of all the instrumental colors at their disposal.

Moraine plays instrumental art rock, but not of the overly busy pseudo-complicated variety that can be both annoying and cliché, there is at times a simple directness to Moraine’s music that can recall classic instrumental rock groups such as The Shadows, or some of the more experimental psychedelic surf bands. As for their progressive rock influences, Phil Manzenera’s Quiet Sun is a good reference, as well as Robert Fripp and King Crimson from the late 60s to the early 80s. Sounds from Asia and the Middle East also find their way into the Moraine mix. The compositions and performances on here are quite good, but the recording can be a little murky, sometimes the rhythm section lacks strength. Still, if you are interested in modern instrumental art rock, “Groundswell” is one of the better albums in this genre for 2014.

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CANNONBALL ADDERLEY The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco (aka Spontaneous Combustion)

Live album · 1959 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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:”The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco” was one of Cannonball’s first albums with his new group, coming after his successful work with Miles Davis, and features some of the best recorded solos of his career. Prior to this recording, Adderley had joined with Miles to record hallmark jazz albums such as “Kind of Blue” and “Something Else”. Needless to say, his career was on fire at this time, and his new quintet did not disappoint with his brother Nat supplying high register trumpet flights and Bobby Timmons pounding out bluesy rhythms on the piano along with Sam Jones on bass and the innovative and under-rated Louis Hayes on drums.

Side one features two lengthy blues based workouts in a hard bop style that borders on soul jazz, pretty much what you could expect from Julian at this point in his career. Side two opens in a similar fashion, but then "you Got It" veers into a slightly more experimental direction foreshadowing some of the things that would soon be coming from Miles’ new quintet, and "Bohemia After Dark" is classic high speed bop. Throughout this entire album, Cannonball’s playing is on fire and features his strong devotion to Charlie Parker, particularly on the two closing cuts. In addition to the Parker influence, Adderley also shows an interest in the new style jazz/blues soloists like Stanley Turrentine. As mentioned earlier, the rest of Julian’s band is stellar, with honorable mention going to drummer Louis Hayes and his work on “You Got It”, a track that features interesting drum breaks that foreshadow much of what Tony Williams would be doing in a few years.

The recording quality of these tracks is quite good, the only slight problem being that the piano could be a bit louder at times, but its no big deal. The CD version has some bonus tracks, but the LP version that was used to write this review has that great unfiltered analog sound. This is highly recommended for fans of the Adderley Brothers and late 50s hard bop.


Album · 1972 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.95 | 12 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
As the jazz-fusion frenzy was taking place in the early 70s McCOY TYNER was adapting just a bit differently than his contemporaries. While many were going full-on jazz-rock-fusion, TYNER opted for a different approach. SAHARA takes on a whole new world of hard bop that gets lumped into the world of post bop. It seems TYNER was aiming for a new kind of fusion where he took the hard bop that came before and incorporated many Middle Eastern and African influences into the mix to create something really innovative and fresh. The title of the album and the album cover offer a glimpse into the reality of this album for the SAHARA desert is bleak and unforgiving as is the landscape depicted on the cover where an African-American is sitting in the midst of a seemingly devastated urban landscape and yet despite it all comes up with the inspiration to create one of the most revered jazz albums of all time. Not too shabby at all.

First of all let me say that this album eschews one of the things that turns me off most about jazz albums, namely the mandatory ballad. This is not, of course, strictly a jazz problem but one of music in general where the artist decides to throw on a ridiculously out of character slow number to appeal to an audience that doesn't really dig the whole scene of where they're coming from. Although the track “A Prayer For My Family” is supposed to be that slower number of sort, it is done with outstanding class and respect to the fact that this is a whole album that should flow from beginning to end and not take a breather to appeal to the “lesser appreciatives” out there. The sensibilities of continuity are flawless on this album and although there are major differences in tracks, there never is an incident of “OMG! WTF is that doing on here!.”

One of the unique aspects of this album emerges on track number 3: “Valley Of Life,” which sees TYNER going Japanese with this interesting inclusion of koto, flute and percussion playing in addition to his usual piano acrobatics. The true highlight of this amazing album is the finale title track which takes us on a true journey of jazz magnanimity. It is a 23 minute plus energetic delivery of awesome jazzitude that starts off with a very trippy intro that sounds like an elephant wailing through the mist with some Japanese instruments accompanying and some African drums providing some percussion but eventually showcases TYNER's virtuosic piano abilities in a hard bop energetic frenzy that ends up delivering the absolute best of jazz band sensibilities guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face in disbelief. All the instrumentations on this lengthy track are outstanding and it doesn't outstay its welcome for one tiny bit.

SAHARA has been deemed one of the best jazz album of all time for good reason. It doesn't leave a moment where you can be bored or ignore its absolute brilliance. This is one of those rare jazz albums where you can be blown away from the first playing but glean excellence from every subsequent listen. For me personally I have to rank SAHARA as one of my all time favorite albums PERIIOD and this is coming from a puPPy who likes a whole lot of different types of music.


STEVE LACY Prospectus (aka Clichés)

Live album · 1983 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Some people say Steve Lacy played few same tunes all his life. Speaking formally about compositions, it's difficult do not agree with that,even more - playing few same tunes lot of times he tried to record them again and again,so his really extended discography partially contains of ten or so his own "standards".But - everyone more familiar with Lacy music will agree that one can hardly find on his releases these compositions sounding too similarly. Even on his sax solo recordings (there are quite a lot of such type of releases)same songs usually sound very different.

Here on double vinyl,coming from early 80s (who said 80s were a dark time for adventurous jazz? Lacy simply doesn't care about time's fashion)Lacy plays mostly compositions from his "golden fund", as often. But what an album it is! If for many fans (including myself) Lacy's music usually associates with tuneful but ascetic/minimalist sound,usually played by small band (from solo to duo to trio),here Lacy leads sextet improved with George Lewis on trombone. And from album's music one can easily hear that here plays really small orchestra - sound is full-bodied,richly arranged,with muscular bluesy rhythm section. Interplay between band members are telepathic,they obviously enjoy their playing so all quite a long album sounds as one jazz fiesta (material is recorded live in France and live informal atmosphere adds a lot, on weak side recording's sound quality is only average).

So, Steve and Co. play his "Stamps" and "Wickets" and "The Dump",side-long "Clichés"(with "Cyrille Few and his friend"(?!)on percussion), "The Dump" again, but all same songs sound totally different played by this powerful band (often all this music sounds just like freer and more atonal and distorted. Lacy on soprano and unusual alto together with Lewis's trombone on front of sound demonstrate fantastic playful soloing anchored by more conservative rhythm section. Irene Aebi sings (in her specific classic-influenced manner) on few songs as well.Hour and half of very enthusiastic musicianship doesn't continue too long,one can hardly find even short boring moment here.

Reissued in 1999 on CD,original album lost part of its content (there was not enough place for two wholly filled vinyls on single CD),but generally became a bit more concentrated and better edited.Both versions are excellent place to start for everyone interested in Lacy's bigger bands music.

AREA Arbeit Macht Frei (Il Lavoro Rende Liberi)

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.65 | 15 ratings
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A stunning masterpiece on the verge of progressive rock and jazz rock!

This is the amazing debut album from mighty italians Area from the 70s' prog world. The inimitable manner the album is constructed amazes. Arbeit Macht Frei is full of energy and emotional intensity from the very first note to the last one. Being extremely intensive, profound, innovative and distinctive, it's real cornerstone of jazz oriented rock music as whole, and as prog masterpiece on the other side. All over the album there are not taking a rest for the musicians. Great musicianship as well. True masterpiece of jazz rock and progressive rock history. A must!


Album · 1958 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Willard McDaniel was mostly known as a blues and RnB sideman who played boogie-woogie piano and worked with guys like Roy Milton, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, T Bone Walker and BB King. A highly accomplished pianist, McDaniel was also known to play stride in the style of Fats Waller. Later in his career you might find McDaniel playing background music in lounges and supper clubs around the Los Angelas area, and that is the style of McDaniel’s that you will find on “88 a la Carte”. No doubt McDaniel is a formidable pianist, but this is music meant to soothe and relax, as well as appeal to those who prefer pop to heavy jazz. McDaniel is backed by an un-credited stand up bassist and trap player, but they keep it cool and in the background, this is definitely Willard’s show.

The tunes on here favor well known jazz standards, as well as a few popular tunes of the day and a couple surprises, including “Sugar Blues’, a cut that allows McDaniel to show a little personality. The playing on here is highly skilled with an influence from the ultra-cool lounge stylist George Shearing, as well as some gimmicky crowd pleasing effects along the lines of Roger Williams, Floyd Cramer and Bent Fabric. The quality of the song interpretations vary from the very cheezy “You Always Hurt the One You Love”, to an up-tempo “I’ll Remember April”, that almost sounds like real jazz. “Along the Navaho Trail” also allows Willard to play in his more familiar blues style.

“88” was put out on the ultra budget Crown label, but the recording is fairly good for a label with such a bad reputation. This isn’t great jazz, but it wasn’t meant to be, this is what used to play in hotel lobbies and high end restaurants before the advent of customized muzak stations and personal internet radio. If you have any interest in this rapidly disappearing bit of lounge culture, “88 a la Carte” is a great example of a style that was once very prevalent. You can still find this LP on the internet, in thrift stores or anywhere else the flotsam and jetsam of the LP world goes to make its last stand.


Album · 2013 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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MAGNUM TRIO were founded as a flute ensemble trio by Jun'ichiro TAKU, Yuya KANDA, and Kazuhiro KAJIWARA in 2006, their university (Tokyo Univ. Of Arts, Japan) days. Got renowned with their marvelous flute techniques and unique original play styles, and got appreciated not only in Japan but all over the world. In 2013 they’ve released the eponymous debut album in collaboration with Yuiko YASUDA (piano) on their own. This "Magnum Trio" must let us enjoy their flute variations, funky tunes, and as a result, playing flute itself definitely.

"EyEris Waves", a track suitable for the opening of this album, sounds like fresh, cool atmosphere with complex air turbulence represented utterly with superb flute technique and multi-dimensional sound combinations. Their breath creation reminds us directly of breath by nature ... that can called also as their "human nature". Avantgarde piano play by Yuiko is another fantastic dreammare too. "Samurai Blow", exhibited in a woodwinds competition in UK, can be claimed as their masterpiece. They notify the audience of Japanese woodwinds (Shakuhachi) aka Japanese soul along with a large amount of sound variations via Western woodwinds called "flute". I'm sure there would be their magnificent intention to control breath, finger, and flute itself. Exactly originated Japanese social solidarity (called "Wa") has been launched via their systemic bodies. On the other hand, they show us East-European texture flooded with percussive blows upon the following track "Variations On Bulgaria", contrary to the previous ones. Persistent repetitive sound footprints might confuse us I guess, and the confusion in front of us should kick us away into a bulky yogurt cup. Oh what a sour.

Anyway, "Clock A Larm", characterized with brilliantly high-tone, rhythmical flute voices and pleasant tune phrases, should be needed as an alarm clock for us Magnumers (please ignore Jun's snore lol). Very easy for us to hum, isn't it? Another curiosity can gush out just when we listen to "Recollection Merry-Go-Round". IMHO suppose they'd play this stuff only with a head (top) woodwind, correct? Incredible technique and concentration needed. The sixth track "Highland Park" is the name of a Scotch distillery established on the North side in Orkney Island. I love Highland Park Single Malt Whisky, featuring peaty smokey topnote, ground / earthy flavour, and deep salty taste. This song fantastically shows flavour of ground / earth, smoke, and Bourbon / Sherry barrel. Would they visit Orkney previously? Very vivid the impression is. Jun-ichiro, btw, says he compose tunes with enjoying Highland Park 12 Years Old (on his blog), and it's fun how he shoot a creation if he could enjoy the whisky bottled more formerly (actually, deeper and earthier and esterier).

Yuiko's classical piano is splendidly beautiful in "Guilaume Lekau : Piano Quartet in B minor", where sounds like the three flutists would stand and play behind her completely (no? :P). Cannot shout "gemmy" enough, even if I did hundreds of times. On the contrary, suggest "Magnum Arab" be one of the jazziest pieces of all upon their library. Mysterious, religious veils around Arab world we can feel here and there, and at the same time, we can get immersed in their mysterious, wondrous play styles as well. The last "Magnum Bee" sounds like a bee flies around and around, very quickly and very smoothly, with loud buzz. But we feel not annoying but delightful via such a speed flute guru. Oh they might shout loudly "Hi there!" and let us keep opening the mouth forever.

Yikes. What a splendid work this debut creation was. Wish the mixing of this album could be better (cannot get deeper, louder sound explosion like Magnum, their title!), but we can say this creation can propose us their extreme, incredible flute techniques and delightful tunes. Enjoy!

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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Toshiyuki Miyama is a key figure in Japanese progressive big band music. He started playing jazz with his band before WWII. After the war, his big band was a hot name in the US Navy clubs in Japan. His first recorded albums contained big band classics and popular tunes of the time up to the late 60s, when the avant-garde jazz invasion (mostly introduced by young Japanese jazzmen returning from jazz studies in the States) revolutionized the country's scene.

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

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

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

The second composition,"Shirabyoshi", opens as if it's just a continuation of the previous one, but very soon piano, bass and the brass section take their part - here one can be sure that all the Orchestra is in action. From meditative slow tempos, it grows fast to an orchestral jazz-rock sound, but on the four minute mark, Miyama cuts the sound. What follows sounds like a well arranged pop-tune, or movie soundtrack. It doesn't last long though, at the sixth minute the orchestra moves toward a full-bodied big band sound with a muscular rock-influenced rhythm section and brass fireworks. Growing tensions explode close to the ten minute mark and continues as nervous mid-tempo orchestral "Ikisudama", recalling a more contemporary avant-garde piece than any form of jazz. The listener shouldn't be bored though - somewhere in the middle the music somehow naturally transforms to a full bodied big band sound, something that could be played by Mingus. As if it would be not enough, the orchestra explodes with distorted sound, a 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.

The fourth and final composition opens with a drum solo and rolls ahead as a tuneful richly brass arranged jazz-rock song, very cinematic, but still with some small distortions here and there. At the end this forty minute long album, it stays in your memory as a 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 the best examples 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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“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. Since the album cover is no help, a little research reveals 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.

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