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jazz music reviews (new releases)

XAVI REIJA The Sound Of The Earth

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 3.68 | 3 ratings
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js
Lately there has been a sort of cult for free improvisation fusion bands developing within the MoonJune label, particularly among some of their more King Crimson offshoot oriented bands. The Crimson connection makes sense as it was the Fripp and Bruford version of the band that really began experimenting with the idea of a free form jazz rock jam, no chord progression, no pre-determined soloist, and no plan at all. The Hendrix Experience, Cream, The Allman Brothers and others had already made some noise in that direction, but it was Fripp and crew that set the bar for the ‘free rock’ jam. On “The Sound of the Earth”, drummer Xavi Rieja has put together a crew that is well suited for a jam like this with the versatile Dusan Jevtovic on guitar, King Crimson veteran Tony Levin on bass and Crimson ProjeKCt leader Markus Reuter on touch guitar. It helps that all four of these guys have worked with each other before in similar type bands, and the communication that comes from experience shows as they take on the tricky endeavor of making music without much of a blueprint.

Some of the best music on this CD goes down on the first three tracks, plus the first part of track four. Track 2, “The Sound of the Earth I” sounds like David Gilmour at his early 70s best, and “From Darkness” sounds like a beehive of interlocking math guitar riffs. On “The Sound of the Earth II”, the band displays the risks inherent in a free jam when Xavi changes the beat half way through and catches the band off guard and not sure what to do with the sudden change in beat. From here the guys continue through varying tracks that often deal with floating ambience and slow paced space rock. Track 7, “Lovely Place” is a bit of a surprise as the band goes into a chord progression borrowed from “Hotel California”, which Reuter uses as a backdrop for a soaring guitar solo.

What happens on “The Sound of the Earth” is pretty much what you could expect when a talented bunch of guys get together for a free form jam session, there are plenty of exhilarating moments of discovery, as well some time spent searching for the next hot idea, its bound to happen. If a modern heavy improv with a King Crimson flavor to it is your idea of a good time, you will not be disappointed in this one.

ANDREA MORELLI Both People

Album · 2019 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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snobb
You don't need to speak Italian to understand what Both People album's opener is about. "La danza dell'elefante" composed by sax player Andrea Morelli and played with lot of enthusiasm by this Sardinian quintet will make dancing even elephants.

Three sax players (alto,soprano/tenor and baritone)plus muscular rhythm section consisting of electric bassist and rock-heavy drummer just released an excellent album covering some jazz epochs, from free-bop to eclectic crossover of avant-garde jazz and rock of nowadays.

Already mentioned above "Elephant Dance" is catchy tuneful song where three saxists playing unison push music ahead as if they are trying to bypass groovy rhythm section. Perfectly recorded,with crispy and spacey warm sound, this composition is a real hit and I am sure it will stay in your head for the rest of the day.

"Rhythm no changes" changes the intensity of sound towards more loose and relaxed modern free-bop where three saxes soloing against each other build beautiful and surprisingly accessible sound castles over anchoring bassist and drummer interplay.

"Playing is a little bit like fishing" sounds as partially dreamy (but way not sleepy) collective improvisation where is enough space not only for reedists' but for drummer and bassist soloing as well. Still it's a groovy bass which controls the music from being chaotic or loose. As a result we got quite a graceful composition of fragile beauty - really not very casual case speaking about free improvisations.

"Spring time" demonstrates more complex structure with regular rhythm changes and lot of sax free soloing, probably first albums song dedicated more to listener's head than his heart.

"Host ones" is a shortest album's composition and it fits well to be paired with the opener as "elephant ballet" second action's possible soundtrack.

Alto sax player Fabio Delvò another album's composition (after "Spring Time") - "Flying over the ocean" - is down tempo complex structure's one, with lot of space for soloing of each quintet member.

"Amazing (Sahel's crossing)" - a collective improvisation which closes the album - it's a down tempo composition with touch of sadness and North African scent from last few seconds soloing bass.It's understandable final - whole album is announced as "a recording project against the rampant racism of this historical period", and the Sahel is a transition zone between Sudan and Arabic Africa, former French colonies and one of the hot areas in Africa.

Add excellent sound recording and mix plus CD's box paper cover's high quality of printing, voilà - you have a great album, another good example of what is known as "best from Italy".

DAVE HOLLAND Uncharted Territories

Album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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js
Possibly “Uncharted Territories”, and its emphasis on free improvisation, is a bit of a nostalgia trip for Dave Holland. Back in the late 60s, Holland had performed with saxophonist Evan Parker in John Steven’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and although Holland would go on to leave the ‘free scene’, Parker made a career of it. Some time in recent years, Holland contacted Parker about the two of them recording some free duets like back in the day. As Dave reflected on this proposed endeavor, possibly he was drawn to another avant-garde memory, the group Circle he performed in with Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton, because when Holland decided to add Craig Taborn and Ches Smith to he and Evan’s recording date, he re-created an ensemble quite similar to the original Circle.

The tracks on “Uncharted Territories” are almost entirely spontaneous improvisations, with just a few tracks featuring some pre-conceived composition. To keep things interesting, the musicians vary the lineups for the sessions into various ensembles of 2,3, or 4 people. The tracks are usually fairly short by free improv standards and feature a wide variety of music. This is a very versatile and talented foursome, so the music can vary from interesting sound sculptures to quiet chamber passages to be-bop gone berserk and all out free jazz explosions. The integrity of the musicians involved shines through as they very carefully interact with each other.

This is a very good modern free jazz album, yet somehow disappointing too. Especially with a modernist like Taborn on board, one might expect something a little different from a classic free session. Electronics are listed in Craig’s instrument arsenal and yet they barely make an appearance. Judging by the musicians and instruments listed, it would be easy to expect some modern sound exploration and compositional constructs, and that does happen occasionally, but as mentioned earlier, this recording may be a lot about Holland’s attempt to re-visit his past.

CHAKA KHAN Hello Happiness

EP · 2019 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
"Queen of Funk" and 80s disco diva Chaka Khan returns with "Hello Happiness", her first new material release in 12 years. Seven songs/28 minutes-long EP for a very first days received lot of (predominantly) negative critics in America and some (mostly positive) press in UK. Still it looks "Hello Happiness" has small chance to win another Grammy for Chaka.

Me personally I really love this music. Produced in UK by clubbing music guru Switch, new Chaka's music just blows your minds. American press probably expected Rufus revival or "I'm Every Woman" kind disco mega-hit, and attacked album as being "over-produced","with lots of electronics" and "terrible processed Chaka's vocals". They are right - there are no organic r'n'b vibes here at all. Made in a fashion of London clubbing music, it differs from Chaka's old songs as Madonna's "Music" differs "Like A Virgin". "Like A Virgin" got it respectable place in a museum of American pop-music, and "Music" sounds modern till now.

First album's single "Hello Happiness" has been released as catchy and funny video still prior to EP's release. Groovy funky sound of highest energy with strong voice and catchy melodies - and modern enough arrangements are characteristic for the rest album's songs as well. "Isn't That Enough?" even contains so fashionable (at least in London) reggae rhythms.

True, there are no hip-hop, angry social street-wise recitatives,heavy psychedelic electronics or popular Afro-beat on this album. That's why despite of mostly positive media it will hardly become hit in UK as well. It's a pity - one rare great modern r'n'b work with touch of European elegance is worth of really better destiny.

JUSTIN MORELL Justin Morell Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra (feat. Adam Rogers)

Album · 2018 · Third Stream
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
I’ve probably listened to hundreds of works that combine jazz and classical music, but I really have not heard anything similar to Justin Morell’s new opus, “Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra”. There are some familiar elements at work here, but overall Justin’s vision of what a jazzy concerto can sound like is unique to himself. The press package that comes with this CD is somewhat misleading as it references classical concerto composers such as Mozart and Beethoven, and although Morell may have used some of their compositional forms, there is nothing on here that sounds remotely like Beethoven, which is probably good as I can hardly imagine jazz mixing well with Ludwig’s German sensibilities. Instead, what we hear on hear is rooted in the early jazz classical mixers such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, plus modern big band arrangers along the lines of Thad Jones and Bob Mintzer, as well as mid-20th century composers such as Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud, and finally, the unexpected use of modern minimalism in its more melodic aspects in the style of John Adams and some of Phillip Glass’s less repetitive pieces. Its this subtle use of the minimalist’s style that helps give Morell’s work its unique sound.

“Concerto for Jazz Orchestra” is divided into three movements stated quite simply as fast-slow-fast. The opening movement introduces the aforementioned minimalist approach in a very subtle and disguised manner. Do not expect the pounding repetitions of some of Phillip Glass’s work, instead Morell’s method uses melodic fragments that get passed around by the orchestra while the guitar keeps a steady stream of notes flowing. Toward the end of this movement guitarist Adam Rogers is given a chance to solo over the orchestra's rhythmic punches. Movement two is almost ballad like and features a section in which Rogers trades solos with a saxophonist, but the CD cover does not tell us which saxophonist does the soloing. The third movement picks up the pace in a style similar to the first.

This CD is not easy listening, like much of today’s jazz and concert hall music, the sounds on here are abstract and fragmented and not always easily absorbed with just a few listens. Still, fans of contemporary 3rd stream music will want to check this out. As mentioned earlier, Morell’s vision is singular and you will probably end up agreeing with me that this concerto does not sound like anyone else.

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BILL LASWELL Hear No Evil

Album · 1988 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
“Hear No Evil” comes fairly early in Bill Laswell’s career as it is only his second solo album apart from his band, Material. Of course Bill would go on to release about another 50 million albums, but that’s a subject for another review, at this point in his career he was still taking some time with his albums. Back in the day “Hear No Evil” seemed somewhat profound in its somber ambient atmosphere and cultural mixtures, and its still a good album, but as the years have passed, it doesn’t have quite the same impact as it once did. For one thing, albums that feature cultural hodge-podges are much more common now, as well as records that feature ambience with a rhythmic groove.

At his very best, Bill Laswell can produce an almost religious sobering atmosphere filled with vague longing that is a skill at which he alone excels at. “Hear No Evil” is probably one of the first albums in which Bill displayed this talent, and on here he looks to southern US delta blues for the inspiration for his mournful and lonely melodies. Both Bill and guitarist Nicky Skopelitis play a lot of laid back slide work on here, which they then mix with Asiatic influences. Three percussionists, including Zakir Hussain, provide the percussion, but they are somewhat hemmed in by fairly standard Western time signatures. Indian fusion violinist, Shankar provides excellent solos that match with Bill’s background perfectly. Along with the somewhat straight rhythmic grounding, the other main fault with this album is the almost pop structure of the songs, which can push things in a new age direction.

There is one track that doesn’t quite fit, and that’s the clumsy funk of “Assassin”, take it out and you have a better album. The best tracks are the last two, and on the finale, “Kingdom Come”, the percussionists finally get a chance to go off. This album’s appeal can change with your mood, need some music for reflection, put this on, sometimes it almost seems to have the same impact it had back in the late 80s.

ANDY SUMMERS World Gone Strange

Album · 1991 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
STRANGE INDEED!

It is an absolute crying shame that Andy Summers's late 1980s-early 1990s albums on the Private Music label are almost forgotten today. All four, though very different from each other, are exquisitely crafted and have stood the test of time very well. 1991's World Gone Strange, the last of the four, attracted some attention due to its special guests (Tony Levin, bass, Chad Wackerman, drums, Eliane Elias, piano/vocals, Mike Mainieri, marimba/producer), but was his last solo project until 1995's Synaesthesia.

For those who enjoyed the envelope-pushing sounds and atmospheres he added to the pop group that made him world-famous, you'll find plenty of that here. Summers has never been known as a "lead guitarist" per se, but World Gone Strange, more than any of his other work, features extensive amounts of his lucid, fluid soloing. A tangible blues influence makes itself known throughout, above and beyond "The Blues Prior to Richard". This is not just aimless studio noodling: the compositions and arrangements are rock solid, with the title track and "Oudu Kanjaira", with its distinct "eastern" feel, remaining in your head long after the album is over. Three percussionists add extra texture, and wordless vocals appear on a few tracks without becoming a major distraction.

"A little too erratic" and "Too jazz for rock, too rock for jazz" were undoubtably the general reactions to World Gone Strange at the time of release. If you are familiar with Summers's matchless style, there's nothing here that can't be easily assimilated and "figured out". This is not an inaccessible avant-garde work, just a headache for marketers who couldn't deal with a true artist who continued to grow, expand, and progress with each album he released. Highly recommended, even in the 21st century!

THE BLACKBYRDS Flying Start

Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 3.91 | 3 ratings
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Donald Byrd was not only one of the top jazz trumpeteers of the 60s and beyond, but also a music professor at Howard University and one of those talented individuals who could foresee upcoming musical trends and capitalize on them. Sometime in the early 70s, Donald recruited some of the top local talent for his university jazz ensemble and then figured if he could get these guys in a recording studio and on the road he could have a top notch jazz/RnB group on his hands, and so it came to pass that the Blackbyrds came to be. “Flying Start” was actually the Blackbyrd’s second album, but possibly the first one where they developed their own identity outside of Byrd’s well known persona and finds them working within their familiar territory of funk jazz and proto-disco RnB. The Blackbyrd’s early albums are their best, and “Flying Start” is no exception as it features super hot funky grooves and plenty of top notch jazz solos from the band members, plus horn work from some famous guests including Ernie Watts and George Bohanon.

Almost every track on here is good with some standouts including the supercharged disco funk of “I Need You”, possibly one of the best songs in its genre before disco became watered down and lost its funk roots. “Future Children, Future Hopes” and “Spaced Out” are instrumentals with extensive solos on the then newish Arp Odyssey. The Donald Byrd composed “The Baby” features sophisticated flute arrangements that show what he learned from his time working with Quincy Jones. Possibly the only weak track is the pop love song, “April Showers”, but even it can be endearing in its naïve saccharine sweetness. Any fan of 70s funk jazz, rare groove and the roots of acid jazz should own this one.

SHABAKA AND THE ANCESTORS Wisdom of Elders

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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"Wisdom Of Elders" has been recorded by London's new jazz scenes' leading figure reedist Shabaka Hutchings in one day without rehearsals in Johannesburg, South Africa with leading domestic musicians (stated as Ancestors).

As with Hutching's other projects, music here sounds not nostalgic but very modern. Oppositely different from over-exploited Afro-beat, "African" part of the program comes from what some decades ago was known as "Cape jazz" - relaxed soulful melodic songs well known from Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) music. Half-a-century ago this music reached to England with a wave of South African jazz musicians, running from apartheid(Louis Moholo, Johnny Dyani,etc) and was adapted as part of British avant-garde jazz of the time.

Other significant element of album's music comes from Shabaka's Caribbean background. It's really impressive how organically both parts fit producing beautiful mix of blues, calypso, spiritual jazz and elegant Cape jazz rhythms.

Released three years ago "Wisdom Of Elders" is another cornerstone of burgeoning London's young jazz scene.

ERIC B. & RAKIM Follow The Leader

Album · 1988 · Jazz Related DJs/Electronica/Rap
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Eric B. & Rakim have long been recognized as one of the top innovators in hip-hop, but they never seem to get recognition for one of their more notable achievements, bringing the musical worlds of jazz and hip-hop together in ways that made sense. Early rap tended to either be ‘electric boogaloo’ oriented, or centered around rock beats like “We Will Rock You”. While there was a trend developing, from bands such as Stetsasonic, to bring in superficial jazz elements such as a trumpet solo or acoustic bass sample, it wasn’t until Eric and Rakim started releasing albums that a true fusion of jazz and hip-hop happened. Eric’s samples and DJ slices favored classic funk and soul jazz, while Rakim’s rhymes on the mic had a syncopated swing and non-stop flow that had him sounding like the Charlie Parker of rap. Although the pair’s first album contained much potential, it wasn’t until the sophomore follow up, “Follow the Leader”, that Eric and Rakim brought the jazz and funk elements much more into the mix.

“Follow the Leader” is the perfect title for this album because it went on to be imitated and followed by others for decades. Eric may not have been the first person to sample and loop a James Brown beat, but on this album he is one of first DJs to create a monster groove around such a technique. Needless to say, sampling Brown became an epidemic after a while, but it still sounds great on here. Sampling was still in its infant stage at this time, but Eric and crew have no problem creating mixes with soul jazz saxophone riffs, Middle Eastern melodies and funky bass lines. Most of the tracks are good, with possibly the best being “Musical Massacre”, which features a driving double time Afro-Latin riff reminiscent of Mandrill or Osibissa. There are a couple lackluster cuts, mostly a few instrumentals which sound dated and repetitious

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