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AKIRA SAKATA Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico: Iruman

Album · 2014 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Japanese sax player Akira Sakata born near Hiroshima in 1945.After university studies in marine biology, he switched towards jazz artist's career becoming a part of Japanese explosive free-jazz scene in late 60s.Akira still evidenced best time of this genre in Japan,but in fact since free jazz popularity declined drastically during seventies, he was late just a moment to become a star.From 1972 to 1979 he was a member of well-known Yosuke Yamashita Trio,in 80s he played with Last Exit; Bill Laswell became his albums producer (incl. "Fisherman's.com" with former Miles Davis guitarist Pete Cosey). Still last decades of XX century weren't all that productive and successful for Sakata.

During first decade Sakata became much more popular again, partially on wave of reborn interest to free improvisation in Europe. Here on "Iruman"(Japanese word of Portuguese origin,which came to Japan with Jesuits in 16 century and in original (“irmão”) meaning “brother”) Akira plays duo with twice younger Italian pianist Giovanni Di Domenico,his first duo with pianist ever. Giovanni Di Domenico grew up in Cameroon and plays free improvisations(more often) and classic compositions, sometimes African music-influenced.

Recorded in Tokyo,this album contains mostly free-improvised music,but of quite unusual kind.Sakata,who in his younger years has been known by quite explosive screaming sax attacks,is much subtle here. His playing is often meditative, philosophical and combines Japanese and European classic tradition (in moments he sounds similar to Jimmy Guiffre).Akira sings on few songs (instead of playing sax) as well, surprisingly his Japanese tradition-influenced vocalize fits well and adds lot of additional charm to whole music. Di Domenico plays very free form piano miniatures,but well-structured,tuneful and lyrical - listen to separate fragments often reminds European chamber piano recital,in moments warn,sometimes almost polished.

Probably looking as chaotic bag of unrelated components on paper,all these elements mixed both together work surprisingly well. Album sounds quite easy-listenable,non-boring and attractive. Not all music is of the same level, there are some moments where happens almost nothing,but in whole "Iruman" is the album, interesting not only for fan of Akira Sakata or free improvisations.


Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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It seems the inevitable Duke Ellington tribute album has become a rite of passage for major jazz performers, so it comes as no big surprise that one of today’s top musicians, Matthew Shipp, has taken on the formidable task of re-interpreting the works of the master on Shipp’s new CD, “To Duke”. Shipp is a fairly diverse and unpredictable artist, so there was no telling which way he was going to take Duke’s music. Would he go totally avant-garde on the pieces, or would he stay somewhat within Duke’s musical language? The answer to both questions is yes as Shipp treats some of the songs to free wheeling de-construction and radical re-make, while others sound fairly close to the original. It’s this varied approach that makes “To Duke” a total success as both a tribute to Duke, as well as an expansion of his music.

The first thing that might hit you about this CD is the song choices. Common knowledge would expect Shipp to pick out interesting obscurities and some of Duke’s more harmonically complex pieces, but instead, Shipp picked the most common and over played songs in the Duke songbook. “Satin Doll”, “Take the A Train”, “Mood Indigo” etc, it reads like one more budget label “The Best of the Duke’s Greatest Hits” type albums. Is this Matthew’s sense of humor at work? Maybe, but possibly they just happen to be his favorites songs to play, or possibly those song’s familiarity made them a bigger challenge to re-interpret. If that is the case, then Shipp and his band-mates meet the challenge with unpredictable approaches and unbridled creativity.

The most radical re-makes take place on “Satin Doll” and “A Train”, as the band takes some of the basic riffs to launch furious assaults that can be very intense at times, and funny as hell other times. Shipp is one of the few performers in today’s jazz world who realizes that much of the great jazz in the past always had a sly wit. Elsewhere on this CD, “Mood Indigo” and “Prelude to a Kiss” stay close to the originals as Shipp expands on their lush harmonies. There are also a couple Shipp originals, with “Sparks” being an excellent high energy avant-bop number.

The person who might have appreciated these pieces the most is, of course, no longer with us. Duke did not care to have his music become museum pieces. His band rarely played songs the same way twice, and re-recordings of songs always featured new arrangements. He also did not like any attempt to write down a definitive arrangement of any of his pieces. Duke preferred that his music continue to grow and change, much like it does on "To Duke".

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Album · 1973 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Double bassist Naosuke Miyamoto has been already experienced jazz musician in his late 30th (played with George Kawaguchi and Sadao Watanabe among others)when he released his debut as leader in 1973. "Step!" received positive press and became one of the most popular jazz albums,released that year in Japan.This didn't change Miyamoto's musical career at all - soon he left Tokyo for life in provincial town where stayed playing jazz in local scene for decades. Last year(2014) Naosuke Miyamoto (77) participated as youngest band's member seeking Guinness World Records recognition as world's oldest jazz trio (with average age of 81).

Miyamoto's debut(and most probably the only true album as leader; the other one he released some years later exists as promo/limited edition release)has been released on Japanese one of most prestigious label Three Blind Mice(kind of Japanese ECM known by their audiophile sound)and is perfect illustration how important sound/mix quality is for any release success.

Miyamoto-led sextet(consisting of some musicians of his generation and some youngsters)plays very solid but quite safe mainstream jazz, somewhere between hard-bop and post bop. Of five album's compositions,two are less known Harold Land songs("Step Right up to the Bottom" and "A New Shade of Blue"),rest are members' originals. Miyamoto, obviously influenced by Mingus music,plays deep and rich but quite linear bass,accented on the mix as leading instrument. All sound is extremely spacious,warm and sounds as if the listener is sitting on scene between musicians. Both sax players soloing is tuneful,clear with beautiful tones as well as piano sounds. Trying to analyze all music components it becomes obvious that music and musicians all are good professional band and hardly more, but entirety is much better than each part.

Many Three Blind Mice albums have same fantastic sound, not all them sound same attractive though. Still "Step!" is a great example how virtuosic production can make one just a little better-than-average music sounding much,much better.Being a true artist and label success at the time of release, this album is still popular till now and evidences many reissues (incl. SACD audiophile versions). Good sound engineering is important part of musical art doing good music even better.

QUINCY JONES Quincy Jones And His Orchestra At Newport '61

Live album · 1961 · Big Band
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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If if you’re in a hurry, we can wrap up a quick review of Quincy Jones’ “Newport 1961” by saying that this CD contains a spirited performance that often involves material that is not up to this big band‘s talent, and its poorly recorded as well. These Newport live recordings tend to lean toward crowd pleasing type material as the festival was known to attract many curious non-jazz fans and people who just wanted to hang out. “Air Mail Special” has some great bop flavored high speed unison horn lines, and Phil Woods supplies a moving solo on “Evening in Paris”, but much of the rest of this CD is given to foot-stomping, hand-clapping pop RnB dance tunes that probably had the crowd on its feet, but as a home listening experience, it doesn’t quite carry over.

Despite the repetitious material, the band is excellent and burns bright all the way through. Checking the band lineup, its interesting to note that Pat Patrick, from Sun Ra's big band, was riding with Quincy at this time. The biggest problem with this CD is the sound. It sounds like everything was recorded through the soloist’s microphones, so needless to say, the soloists come through loud and clear, while the ensemble lines and rhythm section are too much in the background. How bothersome this is depends on the system you are listening to. I found this CD to be bearable in the house, but almost un-listenable in the truck.

Some people hold this CD in high regard, but a much better live Quincy Jones big band CD from this same time period is “The Great Wide World of Quincy Jones Live”. It has better material, and better sound too.

JOHN TCHICAI Rufus (with Archie Shepp)

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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There are two great but almost forgotten albums, recorded at early days of free jazz by two great collectives. To be correct,both them were recorded at the same day and in the same studio, even more - them both were released only three years after they were recorded, by same label,just one right after another.

The New York Contemporary Five have been founded by trumpeter Don Cherry after he left Ornette Coleman and sax player Archie Shepp after his departure from Cecil Taylor band. Third reedist Denmark-born John Tchicai was less known but already played with some progressive New York artists. With support of groovy boppish rhythm section (Don Moore and J. C. Moses) the quintet was a all-star collective of sort.

In August 1963 quintet came to studio to record music, heavily influenced by "the New Thing". Besides of original band's session, some additional material has been recorded in studio same day - by the same band but without Don Cherry. Somehow all music recorded stayed unreleased till 1966,when it was released by Dutch Fontana as two separate albums. Full band recordings came as New York Contemporary Five's "Consequences” and music,recorded without Don Cherry came as John Tchicai - Archie Shepp's "Rufus".

If on "Consequences” trumpeter Don Cherry (still all in free jazz and not on his new upcoming interest - world fusion)is obvious leader, Cherry-less quartet represents balance of two quite different sax players - linear European classic influenced Tchicai on alto and African-American jazz tradition rooted Shepp on tenor. Well-framed by rhythm section,them both surprisingly founds way of collaboration successfully enough. Five compositions are all full of energy, tunes and rhythms and are closer to Dolphy's free-bop than to some free-form improvs which will dominate on free scenes some years after.

Not on the level of best advanced jazz releases of the time,this album contains really interesting early free jazz boppish and well structured form which almost disappears with no traces just few years later.Re-released many times (including CD versions)in Europe and Japan,it looks this album has been never issued in States. It's a shame - it not only contains quite original early free jazz but evidences beginning of successful career of two great jazz sax players - John Tchicai and Archie Shepp.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946)

Boxset / Compilation · 2009 · Classic (1920s) Jazz
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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“This man never disdained what was served up but always found a way to enhance it” ,taken from the Mosaic set notes compiled by Dan Morgenstern: and these Decca recordings contain precisely that with the soaring trumpet and gravel voice taking on any composition or style from New Orleans, Standards, Gospel, Polynesian, Spoken word or narrations, with any other popular or novelty song suggested, and Louis and the band took it all away with absolutely superb musicianship. Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Mills Brothers, Decca Mixed Chorus, Glen Gray and His Casa Loma Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald and even an appearance from a young Dexter Gordon albeit only in a support role but they are all included within the seven discs. Often one hears concerning his Decca output that it was not up to the same quality of the early Hot Five and Seven‘s or in the later forties onwards to the sixties with his All Star Band material that were all primarily recorded with Columbia Records and then we also have his later Verve recordings that are included in that list with his Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson collaborations being the high point but during the period of 1935 to 1946 with Decca nobody really has been taking notice or listening except for the good folks at Mosaic and they certainly have rectified the problem with putting out the entire catalogue with alt takes included but still had the extremely good sense to keep away from false starts, studio banter etc by just keeping to all the wonderful music that Louis recorded during this time.

Where does one start when digging out a massive gold vein as you may miss some gorgeous big nuggets and there are plenty here to find with quite a lot of the material being recorded here for the first time that would become his show regulars and perhaps his finisher would be the most memorable of “When The Saints Come Marching In” or was it at the beginning with “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”, “Pennies From Heaven”, “Jeepers Creepers and ”Rockin’ Chair” are also included. Not to mention there is a few 2nd takes of his earlier material comprising “West End Blues”, “Mahogany Hall Stomp”,” Savoy Blues” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”. Then there is so many of my favourite old Trad Jazzers with, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “Save It Pretty Mama”, “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”, “Dipper Mouth”, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and they keep coming but my top will always be “(I’ll Be Glad When Your Dead) You Rascal You” (7th disc). Duke Ellington’s “Solitude”, Billie Holiday’s “I Cover The Waterfront” ( Louis recorded it first) are covered with one of the most interesting being his first duet with Ella Fitzgerald (“You Won’t Be Satisfied” and “The Frim Fram Sauce”) albeit more from an historical viewpoint but still quite enjoyable. The Polynesian themed sessions are a delight simply for the variety with the tropical feel of “On A Coconut Island” often bringing a smile. “La Cucaracha” is covered so we better light one up for Louis with the songs meaning as we all know he didn’t mind a bit of kif. The two most different tracks would be Elder Eatmore’s Sermon’s with Louis of course handing out some quite humorous sermons with quite a Southern viewpoint from that period in time with both being narrations. ( Disc 6). Yet, still there are still so many more songs that would be later redone by him in the later part of his career still included and we even have “Happy Birthday” with Louis giving a dedication to the recipient Bing Crosby before the number.

Louis Armstrong’s trumpet soars over the sets contents, his vocals fill it with so many memories from a time that has long gone but his music with always live on,as he is The King of Jazz or any other music that he chose to play. I doubt if ever another greater musician/entertainer is, or ever will be out there. Fantastic Box Set absolutely essential to any Louis Armstrong devotee with myself included or even if you have never heard him before, grab one as there is only 5,000 of these little gold nuggets for sale. Highly recommended and absolutely essential music.

By the way, my first song that I remember hearing as a child was “Hello Dolly” and although in later life I have found out it was not one that Louis thought that highly of, I still love to hear it. I am still learning about this gentleman as there is so much more to find out and I only have 20 years left, if I’m lucky.

QUIET SUN Mainstream

Album · 1975 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.36 | 15 ratings
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QUIET SUN is a strange little beast. The jazz-fusion band existing in the Canterbury Scene was one of the few to incorporate highly distorted rock guitar in its sound. The band actually started under the ridiculous Pooh And The Ostrich Feather moniker in 1970. The band’s existence has everything to do with Robert Wyatt who with Bill McCormick the bassist brought this idea into fruition. MAINSTREAM is the first and only offering from this band which formed and disbanded and then reunited and because of Phil Manzanera’s success in Roxy Music allowed this group to reform and record these ideas and finally release this wonderful musical magic in 1975.

The band consisted of percussionist old-school friend Charles Hayward (This Heat, Mal Dean’s Amazing Band, Radar Favourites, Dolphin Logic), bassist Bill MacCormick (Matching Mole, Robert Wyatt, 801 w/ Manzanera, Eno, etc) and of course, Phil Manzanera, who is most famous for his lead guitar work in Roxy Music but is also less famous for his Latin American music hailing from Colombia and Venezuela. This album, however, was his very first collaborative effort and what a beautiful one it is.

While MAINSTREAM incorporates all those wonderful, delectable sounds that make up the Canterbury scene of jazz-rock fusion like the beautiful jazz-rock offerings of Hatfield and the North, QUIET SUN offers some serious rock guitar to the mix above and beyond the call of duty. It didn’t hurt that Brian Eno participated in the project as well as long time music critic and Nick Drake popularizer Ian MacDonald who not only contributed as a lyricist with QUIET SUN but also lent his vehement support of the band’s credentials in the progressive musical world.

Really, how can you go wrong with such progressive classics titled “Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil”? The Canterbury scene is here in full swing with the addition of excellent guitar contributions. The musicianship is absolutely brilliant and the tracks may need a bit of time to grow on you but ultimately they have won me over big time. This is an album that whispers in my ear that it’s time to hear it again.

When i ordered this i expected a simple original album format but i ended up with the 2011 remastered version that is in a strange form of a booklet that explains the entire history of the band and although it doesn’t fit neatly in the midst of my CD collection, it does present itself as a standout amongst the crowd in not only packaging but also in its unique approach of incorporating the Canterbury Scene with the hard rock that dominated the mid-70s. I, for one, find this to occupy a unique niche in all of music history at a particular time and place. The irony is that this album which was an idea of the earliest of 70s almost never came to be. I am grateful that it did because it is one beauty in the making.

BRAND X Unorthodox Behaviour

Album · 1976 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.03 | 25 ratings
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BRAND X actually had strange beginnings. The musical entity was formed as a jam band by record execs at Island and A&R and used the name “BRAND X” to generically apply to their music calendar. They initiated the first lineup which consisted of only John Goodsall (Atomic Rooser, The Fire Merchants) appearing on this debut release UNORTHODOX BEHAVIOR. After a bunch of members being replaced only to be replaced again, the band finally ended up with the lineup of Goodsall, keyboardist Robin Lumley (Rod Argent, Anthony Phillips, David Bowie), bassist and marimbaist Percy Jones (Soft Machine, David Sylvian, Eno, Steve Hackett, Suzanne Vega etc) and of course Phil Collins who at this point was entertaining his long desire to play in a jazz-fusion band at the time when Gabriel had left Genesis. We also get occasional soprano sax help form Jack Lancaster of Blodwyn Pig fame.

This album displays some of Collins’ most distinguished and ferocious chops that he could dish out. In fact i never understood the hype behind his drumming skills until i finally heard this album. He also adds healthy doses of vibraphones to the mix as well bringing the jazz years of Lionel Hampton to mind. This is a splendid example of 70s jazz-fusion taking a little of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s frenetic energy and mixing it with a Return To Forever type atmosphere and occasional Herbie Hancock funkiness.

All the musicians here are really at their best and the sum of their parts results in an extremely pleasant surprise. While not the most original jazz-fusion album of the 70s, it is nonetheless very consistent from beginning to end with pleasant melodies interspersed with frenetic drum rolls, layers of silence, funky bassm atmospheric synthesizers and rhythmic developments accompanied by proggy jazzed up time signature outbursts and even some sizzling solo trade off between the Moog synthesizers and guitars.

Due to the involvement of Phil Collins, this album actually made it on to the Billboard top 200 albums albeit peaking only at No. 191. Another aspect of this album i really dig is the production. There is great attention paid to details in how notes slide, in the volume control of the instruments in relation to each other and the overall atmospheric development of the album. Great musicianship and beautifully constructed instrumental workouts make this a pleasant listen that i don’t seem to tire of. Slightly more accessible than the influences on board but it also delivers on the jazz-fusion goods that even the most hardened fans can get into.


Album · 1965 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Chico Hamilton is one of the more overlooked artists to come out of the west coast’s creative music scene in the late 50s and early 60s. A second look at his career is deserved as he helped originate that peculiarly west coast style of jam session that draws on Latin and Asian influences, as well as an open “anything goes’ sort of attitude. His combination of Latin rhythms and raga style modal excursions will blossom during the late 60s Latin rock explosion involving Santana, Malo, Azteca, El Chicano and more, and his music will also influence many of the new fusion bands such as the early Return to Forever.

In many ways, Chico’s “El Chico” is mostly a collection of jam sessions, and there are plenty of great solos, mostly from guitarist Gabor Szabo, but much of this record is more about the Latin grooves and the way the band’s three member percussion section rides those grooves. Gabor shines with his ‘raga’ style guitar solos that slowly build, many songs feature only Gabor, but there are also occasional flute and sax solos from the brilliant Sadao Watanabe.

Some highlights on here include side two opener “Conquistadors”, with its driving Latin boogaloo beat, and “El Moors”, a percussion driven exotic flute melody with a bit of Sun Ra flavor. The albums peaks though with “Strange”, an alto sax ballade that Hamilton used to play with Eric Dolphy. This is Sadao ‘s moment to shine as he plays the beautiful melody while invoking Dolphy’s idol, Charlie Parker, as well as Eric himself. Fans of west coast jazz from the late 50s to the early 60s know that this music exists in a world all its own, and Chico’s “El Chico” is a great example of that world of bongo beating beatniks that will soon give way to acid rock and jazz fusion.

MAL WALDRON Blood And Guts

Live album · 1970 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Pianist Mal Waldron first ever live album has been released in 1970 on tiny French Futura label. It contains four longish (each - over ten minute long)compositions, recorded in May 1970 at American Cultural Center in Paris. Mal plays in his most comfortable format - trio,two other members are local musicians who will never record with Waldron again. Twenty-four years old bassist Patrice Caratini will play on Kenny Clarke's French-released album " Kenny "To Day"" in 1980 and will collaborate extensively on domestic jazz and world music recordings. Drummer Guy Hayat already played in mid 60s with Bud Powell. Anyway, lesser known Waldron's band members surprisingly fit well for lively live music.

Album opens with Waldron original "Down At The Gill's" - groovy rhythm section openly push Waldron piano ahead, at moments he sounds almost as playing early rock'n'roll theme on piano. Comparing with Waldron other recordings coming from the same time,where he usually plays mid-tempo well balanced repetitive rhythmic beats or slower tuneful songs,muscular "Down At The Gill's" sounds as stadium rock-hit.

Recording engineer Alain Gandolfi (future drummer and co-founder of funky-fusion Cortex band)has been obviously interested in upcoming proto-funk sound: Mal's piano sounds a bit flat but drums and especially double bass sound are very deep,rich and mixed on the front(common sound mix balance is really pleasant,with just few ultra-low frequencies deep lows,dangerous for acoustic system). "My Funny Valentine" sounds surprisingly warm and original at the beginning but probably lasts a bit too long, last quoter of twelve minute-composition isn't all interesting and sounds like trio continues playing just because can't decide how to finish the song.

Second of three album's Mal originals,"La Petite Africaine", is excellent example of Waldron as composer. Again,pushed ahead with bopish but extremely groovy rhythm section,it shows how great Mal music sounds when more flesh and blood are added.

Album's closer (and title song) has been already recorded by Mal earlier this year,but in solo piano version (released on "Tokyo Reverie" same year). This live version,played with muscular trio opens new colors of this great composition, Waldrom will return playing it again and again years and decades after.

In all,better than average Waldron album,one between his best recorded during early 70s. Original vinyl LP is collectable rarity (it was re-released on vinyl some years later in Japan). Fortunately,there are French and Japanese CD reissues available on market,so there are some more accessible ways to get this strong album for your collection.

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