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jazz music reviews (new releases)

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.

BENJAMIN HARRISON Nomad

Album · 2018 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
My head was full of West African rhythms,Caribbean vibes and spiritual jazz (I'm heavily on new London jazz last months)when I received debut album from Australian multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Harrison,"Nomad".

From very first seconds it sounded like an alien in my room - very familiar and very different at the same time. From rainy London's Nothing Hill I've been catapulted right to American South's highway with groovy music aired by local FM radio. Silky delux sound of well-executed songs didn't fit well with grey sky and dirty melting snow behind the window, but surprisingly for myself I stayed listening "Nomad" again and again day after day.

Benjamin Harrison who plays saxophones,keyboards,bass guitar and percussion on this album spend almost a decade as Cirque du Soleil bandleader touring Europe, Americas and Australia.He started recording his debut album still in 2016 with musicians from different countries he had worked with. Finally recorded material has been finalized in 2018 by renowned studio engineer Simon Cotsworth (Incognito, George Benson, Brand New Heavies, Level 42, Seal, Santana).

For remotely recorded album, the music here sounds surprisingly lively and extremely well mixed, it could be easily mistakenly taken as studio recorded one. Rooted in US smooth jazz tradition it is groovy and funky according to most current trends. Every instrument's part is precisely played and the arrangements are tasty.For fans of more rockish sound there are catchy electric guitar solos and sax soloing is filling more lyrical parts.

From music I heard during last few years "Nomad" music recalls probably Tower Of Power (not so funky though) and Incognito (I saw them both playing live though what means their sound was more raw in both cases). Usually I am listening to quite different music but this album caught me his very own way - I just really enjoyed the beauty of the music and sound.

BLACK TIE BRASS Mostly Covered

EP · 2019 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 3.02 | 2 ratings
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js
I would imagine more than a few young jazz musicians have noticed Snarky Puppy’s meteoritic rise to success and wondered if that could possibly happen to them too. Most jazz musicians assume that they will earn a modest living at best, and more than likely will be supporting themselves with a day job in another profession. Possibly the Snarky crew is more surprised than anyone that they are now traveling the world and playing the big shows like rock stars. What happened to them wasn’t luck though, not only did they work hard to get where they got, but they also put together a very youthful concoction of pop, dance and jazz that has appeal far outside the jazz world and into the lucrative world of the college party circuit and the international jam band scene. There is probably plenty of room for some more bands in this scene, and Black Tie Brass is one band that may have that potential.

Black Tie are doing their own thing and really don’t sound much like the Puppies, but there is a similar formula at work here, a youthful brass band with jazz chops and dance floor sensibilities. Yes, these guys could be heading ‘straight to the top’. “Mostly Covered” is their second release and is more like an EP than an LP due to its abbreviated length, but there is enough here for anyone to get a good taste for what they do. The album opens with three originals including the fast JBs shuffle of “Night Moves” and the hip-hop flavored “Sunshine”. All of the songs feature punchy horn arrangements and short to the point solos, the overall feel is more like a pop band than a jazz band, but the boys can lay it down when they want to.

The rest of the record finishes out with three well known covers including Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Trumpeter Randolph Smith plays the melody with a mute, possibly in tribute to Miles’ version of Michael’s “Human Nature”. These guys are still a little green around the gills, but give them time to build their chops with endless gigs and roadwork and this could be the next jazz group to find larger success outside the jazz world without selling out their jazz sensibilities.

ALLISON MILLER Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom : Glitter Wolf

Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 4.48 | 2 ratings
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snobb
Perfectionist modern jazz album sounding as if it is a progressive rock one. First new(coming from 2019) release in my player with serious chance to win a place on year's top list.

Drummer Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom is a super-group of sort with varying line up and number of members but in all cases rooted around her,bassist Todd Sickafoose and violinist Jenny Scheinman. On different stages cellist Eric Friedlander and pianist Myra Melford were the members among others. "Glitter Wolf" is recorded by sextet improving core trio with pianist Myra Melford, cornetist Kirk Knuffke and clarinet player Ben Goldberg.

Tightly composed melodic and quite complex musical material is played by the band intensively gigging for two years - one can hear how perfectly they feel each other! Miller's drumming pushes well produced(under the hands of Ani DiFranco & Carly Simon producer Julie Wolf) songs ahead with muscular energy more common for rock albums. At the same time, all things happen under perfect control avoiding chaos or directionless development. There are no lyrics/vocals otherwise the album could be alternatively classified as excellent art-rock work. Each composition has it's own face, atmosphere and is precisely executed.

Differently from some modern jazz albums, "Glitter Wolf"(isn't the title sounding rockish?) successfully avoids sterile chamber/academic sound. It often sounds as your morning alternative music TV, all these young guys with beards singing their songs with guitars somewhere out of town at the sunrise...

It is jazz sounding as rock or just cross-genre music without formalism and repetitiveness, radiating positive energy - really rare thing our days. It must be heard!

TONY MONACO The Definition Of Insanity

Album · 2019 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
If there is one musical genre I would not have expected to make a comeback, soul jazz would be that one, and that goes double for Hammond B3 soul jazz. Much like cool jazz and bebop, soul jazz seemed terminally connected to the era that spawned it, and the B3 itself became terribly un-hip during the 80s and seemed destined to stay that way. You can thank both England’s acid jazz scene and changing tastes in US commercial jazz radio for opening the door for funky bluesy B3 jazz to return, but not necessarily in a nostalgic way, this music has managed to adjust and sound relevant and hip again. One deserving recipient of this revival is B3organist Tony Monaco who has just favored us with his 11th album as a leader, “The Definition of Insanity”. This is one helluva fun album, and if that sounds too glib or shallow I’m sorry, but I have been listening to this one a lot lately and it never fails to pick me up, it’s a kick and a half.

“The Definition of Insanity” is an extremely eclectic album, yet it all works. Tony usually includes some originals on his albums, but this time he decided to go mostly with covers and just one original, and that’s where much of the eclecticism comes from as Tony takes on tunes from Phish, Lee Morgan, The Grateful Dead, Floyd Cramer and even includes a classic Italian ballad. Tony cites organists Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes and Larry Goldings as influences, and all that comes through in his flashy blues drenched solos. Along with plenty of classic soul jazz, this album also covers, Latin, Middle-Eastern grooves, country and a couple vocal ballads too.

Some highlights on here include the driving energy of Phish’s “Cars Trucks Buses”, the contemporary groove of Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down” and the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin” which makes for an excellent soul jazz number. On Floyd Cramer’s country classic, “Last Date”, Tony manages to make the B3 imitate a steel guitar. A couple ballads feature Tony’s vocals which may remind some of Willie Nelson, and that is a good thing. There is a lively energy to this entire outing, during my initial listens I just assumed this was a live date, it certainly sounds like one. As I said earlier, this is a ‘fun’ album, and I definitely need something like this in my collection sometimes.

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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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js
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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snobb
"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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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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