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jazz music reviews (new releases)

JULIAN GERSTIN The Old City

Album · 2018 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
This is the follow-up to ‘The One Who Makes You Happy’, which I reviewed some time ago, and contains the same core line-up of clarinetist Anna Patton, Don Anderson on trumpet and flugelhorn, pianist Eugene Uman, bassist Wes Brown and drummer Ben James, her joined by trombonist John Wheeler, flautist Carl Clements and tenor saxophonist Jon Weeks added to the group. In addition, “Leander’s Waltz” and “The Deaf Singer” have two guest artists apiece. There aren’t many percussionists or drummers who have led bands, no matter what musical style, yet here we have Julian Gerstin, who plays the tanbou bèlè drum of Martinique, along with congas, tupan and percussion, and writes all the music.

In the digipak he explains the different styles employed within the album, from rondo, mazouk, blues, Columnbian cumbia and others. This is music which feels Caribbean in many ways due to the use of percussion, which allows a joyful feel to sit within. The brass and woodwind are controlled, sometimes screaming but at others in perfect harmony, while the additional instrumentation being employed adds additional finesse. To my ears this is an incredibly solid effort, and although not quite as vibrant as his last outing is still well worth hearing.

RANDY WALDMAN Superheroes

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
As the story goes, apparently veteran arranger/pianist Randy Waldman was seated at an event next to Adam West, the original TV Batman, and the two got to talking about music and it turned out that West is a big jazz fan. That got Randy to thinking about the idea of a ‘jazz superhero’, which led to the rather unusual idea of cutting an album of superhero themes while utilizing the talents of some of Waldman’s “jazz superheroes”, in other words some of today’s top jazz musicians. Well I am sure many around Randy figured this was a crazy idea that would soon pass, but no, he was serious and he actually did cut the album, “SuperHeros”. You might expect something kind of silly or campy would come from such an unexpected tribute, but Waldman takes this project seriously, and the professionalism of the arrangements and performances back this up. Randy combines fusion, post bop, Latin and contemporary big band style arrangements to create his re-makes, and enlists some top artists including George Benson, Joe Lavano, Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Daniels and many more. The melodies and harmonies of the original TV and movie themes are heavily altered to fit a modern jazz style, and there is plenty of room in each chart for hot solos.

The first half of the CD centers around the more well known themes, and these cuts also receive the most ambitious arrangements, with a couple tracks featuring a 13 piece horn section. As the CD nears the end we get into some themes that are less well known such as the long forgotten Underdog and Super Chicken. Alas, the one theme that is missing is the jazzy one from “The Green Hornet”. Possibly the top track on “SuperHeroes” is “Spiderman Theme”, which features the always amazing vocals of Take 6 actually singing the original words while also providing interesting backgrounds for the solos. You get the feeling that Take 6 really are Spiderman fans finally getting a chance to sing about something that matters to them. Some other highlights include Marsalis’ time fooling elastic trumpet solo on “Batman Theme (TV)” and Eddie Daniel’s bebop ride on the insanely fast “Super Chicken Theme”. For the musician in the house, you will enjoy pointing out to people where the band uses the changes for “Giant Steps” for solos, and the fact that the TV Batman theme has the same changes as “Mr PC”.

ESPEN ERIKSEN Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard : Perfectly Unhappy

Album · 2018 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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Matt
For this latest release “Perfectly Unhappy” from Norwegian Espen Eriksen and his Trio, one of Britain’s most well saxophonists Andy Sheppard joins them bringing a change in texture to their current slightly minimal but still highly melodic sound that the Trio display within their compositions. Their first album release garnered extremely good praise and many great reviews for “You Had Me At Goodbye” with the following two albums “What Took You So Long” and “Never Ending January” keeping the standard right up there. If you have not heard of them before Espen Eriksen is the pianist, Lars Tormond Jenset, bass and Andreas Bye is the drummer with the Trio performing together since 2007 with this album being the ensemble’s fourth release. Andy Sheppard’s addition of saxophone in the album works beautifully bringing quite a bit of a fresh sound for the Trio and keeping things in an interesting manner but still keeping them well within the melodic style that they have become known for.

“Above The Horizon” opens with a beautiful piano and bass interchange before stating the composition’s theme before Andy Sheppard’s saxophone to joins on this lovely inward piece with the following “1974” having a beautiful contemplative sound where Espen’s piano is more prevalent. The melancholy and contemplation just keeps on coming with the album’s title ‘Perfectly Unhappy” with Andy’s saxophone and Espen’s brief solo providing a lovely wistfulness within the number. “Indian Summer” just keeps the dreamy spaced melody prevalent, where “Suburban Folk Song” has a slightly more intricate opening and all these melodies that are intertwined with space and beautiful timing just keep coming with “Naked Trees”, the following “Revisited” containing a delightful solo from Espen and the beautiful melancholic closing composition “Home”.

Lovely album and an absolute delight to have on with the compositions being in a similar realm to Mathias Eick’s of maintaining a strong melody and quite a lovely contemporary sound. One other note is Andy Sheppard plays quite a major part and is in the majority of all the compositions with that gorgeous deep tone that he resonates.

WAYNE HORVITZ The Snowghost Sessions

Album · 2018 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
In 2015 Wayne Horvitz headed out to Montana to record this album at Snowghost studios, hence the title “The Snowghost Sessions”. Comprising a trio with Wayne on piano as well providing keyboards and electronics, Geoff Harper who had previously appeared with Wayne on his 2014 release “At The Reception” on Contrabass and Eric Eagle who also had appeared with Wayne on “At The Reception” as well the 2015 release which was a tribute to the writer Richard Hugo “Some Places Are Forever Afternoon” is playing drums. Wayne Horvitz states that he had not recorded a Trio album since the eighties and took quite a few tunes and sketches to this session with the majority of the album recorded Live and Wayne providing some overdubs with keyboards. He actually says that he did not set out to make an album but just wanted to try some ideas that he had with amplified and processed piano as the studios at Snowghost are in a class of their own for acoustics with the addition of an already installed Steinway Grand Piano. For these sessions the studio owner Brett Allen is the album’s engineer and co-producer with Wayne.

Fifteen tracks on the album if one counts the bonus with none running over five minutes which keeps things quite fluent with the beautiful “The Pauls” opening being a lovely spaced composition and as with the majority of the album it is down tempo with the following composition “No Blood Relation #1” bringing the electronics into the mix but in a subtle manner with wonderful recurring chords from Wayne on piano with superb support from the bass and drums by just being there in a minimal fashion which is how their support is performed right throughout the majority of the album. There is “No Blood relation #2” being the eighth track and that composition is its own without borrowing from the prior #1. More of that gorgeous piano space and time for “Trish” with many people describing this as contemplative but it sure has that Wayne Horvitz piano tone. “IMB” does bring out the Electronics and would be the album’s most up tempo composition with Eric Eagle having quite a shot on the drum kit within the number.There a quite a few more interesting and beautiful compositions included with the following “Apart From You #1” , “Northampton”, “For James Tenney”, “The Trees”, Yukio and Noa’s Duet” with these four tracks divided by the short piece “Flies On Friday”. All of those compositions having something different to say and some are straight while others have that subtle electronic keyboard effect added. “55 6 (21) Variations” has that organ addition and “55 6 (7) Variations” has a much deeper bass and piano sound bring us to the album’s end with “Apart from You #2” comprising the trio with more of those subtle electronics appearing more to the fore as the composition progresses.

Wonderful and quite different piano based Trio album from Wayne Horvitz and band which requires a few listens to fully appreciate and gets better with every play. Well worth the purchase as Wayne Horvitz albums are.

ALAN PASQUA Soliloquy

Album · 2018 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Just like most other fusion fans in the 70s, my initial introduction to Alan Pasqua was through his work with Tony Williams and Alan Holdsworth in Tony’s second Lifetime outfit. Although he was working in the shadow of Holdsworth’s rising star, Pasqua still managed to shine on his own with some Herbie Hancock influenced funk fusion on the electric keys. Over the years, Alan moved beyond the aid of the electronics and began to record more as an acoustic pianist playing post bop and contemporary originals. This leads us to Alan’s latest opus, “Soliloquy”, on which he takes on the ultimate challenge, a solo piano date. Alan’s set list on here is mostly standards, with a couple of pop tunes thrown in as well, but everything blends into a smoothly flowing fifty minute concert.

Alan’s piano style seems to pull from many influences, the expected Bill Evans post bop is here, but also some things that reach back further to the era of Ellington and Art Tatum, and all tempered with a laid back lounge type feel ala Ahmad Jamal. Pasqua’s arrangements are imaginative as he re-constructs the harmonies and melodies on many of these well known tunes. Some songs may be barely recognizable at first, which only makes them all the more interesting. The best tracks are the several Ellington covers. The Duke’s music gives Alan the most to play with harmonically, and Pasqua responds by endowing Ellington’s music with subtle classical flavors. If anyone has ever doubted the connection between Ellington and French impressionism, you can really hear it here.

Although “Soliloquy” is an inventive jazz performance, it also functions well as sophisticated background music, and I seriously doubt that was by accident. Saying an album makes for good background may sound like a slight, but it isn’t at all, creating the perfect mood for a romantic dinner and a bottle (or box) of wine is an art in itself. Whether as a deep listening experience, or just ambience that even a non-jazz fan would enjoy, “Soliloquy” is quite simply a beautiful piano performance.

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ROSE ROYCE Car Wash (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Album · 1976 · Jazz Related Soundtracks
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Those who seek obscure funk jazz tracks and rare groove know that soundtracks from 70s African-American movies can sometimes be plentiful in exotic jazzy instrumentals. The movie “Car Wash” was a huge hit in the 70s, and is still popular to this day, but it seems much of its brilliant soundtrack has been overlooked. The main hits from the movie, including the title track, are all well known, but what a lot of people are missing is that this double album is loaded with excellent instrumentals. The main players here are the then brand new RnB group Rose Royce, famous Motown producer Norman Whitfield and guest guitarist Wah Wah Watson, who some may know from his work with Herbie Hancock. As the story goes, Whitfield was working with Royce on their new album when he got the call to do the soundtrack to a new movie that was bound to be big as it boasted the huge drawing power of both Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Whitfield decided the best thing to do was just take the work he had started with Royse and make that the soundtrack to the movie.

The handful of RnB pop tunes that Whitfield crafted for the album are all good, and they reflect his work with The Temptations, but the jazz and rare groove fans will want to check out the plentiful instrumentals. The hard charging funk of “Mid Day DJ Theme” and “Righteous Rhythm” are tops, and you can hear all of Wah Wah Watson’s signature guitar riffs, the same ones he used to build Herbie’s “Hang Up Your Hang Ups”. “Crying” is laid back space groove and “Sunrise” sounds like a modern nu jazz cut with its repeating minimal riffs. Really, everything on here is gold and all of it has that classic mid-70s funk sound that can’t be faked.

SAM MANGWANA Lubamba

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Sam Mangwana has lived, played and sang Rumba right through the golden period of African music accompanying and packing stadiums with Franco Luambo’s TPOK Jazz throughout the seventies to the early eighties and prior with Tabu Ley Rochereau in the late sixties in his African National Fiesta with another stint to follow in the late seventies with him. Considered one of the elder statesman of African music pertaining more to the Central area with his take on Congolaise music with touches of Angolan and Zimbabwean at times thrown in from his parents birth place one could say he pretty much had done it all within this genre with the popularity to go with it. Although Sam was in Franco’s TPOK Jazz and Tabu Ley’s band Afrisa he was still doing solo material and releasing his own albums as well with his second one giving him the big hit “Maria Tebbo” in 1982 albeit his biggest one with Franco was still to come in the same year being “Cooperation” ( Odongo). Still within all these bands and solo material Sam Mangwana has been far from one dimensional with Rumba being his staple and later heading towards a not so hard Soukous Sound as well as taking on Caribbean rhythms, Acoustic albums but in his later material he has returned to his Rumba roots which is what the majority of “Lubamba” contains with a beautiful laid back palm tree sound added with a slight Caribbean influence included.

It’s the album ‘s title track “Lubamba” with the horns opening within this Rumba having Sam’s smooth vocals to follow with mentions to his native Africa throughout with a delightful guitar solo placed within the song. The following “Felicite” the tempo picks up slightly with more of that beautiful Rumba guitar taking the song to a chorus with a beautiful guitar input. “Juventude Actual” based on today’s youth and sung in Portuguese has another African statesman present being the great Cameroon saxophonist Manu Dibango included within the song’s predominant guitar Latin influence with Manu just providing sax throughout the chorus and the addition of a beautiful solo included but no vocals with just Sam doing that job within this number. The tempo and bounce picks up for “Georgeta Marcory” with that Sam swing included and the following song has an electronic keyboard opening for “Luvueso” which quickly is put to the side for more of that Rumba guitar and great African chorus. “J.B. Kavungu”, “Lokossa Yo Nzombo”, Luzingu Ke Novela Ko” are the last three of the eight songs included and all are Rumba based of course within this delightful album keeping up the Tropical theme.

He has come a long way from singing in The Salvation Army choir as a child in Kinshasa up until today and I for one was pleased to see a new release from Sam Mangwana as I have always loved his take on Congolaise music with all its swing. It has been a long break for fresh material from Sam as his last prior album was “Cantos De Esperanca” in 2003 with only reissues that have followed to the release of “Lubamba” in 2016. Still the album is good but really it is for the fans and if you are looking for Soukous you won’t find any here just the old beautiful Rumba influence but really, Sam actually does not have a lot to say that’s new.

KETIL BJØRNSTAD La notte

Live album · 2013 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Commissioned by the Molde International Jazz Festival and Recorded Live in 2010 at the Norway Festival for later release By ECM records has the multi talented Norwegian Ketil Bjørnstad presenting his perception in music on Italian Filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni with his 1961 film sharing the title of this very album from Ketil Bjørnstad “La Notte” ( The night). Ketil Bjørnstad has been around since the late sixties since playing Classical piano in his later teens but in the seventies headed for Jazz and Folk with a distinct Northern European influence of retaining Classical elements within his compositions. He has recorded over fifty albums as well most likely written as many books, hence the multi talented which is often used to describe his artistic output. Although this album was recorded in 2010 ECM did not release it until three years later in 2013 due to most likely the fact they already had an album recorded by Ketil prior, still in the can being “The River”.

The album line up is a Sextet with the majority involved having played with each other in various ensembles and bands with Arild Anderson the bassist having the most extensive experience with Ketil Bjørnstad and just about everyone else in European Jazz. The cellist David Darling who has played with Ketil extensively in the past is not present and has been replaced with the stunning German born Anja Lechner who usually you will find in ECM’s New Series having played with the Rosamunde Quartet, Tarkovsky Quartet, the pianists Vassilis Tsabropoulos and Francois Couturier as well as the great Bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi. Andy Sheppard who is usually in Carla Bley’s ensembles or leading his own these days is on tenor and soprano saxophone, Marilyn Mazur is on percussion and drums having played with Jan Garbarek for one as well as doing her own albums and also included is Eivind Aarset also an artist in his right as well as playing with Andy Sheppard above and who also has many well known productions behind him is playing guitar and providing electronics.

Ketil Bjørnstad has composed eight parts within the album’s structure with “La Notte I” commencing with a slight electronic drone and touches of bass and percussion with the sound picking up as the introduction of piano and cello is added in this mediative opening number. Andy Sheppard’s tenor and Eivind Aarset’s guitar inject two lovely pieces with Ketil’s piano and Marilyn’s percussion as the base in the bolder “La Notte II”. The ensemble delivers a delightful mix within “La Notte III” with Andy Sheppard’s saxophone barely noticeable coming in over Anja Lechner’s cello with a superb middle timed underlay from the rest of the musicians within the piece. It’s a slow tempo for “La Notte IV” primarily comprising piano and more of that beautiful cello from Anja Lechner who I have to say is the star amongst all these musicians within these beautiful compositions from Ketil Bjørnstad. The album continues with more of the stunning mediative input for “La Notte V and VI” with more stunning cello, soprano sax and Marilyn Mazur’s just right percussion comprising the odd chimes, beat etc with the ensemble picking things up again in “La Notte VII” with Arild Anderson’s superb bass opening and Eivind’s fabulous guitar solo. The album comes to an end with another beautiful slow relaxing piece in “VIII”

Leaning towards Classical at times and leaning towards some great Fusion at others in this highly interesting album which after quite a few plays with many in a row, I still have not tired of. One other note although the album states it is Live there is not a whisper of audience sound to be heard.

ORCHESTRA DE LA PAILLOTE Volume 1

Album · 1968 · World Fusion
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
There had been 3 compilation albums released in 1967 with Guinean orchestra’s and artists prior to this release in the sixties but this actually is the first number in the Syllart’s label catalogue (SLP 1) “Orchestra De La Paillote Vol 1", The band actually was one of two at the very beginning which had morphed from one big Orchestra during this time of change in Guinean music which started after independence in 1958 when Sekou Toure came to power and as he said ‘if you can’t play the music of one’s own country then one should stop playing altogether”. One of the bands was led by Balla Onivogui later recognised as the leader of the legendary Balla Et Se Balladins and for this one it was Keletigui Traore who led “Orchestra De la Paillote” named after the Paloitte where they played but in the sixties the band changed their name to “Keletigui Et Ses Tambourinis”. The basis on how many of these songs were composed was using Traditional material, Cuban music and Jazz which became the backbone for so many West African orchestras with Bembeya Jazz to become the leader of this music style. Here for this release “Orchestra De la Pailotte’ as they were known at that time we have the beginning of modern West African music containing many a beautiful and delightful piece contained within this essential album from the late 1960’s.

The Cuban based “Diarby” get things going beautifully with the required groove and superb guitar input with Balla Et Se Balladins doing this one as well on their upcoming “Jardin De Guinea” release but listening here you will know that Orchestra De la Paillote had the best. The following “Mariama” the trumpet rules the chorus with Kante Manfila’s vocals with excellent support from Kerfal Camara on trumpet with this song becoming one the band’s classics. The more up tempo “Nadia’ follows with more superb trumpet and a totally delightful saxophone solo from Keletigui Traore included. The beat and groove keep coming within “Mone Magnin” but the following slow Cuban timed “La Guinee Moussolou” being a homage to Guinean women who helped rebuild the country sung by Kante Manfila with some stunning repetition in the vocal chorus and some absolutely gorgeous saxophone and guitar accompaniment with the band following in is another album highlight. More up tempo groove in “Nankoura” and “Wouyamagnin” with the later being my pick containing great percussion. The delightful “Orchestra Paillote” follows which will have you tapping your foot in amongst the horns in this self explanatory song title with “Bandian” next and it is another of those slow greasy Cuban burners “N’Djiguinira” to finish off this all time African Music Classic in that reminiscing manner.

Of course you need this! Total West African Classic!

KALLE KALIMA Kalle Kalima & K-18 : Some Kubricks Of Blood

Album · 2009 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima with this release comprising a quartet has taken Stanley Kubrick’s films for inspiration with his compositions and album theme in 2009 with “Some Kubricks Of Blood” which was released on the Tum Label. Kalle Kailma has worked with quite a few well known names in Jazz prior to this with Tomasz Stanko, Marc Ducret, Juhani Aaltonen as well as having lead three different trios and currently is touring with Jim Tenor as well as teaching guitar in the music department at The University of Luzern. Quartet is the make up for this Kubrick influenced project with Kalle, on electric and acoustic guitar, Mikko Innanen, alto, soprano and baritone saxophone, Vile Kujala , quarter tone accordion with Teppo Hauta-aho on double bass and you will notice that there is no drummer included as Kalle was after a certain atmosphere for his presentation and vision of his Stanley Kubrick compositions.

It’s “Overlook Hotel” from ‘The Shining” opening with the musicians keeping things separated between bursts of guitar for this interesting opening improv number with a bit of creaky atmosphere to follow where one will realise the album is as much Experimental as it is Jazz with some delightful changes within the compositions bringing the required effects and feel for the album with the 46 second “Hal 9000” computer effect leading to the following “Room 237” with the required creeping sound and later atmosphere when one finds what is in the bath and The Shining is still the major influence with the following short composition “Overlook Bar” comprising primarily solo electric guitar. “Karova Milk Bar” has the accordion bringing the atmosphere for this “A Clockwork Orange” influence number with quite an experimental feel and as throughout the previous tracks it feels more of a Soundtrack having the gradual changes within. The longest composition is the 14 minute “Parris Island” with barely a sound apart from some clicks for the first minute for Kalle’s take on “Full Metal Jacket” with a gradual pick up to come on this original number of varying changes. There are three more compositions to follow and like the entire album’s construction it is Experimental and Avante Garde for what could be used quite easily as a Soundtrack.

I have to admit it is not something I would play every day but there are some interesting points and the album does contain a bit of atmosphere but it really is only for those lovers of Experimental and Avante Garde music. It is one of those “Got to be in the Mood “ albums but if you are?, quite an interesting listen.

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