Jazz Music Reviews

MAHOGANY FROG In The Electric Universe

Album · 2021 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Mahogany Frog is a modern instrumental group that often gets lumped in with the contemporary prog rock crowd, but there is so much more to their music than what a simple genre label like that can describe. The Frogsters describe their music as a meeting of today’s electronica with 70s progressive rock, 60s psychedelia and 50s exotica. This isn’t too bad a description, especially if you add in movie soundtracks, particularly of the Italian persuasion. As far as the prog rock influence goes, we are not talking about the heavy-handed clichés that took hold post 1972, but more about all that great experimental music that ran from 1966 to 1972. Frog's latest outing, “In the Electric Universe”, took much longer to conceive than their previous albums and this shows in the very careful sound sculpting that takes place on here. Sounds, noises and sonic textures play a big part on this new one, and whether or not you think that emphasis has weakened their melodic content would probably be a matter of individual taste.

The opening track, “Theme from P.D.”, is like a suite with its many themes and developing sections. The next two tracks feature Frog's interest in late 60s psychedlic progressive rock filtered through an electronica lens. Follow up number, “CUBe”, is a heavy trip-hop/rock groove with a phat synth bass line. "Octavio" has a grand sound as it moves from modern RnB to cinematic glory rock. Album closer, “Sun Dog”, has a beautiful ambient melody that is slowly engulfed in noise only to finally emerge again. Much more than just a ‘rock band’, fans of electronic jam bands, classic exotica and movie soundtracks should give Mahogany Frog a chance. These guys are creating instrumental monuments that are hard to equal.

SUN RA It Is Forbidden (at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in Exile)

Live album · 1974 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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This review of "At the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in Exile 1974 - It is Forbidden" by Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Arkestra, is about the vinyl LP version of this album. The CD has a few more tracks, although a lot of those tracks are songs that have been recorded and released many times before.

A quick sum up of this album would be; an excellent live performance captured with a sub-par recording. The album cover notes don't say how they recorded this, possibly off of the PA sound board. Fortunately you can hear most of the instruments and the balance isn't too bad, but the sound is sort of flat and dull, a bit distant, but this is hardly the worst recording quality that you can find on a Sun Ra record.

Side one is mostly free jazz and is quite lively and kinetic as the band switches from full ensemble assaults to frantic solos. Sun Ra rarely has a guitar player, so Dale William's massive presence is a bit of a pleasant surprise. His huge wall of sound ultra distorted and processed guitar sounds like Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, Pete Cosey and Thurston Moore all playing at the same time. Sun Ra picks up his influence and creates synthesizer attacks that sound like May Day! May Day!!! in the next century.

Side 2 kicks off with some swingin hard bop and shows a side of John Gilmore we don't often hear as he plays his best soul jazz riffs. Sun Ra subverts the rhythm and they all go off free form for a while. Next up is a not too long vocal chant and then longtime Sun Ra favorite, "Watusi". Its a great song, but better recordings of it exist elsewhere. Overall, a fairly good album for the Sun Ra fan, with its most unique feature being Sun Ra's and Dale William's use of larger than life electronics.

LARRY YOUNG Mothership

Album · 1980 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.04 | 7 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
TAKE A TRIP

"One thing about Larry Young is that he really is an organist. He knows that instrument, and furthermore, unlike some organ players in jazz, Larry never gets in your way. On the contrary, he keeps building in and around what you are doing while always listening so that his comping is always a great help." Mother Ship is a miraculous album, and due to its posthumous release has been continually underrated and underplayed. The above quote, from Grant Green (who does not play on Mother Ship) comes from this album's liner notes, which also take pains to portray Young as a Coltrane acolyte. That might be overselling the issue just a bit, but when you hear this album, you'll understand how the connection has been made.

Of course, the real problem with Mother Ship's reputation is that it will always live in the shadow of Young's Unity album, which the all-powerful consensus has determined is Larry's greatest. It's a real temptation to compare the two albums due to their common instrumentation: organ / trumpet / tenor sax / drums. Yet on Mother Ship, Lee Morgan's trumpet performance is much freer than anything else you've heard him play. Tenorist Herbert Morgan (no relation) and drummer Eddie Gladden are both compatriots of Young's from the Newark, NJ area. While far lesser-known than the legends who performed on Unity, both play up a storm on this album.

While a number of Blue Note's "LT-series" records are almost compilations of "odds and ends" from various sessions, Mother Ship is a full 41-minute album recorded in one day in 1969. The ground-breaking "Mother Ship", the bluesy riffing of "Street Scene", the 3-part long lines of "Visions", the epic (12:51) "Trip Merchant", and the sassy samba of "Love Drops" were all composed by Larry Young. If there's one extremely slight letdown to this album, it's the track sequencing. Whoever decided to follow up the boundary-pushing powerful chords and explosions of sound in "Trip Merchant" with the playful "Love Drops" was just being disrespectful. Wait until you hear Larry's and Lee's lengthy, mind-blowing solos on this track. Elsewhere Herbert Morgan may occasionally remind you of the one-and-only Wayne Shorter.

After Mother Ship, Young would leave Blue Note and go on to the Tony Williams Lifetime, the career move for which he's best-known today. Sadly, neither he nor Lee Morgan would live to see this album's release in 1980. While it's far less easy to find a copy of Mother Ship these days, I strongly urge anyone with an interest in Larry Young to pick this album up. The performances and compositions cry out for acclaim and deserve to be just as well-known as those on Unity.

HERBIE HANCOCK In Concert Volume 2 (Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard, Jack DeJohnette, Ron Carter, Eric Gale)

Live album · 1974 · Fusion
Cover art 3.76 | 3 ratings
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Although the first installment of the CTI In Concert series comes across more like a Freddie Hubbard release, 'Volume Two' belongs to Herbie Hancock. The first side features his working quartet at that time, and on the second side they are augmented by Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine. This was an interesting one time only ensemble Herbie gathered for these live dates that apparently took place after he disbanded his Sextet, and before he assembled his new Headhunters group. The big plus here is Jack DeJohnette on drums. The free-form jazz rock jams of the early 70s were DeJohnette's domain, his fierce driving style that mixed hard rock, groovin swing and avant-garde freedom into every blistering phrase had already driven other masterpieces of that time including Miles' legendary sets at The Fillmore. On side one DeJohnette and Herbie push each other relentlessly as Hancock does an extended work out on the static avant-garde funk groove of 'Hornets'. Always known for his delicate beauty and harmonic innovations, this album shows Hancock in a harsh and energetic mode as he rivals Jon Lord and Sun Ra for sheer sonic power and pushes his distorted Fender Rhodes through dissonant Echoplex settings while building sheets of syncopated dissonant chords and angular scales. Although this album may seem a bit dull to many music fans, to fans of really intense keyboard soloing, this is a must have.

Side two brings on Hubbard and Turrentine on horns as the band launches into a side long agro-bossa hyper groove that borders on free jazz during it's long course. It's really interesting to hear Stanley Turrentine, the king of smooth RnB jazz, go off like Bennie Maupin channeling Coltrane. The always fiery and intense Hubbard takes an extended ride before they break down for some quiet spaciness and then onto one more psychedelic Fender Rhodes onslaught from Hancock. In the tradition of Mahavishnu's 'Between Nothingness and Eternity', King Crimson's 'Earthbound' and Miles' 'Live at the Fillmore', this is a rough and tumble live album that favors raw energy over slick production. I would highly recommend this to fans of live early 70s jazz rock jams, and it also contains some of the most intense Herbie Hancock solos ever recorded.

REZ ABBASI Unfiltered Universe

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Pakistani-born US-based guitarist Rez Abbasi is better known from his jazz fusion works, often with a touch of Southern Asian tradition. Here on "Unfiltered Universe", he leads an international band containing such stars as pianist Vijay Iyer and sax player Rudresh Mahanthappa among others.

Differently from his many previous recordings, Abbasi concentrates more on composition here, while still maintaining his high energy sound known from his fusion works. Electric/processed guitar sound is on the front together with Mahanthappa's sax soloing. Drummer Dan Weiss (who has been active in the metal scene) adds more drive and heaviness to the album's music too. It's a pity Iyer's piano is often somewhere on the second plan with just a few solos.

Being a competent work of true professionals, "Unfiltered Universe" lacks compositional expressiveness. Even though they include some elements of Indian sub-continent music here and there, the songs often still sound as a bit dry and too formal and formulaic guitar fusion, not composition-oriented modern jazz.

SUN RA The Solar-Myth Approach Vol. 1

Album · 1971 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 2.02 | 2 ratings
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“The Solar Myth Approach Volume 1” may not be Sun Ra’s worst album, but it is far from his best. A combination of mostly lackluster music, bad sound balance and bad recording quality all come together to make an album that only the most ardent Ra fan can enjoy. The most creative track comes at the opening of side one on which a repeating bass note and some low horn tone clusters topped with a few high pitched squeaky horns imitate the sounds of electronic keyboards. The end result is more similar to the music of Stockhausen or Xennakis rather than what one would expect from a ‘jazz’ big band. Unfortunately the rest of side one meanders between percussion workouts and what sounds like someone vocalizing through a horn. The percussion is okay, but the vocalizing gets annoying pretty quickly. Side one closes with a uninspired and poorly recorded version of “The Satellites are Spinning”, there are much better versions of this song out there on other Sun Ra records.

Side two picks things up with some free jazz that would sound better if Sonny’s clavinet wasn’t louder than the horns. This is followed by a solo synthesizer track that shows off Ra’s unique approach to that instrument. Next up is a brief big band arrangement, one of the few on the album. Side two closes out with more percussion, as well as some electronic keyboard interludes. Overall, side two is an improvement over one.

MOTOHIKO HINO Toko: Motohiko Hino Quartet at Nemu Jazz Inn (日野元彦クァルテットatネム・ジャズイン)

Live album · 1975 · Fusion
Cover art 4.95 | 2 ratings
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Igor91
Drummer Motohiko Hino's "Toko" is some killer psychedelic jazz rock with some avant-garde leanings. This is a live recording from 1975 and this style of fusion may have been on the way out at the time, but Motohiko must have wanted to put his stamp on the genre before moving on to other things. And boy did he.

Like many Japanese jazz records at the time, the recording quality is excellent, and the band was firing on all cylinders that evening. Joining Hino are Mikio Masuda on keyboards, Katsumi Watanabe on electric guitar, and Isao Suzuki on bass. Masuda's keyboards and synths are often wrapped in psychedelic sound effects, while Watanabe's guitar is frequently fuzzed-out and occasionally loaded with wha-wha pedal madness. Suzuki, meanwhile, employs an acoustic bass, giving the music a solid jazz foundation.

The record is essentially 3 long jams, but the band is totally locked in with each other and energized. While there is plenty of improvising going on, there are no boring, meandering moments. They avoid going too far off the rails and remain locked-in with each other throughout the entire performance. All four band members are going off on their individual instruments, yet never lose sight of where the music is going.

Toko is truly a lost gem of jazz rock / fusion. If you enjoy your fusion raw and psychedelic, this album is a must listen - a masterpiece of the genre.

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Arrangements For Guitar By Marco Pereira

Album · 2021 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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“Arrangements for Guitar by Marco Pereira” is the second installment in a series of tributes to Pereira by guitarist Marius Noss Gundersen. Marius is a Norwegian who specializes in classical music and Brazilian traditions, which makes him a perfect fit to play the arrangements of Pereiera which walk a fine line between Brazilian art pop and contemporary classical music. Marco is a super star in Brazil, his career has found him working with top performers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento and he is well known for his arrangements, compositions and performances on classical guitar which have won him many awards and competitions over the years. On this new album, Gundersen has picked out twelve Pereira arrangements of art songs by well known Brazilian composers such as the previously mentioned Jobim and Nascimento, as well as Egberto Gismonti and Chico Buarque. Gundersen faithfully recreates Marco’s arrangements, which makes this very much like a contemporary Brazilian classical concert.

Every piece on here is a gem. Marius has technique to burn, but he never resorts to pure flash in his playing, consider him the exact opposite of a certain ‘elegant gypsy’ in that regard. These are, for the most part, melodic and somewhat somber or sentimental tone poems, but if you are looking for some fire, the demanding chart for “Frevo” should satisfy those looking for some burning Latin passion. Also “Modinha” and “Chega de Saudade” lean a bit in that direction as well. The Brazilian take on rhythm is present here, but don’t expect any cliché type bossa nova or samba, the tunes and arrangements on here lean in a more sophisticated and classical tradition. Quite simply, this is beautiful music performed by someone with commanding technique and complete mastery over their instrument.

SUN RA Crystal Spears

Album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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This is a tale of two record sides, one better than the other. Sun Ra’s “Crystal Spears” was recorded back in 1973, and was supposed to be released in 1975, but a changing of the guard at ABC records left Ra with a less than sympathetic record label and Sonny’s bizarre offering remained unreleased until Modern Harmonic finally brought it to the public in 2018. Back in 73 when this was recorded, Ra was very much into electronic keyboards and music that only had a tangential relationship to what most would call jazz. For a possible reference, “Astro Black”, is also from this era in his career.

As mentioned already, side one is a lot more interesting than side two, but for the hardcore Ra fan, the whole record will have something worth checking out. Title track, “Crystal Spears”, opens things with Ra filling a lot of space with busy organ and synthesizer work while backed with a wall of percussion and topped with Marshal Allen on oboe. This one is a winner and well worth the price of the whole album. Follow up track, “The Eternal Sphynx”, is one of those classic Sun Ra hypnotic two chord vamps that goes through some interesting morphing as it progresses. Fortunately there are no vocal chants added on as those can wear thin sometimes. Side one closes with sound explorations that bear some resemblance to avant-garde concert hall composers, but ultimately sound like no one but Ra and his band.

Side two is one long track with vague percussion in the background and Sonny coming and going in and out of the mix with his electronics. Various horn players supply horn solos, often one at a time, but occasionally in duo or trio format. The horn solos are not energetic free jazz, nor are they particularly melodic in any way, but instead feature that kind of playing unique to Ra’s band that sounds like someone exploring what a horn can do the very first time they picked it up. You have to give these guys credit for sounding like no one else on the planet, and that includes the entire universe of avant-garde jazz and ‘serious’ composers, but this track seems to go on forever and just gets tedious after a while. All the same, those who appreciate Sun Ra at his most obtuse and obstinate may find much to enjoy here.

BARRY ALTSCHUL Barry Altschul’s 3dom Factor : Tales of the Unforeseen

Album · 2015 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Barry Altschul is an under-recorded virtuoso free jazz drummer who made his name in the short-lived but exceptional Circle - early avant-garde jazz band where he played with such (now) stars as pianist Chick Corea, reedist Anthony Braxton and bassist Dave Holland. His new trio, 3Dom Factor, is an extremely rare project as a leader. They just released their new live album, "Long Tall Sunshine", so it looks like it makes some sense to re-listen to their second, and last (Aug.2021) studio album, "Tales of the Unforseen", released six years ago.

The trio's bassist, Joe Fonda, is another free jazz veteran who played with Altschul in FAB Trio (with violinist Billy Bang). Third 3Dom Factor's member is a younger generation reedist, one of the modern scene's leaders, Jon Irabagon.

From the very first moments the trio's sound is easy recognizable when Irabagon plays bluesy and soulful different reeds solos with the support of a very technical and muscular rhythm section. Twenty-six minutes long opener, "As The Tale Begins", is a spontaneous composition (as well as two others on the album) which gives a lot of space for each of the three artists' soloing. Of the three composed songs, one belongs to Thelonious Monk ("A Tale Of Monk: Ask Me Now"), one more - to Annette Peacock("Annette´s Tale Of Miracles") and the rest - to Altschul himself ("A Drummer´s Tale"). Still, the spontaneous pieces are full of tuneful snippets and lyrical moments while the composed ones get quite free, so the border between firsts and seconds are often blurred.

Most importantly, the trio is of the highest level of professionalism, playing mid-tempo soulful free jazz with lots of spirit, what once was almost a standard for the genre (I'm speaking about early 70s), but almost disappeared with time.

There are not many novelties in this music, and the sound is quite conservative (yeh, it sounds funny - conservative free jazz), but somehow it revitalizes one of the best traditions free jazz established long ago, and it works well in the modern world.

One can hardly find here harsh moments, or explosive energy, or even faster pieces (all of that partially can be found on the trio's freshly released live album), but "Tales Of The Unforeseen" is a solid masters' work, which demonstrates great spirit and maturity.

YUSEF LATEEF The Doctor Is In ...And Out

Album · 1976 · Fusion
Cover art 3.07 | 2 ratings
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Coming out in 1976, Yusef Lateef’s “The Doctor is in …and Out” was a late comer to jazz’s short lived psychedelic phase, but like many of the somewhat obscure psych-jazz of that era, its found a second life among collectors of rare groove and jazz exotica. In many ways, Lateef was a natural for this style, his many African flavored long winded spiritual modal jazz jams were already one foot in the psyche world as it was. Throughout his career, Yusef was an artist who was interested in fusing jazz with whatever he felt like trying. “The Doctor…” isn’t a great album, nor a particularly bad one, but it is worthwhile for those who like those somewhat off the beaten path kind of opuses.

Side one opens with three rather laid back groove based fusion jams on which Lateef spins solos on flute and oboe. Joining him on keyboards is the great Kenny Barron, who shows up on more of these kind of albums than anyone except maybe Herbie Hancock. Before he became the king of contemporary hard bop, Kenny was all about his arsenal of synthesizers, effects and other electronic keyboards. As usual, Barron turns in a great job with his rhythmic accompaniment and hot solos. Side two picks up steam a bit with two grittier funk jazz numbers, the first recalling Eddie Harris and the second, Herbie’s Headhunters.

For the last three tracks of the album, Yusef takes a very hard left turn with some rather out there outings. “Technological Homosapien” is some sort of talk about technology that is hard to make out sometimes because the words are being over powered by odd sounds on the synthesizer. “Street Musicians” is just that, a recording of some street musicians performing a rather sad and mournful melody. The album closer takes the cake for oddness though, as Lateef solos along side an old sentimental pop song that may be altered electronically somewhat. As mentioned earlier, this album is mostly good for someone into acid jazz putting together a DJ set or mix tape that will have listeners trying to guess ‘where did you find that exotic jam‘.

MILT JACKSON Reverence And Compassion

Album · 1993 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT

You've heard the putdowns: "Uncle Milty-baby", "Tuxes and Cocktail Lounges", and "Everybody's Darling Dozing Deacon of Good Vibezzzz". Then there's the Damned with Faint Praise category: "consistent", "dexterous", "solidly entertaining", and, of course, "nice". Very occasionally, a voice in the wilderness will speak up. Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton have never been shy about the influence of Milt Jackson upon their music. The Rev has even been called "one of the great soloists in jazz". So just who is he, really?

If ever an album qualified as a "career achievement" album, Reverence and Compassion is it. No, it can't rightly be called the greatest moment in the history of recorded sound, but simply the album that sums up and epitomizes his very full life in music. Who is Milt Jackson? Listen to this album! 50% classics and 50% originals, Milt calls it "the best CD I have ever made" in the liner notes.

So who's accompanying Milt on this album? On piano, Cedar Walton almost steals the show on "Reverence", "Young and Foolish", and "Newest Blues". On bass and arrangements, the underrated John Clayton sets down a funky groove on "This Masquerade", receives a solo spotlight on Milt's composition "J.C.", and duets with him on "Compassion". Drummer Billy Higgins is admittedly under-utilized, but he provides a great solo on the galloping "Bullet Bag". Everyone plays like the momentous occasion it is, but it's Milt's awe-inspiring playing that dominates the album. At 61:30, Reverence and Compassion is not in an agitated hurry to go anywhere, yet it never drags or meanders.

It should be mentioned (because everyone else does) that there is also a huge string orchestra and a six-piece brass section on this album. The textures can be slightly heavy, and from time to time, there are reminders of the infamous CTI sound. Listen to the haunting, otherworldly performances of "Little Girl Blue" and "It Never Entered My Mind". This is achingly beautiful (without being soporific), endless blue sky music, even if they do close with "Here's That Rainy Day". I've heard many a "sleepy w/strings" albums in my day, and let it be said here that this is not one of them. And while Milt still had a few more albums up his sleeve before the end of his life, the truly poignant Reverence and Compassion is the one to remember him by.

STEVE GADD Steve Gadd Band : At Blue Note Tokyo

Live album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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If you were a jazz fan in the 70s then you no doubt are very familiar with the drumming of Steve Gadd. Possibly only Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea left a bigger jazz footprint in the 70s than Steve, whose creative drumming showed up on so many jazz, funk, RnB and pop albums throughout the decade, and of course right up to today as well. “At Blue Note Tokyo” is Steve’s latest album and it showcases his band at a relaxed and very groove oriented live show at the famous club in Japan. Joining Steve are his usual band mates of Kevin Hays on keys and vocals, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Walt Fowler on trumpet and longtime associate David Spinozza filling in on guitar.

This being a live gig, the band keeps things mostly cool in a crowd pleasing way, and even includes a couple vocal numbers that are always a good way of building a stronger report with an audience. The CD opens with “Where’s Earth” with a touch of psychedelic mystery. The following two tracks, “Doesn’t She by Now” and “Timpanogos” are two of the best on the album with their catchy melodic content and no sweat infectious groove. The following blues and vocal tracks seem more like crowd pleasers and they work well that way.

The band picks up some steam on the Latin flavored “One Point Five” with Kevin Hays turning in a short but intense montuno driven piano solo and Gadd giving us his only solo on the album. The two following funk numbers keep the energy level up there with “Way Back Home” pushing Hays into another hot piano solo, this time with a New Orleans flavor. “Rat Race” keeps the funk flowing with Spinozza turning up the saturated distortion for his most rocking solo on the album.

ANTHONY JOSEPH The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives

Album · 2021 · African Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Caribbean-born, London-based poet, university professor and singer/musician Anthony Joseph is often tagged in adverts as "leader of the black underground" in London, but leaving the marketing tricks aside I would call him Caribbean immigrant's poetic soul.

His song lyrics split right by half between bitter-sweet melancholic rememberings dedicated to his native Trinidad and Tobago, and more dark, but still very artistic and beautiful in their own way, themes from Caribbean immigrants life in England.

Differently from cult figure Shabaka Hutchings, the true leader of younger wave of enormously popular new London street-wise Afrojazz, Joseph is too wise, too philosophical and not enough confrontational for being the leader of any underground.

It took three long years for me waiting for his new release after I've been so highly impressed by Joseph's previous one, "People Of The Sun"(2018) both recorded and live. All Joseph's albums work for me by the same way - after very first listening I feel ... slightly disappointed. Music sounds too simple, too predictable. Then after repeated listening it slowly grows on me in a progression. And quite soon it occupies my player for months, as it happened with "People Of The Sun", (it became my most often listened album during the last two years).

Oppositely to the above mentioned work, which happened to be massive double-vinyl longer than an hour long release, "The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives" is of classic single vinyl size, and I love this format more and more. At early days of digital technologies, 80+ minutes of regular CD album looked as huge advantage against thirty-something minutes of vinyl. But quite soon we all realized that increased space worked against the artists themselves. Trying to fill technically available free space of commercial recordings, labels and artists started adding a lot of not-so-mandatory material in their albums. As a result, really well edited containing no fillers album is a real rarity for a few decades, even speaking about the best artists' music.

So, we have here just six songs, each between four and ten minutes long. Characteristic soulful Caribbean jazz with simple but memorable melodies, knotted rhythms and not so simple arrangements. Less Latin, than previous work. Same working band with Jason Yarde on sax, percussionist Roger Raspail and Thibaut Remy on guitar among others. Shabaka Hutchings on sax as guest (Shabaka just released his own new album with his band "Sons Of Kemet" - similar Caribbean jazz with surprising amount of vocals, which is still more musical and less poetic work, compared to Joseph's newest release).

Same themes about Caribbean and immigrants' life in London. "Calling England Home" is an absolute peak, everything about Joseph's creation is concentrated there. Same bitter-sweet and melancholic atmosphere, balancing well between love, frustration and hope. Not really a new step - its just like watching another movie from a director you like and with actors you love.

MILES DAVIS Quiet Nights

Album · 1963 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.02 | 13 ratings
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“ Quiet Nights” could have been a much better album, but unfortunately the meddling greed of Columbia never let this project develop naturally. Miles and Gil had a sincere interest in Brazilian music and put together a couple of art pop covers of Brazilian songs which Columbia jumped on in an attempt to ride the new Bossa Nova fad. The songs did not make the pop charts so the whole project was shelved for a while. Later Miles and Gil recorded several more songs in a Brazilian style and then again the project sat for a while. At a later date, in an anxious move to satisfy the suits at Colombia, Theo Macero dug up a ballad Miles had recorded with his previous combo, slapped that with the other tunes and released the album which now contained only 25 minutes of music. Miles was quite angry with the move and broke relations with Macero and Columbia for some time.

It’s a shame that it turned out as it did because much of the music on “Quiet Nights” is excellent. Most, but not all, of the tunes are complex and interesting, and Gil Evan’s orchestrations are as imaginative as ever, while Miles delivers one soliloquy after another in some of the better ballad playing of his life. The album’s mix of jazz and lounge sensibilities foreshadow the modern era of ambient nu jazz, and this album has a strong following amongst fans of 60s exotica. In another bad moment of commercialism, Columbia touts this album on its back cover notes as being a Bossa Nova album, but although it is very Brazilian, standard Bossa Nova it isn’t.

One issue with this album that I have never seen raised before is the high volume at which the trumpet is mixed. Miles is front and center and quite a bit louder than the orchestra background and the frustratingly faint percussion. In the era when this was recorded, popular ballad instrumentals, often played by a tenor sax, sounded better coming out of a car dashboard speaker if there was not too much orchestral clutter. Possibly this is the sound they were going for. Still, I think some of tone colors might have sounded more interesting if there had been more of an attempt to blend Miles with Gil’s imaginative orchestrations.

CHRIS POTTER Sunrise Reprise

Album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
ROUND TWO

Just by looking at the cover artwork, one can tell that if ever an album invited a comparison with a previous album, Chris Potter's Sunrise Reprise does so unflinchingly. His 2019 album Circuits was a blistering, breath-taking fusion ride that remains one of the greatest jazz albums of the last 10 years. With James Francies (keyboards) and Eric Harland (drums) returning, the now-dubbed Circuits Trio has given us a post-lockdown album that, while different from the previous work, is still a vital force to be reckoned with.

Sunrise Reprise is a touch more exploratory than Circuits was, but without any let-up in intensity. There is no real cross-over into avant-garde territory, and yet boundaries have been exceeded and risks have been taken. "Sunrise and Joshua Trees" sets the pace with a synth intro before a long, brooding tenor sax line is eventually doubled and tripled with soprano sax and clarinet. "Southbound" and "Serpentine" are both reminiscent of the Circuits sound world: viciously complex sax lines doubled by keyboard before solos. Harland sits out "The Peanut" (which has already drawn comparisons to "Naima"), and if I were played this track while doing the blindfold test, I might have thought this was the late, great Marion Brown blowing on the horn.

Then there is the epic, "Nowhere, Now Here/Sunrise Reprise". At 24:27, nothing is held back while the trio maneuver through many different tempi and atmospheres. A flute intro over dreamy keyboards opens the proceedings before synth bass, tenor sax, and frisky drumming are added. Francies channels late-1970s keyboard textures while Harland jabs like a heavyweight champ. At the 10-minute mark, samplers take over, leading to a diffuse, experimental section. Eventually a steady rhythm is established while keyboards and saxes enter, fade, and re-enter. By the 20-minute mark, the saxes have dropped out entirely and the journey ends with keyboards over a pounding bass drum. Despite the track's prodigious length, at no time does the trio drift into aimless noodling or repetitiveness, nor is there any sense of "drag". A pre-determined course has clearly been set, and the players sprint to the finish with flying colors.

If I have one minor complaint about Sunrise Reprise, it's the overuse of synth bass. Circuits had bass guitarist Linley Marthe on 4 out of 7 tracks, and his presence is missed on Sunrise Reprise. Perhaps it's just a mixing issue, but here the synth bass is overly prominent and almost becomes a soloing instrument. Nevertheless this is just a small quibble on an otherwise phenomenal album. While not quite the masterpiece that Circuits is, there is still plenty here to sink your teeth into for many years of listening. Let's hope Edition Records continues to make this trio's recordings available to its envelope-pushing listeners.

FRED WESLEY Damn Right I am Somebody (wth the JB's)

Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Damn Right I am Somebody’ is an excellent jazzy funk release recorded by the JB’s during their second peak after reforming under the leadership of tromboner par excellance, Fred Wesley. Wesley’s records usually reflect the style of the people he is working with at the time, in this case that would be one of James Brown’s very best early 70s ensembles. This is hard grooving James style funk with the characteristic slight swing feel and Afro-Cuban accents from conga player Johnny Griggs. Unfortunately, the musicians on here are not listed, but some givens include Jimmy Nolan on guitar, Maceo Parker on sax, John Starks on drums and James Brown on incidental vocals. If you have ever seen Eddie Murphy’s hilarious send- up of James’ nonsense syllable improvisations, you will love album opener ‘Damn Right I am Somebody’ where Brown unleashes a constant stream of onomatopoeia crazyness.

If you know your early hip-hop samples and loops you will know that this is the JB’s album with the synthesizer. Some references claim that James is the synth player, while others list vocalist Bobby Byrd. Either way, the persistent synth noodling on several cuts adds an excellent exotic flavor to this record. All the songs on here are great, but one stand out is ‘I’m Payin Taxes, What am I Buyin’, where Jimmy Nolan provides a killer guitar riff that won’t quit. Jimmy Nolan is the god of rhythm guitar .. word.

Most of the songs on here are classic JB’s funk except for ‘Make Me what You Want Me to be’ which is a classy orchestrated soul-jazz pop number, likewise their lover’s groove re-make of Marvin Gaye’s ‘You Sure Love to Ball’ sets a different mood as it closes the album and turns down the lights for the rest of the evening.

MACHINE MASS Machine Mass Sextet : Intrusion

Album · 2021 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Intrusion” is the fourth album by Machine Mass, and it continues their tendency to try something new on each album. The core of the band is Michel Delville on guitar and Tony Bianco on drums. For this fourth album Michel brought on some cohorts from his jazz rock group, Wrong Object, Antoine Guenet on piano and Damien Campion on standup bass. Making the group a sextet are a horn frontline of Laurent Blondiau on trumpet and Manuel Hermia on saxophone. Despite the addition of a couple of rockers from Wrong Object, “Intrusion” is Machine Mass’ most jazz centered album to date, but there is also a good dose of their more expected psychedelic fusion too.

The album opens with Coltrane’s “Africa”, with the band staying true to the original’s spiritual jazz/post bop swing, with Delville’s scorching distorted guitar solo being a definite Machine Mass signature addition to this classic. Following track, “Intrusion”, is very much in the current North European jazz sound, and is a bit different from Mass’ previous albums. Its good for bands to try new things. From here we get a short free jazz section that settles into the off center funk fusion of “Not Another Loud Song”. “The Roll”, has Mass back on the modern jazz tip with that drumnbass bop style that is so popular in NYC these days, while “ED” brings the band back to their trademark psych fusion roots with a massive prog rock chord sequence buildup. The CD closes with Machine Mass’ second time to record “In a Silent Way”. Its hard to add much to this tune and Mass does about as well as anyone could hope to, Guenet’s piano chord voiceings add something unique.

VIJAY IYER Vijay Iyer Sextet ‎: Far From Over

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.43 | 2 ratings
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Pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the more important figures on the American creative jazz scene for the last two decades. During this time, he built the solid reputation of a precise player who connects Indian roots, jazz tradition and modernity in one, usually unpredictable, complex but accessible mix, attractive for a wide range of listeners. Better known by his solo or small band recordings, his new sextet is a real triumph, probably his highest success till now.

Combining regular jazz trio (with star-drummer Tyshawn Sorey on board) with a brass trio on the front of the sound, Iyer offers a high-energy mini-big band, playing some of his most memorable compositions (all originals). Radically different from Iyers' regular acoustic trios, this new sextet sounds a lot like Miles' early fusion bands, just framed with modern chamber jazz-influenced composition. Iyer himself switches from acoustic piano to Rhodes, on some extended soloing, together with another first-range star - altoist Steve Lehman (who already played with Iyer and Sorey as Fieldwork trio).

To finish the mix, add some hip-hop and funky rhythms, and what you get is an excellent today's jazz album, containing no fillers, and sounding BIG, as revitalizing the times when jazz was really BIG. Almost a masterpiece.

RICHARD "GROOVE" HOLMES Supa Cookin (with Jimmy McGriff)

Boxset / Compilation · 1974 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.98 | 3 ratings
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Supa Cookin’ is one of those jazz records that throws all attempts at subtlety out the window and goes for high energy good time jams in which the players gladly show off their most dexterous high speed licks in a crowd pleasing display of showmanship. This sort of thing can be embarrassing if the players can’t deliver, but Holmes and McGriff come through with fierce solos and the energy never drops for a second.

This is a two record live set that features the duo B3s of Holmes and McGriff, plus two or three guitars, one drummer and a percussionist on each side. There is a change of lineup on the second disc with Leon Cook and Mark Elf replacing George Freeman on second (plus third) guitar, and Mike Moss replacing Bernard Purdie on drums. I don’t know if the lineup change is the reason, but the music on the second record is better and more modern than the first disc.

Record one is mostly swing based hard bop and the guys really work it to death, but I prefer record two on which they play in a 70s funk jazz style on ‘The Preacher’s Tune’, and a modern African fusion style on ‘Mozambique’. The fast bop tunes on record two also go at a more furious pace than the ones on record one. Overall, disc one is more like the old Holmes-McGriff soul jazz style we‘ve heard before, but disc two shows them becoming more modern and more high energy as well.

This is a live recording and the B3s have great natural distortion for a rock like aggressive energy. The double and triple guitar player effect is also nice as they complement each other with interlocking funky riffs. If you like virtuoso B3 playing, this is a good one.

VIJAY IYER Uneasy

Album · 2021 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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Last year in jazz, heavily influenced by the COVID pandemic, wasn't a regular one. With live gigs and even studio recording sessions being very often unavailable for many, musical market reacted quite soon flooding on-line sales points with tons of vaults material, rehearsal recordings and DIY-level home-made new music, which too often wouldn't be released under normal conditions at all.

There still were released (and still continue to come) some really good albums during these difficult times, renowned American pianist Vijay Iyer's new just released "Uneasy" is one of them.

It is Iyer's second trio album for ECM, the previous one was released in 2015, but the new trio is quite different from the first one. In fact, now we have a super-trio of sort, including one of the brightest creative drummer of the last few years Tyshawn Sorey and growing stylish bassist Linda Oh, who's solo works require a wider introduction, and she's one of the busiest acoustic bassist on today's scene as a collaborator.

From the very first sounds one will note that the new album sounds quite unusual for an ECM release. Recorded at Oktaven Audio Studio in Mount Vernon, NY, it doesn't have that characteristic cool and sterile sound of Oslo's Rainbow studio, or some other European facilities beloved by ECM. The opener, "Children Of Flint", is one of the best compositions on the whole album, with a lot of emotion and even some drama. As almost all the other album's songs, it is an Iyer's original (Gerri Allen’s “Drummer’s Song” and not really impressive version of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” are the two only non-originals here).

Iyer's own compositions come from different periods of time, some of them have been already recorded on his other albums. Still, here they sound way different. Not as radical as many of Iyer's previous albums, "Uneasy", with its dominating mid-tempo all-acoustic groovy sound and extremely successful balance between post-bop tradition, creativity and modern sound, is possibly one great candidate for being a soundtrack for this last pandemic year - worried, calmer, sad and hopeful. Surprisingly, it was recorded in December 2019, but it anticipates pretty well the atmosphere of changes which came very soon.

Quite accessible, it brings lot of pleasure when listening, one of the very best works already released this year.

FRANK ZAPPA Zoot Allures

Album · 1976 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.26 | 21 ratings
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"Zoot Allures" is an album release by US, California based rock artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through Warner Bros. Records in October 1976. It's the successor to the 1975 "Bongo Fury" collaboration album with Captain Beefheart. "Zoot Allures" was originally meant to be released through the DiscReet Records label, but Herb Cohen (Zappa's then manager/business partner and co-owner of DiscReet Records) and Zappa had a falling out (which ended in a lawsuit), and the album was therefore released through Warner Bros. Records. It would be Zappa's only release through the label, as he would also experience great trouble with that label and their business methods resulting in one of the longest release breaks of his career, as his next release "Zappa in New York" wasn't released until March 1978 (through the DiscReet Records label, although still distributed though Warner Bros. Records).

Many of Zappa's albums consist of both studio and live recordings recorded at various locations and times (sometimes combined on the same track), and that's also the case on "Zoot Allures", although most tracks on the album were actually recorded in May-June of 1976 at the Record Plant Studios on Los Angeles. There are three exceptions on the album. The first is "Wonderful Wino", which is a track that Zappa co-wrote with former Mothers of Invention bassist Jeff Simmons, and which in its original version was featured on the latter's 1969 solo album "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up". The version of "Wonderful Wino" included on "Zoot Allures" was recorded in 1972/1973. The second exception is "Friendly Little Finger", which was recorded partially in 1973 and finished in October 1975. The last exception is the instrumental "Black Napkins", which is a live recording from Osaka, Japan from February 1976.

Most of the basic tracks (bass, guitars, drums, vocals, keyboards) which were recorded at the Record Plant Studios, were recorded by the duo of Frank Zappa and Terry Bozzio. The latter recorded all drum tracks, and the former recorded everything else. The album however does feature quite a few guest appearances by Zappa regulars like Ruth and Ian Underwood, Roy Estrada, Captain Beefheart, and Bruce Fowler.

In usual Frank Zappa mode "Zoot Allures" is a stylistically eclectic release. It's one of Frank Zappa's more easily accessible and humourous releases and tracks like "Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station", "Ms. Pinky", "Wonderful Wino", and "Disco Boy" are all both funny and a little silly (in a good way). In the other end of the spectrum are the two instrumentals "Black Napkins" and the title track, which both feature a darker and more melancholic sound. The same can be said about "The Torture Never Stops", which is a long atmospheric track with some thought provoking lyrics.

"Zoot Allures" features a warm, organic, and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly and upon conclusion it's a good quality release by Frank Zappa. It's not among his most standout releases nor among his best, but it's still highly entertaining and filled to the brim with excellent musicianship, adventurous songwriting ideas, and strong production values. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

FRANK ZAPPA Zappa in New York

Live album · 1978 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.57 | 23 ratings
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"Zappa in New York" is a live double album release by US rock artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in March 1978. The album actually saw a limited release in the UK in early 1977, but it was soon withdrawn from the record stores. Warner Bros. Records who Frank Zappa had signed a distribution deal with, insisted on removing and thereby censoring the track "Punky's Whips" and also removed references made to "Punky's Whips" on the "Titties & Beer" track. This meant that a small war broke out between Warner Bros. Records and Zappa, who in his contract with the distribution company had made sure that he had complete artistic freedom. The censored March 1978 version of "Zappa in New York" was therefore released by Warner Bros. Records without the consent of Zappa. The full uncensored version of the album was re-released in 1991 by Zappa. It was originally Zappa's intention to include some of the live recordings on his 4-record box set "L'ther" release in late 1977, but the box set release was shelved as a consequence of the lawsuit between Zappa and Warner Bros. Records.

While recording of "Zoot Allures (1976)" took place Zappa began to form a core touring lineup for a world tour in 1976/1977 (the tour lasted from October 1976 to February 1977) featuring Zappa on vocals and guitars, Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals, Ray White on guitars and vocals, Eddie Jobson on keyboards, violin, and vocals, and Patrick O'Hearn on bass and vocals (Bianca Thornton was part of the lineup through November 11th 1976 on vocals and keyboards). The material featured on "Zappa in New York" were recorded in December 1976 at a series of concerts at the Palladium in New York City. The recordings feature quite a few guest/session musicians in addition to the above mentioned core lineup. Among the guests are the Brecker brothers on tenor sax, flute, and trumpet and Zappa- regular Ruth Underwood on percussion and synthesizer.

Most of the tracklist consists of tracks which had not seen a studio recording (except "Sofa" and "Big Leg Emma", and on the 1991 re-release version also "Cruisin' for Burgers", "I'm the Slime", and "The Torture Never Stops"), and in that respect "Zappa in New York" is a more interesting live release than most. The opening trio of tracks (on the 1991 version of the album "Cruisin' for Burgers" is placed as song number 2 on the tracklist) "Titties & Beer", "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth", and "Punky's Whips" (the middle one is an instrumental), are comical rock tracks with loads of sexual references, and especially "Punky's Whips", with it's homo erotic suggestions proved to be a bit too much for the censor people at Warner Bros. Records. "Titties & Beer" is a great example of how good Zappa and his band were at improvising. Most of the track is tightly structured and prepared, but when the biker protagonist (played by Zappa), and the devil (played by drummer Terry Bozzio) have their talk about signing a deal with the devil, they both improvise which is great fun (while Bozzio also keeps the beat).

Other highlights on the album are the impossible to play instrumental "Black Page #2" and the humourous dating song Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?. "The Illinois Enema Bandit" is a great heavy blues rock track, although it's a bit overlong and some people may be offended by its controversial subject matter (telling the story of the crimes and conviction of real life armed robber and sexual offender Michael Hubert Kenyon). The 16:57 minutes long "The Purple Lagoon/Aproximate" is in large part an improvisational piece, and to my ears not one of Zappa's best, although it's a very well performed mostly improvised piece of music, featuring a lot of jazz type soloing. Personally I prefer the structured "Aproximate" part of the track, but that part is only a few minutes long.

The sound production is raw, organic, and maybe most important, feels like a "real" live recording, although Zappa made many overdubs on the recordings in early 1977. Appearing here the tracks and the flow of the album can sometimes feel a bit fragmented, because the material were recorded at different shows but overall "Zappa in New York" is a good quality live release by Zappa. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

SOT Redwings Nest

Album · 2014 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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"Redwings Nest" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Norwegian avant/progressive rock act SOT. The album was released through Sotanic Sounds in June 2014. "Redwings Nest" features the same three-piece lineup who recorded the band´s debut full- length studio album "Kind of Saltz (2011)". Skjalg Reithaug (guitars, vocals), Lars Andreas Haug (tubmarine, trumpet, sounds), Anders Hunstad (drums, piano).

The music on the album continues the adventurous take on jazz rock and progressive/avant garde rock as SOT introduced on "Kind of Saltz (2011)". There is a proud Scandinavian tradition for playing a slightly twisted take on this kind of music, which an artist like Samla Mammas Manna is also an example of (without further comparison). It´s this catagory that SOT also belong in. While there are many nods towards jazz because of the scales and the notes chosen, the fusion drumming, and the use of tuba and trumpet in a rock music format, this is certainly not straight jazz (whatever that is). These guys simply wouldn´t be content with playing within the boundaries of a certain musical style and they make sure to incorporate enough challenging and intriguing genre pushing elemens for that never to happen. They even stretch as far as to incorporate heavy metal sounding riffing to some of their tracks. Examples of that can be found in the title track (a charming avant garde rock beast of a track) and in "Second Row".

So it´s safe to say the listener is met with an adventurous and challenging listen when spinning "Redwings Nest". Fortunately SOT also know how to write a song that sticks. Not necessarily in a mainstream vers/chorus format but still accessible and inviting, even though "regular" commercial radio listeners might not agree with me here (but who cares about them?).

The three guys in the band are greatly skilled and an incredibly well playing unit. Like the case was on the debut album the tuba, which is playing the bass parts, is one of the things in the soundscape that really stands out a lot. Who would have thought that a tuba could sound so amazing and powerful (almost brutal at times) in a jazz rock setting? The rest of the instruments and the sparse vocals (both male and female) also work really well together and the whole thing is packed in a powerful and organic sound production which suits the music perfectly.

This is neither the most complex nor the most demanding jazz rock album in the world (although it´s still pretty challenging), but it´s a damn charming one, that refuses to bow to convention, and that´s always praise worthy. To my ears "Kind of Saltz (2011)" and "Redwings Nest" are pretty equal in quality and also in style and if you enjoy one it´s pretty likely you´ll enjoy the other too. SOT are arguably a class act (whith a charming wacky side) and prove it once again on "Redwings Nest" and a 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

GENE HARRIS AstralSignal

Album · 1974 · RnB
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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In the early to mid 70s, many a jazz musician was drawn to both the growing impact of the new funk groove, as well as the psychedelic sound borne from the 60s. Gene Harris was no exception as his “AsrtralSignal” album from 1974 bears trademarks from that groovy early 70s era, which is also reflected in the very ‘cosmic’ title of the album. Gene Harris was no stranger to mixing jazz with dance rhythms, in fact his entire career was built around a solid reputation as one of the top soul jazz artists from the mid 50s until the 70s and beyond. With “AstralSignals”, Gene took things one step further from his gospel based roots to embrace the new funk style of Sly Stone and James Brown. On this funk foundation, Harris layered multiple horns, vocals and electronic instruments to build his imaginative arrangements.

The album opens with a heavily reverbed cosmic statement from Gene before we launch into an exotic instrumental topped with wordless vocals. Next up, a very funky synth intro leads the band into Sly Stone’s well known song chant about racial name calling. After a laid back instrumental with more wordless vocals, Harris closes out side one with some of his signature gospel riffs on the piano in a double tracked solo performance.

Side two kicks off with a rockin instrumental version of Credence’s “Green River”. On Chicago’s “Beginnings”, Gene handles the lead vocals and sheds some new tone colors on this well known number. This side closes out with some more funk-jazz jams with Harvey Mason’s “Higga Boom” being a real highlight. This album has its ups and downs, but the ups make it well worth it for fans of funk jazz, exotic lounge music, rare groove and other jazz related crate digging.

GARY BARTZ Gary Bartz & Maisha : Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Gary Bartz was a celebrity of sorts half-a-century ago when he played on the forefront of the then young American fusion and post bop scene. Seasoned veteran doesn't record too often but still is active today.

Maisha is a fashionable British African fusion band, playing relaxed and sunny-bright music around burgeoning London scenes. Combination of the two is presented on "Night Dreamer" - vinyl-size long album, recorded in 'popular in 80's' direct-to-disc techniques in Dutch Haarlem (not American Harlem).

Starting from the opener, "Harlem - Haarlem", the listener can enjoy the usual Maisha sound, just less relaxed, better framed and more energized. Or - Bartz's fusion, made from Maisha's African influenced jazz. To be honest, "Maisha featuring Gary Bartz" would be a better tag to this album than tagging it as Gary Bartz's album as leader as the album is currently titled.

The sound is great, Bartz sounds warm and soulful and the music is positive and comfortable in general, but quite soon one can feel like you are listening to just one long song. Repetitive rhythms with no striking tempo, rhythm or tonal changes make this short album sound a bit like a long live jam without any specific direction. Some short pieces can be accepted as nice examples of modern revitalization of fusion from the early 70s, but unfortunately, in full it doesn't work as well.

Here we have two great artists coming together to sound much like musical wall paper, it isn't what one would expect from such a collaboration.

CARLOS SANTANA Love Devotion Surrender (with John McLaughlin)

Album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.80 | 21 ratings
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Love Devotion and Surrender” is an odd one in the Carlos Santana discography. Released in 1973 when jazz fusion had hit a popularity peak and had enticed rockers like Carlos and Jeff Beck to take part in the genre, this will be one of a few full fusion albums that Carlos will release during this time. Santana is joined on here by the flamboyant John McLaughlin as they pay tribute to both John Coltrane and Sri Chimnoy. The spiritual jazz of Coltrane and Pharoh Sanders is a big influence on here, but so is the macho rockin jazz fusion of the day, making for a sometimes clumsy hybrid.

The album opens with Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, which is given a huge electric mystical 70s hippie sound that is attractive at first, but as McLaughlin and Santana flail at each other with ill-advised lick trading exercises, the track becomes more of an athletic workout than something more musical. Fortunately this is the only song on which they ‘battle’ each other in this fashion. “Naima” is played acoustically and in very good taste, but their performance doesn’t offer anything new to this often recorded ballad. Side one closes out with “The Life Divine”, on which the two guitarists get to stretch out without the annoying frantic lick trading of the opening cut. Many great drummers are credited on this album, but there is no doubt that it is Billy Cobham on “Life Divine”, his distinctive drum roll makes it obvious.

Side two is taken up mostly with “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord”, possibly the best track on the album and one in which the two guitarists are allowed to stretch out unfettered and finally organist Larry Young is allowed to take a ride. Larry eschews the more rockin style of his band mates and turns in the most interesting solo on the album. Unfortunately, the last part of his solo is almost buried by McLaughlin’s insistent rhythm playing. The album closes with another short ballad featuring McLaughlin’s rather pedestrian piano playing.

The opening of this album promises good things to come with its big open psychedelic sound and spirited energy, but as things develop, many of the solos are not that interesting as they lean heavily on repeating rock riffs delivered with the subtlety of a sledge hammer. All of the performers could have done well to pay attention to Larry Young’s approach as he swells in and out of the mix adding tamboura like colors that blend well with the electric guitars and the multitude of percussion. Very much a product of its time, “Love, Devotion and Surrender” is for those who like the excesses that marked what was both good and bad musically in the 70s.

KENNY WHEELER All the More

Album · 1997 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
OBSCURE MASTERPIECE

Recorded in 1993, mixed in 1994, but not released until 1997, Kenny Wheeler's All the More is nothing short of a quartet masterpiece. Sadly, even many from Kenny's worldwide following have not heard this album, as it only appeared on an obscure Italian label, Soul Note. Not only that, but it was competing in the marketplace with the much higher-profile ECM album, Angel Song, with which it shares a common composition, "Nonetheless". The two albums will not be compared as they are very different, but I really wish All the More had been better marketed and distributed, as it is truly one of Wheeler's best albums over a long and checkered career.

This album's instrumentation (trumpet/piano/bass/drums) should remind many of another well-known Wheeler album. Backed by Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette, 1976's Gnu High first brought Wheeler to international attention in his mid-40's. All the More is a much longer and more fiery album than Gnu High, and Wheeler plays far more trumpet than flugelhorn. Pianist John Taylor and drummer Joe LaBarbera have backed many different performers over the years, but have never sounded as impassioned as they do on this album. I was not familiar with bassist Furio di Castri until hearing this performance, but he more than holds his own and makes a major contribution throughout. The ever-generous Wheeler makes sure everybody receives extensive time in the solo spotlight. There's even room for a Bill Evans tribute, LaBarbera's composition "Kind of Bill".

The multi-faceted work of Kenny Wheeler includes free jazz, avant-garde jazz, and a huge pile of compositions for both big band and much smaller ensembles. His biggest sellers are sometimes dismissed with pejoratives such as "pensively lyrical" or "ethereally haunted". While it's possible to understand where these critics are coming from, none of these adjectives apply to All the More, which is not only one of his best, but also one of the most significant (in spite of its obscurity) jazz albums of the late 1990's. The fact it didn't have the distribution of an ECM album makes it harder to find, but the search will be more than repaid to fans of the players involved. Let it also be known that this album shares a composition ("Mark Time") with Wheeler's other masterpiece, 1984's Double Double You.



TOMASZ STAŃKO Tomasz Stańko Quintet : Dark Eyes

Album · 2009 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.46 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
RISKS ARE TAKEN!

Inevitably, this album will be compared to Stanko's three preceding albums for ECM, Soul of Things (2002), Suspended Night (2004), and Lontano (2006). The Polish quartet has been replaced with a Scandinavian quintet, and while the Stanko trumpet sound remains the same and there are some similar tonal textures, Dark Eyes is also something very different. Most significantly, the addition of electric guitar and electric bass produce a fuller, more modern, even urban soundscape. Where some will recognize a natural progression from the experimental Lontano, surely others will lament the loss of the classic quartet atmosphere. Dark Eyes is a shorter album (61:44) than the quartet albums, and with a variety of moods takes some time to come to grips with. This is definitely not an avant-garde side-street, but it's also not an accessible "start here" recording.

The album begins with the pace-setting, scratchy-toned "So Nice". It's unusual, after the three piano/bass/drums albums, to hear a guitar backing Stanko. Dark Eyes was my introduction to guitarist Jakob Bro, and he plays moodily and unobtrusively throughout. The thunderous drumming of Olavi Louhivuori and the rumbling bass of Anders Christensen are the highlights of "Terminal 7". Many of the songs begin hesitantly, such as "Amsterdam Avenue", "Samba Nova", and "Grand Central", which stops completely before resuming. Pianist Alexi Tuomarila takes his best solos on these three. The album closes with a call-back to 1976's Balladyna album, "Last Song", and the poignant "Etude Baletova No.3".

Special mention must be made of the following stand-outs: "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch" is this album's instant classic, beginning as a dirge before Stanko launches into his wildest solo on the album. Over tolling piano chords and splashing cymbals, Stanko wails and Bro plays an airy solo on "Dirge for Europe". The ethereal "May Sun" does without Stanko entirely: a simple piece for guitar and piano, reminiscent of a Chick Corea "Children's Song".

While risks are taken, Dark Eyes is an overwhelmingly subdued album. The melancholy ECM sound is ever-present and will repay repeated listening. The first two quartet albums notwithstanding, this album sits very securely among the best of the now complete Stanko oeuvre. And lest any doubt be raised, the greatest trumpet with electric guitar albums remain Miles Davis's In a Silent Way (John McLaughlin), and Enrico Rava's The Plot (John Abercrombie).

GRANT GREEN Green is Beautiful

Album · 1970 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 3 ratings
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Green is Beautiful” is a transitional album for Grant Green as it finds him moving more from the hard bop of his early career and more towards a funk/RnB sound. Like a lot of soul jazz LPs form this era. ‘Beautiful’ is kind of hit and miss with about one half good RnB jazz grooves, and about one half pop ditties that are forgettable. Side one opens with a cover of James Brown’s “Aint it Funky Now”, and it’s a solid cooker with great solos from the whole crew, including saxophonist Claude Bartee, who might remind some of Eddie Harris. This side closes out with the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. This song was popular with soul jazz musicians, but it never works well. Although it’s a good song in its original format, the different changes in the arrangement don’t lend itself very well to jazz or RnB solos.

Side two opens with another JB’s style groove, “The Windjammer”, which is followed by a very lackluster “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”. I’m not sure whose idea it was to include this very cheesy pop song, but it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. It’s a bad song to begin with and there is no way to save it, or make it better. The album closes with the best track, “Dracula”, another funk number and one of the few tracks with a very strong melody. If you keep the three best tracks on “Green is Beautiful”, you have a decent funk jazz album, albeit one that mostly sounds like a jam session. It doesn’t hurt that Green in his crew know how to turn in hot solos over an infectious groove.

WAYNE SHORTER Beyound the Sound Barrier

Live album · 2005 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.83 | 6 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

Recorded between November 2002 and April 2004 before very enthusiastic crowds, Beyond the Sound Barrier can best be described as a collection of tour highlights. I hope that doesn't sound too disparaging, because we are treated to some truly awe-inspiring performances. Yet at 61:17, it seems obvious that Verve Records didn't want to put out a double-disc set of a full concert. Instead, they have given us a "best of" selection without duplicating any titles from the previous live album, Footprints Live (2002).

When you are Wayne Shorter, you don't have to settle for just anybody, or whoever happens to be available when putting together a touring ensemble. If Wayne is on the line, nobody says, "Let me check my schedule." With John Patitucci on bass, Danilo Perez on piano, and Brian Blade on drums, Shorter would have been very hard-pressed to find more qualified players. These are all world-class performers of jaw-dropping virtuosity, and an excellent live mix makes sure every note comes through perfectly. Patitucci in particular shines extra brightly on this album.

So what do we get in a mere 61:17? "As Far as the Eye Can See" and "On Wings of Song" are both faded early in mid-performance. "Beyond the Sound Barrier" is faded in, then faded out. "Tinker Bell" is a brief trio improv with Shorter sitting out. The remaining 4 tracks are all complete performances. Shorter devotes far more time to the soprano sax than the tenor, but we aren't complaining. Don't miss his and Patitucci's amazing solos on "Joy Ryder", or Perez's stunning work on "Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean". The listener is almost tempted to take Blade's drumming for granted, but he never allows us to do just that.

This disc could have accommodated 18 more minutes of music, but for unknown reasons, Verve decided we could do without. That alone prevents this album from a higher ranking, because the actual performances could not be topped. Had I known about the truncated recordings, I would still have bought the album, as I am a huge fan of all the players involved. And while it does leave one to wonder what remains languishing in "the vaults", let us be thankful for what we do have here, especially for those of us who've never seen these guys live.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Blue Note Re:Imagined

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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“Blue Note Re:imagined” is a two CD collection of tracks on which current UK jazz, hip-hop and RnB artists use classic Blue Note songs as inspirations for new creations. Taking a jazz song that was originally written in swing time and then slapping a contemporary backbeat on it does not always go well, so its fortunate that many of these artists often create creations that bear little resemblance to the original. Looking at this collection as a whole, if you are expecting some hip contemporary jazz leaning pop, then you will be happy with this, but if you expecting every track to be a heavy modern jazz statement, you may find yourself wanting, but all the same, there is some good contemporary, or ‘nu’, jazz to be found.

The best jazz cuts on here come from the artists who have the strongest reps, including Shabaka Hutchings, Alfa Mist, Blue Lab Beats, Nubya Garcia and Ishmael Ensemble. Of the pop tracks, Fieh’s “Armageddon” is a standout with its interesting chord progressions. Of the tracks that don’t work as well, Ezra Collective tries to place a hip-hop beat on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and it totally undermines the mystical flow of the original. There is a saving grace on this one though via an amazing keyboard solo from Joe Amon-Jones. On the other hand, Nubya Garcia’s hip-hop reworking of “A Shade of Jade” is almost an improvement over the hard bop original. A surprise success is an odd wordless vocal rendition of “Maiden Voyage” by Mr Jukes that works really well despite what that idea would sound like on paper. I ended up making my own CD off of this two CD album by recording just the best tracks and leaving off the others, with a little editing like that you can end up with a very good collection of today’s UK nu jazz sound.

HERBIE MANN Stone Flute

Album · 1970 · Fusion
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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Along with Miles Davis and Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann was one of the most eclectic jazz artists of his time, with albums ranging from pop to avant-garde, any single album can be in a totally unique style that is unlike any of his other albums. 1970’s “Stone Flute” is one such album, as it finds Herbie experimenting with drifting ambience, psychedelic sound and a sense of time suspended. The music on here is very similar to sound experiments that Miles Davis was performing as he was making the tracks that would show up a few years later on “Big Fun” and “Get Up With It”. If Mann didn’t hear any of those sessions, I’m sure he heard the somewhat similar “In a Silent Way”, certainly both artists were trying out similar ideas and approaches as they sought to produce music that hung in the air with a sense of infinite space.

Herbie has a backing band on here, but they are mostly in the background as side one slowly unfolds with Mann’s flute, sometimes double tracked., dominates the proceedings. A time warped version of the Beatles “Flying” is a highlight on this side of the album. Side two opens with the more busy and dissonant free fusion of “Miss Free Spirit”. This track also features the only solo from vibraphonist Roy Ayers who unleashes a torrent of scattered scales. Side two closes with two abstract ballads that put Herbie front and center again. There is no keyboard player listed on the credits, but the sound of held chords on a Lowery organ show up often. There is also a string quartet who are often arranged deep into the mix adding more vague sounds mixing with the other background instruments. If you enjoy Miles spaced out tracks like “He Loved Him Madly” or side four of “Agharta”, you will probably like “Stone Flute” too. This album was very much ahead of its time as it pre-dates more recent efforts by artists like Brian Eno, Bill Laswell and much of today’s nu jazz scene.

JACKIE MCLEAN Consequence

Album · 1979 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.46 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
HARD BOP DEFINED!

Jackie McLean's Consequence album was originally released as part of Blue Note's infamous LT-series 14 years after it was first recorded (December 1965). The liner notes suggest that McLean's more avant-garde albums (Let Freedom Ring/One Step Beyond/Destination Out) rendered sessions such as those that make up Consequence "too straight ahead" in comparison. Yet listening to it today, one can only wonder "what's not to like?" about this intensely visceral recording. Consequence is unequivocally one of McLean's most definitive achievements, to the point where if someone asked me, "Just what is hard bop anyway?", I would simply point them to this record.

What's so memorable about this album? From the start I must insist that all of trumpeter Lee Morgan's fans hear his performance on this record immediately. His blistering first solo on "Bluesanova", his shrieking second solo on the same track, and his solo on "Slumber" are all truly awe-inspiring. Harold Mabern's slam-bang piano work on this album can only be described as "Tyner-esque". Drummer Billy Higgins destroys absolutely everything in sight, and bassist Herbie Lewis deserves to be a little higher in the mix. For ensemble playing, watch out for the furious title track, the trade-offs on "Tolypso", and Morgan and McLean playing the heads together throughout the album, but especially on "Vernestune". Altoist McLean plays his wildest solo on the aforementioned "Vernestune", and don't miss the fiery playing behind the slower tempo of "My Old Flame".

When I first heard this album, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. While not to be compared to a Coltrane-like intensity, the "oomph" that gives hard bop its name can be heard on every track. Consequence never fails to amaze and lift one's spirits, like all the best albums of this genre. And while "definitive" shouldn't be confused with "greatest", there's no better word to describe the epitomizing performances on this sadly underrated album.

TERJE RYPDAL Conspiracy

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
COMEBACK OR FINAL THOUGHTS?

For those of us who can never get enough of albums like What Comes After, Odyssey, and Chaser, this album came as a HUGE surprise. For the past 20 years, Terje Rypdal has entirely devoted himself to classical composition and experimental collaborations, as opposed to the fusion performances that saddled him with the sobriquet, "the Jimi Hendrix of Norway". Without warning, we are suddenly graced with a retro/throwback album called Conspiracy.

With Stale Storlokken on keyboards, Endre Hareide Hallre on basses, and Pal Thowsen on drums/percussion, Rypdal's worldwide fan-base can be forgiven for thinking this is an outtakes album from the late-1970s or early-1980s. All of the classic trademarks are here: the soaring, ascending, infinitely-sustained guitar tones, dreamy pre-digital organ textures, busy bass/drums, thunderous dirges, and a general howling, wind-driven sub-Arctic atmosphere.

Composed entirely by Rypdal, he never dominates the material and everybody receives a chance to show their stuff. Three tracks in particular deserve comment. "By His Lonesome" is an ethereal backdrop for a Hallre bass solo: Rypdal doesn't even enter until almost the 2-minute mark. "Baby Beautiful" (the longest track at 8:01) opens with tinkling tuned percussion before Thowsen (who longtime ECM listeners will remember from Arild Andersen's quartet in the 1970s) sets up a rhythmic pattern for the solos to follow. The album closer "Dawn" begins with a very low rumble, as if a huge double bass section is playing in the distance, before dissolving into guitar effects and then vanishing.

Recorded in Oslo in February 2019, the immediate initial reaction to Conspiracy regards its length: 35:04. We've come a long way from the mid-1990s where everybody felt it was obligatory to issue 65-minute albums. Now that the LP has returned to the mainstream, shorter albums are once again back in fashion, but at what cost? Rypdal is now in his 70s: the cynical are likely to dismiss this as just a cash-grab to help with inevitable healthcare costs. Some would suggest this is an exercise in nostalgia, perhaps an aural last-will-and-testament. When there is such a deep, accessible back-catalog (even tribute albums), one might be tempted to say, "Not bad, just not much." Conspiracy neither greatly adds to nor subtracts from Rypdal's recorded legacy, but is rather an excellent quick reminder of just what he did so uniquely well.

JOE FARRELL Moon Germs

Album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.80 | 6 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
FUSION MASTERPIECE

It's sad that since his untimely death in 1986, Joe Farrell has been mostly forgotten. Sure, the albums he did with Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, and even Andrew Hill still have their adherents, but albums like Moon Germs remind us he deserves to be remembered as far more than just a side-man. And while this is a CTI album from 1973, don't worry: there's not an overbearing orchestra in sight.

The four tracks on Moon Germs (Farrell's "Great Gorge" and "Moon Germs", Chick Corea's "Times Lie" and Stanley Clarke's "Bass Folk Song") all follow a similar pattern: begin leisurely before launching into ridiculous speeds, Farrell takes the first solo, Herbie Hancock (electric piano - less than a year away from Head Hunters) takes the second solo, a very young Stanley Clarke (electric bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) add their irrepressible best, before everyone returns to the beginning. Farrell, known for his Rollins-ish tone on the tenor, plays only soprano sax on this album, with the exception of "Bass Folk Song" which is his flute showcase. Like soloing, especially from these guys? On this album, solos go far beyond the usual 10-30 seconds each.

The word "masterpiece" gets thrown around all too often, but Moon Germs truly deserves it. While released in close proximity to many other fusion classics that are still revered today, this album can stand head-and-shoulders next to any of them. Highly recommended to fans of all the players involved, but most especially to Herbie Hancock fans. If you enjoy his Crossings/Sextant period, you MUST hear his performances on this album!

PAT METHENY From This Place

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 4.77 | 4 ratings
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Pat is back! With a new lineup, bringing over long-time bandmate at this point, Antonio Sanchez, on drums. On bass is Linda May Han Oh, and on piano is Gwilym Simcock. The band is backed up by an orchestra. This is arguably one of his best albums over a 50 year career, which is quite a feat this late in the game. I haven't felt this great about a Pat Metheny album since The Way Up, released almost 15 years prior to this album. There's been some good stuff released in between, but nothing that has been as enjoyable as anything from 2005 and earlier... until From This Place.

From the massive prog-jazz opening track America Undefined, to the final heartfelt Love May Take Awhile, this album is a journey, and an emotional roller coaster, as Pat's best albums usually are. I enjoy every track here. The opener is very intense, with even some kind of rock out section in the last part, very exciting way to open things up. Same River is very classic Pat Metheny, Pathmaker is possibly the most fun tune on this album, and the harmonica player from The Way Up appears on The Past Is Us, a great tune. The emotional title song touches on the political climate of the late 2010s, but I think the final two pieces, Sixty-Six, written for Pat's age at the time, and the aforementioned Love May Take Awhile, are two of the most powerful pieces of music Pat has put out yet. The orchestral strings really shine on these last two.

I am reminded of Lyle Mays throughout this album, who passed away about a week before this album was released. The tune Sixty-Six takes on a whole other meaning for that is the age Lyle was at his passing, and the music is reminiscent of the Pat Metheny Group classic, "Last Train Home" makes it seem like a tribute to the life of Lyle Mays. The piano work of Gwilym Simcock is to be commended as he really brings out the spirit of Lyle throughout the music of From This Place. The orchestra does this as well, providing the synth-heavy background ambience Lyle would often provide in the PMG along with is piano playing, with an orchestra instead.

Overall, this album is like a marriage of Secret Story and The Way Up, while also bringing back some of the mid-Western sound from the 70s bands, with a pinch of the 80s PMG sound for good measure. All the while pushing things forward, there are many surprises throughout, some things I've never heard Pat do before. As far as his guitar playing, of course it's fantastic as usual, but this time he sounds more inspired than usual as of late, and his classic tone is back. Pat has never sounded so good. His clean guitar tone here is well balanced and warm, unlike his previous few albums where his tone was dry, far-away sounding, and cold.

Highly recommended for anyone who is even slightly into Pat's music. Great album from the modern master of Jazz.

MASAHIKO SATOH 佐藤允彦 Masahiko Satoh Trio : Transformation '69/'71

Album · 1971 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Almost all of Japanese pianist Masahiko Sato's albums were released solely in Japan which means they are not easily accessible in the Western world. For those interested in the best Japanese jazz, his name is probably heard, but the problem is where to start with his prolific discography.

Being one of the very best Japanese jazz pianists of the last half-a-century (the other equal name is Yosuke Yamashita), Sato released plenty of albums, and they all are quite different stylistically. He was one of the leading stars of the early Japanese avant-garde jazz scene, switched towards fusion later, returned back to freer forms, collaborated with more modern electronics wizards, etc, etc.

Still, if you are new to his music, and want to chose the one album where to start, "Transformation '69/'71" is the place.

Side A is recorded in 1969 and the music is excellent post-bop, groovy and elegant, with Sato's original "Tigris" being almost a jazz standard level song. This material comes from exactly same sessions (March 17 and 20, 1969) which are presented on Sato's debut album "Palladium"(1969).

Side B is recorded with the same trio (including another Japanese avant-garde jazz scene legend drummer Masahiko Togashi and more straight and lesser known acoustic bassist Yasuo Arakawa), but two years later. The album's title comes from those two session dates and the second one is polarly different from the first one.

Still with some beauty and grace, the trio here plays knotty jazz with lots of air inside. As it is characteristic almost exclusively to early avant-garde jazz, being a free form music here radiates some spiritual energy and doesn't sound as formalistic experiment at all. It's interesting that "cosmic" effects on side B are produced by Togashi percussion, not early synth.

It doesn't evidence Satos' evolution from mainstream towards free jazz though, since during these same few years he played very different music (the good example of his r'n'b / jazz rock album is 1970 "Bridge Over Troubled Water").

This short (less than 35 minutes) album is a quintessence of Satoh's music, and it's sound quality is extremely high even for so high raised Japanese jazz recordings sound standards of the early 70s. Original vinyl is a rarity, but 2011 CD reissue (of same excellent crisp sound) being out of press still circulates on secondary market.

JOHN DAVERSA Cuarentena : With Family at Home

Album · 2020 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Its not unusual for a John Daversa album to carry a theme outside of the music itself, so it is with his new album, “Cuarantena: With Family at Home”, on which he explores the importance of familial relationships in a time of quarantine through a collection of boleros, a musical form that was often a part of his family gatherings when he was young. Many of these compositions by Daversa are homages to various family members, and also many other of the compositions were written by other family members. Interspersed between the tracks, the various members of Daversa’s quintet discuss how family and music interact in their own lives. Speaking of the assembled quintet for the recording, this is an all-star ensemble with top names at every position; Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Carlo De Rosa on bass, Dafnis Prieto on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion.

As mentioned already, every one of these songs is a bolero, but do not expect sameness, instead this album is laden with creative eclecticism. Boleros tend to be rhythmically laid back and very melodic, and you do get a lot of that on here, but there are variations too. “#45” features some high speed bebop unisons, “#22” contains fiery solo trade offs, “Puppitas” has a far out arrangement that borders on the avant-garde, and “#19”builds into an aggressive samba like energy. Still, the hallmark of “Cuarantena” are the more laid back boleros that fascinate with their open spaces and relaxed timing. The open spaces can almost recall a classic ECM disc, only with a Latin flavor and no icy reverb. When Daversa’s lonely trumpet plays over a sparse accompaniment I’m also reminded of Miles’ classic “Quiet Nights” album. All members of the band are careful not to overplay and the tracks are made more interesting because different members of the band will drop out of the mix for a while instead of all five going at it all the time. Overall, a most valuable player award could go to Rubalcaba whose wide ranging skills can add variety through his knowledge of post bop, Latin jazz and classical.

This is a beautiful album, very thoughtful and sensitive. Its great to hear musicians with mind blowing chops set their pyrotechnics aside for a while to just play music that anyone can relate to, not just fans of jazz or Latin music.

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) Axiom

Live album · 2020 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Five years ago I saw Christian Scott playing live on his European tour with almost the same band (vocalist Isadora Mendez Scott is not on board, sax player Braxton Cook instead of current Alex Han and percussionist Joe Dyson instead of Weedie Braimah). He sounded quite similar to what is recorded on this newest album "Axiom", just here he sounds a bit better.

Exactly as during the gig I saw live, Scott speaks a lot, plays trumpet and manages his band well. Flutist Elena Pinderhughes is a night's star filling space with nice solos generally, not too knotty for the band's music. Lawrence Field's retro keys sound great and add a lot of 70s spirit.

Comparing with some of Scott's last studio albums, music here is much more organic, and that's for good. There is a groove and a lot of African percussion, and in general this album is not much different from today's popular London based African fusion influenced sound.

Exactly as during the concert I saw, songs here are quite long, being accessible and not too complex, the lengthiness can make the album simply sound a bit bulky as a result. Still, taking in account all the pros and cons, "Axiom" is probably the best Scott album I have ever heard.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Trio Introducing Freddy Gambrell

Album · 1958 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Freddie Gambrell is another pianist you can file under the tag, ‘one of the best piano players you never heard of.’. The reason you probably never heard of him is that he only recorded three albums, and the best of those three, “Chico Hamilton Presents Freddie Gambrell”, shows up in the Chico Hamilton discography, not Gambrell‘s. The best way I can introduce Freddie is to describe how I found his playing. I was listening to a 5 CD collection of Chico Hamilton music from the late 50s on random shuffle when I noticed this rather odd and attention grabbing pianist would show up occasionally. His playing was rooted in hard bop, but there were these weird surprises and unexpected jumps in his solos. All of this was reminding me of Herbie Nichols or Jaki Byard, but this guy was obviously neither of them. I didn’t even think that Chico ever worked with a pianist, but upon checking the CD package I see there is this one album with pianist Freddie Gambrell, someone I was not familiar with at all, so I wanted to find out more.

Apparently after recording this one album with Chico in 1958, Freddie released two more in 1959, with neither making much of an impact and although he worked regularly in San Francisco for the rest of his life, both as a pianist and big band leader, you can not find much more information about him than that. So really, the best of Freddie’s lasting legacy is just this one album with Hamilton. The style on here is west coast hard bop, in other words somewhat laid back. Chico and bassist Ben Tucker provide a rhythmic pocket for Gambrell but not much else. There is little interplay between the players and no bass or drum solos either, this is very much a Gambrell solo act. Freddie’s playing is rooted in the pre-Bill Evans school of Art Tatum and Erroll Garner, with a lot of blues thrown in as well. Then there are his unique excursions that can go anywhere unpredictably, this is what grabbed my attention about this guy in the first place, and its what continues to get my attention anytime I give him a listen. If you like any of the other pianists I referenced in this review, or other slightly off-kilter players like Monk or Ellington, then give Gambrell a try. This is one jazz musician who should be better known.

WYNTON MARSALIS Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra : The Ever Fonky Lowdown

Album · 2020 · Third Stream
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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After an incredibly long and productive buildup, it looks like Wynton Marsalis has hit the apex of his career with “The Ever Fonky Low Down”, a tour de force of spoken word, music and dance that speaks volumes against the negative forces that have been on the rise in recent times. The album itself is excellent, but I do hope someday he makes the filmed performance of this more available because with dancers, a large music ensemble and a charismatic narrator in Wendall Pierce, much of the appeal of this opus is visual. The real star of the show here is the lengthy text read by Pierce as the hustling character, Mr Game (“Sell you a loan that will take your home“). Mr Game is part insincere wealthy preacher, corrupt politician and conniving criminal hustler all rolled into one as he attempts to brainwash his audience. The words were all written by Wynton, who is apparently just as talented at libretto as he is with music as he displays the background for the cynical logic that threatens our world today. I won’t try to give out too many details about Mr Game’s rap as he tries to deride ‘they’ and buildup ‘his people’, but you will hear similarities to Hitler’s speech about the Polish people, Trump’s exaggerated and fabricated claims about illegal immigrants and the twisted logic of those who try to justify, or deny, the evils of slavery, genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’. But its not just about the Mr Games of the world, instead, Wynton is challenging us to look deeper at how we react to Mr Game and his opponents. Do we let them manipulate and divide us, or are we able to think for ourselves and keep our moral compass on track.

The rhythms on here are pure New Orleans in many flavors such as RnB, Dixieland, odd metered modern jazz, post bop modal grooves, street marches and more. On top of this rhythmic foundation Wynton interjects his orchestrations that show similarities to Ellington, Mingus, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Sun Ra. There are plenty of hot solos from the all-star band and lots of free form interaction during the longer jams. It's very telling that the music is based in New Orleans, that fertile birthplace of creativity from which a subjugated people ended up spreading their culture and changing much of the world. As mentioned before, this is a very visual production and its great watching the three male dancers improvise and move in synchronicity with methods taken from jazz ballet and New Orleans street dancing. Also enjoyable is Wendall Pierce’s very charismatic performance, especially when his eyes flash like the devil when Mr Game moves in for the ‘closer‘. Wynton's hand picked musicians bring much personality to the proceedings as well, particularly the three female singers and blues/country guitarist and vocalist Doug Wamble, whose southern drawl can sound charming and also ironically troubling.

What makes ‘Fonky Lowdown’ so powerful is that Marsalis has very thoroughly laid out what dangers lay in wait in today’s world. In a recent interview Wynton pointed out, “This is no time to be sleep walking”. I was already aware of much of what Marsalis relates here, but I have never heard it all illustrated in such a cohesive manner, once again, in Wynton’s own words, “showing us a blueprint on how to rise above populist propaganda”. Don’t expect easy answers or liberal platitudes on how to make things better. Also don't expect cliche shaming and a roll call of past grievances. Instead, Marsalis is shooting for bigger game as he displays the thinking that allows those that should know better to stand by while the 'Mr Games' of the world go about their business. 'Fonky Lowdown' is a call for everyone to pay attention and be ready to act if needed.

CHARLES TOLLIVER Connect

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Trumpeter Charles Tolliver made his name during the late 60s-early 70s, playing creative post bop in small bands with pianist Stanley Cowell and sax player Gary Bartz among others and co-founding an impressive progressive big band Music Inc. His albums from early 70s all are classics and sound pretty well even now.

From late 70s Tolliver disappeared from active recordings with a very few predominantly live recordings coming from 90s and 00's. "Connect" is his first studio album in fourteen years.

Recorded and released in UK, the veteran's album is of traditional 70s size - 39 minutes (or vinyl LP) long. It contains four Tolliver originals, some of them has been already heard on his more current albums in big band arrangements. His cross-generation all-American quintet (recorded in renown RAK studio during European tour) contains seasoned musicians bassist Buster Williams (played with Herbie Hancock and Archie Shepp among many others) and drummer Lenny White (of RTF fame), mid-generation altoist Jesse Davis and youngster pianist Keith Brown. Fashionable Brits tenor Binker Golding participates as a guest on two tracks.

Well recorded, music itself is quite conservative and recalls more early fusion era than second decade of a New Millennium. What is not necessarily a bad thing, just depending on the listener's taste. Compositions are tight, up-tempo, quite straight and not too knotty, just well played without any tricks. Fans of early fusion ca.72 will probably enjoy the sound which is really rare nowadays.

There are two reasons why "Connect" isn't as great an album as some of Tolliver's best works. First, compositions are not all that memorable, and second - drummer Lenny White (as almost always) sounds very much as rock drummer in a jazz band - heavyweight,straight-forward and non-subtle that doesn't add elegance to whole music at all. It's interesting that Binker Golding's, who is an artist of very different background and generation, soloing is quite successful and embellishes the song's sound a lot.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Between Nothingness & Eternity

Live album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.51 | 22 ratings
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Although most Mahahvishnu Orchestra fans tend to go for their first two studio albums, its the third album, the live “Between Nothingness and Eternity”, that best captures what this band was best at, high energy hard rock. Whereas other fusion pioneers of the day were mixing and matching various genres and cultures, Maha went straight for the rock jugular, mixing a Deep Purple/Hendrix Experience adrenaline fueled rhythm overdrive with solos that fused bebop agility with rock n roll sledge hammer tonality. There was nothing particularly subtle about this group, and that’s why many jazz fans were not interested, but many rock fans embraced them as a band that set a higher standard for ultimate shredding. “Eternity‘s” recording quality is far from perfect, there is distortion and uneven sound balances, the performance is somewhat sloppy, but that intense explosive energy that was this band’s salient feature comes through more on this live outing than it does on their previous studio albums. Consider “Eternity” to be the first ‘punk jazz’ album if you will.

There are lots of cool musical highlights to be found on here. Side one opens with McLaughlin’s signature sweeping tamboura like guitar arpeggios that promise a special performance to come. A few minutes into this side Cobham launches into a high speed double time beat that foreshadows the hardcore thrash scene that will happen in the 80s. This side closes with “Sister Andrea”, which features one of the funkiest Fender Rhodes riffs ever. The best highlight on side two comes when the rest of the band backs off and allows Cobham and McLaughlin to take off on a high speed conversation that matches the old Mitchell/Hendrix jams for a display of two guys who really enjoy each other’s musical company. That interchange also shows how Maha was essentially a McLaughlin and Cobaham band. Bassist Rick Laird does well, but he is essentially a jazz musician. Violinist Jerry Goodman digs into the funk numbers, but seems over his head when Cobham turns up the tempo. Keyboardist Jan Hammer deals with the music by more or less imitating McLaughlin.

John’s original idea for the band was supposed to be himself, Cobham, Larry Young on keyboards, Jean Luc Ponty on violin and Tony Levin on bass. That would have been the better band as both Young and Ponty would have brought more original ideas that could have stood on their own and countered McLaughlin’s intensity.

MAGIC MALIK Magic Malik Fanfare XP, Vol. 2

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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You may have noticed the recent drop off in new albums since the world wide pandemic put a serious dent in things. As many people seek the refuge of self quarantine, artists have been forced to dig through their recording archives and release things that may not have been put out under better circumstances. We can consider our selves very fortunate that Magic Malik was able to release “Fanfare XP Vol 2” while things cleared up in Europe for a while, because at this point, this album looks to be one of the best this year so far.

For many jazz woodwind players, the flute is a secondary instrument, something to play when they aren’t playing saxophone, but for Malik, it is his main axe, and it shows. Malik gets a big beefy sound out of the flute, no small feat as it can lean towards shrill thinness very easily. “Vol 2”, like many of his albums, features a fairly large ensemble with big sounding horns like the trombone to compete with, but Malik’s muscular flute tone is always able to elbow its way into the mix. Making yourself heard is not always easy in a Malik composition as he often has more than one solo going at a time, plus most tracks feature busy ensemble arrangements that compete with the soloists for air time.

You could roughly categorize the music on “Vol 2” as ‘nu jazz’, due to its use of modern beats and tasteful electronics, but unlike other trendy nu jazz offerings that tend to be lite and fluffy, Malik’s compositions are big on substance and innovation. Its that balance of attractive modernity and deep complex musical arrangements that promote concentrated listening that make “Vol 2” such a success. It’s not boorishly heavy, but it is definitely way more than hip background. If you want to hear something new in jazz that will still sound great 50 years from now, “Fanfare XP Vol 2” is your ticket.

TOWER OF POWER Step Up

Album · 2020 · Funk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Tower Of Power were a true giant of funk in the seventies, and even if they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2018, they are not going to slow down. Their previous release "Soul Side of Town" was a perfect one, presenting rich sound of funky brass band with excellent vocals and quality songwriting. From very first seconds, their most current album "Step Up" sounds as continuation of that previous one, and it's not strange at all.

The opener "East Bay! All the Way!" jumps right on the dance floor but unexpectedly disappears after less than a minute (very same way as on their previous album). What comes after is "Tower Of Power" at their best - beautiful vocal harmonies, memorable tunes and groovy perfectly arranged music, on the level of their best releases, coming from the 70s.

Under the skin, new album is not actually all that new - it contains solely tracks from the same sessions which gave us their previous release, "Soul Side of Town". Then, its pros and cons lay right in its origin. The material is surprisingly strong since we're speaking about the album of outtakes, some songs are possibly even stronger than some numbers included in "Soul Side of Town". From the other hand, there are no visible difference in sound, arrangements or compositions between current and the previous release. "Step Up" could easily be a second half of imaginary double "Soul Side of Town" set.

Both albums represent best funk and groovy r'n'b coming right from the 70s, the genre's golden age. After many line-up changes, the band still is rooted in their founders Emilio Castillo lead vocals/tenor sax and Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka bari, and the full sound of a twelve-piece band with some guests. There is no particular use of electronics, and no traces of more modern arrangements, but for fans of big sound of funk/r'n'b bands from 70s, (like Earth,Wind & Fire), this music is a real pleasure. If you like it that way, and still didn't listen to "Soul Side of Town", better start there. If you already like "Soul Side of Town", take "Step Up" for another doze of excellent music.

ROBERT FRIPP (No Pussyfooting) (with Eno)

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.69 | 6 ratings
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Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s “No Pussyfooting” will probably be regarded as a ground breaking recording in the long run of music history, but it was barely noticed when it came out in the mid-70s. In fact, I would imagine that many who bought this back then were pretty disappointed in what they had just purchased. Both artists at the time were enjoying successful art rock careers and I am sure many were looking for a cross between Fripp’s King Crimson and Eno’s Roxy Music, only to find that their collaborative effort sounded nothing like either of those bands. This album is not the first ambient album, but it is one of the first to be marketed toward a rock/pop audience, and as such it broke all sorts of new ground that both artists would go on to enjoy as ambient music continued to be a big part of their careers, as well as the careers of the thousands of artists that they inspired. Ever since the mid-90s electronica boom, ambient music has become a very popular genre, and you can trace the roots of that popularity right back to Fripp and Eno.

Side one opens with an F# drone that Fripp solos over in a raga like style in the Dorian minor mode. His solos are given infinite sustain via Eno’s tape loop methods. Once again, Eno was not the first person to use tape loops like this, but possibly the first to use them in this sort of Hendrix meets Shankar psychedelic sound that would eventually attract the more experimental side of the rock world. Side two uses a busier backdrop via Eno’s VCS3 synthesizer as Fripp solos in E Ionian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes before finally fading out. Fortunately Robert is a very talented soloist who has no problem constructing an interesting narrative over a drone like background, otherwise, this album could have been a real snooze-fest.

Given the long history of ambient music at this point, this album does not sound particularly unusual anymore, but back in the day many of us were watching the record spin around for the first time and wondering when was the drum beat going to kick in, ha. It never kicks in. Welcome to your brave new ambient future.

SAM RIVERS Sam Rivers trio - featuring Cecil McBee and Norman Connors : Emanation

Live album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Reedist Sam Rivers was one of key figures in New York loft jazz, but before that he did his name playing as a member of Cecil Taylor's group. Rivers left only a limited amount of recordings coming from the 70s, so any archival release from that time attracts interest of artist's fans.

"Emanation" comes from 1971 Rivers' Jazz Workshop residency in Boston and contains just one 76-minutes long track, divided in two parts because of physical vinyl album space limitations. "Emanation" represents a rare recording of early Rivers' trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Connors, which has been documented only once till now - on excellent (and as well live) "Stream", recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973 and released same year on Impulse!.

Trio format for Rivers usually was a platform for his most freer experiments and "Emanation" is no exemption. The album opens with inspired sax soloing tuneful and playful, and high energizing all at once. Sound quality is quite acceptable for such sort of recordings, but the mix is a real problem here. Drums fill the sound mix with lot of cymbals, but what is even worse - at 11:25 Rivers leaves the scene for McBee's almost five minutes long bass solo improv, during which the listener hears almost nothing, especially during the very first minutes. Bass is placed far behind the scene on the sound mix, and it's a real pity since McBee does a really great job here.

At 16:00 Rivers returns with flute, and then switches to piano (sounding a bit out of tune and too far behind the scene in the mix as well). Still in whole the recording demonstrates pretty well the spirit and energy of the time, and evidences Rivers great ability at playing post-bop rooted free jazz in his own inspired and quite accessible way.

"Emanation" is a great addition for Rivers (who was under-documented, especially during his early solo period) fans. Not really a place to start for newbies, it is a valuable evidence of this great artist's legacy and in general - the spirit of the time.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Extrapolation

Album · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.81 | 21 ratings
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John McLaughlin, much like his contemporary and sometimes band mate, Chick Corea, started his career with a very distinctive style, only to abandon that approach and tone things down for the rest of his career. Interesting to note that both were influenced by guru types when they changed their way of playing. “Extrapolation” is McLughlin’s first album as a leader and features a young guitarist willing to take crazy chances while plying with a fierce intensity that never totally returns on subsequent albums. Don’t get me wrong, John had many more great performances and recordings throughout the rest of his career, but he never again played with the freedom and abandon he does here. This McLaughlin has a rough approach that is both avant-garde and rootsy at the same time, especially compared to the po0lished sheen of many of his later albums.

The music on “Extrapolation” is all McLaughlin originals that combine bop, blues, free jazz, RnB and Indian music. Besides John, the next star of the show here is the versatile and energetic drumming of Tony Oxley, who is right at home playing anything from bluesy grooves to all out free onslaughts. John Surman’s gnarly baritone fit’s the gritty music perfectly as he adds his solos that combine RnB riffing with soaring free jazz. Brian Odges is an anchor on bass, and his well recorded input adds strength to the mix. Many of the tunes are very short and eclectic ranging from ballads to avant-garde bebop, but the best tracks are the longer ones where the band is given time to build their intensity. Listen to John’s intense note bends influenced by Indian music. Along with dropping the freer tonality, McLaughlin never recorded as much in that style again. Indian note bends have always been a part of his playing, but on this first album he merges this with a soulful blues flavor that adds so much bite to his solos. Some of John’s subsequent work with Miles Davis also features his earlier approach to the guitar.

MARC JOHNSON Second Sight

Album · 1987 · Fusion
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
ENDLESS SUMMER DAY

If you've never been convinced that a back-cover photograph could epitomize an album of instrumental performances, take a look at Dieter Rehm's placid beach scene on the back of Marc Johnson's Second Sight (1987). While Johnson's first album with the same line-up (1986's Bass Desires) was an off-the-wall avant-garde surprise, Second Sight, while retaining some of the same textures, is otherwise very different. This is a much more cohesive, accessible, thought-provoking, and yes, relatively quieter album that doesn't sacrifice any of Bass Desires's sense of adventure or experimentalism. Second Sight remains the better album for the simple reason of more memorable compositions and atmospheres. Which of course begs the question, "Why is there a lone helicopter over the ocean on the front cover?"

The vigorous drumming of Peter Erskine and the howling guitar trade-offs of Bill Frisell (left-channel) and John Scofield (right-channel) mark "Crossing the Corpus Callosum" as a continuation of the previous album. The beach seems very far away in this musical depiction of a futuristic landscape with Frisell's special effects and Johnson's arco playing. From here on out, the sonic atmosphere changes radically, with Frisell's following "Small Hands" being a gently picked largo. Erskine's "Sweet Soul" is one of those magical moods you wish could last forever: somewhat reminiscent of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows", Scofield takes the first verse, Frisell the second verse, and both join together on two choruses for this album's most soulful (naturally) track. Before anyone thinks this has become an easy-listening album, Scofield's "Twister" and "Thrill Seekers" restore order with twangy guitars, rock'n'roll clichés, offbeat drumming, bizarre basslines, and much soloing. Johnson, who never dominates the material, takes his first solo on "Thrill Seekers", which fades with more of Frisell's loopy effects. "Prayer Beads" is entirely a solo piece for Johnson, with a performance moving from leisurely to energetic. Listen to the double-bass strings snap against the fretboard in a resonant recording studio (credit: Rainbow/Oslo). "1951" is a quirky, country-ish Frisell composition with stops and starts, bends, slides, a wandering bridge, and subtle percussion from Erskine. The album closes peacefully with Johnson's "Hymn for Her".

Before recording this album, both Johnson and Erskine had guested on John Abercrombie's masterful Current Events, and many of the same ethereal atmospheres on that album appear on this one. In spite of the wild contrasts, Second Sight is a lot more beautiful and a lot more "just plain fun" than Bass Desires, and is highly recommended to fans of all the players involved. In 1998, Johnson and Frisell would record an album called The Sound of Summer Running that attempts to be an aural sequel to this album, but falls just short. It's on the Verve label, and has Pat Metheny replacing John Scofield, and Joey Baron instead of Peter Erskine.

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