Jazz Music Reviews

SOT Monster Master

Album · 2022 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.56 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
SOT has a rather unusual lineup for a jazzy rock band. The expected guitar and drums are there, but in place of a bassist, SOT features Lars Andreas Haug on tuba. The tuba is no gimmick but instead proves its versatility by covering the bass foundation for the rockin parts, and then moving into the upper register for simulated orchestral sections. SOT is a very eclectic band and the use of the tuba expands the different sound colors and genres they can draw upon. Guitarist Skjalg Reithaug, thankfully avoids that awful digital metalish saturation sound you hear from so many guitarists today, but instead goes for a natural distortion that gives his guitar that rock edge, but still allows every note to be very clear. Skjalg, like his tubist brother, is very versatile, moving from fusion like solos, to sweeping chorused arpeggio ambiance, as well as Indian modes and raga influences. Arild Nyborg is the newcomer on drums who doesn’t ‘miss a beat’ in keeping up with SOT’s often fast changing meters and time signatures.

SOT is an instrumental band, save for the occasional wordless choir effect, and they fall somewhere between prog rock and fusion, but they avoid some of the more heavy handed and overly dramatic tendencies of both those genres, and the lack of pretentious song lyrics and vocals are also a plus. There is an upbeat, sometimes humorous, and always celebratory nature to these jams. SOT is having fun and they do well in sending that message to their audience. Musical styles they cover are broad. One staple they fall back on is quick changing rock guitar riffs that recall Jan Akkerman and Focus. Other sections draw on Indo-fusion in a John McLaughlin style. The lengthy title cut has a long section in which the band goes into a slinky Ellington vamp while an unaccredited bari sax player adds to the jazz noire vibe. Despite all the busy jazz rockin, some of SOT’s best moments come during ambient breaks where the string sounding keyboards and the tuba provide panoramic orchestral soundscapes. Finally, the choral buildup at the end of “Sunship” is a high point on the album. SOT is an excellent band and don’t think that tuba is a cute gimmick, it really works.

SAM RIVERS Sizzle

Album · 1976 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
snobb
Strangest Sam Rivers album ever - instead of the free-bop of his early works or the avant-garde jazz he is well-known for, Rivers plays four long fast-tempo funky pieces in a style one could expect from Sonny Sharrock or Ronald Shannon Jackson.

The band contains two drummers (incl. Barry Altschul), Dave Holland on bass/cello and guitarist Ted Dunbar. Rivers himself plays sax, piano and a lot of flute. Released on his regular Impulse! label, this album didn't reach the target listeners for that sort of music and critics didn't receive it well.

Energetic and straight-forward, this album's music has its moments, but comparing with much more complex and knotty River's regular albums of the time, it is simply not the work of his league.

CHET BAKER Chet Baker / Jim Hall / Hubert Laws : Studio Trieste

Album · 1982 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 2.83 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
VERY LATE CTI

Many people are stunned to discover that CTI Records was still releasing albums in the 1980s, of which Studio Trieste is probably the best example. Recorded in March and April of 1982, all the usual suspects (Creed Taylor, Rudy van Gelder, Don Sebesky, Pete Turner) are here, but without Ron Carter on the bass. And while the album is credited to 3 big names with past CTI experience, let it be known here that this is really a "CTI All Stars" album in all but name.

In fact neither Chet Baker nor Hubert Laws appear on the first track, "Malaguena" (9:44), which was originally popularized by Stan Kenton. Opening with percussionist Sammy Figueroa and Hall's stately guitar, this is a soul funk workout for keyboardist Jorge Dalto, electric bassist Gary King, and most especially, the amazing drumming of Steve Gadd. Both Baker's trumpet and Laws's flute open John Lewis's "Django" (10:02), in case anyone was wondering when they would appear. Another CTI staple was a classical piece arranged for jazz band, which here is provided by Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" (8:42). This is a showpiece for Laws, who opens and closes the piece, while Baker takes a rare flugelhorn solo. The rhythm section now includes Kenny Barron on keyboards and George Mraz on acoustic bass. The final track, Miles Davis's "All Blues" (9:43) is given a very different, almost Spanish, arrangement. Steve Gadd's drums feature prominently, and both Baker and Laws get to play the famous melody line. While Hall's fluid guitar work receives the most solo space throughout the album, he never dominates as this is truly a "CTI group" performance where the production and arrangements are everything.

It should be mentioned here that of the 3 names on the cover, Chet Baker, while given first billing (alphabetical?), plays the least. This is also one of the rare albums he appears on with NO VOCALS. If you're a fan of these players and the classic "time stands still" CTI sound, you should find much on Studio Trieste to enjoy. With most of the boxes checked, this is a worthy addition to the CTI library in spite of its late recording date.

THE COOKERS Time And Time Again

Album · 2014 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.36 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Mssr_Renard
I have to say; I really adore The Cookers. I like each member of this collective, I love the enthousiasm, the choice of songs (be it new or old songs) and I love the execution.

The Cookers are somewhat of a supergroup. All of the collective's members have a long list of albums as leaders and/or members of other bands or groups.

The music of The Cookers is somewhere between the hard-bop and post-bop, maybe closest to mid-sixties and early eighties Jazz Messengers, but The Cookers sound mostly as themselvers.

The heavy and sloppy drumming of Billy Hart, the growling saxophone of Billy Harper, the tight and bluesy piano of George Cables. All these ingredients make for an enjoyable almost old-school listening-experience.

On this album all songs are penned by the collective themselves, and I can't really remember if these songs were played before by the bandmembers on other albums, but at least 'Sir Galahad' appears on Capra Black from Billy Harper (released in 1973 on Strata East), aswell as 'Dance Eternal Spirits Dance' wich appears on Harper's Black Saint-album from 1975.

Slipping and Sliding seem to have been released before on an album by The Leaders (another supergroup featuring McBee and Arthur Blythe amongst others).

The two Cables-songs (Double or Nothing and Farewell Mulgrew) were released on trio-albums by Cables as a leader, wich have a more grand arrangement here.

All in all, the Cookers deliver another great post-bop album which soars and can be considered an essential album. Maybe it is kind of eclectic but because of the great production and the talent involved it is a very enjoyable listen. All of the Cookers' albums have a high standard, though.

SOLSTICE (CANADA) Mirage

Album · 1978 · Fusion
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Mssr_Renard
A peculiar band and a wondeful album. The Quebecois progressive rock-scene spawned some excellent jazzrock-bands in the mid- and late seventies like Maneige, Harmonium, L'Orchestre Sympathique etc. (too numerous to mention).

One of these bands is Solstice wich is quartet featuring drums, electric bass, guitar and clarinet, wich is unique. I know no other band in this format.

The music itself is farely straight-forward, almost comparable to Soft Machine, Bruford, Nucleus etc., but the sound is wonderful. It sounds light, warm and kind of cozy. Some great soloiing by all members. No heavy jazzrock-fusion like Return to Forever but more post-boppisch jazzrock, like Nucleus.

This band and this album in particular blend the acoustic sounds of the clarinet and drums with the electric (amplified) sounds of the electric bass and electric guitar without sounding overblown or chaotic.

A real gem and a nice addition to a jazz-rock-collection for people who like jazzrock a bit more subdued and easy-going. Also a great listen for those who like clarinet as a lead-intrument.

MCCOY TYNER Passion Dance

Live album · 1979 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.96 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Mssr_Renard
Great live-album of McCoy with two trio-pieces (Song of the New World and Moment's Notice) and three solo-pieces (Passion Dance, Search for Peace and The Promise). Two compositions are from Coltrane and three from Tyner himself.

The trio-pieces are loud, maybe because of Tony Williams, but because there are no horns or other instruments, it's not disturbing. I think it's the most powerful trio I can think of. The heavy piano-playing and the heavy drumming seem to engage in battle while Carter (on bass) is the glue holding it together.

One of the lesser known live-albums, but surely a fine addition to any jazz-collection. One of the finer late-seventies post-bop albums in a musical landscape ruled by fusion and funk/disco.

ERIC DOLPHY Quartet 1961 (aka Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise aka Complete Recordings aka Live In Germany aka Munich Jam Session December 1-1961,etc,etc)

Live album · 1981 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
Mssr_Renard
This archival live-album has three long songs (standards) on three sides. On vinyl it is tricky to have more than 20 minutes on each side, because it effects the soundquality.

As these recordings date from 1961, it in fact sounds surprisingly good. But don't expect too much, because it has its flaws. Still it is an enjoyable listen, once you are used to it.

The line-up is superb. Here Dolphy (on bass-clarinet only) has a strong line-up with McCoy Tyner (named Lalo Schifrin on the sleeve) on piano, who has some very long and outstanding solos. On bass no other than Reggie Workman (named Bob Cunningham on the sleeve) and on drums Mel Lewis.

My guess is that Reggie and McCoy used aliasses because of their contracts.

Dolphy was touring with Coltrane in Europe at this moment, and Reggie and McCoy joined Dolphy on this date. It would have been great if Elvin Jones would have participated aswell.

This livealbum is fantastic and a must-have for collectors of Dolphy, Tyner and a missing piece in the Coltrane-discography

JON HASSELL The Living City (Live at the Winter Garden 17 September 1989)

Boxset / Compilation · 2023 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
snobb
Very first weeks of a new year bring us an exceptional release. Two grand artists of electronic music of the 80s - American conceptualist trumpeter/keyboardist, Jon Hassell and Brit early ambient key figure, Brian Eno meet on a perfectly recorded in 1989 live album! Both artists already collaborated on the well-known "Fourth World" album, released in 1980, which gave the name for Hassell's future musical style of eclectic crossover combining electronics, jazz improvisation and non-Western rhythms.

The album's material contains a 68-minute Jon Hassell's group live performance from World Financial Center Winter Garden in New York City, recorded in September 1989 (just few months before exactly same group recorded "City: Works Of Fiction" studio album). Eno had designed an audio-visual installation in the 10-story glass-vaulted pavilion, inspired by the hunting, ceremony, animals, and weather sounds of the Ba-Ya-Ka pygmy tribe from Cameroon gathered by Louis Sarno, and mixed the band playing live with multimedia installation sonics.

This recorded material hadn't been released until 2014, when it got serious studio remixing/reworking. Still it's first release as bonus material with "City: Works Of Fiction (Expanded Edition)" reissue passed almost unnoticed. In February 2023 it comes as separate vinyl album, and it's a great chance to find a new listener.

The music presented on "The Living City" from the very first minutes recalls Miles fusion albums from mid-70s. The main difference is Miles long pieces are mostly based on improvisation, Hassell's music is more structured and organized, and sounds like a composition against Miles jamming. Hassell's prepared trumpet sounds very much as analog keyboards, and heavy studio wizardry gives to the whole music a less organic, but more contemporary sound. On some pieces Daniel Scwartz plays physical groovy funky bass, which adds a lot of life to the mix, and perfectly balances quite emotionless by it's nature electronic sounds.

Recorded during a live gig, this music sounds more alive, and more inspired then Hassell's renown studio works. Well recorded, it represents perfectly the missing link between Miles Davis mid-70s fusion and Nils Petter Molvær nu jazz from mid-90s. Highly recommended.

CHARLES TOLLIVER Connect

Album · 2020 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Mssr_Renard
This new album is a very seventies/late sixties sounding album. Post-Coltrane bop-music with older and younger musicians side to side. It reminds a bit of The Cookers (an all-star post-bop outfit with some great albums). The drumming of Lenny White is really restrained and nothing like what he does in Return to Forever. Great to hear Binker Golding guesting on this album.

The production of this album is very retro, and the compositions and solos are really great. It almost sounds like a lost post-bop-album than as a modern jazz-record, wich exactly what I like.

You can easily buy this album through Gearbox records (digital or physical) wich is great, because you can support the artists better, than just stream the album.

COLEMAN HAWKINS Supreme

Live album · 1995 · Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
DO NOT DISMISS

So identified with the 1930s-50s, many people are stunned to find out that Coleman Hawkins was still both recording and performing well into the 1960s. Even more are surprised to learn that he outlived John Coltrane by two years. Supreme, released in 1995 on Enja Records, is from a concert on September 25, 1966 at the Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore. This was recorded very near the end of his run as one of the most influential tenor saxmen ever. He was just short of 62 and dealing with a number of health issues that would shortly send him to retirement. Backed by Barry Harris, piano, Gene Taylor, bass, and Roy Brooks, drums and producer, his tone is nowhere near what it used to be, but he is still well worth hearing.

You've heard the rumors: so how much does Hawkins actually play on this album? Let's break it down, track by track:

1. "Lover Come Back to Me" (17:09): first 6 minutes, last 2 minutes. 2. "Body and Soul" (10:09): throughout (naturally). 3. "In Walked Bud" (16:42): first 5-1/2 minutes, last 1-1/2 minutes. 4. "Quintessence" (9:05): first 5-1/2 minutes, last 2 minutes. 5. "Fine and Dandy" (10:30): first 3-1/2 minutes, last 1-1/2 minutes. 6. "Ow" (1:27): throughout.

As you can see, Hawkins spends a lot of this concert not playing. While surely some of this can be attributed to his generosity with soloing space (and it should be mentioned that Harris, Taylor, and Brooks are all exceptional players), no doubt it can also be explained by the old, used-and-abused diaphragm not being what it used to be. It's easy to hear that those in attendance that night were in absolute awe of seeing a living legend at this late date. There's an especially overwhelming ovation after Hawk's opening solo on "Quintessence".

It should also be mentioned that there are some faults with the source tape that occasionally produce strange echoes/distortions with the recorded sound. If you can overlook these caveats, you should enjoy listening to this performance. But do not begin listening to Supreme with any idea that it is his "greatest" or even "most representative" concert recording. While he did start out in the early days of recorded sound, there are plenty of opportunities out there to explore Coleman Hawkins in his prime. Listen to this album for what it is: an old master near the end of the line, playing the music he loves in spite of the setbacks of age.

ANTHONY BRAXTON For Four Orchestras

Album · 1978 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
You have to wonder if maybe Prince got his idea for calling himself an unpronounceable symbol from Anthony Braxton, who had been naming his compositions with various symbols and diagrams years before Prince made his famous name change. Take for example, this three record set that has been named “For Four Orchestras”. That is not the actual name for the composition presented on these records, the actual name is a multi-colored symbol displayed on the album box, and this symbol is also used as the title within the extensive booklet that comes in the box. All this aside, this is a fascinating piece of music in which Braxton takes four orchestras and passes sounds and melodic fragments among them so that the audience, that is seated in between the orchestras, is treated to a surround sound experience in which the music is in constant spatial motion.

Braxton was partly inspired by other modern composers, such as Ives, Stockhausen and Xennakis, who had worked with similar ideas. Musically, “Four Orchestras” , falls into that sort of aleotoric sound and approach favored by John Cage and the many people who were influenced by him. One hallmark of composition in the middle part of the 20th century is that people had devised music that did not compete with the natural sounds around us. Like much music from this era, “Four Orchestras”, need not be totally separated from neighboring sounds, whether they be birds singing, traffic and construction work, or people talking and laughing. Much of Braxton’s piece consists of somewhat pleasant atonal melodic snippets that are passed around the various groups, then at other times more dissonant sounds will build in volume and intensity, and then there are sections where thick tone clusters hang in the air like dark clouds.

Of course the salient feature of this work is the movement of sound. Ideally, you should have the quad version of this record and a quad record player. I do have a vintage quad stereo, but unfortunately the album I have is only stereo, but I did play it on simulated quad, and the surrounding orchestral colors are fascinating. Even in stereo though, this music sounds interesting enough. This album comes with a fifteen page booklet full of pictures and detailed explanations from Braxton. Anthony’s writings are very intellectual, but you know he has to be pulling your leg when he starts talking about his future compositions that will feature dialog between galaxies and star systems.

RICHIE BEIRACH Elm

Album · 1979 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.55 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
STARRING JACK DEJOHNETTE

Have you ever gotten rid of an album only to realize later you made a big mistake? That was my experience with pianist Richie (the album cover says Richard) Beirach's 1979 album Elm. Why did I get rid of it? Other than the usual "young and stupid" explanation, my best guess would be the gloomy Dieter Rehm artwork/design. Never-the-less I have thoroughly rectified my egregious mistake to where I am now an outspoken advocate of this hard-to-find and truly underrated album.

So with all due respect to Beirach for composing the album's five titles and leading the sessions, it is drummer Jack DeJohnette who steals the show and leaves the biggest impression. His continuously busy patterns throughout the album are downright awe-inspiring, and his ferocious solo near the end of "Snow Leopard" is enough to remind anyone that he belongs on the very short list of All Time Greats. Beirach's performances range from measured to blistering. Sometimes he elicits Bill Evans ("Sea Priestess"), and on the wandering "Ki", one is reminded of Joachim Kuhn. Bassist George Mraz contributes a wild bassline and solo to the previously mentioned "Snow Leopard" as well as the more angular "Pendulum". The title track has almost become a standard. Dedicated to Polish jazz violinist Zbigniew Seifert, who died of cancer (age 32) shortly before this recording, the stately piano theme of "Elm" is backed by DeJohnette's shimmering cymbals and Mraz's bedrock support.

Released on ECM and produced by Manfred Eicher, Elm fits in well with the label's ethos, yet is not hindered by the ECM cliches/trademarks that are often cited. Don't take the bait of comparing this album with Beirach's 1975 debut album Eon on the same label with different support. That album was a stiff uppercut to the jaw and is even harder to find than Elm. (Cynic's response: "They're waiting for a post-mortem to re-issue as a box-set.") After Elm, Beirach would record only two more albums (with John Abercrombie) on ECM, but he has recorded prodigiously elsewhere in many different contexts ever since. If this album should ever cross your path, don't make the mistake I did and let it disappear. It's that good!

TINA BROOKS True Blue

Album · 1960 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Mssr_Renard
The only album of Tina Brooks to be released during his lifetime. All of his other albums were released posthumous.

This album is very strong, containing 5 originals and 1 standard. The rhythmsection containing Sam Jones, Art Taylor and Duke Jordan is extremely tight and adventurous. Of course the stars of this album are Tina Brooks and Freddie Hubbard. Their interplay is infectious and both of the gentlemen are very hot here.

This album is a musthave hardbopper and I can recommend it to anyone. Also any Hubbard-enthiousiast should at least try this one out.

Extra points go to Duke Jordan, who in my opinion is very underrated (like fellow-bop-pianist Kenny Drew)

SOPHIA DOMANCICH Le Grand Jour

Album · 2021 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
snobb
Outside of France, Parisienne pianist Sophia Domanchich is mostly known because of her association with British Canterbury scene leading artists, such as Gong drummer Pip Pyle (who was her partner for some years) and, more significant, former Soft Machine members, sax player Elton Dean and bassist Hugh Hopper.

In her homeland, she is a renown musician and composer, active in both classical music and jazz. She started her career in music as an accompanist in Paris Opera, it was Steve Lacy(among others), who introduced her to jazz in the late 70s. Since then she has been a significant figure on the French scene, often combining modern concert hall music and jazz.

"Le Grand Jour"("The Great Day") is her newest to date album (and first original release of just revitalized French jazz label PeeWee!). Domancich presents eleven of her originals here (plus an opener - John Lewis "Jango"). She does here what she knows best - plays solo acoustic piano and (simultaneously) Fender Rhodes. The music can be described as elegant chamber jazz, influenced more by Satie than Chopin. Sophia's compositions are of an elegant cool beauty, opposite to the French scene's Montmartre sentimentality. The ascetic use of electric piano in moments recalls the sound of church organ, in other places it adds a rock song feel, in both cases it makes solo piano sounds more lively.

Being quite accessible, this album's music is of a multilayered origin, every listening opens new elements and emotions, again and again. It's like an Old Paris architecture - you can enjoy looking at these old Cathedrals and buildings again and again, never being bored.

CHARLES LLOYD Geeta

Album · 1973 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Charles Lloyd was one of the original jazz rockers, he was playing the Fillmore before Miles was, and in fact, Miles took half of Charles’ band (DeJohnette and Jarrett) when it came time for Miles to try jamming for the hippies. So its no big surprise that when jazz fusion went through a psychedelic phase, Charles was part of that with his album “Geeta”. Like many psyche jazz albums, there is some good stuff on here, as well as some things that are better left behind in that ’far out’ time period. Musician credits on the album cover are just plain weird and sketchy. Many of the players are given extravagant aliases, and the Indian stringed instruments are not credited at all, even though the dholak (Indian percussion) performers are credited. Some websites provide better info, but still not everything.

Side one opens with the lengthy Indian flavored fusion jam, “Geeta Suite”. Blackbyrd McKnight burns like crazy on the electric guitar, sounding like a cross between John McLaughlin and Pete Cosey. Blackbyrd will also show up on other jazz psyche records of that era. Charles mostly sticks with the alto flute as he avoids shrill annoying high end workouts on the flute. The alto has a beautiful sound for this sort of Indian fusion, and Lloyd works it well. Side one closes out with a more traditional Indian number. Side two opens with a “Stones Medley” that mostly sounds like another spiritual jazz journey until a well known Stones melody appears and kills the mood, sending this promising jam into cheezy cover tune territory.

The last three tracks are some of the best this album has to offer, with “Maxfield Blue” bringing more sonic attacks from Blackbyrd, while the last two numbers head into a sort of Austin Powers psyche rock exotica. These last two would be great for an aspiring rare groove DJ, if such a thing still exists. The drummer on here, Sonship Theus, is incredibly intense but mixed somewhat low. Apparently he had a playing philosophy that demanded he go all out for the Lord at all times, he pretty much was incapable of anything but all out attack. A lot of jazz fans find these sort of psyche albums to be no more than period kitsch, but this style and era of jazz has actually picked up more cult like followers in the new century than existed in the 70s.

GARY PEACOCK Gary Peacock / Ralph Towner : Oracle

Album · 1994 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
snobb
This collection of acoustic strings duets from two jazz greats, bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist Ralph Towner, was released on the prestigious German ECM label (in Germany, US and Japan) in 1994 and never reissued. As one can expect from an ECM release, it contains quite comfortable chamber jazz, still a bit more lively than the label's regular "atmospheric" albums. Both Peacock and Towner are ECM regulars, (Peacock - most significantly as a Keith Jarrett trio member, Towner - as leader, and partially leading his Oregon band),but they never played as a duo until this recording. Nine duo originals, each written by Peacock or Towner, are meditative, melancholic in moments, but contains some sparks and even groove, and generally are more vibrant than what some might expect from ECM recordings. Still, the main attraction is the virtuosity of both of this duo's members. Towner plays unusual for jazz, a classic guitar, which sounds surprisingly in place here. He even adds some Indian elements in some tunes. Minimalist strings-only duo's slow/mid tempo music can't avoid some lack of variety going from piece to piece, but the album, with no doubt contains lots of pleasure for fans of both artists, as well as fans of ECM label aesthetics.

DAVID MURRAY David Murray Brave New World Trio With Brad Jones And Hamid Drake : Seriana Promethea

Album · 2022 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
snobb
Tenor saxophonist, David Murray, who was a significant figure on the American avant-garde jazz scene in the 80s, is still active today. Always known by his accessible and melodic take on avant-garde jazz, over the decades he lost a big part of his fire, but not his tunefulness

On Murray newest release,"Seriana Prometea", the jazz veteran presents his new all-star acoustic trio with excellent drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Brad Jones. Seven of the eight pieces on the record are Murray's own (the exception is Sly & The Family Stone’s hit “If You Want Me to Stay”). The album's compositions cover a wide specter of genres, from funky r'n'b ("Seriana Promethea" and "If You Want Me To Stay"), to Latin ("Anita Et Annita" and "Switchin' In The Kitchen"), to a rock-song of sorts ("Necktar"), to Oriental ("Metouka Sheli (Ballad For Adrienne)") and a jazzy pop-song ("Rainbows For Julia").

Perfect rhythm section adds a lot of textures that makes the music sound accessible, but far from simple. True, these songs could be written and recorded in the 80s, but it's not necessarily a bad sing.

SOT Monster Master

Album · 2022 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.56 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Monster Master" is the fourth full-length studio album by Norwegian avant garde/progressive rock act SOT. The album was released through Sotanic Sounds in October 2022. It´s the successor to "Kogel Mogel" from 2016 although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the 2020 "Soma Forms" single. There´s been one lineup change since "Kogel Mogel" (2016) as drummer Anders Hunstad has been replaced by Arild Nyborg (who also played on the "Soma Forms" (2020) single).

Six years between albums is a long time even in our days, but SOT sound more or less like they´ve done since day one. Guitars, drums, and tuba (which often functions as the bass does in other music), and the occasional vocal part to spice things up. There´s a strong jazz/fusion influence heard throughout the album, but "Monster Master" is an eclectic release, so that´s just one of the musical influences heard on the album. The tracks are dynamic, shifting between atmospheric parts and wild busy avant garde rock sections. The tracks are also loaded with tempo changes and odd-metered time signatures. It´s quite adventurous music and you never really know where SOT will take you next, which is one of the great assets of the album. It´s highly entertaining and engaging all the way through the 42:50 minutes that it lasts.

The sound production is organic, stripped down, and of a good quality, suiting the material well. And it´s the organic way the music sounds and the organic way it is performed that are the greatest strengths of "Monster Master". Hearing the tuba being an integral part of music like this is pretty interesting too, and it´s quite unique. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SOT Soma Forms

Single · 2020 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Soma Forms" is a single release by Norwegian avant garde/progressive rock act SOT. The single was released through Sotanic Sounds in November 2020. It´s a one-track single bridging the gap between the band´s third and fourth full-length studio albums "Kogel Mogel" (2016) and "Monster Master" (2022). There´s been one lineup change since "Kogel Mogel" (2016) as drummer Anders Hunstad has been replaced by Arild Nyborg.

So four years down the line since the release of "Kogel Mogel" (2016), SOT suddenly pop up again with this one-track single. And what a single track it is. Powerful, technical, eclectic avant garde rock, featuring drums, guitars, samples, and something as untraditional as tuba. The tuba is of course not a surprise if you already know the preceding releases by SOT, but it´s still quite interesting to hear tuba used this prominently in rock music. Sometimes the tuba works like the bass does in other rock music, but because of it´s unique timbre, it adds a distinct atmosphere to SOT´s music, that you won´t find in much other music.

"Soma Forms" is a both well produced and well written track going through many different sections and musical styles, and it´s quite intriguing and relatively accessible in the world of avant garde rock. Compared to the relatively stripped down recorded live in the studio material from "Kogel Mogel" (2016), this single features a more layered and polished sound production, and personally I think that´s the right choice for SOT. A 3.5 (70%) rating is deserved.

SOT Kogel Mogel

Album · 2016 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.62 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Kogel Mogel" is the third full-length studio album by Norwegian avant garde/progressive rock act SOT. The album was released through Sotanic Sounds in November 2016. It´s the successor to "Redwings Nest" from 2014 and features the same trio lineup who recorded the predecessor. All tracks were recorded live in the studio without overdubs during a five day recording session in June 2016 at Mølla Studio, Gjerstad, Norway.

Stylistically the material on "Kogel Mogel" is a continuation of the eclectic avant garde/progressive rock style of the band´s first two albums. The tracks are quite intriguing and relatively complex in structure, shifting atmosphere and musical styles in the matter of seconds. It´s still relatively accessible for an avant garde oriented release, but it´s not easy listening material by any means. In fact I´d say "Kogel Mogel" is SOT´s least accessible release of the first three albums. While the main instruments on the album are tuba (which often works as the bass does in other band´s), drums, and guitar, the album features occasional odd/silly type vocals, and some keyboards too. Some guest musicians also add saxophone and strings to some parts.

The influences are many and there´s for example a strong jazz influence heard throughout the album (especially on the tracks where saxophonist Grzech Piotrowski guests), but this is not as such jazz/fusion...it´s simply too weird and experimental for that. The technical level of playing is through the roof, and this is music which will keep you on your toes. It demands your attention and with the many shifts in style, pace, and dynamics, it´s impossible not to feel greatly entertained.

"Kogel Mogel" features an organic, raw, and detailed sounding production, which to my ears is a slight step down in quality from the sound production of the first two albums, but it´s still overall a good quality production. Upon conclusion "Kogel Mogel" is a both challenging but also immediate avant garde rock album and while I prefer the first two albums to this one, a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

TOMASZ STAŃKO December Avenue

Album · 2017 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.83 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
LAST CALL

By the time December Avenue was released in 2017, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko had only a little over a year left to live. After helping to revitalize the ECM label in the early 2000's, this album proved to be his final release. While the classic Stanko trademarks can be found throughout in abundance, do not expect this to be a "last-will-and-testament" album. If anything, Stanko's passing places a poignant shadow of unfulfilled promise over this music, as the ensemble exceedingly demonstrates they were far from done.

Bassist Reuben Rogers has replaced Thomas Morgan, but otherwise both David Virelles (keyboards) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) return from 2013's Wislawa album. All 12 tracks include copious space for both soloing and improvising. Three of the 12 ("Burning Hot", "December Avenue", and "Yankiels Lid") are driven by vigorous Rogers basslines, with Stanko and Virelles playing brightly and clangorously together. The other nine are impressionistic, incantatory, melancholy Stanko compositions that never cease to surprise. On "Bright Moon", a fluttering trumpet resounds above haunted drum rolls, while "Young Girl in Flower" is a little too busy to be a peaceful closer. Don't miss the sudden piano explosion in "Sound Space" or Rogers's arco performance in "The Street of Crocodiles".

You may not be blown away when you first hear December Avenue, but don't give up: it has much to offer over repeated listens. And while it will naturally be compared to 21st century masterpieces like Suspended Night (2004) or Soul of Things (2002), this is very much a different work that stands completely on its own. At 64:23, it's shorter than previous Stanko ECM albums, but loses nothing by being so. Those looking for a "crowning achievement" album may be disappointed, for it's nothing more or less than Stanko doing what he does best. That this is regretfully the last album makes December Avenue all that much more memorable and cherished.

DAVE LIEBMAN Light'n Up, Please!

Album · 1977 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Dave Liebman is probably one of the top saxophonists to come out of the 70s scene. He has played with greats including Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, Miles Davis and so many more, but even the greats have an off day, and for Liebman that would be this album, “Light’n Up Please”. Its not a terrible album, but far from a great one for sure. Initial problems occur just looking at the cover. Who does a photo op in the back of a Ford Pinto? Not only was it a complete crap car, but if someone had struck the car‘s infamous backside, Dave and his lovely missus would have surely gone up in flames. Then on the back cover you get a sticker telling you that the track listing on the album back cover is incorrect and you are to read the record label to get the correct listing. We haven’t even placed the album on a turntable and we are already off to a bad start, ha.

Apparently “Light’n Up” was Dave’s shot at funk jazz, a hugely popular style at that time, but this just isn’t Dave’s forte. He even enlisted JBs member Pee Wee Ellis to help out, but it didn’t work. To the novice this album may sound okay, but just play it back to back against the JBs, the Meters or the Headhunters and you will hear that something is just not quite right. Part of the problem is in the rhythm section. The cuts that feature Tony Saunders on bass and Jimmy Strassburg on drums are the better ones, but the ones that feature Jeff Berlin on bass and Al Foster on drums suffer. Jeff is a good prog and fusion bassist and Al is top notch in post bop and fusion, but as a funk team, they just don’t lock with each other, and Dave doesn’t lock with them either. Dave plays his usual flowing post bop lines instead of the short punchy riffs that make funk work. I’m reminded on Monk’s famous advice to Steve Lacy, ‘make the drummer sound good’.

Dave’s song writing on here is not great either, for supposedly being funk tunes, a lot of the music is just clumsy. One of the better cuts, “Chicken Soup” is just a straight up rip off of Maceo’s “The Chicken”, yet Dave puts his name on the song writing credits. The best song on the album, “Tranquility of the Protective Aura” is the only song not written by Liebman, instead it was penned by keyboardist Harold Williams and it is a luxurious piece of Ravelish exotica. Once again, this isn’t a really terrible album , but if you really love good funk music, you will hear the weaknesses pretty quickly.

ANDY SUMMERS Earth + Sky

Album · 2003 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
21ST CENTURY SUMMERS

After recording two tribute albums to Monk and Mingus, guitarist Andy Summers returns to his own compositions on 2003's Earth + Sky. By this time in his career, Summers had long since eschewed the pop/commercial sounds that had made him world famous. With a long string of mostly instrumental albums behind him, Summers no longer even had a record label to release his work in the USA (I had to import my copy from Germany).

For all the comparisons Summers receives with guitarists like Robert Fripp and David Torn (both of whom he has recorded with), on Earth + Sky his sound palette is much closer to someone like Kevin Eubanks than ever before. Listen to tracks such as the light and airy "Now I'm Free" or "Return" and you will hear this album leans more toward the jazz end of the spectrum. Then there's his trademark boundary-pushing on the title track (a multi-layered guitar extravaganza), "Circus" (where his bluesy lines are doubled with a saxophone), and "Red Stiletto" with its brash chords that lead to a funky jam. When you hear the opening drum flourish on "Above the World", you can be forgiven for thinking it's Stewart Copeland sitting in. Actually it's Vinnie Colaiuta, who at various times all but steals the aural spotlight away from the other players. Summers is also backed by longtime session bassist Abraham Laboriel and two keyboardists who effectively capture the "Fender Rhodes through a Leslie cabinet" tones that add a touch of fusion timelessness.

Acoustic guitar textures are heard on "Parallels" and "Roseville", and the album closes with the ambient blues of "I Choose You". At 51:08, this album doesn't overstay its welcome, although some listeners might have wanted more of the guitar-synth weirdness found on albums such as 1990's Charming Snakes (which receives my vote as his solo masterpiece). Earth + Sky effortlessly brings Summers into the 21st Century, and his compositions and guitar tones are more relevant than ever. If you are a long-time Summers listener, there is much to enjoy here, and this album is highly recommended.

SUN RA Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra : Secrets of the Sun

Album · 1965 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.57 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
It is so nice that you can go in record stores now and get classic Sun Ra records in brand new condition. “Secrets of the Sun” originally came out in 1965, but it has been recently re-issued and is available at better record stores today. The cover credits this album to Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra, but actually this is one of those Sun Ra small group albums, which are often special and unique. If you are familiar with “Angels and Demons at Play” and “Night of the Purple Moon”, then you are familiar with some of Sonny’s small group albums, but unfortunately, “Secrets” is not quite as good as those two masterpieces, but its not bad either. Like all 60s Sun Ra albums, the recording quality is not great, the piano is out of tune, and the mixing is just bizarre, but all these things are standard trademarks of classic Sun Ra.

The first two tracks on side one feature somewhat laid back semi-free jazz played over vague rhythmic ostinatos, with performers wandering in and out of the mix. Ahrt Jnkens (possible fake name) plays the ‘space voice’, which sounds like someone vocalizing through a horn and changing the sound with a plunger. It sounds like Ellington’s horns on acid and downers. It’s a little bit annoying but seems to fit in with the vibe okay. Closing track, “Space Aura”, is the closest thing to a real jazz song on here as the combo hits an off-kilter hard bop groove while Pat Patrick, John Gilmore and Marshall Allen turn in solos.

Moving on to side two, on “Love in Outer Space”, Marshall Allen solos on the ’morrow’, which sounds a lot like a bass clarinet, while accompanied by somewhat faint and distant percussion. “Reflects Motion” is the closest track to sounding like classic 60s free jazz, with John Gilmore and crew sounding similar to what Archie Shepp was doing during this time period, but of course it was Archie who learned all this from John in the first place. This track has a bizarre opening as Gilmore and Marshall Allen play a fast and lengthy unison line that sounds like a cross between be-bop and an atonal tone-row concoction. Throughout this album Sun Ra focuses his piano solos on playing dense block chords in interesting rhythmic juxtapositions. It is somewhat similar to things Dave Brubeck would try, but Dave sounds so square and forced compared to what comes to Sonny with ease. “Secrets” is a good album for Ra fans, its just unique enough to add another facet to the Sun Ra legacy. it’s an interesting album, but not a great one.

JOHNNY GRIFFIN The Little Giant

Album · 1959 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Johnny Griffin is a power house tenor player that deserves more recognition, but really, almost any great sax player who is not Coltrane or Charlie Parker could use a little more props. Johnny’s album, “The Little Giant”, came out in 1959, right in the middle of that mid 50s to mid 60s period in jazz when all the recordings sounded great and so many musicians were at a creative peak. Joining Griffin on here is an all-star cast, including a very young trombonist, Julian Priester. Julian will go on to perform avant-garde jazz with Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock’s electronic sextet and also some very out there combos of his own, so its interesting to hear him playing swinging solos in a hard bop context. The three man horn line is completed with Blue Mitchell on trumpet, giving the group an almost big band sound at times.

The three songs written by Norman Simmons make the most of this horn ensemble with complicated arrangements that often imitate big bands in their call and response between horn sections, and between soloist and ensemble. His, “Olive Refractions”, opens the album with high speed bop and the best arrangement on the album. Other tracks include Babs Gonzazlez’s, “Lonely One”, an exotic number that has Griffin playing a melody over tympani like tom toms before moving into a high speed free modal jam. “Playmates”, by Saxie Dowell is an odd choice with its bright major key contrasting with all the minor blues on this album. The song sounds like a cross between early New Orleans jazz and a TV beer commercial, but its sunny flavor does make for an interesting contrast. Griffin penned “63rd Street Theme”, a noire blues that would work great as a ‘crime jazz’ soundtrack.

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Cannonball Adderley Sextet : Planet Earth

Boxset / Compilation · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“Planet Earth” is an excellent album, yet few seem to know it even exists. The cover says that these songs have been released before, but doing a short casual search I could only find two of the tracks on Cannonball's Sextet in New York live album. The first four tracks feature the same band and all in live settings. It certainly does not sound like a comp until you get to “Seventh Son”, which is quite different from the other tracks. Technically this is Julian’s (Cannonball) album, but it seems more like a Yusef Lateef album. Yusef wrote the four live tracks, and the music reflects his semi avant-garde post bop with some Eastern modal leanings. The songs are very forward looking and in many ways sound a lot like the jazz you hear today in the second decade of the new century. Louis Hayes’ drumming in particular reflects today’s style in that he swings, but he does not confine himself to the ride cymbal, instead he is all over the set.

The two lengthy tracks on side are both up tempo modal hard bop. Yusef goes Coltrane-beast on the first track, but then breaks out the oboe for some Eastern flavored runs on “Brother John”. Hearing his oboe may remind some of how influential Yusef was on Les McCann’s mystical, “Invitation to Openness”. The Adderly Brothers show their bop roots, but also branch out into some odd sounds and effects while Zawinul is in full bop mode as he channels Bud Powell. Over the years Joe will not play this way much again, so its interesting hear him in this style on here.

Side two opens with another energy track, but then switches gears for the more abstract and mysterious “Syn-Anthesia” which has the group working like a small orchestra. The album closes with Zawinul’s “Seventh Son”, which sounds like another one of Joe’s somewhat commercial soul jazz tracks. Julian and Yusef do not appear on this one as Nat dominates with a bright sunshine muted trumpet solo. As mentioned earlier, this album has almost disappeared from known discogs. I found it in a used record shop and I seriously doubt this will ever be re-issued.

FREDDIE HUBBARD Straight Life

Album · 1971 · Fusion
Cover art 4.23 | 16 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
SUNSET SHADOWS

Let's address the elephant in the room right away: Freddie Hubbard's Straight Life album will always live in the shadow of its predecessor, Red Clay. There are those of us who believe this comparison is unfair, despite the two very different albums being recorded only 10 months apart. Yet as ground-breaking as the Red Clay album is, it's Straight Life that remains the far more awe-inspiring session of the two, even with its slightly shorter running time.

Straight Life gives us two long jams with an all-star group, and one classic ballad performed as a trio. As soon as you hear Freddie's trade-offs with Jack DeJohnette that open "Straight Life", you will know you're about to hear something special. The first big solo goes to Joe Henderson (tenor sax): a true 4-minute monster that will erase any doubt on whether he belongs among the all-time greats. Then it's Freddie's turn, before Herbie Hancock (banging away on electric piano), George Benson (guitar), and DeJohnette (drums) are given space to strut their stuff before Hubbard returns to wrap it all up. "Mr. Clean" has Hubbard and Henderson playing the main theme in tandem before and between everyone's solo spaces. This track moves and grooves more deliberately than the previous one, and Benson features more prominently. The album closes with a truly beautiful version of "Here's that Rainy Day". Hubbard and Benson duet before being joined by bassist Ron Carter, a truly memorable finish to a truly classic album (with no lost/missing tracks on subsequent re-issues).

So what's not to like? The critical orthodoxy will insist these songs are not compositions, but simply backdrops for soloing (as if that's a bad thing). Occasionally the musical textures (which also include a very busy percussionist, Richie Landrum) can become cluttered, but with all this firepower, why not use it? It was probably strongly suggested to Freddie that he make another Red Clay, but thankfully he didn't, and the jazz world is better for it. Hubbard's future CTI albums would add strings/horns/woodwinds (without Herbie Hancock), and just never be as downright masterful as Straight Life always will be.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Apocalypse

Album · 1974 · Fusion
Cover art 3.57 | 34 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Apocalypse” was the third album for Mahavishnu Orchestra and saw the band going through some changes. The first two albums were probably some of the most divisive albums in jazz history. There was nothing subtle about Mahavishnu’s first two outings. Their heavy rock approach and bombastic sound were a turn off to many jazzers, but a definite attraction to the prog rock crowd who flocked to them in droves. As if the band was not cumbersome enough already, this third album was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, a sign that the big prog rock sensibilities might reign supreme on this one, but upon hearing it, fortunately its not really all that. To their credit, Mahavishnu always had top notch musicians and their fiery solos could raise the roof, and with this third album they raise that ante with some new exciting players. Bassist Ralphe Armstrong and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty were just a notch above the people they replaced and now McLaughlin finally had some people in the band who could hold their own against him. Michael Walden replacing Billy Cobham was a fairly even trade and Walden does a great job of fitting into the Cobham style while supplying his own unique syncopations and energy.

The first side of the album presents a surprisingly coherent musical vision as John steps up as a worthy composer and arranger fitting band and orchestra passages together to build a dynamic musical piece. Some highlights include a heavy string motif that sounds like a cross between Mussorgsky and King Crimson and a middle section where John lays down a repeating impossibly funky riff, one of his best since “Jack Johnson”. The closing ballad, sung by Gayle Moran, is one of the finest bits of composition in McLaughlin’s long career. On side two, things get a bit more disjointed, but separate sections still have nice things to offer. There is one high energy trio jam with John, Ralphe and Michael that allows Armstrong to show what an incredible bass player he is, but it is marred by an overly processed sound on the guitar. On the bad side of things, the section towards the end that features furious trading of fours with a string section is just kind of ridiculous, this is the sort of excess that dragged down many a 70s prog rock opus.

GRANT GEISSMAN Blooz

Album · 2022 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Grant Geissman has recorded a lot of albums during his busy career, but never one quite like “Blooz”. Geissman has always been a fan of the blues but this is the first album he has recorded featuring the genre. Its not really a ‘pure blues’ album, or as Grants says himself, “ The album is called “Blooz” because its my take on the blues. It’s a fairly wide interpretation, and not always traditional.” So with that in mind, its no surprise we find many variations on the blues featuring influences from jazz, Latin rock, rockabilly, rhumba, boogaloo and more. A rotating cast of musicians are featured here, and many you have probably heard of before such as Tom Scott, Randy Brecker, Robben Ford and Joe Bonamassa. In many ways this may seem like a guitar player’s album, with Grant listing which vintage guitar he is using on each track, but horns and keyboards, especially the B3, all add their own colors.

“Carlos En Siete” is Latin rock in 7/4 time and is Grant’s tribute to Carlos Santana. Geissman’s solo on this one reflects the influence Carlos has on Grant’s playing. “Rage Cage is a rock boogie in the style of ZZ Top, with Jim Cox’s B3 solo taking the jam into soul jazz territory. “Preach” and “Fat Back” sound like classic 60’s Blue Note with Randy Brecker adding his horn to the former, and Tom Scott adding his saxophone to the latter. “One G and Two J’s” has a Bo Diddley beat and features a three guitar lineup when Grant is joined by Josh Smith and Joe Bonamassa. “Blooz” is a fun ride, liven up your nest outdoor BBQ with some contemporary takes on the blues and soul jazz.

KEITH JARRETT Fort Yawuh

Live album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 10 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Throughout his lengthy career, Keith Jarrett has been one of the most important pianists of our time, but there was something different about his youthful playing that you don’t hear as much over the years. Before the Koln concert, the classical performances and the association with the somber 80s ECM sound, Jarrett’s playing was a lot funkier and bluesy soulful with plenty of gospel and roots country riffs to go around for everyone. Its from this earlier phase of his career that we get the loose, experimental and mostly high energy live concert known as “Fort Yawuh”. Joining Keith on this concert is his very talented, ‘American Quartet”, with Dewey Redman on tenor, Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Part-time member, Danny Johnson, joins on percussion.

The album starts with the free post bop of “If the Misfits (Wear It)”, which opens with what sounds like the musicians imitating a North African field recording before going into high speed free-bop mode. Keith’s piano runs are both lightning fast and harmonically interesting at the same time. Dewey follows him with a strong tenor solo that shows the Coltrane and John Gilmore influences of the time. The album title track follows, and features the piano trio in free mode, but when they kick into an African rock groove, Redman joins with a Chinese musette solo that works really well with this sort of non-western rhythm. Side two kicks off with the gospel groove of “De Drums”, halfway through the track the rhythm picks up the tempo as Redman leads the band in a high energy soul jazz romp. Album closer “Still Life, Still Life”, is a ballad, but during Jarrett’s opening solo improv, he takes the tune into some very complex twisting turning twelve tone treatments.

The salient features on this album are enthusiastic energy and an open mind towards any possible musical influence. This group pulls from all the various musical influences described above, yet all those influences come together to make one sound and nothing sounds contrived or unnatural. There is a real joy at work in this album that is rare to come by.

SUN RA Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“Celebration for the Comet Kohoutek” is a live concert recorded by the Sun Ra Arkestra on December 22, 1973 at New York City’s Town Hall. The first side of the album is a fairly good recording, at least by Sun Ra standards, of an excellent performance. Side two starts off okay, but then falters significantly for the last half of that side. After a brief opening, side one kicks off with the well known “Astro Black”, sung by the Arkestra veteran, June Tyson. From here the band goes into mixtures of hard bop grooves and screeching free jazz with fiery solos from many of the horn players. Specific credits are not given, but possibly that is Kwame Hadi behind those fiery trumpet solos. As for the other players, you can expect the usual suspects such as Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and the rest of the crew.

Halfway through this side Sun Ra steps in with an incredible analog synthesizer solo. If you have heard his early meanderings on “My Brother the Wind”, you will not believe how much Ra’s technique on the synth developed after those early experiments. He must be using a fairly complex setup because the sounds he is producing, and the way he is able to pull up endless variations, is far beyond what a Mini-Moog is capable of. I know Sonny used the Korg MS-20 some, a pair of those linked together could probably pull off these sort of cross-modulated wave forms. After Ra’s solo fades, the percussion section kicks in for an aggressive African groove over which Sonny at first supplies something close to classic soul jazz riffs. Ra playing in this style is very rare and its quite a treat for long time fans of his, but soon he moves back to supplying more elctronic sounds to the percussion celebration.

After a brief Arkestra intro, side two goes into more synthesizer excursions from Sonny, and once again his technique, control and imagination are very impressive. The way in which the tone colors constantly morph and change recalls Milton Babbit’s “Ensemble for Synthesizer”. I would not be surprised if Ra was very familiar with that landmark electronic piece. After the lengthy solo, the band tries to reappear, but something has happened, they sound like they are in another room way down the hallway. The last half of side two is given to call and response vocal numbers, including the over recorded, “Space is the Place”. These songs get tedious quickly because the arkestra is barely audible while the vocalists are way too loud. When one singer starts doing lounge club RnB type vocals on “Space is the Place”, its time to go ahead and hit the tone arm eject. Overall, possibly the most salient feature on this album is Sun Ra’s extended synthesizer solos. I do not know of any other record of his that contains such a wealth of synth colors. Other albums of his often sound like he is just learning how the device works.

KENNY GARRETT Triology

Album · 1995 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
EXHILARATING!

1995 was a banner year for jazz, and Kenny Garrett's Triology album remains one of the most memorable and re-listenable after all these years. His seventh studio album, Triology does without the melodic "oomph" of keyboards, guitar, or another horn. It's just Kenny on the alto, Kiyoshi Kitagawa (7 tracks) and Charnett Moffett (3 tracks) on bass, and the magisterial Brian Blade on drums. Many listeners dismiss sax trio albums as "dry", "tiring", or "too serious", but those adjectives come nowhere near to describing these recordings. There are no weak links and no showing off, nor is there any hint of "hushed reverence". Triology is the work of a true virtuoso who knows who he is, and where he wants to go.

Let's talk about TONE. Garrett's very unique alto may remind one of the soprano sax from time to time, but it never dissipates into that wispy Paul Desmond sound (and I mean that with NO disrespect). There are no solo pieces on Triology, yet only rarely does Garrett take a breather throughout. Give Kenny credit for not starting with something simple: "Delfeayo's Dilemma" is a barnstormer with the "almost soprano" tone front and center. The pace hardly slackens throughout: "Night and Day", "Giant Steps", and "Pressing the Issue" would all fit comfortably on the "snappy-to-fast" spectrum. "Oriental Towaway Zone" (with a formidable Kitagawa solo) and "What is this thing called love?" could both be described as "blistering". After a Brian Blade intro, Garrett spools off line after line over a bass ostinato on "Wayne's Thang" before teasing with not one, but two false endings. The trio does (relatively) slow down for "A Time for Love" and "In Your Own Sweet Way".

When discussing the alto sax, people always want to compare and contrast with players such as Cannonball Adderley, Marion Brown, Lee Konitz, and Art Pepper. And as great as those players are, Kenny Garrett remains his own man, respectfully paying tribute to the past while forging ahead to the future. It was a great temptation to title this review "Honkin'", that wonderful quality which can certainly be found amidst Triology's 57 minute run time, but that would not do this command performance justice. This album never ceases to amaze me and is far less "tiring" than plain and simply "exhilarating"!

JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON A Real Mother For Ya

Album · 1977 · RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
You have to admit that “Real Mother For Ya” has a real mother of an album cover . Yes that’s Johnny’s mom pushing him in a baby carriage that has been made to look like a gold Rolls Royce, implying that young Johnny has grown up to do pretty well for himself in the music business, which indeed he did. Starting in the 50s, Watson was a star guitarist and vocalist in the blues world, especially in Houston where he was from. Moving out to LA, Johnny made the transition to a modern funk sound, and did so convincingly, scoring several big hits, while still maintaining much of his blues flavor. One such big hit was this album’s title track, with its humorous tales of ironic disappointment, rip-offs and plain bad luck. These are the kind of lyrics that anyone can relate to and Watson delivered them with plenty of funny asides in his distinctive twangy voice. The song became a real mover on the dance floor with its double heavy bass reinforced with a heavy analog synthesizer. As is typical for dance records, the title track comes first on side one so that DJs will have no problem finding it.

Sometimes albums like this, which are centered around a big hit, have nothing but filler after the hit passes, but the rest of “Real Mother” contains some well written and creatively produced tracks. Johnny covers all the bases on here, writing all the songs, playing all the instruments except horns and drums, and taking care of production as well. Watson is a great producer, different parts stand out and shimmer as he achieves great separation and clarity, and often puts some semi-psychedelic glitter on things. Johnny’s writing style combines blues, RnB, jazz and art pop, like a mix of Curtis Mayfield, The Ohio Players, The Crusaders and The Beatles. Some interesting tracks include the somewhat spacey, “Your Love is My Love”, on which Watson delivers all the vocals through a vocoder foreshadowing today’s frequent use of such vocals and, “I Wanna Thank You”, on which Johnny reveals he is just as good on the piano as he is on the guitar. “Nothing Left to be Desired” has a dreamy middle section on which Watson builds vocal layers over a jazzy chord progression. Johnny’s lyrics are never deep or heavy, but he delivers them with plenty of clever humor and spoken asides. Looking at the horn section, I see frequent Frank Zappa sideman Walt Fowler on trumpet. As many already know, Watson delivered some humorously over the top vocals on Zappa’s “One Size Fits All”.

JOHN COLTRANE John Coltrane/Archie Shepp : New Thing At Newport

Live album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.12 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
This review of “New Thing at Newport” is based on the original LP on the Impulse! label, and what a beautiful production it is. You get a gatefold album cover with plenty of inside liner notes written by Nat Hentoff and Archie Shepp, plus a nice photo of Archie on the back cover decked out in about the coolest sports jacket you have ever seen. Shepp and John Coltrane share this album, but they do not play together. One track from Coltrane’s evening performance leads off the album, which is followed by four Shepp tracks that took place earlier that day in the afternoon.

Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up” is an absolute powerhouse performance from arguably the hottest quartet in jazz history. This is the last year that Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner will stay with John, but they certainly found their mountainous peak before moving on. The recording quality is pretty bad, but John and McCoy come through loud and clear. The lead melody is a short little RnB riff, but listen how Coltrane works it and develops it. There is a reason why other musicians consider him to be a genius and worthy of emulating. Possibly knowing what Coltrane was going to be doing that evening, Archie decides not to go for the same intensity during his afternoon performance. Instead, he presents an eclectic set of almost chamber-like avant-garde jazz, possibly somewhat similar to Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” album.

The recording quality on the Shepp tracks is much better, possibly the Coltrane set just had way too much sonic volume to deal with. “Rufus” is a free post bop number with great playing from Archie, as well as Bobby Hutcherson on vibes who is excellent all though his part of the album. “Le Matin des Noire” has some interesting arrangements and sometimes resembles a 20th century avant-garde classical piece. “Tracks” is a short little spoken diatribe against heroin and the injustices that encourage it, and “Call Me by My Rightful Name” is a ballad of sorts with Archie shifting between a pretty melody and very odd atonal excursions.

STANLEY CLARKE Stanley Clarke

Album · 1974 · Fusion
Cover art 3.83 | 17 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steak Handsome
This Stanley Clarke album is for me as a newcommer to fusion jazz a real revelation. It has some of the finest drumming I have heard, and nice bass parts which is why I found Stanley Clarke. I have heard almost all the albums of Return to forever and find them very fine, but I like this album more, and find it great all the way. I have earlier listened to Jan Hammer and when it comes to make the keyboard parts great he is almost as good as Chick Corea. All in all this is a great album for new listeners who come from progrock or heavy rock, and if it is given a chance it will be an album that can be heard over and over again.

BRAD MEHLDAU Jacob's Ladder

Album · 2022 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Well here it is, Brad Mehldau’s somewhat ballyhooed alleged return to his youthful progressive rock roots. Truth be told, “Jacob‘s Ladder“ is not exactly a prog rock album, which may be a good thing for some, but prog does play a big part on this rather eclectic album. Along with covers of some classic songs like “Tom Sawyer“, “Cogs in Cogs“ and “Starship Trooper”, you also get a fair share of ‘trappy’ electronica nu jazz, a synthesizer fugue, some readings from the Bible, semi-classical instrumental ballads, some art pop and more. In the prog tradition, this is a very ambitious album, but how does it all add up to the listener. To paraphrase from David Byrne, “some good points, and some not as good points”. Ambitious musically, but also literally as Brad muses on man’s relationship with God in his very thoughtful opening liner notes. Second track, “Herr und Knecht”, presents intense music as Tobias Bader screams out an internal debate from Hegel’s “Phenomenology”. Yes, some of this album is far from easy listening.

“Cogs in Cogs” gets three different treatments, first a nu jazz dubish instrumental, then a cover with vocals, and then finally a synthesizer fugue that sounds like a tribute to Wendy Carlos. “Tom Sawyer” gets a jazzy treatment and overall sounds a lot better without Geddy Lee’s vocals. On “Jacob’s Ladder II”, we get an excellent Mehldau piano solo over an electronic trap groove. “Jacob’s Ladder III” has Bible verses over sampled choirs and then ends with some very intense anguished screaming and yelling, you have been warned. Closing track “Heaven …” is an album highlight as the assembled all-star band does an excellent cover of “Starship Trooper”. Cecile McLorin Salvant’s beautiful wordless vocals open the track before Safia McKinney-Askeur comes into handle the lyrics. It closes out with Brad’s relaxed and lyrical piano solo over Yes’ famous closing three chord vamp.

I didn’t come close to covering all the material on here, there is just too much to cover. Brad seems to be wrestling with the big issues here, both spiritual and philosophical. It takes a certain amount of guts and integrity to release an album that aspires to be all that Mehldau presents here.

JOHN COLTRANE Concert In Japan

Live album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.17 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“John Coltrane Concert in Japan” does not have very good sound quality, but it is an important example of an important group at a time of important development. Back when this album was recorded (1966), it seemed all avant-garde jazz was poorly recorded, as if that was one more way of avoiding commercialism and/or the establishment. To this day I sometimes wonder if that was the case for some of the early free jazz albums. By 1966, free jazz was not exactly new anymore, but it was still fairly new to a lot of people and it would still take a few more years for free jazz to become an accepted part of the jazz world.

Although very much an avant-garde album when it was recorded, Coltrane’s playing on here is mostly tonal as he delivers sheets of modal scales and pentatonic colors. Pharoh Sanders, on the other hand, is more apt to slip into screams and exclamations, as well as making his saxophone sound like a pre-colonial African reed instrument no where near the European concert invention it is. Rashied Ali’s drumming continues the African vibe as he is able to sound like a large African percussion ensemble by himself. Alice Coltrane supplies cascading scales and chords, often imitating an Indian tamboura in the way she provides a constant background for the soloists. Jimmy Garrison on bass is the only person left from Coltrane’s more traditional previous group, but unfortunately you can barely hear him at all.

If Sanders and Ali bring an African sound, the Coltranes often seem to be channeling classical Indian music with John’s relaxed opening to “Peace on Earth” sounding much like a morning raga. The way the two Coltranes build their improvisations again recalls Indian ragas. Although, “Peace on Earth”, mostly lives up to its name, the rest of the music on here is quite intense, especially when Sanders gets everyone fired up with his fierce repeating atonal scales. On the closing track, Sanders and Coltrane finally solo together and what a hell raiser that is. Too bad there was not more of their simultaneous improvs on here.

BRAD MEHLDAU Suite : April 2020

Album · 2020 · Third Stream
Cover art 3.48 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“Suite: April 2020” is Brad Mehldau’s attempt to capture his feelings during the pandemic while he and his family stayed home to keep from catching or spreading the infectious germs that were sweeping the world. There is of course a good bit of melancholic reflection, but also a small dose of joy that comes from time spent with family. It is a solo piano recording of course, so many solo albums came out during this time from many artists.

The first nine tracks are the highlight of the album. These tracks do flow much like a suite and you will probably find yourself listening to these as a whole, rather than as separate tracks. These are the tracks that dwell on the more somber side of the pandemic, the solitude and reflection that many of us went through. As through composed semi-classical piano pieces, these nine are quite brilliant and sound much like mid-20th century French neo-classical piano works, particularly recalling the piano compositions of Francis Poulenc. Any of these tone poems would hold up well in a contemporary classical concert. A couple tracks that follow are more light-hearted, almost silly, as they attempt to capture the feeling of family fun. These songs are okay, but unfortunately they break the hypnotic spell that Brad built during the first nine performances.

Next up, Mehldau performs an interesting cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”, introducing a bit of his trademark intertwining contrapuntal lines. This is followed by Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” which sounds like a fairly standard lounge version, maybe Brad wanted to leave the song alone and let it speak for itself. Apparently the closing number is a Mehldau original as there are no song writing credits given, but its title and music sound like a sentimental pop song from a bygone era. If you put together a CD that featured the first nine tracks plus the Neil Young cover and left the others out, you would have a more consistent suite.

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH Leverkusen '97

Live album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 4.09 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
Maxsmusic
The series of live recordings recently released for Allan and his various incarnations of trios and quartets are outstanding. This one from 1997 shows Allan in Germany with Chad and Dave. The album is dedicated to Allan and the late Dave Carpenter (1959 - 2008). The first track: The Sixteen Men of Tain is one of Allan's best late compositions. He also includes his classic tracks such as Letters of Marque, Looking Glass and House of Mirrors. Phenomenal musicianship permeates this session. For any fan of electric jazz guitar this is a must have. The legato is flying. 4.25 stars

CLARE FISCHER Thesaurus (aka 'Twas Only Yesterday)

Album · 1969 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Its kind of interesting how some great jazz musicians get slated for immortality and some do not. Clare Fischer was a top notch modern big band arranger, if he is not in the same class as Gil Evans, Don Ellis or Quincy Jones, he is very close, yet you don’t hear about him near as much as the others. Part of Clare’s problem is that he was putting out big band, Latin and post bop albums during an era when record companies were banking all their money on fusion acts with rock star vibes. Yes, Clare looks pretty conservative on the cover of “Thesaurus”, but the music contained herein is just as dynamic and creative as anyone else during this era. Fischer is also an accomplished writer as well as arranger, with four songs on “Thesaurus” written by himself, as well as two by his brother, trumpeter Stewart Fischer.

Side one opens up with “The Duke”, with Clare making it clear that the Duke is one of his favorite arrangers and the tune does carry some Ellington influence, but with a larger brass section than the Duke usually had. The Latin flavored “Miles Behind” does not seem to channel Miles Davis much, with trumpeter Conte Candoli turning in a bright solo that is almost the opposite of Miles. The top track of side one though is Lennie Tristan’s “Lennie’s Pennies”, a brilliant tune that takes bebop to a new modernist level. This is also Fischer’s best arrangement with Gary Foster and Warne Marsh presenting very different takes on this song’s interpretation.

Top tracks on side two include “Bitter Leaf”, a moody tone poem that features Clare’s impressionistic electric piano blending with the tone colors of his band in a style almost more French impressionism than jazz. Also noteworthy is his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s complex, yet swinging, “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”. The album closes with a brief but moving ballad dedicated to the then recently assassinated Kennedy brothers. Fans of big band arranging from the 60s to today should take note, Clare Fischer’s “Thesaurus” rates up there with the best of them.

FRANK ZAPPA Joe's Corsage

Live album · 2004 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.92 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Joe's Corsage" is a full-length album release by US avant garde rock act Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention. The album was released through Vaulternative Records in May 2004. "Joe's Corsage" features archive material recorded in 1964-1965. Some or probably most of it while the band were still called The Soul Giants. The album was compiled by archivist Joe Travers. Most of the material are demo recordings of tracks that in their final form would appear on the band´s debut album "Freak Out! (1966)", but also a few tracks that would appear on "Absolutely Free (1967)" and "We're Only In It For The Money (1968)". In addition to the demos there are also a couple of live cover tracks by Righteous Brothers and Marvin Gaye. There are also a couple of interludes on the album where Frank Zappa speaks of the origins of the band and his influences, taken from interviews from the sixties.

If you are already familiar with the early material by the band and the doo woop/r´n´b style of tracks like "Anyway the Wind Blows" and "Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder" you pretty much know what to expect from "Joe's Corsage". The versions on this album vary from the ones that ended up on the studio albums, but for the most part the tracks aren´t terribly different from the studio versions. A track like "I'm So Happy I Could Cry", which ended up being titled "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" on "We're Only In It For The Money (1968)" featuring a new set of lyrics, is one of the tracks that sound a bit different from the studio version, but otherwise I think there are little here that´ll be of interest to anyone but the most hardcore collectors. Still the recordings are of good quality with a, for the time, remarkably good sound production and of course there´s nothing wrong with the quality of the material either, so a 3 star (60%) rating is fair.

FRANK ZAPPA Orchestral Favorites

Album · 1979 · Third Stream
Cover art 2.89 | 14 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Orchestral Favorites" is a live album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in May 1979. It´s the successor to "Sheik Yerbouti" from March 1979. All material featured on "Orchestral Favorites", was originally meant to be featured on the shelved "Läther" box-set, but ended up being released as one of four individual album releases, instead of the collective work that would have been the "Läther" box-set.

The 5 tracks featured on "Orchestral Favorites" were recorded during three sessons on the 17th-19th of September 1975, at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus with conductor Michael Zearott and the 37-piece Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra. The first two sessions were recorded as concerts with an audience, while the last session was done without an audience. Zappa spliced the best parts from the three sessions together and added an overdub guitar solo on "Duke of Prunes". It´s a combined classical orchestra and rock group performance, so in addition to the classical music instruments like violin, oboe, and clarinet, the music also features regular rock music instrumentation of guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums. The music is fully instrumental.

The melodic, dynamic, and symphonic "Strictly Genteel" opens the album. An early version of this composition with vocals was included on the "200 Motels" (1971) film and soundtrack. Themes from "200 Motels" (1971) are also used on the closing track "Bogus Pomp". "Pedro's Dowry" and "Naval Aviation in Art" are avant garde tinged classical music pieces, showing Zappa´s more experimental side. "Duke of Prunes", which was originally featured on "Absolutely Free" (1967), is featured here in a re-arranged classical orchestra/rock group version. The above mentioned overdubbed guitar solo is pretty intense, featuring an almost constant near feedback noisy approach.

While "Orchestral Favorites" certainly features a couple of intriguing moments, it´s arguably the least interesting release culled from the shelved "Läther" material. According to Zappa he spend around $200,000 on this project, and honestly I can´t say I think those money was well spend. A 3 star (60%) rating isn´t all wrong though as there are enough great elements to warrant that rating.

FRANK ZAPPA Sheik Yerbouti

Live album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.48 | 23 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Sheik Yerbouti" is an album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was originally released in March 1979 as a double vinyl release through Zappa Records. It was the first release on Zappa´s own label after his acrimonious split with manager and business partner Herb Cohen in May 1976, which meant the end of their co-owned DiscReet Records and a host of lawsuits and disagreements over the remaining part of their distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records. "Sheik Yerbouti" bridges the gap between the two last (out of four) individual albums that Warner Bros. Records released featuring material which was originally meant to be released on the four-LP box set Läther. A box set which was shelved and split into four albums and released by Warner Bros. Records without Zappa´s full consent. The two albums bookending "Sheik Yerbouti" are "Sleep Dirt" from January 1979 and "Orchestral Favorites" from May 1979.

"Sheik Yerbouti" ended up being Zappa´s most commercially successful release and it laid the foundation for the mainstream success (well...relative mainstream success) he had in the 80s. Most of the basic tracks were recorded during 1977/1978 live performances and later spliced with studio overdubs. In typical Zappa fashion it´s most of the time impossible to hear where the live tracks and the studio overdubs start and end. What you´ll experience as a listener is just a very well produced album, featuring an organic, professional, and detailed sound production, helping the material shine like the best quality productions always do.

"Sheik Yerbouti" is loved by many but loathed by just as many as a consequence of the sexually explicit lyrics (although some of them are hidden behind secret words and descriptions) and lyrical topics poking fun at union workers, disco, a certain type of Jewish women, egotism...etc. "Jewish Princess" is considered particularly controversial and even some interpret it as anti-semitic. Zappa refused to apologies though and maintained that he just described a certain type of women that he had observed. "Bobby Brown" is another song which is often considered controversial because of the sexually explicit lyrics which includes stereotyping of lesbians, golden showers, rape, and anal sex. It´s all done with a gleam in the eye and the great social satirical angle that Zappa was known for.

"Sheik Yerbouti" is overall a very eclectic release featuring pop/mainstream oriented songs, which could have been played on commercial radio (and were in some countries), if it wasn´t for the explicit lyrics, rock songs, progressive rock songs, avant garde pieces, jazz/fusion, punk, and silly spoken word dialogue from the band members. Featuring no less than 18 tracks and a total playing time of 71:40 minutes, there are a lot of material and minutes for Zappa to guide us through the many different sounds and styles of "Sheik Yerbouti". The vocal part of the album deserves a special mention. It´s primarily Zappa himself and drummer Terry Bozzio who sing the lead vocal parts on the album, but Napoleon Murphy Brock is credited for singing lead vocals on "Wild Love" (along with Tommy Mars) and Adrian Belew sings the lead vocals on "Jones Crusher" and "City of Tiny Lites" (as well as performing the Bob Dylan impersonation on "Flakes"). Bassist Patrick O'Hearn is also credited for performing some lead vocalst. Naturally with that many lead vocalists and a host of backing vocalists, the vocal part of the album is equally as eclectic in nature as the instrumental part of the material.

It would be wrong to call any Frank Zappa related release an easy listen or mainstream oriented, but parts of "Sheik Yerbouti" are probably the closest you´ll get to that with Zappa. However the eclectic nature of the album ensures that the listener is constantly kept on his/her toes and challenged by the clever compositions and high level musical performances. Are some of the lyrics offensive or in bad taste? I guess it depends on the ears that hear and the morale and political/social values of the listener. Personally I find the lyrics quite brilliant, and in my opinion even the most silly and borderline mean lyrics should be understood as social commentary rather than hateful rantings. Upon conclusion "Sheik Yerbouti" is one of the essential albums in Zappa´s discography, and especially essential if you´re looking for his most accessible comedic/satirical releases. A 5 star (100%) rating is fully deserved.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Devotion (aka Marbles)

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.89 | 16 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“Devotion” is an odd one in the John McLaughlin discography, known as John’s ‘psychedelic rock’ album, there are a lot of things that happen on this LP that don’t show up on any later outings. Apparently controversial producer Alan Douglas had been hosting jam sessions with John, Jimi Hendrix, Larry Young, Billy Rich and Buddy Miles. When Jimi left us for another galaxy far away, the sessions continued without him. Eventually Alan made his own mix of the sessions without any input from McLaughlin, and the result was this album. John does not care for this album, especially Alan’s mixes. There is so much on here that is not typical for John; the way songs meld into each other, the psychedelic production, the double tracked guitar solos and the overall murky lack of precision. Production wise this album is the opposite of John’s later albums, but truth be told, this album sounds great, even if some of the music is somewhat simple by McLaughlin standards.

Most of these tracks are easy one and two chord modal jams, but both John and Larry Young play some great solos on these basic platforms. The best guitar solos go down on side one, with McLaughlin’s double tracked guitars often battling each other, or intertwining in complimentary ways. Larry should have been given more solo space, but he does come through big time on the bluesy “Siren”. Kudos to Larry also for his very spacey use of the B3 drawbars as he builds walls of tamboura like shifting hallucinogenic backgrounds. This is another place where Douglas’ skills shine as his production brings out the best in Larry’s unique technique. Another track worth mentioning is the last half of “Don’t Let the Dragon Eat Your Mother”, on which John’s mystical guitar figures sound like an outtake from “In a Silent Way”. On some of the more fusion leaning tracks, the bluesy Buddy Miles seems a bit out of his element. It would have been interesting to hear Billy Cobham or Tony Williams in his place. As a jazz album, many may find “Devotion” lacking in substance, but as a psychedelic rock album, it ranks with the best.

FRANK ZAPPA Sleep Dirt

Album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.55 | 19 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Sleep Dirt" is an album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in January 1979. It´s the successor to "Studio Tan" from September 1978. All material from "Sleep Dirt", was originally meant to be featured on the shelved "Läther" box-set. The original version of "Sleep Dirt" is entirely instrumental. Some of the tracks were initially written in 1972, and imagined with vocals, for a shelved stage musical titled "Hunchentoot". In 1982 Zappa opted to hire female vocalist Thana Harris to add vocals to "Flambay", "Spider of Destiny", and "Time is Money". He also made Chad Wackermann overdub drums on "Flambay", "Spider of Destiny", and "Regyptian Strut". The 1991 CD reissue of "Sleep Dirt" features these changes, which makes the 1979 original vinyl version and the 1991 CD reissue version of the album very different listening experiences. All original instrumental tracks were recorded between 1974 and 1976.

"Sleep Dirt" opens with one of the most intense, dark, and almost sinister sounding instrumentals in Zappa´s discography in "Filthy Habits". It´s an instant album highlight. "Flambay", "Spider of Destiny", "Regyptian Strut", and "Time is Money" follow, and it´s easy to hear that these clever, tightly arranged, and classical music influenced rock could have appeared as part of a stage musical. They are dramatic, theatrical pieces of music, with the occasional more fusion influenced touch. Having listened to the original versions without vocals, I personally have a hard time appreciating the versions featuring the added vocal parts, and the overdubbed drums are completely unnessary too (to the point where they lessen the listening experience), so my recommendation is to listen to the original instrumental versions. "Sleep Dirt" is completed by the beautiful acoustic guitar duo title track and the impressive 13:20 minutes long jazz/fusion instrumental "The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution".

While "Sleep Dirt" may not have been released exactly how Zappa originally planned, this is the album release which ended up being presented to the fans, and as it is (the original instrumental version), it´s through and through a high quality release, featuring a powerful, detailed, and organic sounding production, high level musical performances, and intriguing songwriting. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

FRANK ZAPPA Studio Tan

Album · 1978 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.22 | 18 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Studio Tan" is an album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in September 1978. It´s the successor to "Zappa in New York" from March 1978. All material from "Studio Tan", was originally meant to be featured on the shelved "Läther" box-set. As Warner Bros. Records still insisted that Zappa owed them four albums, and Zappa refused to comply with their demands, the label decided to pick material from "Läther" (the master tapes were in the label´s possession) and release the material on individual album releases. Most of the tracks on "Zappa in New York (1978)" were also culled from the "Läther" master tapes, and "Studio Tan" was the second release where the same method was used. So "Studio Tan" was released without the consent of the artist, and was even given a cover artwork completely different from anything else in Zappa´s discography, except for the next couple of releases, which were released under similar circumstances.

Most of the material on "Studio Tan" were recorded at various sessions between 1974 and 1976, but some of the recordings were done as far back as 1969. "Studio Tan" features four tracks. The 20 minutes long classical rock piece with cartoonish lyrics and vocals "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" (originally only titled "Greggery Peccary", the "feel good" fast paced rock song "Lemme Take You to the Beach" (originally titled "Let Me Take You to the Beach"), which features a strong Beach Boys influence (although it´s delivered in a pretty over-the-top cartoonish fashion), and the two relatively long (around 8 minutes long) instrumentals "Revised Music for Guitar & Low-Budget Orchestra" and "RDNZL" (Originally titled "REDUNZL").

"The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" is a bit of a gem in Zappa´s discography, although the lyrics (which feature many conceptual continuety references) and the cartoonish "mouse" voice vocals are pretty silly (but silly in a good way). The music on the long track is a combination of avant garde classical music and assorted rock styles, and it must have been a major task stitching together the multi-part composition. "Lemme Take You to the Beach" is another highlight on "Studio Tan". It´s a unique track in Zappa´s discography, although the late 50s/early 60s pop/rock music influence isn´t new in Zappa´s music, it´s however done different here than what is usually heard from Zappa. "Revised Music for Guitar & Low-Budget Orchestra" is a decent quality instrumental, but not a track which makes my blood boil, and I must say that earlier live versions of "RDNZL" are more interesting than this studio version (the song was played a lot by the 1973/1974 band).

Upon conclusion "Studio Tan" features two rather unusual tracks and two tracks which are a little more in sync with other contemporary releases by Zappa. Ultimately it´s the two former which are the most interesting tracks on the album, but all material are of a high quality. So while "Studio Tan" wasn´t originally released the way Zappa had intended it´s still an intriguing, unique, and adventurous album. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

FRANK ZAPPA Francesco Zappa

Album · 1984 · Third Stream
Cover art 2.23 | 10 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
UMUR
"Francesco Zappa" is an album release by US, California based artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through Barking Pumpkin Records in November 1984 and is sandwiched between "Them or Us" from October 1984 and "Thing-Fish" from December 1984.

"Francesco Zappa" is a rather unusual Zappa release, as it doesn´t feature a single piece of music composed by Zappa himself. The album instead features 17 pieces of classical chamber music composed by Italian composer Francesco Zappa (who was active from 1763 and 1788 and despite sharing sur-name with Frank Zappa, aren´t otherwise related). Francesco Zappa isn´t a particularly prolific classical composer in the eyes/ears of today, but in his time he was a highly regarded cellist known for his virtuosic skills on the instrument and his compositions were published and distributed throughout Europe. He spend most of his working life on The Hague's 18th-century music scene. Frank Zappa discovered the music of Francesco Zappa when David Ocker (copyist, synclavier programmer, and clarinetist) introduced Zappa to one of Francesco Zappa´s pieces, and Zappa soon after began a search for sheet music, which proved a difficult task, but he eventually was able to locate some sheet papers.

With the help of Ocker, he then programmed some of the Francesco Zappa pieces into his Synclavier synthesizer and thus we have the "Francesco Zappa" album. A through and through bizarre music experiment and probably not how Francesco Zappa would have imagined the first publication of his music would sound like (not that he could probably even image a publication since he died over 200 years ago). The compositions themselves are rather generic chamber music, influenced by the baroque period which had just ended (gradually faded around 1750). They are decent pieces of classical chamber music, but nothing out of the ordinary for the style, and performed by the Synclavier synthesizer the material becomes a somewhat odd listen. The music which was clearly intended to be played on organic classical music instruments, ends up sounding like plastique casio keyboard elevator muzak.

I´m not sure why Frank Zappa found this music appealing or why he thought it was a good idea to spend time, money, and effort, getting these compositions released, but to my ears it´s probably the least interesting release in his entire discography. I´d even listen to some of the lo-fi quality official bootlegs before listening to this one. It´s not that it´s a horrible listening experience, but it leaves me indifferent and a 2 - 2.5 star (45%) rating isn´t all wrong.

HADLEY CALIMAN Iapetus

Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Hadley Caliman is not nearly as known as he should be, but there is one recording he appears on that many have heard many times over the years. Hadley is the lone saxophonist who opens up Santana’s “Caravanserai” album. How many times have you heard that solo with the crickets chirping in the background, it features a lot of Hadley’s signature technique as he works with overtones and split tones. “Iapetus” is one of Hadley’s many albums as a leader, and it is one that should appeal to fans of the psychedelic avant-garde fusion of the early 70s best represented by Herbie Hancock’s “Crossings” album. Along with Hadley, a major player on here is keyboardist Todd Cochran, who went on to play on many jazz, fusion and prog rock albums over the years.

Lets break down the tunes. Opener “Watercress” is dissonant funky fusion, very much in a Miles type mode. “Ambivalence” is a post bop number with a lot of start stop changes and sounds very much like today’s NYC scene. Closing out side one we get, “Dee’s Glee”, which is powered by Caliman’s muscular flute playing as he battles drummer Woody Theus as they move from a loose waltz time into free jazz and back again. Flipping the album for side two, we get the lengthy title track that shifts from free jazz to a post bop walking bass that accelerates in tempo, a pretty bold move for this time period and sounding again like today’s ultra-modern crowd. Next up is the funky African groove of “Quadrivium”, once again featuring Caliman’s power flute backed by three percussionists and Todd’s wah wah spice Fender Rhodes. An abstract ballad with a touch of the blues closes things out.

If you like albums like “Crossings” or Miles’ “Live at the Fillmore”, “Iapetus” is a must have. The playing on here is spirited and creative and so are the arrangements. These guys can do it all, from straight up jazz, to fusion, psychedelic soundscapes and free improvisation too.

RALPH TOWNER My Foolish Heart

Album · 2017 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
Steve Wyzard
KALEIDOSCOPIC

What could Ralph Towner possibly have to add to his deep catalog after 40+ years with ECM Records? Plenty, it turns out, and while some may grumble about the 40:28 running time, My Foolish Heart is proof positive that his unfettered guitar greatness has not even remotely diminished with age.

Towner's albums (even in the CD age) have never run long, and have rarely included a liner note like this one does. He tells us that the title track (and the Evans/LeFaro/Motian version in particular) had an "immeasurable impact" upon his formation as a musician, and that he "decided to pay a visit" to this "reverent musical space". It's one of the album's true highlights, and the only cover version among the other eleven which are his own compositions.

Long-time listeners will recognize all of the classic Towner trademarks, from the angular, jagged lines of "Pilgrim" to the unbridled vigor of "Rewind". Everything is played with an effortless authority, and the impressionistic "wide-open-spaces-under-a-wild-sky" atmosphere is always present. This is familiar, well-trodden ground, but Towner's intuitive intellect always gives us something original and he continues to turn new pages. The relentless subtlety of "Dolomiti Dance" is this album's stunner, but don't overlook the haunting nostalgia of "I'll Sing For You" or the searching ruminations of the shorter pieces. "Saunter", the longest track at 5:01, begins whimsically, but soon ventures toward probing bent notes and intense slides that are truly awe-inspiring.

Yet another Towner trademark is to be found in the closing flourishes he uses to wrap up his performances, almost as if he's letting the audience know, "we're done now". There's nothing in the kaleidoscopic sound-world of My Foolish Heart to indicate he's anywhere near to being "done". This album can stand head-and-shoulders next to anything else he's ever recorded without any qualifications. The ECM recording is, as always, pristine.

GEORGE BENSON Shape of Things to Come

Album · 1968 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.55 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“Shape of Things to Come” was George Benson’s first album with producer Creed Taylor and the A&M/CTI label after leaving Verve. Creed brought George on to the label to replace the recently departed Wes Montgomery, a guitarist that George had a lot in common with. Also on board is arranger Don Sebesky, someone who was well known for his ongoing work with Taylor. The result is an album that is somewhat commercial, but also smoking hot in places as well as creative and fresh. The salient feature of course is George’s incredible guitar chops. Easily in the all-time top ten of jazz guitarists, George is sometimes under-rated because of his pop vocal songs and the fact that he makes what he does sound so effortless. Some guitar ‘shredders’ are big on broadcasting how hard they are working, but Benson has no problem reeling off the near impossible without sounding like he has broken a sweat.

Breaking down the tunes, “Footin” is funky soul jazz boogaloo and “Face it Boy its Over” is a soul ballad. Aretha’s “Don’t Let Me Loose this Dream” has a Latin RnB horn driven drive and “Shape of Things that Are and Were” is hard bop blues. Cover tunes, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “last Train to Clarksville”, could have been very corny but both are rendered barely recognizable as they are transformed into more boogaloo soul jazz. One of the best tracks is the title track on which George tries out a device called the varitone that produces Les Baxter styled speeded up type effects and a doubling of the guitar sound. It also has one of the best melodies on the album and the only solo not played by Benson when organist Charles Covington takes us on a funky ride. Also worth mention is Sebesky’s exotica styled flute and strings drenched in reverb on the aforementioned “Footin”.

JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
A Love Supreme Post Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
Buy this album from our partners
Kind of Blue Cool Jazz
MILES DAVIS
Buy this album from our partners
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Progressive Big Band
CHARLES MINGUS
Buy this album from our partners
Blue Train Hard Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
Buy this album from our partners
My Favorite Things Hard Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
Buy this album from our partners

New Jazz Artists

New Jazz Releases

Inspired Rendevous Post-Fusion Contemporary
KLAUS PAIER
Buy this album from MMA partners
Sebastian Rochford, Kit Downes : A Short Diary Post-Fusion Contemporary
SEBASTIAN ROCHFORD
Buy this album from MMA partners
Zurich Concert Jazz Related Improv/Composition
JOËLLE LÉANDRE
Buy this album from MMA partners
Ain't No Saint Eclectic Fusion
JIM BLACK
Buy this album from MMA partners
Boomer Vibes 1 Post-Fusion Contemporary
TOM COLLIER
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Jazz Online Videos

Silver Light
SEBASTIAN ROCHFORD
js· 17 hours ago
Black, Brown, and Blue
ERIC REED
js· 2 days ago
Bounce - Nathan Allen
NATHAN ALLEN
js· 3 days ago
More videos

New JMA Jazz Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions

More...

Latest Jazz News

members-submitted

More in the forums

Social Media

Follow us