Jazz Music Reviews

BRAD MEHLDAU Seymour Reads the Constitution!

Album · 2018 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
Brad Mehldau’s latest release “Seymour Reads The Constitution” is his second for this year after his well received prior “After Bach” As with the majority of the recent Trio releases they are all not Standards but Brad’s own compositions included with a few contemporary Pop or Rock tunes thrown in with this album having two of them leaning more towards the Pop side. His old stalwart Larry Grenadier who been with him since the beginning is back on Bass with Jeff Ballard who joined the Trio in 2005 playing drums. There are eight compositions included with three being Brad’s, one Standard, two Pop and one from Elmo Hope and the other Sam Rivers.

“Spiral” is first being one of Brad’s compositions with title explaining the lay out in the composition having the higher keys climbing in an up and down in a circular manner throughout this delightful first piece. The following track being the album’s title “Seymour Reads The Constitution” is in a slower introspective manner being another one of Brad’s compositions within the album employing that technique that Brad plays on piano with his left hand keeping the basic pattern while his right is adding the improvision in different timing. Larry Grenadier brings the Bass up early during the title’s structure with Brad gradually climbing the piano’s higher notes for the remainder within this beautiful piece. “Almost Like Being in Love” is the album’s only Standard played with that McCoy Tyner influence of joy infusion with a drum solo from Jeff Ballard included within this spritely take. Elmo Hope’s composition Brad keeps well recognisable and does not stray too far from the original with the theme and this time Larry Grenadier has a shot on Bass within . It’s the Beach Boys, “Friends” with the Trio bringing forth a lovely different take to the song with Brad’s left hand keeping the time with the right adding more sparkle throughout followed by the marvellous changing “Ten Tune”. Paul McCartney gets the nod with an interesting take for the song “Great Day” from his “Flaming Pie” album and then we finish up with the Sam Rivers composition “Beatrice” where we get some great interplay between Brad on piano and Jeff on drums for just another of the album’s delights.

Wonderful new album from Brad Mehldau with a bit of difference from the majority of today’s Trio albums where quite a few seem to be primarily ballads injected with crystal clear space and although many of them I do enjoy it is refreshing to get something a bit different.

PHRONESIS We Are All

Album · 2018 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.48 | 2 ratings
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snobb
After eleven years of activities and seven successful albums London-based Phronesis were probably most respectable contemporary jazz trio in UK. Few years ago, when their music started sounding a bit too safe and predictable they did a double shot trying to improve the situation. First they recorded (at Abbey Road Studios in London) much more muscular album ("Parallax")then they ever did before. I saw them playing life with these new songs and they sounded as high-energy power trio, but from the bad side their new music lost part of their melodies putting them in danger to become "another fusion piano trio". An year after they released an excellent album of their known songs recorded with Frankfurt radio big band. What's next?

Just released their ninth album "We Are All" doesn't open radically different horizons, but it looks here they finally found their best ever balance between slightly melancholic chamber jazz and more modern and youthful power trio sound. Trio's songs are tightly composed and precisely executed again with bigger attention to melodies. They reduced high energy of "Parallax" till controlled groovy sound with complex interplay between virtuoso piano soloing and physical acoustic bass.

"We Are All" represents contemporary European jazz at it's best - multilayered intellectual improvisational music sounds almost as accessible as pop and rock songs without loosing its quality. One critic called "Phronesis" "the best modern jazz piano trio since EST", with "We Are All" release they have serious evidence that he was right.

ROBERTO ROENA Roberto Roena Y Su Apollo Sound

Album · 1970 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
Percussionist Roberto Roena’s second release and the first with his new band at the time in 1970 Apollo Sound (“Roberto Roena Y Su Apollo sound”) with each album afterwards being mainly titled by number reaching to ten but if you want to disagree there is an eleventh from the band but by then in 1982 they were named Super Apollo with the album “47:50”. As it was 1970 with this release we still have boogaloo included but the genre was on its last legs by this time with Salsa becoming the main. Not only that we have a couple of popular English songs included within as well and the addition “Sing A Simple Song” bringing it to three. This record is sorted after by the groove collectors these days and as time passes many Fania and other early Latin albums are long out of print with just the big ones primarily be re- released occasionally on record or cd. Due to the popularity in the return of records they are becoming scarcer with hen’s teeth easier to acquire in good condition and a lot cheaper.

“Tu Loco Loco, Y Yo Tranquilo” kicks things off with some quite crazy and not to calm Salsa with great piercing trumpet input from Mario Alvares Cora with quite a nice montuno from the coros not to long before the numbers ending. The following “Sing A Simple Song” was also included in the compilation that was released in 2000 “Broasted Or Fried” that concentrated on Boogaloo and Back Beats with this one on the Boogaloo side. More Salsa with “Consolacion” with the following “Sonando Con Puerto Rico” being a Bobby Capo penned number and of course if it is one of Bobby’s numbers it is a Bolero and quite a nice one at that. “El Escapularo” is percussion with congas opening and they remain the main driver throughout this Afro style song. The straight up Salsa is back for “El Sordo” and the following although titled “El Pato De La Bahia” is sung in English being Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” slightly Boogalooed up. Its Salsa for “El Barrio Sin Guapo” with another Bolero to follow for “Han Pasado Algunos Dias” with a quick tenor solo from Al Abreu inserted and the album finishes up with a cover of Blood Sweat and Tears “Spinning Wheel”.

Nice album but I feel the band were still finding their feet with better things still to come throughout their next nine releases. Still not at to an exorbitant price unlike Roberto’s first album “Se Pone Bueno”.

WADADA LEO SMITH America's National Parks

Album · 2016 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.48 | 2 ratings
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Matt
“Tracing back to Wadada Leo Smith’s most recent epic masterpieces, The Great Lakes Suites and especially Ten Freedom Summers” ( excerpt from the album’s notes) concerning the double album “America’s National Parks” construction and contents”. Wadada has changed how he does musical writing and notations with his theory of Ankhrasmation which uses a set of four colours and depending where they are positioned on the chart, left or right being slow or fast with six rhythm units included that start long and then become short with the cover for his album “Sonic Rivers” showing one example of this type of intonations and how “America’s National Park” was composed with the orchestra having a fixed bound input and the soloist free to go where he wants. The ensemble that was used for the album was Wadada’s Golden Quintet which has had quite a change in its line up throughout the years with this current one containing Anthony Davis on piano, Ashley Walters, cello, His old cohort John Lindberg on bass, Pheeroan akLaff, drumming and of course Wadada on trumpet as well as directing the ensemble. One other mention is Jesse Gilbert being a video artist as when the pieces were recorded film was running in front of the ensemble for each National Park pertaining to which piece was being played for it. Although not technically Free Jazz it does have on the album an element of it concerning the soloists.

“New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718” opens being a 21 minute in length composition with Pheeroan akLaff drum’s and Wadada’s trumpet commencing proceedings and the band following in fairly quickly as the music seems to be slowly getting stretched with more and more extensions from the trumpet and Anthony Davis’ piano becoming gradually more complex with the cello seemingly being pushed more to the front but the music does change when Davis’s piano returns with quite a lovely complex solo of varying times and then John Lindberg gets pushed to the front on bass for a delightful bass solo and input which gradually is moved out of the way for Ashley Davis on cello to have a shot with Wadada coming back to close things up. There are two other compositions Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920-2002; A Literary National Park” and “Yellowstone: The First National Park and The Sprit of America- The Mountains, Super-Volcano Caldera and Its Ecosystem 1872” following and although “Eileen Jackson Southern” not being quite as dramatic in sound as “Yellowstone” but that does not mean “Yellowstone” is bombastic either with its gradual opening containing seemingly more space than the prior composition. and I love Anthony’s piano solo within.

Disc 2: Three more suites are included opening “The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow The River-a National Memorial Park c. 5000 BC and as the first on Disc 1 it is the longest track running for 31 minutes with each musician having quite an individual input and often in short bursts entirely alone within the composition often punctuated with sharp trumpet interjections from Wadada but you could not name it as call and response either for this extremely interesting number where later into the composition Anthony Davis is playing the same four notes repetitively with Wadada’s trumpet just soaring in bursts with more change still to come within. “Sequoia/Kings Canyon national Parks: The Giant forest, Great Canyon, Cliffs, Peaks, Waterfalls and Cave systems 1890” having the longest title is actually the shortest track with piano and trumpet and plenty of space brought to the fore with the album finishing up with the majestic “Yosemite: The Glaciers, the Falls, the wells and the Valley of Goodwill 1890”

Highly original and interesting album which won awards in 2017. Although it is about the Parks, the politics concerning them played just as big a part in the album’s compositions and one would be going to find anything even close to similar in releases unless Wadada did it himself. Getting a bit tired with Bop, Third Stream, Fusion and Avante Garde well try this one for something refreshingly different.

SOFT MACHINE Hidden Details

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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js
Its nice to see the longest running act in the world of jazz-rock fusion is still at it, but its even nicer hearing them operating at a creative peak more similar to their early years. I don’t know if this is a live in the studio performance, but it sounds like one. The songs naturally segue way into each other, and there is no evidence of over dubs as every performer is quite clearly in the moment and interacting with their band mates. At this point in their career, Soft Machine are able to cover all the different phases of their past, particularly their jazzy horn driven music of the early 70s, and their more muscular guitar driven jazz-rock of the mid-70s. What’s particularly notable about the current lineup is that they often break things down so that only one or two people are carefully interacting and taking their time building unique sounds and melodies. These frequent changes in ensemble makeup and texture help make “Hidden Details” the interesting listen that it is.

As mentioned earlier, the many styles of Soft Machine are on display here. There are a couple of lengthy funky rock numbers for those who seek the guitar shredding of Chris Etheridge. Theo Travis shines on flute on some up tempo jazz, and on “Life on Bridges”, the whole band goes off on a noisy free improv. “Heart Off Guard” and “Broken Hill” contain moments of pure pastoral melody, and elsewhere they re-visit Soft Machine’s classic minimalist tributes to Terry Riley. There are a couple tracks from previous Soft albums, but this band clearly puts their own stamp on those cuts. The album closes on a good note with the floating looped sounds of Travis' flute. “Hidden Details” is one of the better Soft Machine albums to come out in a while, In particular, Theo Travis on woodwinds and keyboards seems to be in touch with those elements that constituted some of this band’s best music.

HENRY THREADGILL Henry Threadgill & Make A Move ‎: Where's Your Cup?

Album · 1997 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.52 | 3 ratings
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Matt
Henry Threadgill’s second album with what was at that time when released in 1997 comprised his current new ensemble, Make A Move being a Quintet with Henry providing alto sax and flute, Brandon Ross on electric and classical guitar, Tony Cedras, accordion and harmonium, Stomu Takeshi, 5 string bass with J.T. Lewis drumming. As per the usual for Henry the compositions maintain a degree of structure providing quite a solid ground for the above mentioned artists solos and input whilst keeping the music from becoming chaotic which can lead to the ruination of any Avante Garde Jazz album. Whilst not an easy listen the benefit of persevering becomes apparent after a few spins and like all good albums of this nature it requires a little work from you the listener. One other mention is Bill Laswell shares Production duties with Henry in the making of this delightful excursion into some truly original Jazz.

Being the most structured of the compositions “ 100 Year Old Game” kicks the album of with Tony Cedras’ accordion beginning the composition with a change in tempo and Henry commencing quite a delightful solo interjected with guitar and accordion as Henry just keeps bringing more and more intensity into it for this superb opening number which has another time change before heading back to the original start time. “Laughing Game” follows with a brief drum solo to get things going with great guitar work from Brandon Ross and Henry following with more of that intensity. The title “Where’s Your Cup” runs at a fairly slow tempo with guitar and accordion opening and Henry providing flute in this lovely atmospheric composition. Things just keep getting better with the album’s longest track “And This” bringing the accordion followed by electric guitar back to open another gradual build up and Henry following on alto with more superb input from Brandon Ross’ electric guitar to follow. There are three other compositions remaining with all keeping up the quality with the last title named “Go To Far’. Well did it?, not really because as I stated previously there is structure for this delightful Avante Garde album from Henry Threadgill’s back catalogue.

It needs work from you the listener as the music can be complicated at times but the reward is there if you persevere. Great album.

THE BAR-KAYS Coldblooded

Album · 1974 · Funk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
If you are not a fan of 70s funk music, or from Memphis, then you may not have heard of The Bar-Kays, but they are one of the longest running acts in the history of RnB/rock. Off the top of my head, the only bands that I can think of that have been around longer are The Isley Brothers and The Rolling Stones. “Cold Blooded” was The Bar-Kays recorded offering in 1974, and it featured them playing the pure funk of the times, as the disco thump that would alter the beat was still a few years away. The Bar-Kays had scored some hits in the late 60s as a Staxx sponsored RnB act, but their transition to rock, and later funk, did not bring any hits right away. They would eventually modernize and become a hit factory in the late 70s, but on “Cold Blooded’, they are still a few years away from all that.

“Cold Blooded” opens with the title track of the same name, and its probably the best cut on the album. Featuring a rampaging African-Latin rhythm section and building horn lines, this one sounds a lot like Mandrill or Osibissa in the early 70s. After this, The Bar-Kays settle into some solid funk tunes that often bare some similarities to 60s Sly and the Family Stone, and 70s Isley Brothers. The Bar-Kays are from the south, and it shows. Their tempos tend to be relaxed, their lyrics lack the irony of the p-funk mob, and their gospel influence is undeniable. Lyrical themes on the album are typical for the times and range from testaments to peace and love, warnings about the ways of the world, and musings on relationships gone bad. There are no insincere corny love songs on here, nor even a trace of disco vapidness. Overall “Cold-Blooded” is a good, but not remarkable, album in its genre. Any fan of classic 70s funk should probably check this out.

WAYNE HORVITZ Sweeter Than The Day

Album · 2001 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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Matt
Released in 2001 with the same personnel as Wayne Horvitz’s band Zony Mash but not the same music as the band being still a Quartet is acoustic now. Wayne Horvitz has quite a good a resume for a Jazz musician with film scores, various other bands and styles of music predominately Jazz, Electric and Classical that he has participated in. Many know him from his input into John Zorn’s music with the most well known being “Naked City” but this album “Sweeter Than The Day” also being the band’s name is at opposite ends of that spectrum. What we have here is, albeit being a Quartet this album seems to have more of a Trio sound with a laid back subdued take on the compositions that Wayne included for this project. Prepared and standard piano are played by him for this 2nd album by this incantation with Timothy Young on six and 12 string electric guitar, Keith Lowe on bass and Andy Roth on drums.

There is something about Wayne Horvitz’s piano technique that has always entranced me with the sound seeming to harken back to the early years of Jazz but still presented with a beautiful contemporary sound which is quite present in this acoustic album which starts off with the composition “In One Time and Another”. Plenty of space for this lower timed opening number and that old time sound really starts to emanate with the following “Julian’s Ballad” with Wayne keeping the theme never far off throughout with some beautiful subdued guitar from Timothy Young just adding to the sublime. “LTMBBQ” is mid tempo with Wayne again bouncing around the theme and never straying too far which is the technique he applies in all the compositions for the entire album and once again Young’s guitar just adds a lovely texture. “Sweeter Than The Day” the title track is back to a ballad with more of that old sound emanating from the piano input. “Irondbound” follows with “Waltz From The Oven” after which once again contains just a few notes that just keep reappearing to work around and is another of those beautiful subdued tracks within the album. Another that always grabs my attention whilst listening is “The Little Parade”. “George’s Solo” finishes the album up with more space and silence.

Still getting play here after 17 years since it release and for those days where time seems to slow whilst whiling away your day in the sun or just hanging out it is hard not to appreciate how Wayne Horvitz has captured and placed an atmosphere into wherever you are. Lovely stuff.

CHARLES LLOYD Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams : Vanished Gardens

Album · 2018 · Jazz Related Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Matt
Lucinda Williams first ran into Charles Lloyd who himself was already was a fan from her “Car Wheel On a Gravel Road” days after attending one his concerts where they met back stage afterwards which planted the seed for this current project and latest release. Charles stated during an interview co- shared with Lucinda concerning the making of “Vanished Gardens” that “You can’t go in there with fixed ideas” and that perception he keeps throughout the production for the amalgamation of Jazz and Americana bringing something fresh and original for all of us with tired ears who often ponder these days even with a new artist who we have not heard prior, that when their music commences we think, “I’ve heard it before” but at least concerning this album that is difficult to claim. Five of the ten tracks comprising the album are instrumentals with three written by Charles with one other being the standard “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men” and the other being “Monks Dream” . Lucinda’s input is also five tracks taken from various albums from her past productions with the addition of the Jimi Hendrix tune “Angel”.

The album kicks off with the instrumental “Defiant” with Charles opening on tenor saxophone with a down tempo approach which turns to a rolling along number with Bill Frisell’s guitar coming in for the second solo followed by Greg Leisz on pedal steel and finishing up with Charles back again with his beautiful deep tone on tenor . This one has actually been released as a single. Lucinda William s comes in for the following number being “Dust” where the original tune is kept and easily recognisable which is maintained throughout the entire album for all her compositions included within but the difference lays with the backing Quintets input with the loops of Lloyds’s sax and the stretching out of the numbers. Bill Frisell with Greg Leisz open the title number “Vanished Gardens” with a slow build up till Charles appears getting stronger by the second. Another Williams number follows being her classic “Ventura” and once again keeping to its original construction but placed in a Jazz mode. The tracks alternate throughout the album’s duration with an instrumental followed by a Williams vocal song. Charles actually does a little singing in the background during “Unsuffer Me” being one of my favourites from the session but I may add that it is one of my picks from Lucinda’s back catalogue taken from her stunning album “West”. Charles also does do a flute lead for the lovely “Blues For Langston and LaRue” bringing a little more variety to it all.

Does it work?, sure does, I think more to the addition of guitar and pedal steel from Frisell and Leisz which brings a junction point for Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams being two Southern artists to combine for quite an interesting listen and yes, something different from two of today’s top musicians. Special mention for Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Harland on drums.

WADADA LEO SMITH Najwa

Album · 2017 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Matt
Variety seems to be the key with the latest batch of releases from Wadada Leo Smith with “Najwa” continuing that mode in an exceptional manner. The prior album “ America’s National Parks” played by Wadada’s Golden Quintet was quite an outstanding effort and deservingly so, being highly regarded after the double album’s release last year in 2016. “Najwa” is quite a different beast being Fusion but this is not Miles Davis or The Mahavishnu Orchestra albeit there are elements contained but due to Bill Laswell’s presence on the album playing electric bass, providing the Mix and the addition of four Electric Guitarists, we are veering just as close to Praxis and Material.

Jazz though is still the key “Ornette Coleman’s Harmolodic Sonic Hierograhic Forms: A Reasonance Change In The Millennium” is performed as a suite with varying times and some stunning trumpet from Wadada in conjunction with the guitarists providing quite a diverse sound with their input but Bill Laswell’s bass is grumbling and booming in the distinct manner that he play’s right along with them. Track 3 “Najwa” is a short dreamy piece. I have to admit when I first saw the title for the next track “Ronald Shannon Jackson: The Master of Symphonic Drumming and Multi Sonic Rhythms, Inscription of a Rare Beauty” I was ready for long percussion pieces but not so, although drum driven there is plenty addition from the band with some great guitar work injected with Wadada’s trumpet thankfully. “The Empress, Lady Day: In a Rainbow Garden, with Yellow-Gold Hot Springs, Surrounded by Exotic Plants and Flowers” finishes the album up in a contemplative manner with pieces from the various musicians floating across an ambient ether that only Bill Laswell could Mix. Track 2 the dedication to John Coltrane has the same high standard.

WADADA LEO SMITH Solo-Reflections And Meditations On Monk

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Matt
Solo trumpet sounds a bit dicey but Wadada Leo Smith pulls it of beautifully. I noticed the selections are more towards Monk's slower tempo compositions which seemed to be a wise choice for this concept. Three of the compositions are Wadada's own with the rest being Monk's. Having the music stripped to just solo trumpet it is often the fragments of the tunes whilst being played that just drift the melodies in

"Ruby My Dear", "Crepuscule with Nellie", "Round Midnight" and the not often played early comp "Reflections" are outstanding in their interpretation but that is not to say that Wadada's compositions are any less either bringing quite an interesting balance to the album with perhaps "Monk and His Five Point Ring At The Five Spot Cafe" which gives a nudge to Monk's most renowned Live album, "Thelonious in Action" being my pick.

If you know your Monk you should love hearing these masterful echoes provided my Smith's solo trumpet throughout but if you don't grab a copy of "Monk's Music" and "Genius Of Modern Music Volume 1" where the majority of the original compositions performed by Smith on this recording lay and work from there to gain a better grip and understanding to where Wadada is coming from with the concept to this album. Beautiful and different stuff

BUDDY RICH Mercy, Mercy

Live album · 1968 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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darkprinceofjazz
Most Critics would agree with me, This Recording, live from Caesar's Palace, was probably the peak of Buddy Rich's career, Certainly the peak of his late 60's Big Band. All the Charts for this fantastic performance are spectacular, With the Bill Reddie arranged Chanel 1 suite being the zenith of this Cookin' Big Band. Only West Side Story from the album Swingin' New Big Band Is possibly it's Equal. I always liked "Goodbye Yesterday" as well, The bonus tracks added to the remastered CD are also all worthy listens, With The Theme from Mr. Lucky being of most interest, also you might want to checkout the Sammy Davis Jr. album, "The sounds of 66'" With The Big Band backing him up, one of his best singing performances I think. I would have loved to had been in the audience that night in Vegas, I can only imagine how vibrant and exciting this music sounded as it was being played live.

SADAO WATANABE Round Trip

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
“Round Trip” is an album that is quite a bit different from the music Sadao Watanabe is usually known for. Although not exactly a household name in the West, Sadao has been one of the top jazz saxophonists of the last six decades, putting out many albums as a leader while working as a sideman with almost every top name in the business. Watanabe is usually known for his sweet Charlie Parker influenced tone on the alto sax which he has used to cut many top notch post bop albums, as well as more commercial type fare too. “Round Trip” is a whole nother trip altogether, on here Sadao plays the soprano sax with a biting and harsh sound as he and his band mates play high octane avant-garde fusion. The band mates, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous had all been playing similar over the top free fusion at this time, with DeJohnette and Corea fresh from some insane gigs with Miles at the Fillmore.

The album opens with the title track, which is an out and out free jazz barn burner with unbelievably high speed drumming from Jack, plus Sadao’s piercing soprano that seems to be mimicking traditional Asian reed instruments. This track covers most of side one and also features a top notch solo from Corea, who at this time was still playing at his youthfully intense best. His solos during this time revealed an interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, as well as the avant-garde, with the end result sounding like a cross between Eddie Palmieri and Cecil Taylor. In a short time after this recording, he will loose some of his early fire. The only drawback to this track is some occasional hyper attacks from someone on a vibraslap, not really sure who is responsible for this bothersome sound.

Side two opens with Jack pounding out an energetic fractured jazz rock beat while the rest join in for a very 70s jam. Whereas as side side one was atonal, on this new track the band settles into a D Mixolydian modal jam, a scale with a Celtic/Indian sound that was very popular with the hippie generation. Sadao continues with his odd soprano sound that now sometimes seems to mimic a bagpipe. Chick’s piano solo takes the music way outside the modal scale for some crazy adventures and Jack follows him every step of the way before Sadao leads the way back to the original groove. The final track, “Sao Paulo”, is some sort of Brazilian jazz gone berserk. Ulpio Minucci joins the band on piano for this one and he and Chick pound out intense interlocking rhythmic patterns while Sadao joins Jack in the percussion section.

This is an okay avant-garde jazz record circa 1970, you can find worse, but you can also find better. As far as Jack and Chick playing music like this, I would check out Miles live at the Fillmore. For Miroslav, check out his first album, or the first Weather Report album. If you are looking for a first Sadao Watanabe album, I would not go with this, find one where he is playing alto sax, his playing on that instrument is sublime. As for those who appreciate the experimental excesses of the late 60s to early 70s, "Round Trip" has enough good moments to overcome the lesser moments. In accordance with the time period, they get fairly crazy on here at times, and often in a good way.

ANGLES Angles 3 : Parede

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Swedes Angles started a decade ago as sax player Martin Kuchen-led sextet playing modern mix of avant-garde jazz, Balkanica and electronic jazz. Very tuneful,emotionally colored and politically sharp songs made them one of most popular Nordic jazz band right after their debut in 2008 (on Portuguese Clean Feed label). They grew up from sextet to octet (Angles 8) for their third album and till nonet(Angles 9) for their fourth one (all - recorded live).

Band'sound became more orchestrated (possibly as the answer to success of their colleagues another Nordic super-group Fire! who grew up from power trio to progressive big band) and more sharp on Angles' two studio albums,recorded in 2014 and 2017. Being a classy band, their formula became a bit too predictable so the year 2018 gives their fans a radical change.

Angles' new album "Parede" (yes, live for sure) is recorded by Angles 3 - and they are really a trio now! Based predominantly on the compositions from their last studio album "Disappeared Behind The Sun", new Angles model is rooted on Albert Ayler free jazz tradition. Sax player Martin Kuchen with old drummer Kjell Nordeson and new Norwegian drummer Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (a member of The Thing power super-trio together with reedist Mats Gustafsson, the leader of above mentioned Fire!) instead of Angles' original Johan Berthling play bare-naked versions of of well-arranged Angles 9 originals.

The difference in music comparing with any previous Angles line-up is significant even if there still are some Balkan tunes, melodies snippets and soulful Kuchen sax soloing. Trio Angles play free jazz of old school, it radiates energy, emotions and live listeners participation is right in place here.

Probably, more Angles side-project than logical continuation, Angles 3 released truly unexpectable album at a moment when it looked they became too predictable. Not every "bigger" Angles fan will stay happy with this new music but I believe they will find some new listeners too with this step.

SUN RA Astro Black

Album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.96 | 4 ratings
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js
Sun Ra’s “Astro Black” came out in the early 70s when Ra was still heavily immersed in electronic sounds, and still a few years away from his re-interest in performing big band charts. This is the version of Sun Ra that appeals to those who discovered his music via psychedelic rock and fusion. There isn’t a lot of ‘jazz’ per se on “Astro Black”, but there are plenty of imaginative dronish jams with signature Sun Ra sounds and approaches. There is no acoustic piano in site on this one, as Ra devotes himself to synthesizer, organ and electric piano, and conjures up plenty of exotic sounds with this set up. There is an odd sound mix on here that heavily favors Ra and bassist Ronnie Boykins, but in many ways this makes perfect sense in that its Boykins’ repeating bass lines and Ra’s persistent electronics that frame these songs. The horn players and percussionists are free to come and go, while Ra and Boykins provide a constant backdrop. All the tracks on here are good, but possibly the best is “Hidden Spheres”, which opens with a very well recorded African percussion ensemble laying down a heated groove before the rest of the band joins in.

“Astro Black” makes for a good addition to any Sun Ra collection. Its not one of his best, but far not near his worst. The way in which the bass is used to anchor every track makes this one unique in the Sun Ra discog. Those casual fans who prefer the electronic Sun Ra will want to get this too, there are plenty of other worldly sounds on here.

VLADIMIR CHEKASIN Second Siberian Concert

Live album · 1994 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Sax player/multi-instrumentalist Vladimir Chekasin was my very first experience listening jazz live. As undergraduate university student in 1981 or 1982 I felt some initial interest to jazz even if my strong prerogatives were Black Sabbath (going) and The Stranglers(coming). I lived in same town with famous free jazz Ganelin trio and when trio's member announced his solo concert in my university Aula I just decided to give the jazz a chance.

This evening changed my life, not less.It looked there were even no air to breath in overcrowded old building's hall with high wooden doors and white columns. Students and younger professors waited for something... unexpected. And it happened - Chekasin played quite emotive solo gig using circular breathing techniques, simultaneously playing of two saxophones and free improvisation against strange electronic device, kind of early analogue modulator/synthesizer. Fortunately for newcomers as I was, Chekasin's music was far from formal, it contained lot ot tunes snippets, emotive soloing and strange rhythms what made it surprisingly accessible.

At the end of the night I didn't realize (as many others sitting and standing near me in a hall) what it was - we just evidenced highest class musical shamanism session we had never saw in our lives. From that day I started visiting jazz concerts more often but it still took two decades to start listening jazz recordings.

"Second Siberian Concert" is recorded just a few years later in Novosibirsk - largest Siberian academic city, and till now it stays a last recording evidence of Chekasin musicianship as leader. He still plays time to time but concentrates mostly on jazz education in Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater and leading excellent student's Big Band.

The quartet recorded contains of Chekasin, playing plenty of reeds (obviously using simultaneously playing techniques since there are no other reeds player on board and one can hear different reeds played at the same time),analogue synth and occasionally piano; Romania-born Vilnius-based keyboardist Oleg Molokoedov (piano,analogue keys,synth) and local rhythm section - bassist Sergey Panasenko and drummer Sergey Belichenko.

The year is 1985 and synthesizers (especially in jazz, and more precise - in Soviet jazz!) still look like extreme modernism so no strange whole music is heavily overloaded with their sounds. Synths are still analogue so their sound doesn't attack listener's nerves as later time plastic electronics but still great Chekasin's sax soloing and two-reeds interplay too often disappears without significant traces in that wall of synth sounds.

Three compositions (two long and one - two-minute short) are mostly improvised but contain plenty of composed sources incl. popular swing tunes,themes from ballet,Slavic folklore elements and circus marches. Sound quality is only average though.

Released in 1994 only, after Soviet Union finished existing, this album has been never well known or widely distributed. Now available on bandcamp as digital download, it represents nice opportunity to hear one of the most interesting innovative artist of the region. Not a best artist's work for sure, it still is a valuable evidence in Chekasin's far not so umerous discography.

QUINCY JONES Smackwater Jack

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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In the late 50s Quincy Jones was a big hit as one of the new leaders in jazz big band, as well as a very influential orchestral arranger in any style of music. The 60s saw Quincy move more into soundtrack work. As the early 70s rolled up, Jones was still scoring soundtracks, but he also began to release his own albums again, but they were no longer purely big band affairs anymore. Jones is a one hundred percent jazz musician for sure, but he also excels at ambitious art pop and RnB. On “Smackwater Jack”, Quincy rolled all those influences together and produced an album with a mix of 70s and 60s sensibilities. Seventies because of the multi-sectioned art pop arrangements that mirror the progressive rock and RnB of that era and the very modern funk and RnB beats that drive the solo sections. The album mirrors the 60s in its glitzy big band arrangements and Quincy’s ongoing sense of 60s suburban kitsch hipness of the Johnny Carson/Playboy/Vegas/ era.

“Smackwater Jack” is basically a big band album disguised as a pop album. This formula will work well for Jones a few years later when he starts doing the same thing for Michael Jackson. The big band on “Jack” is all-star affair, some of the soloists include, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Milt Jackson, Toots Thielman, Jim Hall and Eric Gayle. You can expect plenty of top notch and inspired solos on all these tracks. Unfortunately Quincy sings on two songs, and he’s not a great singer. Also, the theme from the first Bill Cosby show features Bill himself with some ‘amusing’ vocalizing that probably seemed funnier in the past. Other songs on the album also center around TV themes, plus there are few covers of pop and RnB hits too. One album highlight is the lengthy arrangement of “Whats Going On” that features Valerie Simpson on vocals. Because of its unique combination of rough street smart rhythms and glitzy big band pop kitsch, “Smackwater Jack” rates high with crate diggers and exotica collectors, but it also contains plenty of high quality energetic big band RnB/jazz.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Various ‎– The Progressives

Boxset / Compilation · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Often label samplers have a few interesting songs and then the rest is just filler. This is not the case with this Columbia double LP from the early 70s. Almost every song on here is a complete gem full of high energy performances and very unique compositions. In the early 70s many talented performers and composers with backgrounds in rock and jazz began to merge these two idioms with the exploratory nature of 20th century concert hall music. The end result, as this record shows, was an infinite variety of sounds, structures and improvisations.

On Weather Report's "Unknown Soldier", Gregorian vocals alternate with Stravinsky meets Herbie Hancock horn and reed lines till they are interrupted by ominous warning sirens ala Edgar Varese. The whole song is driven by an understated but restless free jazz double time rhythm and has a middle section that allows Wayne Shorter to really go off.

"Sundance" by Keith Jarrett is a particularly fun and energetic piece by this often dour and introspective pianist. On this cut he gives us rock influenced free jazz somewhat similar to Miles at the Fillmore. The amazing rhythm section of Paul Motion and Charlie Haden, as well as the energetic guitar work of Sam Brown help add to the kinetic and almost chaotic atmosphere. "Jump Monk" features Charles Mingus leading a free wheeling avant big band through a great Ellington influenced old school noir jazz tune that is totally infectious in it's good time grooves.

Some of the album's rock highlights include "Knots" by Gentle Giant, an amazing piece that mixes pre-classical and 20th century composition with heavy progressive rock and avant - garde jazz. The song has a tight structure that doesn't waste a note in it's deliberate unfolding. On "Marchides", Matching Mole displays their odd take on jazz rock with a middle section that consists of a repeating whole tone pattern on electric piano topped by a bass solo.

Other top tracks include Ornette Coleman playing beautifully stark melodies backed by his own orchestrations, Don Ellis playing big band party funk in odd meters and Wendy Carlos' neo-classical composition played entirely on the Moog.

The only song that doesn't measure up on "The Progressives" is "Haida" by Paul Horn. It sounds like he is in a cove full of Dolphins and playing new age flute melodies while the Dolphins squeak and squawk and plead with him to leave them alone.

GANELIN TRIO/SLAVA GANELIN Live In East Germany (aka Catalogue)

Live album · 1980 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It's quite paradoxical that Ganelin Trio, most probably the only European band which played free jazz by the same way and on the same level of creativity and virtuosity as genre's American leaders, have deep Eurasian roots. Founded in early 70s in Vilnius, capital city of then Russians occupied Lithuania, it included three emigrants from Russia motherland.

Band's leader pianist and composer Vyacheslav (Slava) Ganelin was born in a family of Russian Jews not far from Moscow in the end of WWII and moved to occupied Vilnius with his parents being 4 years old boy. Sax player Vladimir Chekasin born in Sverdlovsk (now - Yekaterinburg), Ural's industrial town right on the border between Europe and Asia. He graduated as classic clarinet artist in his hometown conservatory and moved to Vilnius already being young perspective musician at 24. Drummer Vladimir Tarasov comes from Russian sub-Arctic city of Archangelsk, important Russian Navy port in the Far North, where he played jazz in local clubs still being teenager. At 19 he started music studies in St. Petersburg Conservatory but has been dismissed same year because of propaganda of jazz(!).He didn't return to Archangelsk but moved to Vilnius, where he started playing jazz with pianist Ganelin in legendary Vilnius' "Neringa" restaurant.

So, in year 1971 in Vilnius, town where I was born and grew up (ok, I was only 8 years old boy in 1971), three future avant-garde jazz giants founded the trio which influenced all Lithuanian jazz scene for decades ahead. For outsiders, it's almost impossible to imagine in what world trio's music was born. As a century before that Russian Empire banned the use of Lithuanian language in a territory of occupied Lithuania in any form,other than spoken word (i.i. books,newspapers,schools and University education on Lithuanian all were under the ban), their successors Soviet Empire banned on all controlled territories any forms of Western culture, different than some classical music. Rock music was a main target as it sounded as a right danger for Communist regime, jazz (since there as rule is no lyrics) was classified as "rotten Capitalism" propaganda and was under pressure and strict control as well. Vilnius (besides of Tallinn in Estonia, another Russian occupied European country) was a true mecca for semi-underground jazz since the town during Soviet rule became a quite isolated place, kind of sleepy province far from Moscow and Leningrad where everything was under strict control of KGB eyes. There in Lithuania of that period even existed a jazz studies in State Conservatory (established not in capital Vilnius, but in Klaipeda - smaller town 300 km west on Baltic coast, even more far from Big Brother's eyes).

So, there were some fresh air for jazz musicians in Vilnius with possibility to play in restaurants, Universities halls and even on local radio/TV in rare cases. From other hand, Vilnius was in same isolation from internal world (read - world outside of USSR) as any other place in Empire of Evil. There was no possibility to buy jazz recordings or to hear modern jazz played on radio (rare exception was a Polish radio often plying pop jazz, it was possible to hear it in Vilnius). The only source of musical news was a contraband vinyls coming from West which were extremely rare, banned and as a result unbelievable expensive (to buy one I often needed to pay my young graduate engineer two weeks' salary).

There were active exchange of used vinyl and home-made tapes between musicians and jazz fans as well which often was main sources of any new information. In that atmosphere three young musicians with classical music education and underground street-wise new jazz information started playing music never heard here before. As a result, Ganelin Trio,especially on early stage, sounded as fresh and unexpected European version of Art Ensemble of Chicago: they played lot of instruments (often sounding as much bigger combo than real trio) mixing American free jazz with their classic music formal roots and in part Russian folklore.

There are lot of recordings coming from late 70s - early 80s recorded by trio, but almost all of them are bootleg level live tapes, smuggled through the border and released in UK by another Russian Jew emigre in UK Leo Feigin on his Leo records. "Live In East Germany" is a good example of such release - rare foreign gig (recorded in Eastern Germany), as usually - one long composition divided on two vinyl sides. Trio sounds as much bigger band (Ganelin even plays some distorted guitars closer to the end of the gig, Chekasin plays multiple saxophones simultaneously), there is lot of freedom, lot of melodies, hyper-energy of their live shows and lot of humor and circus as well.

All music sounds fresh and unexpected and surprisingly well organized what evidences classical musicians' education. Don't be fulled by the year of the concert - because of Iron Curtain free jazz came to this part of Europe much later and there are one of very early evidences of it. Taking in account the time correction because of political reasons, they are as fresh as US free jazz of mid 60s.

One great (and for many jazz fans unexpectable) music, it is easier acceptable now because of some re-issues around. Ganelin left for Israel in 1987 disbanding the trio, he teaches music in Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy and plays regular concerts in Vilnius till now. Chekasin teaches in same Academy and runs students big band, Tarasov switched towards avant-garde audio-visual arts, one can hear/see his new installations regularly.

DAVID "FATHEAD" NEWMAN Captain Buckles

Album · 1971 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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In the early 70s, soul jazz artists began picking up on the new funk styles of James Brown and Sly Stone, subsequently their music started moving closer to what was happening in the fusion scene. At this point in jazz history, the difference between soul jazz and fusion is not that great. Likewise, both genres were also picking up on the increased interest in musical styles from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1971, soul jazz stalwart, David Newman, gave his reputation a boost when he took on some of the new modern influences of the times and released “Captain Buckles”, which featured hard driving funk as well as some Latin and Calypso rhythms too. More of an RnB artist than a jazz artist, still, Newman’s intense sax solos are held in high esteem by any jazz fan.

Side one of “Captain Buckles” opens with the energetic funk of the title cut, which is powered by drummer Bernard Purdie, possibly one of the most imitated and sampled drummers from the 70s, and he is also one of the main reasons why this album is so good. The rest of this side is taken with the aforementioned Calypso and Latin numbers, plus an obligatory reading of the Beatles’ “Something”. Even in the early 70s, soul jazz artists were still apt to include one possible radio hit on their album. Side two opens with the raging hard bop of “The Clincher”, which includes one of Newman’s best solos on the album. David follows that with a ballad reading of “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was”, which is a much better slow jam than the previous Beatles clunker. The ultra-funky “Negus” closes the album and features guitarist Eric Gales’ best solo. Overall “Captain Buckles” is one of David Newman’s better albums, and is mostly devoid of the sort of corniness that sometimes mars soul jazz albums.

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) The Emancipation Procrastination

Album · 2018 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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Duke Ellington’s musical allegory “A Drum is a Woman”, was a clever story that foretold jazz’s future as a musical style that would adapt to every culture on the globe, and even go to outer space, but no matter how far jazz may wander and change, its strength and substance comes from returning to the music of Africa. Drawing upon the rhythms of Africa, as well as African tendencies in hip-hop and Detroit techno, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah continues to add new vitality to the world of jazz fusion with his latest album, “The Emancipation Procrastination“. Scott’s been on his hybrid style for a while now, so if you are familiar with his last couple albums, then you may know what to expect here, well composed melodies over abstract beats that combine Africa, hip-hop, drumnbass and techno all orchestrated with subtle and tasteful electronics and effects.

Along with Scott, another star soloist on here is flautist Elena Pinderhughes. Most of us probably don’t usually think of strength when describing a flute player, but Elena’s playing carries more strength than we would normally associate with the flute. Her solos and orchestrations are a big plus on “Ruler Rebel (re-mix)”, “Ashes of Our Forever” and “The Cypher”. Other notable sidemen include Braxton Cook on saxophone and Lawrence Fields on keyboards. A host of others help out on bass, guitar, drums, percussion and electronics. Much of the music on, “Emancipation” stays in the aforementioned styles that Scott has become known for, but towards the end of this album comes two lengthy tracks that get into more of a sweaty energetic freeform fusion work out. These two closing numbers make for a nice contrast given the length of the entire CD.

DIVA 25th Anniversary Project

Album · 2018 · Big Band
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Singularly the hardest working Big Band in the industry today, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra is lead by superwoman Sherrie Maricle, who not only is the drummer of the band but the collaborative ball of energy that drives the 15-piece group of highly qualified female instrumentalists. The inspiration for DIVA came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band in which Sherrie Maricle was playing the drums. Stanley immediately picked up on her extraordinary talent and began to wonder if there were other women players who could perform at the same level. The search was on and through nationwide auditions, the foundation for DIVA was poured in June 1992, and what emerged is the dynamic musical force that holds forth to the present day.

Though DIVA holds dear the traditional jazz idiom, the release of 25th Anniversary Project includes original compositions by some of the members who are genuine, yet ingenious composers. Maricle explains; “the CD offers our listeners 10 original compositions by 9 remarkable composers, writing for 15 friends in 1 amazing band. It’s DIVA’s mission to continue to swing hard and grow, through the exceptional individual talent within the band and their extraordinary composers and arrangers.”

One such composition is by baritone saxist Leigh Pilzer, titled “East Coast Andy,” a romping tune with high flying horn hits, creatively conceived sections that add to the textural interest of the tune and a burning solo by Pilzer herself, as well as trumpeter Jami Dauber who has a penchant for stomping the gates with her high stepping style.

A beautifully written “Square One,” features alto and soprano saxophonist Alexa Tarantino in the writer’s seat. The tune is harmonically rich with soothing pastoral colorizations and emotional dips, that lead to emotive, conversationally based solos between Rachel Therrian on flugelhorn and Tarantino herself on alto saxophone. The elongated melody is stirring and memorable.

Maricle takes the album out with her original “The Rhythm Changes,” which is aptly titled as it refers to the rhythm of the motif and how it changes through the form of the composition. Soloists, Barbara Laronga on trumpet, Mercedes Beckman on alto saxophone, Noriko Ueda on bass and Maricle on drums create an interactive atmosphere for swing era stalwarts and jazz aficionados to savor. 25th Anniversary Project is certainly a keepsake, when taking stock of its measure, one asks; is it authentic to its source and performed with expertise and awareness, in this case a resounding yes can be heard.

ABDULLAH IBRAHIM (DOLLAR BRAND) The Journey

Album · 1977 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Recorded and released in 1977, “The Journey” is a different sort of album for Abdullah Ibrahim, who was still going by the name of Dollar Brand at this time. Ibrahim is usually known for his hypnotic African grooves, and you get a good bit of that on “The Journey”, but you also get a lengthy, less typical for him, free jazz excursion featuring some stars from NYC’s pioneering free jazz movement. Ibrahim had just moved to NYC from South Africa before he recorded this, and apparently he was immediately embraced by the avant-garde vanguard, including such renowned musicians such as Don Cherry and Hamiet Bluiett.

Side one opens with an energetic South African calypso that is relatively short and to the point. Abdullah leaves the piano alone for this one and instead gives us a fiery soprano saxophone solo. The lengthy “Jabulani” takes up the rest of this side and features the large ensemble in free jazz mode as they pass the solos around so that eventually everyone gets a free ride. This is that original form of free jazz that sounds like bebop gone berserk, so much more rhythmic and lively than often what passes for free jazz today. Side two is made up of the 20 minute plus “Hajj”, which is an absolute groove monster based around North African rhythms and melodies. Talib Rhynie’s ‘snake charmer’ oboe melodies are a real plus on this one, as is Bluiett’s clarinet solo as most of the musicians all get a turn to play with the oriental mode that comprises the main theme. Abdullah plays piano on this one as he provides a repeating rhythmic figure that is the backbone of the piece.

“The Journey”, with its free jazz excursion, is a somewhat different album for Ibrahim, but really all of this eclectic music comes together and makes total sense, thanks to the talent of the assembled crew here that is equally at home with in the groove playing, as well as going completely outside.

AKIRA SAKATA Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi with Masahiko Satoh : Proton Pump

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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On the new "Proton Pump", two Japanese living legends - reedist Akira Sakata and pianist Masahiko Satoh, perform with the younger generation American rhythm duo of Chikamorachi (bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano) - live in Tokyo.

Satoh was a key figure in Japanese free jazz in the late 60s-early 70s, who later flirted with fusion and still releases albums time to time. Akira Sakata was another Japanese celebrity, playing with Yosuke Yamashita trio for years, later he started a solo career and is surprisingly active till now - he's possibly the best avant-garde jazz sax player in modern Japan.

Americans Chicamorachi were founded in 2005 and are very prolific, playing with the world's leading free improv artists, such as Jim O'Rourke, Merzbow, Keiji Haino among others.

"Proton Pump", recorded more than two years ago, is a classic avant-garde album of the old school. Starting from the cover art radiating the spirit of the early 70s, and finishing with a clear perfectly mixed worm sound. Sakata is the dominating figure here, with his mad genius screaming sax solos and shamanic vocalizations, but the whole quartet is simply of the highest class. Satoh plays high energy piano out of his trade-mark "science as significant part of the music" which sounded revolutionary in 1969, but too often destroys many of his later albums. Chicamorachi sound muscular, young and hungry - they add strong modernity scent to the surprisingly unsentimental music of two Japanese veterans.

Just four songs (vinyl album's size - as if CD format still doesn't exist!), perfectly played, well executed, all the time variable, but under full control of the band. A lot of tunes have almost lyrical sax timbres at moments - and not even the smallest trace of nostalgia.

This album is a really rare example of when generally over-explored and too often repetitive music sounds fresh, as if half of this century hasn't already passed.

ME'SHELL NDEGÉOCELLO Ventriloquism

Album · 2018 · Jazz Related Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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At first glance its fairly obvious that Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album “Ventriloquism”, is a set of cover tunes, but these versions are far more than mere copies, instead, Meshell and her quartet transform each of these songs into something much more than what they were originally. The 80s are often maligned as a musically plastic decade, and there is some truth to that, but listening to how Meshell has taken a handful of mostly lackluster 80s corporate pop tunes and turned them into something deep reveals that there is some gold hidden within this seemingly musical muck. This is an excellent album anyway you look at it, but when you consider what this material sounded like before Ndegeocello transformed everything, it makes “Ventriloquism” into something truly inspired. These pop/RnB songs were the soundtrack of Meshell’s youth, which helps explain why these are the songs she would choose to work with in the first place.

Apparently Meshell’s band spent some time listening to Neil Young’s lonesome and world weary “Harvest” while recording this, and that lowdown country flavor comes through as many of the tracks open with simple finger picking folk/blues guitar, the complete opposite sound that these songs had back in the 80s. Once the tracks get rolling though, guitarist Chris Bruce and keyboardist Jebin Bruni start weaving layers of soft psychedelic sounds that give these songs a pleasant hallucinatory drift. The salient feature are the tempos, all of them quite slow in a very mesmerizing way. Kudos to Meshell that she didn’t break this mood with any ‘uptempo’ numbers, as such a move would have surely hurt the thorough integrity of this art pop masterpiece. Listening to the persistent down-tempo mood of this album may remind some of Roxy Music’s “Flesh and Blood”, on which they also took hot blooded hits like “In the Midnight Hour” and “Eight Miles High”, and turned them into sensual drifting dreams.

So many interesting transformations take place on “Ventriloquism”, but possibly the most surprising is George Clinton’s techno funk hit “Atomic Dog”, which somehow becomes a blissed out psychedelic folk number that early 70s Pink Floyd would have been proud of.

SLY5THAVE The Invisible Man : An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre

Album · 2017 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I have to admit that the idea of an ‘orchestral tribute to Dr Dre’ first hit me as some kind of joke along the lines of The Monkees play heavy metal, or Mozart goes reggae mon. It was hard to imagine the sparse hip-hop arrangements of Dr Dre in an orchestrated format, but Sly5thAve’s new album, “The Invisible Man, an Orchestrated Tribute to Dr Dre”, has certainly proved me wrong. In a year laden with highly creative artsy RnB albums, “The Invisible Man” has been able to stand out as one of the best for 2017. The combination of Dr Dre’s laid back grooves and Sly’s hip, slightly retro, orchestrations are an irresistible combination that may have you playing this one over and over.

Sly5thAve is actually Sylvester Uzoma Onyejaka II, a versatile saxophonist who also produces and doubles on a variety of instruments. His talents have brought him work with many including Prince, Maceo Parker, all of the Marsalis Brothers and many other top RnB, pop and jazz musicians. “The Invisible Man” is just Sly’s second full length album, but it sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran. Right off the bat these orchestrated soulful tracks may have you thinking Isaac Hayes and Quincy Jones, and there is some of that sound here, but even closer is the arranger that Dr Dre was fond of sampling from, David Axelrod. Sly’s use of pulsing steady rhythms often recall Axelrod’s sometimes processional sounding arrangements that could almost border on regal and militaristic in an almost campy sort of way. In that respect, another similar famous arranger comes to mind, and that’s George Martin, the exotica composer who also did arrangements for the Beatles, particularly the ‘Sgt Peppers’ album. Still, with the Dr Dre’s iconic beats and attitude going on, Sly’s orchestral creation stands in a world all its own.

The hip-hop world was all over this record when it came out, but the jazz world didn’t seem to take much notice, which is unfortunate because there is plenty here for a fan of contemporary jazz to like. Many of these tracks feature jazz solos by a variety of top notch musicians, for instance the burning guitar solo by Patrick Bailey on the hard driving “Curtis”, or Sly‘s Eddie Harris like electric sax ride on “The Jam Part III“. Although this album lists 23 total tracks, many of the tracks blend together to make just one song, such as the ultra funky string of tracks that start with “No Diggity”. For those who may be rapaphobic or raptose intolerant, although this is a Dr Dre tribute, there is no rapping on here. Meanwhile. others may want to use these tracks to back up some original free verse.

PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND So It Is

Album · 2017 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Remember the days when jazz was the music for wild hell raising parties and secret drug dens? No, …me neither, because just like you I was not around from the 1920s to the 1940s. Instead, just like you, I came up in that post Miles/Coltrane era when jazz moved out of the dens of sin and into the universities where it now competes with classical music for student dollars. This is not a bad thing because a lot of great jazz has come out since the 50s. While jazz was transforming, Little Richard and Chuck Berry borrowed parts of jazz, gave it a more pronounced backbeat, and created a whole new music for hell-raising and wild parties, rock-n-roll and RnB. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s new album; “So It Is”, doesn’t sound anything like 20s-40s jazz, but it does return jazz to a partying foot-stomping vibe, only with a more current sound.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was started back in 1961, and for many years they did exactly what their name implies, they played original New Orleans jazz the way it is supposed to be played, and provided many a good time for tourists on their visit to New Orleans. Starting in the late 90s, under the guidance of a whole new generation that had joined the band, the band began to open up their horizons and started to take on a myriad of jazz styles, as well as music from outside the jazz world. On this latest offering, they find a rhythmic common ground between New Orleans jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz and Calypso, and produce smoking hot beats that make it hard to sit still. On top of these pressure cooker grooves, they layer classic minor key noire melodies, the type preferred by Ellington and others of the swing era, and also often found in early Jamaican ska and Afro-Cuban mambos. The end result is exactly what people are talking about when they refer to ‘hot jazz’, because this is one of the hottest for 2017. This is not background music, try to play this in the car and keep the volume down, you won’t be able to. All seven tracks are great, but if all of them reached the peaks of “Santiago”, “La Malanga” and “Mad”, this would be a five star album. On another plus, all of these tunes are original. One can only hope The Hall Band can deliver more like this the next time out.

CHICO HAMILTON The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet

Live album · 1960 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The early part of the Chico Hamilton discography is a bit of a confusing mess to descramble with many tracks showing up on more than one album and many albums bearing the same title such as “The Chico Hamilton Quintet” or “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” etc. To clarify the situation, this “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” album that is being reviewed here was part of a live concert recorded at Strollers back in 1955, but not released until 1960, probably to cash in on the rising popularity of the band. This concert shows Hamilton’s creative group in fine form as they combine a wide array of styles including west coast bebop, hard bop, classical chamber music and rhythms from Africa and South America. All of this music was presented with that distinctly 50s west coast style that came to be called ‘cool’. You really couldn’t call Chico’s quintet avant-garde, but they were one of the more experimental and unorthodox bands of the time, definitely beating out a path all their own.

The album opens with two well known standards, “Caravan” and “Tea for Two”, which the band gives signature creative arrangements. The version of “Caravan” shows the cross-relationship between west coast jazz and the lounge exotica scene of the time, no surprise as many exotica records were performed by west coast jazz musicians. Two up tempo numbers follow with “Fast Flute” living up to its name as Buddy Collete fires off a frantic flute solo while backed by Hamilton’s driving rhythm, which sounds rooted in the music of Africa or Brazil. On track six, “A Mood”, the band shows their specialty, a cleverly arranged melody with shifting time signatures and a surprise around every corner. Something for ‘deep listening’ that still has the snap of a catchy pop tune. “I’ll be Loving You” is their ballad offering and features Buddy’s flute playing melodic exchanges with Fred’s cello. Another up-tempo bop number closes out the set in energetic fashion and features a very musical drum solo from Hamilton, always a master of that peculiarly west coast ‘playing with brushes’ sound.

“The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” is a good example of a young jazz group all excited about the new possibilities that are being offered to them as they learn from each other. If there is a drawback to this album, the sound quality of the recording is okay, but a little murky, especially the guitar. I’m going to guess that maybe this was not meant to be a released album until the record label saw how popular the band had become.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette (aka Spectacular!)

Live album · 1955 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” is not the first Chico Hamilton album, but it’s the first to present his popular quintet and its west coast flavored ‘chamber jazz’ sound. In current times, the term chamber jazz has become vague and often misapplied to jazz that has more in common with art pop and new age music, but in the 1950s, chamber jazz actually meant jazz with a pronounced element of classical chamber music. In other words classical music written for small ensembles. This album is a sort of slap together type affair with supposedly half the tracks coming from one studio session, and the other half from a live date, but judging by the different production values of some of the tracks, I would guess there may be even more sources for these tunes. For the most part, the studio tracks reveal intricately arranged chamber works, while the live ones get into a mellow west coast hard bop swing.

“A Nice Day” opens up the album, and it sets the mood for the Hamilton chamber jazz sound as carefully arranged cello and clarinet lines sometimes give way to concise solos, but mostly its about the creative arrangements. This sound is featured on approximately four tracks, while most of the rest feature Hamilton and crew playing relaxed hard bop jams live at a club with very sparse arrangements and plenty of solo space for guitar and saxophone. If cellist Fred Katz appears on the live cuts, then he must be mixed very much in the background. Studio track, “Blue Sands” is a very interesting ‘exotic’ number that hints at Hamilton’s world fusion direction in the 60s, but the recording is very murky and sounds like it was recorded somewhere different from all the other tracks. Amongst the live tunes, “Free Form”, is an odd experiment, not really free jazz as such, but more like an improvised modern classical piece, it sort of works, but mostly seems almost out of place with the mellow west coast bop numbers.

“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” isn’t a bad album, and fans of Chico and 50s creative west coast jazz in general, may want to get this, but for somebody looking for their first Chico Hamilton record, this is not the one to get.

ELTON DEAN The Cheque Is in the Mail

Album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.02 | 3 ratings
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The year is 1977 and synthesizer still isn't a every band's (boring) toy as a decade or two after. There are two kind of jazz albums incl. synthesizer coming from seventies - rare very creative,almost unique works combining new sounds possibilities with improvisation in a true jazz tradition key and others - where musicians are openly fascinated by their expensive toys and enjoy their possibilities more than care about the music they produce.

"The Cheque Is In The Mail" unfortunately belongs to the second category. Two of leading British scene's reeds players saxist Elton Dean and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler are part of the trio with American drummer/percussionist and keyboardist Joe Gallivan. Dean has already released few suite successful albums as leader (demonstrating very own combination of avant-garde jazz and tuneful, even sentimental rock-songs influenced composition). His solo career is radically different from the music known from his previous band - Soft Machine. Gallivan was a Soft Machine member too (he replaced Robert Wyatt in a band), but as Dean is obviously attracted by free jazz here.

Unfortunately, nothing works properly on trio's album. Credited to Dean as leader, "The Cheque..." is in fact an evidence of how much Gallivan enjoys his synthesizer. Playing extremely free (or better to say - demonstrating the possibilities of his expensive toy in a form of free improvs) on whole album, Gallivan doesn't care much that both reeds players can't find the way how to play and most of time just add some minimalist solos here and there without even expecting of having a chance for true musical collaboration.

Nothing happens till the very end - ten-songs album stays in reality a bag of bulky unrelated sounds. Probably at the time of release it has some special attractiveness containing those spacey early analogue synths' sounds, but from distance of time it doesn't sound attractive anymore. Obvious collectors item, hardly more.

GARY BURTON Gary Burton / Chick Corea ‎: Crystal Silence

Album · 1973 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.87 | 6 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
VISCERAL PASTORALISM?!?

While earlier albums would go on to be highly acclaimed and sought after (such as Keith Jarrett's Facing You and the first Terje Rypdal album), Crystal Silence is the album that brought ECM Records to the attention of a much wider audience, especially in the USA. It was Gary Burton's first album for the label, and in 45 years since has never been out of print. Bringing together a wide variety of moods and atmospheres, the performances are masterly and the album is to this day a very high point in both performers' discographies. There are no classic standards, and surprisingly for a duo setting, all 9 songs have never sounded better, even though most have appeared in vastly different contexts and arrangements elsewhere.

If you enjoy jazz piano and vibraphone, what's not to like about Crystal Silence? Detractors are quick to point to this album as "Exhibit A" of the much-discussed mythological "ECM sound", or to dismiss it as the direct ancestor of Wyndham Hill pastoralism. In reality, Corea and Burton are exerting far too much energy keeping the music moving (in every sense of the term), so any claims of "haunted melancholy" can't really be taken seriously. "Senor Mouse", soporific? "Falling Grace", otherworldly? Yes, there are slower, quieter tunes, but again, this album is the complete package.

As ECM's first legitimate masterpiece, it's hard to imagine today how this album was first received upon release in 1973. Both players' very distinctive styles are immaculately served by the recording. I'll close by saying that the title track is one of their greatest performances EVER, and that the album cover remains one of ECM's best in a very crowded field.



BOBBY PREVITE Rhapsody

Album · 2018 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.49 | 4 ratings
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snobb
In year 1971 Carla Bley's massive 6-sides eclectic jazz-rock opera "Escalator Over The Hill" became sensation of sort presenting bulky if way-too-long collection of musical genres and scenes' stars all mixed together. Where else dedicated listener had the possibility to hear Jack Bruce, Linda Ronstadt,Jeanne Lee,Don Cherry,Charlie Haden,Gato Barbieri,Roswell Rudd,John McLaughlin,Paul Motian,Enrico Rava and some others playing/singing together?

London-based RareNoise label for some last years trying hard mixing their basic prog/rock aesthetics with creative jazz and improvs elements, at their best the results are truly impressive. Last year they released unpredictable "Loneliness Road" where mainstream jazz rooted trio of organist Jamie Saft,bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte is improved with Iggy Pop(!) singing on three songs ("Don't Lose Yourself" is a true killer, two others are just fillers though).

Now they continues with Bobby Previte's "Rhapsody" - second in line American drummer and composer's suite where (as almost half a century ago on Carla's "Escalator...") one can hear some leading modern creative scene's musicians playing together. Guitarist Nels Cline,harpist Zeena Parkins,pianist John Medeski are well known to everyone familiar with downtown scene, American (of SE Asian descent) vocalist Jen Shyu is one of the brightest new name among creative jazz vocalists of today. Only dark horse in a list is young Austrian sax player Fabian Rucker, but he does his job really well.

Most important is still music itself - Previte demonstrates here well-framed and tightly composed modern rock opera rooted in prog rock aesthetics of the past (there are few moments sounding as citation from Pink Floyd music of mid 70s),but deeply reworked according to new millennium requirements. Take on material is almost classical with attention to details and melodic lines importance. Combined with neo-classical/Far Eastern trad vocals of Jen (plus tasteful addition of Chinese traditional string instrument erhu sounds, played by her as well) it produces music, which could sound more comfortably in modern opera than on rock scene. Still guitar licks and explosive sax solos together with high energetic level in general make whole music quite accessible and possibly attractive for listeners,more familiar with rock music too.

Freshly sounding, diverse and modern (with respect to different traditions), "Rhapsody" is a really successful release which can attract listeners of very different background/interests.

TIM BERNE Electric and Acoustic Hard Cell Live

Live album · 2004 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Six years ago sax player Tim Berne started recording for German ECM label and his music received much wider distribution (and some additional glance working with most prestigious jazz label ever). He already had a chance to be contracted by major label in States in mid-late 80s, but few albums released didn't satisfy Columbia people,so Tim returned back on half-underground scenes in New York, having cult following from fans of "New York new avant-gard jazz", whatever it was.

For those knowing Berne from most current ECM works he most probably associates with well-composed modern complex jazz, perfectly played but a bit too chamber (or not enough raw - you chose). Then a journey to Berne's 90s and 00s recordings (mostly on tiny labels or his own Screwgun) can offer plenty of pleasant surprises. "Electric And Acoustic Hard Cell Live" is a good example and there are some more with no doubt.

Hard Cell was a short-living super-trio of sort uniting Tim Berne with his regular keyboardist Craig Taborn and Californian drummer Tom Rainey. Just two albums have been recorded, both live (both released on Berne's own Screwgun label). Four tracks (lasting between 7 and 16 minutes each) are raw, muscular tuneful and surprisingly post-bop influenced. Recorded during two different gigs, material presented is of quite good sound quality and contains lot of audience emotional evidences, all for good.

Two track looks like just audience recording,but as on some better bootlegs this fact even adds more blood and adrenaline into music and common atmosphere. No even traces of Berne's later chamber sobriety can be found here and Craig's used electronics only adds effect of modernity. Being energetic, music here sounds far from some noisy free jazz chaos cliche's, is melodic and combines improvisations with well composed material.

One of Berne's better recordings which can be recommended for his more current fans - most probably you will find a lot of things you will like here.

THELONIOUS MONK Thelonious Monk / Sonny Rollins (aka Work aka The Genius Of Thelonious Monk)

Split · 1956 · Bop
Cover art 4.57 | 4 ratings
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“Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins” is one of those thrown together affairs pulled from three different sessions, in fact Rollins does not even appear on every track. Such records are often unsatisfactory, but this one is different as it presents a very coherent musical vision. Some ‘experts’ call this an EP, while others call it an LP. The truth is, with about 18 minutes on the first side and 16 on the back, it falls sort of in between, but possibly closer to an LP. The first recording session for this record took place in November 1953 and featured the Thelonious Monk Quintet, of which Rollins was a member. The second session was in September ‘54 and featured Monk’s trio sans Rollins of course. The last session was in October ‘54 and featured the Rollins’ quartet, of which Monk was the pianist. The track order on this record mixes these sessions up in a way that makes total sense and adds to the feeling of a congruous record.

The playing on here is brilliant, Monk’s career was nearing a peak and he sounds relaxed and happy, far different from the inconsistent performances that came much later in his career. Rollins is also in fine form, supplying endless melodic variations over Monk’s more blunt and percussive accompaniment. The Monk trio cuts feature Art Blakey on drums, whose short solos are inventive displays of metric trickery and phrase manipulation that is a perfect compliment to Monk’s approach to music. The choice of tunes on here is also good. Side one opens with Rollins joyfully flying over two well known upbeat standards, and closes with the Monk trio playing a lesser known Monk original, “Work”, that is quite abstract compared to the two openers. Side two opens with Monk’s trio playing “Nutty”, a piece that appears on many Monk recordings, and closes with his quintet playing another odd Monk favorite, “Friday the 13th”, on which Rollins shows he can easily handle Monk’s peculiar musical creations. This may not be the top record that Monk put out, but it holds up well against many of his best.

JOHN ABERCROMBIE Up And Coming

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
WINTERY

Despite being 12 minutes shorter, if you liked John Abercrombie's 2013 album 39 Steps, you should also enjoy 2017's Up and Coming. It features the same supporting cast (Marc Copland, piano, Drew Gress, double bass, Joey Baron, drums) and occupies a similar subtle, measured sound world. Which is not to say the two albums are carbon copies of each other. The end-of-summer wistfulness of 39 Steps has been replaced by a duskier, even chillier atmosphere on Up and Coming that fits in well with the ECM Records "winter afternoon jazz" mystique.

All the players are in fine form, and everyone receives plenty of solo space. This is definitely a band album, with not any one performer (least of all Abercrombie) dominating the material. Whimsically, Up and Coming opens with its two shortest compositions: a dirge entitled "Joy", and the up-tempo "Flipside" that is over before it starts. Copland's searching, thoughtful playing on "Sunday School" and the stately-yet-sobering "Tears" are true highlights. Gress's rumbling double-bass work and the brushes and cymbals of Baron contribute extensively to the album's hushed, sunset-glow textures. Still, it's Abercrombie's poignant, understated tones that make this album unique, with his soloing on "Silver Circle" and "Jumbles" letting everyone know that he hasn't been relegated to a "supporting player".

Since its release, Up and Coming has taken on an added pathos after proving to be Abercrombie's final album with his passing in August 2017. There are no foreboding glimpses into the abyss, nor is this a "grand summation"/"career retrospective" album. Comparisons to recordings from decades past are rather pointless, as Up and Coming looks neither backward nor forward. It's simply four marvelously talented players doing what they do best, saying everything they have to say in 47:16. In spite of its ironic title, this is a worthy addition to the discographies of all the performers, and like 95% of everything Abercrombie ever released, will stand the test of time and repeated listening. Special mention must be made of Sheilah Rechtschaffer's remarkable cover pastel, which (like many ECM covers) visually captures and encapsulates the music contained within.

KENNY WHEELER Gnu High

Album · 1976 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.46 | 7 ratings
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snobb
Not very often one can hear Keith Jarrett/Dave Holland/Jack DeJohnette trio playing as support band. So this Canadian (UK-based) reeds player Kenny Wheeler's album is quite unique even because of this fact. And it looks like "Gnu High" is the last album containing Jarrett as side musician ever.

Wheeler's debut on ECM, this album represents very special time for modern jazz - influential German ECM label is in transition finding their upcoming "new ECM sound" later becoming known as "European jazz" or "chamber jazz". If former part of decade ECM built their reputation as audiophile company releasing avant-garde jazz and post bop of airy/ambient atmosphere with emotionally cold crisp sound, that is late seventies when artists like Keith Jarrett or Jan Garbarek started recording for ECM more amorphous,grooveless music quite liquid and sterile,with obvious influence of European music halls sound.

"Gnu High", even packed with "African" cover art (probably recalling Garbarek's fantastic adventurous ECM debut "African Pepperbird"),doesn't contain African rhythms or freer experimentation. In fact three long tracks are good example of label's transition sound when even if still post bop rooted, music is slower,more abstract and sterile. Wheeler himself plays exclusively flugelhorn, varying from controlled lyrical to abstractly cool. Jarrett/Holland/DeJohnette trio are competent but sounds as if they were asked to demonstrate their maximal available tenderness,delicacy and correctness.

Final result is quite similar to many better "classical" ECM albums of that time - music sound truly professional but soulless,sterile and quite faceless. From other hand, many fans like it because of that. Searchers of more adventurous sound can check Dave Holland ECM albums from the same time, without being too free they offer much more life,groove and fun.

DIZZY GILLESPIE Diz And Getz

Boxset / Compilation · 1955 · Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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“Diz and Getz” is a re-issue that combines two previous albums, “The Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz Sextet” and “More of the Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz Sextet”. “The Dizzy Gillespie-Stan Getz Sextet” may not seem like a particularly imaginative album title, but when that album came out in the early 50s, grouping those two artists together was all it took to grab people’s attention in anticipation of what they may come up with. In those days, Dizzy was the master of east coast high energy be-bop, while Getz was the king of west coast cool, this may have seemed like an unlikely pairing at first, but when they recorded together, they meshed and pushed each other to come up with a sum that was even greater than its talented parts. Adding to the attention grabbing aspects of the record, the backup band is an all-star one with Max Roach on drums, Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar.

“Diz and Getz” opens on fire as they take on a high speed bopped out version of Ellington’s “It don’t Mean a Thing…”, Getz shows he can hang with some of the best high speed soloists of the time as his fiery solo is sandwiched in between Dizzy and Oscar’s euphoric rides. This number is followed by the recognizable melody of Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”, which finds the band in a more relaxed mode. This swing groove will also carry over to the following track, “Exactly Like You”. On both of these numbers Dizzy often plays in a softer mode, possibly a nod to Stan’s west coast sensibilities. Throughout the entire record, Stan and Diz engage in creative interplay, often both will state a melody at the same time, in their own style, which then comes together in unexpected ways. Max Roach’s interesting and unorthodox approach to the drums also adds to that element of surprise. The first side of “Diz and Getz” closes with the ballad, “Talk of the Town”, on which Getz’s main talent shows through. At this time he was already becoming known as one of the smoothest ballad players since Lester Young, who happened to be his main influence.

Side two of “Diz and Getz” opens with a high speed blues-bop jam that builds in intensity as the solos are passed from Oscar to Herb, then Stan and finally Dizzy. When Gillespie hits his ride, Herb Ellis’ loud ferocious comping pushes Dizzy to new heights in a wonderfully chaotic buildup. This track is followed by a mellow blues original by Dizzy which he recorded with a different lineup from the all-star cast that makes up the rest of this album. This doesn’t mean there is a drop off in the quality of the playing though, Oscar Peterson may be a technically brilliant player, but Wade Legge’s more lyrical approach may be more interesting. The third cut, “Girl of my Dreams”, continues with the mellow vibe, this time with the all-star support group back on board. The final two cuts are two different versions of “Siboney”, first played as an up-tempo bop number, and secondly, in a Latin jazz style. These final two tracks are possibly the highlight of the album as Stan and Dizzy both turn in inspired solos. Its also interesting to note that Stan and Diz will continue their interest in Latin jazz, with Diz going in an Afro-Cuban direction, while Stan will pursue the Bossa-Nova fad.

HERBIE HANCOCK Dedication

Live album · 1974 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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First Hancock Japan-recorded album and true obscurity, "Dedication" in some sense is a real sensation. At the time of his funk-jazz glory (recorded in July 1974, it is closest to Hancock's "Thrust" and "Man-Child" excellent studio works with band), Hancock recorded four tracks in Tokyo in one day during his Japanese tour.

"Dedication" is not only very first Hancock solo piano album (one among a very few recorded later), it contains quite unusual music for the time. Of four Hancock album's originals, side A contains two acoustic piano songs,"Maiden Voyage" and "Dolphin Dance", both played in unusual for Hancock romantic/sentimental manner, slow-tempo,almost ballads,with complex airy arrangements.Can't remember him ever playing like that before or after. Closest example is probably another Hancock's acoustic solo piano album "The Piano"(another Japanese release, from 1979), but there he already sounds much more pop-jazz influenced.

Side B brings even more surprises - two his other songs here are both "electric", but surprisingly sounds a bit different from his regular music, recorded with band of the same time period. "Nobu" is masterpiece of sort sounding far ahead of its time. Hancock plays electric keyboards over sample-and-hold feature of an ARP 2600 synthesizer, producing techno-rhythm. Very spacey and futuristic, this composition sounds more modern and futuristic than his regular funk-jazz of the time, but without commercial trickery so usual for Hancock later electronic albums.It's interesting that in modern techno-circles this track is often mentioned as first ever recorded techno-song.

Album closes with renown "Cantaloupe Island" played by Herbie on analog keyboards over pre-recorded synth bass-line. In all, eclectic (and even eccentric) choice of music for one album, but surprisingly it works and is a perfect illustration of creative atmosphere of the time.

"Dedication" survived at least seven re-releases in Japan but was almost unknown outside of the country. First ever non-Japanese edition has been released in US in 2014 only (on Wounded Bird) and makes this music a bit more accessible for obscure great music from the past seekers.

JOACHIM KÜHN Situations

Album · 1988 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
NOT FOR MASSAGE THERAPY

For those of you who weren't there, the late 1980s were a very unique time in the history of jazz. Suddenly the music was acceptably hip, and was seen and heard everywhere, all with the media's full support and approval. It was what some have called the "Armani Suits/Skinny Ties" era of jazz, and many peripheral figures briefly found themselves in the spotlight for 15 minutes of fame. Such was the case for Joachim Kuhn when he released this album in early 1988.

Kuhn, best known in Europe, had been recording since the mid-1960s and was even a semi-prominent figure in the mid-1970s fusion scene. By the time Situations was released, he had already recorded a number of solo piano and piano trio albums, most of which had hideous cover art and were only sporadically available to his small-but-devoted following. When George Winston albums started going multi-platinum, Atlantic Records gave this album a major push before (naturally) dropping and forgetting all about him after the moment had passed.

So why are we discussing Situations today? Because it's a masterful solo piano album that truly transcends its release date. Don't for a moment think this is background music for candlelit dinners. The virtuosic "Delicate Pain" begins with startling vigor and passes through many tempo changes before returning to the original passionate fire it opened with. The impressionistic "Lunch in the Rain" betrays Kuhn's classical background, moving from a stately opening, through reflective moods, before reaching a crystalline peak. The best known song on this album, "Hauswomen Song" originally appeared on a compilation entitled Piano One, released on the Private Music label in late 1985. This longer version is one of Kuhn's most memorable compositions ever, brimful of hummable melodies. "Sensitive Detail" is a leisurely intermezzo before an indefinite conclusion, and the album closes with the dark-yet-warm beauty of "Refuge". Yet it's the first track, the exploratory "Situation", that most effectively captures the contemplative mood of its time.

The uncreditted package design (and the late 1980s zeitgeist) probably led many people to unfairly file this album under the dreaded moniker of "New Age". Situations far surpasses the music usually associated with that unfortunate label, and should interest far more than just Joachim Kuhn listeners. For jazz solo piano fans, this one is truly worth any efforts expended toward tracking it down. While so many contemporaries were going electric or exploring "World Music", Situations should be remembered as one of the defining statements of its era.

CHICK COREA Return to Forever

Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 4.34 | 37 ratings
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It seems that in any musical genre, the most creative work goes down during the days in which said genre is being created. For sure the most intense bebop happened in the early 40s, and although you may still hear some good bop to this day, it will never be quite the same again. The same could also be said for jazz fusion, a genre that became an easy target for criticism over time, but in the heady days of its inception, some really interesting music was created under the fusion moniker, which leads us to Chick Corea’s first attempt to lead a fusion group while recording the album, “Return to Forever”. Chick was hardly new to the fusion world at the time of this recording, he had already participated on several ground breaking albums by Miles Davis, but, as stated earlier, “Return to Forever” was Chick’s first fusion recording as band leader. Corea’s albums as leader prior to this were definitely shaking up the jazz world, whether he was making cutting edge post bop tracks with Roy Haynes, or avant-garde excursions with Anthony Braxton, Chick was definitely a pianist to watch in the early 70s.

Like many early fusion recordings, a ‘mystical’ scent of hippie incense hangs heavy over “Return”. Psychedelic rock and progressive rock were at a peak during this time, and their sometimes indulgent excesses were an influence on many early fusion albums. The lengthy multi-sectioned songs on here, as well as Flora Purim’s exotic wordless vocals and a good dose of spacey reverb give “Return” a definite art rock flavor, but the long-line virtuoso solos from Chick, and everyone else, are brought about by these musician’s well trained background in jazz. Chick’s solos during this time were heavily influenced by his interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, his montuno driven rhythms contain some of the fiercest playing of his entire career. Unfortunately, in a few years after this recording, much of that aggressive Afro-Cuban influence will leave Chick’s playing for good. Rising to Chick’s energetic challenge, bassist Stanley Clarke man handles the difficult and bulky stand-up bass to play driving rhythms reminiscent of Cream and James Brown, the sort of bass lines that are more easily played on an electric bass.

All of the tracks on here are excellent, but title track, “Return to Forever” and side two’s lengthy “Sometime Ago-La Fiesta” stand out in the way that the whole band comes together for some very intense interplay driven by Corea’s quasi-montuno rhythmic figures. This will always be Chick Corea’s best fusion album, later attempts in this genre by him seem to get bogged down with too many compositional ideas, and too much ‘cheerful’ cuteness.

THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.60 | 15 ratings
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Not only is “Brilliant Corners” one of Thelonious Monk’s best albums, but its also considered one of the better recordings in the history of jazz. Don’t expect a lot of fireworks from this one though, instead, most of these blues based tunes are played in laid back medium tempos, or even slower, but do expect maximum creativity and a brilliant ensemble that moves together as one mind. Monk does have a particularly strong crew assembled here, with Sonny Rollins and Max Roach on board, plus Ernie Henry and Oscar Pettiford are no slouches either. Clark Terry and Paul Chambers replace Henry and Pettiford for one cut, but they too are up for the great interplay that goes down on this disc.

The album opens with the title cut “Brilliant Corners”, and what a tour de force this one is. This composition has Monk working with rapidly changing tempos and time signatures, such things may be more common today, but this was fairly new ground in 1957, and “Corners” still sounds very modern and ‘cutting edge’ today. This is followed by the laid back avant-blues of “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are”. Although “Bolivar” may not be as radical as the album opener, it still leaves plenty of room for ‘Monkish’ off-kilter solos and slippery interactions. Side two opens with the ballad like “Pannonica”, on which Monk plays the delicate bell like celeste. His odd approach to harmony sounds even more peculiar on this keyboard, the resultant exotic sounds might have you thinking that we are now in a universe parallel to Sun Ra.

“I Surrender Dear” is a standard that Monk plays in old school stride style and it is the only non-original piece on the album. Its presence acts as an interesting contrast to the more ‘out there’ aspects of the other numbers. The album closes with the Afro-Carribean flavors of “Bemsha Swing”, on which Max plays rumbling tympanies behind the soloists. Monk’s second solo after the trumpet is just splashes of sound and color, foreshadowing the world of avant-garde jazz that was right around the corner in ‘57. If you want to hear why so many jazz fans get effusive when discussing Thelonious Monk, give this one a spin.

JOSH NELSON The Sky Remains

Album · 2017 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Josh Nelson’s “The Sky Remains” is a tough one to define. What do we have here, a modern art pop concept album, a contemporary third stream jazz album, a cinematic soundtrack to a movie not made yet? Possibly the best definition would be that this is a composer’s personal pastiche that combines all three of the aforementioned elements, but in all fairness, not all of these compositions are Josh’s, but although some of the pieces were penned by others, they all combine to create Nelson’s very moving look at a select history of the city of Los Angeles. Its hard not to think of Joni Mitchell when you encounter a bittersweet ode to ‘the city of angels’ such as “the Sky Remains”. Truth be told, sometimes Josh’s combination of thoughtful folk pop, jazz and panoramic soundscapes can recall Joni’s best work, but then there are other elements that help Josh’s work stand apart on its own.

The soundtrack like sound of this album appears right off the bat on the opening cut on which soaring wordless vocals state a theme that might have you picturing a favorite Robert Altman ‘Americana’ flick. Apparently concerts of these peices have featured movies and pictures, how perfect for a concept album about the city of movie making dreams. As we move past this opening track we encounter many great treats such as “Ah, Los Angeles, with its repeating buildup chorus recalling the heyday of great art pop in the early 70s. Russ Garcia’s enchanting “Lost Soul’s of Saturn” combines exotica and Latin jazz, its hard to think of two genres that personify Southern California more than those two. “The Architect” is the ‘jazziest’ number as it allows the soloists a chance to go off. Elsewhere, this album’s blend of creative vocal songs and jazz influenced composition blend to build the sometimes melancholy, but always hopeful atmosphere of a city that has a richer history than many would give it credit for. An added plus is a booklet that comes with the CD that explains many of the fascinating stories that inspired this music.

TOPAZ Listen!

Album · 2000 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Cranking out their debut in the bright Spring of 1999, NYC jazzists ambitiously forged ahead with the determination to make a name for themselves. Listen!, the follow-up record, makes its presence known by giving a silent nod to the jazz greats of yore like Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis and their grandfathering of jazz fusion and jazz funk. But a simple recitation of said artists' styles would not only be lazy but counter-intuitive to McGarrigle's dream to make a name for himself in the New York City streets as a distinguished member of his craft.

So then, let's show 'em what we can do!

Listen! is Topaz' call to action, and duly a showcase of what this small-time NYC group could do. They start out on a brusque foot with a sweeping cover of Donald Byrd's 1972 funk classic 'The Emperor', and is one the big indicators of a duality present on this record as it leads directly into the asimilar 'Let Go'- a freewheeling fun side, and a more eloquent, thoughtful side. The former makes itself clear on the powerhouses 'Rez' and 'Let Go', whilst the latter is abundant on the elongated and often psychedelic-laden jams like 'Dharma' or even the title track. This duality truly keeps this record afloat even throughout the more dull and repetitive moments, although not exactly numerous, with the anticipation of what new bass groove, keyboard tone, or tempo change will come next always keeps you on your toes. Even the soppy 'Peyote Eyes' has quite the inviting atmosphere and is appropriate even as it follows up the rocker of 'Rez', although to call the vocals appropriate to its atmosphere would be a bit of a stretch. Also, be ready to rapidly digest sometimes overwhelming torrent of dynamic sound, because "fill" seems to be one of the only words in McGarrigle and crew's lexicon.

The complete experience this album delivers is a warm and inviting one. Perhaps Topaz will never ascend to the greats, or frankly ascend from being split-up, they've left quite an impact with the succotash they've given me.

KENNY BURRELL Midnight Blue

Album · 1963 · Jazz Related Blues
Cover art 4.56 | 10 ratings
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js
In the early 60s, jazz artists cutting a blues album was not an uncommon thing at all. Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and others put out some of their most successful albums during this time by applying their be-bop chops to some well known blues changes. In early 1963, when Kenny Burrell approached Blue Note head, Alfred Lion, about cutting a blues album, this propisition probably came as no surprise to Lion who was more than happy to let Kenny in the studio to create his blues masterpiece, “Midnight Blue”. The title of this album tells you everything you need to know, this is definitely late night blues with an emphasis on laid back tempos and soulful solos, as opposed to extroverted blazing technique. The band Kenny assembled on here was perfect for the date, with the aforementioned Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Ray Barretto on congas, Major Holley Jr on bass and the understated Bill English on the traps.

Although all of these tracks could be labeled as laid back blues, there is some variety to keep things from becoming too stodgy or predictable. “Wavy Gravy” is notable for being that rare blues tune in waltz time, while other closing and opening tracks on both sides of this record pick up the tempo into a medium swing groove. “Soul Lament” features Kenny on his own, and “Gee Baby ain’t I Good to You” is the only standard, but it too is essentially a blues song. The best thing about this album is its rock solid integrity, drop the needle anywhere you want and you will get the same feeling, no matter the tempo. This is one very sure artistic vision about the blues from start to finish. Even the instrumentation backs up this album’s cohesion, an added piano player would have made things too cluttered, and a B3 player would have made things syrupy and heavy handed, everything is exactly in its place as it ought to be. The addition of Barretto’s subtle conga work is the icing on the cake, as these sort of slow tempos need a little double time action to help keep the groove together.

Although the current ‘vinyl revival’ seems a bit hokey and fabricated by salesmen, its still nice that you can now buy classic jazz records in pristine condition for an almost reasonable price.

NIECHĘĆ Niechęć

Album · 2016 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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progshine
This young Polish band was a complete surprise for me!

On their second album, the selt titled Niechęć (pronounced Niehenti) managed to do the feat of mixing quite disparate things like Post Rock and Jazz Rock and making them work together!

At various times the Jazz Fusion school, which is so strong in Poland, takes us by storm and even I, who do not like Jazz Fusion, just gave up and enjoy their music.

44 minutes of quality music that is worth checking and, even though I didn't hear many new albums in these last two years, one of the best albums released in Poland in 2016!

JONI MITCHELL Hejira

Album · 1976 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 4.20 | 7 ratings
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progshine
Flashback: About 15 years ago it was not as easy as today, the internet world already existed and already gave all the signs of what the future would be like for music, but it still was not what it is today: a click and we heard a record...

So, my first real exposure to the music of Joni Mitchell was with what I could lay my hands on: and it was the 'Dog Eat Dog' album that I accidentally found in a second hand shop in the center of São Paulo for less than a dollar.

Well, now I know that this is not even close the best way to know Joni's music, Dog Eat Dog is pretty bad.

Back to the present. A few days ago I was watching for the second time the documentary Jaco and she appeared there talking about the album Hejira (in which Jaco Pastorius plays), and suddenly I remembered how much I love her music and that I had not yet heard Hejira.

Joni Mitchell has always been a goddess as a songwriter, her way of playing the guitar (with several different tunings) open new melodies and her compositions gain an even more original air. It's no different in Hejira. This record sounds so modern and up to date, even today. It fits in with Jazz Fusion, which had been developed a few years prior and was about to open doors with names like Weather Report, Return to Forever and Al Di Meola, but it is also Folk and it works, very well!

Hejira is a pleasure to hear from beginning to end and worth the hearing.

CHICK COREA Jazzman (aka Chick Corea aka Waltz For Bill Evans)

Boxset / Compilation · 1979 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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snobb
Pianist Chick Corea's Return To Forever(RTF) project made him a superstar of sort at the late 70s, when RTF themselves were already inactive jazz fusion popularity in general experienced significant decline. Corea himself tried to find a new ground as solo artist playing everything from pop jazz to Latin to third stream, with only partial success.

At the same time music industry still worked hard trying to explore "Chick Corea"'s brand till the end. It was a time when numerous labels have released plenty of all possible re-issues,compilations and archival materials, related with Corea's name, often in quite odd form."Jazzman" is one of such releases (which can be find under dozen of different titles on the market as well).

This compilation contains four Corea's early pieces, most probably coming from three-days session, recorded in 1969. Chick collaborators are all future stars,including bassist Dave Holland,drummer Jack DeJohnette,flutist Hubert Laws,trumpeter Woody Shaw,tenor Bennie Maupin and lesser known percussionist Horacee Arnold. The music has been recorded at the same time as Corea's first avant-garde jazz work "Is", and contains stylistically very similar music. Even being less free and more tuneful, "Jazzman" for sure must to disappoint RTF fans, expecting something similar in "new" Corea's releases. At the same time, it can really attract those not so numerous fans of Corea's most creative experimental period of late 60s - early 70s. More accessible than "Is" or "A.R.C." (not mention his complex masterpieces,released with Circle), "Jazzman" contains a bit direct-less mix of avant-garde jazz, early fusion and post-bop and that way illustrates quite well where from Corea's later music is coming.

The odd thing about this album is one could already be familiar with same (or very similar material) even without knowing about it. No info is provided about original sources, and to make the situation even more dreadful, it looks some titles of previously released songs are changed as well. As a result, we know that most probably "Jazzman" contains same, or very similar material with that already released in 1972 on obscure Corea's "Sundance" album. Again, it looks that all compositions were recorded during same sessions as "Sundance", and very possible "Jazzman" combines some material, already released on "Sundance" with one or more outtakes. At the same time there are plenty of albums released under different titles,which contain same or very similar material (quite often different songs titles doesn't mean that songs are really different), plus some of alternative releases mention containing "alternate versions" of same tracks. It's almost impossible to realize now where the truth is, probably better solution is Corea's "Early Works" album, possibly containing full session's material in one place.

Anyway, released most probably as one more try to explore "hot" Corea's name of the moment, this album contains some interesting material from possibly most creative Chick's period and today can offer some attractive moments for pianist's fans.

DIZZY GILLESPIE Dizzy Gillespie - Stan Getz Sextet : More Of The Diz And Getz Sextet

Album · 1954 · Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
The late 1953 recording session that brought us “The Dizzy Gillespie-Stan Getz Sextet” yielded enough top notch material that the folks at Verve quickly followed that one with “More of the Diz and Getz Sextet”, which was made up of four more tracks from that initial recording session, plus one newer track that Dizzy recorded with a different band. The quality of the tracks on “More of Diz and Getz” is fairly comparable to the first album, if they are slightly lesser tracks, it isn’t by much.

This album opens with a high speed blues-bop jam that builds in intensity as the solos are passed from Oscar to Herb, then Stan and finally Dizzy. When Gillespie hits his ride, Herb Ellis’ loud ferocious comping pushes Dizzy to new heights in a wonderfully chaotic buildup. This track is followed by a mellow blues original by Dizzy which he recorded with a different lineup from the all-star cast that makes up the rest of this album. This doesn’t mean there is a drop off in the quality of the playing though, Oscar Peterson may be a technically brilliant player, but Wade Legge’s more lyrical approach may be more interesting. The third cut, “Girl of my Dreams”, continues with the mellow vibe, this time with the all-star support group back on board. The final two cuts are two different versions of “Siboney”, first played as an up-tempo bop number, and secondly, in a Latin jazz style. These final two tracks are probably the highlight of the album as Stan and Dizzy both turn in inspired solos. Its also interesting to note that Stan and Diz will continue their interest in Latin jazz, with Diz going in an Afro-Cuban direction, while Stan will pursue the Bossa-Nova fad.

In later years, these two different albums of material by this sextet will be combined into one album under various re-issue titles. Whatever the title, any of these albums are highly recommended for fans of high quality be-bop.

ART LANDE Art Lande And Rubisa Patrol ‎: Desert Marauders

Album · 1978 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
CLASSIC FUSION IT IS!

First, let's clear up the confusion. The name of the group is Rubisa Patrol, led by pianist Art Lande. Their first album in 1976, with a different drummer, was entitled Rubisa Patrol. The opening track of 1978's Desert Marauders, their second album, is entitled "Rubisa Patrol", but this track did not appear on the similarly-titled first album. Got it?

All that being said, Desert Marauders couldn't be more different from the first album, even though the two were recorded only 13 months apart. Rubisa Patrol has become one of the classic examples of brooding ECM melancholy and could almost be labeled World Fusion. Desert Marauders, on the other hand, is a far more vigorous musical statement, and in spite of being entirely acoustic, can more than hold its own when being compared to other Classic Fusion albums from the same time period.

Opener "Rubisa Patrol" is a rhythmic 15:57 epic and a jaw-dropping stunner. New drummer Kurt Wortman's vehement flourishes let everyone know immediately that this album will be different. Lande's playing has never been so vibrant, almost reminding one of fellow ECM pianist Bobo Stenson. After a number of starts and stops, Lande and trumpeter Mark Isham both take among their longest solos ever, and then meticulously double-track one another while playing the complex, long-lined final section. Isham's only composition on this album is "Livre (Near the Sky)", a light and airy respite after the dynamic opener. "El Pueblo de las Vacas Triste" begins leisurely but soon picks up speed, while "Perelandra" (a C.S. Lewis influence, perhaps?) is the one track most reminiscent of the previous album with its Bill Douglass flute solo. And if you couldn't get enough of the spirited "Rubisa Patrol", closer "Samsara" is a mini-epic that provides more of the same.

After making one of the stand-out albums of 1978, this group never recorded for ECM again, although they continued to perform together into the early 1980s. Lande would go on to record with Gary Peacock, Paul McCandless, and a heavily-synthesized duet with Isham, but never again did anything approaching Desert Marauders. The real mystery still to be solved is the reason why this album and its predecessor have never been released on CD.

KEITH JARRETT Bye Bye Blackbird

Album · 1993 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.95 | 10 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
"We will never forget Miles."

Miles Davis died on September 28, 1991. The Keith Jarrett Trio rushed into the studio on October 12, 1991 and recorded this tribute album. As Miles Davis tribute albums go, it's really very good. The potential purchaser is advised that this album ranks rather high on the infamous Keith Jarrett vocalization spectrum. If you're a long time Jarrett listener and familiar with his singing, you should have no problem enjoying the album.

Among the highlights are "For Miles", an 18:39 improvisation with an utterly amazing Jack DeJohnette percussion performance, and one of the best ballads this group has ever done, "You Won't Forget Me". After 10:42 of awe-inspiring poignancy, however, a major sequencing mistake is made by following this up with the hard-driving "Butch and Butch": the juxtaposition of the two is simply too harsh. Other than this, I have no further complaints and can highly recommend this album to fans of the performers. Special accolades must go to the aforementioned DeJohnette, as this is one of his best as part of this trio.

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