Jazz Music Reviews

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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snobb
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 4.89 | 5 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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snobb
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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js
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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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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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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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.

MACHINE MASS TRIO / MACHINE MASS Plays Hendrix

Album · 2017 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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If you are going to make a tribute album, you might as well aim high, and that is what Machine Mass has done on their latest outing as they take on the timeless songs of Jimi Hendrix. Not only was Hendrix a pyrotechnical guitar wizard, but he was also a gifted songwriter and tireless innovator in the studio. It’s a tall order to try and do something new with these Hendrix creations, but Machine Mass does well in rising to the occasion, mostly by not trying to imitate Jimi too much. Instead, Machine Mass manage to draw something new out of these well known tracks by following their own musical instincts. For those unfamiliar with the group, Mass consists of Michel Deville on guitar and electronics, and Tony Bianco on drums. On past albums they were joined by a guest woodwind player, but this time around they opt for avant art rocker, Antoine Guenet from Universe Zero, on keyboards, who brings much to the Mass mix.

This CD opens strong with a roving psychedelic jam on “Third Stone from the Sun”. Delville quite wisely does not attempt to imitate Hendrix, but instead supplies his own blazing fusion/rock solos. Bianco’s drumming, on the other hand, does seem to be a tribute to the style of Mitch Mitchell, a stylistic tribute that Bianco maintains throughout the whole album, although Tony flavors his Mitchell type approach with a bit more free post bop swing. The end result is one can hear just how jazz influenced Mitch was when he was jamming with Jimi, its not a far leap from Mitchell’s drum style to a more free-form post bop approach. Some of the other best tracks on this CD come early on, especially “Spanish Castle Magic”, which gives Guenet a chance to provide an over the top B3 solo that is parts Jamie Saft, the young Jon Lord and classic horror movie soundtracks. It would have been nice to hear more Guenet B3 solos on here, he has a very unique and intense take on organ soloing.

Generally, the songs on here don’t adhere too closely to Jimi’s versions, but instead use his music as a jumping off point for free form psychedelic fusion jamming. If you can imagine Ozric Tentacles with a post bop drummer, that might get you close to the sound on here. This mostly works, except for a couple tracks where things get a bit murky, particularly “Little Wing” and “You Got Me Floatin”. Whether one would have wanted Mass to stay closer to Jimi’s melodies and chord sequences is probably a matter of personal preference. Overall, this is a very good tribute by the Mass gang, and a strong addition to the many Hendrix covers already in existence.

DIZZY GILLESPIE The Dizzy Gillespie - Stan Getz Sextet

Album · 1954 · Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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“The Dizzy Gillespie-Stan Getz Sextet” may not seem like a particularly imaginative album title, but when this 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 this 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.

The album 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 album closes with the ballad, “Talk of the Town”, on which Getz’s main talent shows through as he was already becoming known as one of the smoothest ballad players since Lester Young.

This is an ‘album’ from the early days, which means a 10” record and about twenty minutes of music. In later years, this record, plus other material that was recorded that day, will come out on various LPs, often with tiles such as “Diz and Getz”. This session features some of the best jazz musicians of all time in a one time only get together, and they don’t disappoint as they work together as if they had been together a long time. Its the relaxed and creative musical conversation that takes place among the participants that puts this album on the 'genius' level.

JOHN DAVERSA Wobbly Dance Flower

Album · 2017 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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No doubt there is a lot of creative abstract intellectual jazz coming out these days, which is all fine and good, but sometimes you may be asking yourself, ‘where is the heat’? Where is that hot jazz that blasts you in the face with kinetic unstoppable energy. A couple years ago it was Walking Distance with their “Neighborhood” album that supplied some much needed fire. This year its John Daversa and his more fun than a drunk barrel of monkeys, “Wobbly Dance Flower”, that is bound to get you up to get down. What we have on this fine disc is a great blend of high speed neo-bebop, soulful hard bop grooves and anarchistic free blowing that all adds up to one of the hottest jazz CDs of 2017. Mostly known for his modern big band arranging, Daversa also adds plenty of interesting changeups and arrangements to keep these tunes far from anything cliché.

Opening track, “Ms Turkey” will grab your attention with one of this CD’s salient features, and that is the aforementioned high speed neo-bebop that exists somewhere between the worlds of Diz n’ Bird, and early Ornette with Don Cherry, but rendered with a modern sensibility that shows no trace of nostalgia. “Be Free”, as the title would suggest, is a free jazz jam that uses the same up tempo bop as a starting point, but then utilizes modern tempo changes that shift and dissolve without warning. Things cool out for the soulful and melodic “Brooklyn Still”, as well as the B3 groove of “Jazz Heads”. “Meet Me at the Airport” is a another B3 soul jazz number that closes with a climbing fusion riff reminiscent of Larry Young’s work with the Tony Williams Lifetime. After this, the album closes out with more short and sassy high speed romps.

The playing on here is excellent. Daversa has a clean and precise tone on the trumpet that recalls Clifford Brown, infused with the energy of Dizzy Gillespie. He is joined by the well known Bob Mintzer on sax and bass clarinet, as well as Joe Bagg on piano and B3, a keyboard player who deserves more recognition. Zane Carney, Jerry Watts Jr and Gene Coye keep things moving in the rhythm section. Looking for your modern le jazz hot, here it is.

BILL EVANS (PIANO) Loose Blues

Boxset / Compilation · 1992 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Amilisom
What originally drew me to the obscure Bill Evans album known as "Loose Blues" was primarily the lineup. This was the first album I'd come across where Bill Evans was playing with the bassist Ron Carter, who I'd known primarily through his work with Miles Davis' second great quartet as well as on other quintessential albums of the 60's. The appearance of Philly Joe Jones on drums wouldn't be a first for Evans.

It came as no surprise from the start of track 1, "Loose Bloose," that the groove created between bass and drums swung significantly stronger than the more airy atmosphere usually created in Bill's more usual rhythm sections. What made the mix all the more interesting was the obvious contrast between the rhythm section and the rest of the band. Playing the tenor sax was the soft-spoken Zoot Sims, who I admit to having little knowledge of. Jim Hall, who makes appearances on other Bill Evans albums, plays guitar. The resulting effect, perhaps an exaggeration, is that the bass and drums swing harder than anybody else in the band. Everybody else floats over the groove like a pillow fort built on cinderblocks.

Plus, the combination of piano, guitar, and Sims' delicate tone made for very nice timbres. Whether it's in "My Bells" where the tenor sax is placed with a backdrop of cascading guitar and piano chords, or in the beginning of "Loose Blues" where the melody is played monophonically by Evans and Sims with Hall complimenting the bass line, the combination is unique and enjoyable.

According to the linear notes, Orrin Keepnews actually found the experience and circumstances of recording this album to be quite stressful and frustrating. One of the tunes, "My Bells" features a tempo change partway through the form. It makes the solos interesting to listen to, but recording it was another story. The studio had little money for rehearsal, and the group went as far as Take 25 before having enough material capable of splicing together. As haphazard as the circumstances turned out, the album was ironically not released until 20 years later.

TOPAZ The Zone

Album · 2002 · Acid Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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It had already been five years since tenor saxophonist Topaz McGarrigle's Texan jazz act made it's debut by the time the group's third studio album rolled around. It's hard to judge whether or not they were earning the fruits of their labor because, other than the occasional resurfacing of McGarrigle such as his new band Golden Dawn Arkestra, the group has practically erased themselves from all the books.

Topaz were hampered down their whole career by a changing music scene after their pilgrimage from Texas to bustling New York City. McGarrigle's idea was to take advantage of the reinvigorated neo-futurist jazz casually gaining momentum in the 90's and market his and his groups talents within it. Problem was, hip-hop and R&B had been gaining momentum much more within the same decade, so much so that the hype for this new medium basically snuffed the jazz candle from any mainstream success. Although Topaz never truly made it to any high status or really even cult status sadly, they nevertheless delivered several great releases as they continued to evolve, regardless of how much attention they were getting...or lack thereof.

Topaz' music isn't exactly revolutionary, nor is it exceptionally technical like you might expect a contemporary jazz fusion act might be. Of course, McGarrigle's work on the sax is extremely proficient in both standard style and avant-garde, as well Squantch on the trombone. But what Topaz's The Zone exudes more than anything is personality. Tight knit instrumentation can bleed perfectly into rich improvisation, making the entire group, while not exactly attempting to show themselves as the most technically robust jazz act out there, still manage to make themselves seem like living legends with class alone. This could in part be due to the influence electric-era Miles Davis had on them, and to which they owe much of their structural composition. Yet other genres progressively ooze their way onto the set, particularly on the funky bass licks being the driving force on many tracks, such as the almost 8 minute long swagger of 'Walkabout'. The funk attitude is also present on heavy groovers like 'Fat City Strut', and with a name like that I'd expect nothing less. A tinge of psychedelic aura on many of the songs, especially the opener 'Minha Mente', reinforced by the mesmerizing drum fills by Christian Ulrich, make for a well-reinforced acid-jazz environment.

Some dubious elements also make themselves present though. The occasional vocal breaks on some of the songs, like the overly cheesy ones of 'You & Me', tend to disrupt the flow of what would otherwise be a very maturely structured song. Along with that and a fair bit of annoying repetition in many of the songs (in the percussion section especially) do make The Zone withstand a bit more quality it otherwise would have.

Topaz's third album marks another rather good release for the band after 2000's Listen!, and also marks the band's continued level of quality even as they progressed towards their dissolution.

BOBBY HUTCHERSON Live at Montreux

Live album · 1974 · Hard Bop
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
LIVE MASTERPIECE

It's now been a full year since we lost the late, great Bobby Hutcherson, and for all those who enjoy his acclaimed mid-1960's albums, you really owe it to yourself to track down his 1974 album Live at Montreux. Not only is it Bobby's best release of the 1970's, but it's also one of the best (in a very crowded field) live albums in that decade by ANYBODY.

Recorded at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival and originally released only in Japan and Europe, this disc restores the full 51-minute set to its fiery glory ("Farallone" did not appear on the LP). No ballads, just two long Hutcherson compositions not available anywhere else, and two of the best by trumpeter Woody Shaw. One awe-inspiring solo follows another, and the crowd's response is electric! Don't let the "no name" rhythm section discourage you: they all keep things moving and acquit themselves admirably, especially drummer Larry Hancock who continuously threatens to steal the show.

Since being restored and reissued in 1994, this album's availability has been "spotty" to say the least. With great recorded sound and phenomenal performances, Live at Montreux should be far better known than it is, especially by Hutcherson and Shaw fans. If you are even mildly familiar with the performers and this one crosses your path, spare no expense!

"BROTHER" JACK MCDUFF Check This Out

Live album · 1972 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Check this Out” is yet one more in a seemingly endless supply of soul jazz records put out by “Brother’ Jack McDuff. Fortunately, in this case a vast quantity does not imply a drop off in quality, instead, despite how many records he put out, you can almost always count on McDuff for a worthwhile spin. “Check this Out” came out in 1972, which was the same year Jack released his wild funky, and somewhat experimental “Heatin System”. “Check” is not quite as out there as “System”, but there is still plenty of hot solos and well arranged tunes to make this one a worthwhile addition to your McDuff collection.

It’s a rather large group that Jack has assembled here, with three sax players providing a mini big band effect, plus congas and guitar, while McDuff supplies the bass on all but one cut via his B3 foot pedals. Side one kicks off with a wide open energetic blues based jam, followed by the well known ballad, “Georgia On My Mind”. Jack handles the melody on “Georgia”, while the horn players provide an interesting re-harmonization of the familiar chord changes. This side closes with the modern funk sounds of “Soul Yodel”, on which Jack’s foot work is replaced by the electric bass of Richard Davis, who supplies a syncopated groove reminiscent of WAR’s “Slipping into Darkness”.

Side two opens with an unexpected original 60s flavored optimistic art pop song with the tongue-in-cheek title of “Middle Class Folk Song”. This one bears some resemblance to the Carpenter’s “Sing a Song”, which is not a bad thing. This is followed by another up tempo hard bop groove before the album closes out with some classic soul jazz slow burn blues. All throughout this album there are plenty of good solos. With three sax players on board, its not always clear who is playing what, but most likely the hottest sax solos probably come from Jack’s longtime sidekick, “Red" Holloway. If McDuff’s burning solos sound familiar, its because he more or less invented the solo language of the B3 as it was used by many 70s rock and RnB players from Gregg Rollie to Jon Lord, and just about everyone else too. We often hear of Jimmy Smith as a major B3 influence, but his high speed bop/blues lines did not adapt to rock as well as McDuff’s grittier hard punchy riffs. Plus McDuff often had a bit of overdrive distortion to his sound, which added to his rock appeal.

STAN GETZ Blue Skies

Album · 1995 · Post Bop
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
A QUIET MIRACLE

Why did Concord Records wait 13 years to release this magnificent album? Recorded in 1982 at the same sessions that produced the Pure Getz album, Blue Skies did not see release until 1995, four years after Stan's death. The label did an impeccable job with a superlative package, a slipcover, and an endorsement from Stan's son Steve, but the mystery remains as to why it was held back.

Don't for a moment believe this is an "outtakes" album. The six tracks work perfectly together and the four standards all figured prominently in concert performance over the last 10 years of Stan's life. While listening to Blue Skies, adjectives such as light, airy, ruminative, and leisurely may come to mind, but don't dismiss this as an easy-listening, MOR album. Yes, the emphasis is on beautiful ballads, but the uptempo Jim McNeely composition "There We Go" will quickly awaken those who may find themselves "drifting off". Pianist McNeely easily receives just as much soloing space as Stan does, and bassist Marc Johnson makes major contributions throughout, with solos on three tracks. Accusations of austerity are brushed aside with the whimsical take of the title track: the group is clearly having a good time.

Perhaps knowing Stan didn't live to see this album released lends the music a sense of haunted nostalgia. Drummer Billy Hart's brushes are all over these sessions, but that doesn't entirely explain the ethereal, summer-afternoon stillness that's almost palpable. Comparisons with Pure Getz will find Blue Skies more introverted and quieter, yet this album seems far more definitive and intrinsic to Stan's personal style. There are no dirges on Blue Skies, but anyone looking for an aural punch in the gut like Pure Getz's "On the Up and Up" have come to the wrong place.

Posthumous albums still get a bad rap. If the recordings were so good, the skeptic wonders, why weren't they released immediately? There are thousands of reasons/explanations/excuses, and the situations may vary, but when dealing with an iconic yet polarizing figure like Stan Getz, the answers grow even more complicated. Stan recorded so much with a multitude of players in a multitude of locations for a multitude of labels in widely varying genres. To this day he still has a devoted following, but his erratic recorded legacy has not made him hip with the trendsetters and namedroppers. That we still have in print today a quiet masterpiece like Blue Skies (despite its inauspicious start and late release date) is quite simply a minor miracle. Regardless of availability or popularity, this will always be an album to cherish, and one for the ages.

JOHN ABERCROMBIE 39 Steps

Album · 2013 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.55 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
SUBTLE, CALM, MEASURED

In a world of perpetual change, it's nice to know there are some things you can continue to count on. Take, for instance, the much-discussed "ECM Records sound": the haunted, melancholy, "wide open spaces" atmosphere that can be heard as far back as its early-1970s releases. If it's beautiful, autumnal, heartland, Sunday-afternoon chamber jazz you're looking for, you've come to the right place with longtime ECM guitarist John Abercrombie's 39 Steps.

Recorded in April 2013 with Marc Copland on piano, Drew Gress on double bass, and Joey Baron on drums, 39 Steps is much more, well, "down to earth" than his last few releases. Albums such as Class Trip, The Third Quartet, Wait Till You See Her, and Within a Song were more on the noir-ish, late-night side of Abercrombie's guitar-playing spectrum, while 39 Steps will prove to be much more compatible with those who enjoy the classic ECM sound. It should be stated from the outset that those looking for more of his fiery 1970s soloing or his 1980s experimental freak-outs may find this album somewhat pale in comparison. Tracks such as "Vertigo", "Bacharach", "Greenstreet", and "As It Stands" are best described as subdued, peaceful, or even relaxing. The compositions are strong, the solos are solid, and interest is always sustained, but this is not music that will disturb your neighbors. Copland's two compositions, "LST" and "Spellbound", are both much busier and simultaneously more mysterious. Long-time Abercrombie listeners are sure to enjoy "Another Ralph's". Quoting directly from "Ralph's Piano Waltz" (which appeared on both 1975's Timeless and 1986's Current Events), this song has Abercrombie out in front rather than just another player in the quartet. While the soloing spotlight is consistently shared amongst all the players, 39 Steps remains unequivocally a John Abercrombie album. "Shadow of a Doubt" is a group improv (another ECM trademark), and "39 Steps" is a mini-epic, appropriately summing up all that's come before. An offbeat, jesting cover of "Melancholy Baby" closes the album, leaving a smile on the face of all but the most determined listeners. And after a not-too-long (59:42) meandering journey, we're right back where we started.

With all the references to past glories, there's no doubt many will consider this a "long-past-his-prime, career-achievement" album. As a 30+ year listener to Abercrombie's fluid fretwork, I can only urge others to give the introspective and atmospheric textures of 39 Steps a real chance. Newbies may not be impressed, but they are gladly referred to the earlier albums (such as the two mentioned above) of one of the greatest jazz guitarists of our time. While 39 Steps may be lacking in intensity, it more than compensates in true artistry, and not just on cloudy Sunday afternoons.

GEORGE ADAMS Sound Suggestions

Album · 1979 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
American tenor George Adams is best known from his long-lasting collaboration with pianist Don Pullen (they co-founded and ran successful band for years). Still he has released some albums under own name, many of them are of same great quality.

Jumped on forefront of jazz scene in early 70s playing in Charles Mingus band, Adams debuted as leader with two obscure avant-garde jazz albums on tiny and short-lived Italian Horo label. "Sound Suggestions", his third album as leader, comes as surprise - it's released on respectable German ECM label, and the band is all-stars. Sextet, containing bassist Dave Holland and drummer John DeJohnette among others,plays five members' originals - tightly composed memorable songs stylistically fluctuating between post-bop and European avant-garde jazz.

"Baba', album's opener,its longest track and is written by Anglo-Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and from very first seconds sounds like the melody you know for years. "Imani's Dance", Adams composition, continues "Baba" in natural way almost imperceptibly transfers to more muscular and groovy but still very soulful song. Adams, in ECM fashion, on this album plays less explosively than on many his previously and later works. Still, as for label's standard, album's music is very groovy, warm and ... American sounding. Perfectly recorded and mixed, "Sound Suggestions" are quite different from sterile groove-less and often emotionless ECM sound which has been already formed at the time of album's release.

Side B contains three shorter compositions. German musician Heinz Sauer (band's second tenor) composition "Stay Informed" is freer and more knotty than first two (completing side A), Adams even gets a chance for some harsher solos. Adams' "Got Somethin' Good For You" is up-tempo blues-based song with his own vocals on it.

"A Spire", Kenny Wheeler album's closer is the only ballad here and it radiates light melancholy. A great tasteful collection of beautiful music of miscellaneous origin, accessible but enough progressive for being attractive for listeners who avoid too conservative mainstream jazz. Not really typical ECM-style release (ok, they were more adventurous back in 70s), "Sound Suggestions" stays Adams only album on this label. Reissued on CD in 1994 it is quite accessible to find and can be really recommended as excellent evidence of creative jazz era. This music sounds modern even today.

FRANK ZAPPA Absolutely Free (The Mothers Of Invention)

Album · 1967 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.22 | 27 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
ABSOLUTELY FREE is absolutely just that. Freer than any bird that a certain American Southern rock band would later sing about or even come close to sounding like. I have to always go back and look at the year on the CD when I listen to this. Really? 1967? Uh, wait a minute wasn't that the year of the Summer Of Love and all the other psychedelic and hippie love gracing the musical world? Well, yeah but obviously nobody told Mr. Zappa and the Mothers. They had their own jaded agenda and much more grounded in reality it was. While many were dropping out, Mr Zappa and the Mothers were dropping biting critiques taking pokes at politics and society in general. To this day this remains some of the most intelligently designed musical expressions ever laid down on tape.

After a great start with their debut this is the album where all those wonderful and crazy ideas really came to roost. You know the kind. The kind music that forces you to recalibrate your musical attitude to get it and either fall in love with it like I did or reject it in total dismay because it's just too scary! Mommy help me! Whether you hate it or love it, it forces you to react and you either dive in for repeated listens or you run away in total shock and horror accusing them of blasphemy and being possessed by demons who are out to destroy the status quo. This was not my first Zappa album but it has become one of my top 50! It helps that they dropped the overabundance of doowop and dared to fly their freak flags ever higher. I am inclined to think that the Mothers Of Invention were one of the most significant bands to catalyze what we now call progressive music. Nothing was even close to this style of madness back in 1967 and precious few acts have achieved it since.

This album which has been described as a condensed 2-hour musical was one of the first overtly complex albums that excelled at political and social satire. On this album Bunk Gardner was added on saxophone which created an even richer sound and consists of 2 side long suites that take music in directions never thought possible. Although this is unlike anything else one can still hear the Stravinsky and Varese influences if you're familiar with their music and of course the Mothers were pioneering the unthinkable act of creating jazz-fusion.

This must have been a total slap in the face to any listener when this came out. Between the over-the-top criticism and intelligently delivered lyrics mixed with a musical collage of ideas that rotate like a sampling guide it just plain boggles the mind! This is one of the best albums Mr Zappa and the Mothers ever came up with. It is brilliant from the very first track “Plastic People” to the closing “America Drinks And Goes Home.” Although bonus tracks are extremely hit and miss on Zappa albums, the two tracks “Big Leg Emma” and “Why Don't You Do Me Right” fit in perfectly on my Rykodisc version of this musical masterpiece.

CRAIG TABORN Craig Taborn And Ikue Mori : Highsmith

Album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
After the release of probably his best album ever, "Daylight Ghosts", earlier this year, pianist Craig Taborn comes with a radically different work - a free improvisation collection recorded by a duo of himself and downtown laptop artist Ikue Mori.

Mori started her musical career as a self-taught percussionist in the New York no-wave scene, but soon switched to drum machines and electronics. During the last decade, she played and recorded regularly with many avant-garde jazz renown artists, including pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, violinist Mark Feldman, harpist Zeena Parkins, vocalist-electronicist Maja Ratkje, guitarist Fred Frith and cellist Okkyung Lee among many others.

A jazz duo of pianist and electronics/lap top artist probably doesn't sound like a great idea, at least on paper. Surprisingly, "Highsmith" contains more accessible and better organized music than one could expect. It is a collection of free improvisations, recorded in studio soon after the duo played live at the Village Vanguard in 2016, and even if the music sounds like free improvs for sure, it doesn't remind one of a bulky mix of accidental piano sounds and spacey loops, that's for sure.

Taborn plays quite explosive piano passages radiating dark chamber avant-garde beauty successfully combining them with silence without loosing the music's dynamic. Mori improvises using electronic sounds and noises around Craig's more solid sound, filling the space with every-second-changing electronic wizardry. All album long, the listener can't stop marveling hearing this unbelievable masterful use of percussive, in moments abrasive sounds, as equal part of complex (if ascetic) jazzy improvisation.

Lots of things happen every single moment here and after the album's last sounds, there is not even a trace of feeling that the album was too dread, repetitive or just openly boring. Successfully avoiding both formal electronics monotony, and cheap spacey looping tricks, "Highsmith" represents one really rare example of electro-acoustic improvisational music symbiosis which isn't too formal, and contains a lot of life in it, and being really experimental can attract more than a few dedicated listeners.

Interesting new side illustration for Taborn, one of the better recordings for Mori for sure.

MACHINE MASS TRIO / MACHINE MASS Plays Hendrix

Album · 2017 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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kev rowland
Yet again there have been some changes in the Machine Mass camp, and here founder members, guitarist Michel Delville (The Wrong Object; douBt; Alex Maguire Sextet) and drummer Anthony Bianco (douBt; Elton Dean; Dave Liebman) have brought in keyboard player Antoine Guenet (The Wrong Object; Sh.TG.N; Univers Zero), to assist them in their adventures. As a starting point the album is quite simple in its intent, namely that in one day last March the trio recorded some Hendrix songs live in the studio to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ‘Are You Experienced?’. It’s just from there that it gets a little more complex.

I am sure that everyone has their favourite Hendrix songs, and probably also their favourite Hendrix covers. For me there has always been something whimsical and emotive about ‘The Wind Cries Mary”, while I still believe that The Hamsters monumental album from 1990, ‘Electric Hamsterland’, takes some beating. But what we have here is something that Hendrix himself would have probably appreciated, namely three top musicians taking his songs as a starting point and then improvising, twisting and melding, them into something that is barely recognisable yet paying true homage to the craftsman who created them initially. Whenever a guitarist dares to cover a song created by a master then they are putting themselves up to fail, but what Michel has done here brilliantly is not only show that he too is a genius with his instrument, but has filled the interpretations full of jazz intensity and experimentalism, to create something that cannot be directly compared as it is just so very different indeed.

While fans of Jimi will enjoy hearing what Machine Mass have managed to do with classic Hendrix songs, this album is also very much for those who may not be close to the originals. Antoine uses some wonderful Hammond sounds as he Anthony try to keep everything under control while Michel sounds like he is deconstructing his guitar while somehow keeping sounds emanating from it. This album is incredibly impressive on every level, from the musicianship and arrangements through to the way they have ripped this material to pieces and then put it back, lovingly and with honour, into a brand-new format. And that they finish with “The Wind Cries Mary” is the icing on the cake. Superb.

MATCHING MOLE Matching Mole

Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 3.49 | 11 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Hard to believe that a simple innocent band like the Wilde Flowers could blossom so quickly and splinter into so many disparate directions. After that fortuitous breakup, both Soft Machine and Caravan continued on in the psychedelic pop world but as Caravan continued to create ever more sophisticated progressively oriented psychedelic pop, Soft Machine on the other hand was hell bent for leather for jumping into jazz-rock territory only to abandon the rock part of the equation altogether. While this was perfectly suited for the such jazz leaning members such as Elton Dean, Robert Wyatt was feeling like a fish out of water and was very quickly getting squeezed out of the band’s decision in musical direction. Come Soft Machine’s “IV” and he had enough.

Whether he was fired or voluntarily left of his own volition is a mute point. The fact was that Wyatt’s creative outlets were being stifled and it was time to move on. Move on he did and while Soft Machine was more interested in proving themselves as jazz musicians and abandoning all the rock creds that created progressive rock’s Canterbury Scene, Wyatt was ready to jump back onto the Canterbury bandwagon and take control of his own musical direction. The result was the cleverly named MATCHING MOLE where Wyatt put the whimsy back in the Scene and created a pun on “Machine Molle” which is simply the French translation of Soft Machine!

Wyatt hooked up with Caravan organist David Sinclair (who remained with that band), original Quiet Sun bassist Bill MacCormick and guitarist Phil Miller who had played with Carol Grimes & Delivery. Wyatt continued his role as a drummer but also contributed a great deal of piano, mellotron and lead vocals. In a way, MATCHING MOLE’s eponymous debut is the first “true” 70s Canterbury Scene album, at least in that famous cohesive sound since both Soft Machine and Caravan while going their own ways remained psychedelic pop and in the case of Soft Machine’s “Third” and beyond, more a jazz-rock fusion band. MATCHING MOLE was the first album in the subgenre to create that perfect fusion sound of psychedelic rock and jamming sessions with all the technical jazz touches side by side with the humorous whimsical style that the style had become synonymous with.

While this was indubitably Wyatt’s baby, he seemed to still be letting other’s influence his decision as to what was to make it on the album. This is abundantly clear on the first track “O Caroline” which is really the one track that doesn’t fit in with the rest. While Wyatt composed the majority of tracks on the album, it was Sinclair and his slick Caravan pop sensibilities who composed the opener “O Caroline,” a track about breaking up with his girlfriend and apparently supposed to be a single as it appears on the remastered version as a bonus track titled “O Caroline (Single version.)” It is a whiny little track with a piano based melody riffing along about, well, girl trouble things. Not necessarily bad subject matter but clearly a stab at some sort of crossover success. While the two following tracks “Instany Pussy” and “Signed Curtain” are also based in catchy melodies and not overtly complex, they do sound more like the classic Canterbury style with an ostinato bass line frosted over with psychedelic touches and the famous organ sound that instantly screams the style albeit more on the accessible side as well. These two track in many ways portend the much more complex leanings of the future Hatfield & The North projects at least in sound.

While the first MATCHING MOLE album starts off rather ho hum with a tame crossover type track and slowly transitions into more interesting musical turf, it really takes off on the fourth track “Part Of The Dance,” the sole Miller contribution creates a lengthy nine minute plus jazzy psychedelic jam session that utilizes all the progressive rock signature sounds with a rad mellotron and organ accompaniment punctuated by a plethora of time signature workouts and Miller’s stellar guitar work that would eventually find a second calling in Quiet Sun. The remaining tracks never deviate from the progressive rock world and only get more psychedelic, more otherworldly and more proggy as they commence. It’s actually quite astonishing how the album ratchets up from totally accessible and borderline cheesy to ultra-sophistication in both musical performance and production values. Perhaps a slow burner but more than worth the wait.

Speaking of production values, this album is fairly notorious for having been poorly recorded despite appearing on a major label like CBS Records when it debuted in 1972, however i highly recommend the newer remastered version that came out in 2012. It not only has a bonus disc with a ridiculous amount of surplus material including alternate session takes and BBC Radio One sessions but also includes the single edits and the stellar previously unreleased near 21 minute prog behemoth “Part Of The Dance Jam” which most certainly would have been included on the album if permission for a double album would have been granted. It is a sprawling jam that takes the MATCHING MOLE psychedelic Canterbury sound and merges it with more of a Soft Machine “Third” type of composition. Not to mention the production has been improved 100 fold and although not exactly sounding like it’s a bristling new album recording in modern times, sounds crisp and clean for an album recorded many decades ago.

GERALD CLAYTON Tributary Tales

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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snobb
I never heard about Holland-born American pianist Gerald Clayton till one autumn night in 2010 when I saw him playing on his first European tour soon after the release of his debut album as leader. Leading muscular all-acoustic groovy trio,Clayton sounded as another "cat" playing quite mainstream jazz with rare freshness and without even a touch of sentimentality or nostalgia (both often destroy great artists music turning it to archival self-parody).

Only after I listened to his both debut and soon released second album, but saying true has been a bit disappointed. Somehow recorded music obviously missed that freshness and modernity which I found such attractive on Clayton live gig.

Now, after some years to come,I gave Clayton another chance and was really pleasantly surprised. Same acoustic trio has been improved with strong 3-piece reeds section (incl. Logan Richardson and Dayna Stephens on saxes and Ben Wendel on bassoon), two percussionists, two poets/spoken word artists and singer Sachal Vasandani. What is even more important - rooted in same neo post-bop,music here is tightly composed by Clayton himself, and he demonstrates non-nonsense composition abilities.

Leading quite a big combo, Clayton never overuse arrangements and as a result tuneful and complex music sounds tasteful if not minimalist. Spoken word pieces are as always an acquired taste, but at least here them don't destroy impression from album's music in whole. Band sounds best on instrumental compositions where post bop rhythmic structures organically interweave with modern composition without becoming too lifeless or frozen-formal as on some third steam recordings. Japanese edition contains Count Basie's "Blues For Stephanie" as bonus.

Serious step ahead and one great modern jazz album containing music attractive for listeners of different tastes.

BLUE EFFECT Conjunctio

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.71 | 8 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
There were two great early prog rock bands that emerged in the former Czechoslavakia in the city of Prague, capital of the current Czech Republic. MODRY EFEKT (or Blue Effect) began merely as a blues rock band but displayed meagre progressive touches on their debut “Meditace (Kingdom Of Life)” whereas JAZZ Q PRAHA formed all the way back in the early 60s were predominantly inspired by the late 50s avant-garde jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and the great Sun Ra. While MODRY EFEKT managed to release their debut album the same year, this collaborative effort between the two groups would be JAZZ Q PRAHA’s debut appearance and the album had such an impact on both bands that it would forever steer their cross-pollination efforts into entirely unforeseen musical arenas. This album is unusual in many ways.

First of all only the first and last tracks are the only collaborative efforts that feature both bands playing together. The second track is a MODRY EFEKT only affair and the same goes for JAZZ Q performing the third. Secondly, this album came out all the way back in 1970 behind the Iron Curtain where almost every aspect of an artist’s creative process was controlled by the state. It is an astounding miracle that these two bands could have created something this utterly wild and complex at this early stage of progressive rock’s history when many of these tracks remind the listener of contemporary and future acts. Most likely this is because the album is entirely instrumental with no lyrics so censorship was unneeded since there are no references to politics. This music is insanely advanced and is one of those crazy complex prog albums that will require many jazz, prog and classical appreciation classes to master any intelligible understanding on much of the album’s run.

The album is only 39 minutes and 45 seconds in length but the beginning track “Coniunctio I” swallows up 19 minutes and 15 seconds of its real estate. This is by far the most demanding track on the entire album as it begins with screeching saxes and erupting organs swirling around in a cacophonous din before it finally cools down into a bass driven groove with a 60s psychedelic rock vibe complete with echo effects and ghostly guitar licks. After a couple minutes or so it turns into a heavy rock sequence that offers a taste of heavy blues rock with a sizzling sax that spirals out of control into free jazz territory along with some kind of whistling noises and frenetic organ counterpoints. Wow! There’s nothing i can think of from this period of prog history that matches the intensity of this track and were only about five minutes in which enters i swear a louder version of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” which ironically came out the same year only half a globe away (before the internet or even legal access to American music) as a bass groove chugs along and keyboards dance Voodoo rituals around the bass driven campfire. After seven minutes it erupts into a bluesy guitar rock frenzy as Radim Hladík delivers one of the most demanding guitar solos of the era. Even Jimmy Page or Hendrix didn’t get this heavy. After eight minutes it changes abruptly to a pastoral symphonically embellished flute solo that slowly ratchets up the tension into a jazzified melody with an oscillating keyboard effect and some kind of bells. The mood remains placid and subdued for a while as a jazz bass line finally enters and eventually sounds more like hard bop but then a Thelonious Monk style piano run casually strolls into the picture and then goes plain nuts but finally at the 14 minute mark an ostinato bass line hypnotically entrances while a fluttery flute line plays over it but after a couple minutes it ventures into a segment that reminds me of that frenetic part of Pink Floyd’s “Saucerful Of Secrets” before the organ solo part begins. This track is phenomenal! At this early stage it has everything prog all rolled up into one. It has symphonic aspects, psychedelia, dissonance, heaviness, pastoral segments, blues, jazz, classical. Wow! A masterpiece of the ages.

“Návštěva u tety Markéty, vypití šálku čaje“ is performed only by MODRY EFEKT and along with the next track by JAZZ Q PRAHA provides a centrifuge effect that allows the listener to distinguish which elements of the first track were provided by each band. It also allows a break in the freneticism and over-the-top complexity with a significantly more light-hearted bluesy rocker in a psychedelic rock framework that utilizes a beautiful flute to weave a melody like a fluttering butterfly through the track’s shorter six minute time run. If you are familiar with MODRY EFEKT’s debut then you will realize that the blues rock, the melodies and the psychedelic parts of CONIUNCTIO are in their camp and this second track provides all of those musical elements and creates a beautiful flute dominated psychedelic rock track that also becomes heavy with guitar and soloing. In fact, it sounds a lot to me like many of those Focus tracks such as “Eruption” on their second album only with more erratic rocking parts.

“Asi půjdem se psem ven“ is solely performed by JAZZ Q PRAHA and like the MODRY EFEKT track gives an insight into which aspects of CONIUNCTIO belong to the band’s signature sound. This track is straight out of the jazz playbook which starts off somewhat straight forward but soon spirals out into avant-garde jazz heaven and reminds me a lot of some of the space jazz that Sun Ra & his Space Arkestra were pumping out in the mid to late 60s. The time signatures of each instrument all exist in their own musical world and the combo thereof results in a cacophonous din that apexes in a frenetic John Zorn type of saxophone frenzy a good decade or so before he was assaulting eardrums with his own similar style.

“Coniunctio II” continues the collaboration of the first track but is completely different. It begins with a sumptuous flute melody but is backed up by a jarring dissonant guitar counterpoint and quickly picks up and becomes a rather Hendrix-esque guitar jam type sound with a Tullish flute accompaniment and at this point is the most normal sounding track of the album. It remains jammy sounding but ratchets up the tempo, dynamics and finds more instruments joining in until it reaches a cacophonous crescendo but at the heart of it remains a bluesy rock jam despite all the horns whizzing away at light speed.

CONIUNCTO is one of my favorite albums ever to have emerged from the old Soviet dominated Eastern European block. This album titillates not only in a musical sense as it simultaneously pleases and assaults the senses but is fascinating to experience such a great work from the “forbidden” part of the world where the likelihood of a prog masterpiece emerging was virtually nil and only mere months after King Crimson, East Of Eden, High Tide, Marsupilami and other British prog bands were getting started. This album also shows the strong promise of collaborative efforts. Often these sorts of projects end up becoming watered down but the two bands found the right dynamic synergy to push each other further, the results of which steered MODRY EFEKT’s path more towards jazz and likewise JAZZ Q added more rock elements when they would finally release their debut three years later. This one is an absolute under the radar masterpiece. Be warned though that this is nearly a 10 on the progometer as it is dense, complex and often impenetrable especially when the JAZZ Q elements are on full steam. This album has all the elements of early prog rolled into one package. It’s heavy at times, it’s pastoral and symphonic at times, it’s psychedelic, it’s jazzy, it’s bluesy. It can be highly melodic with happiness inducing hooks or it can be dismally frightening with dissonant avant-garde jazz outbursts. One of my faves.

BLUE EFFECT Meditace

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.46 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Formed in the late 60s in what was the former Czechoslavakia which was very much behind the Iron Curtain and musically speaking a million miles away, yet certain bands not only kept up with the times with underground bootleg albums but also managed to weather the political storms and emerge as one of the most successful bands of the era from Eastern European nations. MODRY EFEKT (in the Czech language) or BLUE EFFECT (but have also gone by M. EFEKT, MODRý EFEKT and THE SPECIAL BLUE EFFECT) formed in Prague (now the Czech Republic) in 1968 and led by vocalist and guitarist Radim Hladík who would remain the constant member in the band’s initial two decade plus run. While soon becoming one of Czechoslavakia’s major jazz-fusion and progressive rock bands of the ages.

MEDITACE is a fine mix of Czech language 60s type sounding music primarily based in blues rock not unlike early Led Zeppelin but even at this stage they were showing traces of progressive rock as they were recording this in 1969 with many track including the opener “Paměť lásky” showing less influence from blues and rock and more Western classical elements dominating whether it include choral vocal arrangements, symphonic atmospheres or instrumentation. MODRY EFEKT were masters at creating strong catchy pop rock hooks even at this early stage in their development and although there is no progressive touches of the jazz-fusion type, tracks like “Blue Efect Street” show extremely strong ear worms with bluesy guitar workouts and clever arrangements including the use of a sitar. Most of all MODRY EFEKT demonstrate how beautiful rock music can sound in their native Slavic language tongue although side two was recorded in English which proves that the band had their sites on cracking into the international market from the beginning.

While MEDITACE is laced with excellent rock and pop tracks for their time and place, what’s really lacking at this point is a sense of cohesiveness for an album style as the tracks flounder back and forth from blues rock to classically symphonic and then to folky with almost Motown type walls of sound and then back to more Western generic sounding blues rock. Overall not a bad debut at all especially for being in a region of the world that controlled every aspect of artistic integrity however it would take the soon to be released second album with their country’s other progressive rock giants Jazz Q to steer the band into the more familiar jazz oriented progressive rock that they would stick with for the rest of their days. While i wouldn’t call this debut essential by any means, it certainly shouldn’t be skipped over either. It is quite the pleasant listen if not polished into perfection.

TONY WILLIAMS The New Tony Williams Lifetime ‎: Believe It

Album · 1975 · Fusion
Cover art 4.65 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
ONE OF THE GREATS!

When the great fusion albums (such as In a Silent Way and Enigmatic Ocean) are being discussed, Tony Williams' Believe It outright demands to be mentioned with them. This might come as a surprise to some, as there are some caveats that should be addressed:

1) Its length. The original LP ran a little over 33 minutes. Later CD re-issues have added extra tracks that don't really add to the album's greatness. Don't think of Believe It as "short", think of it as "succinct" and "visceral".

2) Electric bassist Tony Newton. With a soul/r'n'b background, he's not the first person you'd think of when you imagine who should play bass on a "fusion masterpiece". He acquits himself quite admirably with this line-up, and adds effects to his two compositions that, while hip for 1975, do not ruin the album.

3) Too rock/too jazz. On Believe It, guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist Alan Pasqua give two of their best performances EVER in their long and checkered careers. If you're a fan of these two, you will LOVE this album. Holdsworth's snarly, distorted tones, however, have alienated many, leading to the "too rock for jazz, too jazz for rock" dismissal he is all-too-often tagged with.

4) The follow-up. This line-up recorded just one other album, Million Dollar Legs. With a hideous cover, vocals, strings, and horns, it is in EVERY way inferior to Believe It and led Holdsworth to bolt for Bill Bruford's new group.

If you can overlook the above and have acquired the taste for classic fusion, Believe It will become a (ahem) LIFETIME listening experience. While very much of its age, this fiery recording session has transcended its contemporaries and will never grow old. There are no weak moments, and the songs and amazing solos are all out of this world. And needless to say, Tony drums up a storm. While he put out many albums and sat in on many sessions, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic Williams performance recorded after this one. And let it be said here that "Fred" is one of Holdsworth's greatest moments ever!

SUN RA Jazz by Sun Ra Vol.1 (aka Sun Song)

Album · 1957 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.75 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Although he was born a mere earthling named Herman Poole Blount in the unassuming US state of Alabama in 1914, the future jazz master would claim to have had a visionary experience that transported him to Saturn and in the process transmogrified his very being into the more familiar musical legend SUN RA. He claims this happened around 1936 which is the period when the solar system was beginning its transformation from a third to fourth density process so certain carbon-based lifeforms very well could have had their DNA amplified in the process. Whatever the case, SUN RA was different than the rest and like all good aliens kept his secret identity well under wraps for the the next few decades while playing with the likes of Coleman Hawkins and Fletcher Henderson just to name a couple of the big talents of the 40s. Come the 1950s though and SUN RA was finally born (short for Le Sony’r Ra) and his Saturnian visions were allowed to take control. Although RA would skirt through the 50s somewhat under the radar fitting well into the world of hard bop and progressive big band, even at that stage he was somewhat of a fish out of water leaving his indelible stamp of idiosyncrasies on the jazz world.

Finally in 1957 the first SUN RA album was released although many other tracks were recorded dating back to the late 40s which would not be released until 1973’s compilation album “Deep Purple” (aka “Dreams Come True”) let them out of the vaults. Upon first pressing this debut was titled JAZZ BY SUN RA and appeared on the short-lived Transition Records and very much in a limited quantity complete with an extensive booklet of photos and liner notes. Ten years later many of the early recordings were purchased by Delmark Records and when this album was re-released in 1967 it was given the new title SUN SONG which it has been known as ever since. While both releases were faithful with tracks remaining in the same order, a feat not much adhered to in the early jazz years, the extra track “Swing A Little Taste” was added when a CD reissue finally arose in 1991. Even at this early stage SUN RA was calling his musical army of musicians THE ARKESTRA and incorporating strange unorthodox sounds, beats and rhythms to his take on jazz.

JAZZ BY SUN RA / SUN SONG shows a well-seasoned artist who was already an accomplished band leader and although his full alien potentials hadn’t quite drifted to the esoteric and space induced levels of the 60s, there is a lot that emerged askew from the normal status quo of late 50s bop and big band jazz. The ARKESTRA at this point consisted of a ten piece playing behind the great RA himself. Rhythmically and stylistically SUN SONG comes off mostly as a hard bop jazz ride but performed in big band style with the ensemble pumping out a parade of sax, trumpet and trombone riffs in a syncopated improvisational setting of swing. However, despite the first upbeat track ushering in a big band type of feel, the second “Call For All Demons” displays RA’s love of percussion hitherto unknown in the jazz world borrowing more from traditional African percussive rhythms than anything from the jazz scene of the day but even as the track begins sounding like something totally outside of the jazz world, the ARKESTRA effortlessly adapts the big band swing sound around these complex rhythms and intricate time signature workouts complete with RA’s jazz piano runs.

SUN SONG was produced by Tom Wilson, who at the time was a complete unknown in the music biz but went on to produce other top notch 60s acts such as Frank Zappa, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and even the Velvet Underground. While SUN SONG was not the album that made the great SUN RA stand out from his contemporaries in hind site it should have since it offers in plain site a completely new way of mixing rhythms, harmonies and dynamics shaded with jazz instrumentation and big band orthodoxies. SUN SONG is widely considered the most accessible SUN RA release where he showed he can play by the rules before he really went for it and then broke them. Far from struggling to fit into the then popular big band world of the era, SUN RA actually proves he can keep up with the greats of the era and throw in a multitude of his own ideas in the process. SUN SONG ranges from the upbeat swinging introductory track to the more intimate danceable numbers such as “Possession.” While not the appropriate place to begin to explore SUN RA’s most extraterrestrial musical offerings, SUN SONG / JAZZ BY SUN RA is an excellent place to hear how much of what would come to be was slowly unleashing itself within a more orthodox big band jazz context.

JAMIE SAFT Loneliness Road (with Iggy Pop)

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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snobb
Some months before the release of this album there were first info/samples presented - it was snippets of ballads, played by such unorthodox avant garde jazz artists as New York downtown keyboardist Jamie Saft and drummer Bobby Previte, plus Carla Bley's regular bassist Steve Swallow, but what was even more shocking - there was vocal on these tracks, and the voice was no one else but punk-rock veteran Iggy Pop's.

RareNoise Records, founded almost a decade ago in London by two Italians, has always been oriented towards listeners with rock background searching for something new in avant-garde jazz, free improvs and similar scenes. Then, releasing the album recorded by the aforementioned jazz trio (even if quite an unorthodox one) adding three Iggy's vocal songs doesn't sound as freaky step. It would hardly attract any mainstream jazz fan, but RareNoise are obviously interested in different followers.

The bigger surprise with the album after it was already released, is that that music here is generally modern mainstream jazz (taking away the three vocal numbers). Since Iggy was planned as release's main star, lets start from him first.

All three songs with Pop's singing are ballads, not sentimental bluesy ones, but more of popular sort of modern urban balladry, characteristic for singing poets. Placed as fourth, ninth and twelfth songs among the instrumental jazz pieces, these songs work on a manner of raisins in a cake, some likes cake with raisins, others like just raisins, and there are some who like both. One things for sure, the addition of such different songs made whole album less monotonous.

As everyone familiar with who Iggy Pop is can expect, he doesn't sing any jazz here. First ballad ("Don't Loose Yourself")is a tuneful one, slightly recalling Jack Bruce's (or late Bowie's) songs of similar genre. Jazz trio play mostly in a manner of rock band here, Iggy sounds convincing and even demonstrates some fire. I can imagine a whole Iggy Pop album of such quality, and it possibly wouldn't be any wrong. Two other ballads unfortunately are more sentimental, and I wouldn't say Iggy's voice is the best choice for such kind of music. For me those left a mixed feeling of sadness and/or sorrow (I really like Leonard Cohen's songs, but he's been doing it much, much better).

Now, the rest of the album is ten more songs, and they are mostly great, if not excellent. Jamie Saft plays piano and organ here, mostly straight but demonstrates enough virtuosity and muscular energy to stay attractive all album long. In a combination with his "rock-like" manner, well crafted melodic compositions have all chances to attract far wider audience than just regular jazz fans.

Biggest album surprise are rhythm section. Pairing of original jazz bassist Swallow with far not so conformist drummer Previte was probably a risky business (ok, they already played together on previous Saft trio album), but here it works well and ... unexpectedly. If Swallow's deep physical groovy bass is's such unusual, I can hardly remember Previte playing with such delicacy and almost tender.

At the end of the day, what sounded at the very beginning as possible bad joke turned out to be a really great album. It just confirms once again how unpredictable true jazz is and - we love it for that.

ART LANDE Skylight

Album · 1981 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
ECM PASTORALISM

Until recent times, this was a very hard album to locate, especially in the USA - in fact, to this day, I've never seen an LP copy. Now that it's more readily available, listeners will be greatly rewarded by this one-off trio featuring Paul McCandless (Oregon) on woodwinds, Dave Samuels (Spyro Gyra/Double Image) on vibraphone and marimba, and Art Lande (Jan Garbarek/Gary Peacock/Rubisa Patrol) on piano and percussion. While no one player receives top billing, it is McCandless who dominates this material, pushing his many instruments to the absolute limit. And when I say "pastoralism", don't think "quiet and sleepy", rather "wide open spaces" or "resonant pictorial landscapes" more accurately describe the atmospheres contained within.

McCandless alternates his instruments on each track to create a wide variety of tones and timbres. The opening title track is a showpiece for soprano sax, with Lande providing Chick Corea-ish background colors. The hypnotic "Dance of the Silver Skeezix" is a quirky scherzo, with McCandless hitting some very shrill high notes on the oboe and Samuels creating kaleidoscopic textures on the marimba. "Duck in a Colorful Blanket (For Here)" is the obligatory free improv with McCandless on bass clarinet and Lande on cymbals. "Chillum" is a slow, drifting impressionistic piece for soprano sax, while the meandering "Moist Windows/Lawn Party" includes an English horn solo. The experimental "Ente (To Go)" is a duet for percussion and wood flute, and the closing "Willow" begins with piercing soprano sax only to resolve into something much dreamier.

As with many ECM recordings, some will say the music is "too classical" to be jazz, and "too jazzy" to be classical. My best recommendation would be if you enjoy the music of Lande, Samuels, and McCandless in other contexts, you should find much to appreciate here. And while it would be a stretch to consider Skylight an all-time classic, it remains to this day a thought-provoking exercise in musical pastoralism. Had it been more widely released, it might have found itself on many "Album of the Year, 1981" lists.

MILES DAVIS Facets (CBS France)

Boxset / Compilation · 1965 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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js
An interesting obscurity in the Miles Davis discography, I would imagine even some of the most ambitious Miles collectors do not have the compilation “Facets Number 1” in their collection, which is a shame because this is an outstanding collection of tracks, and most surprising of all, none of these tracks appear on any Miles Davis albums. Arrangements and orchestrations are a big part of this collection, with six cuts featuring a big band ensemble, two more played by a sextet, and finally two more performed by a quintet. As for the source of these recordings, four tracks come from Michael Legrand’s ‘Jazz’ album, two are from a Jazz and Classical Music Society compilation called “Music for Brass”, and the rest come from various compilations released in the mid 50s and early 60s. The one thing all these tracks have in common is that they all feature great solo work from Miles, who was at the top of his game during this time.

Side one opens with two tracks from a sextet that features the young and exuberant Wayne Shorter, as well as the humorous and sarcastic lyrics and vocals of Bob Dorough on the second track. These two are followed by two more high energy cuts with a quintet that features John Coltrane on tenor. Side one closes out with a lengthy experimental 3rd stream creation from John Lewis. Side two opens with four tracks from Michael Legrand’s jazz album with Miles. Michael is a master of 50-60s exotic orchestration on the level of Quincy Jones and Les Baxter. On an album of great songs, these four may be the best. The album closes out with another lengthy 3rd Stream excursion, this time from J J Johnson.

Creative, witty and energetic, “Facets” has it all. Although Miles continued to come up with creative musical concepts for the rest of his career, his actual playing and performance on the trumpet were at a peak during this time period. I doubt this compilation will ever come out on CD, so your best chance of finding a copy will be at used record stores or from online sellers.

TINA RAYMOND Left Right Left

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
Certainly a lot of people were upset at the outcome of the last US presidential election. Finding a way to voice their disappointment and frustration may have been difficult for many, but for drummer Tina Raymond, the solution became obvious, and that was to record her first album and have it reflect her concerns about her country in the present, as well as her hopes for the future. The end result is the CD “Left,Right Left”, a collection of instrumental protest songs and patriotic songs. The CD title itself refers to the political divide in the US, often strongly amplified by an overly hyped media, that is more than happy to point out that the coasts of the US tend to represent left leaning politics, while the heartland represents the right. To help her with these musical portraits, Tina enlisted two highly skilled musicians, bassist Putter Smith and pianist Art Lande. Smith also contributed two politically themed originals to help fill out the album.

It’s a varied smorgasbord of styles and tunes that greet us on “Right, Left, Right”. “Union Maid’ and “Saigon Bride” are pretty ballads, while “The Fiddle and the Drum” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” are borderline avant-garde. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is gospel, while the rest more or less falls into a contemporary post bop vein, but no two tracks seem similar. All three musicians are brilliant, but Lande steals the show with his inventive playing that moves from lyrical to abstract, sometimes within the same track. Two standout tracks include the hard swinging “White Flight”, possibly the best number for straight ahead energy, and the inventive “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, that Lande gives an almost 12 tone treatment that recalls Charles Ives’ avant-garde work with traditional American songs.

Taken on its own merits, “Left, Right, Left” is a fine collection of contemporary jazz, but one can’t help but wonder, if Tina really wanted to make an impact, why didn’t she include songs with lyrics and vocals. If you were to hear any of these instrumental tracks by themselves on the radio, you would probably have no idea about Tina’s intentions.

JEAN LOUIS Jean Louis

Album · 2008 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.88 | 10 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
JEAN LOUIS is a rather unique freeform avant-garde jazz meets avant-prog type of power trio from Paris, France. So original is their sound that they managed to come in second in the La Defense National Jazz Competition in 2007. Their self-titled debut release came out the year following and displays all their interesting fusion styles with a healthy diverse palette of eclectic influences. The band is a mere trio with Aymeric Avice on trumpet, Joachim Forent on double bass and Fracesco Pastacaldi on drums but like any excellent power triumvirate of sound, have the ability to encapsulate a much larger band experience with a huge swath of styles and eclecticism that makes this eponymous debut quite an intriguing listen. While no guitarist on board, Forent manages to make his bass sound as fuzzed-out as a peach orchard often reminding me of bands like Zu or Aluk Todolo in the process.

The rhythms are quite the strange mix of avant-garde jazz with Avice’s angular trumpet playing style and avant-prog type of rhythmic or should i say anti-rhythmic spastic meanderings. So think a mixture of 60s Sun Ra with a Miles Davis flare mixed with Thinking Plague and a noisy math rock band like Lightning Bolt and you’ve got half the picture! This band doesn’t stay still too long and after an intense hardcore workout they delve into extremely psychedelic meltdowns. Just check out the mind bending freakiness on “Airbus.” In addition to the instruments listed i swear there are other sounds to be found on here. My guess is that they use different percussive objects as there are lots of clanking and banging sounds. There is also a distinct cello sound on “Tranche” which means there must have been some studio guests participating.

This album is a major wild ride that has taken me forever to find on physical format as the CD is out of print and quite expensive but can be heard on the band’s Bandcamp site. This is one that must be experienced to be believed. The dynamic shifts from the passively surreal to the full out aggressive assaults on the eardrums is staggering as each member deftly weaves his respective instrumental riffs in a perfect complimentary way. This album has it all. Intricate melodies, scary storms of cacophonous walls of din, distinct jazz parts, avant-prog run amok and progressive workouts of exquisite virtuosity. The members of JEAN LOUIS are clearly aiming for the most ambitious of the ambitious music nerds out there of which i am one of! This is one of those relentless type of albums that just slaps you in the face with one surprise after another therefore I LOVE IT!!!

MICHAEL RABINOWITZ Uncharted Waters

Album · 2017 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
When I saw that this album had been released, I knew I had to hear it for myself: I mean, just how many jazz albums have you come across where the band leader plays bassoon? Michael has been making a name for himself since graduating with a BFA in music performance from SUNY at Purchase in the late seventies. He is highly regarded as an improviser within the scene, and has played with and collaborated in many different settings. He first came across Nat Harris (guitar) and Ruslan Khain (bass) in 1995 at the Kavehaz jazz club in New York City, and the trio developed a sound together while playing across the New York metro area. Ten years later he played with Vince Ector (drums) with the Charles Mingus Orchestra, and from there the band Bassoon In The Wild was born. This is their first album, although it is credited solely to Michael.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a bassoon as a lead instrument in any musical style, and on hearing this I wonder why on earth not? In many ways, it is similar to a baritone sax, but there is more depth and vitality, as well as a surprisingly high register. Michael is an undoubted master, making this large and ungainly instrument do exactly what he requires. He has an incredibly fluid approach, and the notes seem to sweep into each other, almost as if they are a living being. He is often at the forefront of the sound, but is also prepared to take a back seat and let the others take the lead when the moment is right. This is the type of relaxed jazz where each player is a master, and all know that there is no need to be flashy or play five thousand notes to the bar, but rather [play exactly the right note at exactly the right time to enhance the overall feel.

This album isn’t available until the beginning of July, but anyone who wants some classic jazz with some incredibly warm sounds and memorable playing, should have this noted in their diary.

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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js
Always working at the forefront of what is new and interesting in today’s jazz scene, Craig Taborn has produced one of the better albums of his career, and also one of the better new jazz albums this year with, “Daylight Ghosts”. Building on the style he established on 2013’s brilliant “Chant”, Craig continues to use repeating rhythmic figures to construct his compositions that some have compared to minimalism. Taborn’s ‘minimalism’ has very little to do with composers like John Adams or Phillip Glass, but instead reflects the timeless music of Africa and Indonesia, as well as composers who pull from that deep well such as Steve Reich. To these insistent rhythms Taborn adds a swinging flow borrowed from today’s post bop, as well as some rhythmic drive from the fusion side of things and the end result is a musical style that sounds like no one else but Craig Taborn.

One of the salient differences between “Ghosts’ and the preceding “Chant” is the addition of Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet, a musician who totally gets the Taborn musical vision and interacts with Craig as one mind. Much of the solo space on here finds the two musicians ‘soloing’ at the same time, almost in a method reminiscent of the earliest days of New Orleans jazz. Therein lies the roots of Taborn’s musical creation, Africa and New Orleans reconfigured for the modern age. Another new feature on “Ghosts” includes moments of reflective melody, such as “The Great Silence”, on which Chris Speed’s lonely clarinet sounds like isolated quotes from a Stravinsky recital.

Some of the best cuts on here include the opener, “The Shining One”, which features one of Craig’s best aggressive piano solos, and the hard charging “Ancient”, on which the band’s repeating rhythms take on a rock like push similar to a modern math rock combo. “New Glory” also reveals Craig’s renewed interest in melody with a high flying closing chorus that sounds like Weather Report from their Caribbean influenced mid-70s output . “Daylight Ghosts” is highly recommended for anyone who wants to hear what is new and happening in jazz.

MIRIODOR Signal 9

Album · 2017 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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kev rowland
So the Canadians are back with their ninth studio album, and a slight change in line-up as they move back to a quartet, but as all of the guys play multiple instruments anyway there isn’t a noticeable difference in that area. As with the excellent ‘Cobra Fakir’, the first word that springs to mind is “staccato”, as this is music that is rapidly moving around and for the most part doesn’t have time for long held-down chords but just wants to get on with it. Coming from a RIO/Avant background, they have been listening to some of the early Canterbury bands as well as to King Crimson and Art Zoyd to create something that is always interesting and complex, and just a little different to much that is available within the prog scene, let alone mainstream.

It is the type of album that will polarise opinions, as those who like it will enjoy it a great deal, while others will fall into the “what on earth are you listening to” camp, and won’t give this album the time it both needs and deserves to get the most out of it. This is complex, with lots of melodies and counter-melodies, with Bernard Falaise often crunching the guitar against myriad keyboard sounds, but that can all change in an instant. It is music that does demand respect and attention, and those prepared to do just that will get a great deal out of this, as it is incredibly rewarding.

MIRIODOR Cobra Fakir

Album · 2013 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.69 | 4 ratings
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kev rowland
Miriodor formed in 1980 in Québec City, and have been through some different band formats since then, but are currently a trio comprising founding musicians Pascal Globensky (keyboards, synths, piano) and Rémi Leclerc (drums, percussion, keyboards, turntable) along with longtime member Bernard Falaise (guitars, bass, keyboards, banjo, turntable). Miriodor have long been members of the international RIO movement, but what I find amazing is just how immediate this music is, although it is complex in the extreme and some would find it incredibly challenging. To my ears it is a staccato world where not only am I welcome, but it is somewhere that I want to stay as long as I can.

They have definitely given this album the right title, as a cobra fakir is a snake charmer, who uses carefully concocted melodies to put the mighty reptile into a trance from which there is no escape. That is the same here, as once this hits the player nothing else exists. Imagine Gentle Giant and King Crimson combined at their most eclectic and not allowed out of the studio until they have come up with something that is breathtakingly brilliant, and you may be close to what this is all about. There is no doubt in my ears that this is one of the most important albums ever to come from the wonderful Cuneiform stable and here is something for everyone into RIO, prog, avant music, jazz and/or they have an open mind as to where music can take them. In many ways hard to describe, and definitely hard to ignore, this is a compelling piece of work.

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