Jazz Music Reviews

BRAINSTORM Smile A While

Album · 1972 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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It was all the way back in the late 60s that the seeds of BRAINSTORM were planted in when four school buddies in Baden Baden, Germany discovered rock 'n' roll in the late 60s and soon they would form a band called Fashion Pink (after their psychedelic heroes Pink Floyd) where they would nurture all their musical fantasies. First they started out merely as a blues rock band but after future Guru Guru member Roland Schaffer decided to yield his guitar hero worship to indulge in the sax and clarinet, the band focused on a much more aggressive jazzy style of rock with bands like Soft Machine, The Mothers of Invention and Caravan as the main influences. The band also latched on to aspects of the burgeoning Krautrock scene in their native Germany and as a result managed to craft some extremely demanding and exquisitely designed jazz-fusion chops tinged with vestiges of 60s psychedelia lurking around unexpected corners between sizzling sax solos and flirtatious flute melodies.

While still Fashion Pink, the band gained popularity as a stellar live act but one fateful day the band was involved in a serious accident which left them injured and dismayed so of course they decided to change their name to Fashion Prick! With German labels sniffing out new talent the new name was deemed unacceptable when it was at last their turn for a record deal and the new name BRAINSTORM was quickly adopted before the release of their first album "SMILE A WHILE." This album has it all really. "SMILE A WHILE" is one of those rare releases that manages to successfully stew many ingredients into the cauldron and have the end result a musical delicacy that retains its tastiness decades after its release. While heavily inspired by the free jazz greats of the era such as John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, the wild complex polyrhythms bring the top dogs of the jazz fusion era to mind and BRAINSTORM has been rightfully called the German equivalent of France's Moving Gelatine Plates. Add the passion of rock with Hendrix inspired blues rock and the Krautrock influences that incorporate ÜBER bizarre harmonics and you are in for some serious royal treatment with this one.

The sheer diversity of style is the album's strongest attribute with different styles of jazz intermingled with rock, blues and even tango! The Kraut elements are never far behind as slinking 60s organ runs collide with Soft Machine frenzied distorted sax runs and Hatfield and the North styled vocal jazz styles before the supergroup ever came to be (courtesy of Soft Machine no doubt.) The tracks also vary in length from the feisty barely over 2 minute "Snakeskin Tango" to the 15 and a half minute epic Krautjazz title track that goes through no less than six movements. "SMILE A WHILE" is a true gem for the audacious audiophile who loves a good musical workout. With adventurous tight groovy rhythms chock full with 5/8 and 7/8 timings and beyond, the jazzy prog fusion workouts are replete with unpredictable variations in dynamics, tempo and style. It simply amazes me that this brilliant gem from 1972 hasn't been more highly regarded. Yeah, it's the ghastly album cover is to blame i'm sure. Not only do the members don grandma's underwear with a rather bland blank background but the album is filled with other photo ops with the group posing in their ridiculous regalia. For sure i give the album cover artwork a dismal 1/2 star on the dismal scale of doom but the MUSIC is what counts and BRAINSTORM whipped up a veritable musical smorgasbord of rock and jazz fusion like no other. I'm amazed at how much i love this one and can't recommend it enough. Just close your eyes when you reach for it and pull it out of the packaging!

ERROLL GARNER Ready Take One

Album · 2016 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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When Erroll Garner’s long time agent, Martha Glaser, passed away in 2014, she donated her archive of unreleased Garner recordings to the University of Pittsburg. In 2016, Glaser’s niece, Susan Rosenberg, began to release those recordings to the public, with the first installment being the CD/LP, “Ready Take One”. Its great that Garner is getting a second shot at recognition as his legacy has faded a bit over the years, an undeserved fade at that because one listen to “Ready Take One” will convince any music fan that Garner was a remarkable genius blessed with a technique that is very difficult to imitate.

Erroll came up during the swing/stride era, when pianists were expected to imitate an orchestra with a big full two handed approach, much different from today’s post bop world (with Matthew Shipp and a few others being an exception), where a more minimal and lyrical approach dominates. When bebop came along in the 40s, Garner willingly participated, but always kept his original older style intact. What is interesting about the recordings on “Ready Take One”, all of which were made in the late 60s, is that apparently Garner did take an interest in 60s soul jazz, with many of his originals on here sounding a lot like Les McCann or Gene Harris, but with Erroll’s very personal approach. A lot of fans of jazz piano probably didn’t even know that Garner played in this soul style, which is all part of the revelatory nature of these previously unreleased recordings.

If you are looking for an introduction to Garner’s music, this CD would be a great place to start, with about half of the tunes being classic standards in the older swing style, and the other half being more modern originals in the 60s soul style. Both styles blend well as Garner displays his formidable technique based around his ability to play in one time signature in the left hand, while another in the right. Throughout this album, Garner’s rhythmic sophistication is mind boggling and will have many aspiring pianists thinking they will never achieve these heights. None of this music sounds overly technical though, in his heart Garner was always a bit of a pop musician who loved to entertain with a generous, gregarious attitude often missing from today’s pianists. Another salient feature to Garner’s playing are his solo intros to the tunes that often pull from modern concert hall music. For instance, the opening to “Chase Me’ almost sounds like Schoenberg, while the opening to “Wild Music” may remind some of Rachmaninoff.

All of the cuts on here are outstanding, with some of the best being the almost avant-garde take on “Caravan”, and the sublimely beautiful original bluesy ballad, “Back to You”. It doesn’t hurt that the recoding quality of all these tracks is quite good.

CHARLES TYLER Charles Tyler/Ensemble : Voyage From Jericho

Album · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Bari sax player Charles Tyler, one unsung hero of early free jazz generation,met Albert Ayler when them both were just a teens. Tyler moved to New York after Ayler and soon find himself playing in Ayler's band. Tyler recorded "Bells" and "Spirits Rejoice" with Ayler and recorded two albums as leader for legendary ESP (in 1967-68). Than moved to LA for few years where played with Arthur Blythe and David Murray among others. In mid 70s Tyler returned back to New York where he played and occasionally recorded some more albums. Being one of most significant baritonist of his generation (besides of more known Hamiet Bluiett) Tyler never received serious fame or following. In early 80s he toured Europe with Sun Ra Archestra and stayed in Denmark, than relocated to France where passed away in 1992.

"Voyage From Jericho" is Tyler's first in line of albums, released in mid 70's. Excellent quintet,containing Arthur Blythe on alto, acoustic bassist Ronnie Boykins, trumpeter Earl Cross and drummer Steve Reid plays five free-bop originals, warm, groovy and tuneful. As on some other albums, Tyler successfully mixes Ayler's early jazz roots and free reading with Eric Dolphy's free-bop and Pharoah Sanders spiritual jazz. Quite simple,not overloaded music radiates original beauty and naturalism, both were often missed by later generations of free jazz musicians.

Great place to start for fans of Ayler more accessible recordings or Dolphy's free bop. The album has been reissued in France in 1993 (by Bleu Regard) but still stays real obscurity though.

JAN HAMMER Jan Hammer Group : Oh, Yeah?

Album · 1976 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.06 | 7 ratings
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Mahavishnu Orchestra's first (and arguably most prolific) incarnation came to a painful end in 1973, as a sudden rise in popularity and a series of calamitous recording failures suddenly turned the great Mahavishnu into less of what they originally were into more or less the John McLaughlin Group. The band's original lineup, however, was so bursting-at-the-seams with talent and skill that it's members couldn't help but go on to form formidable solo careers -- Billy Cobham would traverse the jazz fusion path himself with Spectrum in 1973, and Jan Hammer, after collaborating with fellow musician Jerry Goodman, debuted his own solo material with The First Seven Days in 1975. The album was well-received, and showcased the excellent skill Hammer obviously had. He continued on with the jazz- fusion shtick until the 80's, where he found himself composing film and television scores for such programs as Miami Vice. For the time being however Hammer really got in the swing of things and, not but a year later, delivered the facetiously titled Oh, Yeah? in 1976.

It's common for musicians to take an album or two to really get going, and get going Hammer did. Oh, Yeah? is a romp through some of the most thought-provoking and challenging sides of the jazz rock genre, whether it be the thumping bass/timbale combination of 'Bambu Forest', the eclectic and insane callbacks to Mahavishnu on 'Twenty One', or the driving openers and closers, 'Magical Dog' and 'Red and Orange', respectively. Almost every single song has something different to say in their own right, such as the throwing in of drummer Tony Smith's soulful vocals on 'One To One'. Jan Hammer and his band utilize an almost proto-80s synth culture to design Oh, Yeah? to be a sort of generational bridge that sits on neither side of the waters. A culture clash it may be, but it's a good one. Jan Hammer himself is the main pioneer in this regard, and with his effective use of a gamut of different synthesizing and keyboard effects it's easy to see why his more progressive electronic leanings make a greater impact than the likes of new age artists like Jean Michel Jarre did.

Towering and powerful, Oh, Yeah? is a can't-miss album, not only of the jazz fusion genre but of 70's music in general. It is the definition of a passion-project and is justly the penultimate release of Hammer's career.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER Tarkus

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.45 | 10 ratings
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The snag.

"Jumping the shark" is a common phrase that references when a television show, in danger of losing it's audience to the ever-decreasing quality of the program, does something ridiculous to rekindle interest. Named after a moment in an episode of Happy Days in 1977 where Fonzie, clad impractically in his signature leather jacket, takes a water- ski jump over a lake-area in which swims a shark. In the long-run the show didn't have much to worry about because it took seven more years to kill the damn thing, nonetheless the term stuck around and was subsequently applied to pieces of entertainment which acted similarly.

However even before Happy Days and the Fonz, new shining stars of the progressive rock scene Emerson, Lake & Palmer decided to jump the proverbial shark with Tarkus in 1971. For many progressive rock bands, jumping the shark was a common thing to do...in the eighties. Exhausting their creative muscle in the 70s, many bands got burnt out and fell back upon the 80s pop-rock music scene instead, and as many saw it went inadvertently into retirement from the business. However this wasn't the 80's -- as mentioned before Tarkus was in 1971, a period where albums like Meddle by Pink Floyd and Nursery Cryme by Genesis continued to emerge with gusto. Appearing less than seven months after their debut and following a European tour, Tarkus came to a young and craving fan-base happy with almost anything the band produced at the time. For all intents and purposes the album could not have been timed better, but timing is a factor that rarely has bearing on quality. In quality-terms however, Tarkus is vastly inferior to it's predecessor.

One glaring and inadmissible trait the album has is it's VERY obvious pompous nature. ELP went from a mild release with a bit of grandstanding to a overblown and ultimately ridiculous concept album in one fell swoop. Tarkus, and by that I mean the 20 minute title-track suite, follows the adventure of a sentient armadillo tank as he battles his way through a universe filled with ludicrous characters, spotlit ones including a manticore and an aquamarine version of Tarkus himself, so cleverly referred to as "Aquatarkus", the latter to which he ultimately loses against. This concept sounding ridiculous on paper is unsurprising, but what really matters is how the band adapts this concept to sound good. And if you were envisioning something tough, explosive, and chivalrous to depict such a surrealist battleground, you'll be disappointed. On the other hand however if you yearned for an overbearing collection of synthesizer, constant and sometimes heavy guitar noodling and lackluster vocals, then consider yourself acquainted with Tarkus. In simple terms, 'Tarkus' is an out-and-out mess. The song, while mostly being a fast-paced journey riddled with inconsistent progressive ramblings with Carl Palmer rattling around much more flamboyantly than necessary, does have it's odd enjoyable moments. For instance in the latter half there is a short-lived space rock section, but it's quickly pushed aside in order for misplaced quirky keyboard. A dichotomy I mentioned in my review for ELP's self-titled was where each band member seemed like they were trying to out-do each-other with their respective medium. If that was prominent on the first album, then it is even more so on Tarkus. Each member practically trips over eachother, almost like their playing different songs at the same time. It creates an unpleasant mishmash of half-baked ideas that becomes a drag after listening to the same inconsistency for 20 whole minutes.

What's this? A second side? It almost seems strange that there even exists a second side, but even after Tarkus seemed to have gone through each checkbox, ELP continued the album anyway. Unsurprisingly, the second side is just as if not more monotonous than the title-track. Not much is different, other than that Emerson uses some sort of Barrelhouse-esque piano on a few of the early songs, which sounds absolutely horrendous because of a tendency of ELP to turn the keyboard up higher than the rest of the instruments until it becomes overpowering. There is one exception to the second side, however. 'A Time and a Place' is a bit of a throwback to the self-titled, along the lines of the 'The Barbarian' or 'Knife-Edge'. Heavy and atmospheric, this track is so powerful that I've listened to it multiple times with continued interest. Greg Lake's vocals are at their best on this track, his blistering screams channeling Burton Cummings of the Guess Who with their raw intensity. It is truly a memorable piece of music, but unfortunately remains solitary on the second side as the only one noteworthy.

Tarkus is not only a big disappointment, but is also an excuse for ELP to continue to become more and more vapid and self-aggrandizing than they already are with it's widespread success. Some hope still remains, however. The next album may be able to rectify the problems created with this one. Right?

SIMAK DIALOG Live at Orion

Live album · 2015 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.03 | 3 ratings
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Recorded live on September 7, 2013, at The Orion, Baltimore, MD, this was to be the final release for simakDialog. Looking back to their previous live album from 2005, Ravid, Tohpati and Endang were still there, with bassist Rudy Zulkarnaen and additional percussionists in Erlan Suwardana and Cucu Kurnia. This release is a double CD, and again none of the songs are less than eleven minutes in length, and the band are determined to stretch their wings. “Throwing Words” is very different in the live environment to when it was released some ten plus years earlier, with Tohpati demanding centre stage and taking firm control. The band had been together for twenty years by this point, and the way that Tohpati and Ravid swap roles and bounce off each other in superb.

Here is a band where everyone is a master of their instrument and knows exactly where each of them needs to be musically, but the coming together of Western and Indonesian styles and sounds allows them to sound both incredibly tight and loose at the same time. Just listen to the combined runs of Tohpati and Ravid at the beginning of “Stepping In” to see what I mean, as while they are hitting each note in perfect unison at great speed, the percussionists are creating a sound storm beneath them. This album is a perfect introduction to a great band, who never really gained the kudos they deserved outside their native country. Discover this, and then go back and listen to their other releases to see why I am such a fan.

SIMAK DIALOG Patahan

Live album · 2007 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.86 | 2 ratings
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‘Patahan’ was their first live album, released in 2005, and there had been quite a change in line-up between this and the last studio album, ‘Trance/Mission’, with just Ravid and Tohpati plus percussionist Endang Ramdan still involved. When one first starts playing this it is hard to realise that this is a “live” album as the audience is so quiet, and there is no introduction or announcement, but straight into “One Has To Be”, which is a piano tour-de-force. This is all about Ravid, a maestro in total control of his instrument, with the rest of the guys happy to provide the gentle percussive background which is all that is needed. When Tohpati finally takes centre stage, it is restrained, almost as if he is having to pull the notes up from great depth, showing great control and sustain, Hackett combining with McLaughlin.

There are just five songs on the album, but with the shortest at eleven and the longest at nearly twenty there is plenty here to enjoy. It isn’t always gentle and reflective, and there are times when the band feels far more menacing, such as on “Kemarau”, where the riffs give way to repeated piano motifs while the percussionists build the scene ready for Tohpati to take it to another level. We’ve gone from the delight of bands such as Santana into something that could almost be from ‘The Exorcist’, albeit with a tribal background. Here is a band made up of consummate musicians, working together to produce something that is very special indeed. Fusion in it its truest sense, this is indispensable.

SIMAK DIALOG Trance/ Mission

Album · 2002 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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Formed in 1993, simakDIALOG were an Indonesian fusion band who released their first album as along ago as 1995, with ‘Trance/Mission’ being their third in 2002. Throughout their career their music centred around the soloing and fluidity of the keyboard player Ravid Arshad and guitarist Tohpati, combined with local Gamelan music to create something that was incredibly accessible to Western ears, yet also stayed very true to their roots. The fluidity and melody of Ravid and Tohpati is incredible, relying far more on intricate runs than the use of chords, with each both being prepared to take the lead, duet with the other, or even take a total break from the music altogether. It isn’t unusual to find one of them totally absent for long periods of time, just to give the other more space to move and breathe. Tohpati always makes me think of John McLaughlin, and strangely so does Ravid although he is playing keyboards, which is probably why they work so well together.

Ravid uses an electric organ to great effect on this album, with my favourite number probably “Throwing Words” where Tohpati lets Ravid get on with it, until he comes back with a slightly distorted guitar which is totally at odds with what has been going on before, really shifting the timbre and style of music. Indro Hardjodikoro has a delicate touch on the bass, providing warmth and filling the gaps between the melody makers and the percussion. There are three guys playing a variety of Indonesian instruments that provide an authenticity and realism to the music, a total fusion not just of jazz and rock, but world music and the west.

THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues

Album · 2017 · Swing
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The complete title of this album is ‘Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me: The Micros Play The Blues’, and was recorded in just two days last May. The Micros were originally formed in 1980, but split up in 1992 after releasing four albums. These were then reissued as two double CD sets by Cuneiform in 2006, which were so successful that it prompted the band to reform (with only one line-up change). Since then they have released three other albums, and are now back with their fourth. There is only one problem, now that I’ve heard this one I’m going to have to go back and get all the others! When playing jazz recorded before 1960, something I’ve been doing a lot of over the last few years, there are some bands that come close to the boundary with blues, providing a swing and feeling that interweaves the two genres, and that is what I am listening to right now.

This is class Golden Age jazz being taken into blues and creating music that is incredibly accessible, enjoyable, and just so damn soulful all at the same time. My father introduced me to jazz when I was young, encouraging me to listen to Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, Bunk Johnson and others, and I know he would get a real kick out of this release as it is right up his alley. They’ve listened to the orchestrations of Duke Ellington, and the way that Thelonious Monk played piano, and brought all this into an incredible album that I can listen to all day. Strangely enough, the song that made the most impression on me is not a blues number as such, but instead is a rather well-known carol. I can honestly say I’ve never heard “Silent Night” played like this before. It starts with just piano, but there is dissonance and chords that don’t quite fit, but actually do very well indeed. This moves into a full band piece that is always recognisable but is taking the song into very new directions indeed. This is a wonderful album, and for details on this and many more invaluable releases visit the label

TOHPATI Mata Hati

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.71 | 3 ratings
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Tohpati Ario Hutomo (a.k.a. Bontot) is probably best known for his twenty-year tenure in the incredible simakDialog, but he launched his project Ethnomission back in 2010 with ‘Save The Planet’, and at long last he has brought the band back for a second venture. He of course provides all the guitars, and is joined by Demas Narawangsa (drums), Indro Hardjodikoro (bass), Endang Ramdan /(kendang – a type of two-headed drum used particularly in Gamelan ensembles) and Diki Suwarjiki (suling – a bamboo ring flute, also used in Gamelan ensembles). If that wasn’t enough, they are all joined on the opening track by the Czech Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michaela Ruzickova, which certainly adds a different feel to the overall piece.

With the instrumentation being used, it would be easy to imagine that this is a hard to listen to (to Western ears) romp through traditional Indonesian music, but that is a long way from reality. Tohpati is a guitarist with an incredibly clear sound, and while he is often at the core of what is taking place, he knows just when it is time to step to one side and let others take over. Indro is a revelation, with some stunning bass lines, and one can imagine Tohpati there with a huge smile on his face as he lets his bandmate take centre stage. There is a lot of Indonesian musical references and styles, of course, but this is fusion at its very truest, fusing not only jazz and melody but also Asia and the West in a way that is seamless, marvellous, and entrancing. There is only one thing to be done with an album as good as this. When you shake yourself back into the real world after the fifty-two minutes have flown by, have a good stretch, settle back, and put it on again.

WAYNE SHORTER Night Dreamer

Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.68 | 12 ratings
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“Night Dreamer” is an album that finds Wayne Shorter in a state of transition as he was still rooted in the hard bop style that started his career, but also starting to lean toward the more abstract style that will serve for the greater part of his remaining career. It’s a talented, and somewhat unusual ensemble that Shorter has assembled here. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, at that time, were mostly known for their famous work with Coltrane, but in 1964, when this album was recorded, Tyner and Jones were on the verge of splitting from Coltrane’s increasingly experimental approach to jazz. Also on hand is trumpeter Lee Morgan, who would go on to be the ‘go to’ trumpeter for many Blue Note soul jazz and bluesy hard bop recordings. The powerhouse grooving bass of Reggie Workman rounds out this rather eclectic, but very energetic and creative crew.

This is very much a Wayne Shorter date, he supplies all the compositions, except for one, and takes the lion share of the solo space as well. If you are not familiar with this phase of Wayne’s career, then you are in for a treat. The young Shorter was much more exuberant and playful as he proclaimed his bluesy melodic lines laced with unexpected, and sometimes odd asides. Shorter’s early sound had a big Coltrane influence, but Wayne’s playing was a little less busy and based more in the blues. There are also occasional flurries of notes that mirror the ‘free‘ players, and off-the -wall humorous phrases that may remind some of Dolphy. Some of you may come away from this recording preferring the style of the young Wayne Shorter, there is a lot to like here.

Wayne’s back up band on “Night Dreamer” is an excellent bunch, particularly McCoy Tyner, who sounds more happy and playful than when he is working with the always earnest John Coltrane. Another big plus is the recorded sound, there is a reason why people like these old Blue Note recordings, and that reason is the recording work of Rudy van Gelder. All of the tracks on here are top notch, but possibly the best track honor goes to the one ballad, The beautiful “Virgo”. Shorter is one of the most gifted melodic writers ever in the world of jazz, and his way with interesting harmonies also sets him apart. All of that is on display on “Virgo”, a tune that will become one of his better known.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.99 | 11 ratings
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The Carousel Ballroom, a San Francisco-based music venue that mainly held blues performers such as B.B. King and other African American jazz artists in the 1960s, found itself under the control of a musical conglomerate composed of bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, among others in 1968. These bands intended the venue to be a socio-musical experiment to attract audiences in the San Fran/Haight-Ashbury area. Needless to say, the idea wasn't too successful. Former promoter, Bill Graham, took the reigns in '68, hoping to achieve some success similarly with the hall. However the seating capacity of the hall was lackluster at best, and was not nearly grandiose enough to attract the atrophying community surrounding it. In New York City, Graham owned a similar auditorium by the name of Fillmore East which he had acquired not four months earlier. Deciding to seek a better location, the newly-born Fillmore West was born less than a mile away from the original Carousel Ballroom's location. Fillmore West would go on to host a variety of performances, such as Californian regulars the Grateful Dead, as well as Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc. It should be noted that this performance hall came at a very special time, one known to birth many prolific rock bands all across Europe and North America -- the late '60's. Taking place well into what was colloquially referred to as the Psychedelic Era, rock bands of the time were keen on trekking the globe on large extensive tours, where droves of audiences happened to follow them wherever they went. One of the younger of these acts was King Crimson, who, in December of 1969, co-headlined concerts at Fillmore West with London-based jazz rockers The Nice, a band apart of a similar progressive mindset as Crimson. It was there that keyboardist Keith Emerson from The Nice and bassist Greg Lake from King Crimson met and struck up a quick and steadfast friendship. As their series of performances came to a close, Emerson and Lake were already discussing the prospect of forming a new group. The one musician the band the two needed was a drummer, and after a series of unsuccessful tryouts and careful consideration, the band decided on Carl Palmer, known for his work in both The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. The trio was now set in stone, and a debut album was set in motion. Lake, similarly to how he had in King Crimson, acted as producer, began collecting songs performed previously in the band's gigs, and began executing them in the studio format. Thus, in November 1970, the band's self-titled studio work was born.

Emerson Lake & Palmer, and by that I do mean the album, is perhaps the purest form of skill, intelligence, and understanding of zeitgeist the band ever cared to show. With a 6-track runtime (par for the course for any semi- self-conscious progressive rock band in 1970), the album doesn't exude any overbearing smugness that the band would come to be criticized for. From beginning to end the album is very poignant musically, aside from hitting a few snags and some inopportune times. Starting with the crunching proto-metallic surge of 'The Barbarian', a rock arrangement of ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók's 'Allegro barbaro', ELP manages to pack a big punch in a short amount of time. Unlike many latter releases, ELP's debut does not contain huge quasi-orchestral suites, instead opting for simply semi-lengthy tracks. The majority of the tracks tend to be a mix of clear songwriting and extensive jams. This is clear from the second track, the epic 'Take a Pebble'. Also clear is a certain dichotomy that only got more pronounced as the band aged; because the band is comprised of only 3 admittedly skilled musicians, each member makes what is almost a silent effort to outdo each-other in terms of unabashed bravado. This especially rings true for Keith Emerson, who not only has a luxuriously no-holds-barred piano solo what seems like every 3 minutes, but also permeates the rest of the album with a multitude of synthesized soundscapes that, with multiple listens, can get extremely grating. This relationship between the band members also can create unenjoyable pandemonium, which it seems the band is blissfully unaware is in fact unenjoyable, especially on songs like 'The Three Fates' (said pandemonium occurring funnily enough directly after one of Emerson's solos). This is all prone to subjectivity though, as the band still manages to hit some rather great points. The heavy riffs that the band occasionally pumps out like on the aforementioned 'The Barbarian' and 'Knife-Edge' are much in the vein of Greg Lake's parent band Atomic Rooster, and are thus very well received. 'Tank' may pleasure me with a bias -- as a drummer and a certain fan of Greg Lakes work I'm easily enraptured by a drum solo from the man coincided with some bouncy synth. 'Lucky Man' seems to hold a certain amount of bad blood with prog-fans, however I personally found myself rather warm towards the track's cheesy qualities, not to mention I'm a sucker for some good vocal harmonies.

Upon release, this album was hailed as a mighty fine one, and it's not hard to see why. Right out of the gate Emerson, Lake & Palmer is passionate and alight with unbridled genius. ELP now had a tight grasp on the attention of the outside world, and nearly everything was set up in anticipation for the band's next big hit.

MARY HALVORSON Mary Halvorson Octet : Away With You

Album · 2016 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.43 | 2 ratings
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On her latest CD, “Away With You”, Mary Halvorson expands beyond her usual small group format and utilizes a full octet, and the end result is one of the best albums of her still growing career. Mary is already well known as an interesting improviser and composer, but with this new mini-big band, Halverson shows she is also a superb arranger and manipulator of large ensembles. Many of the pieces on here morph and change in organic ways that are difficult to write out, instead, much like previous masters such as Ellington and Mingus, Halvorson has learned the fine art of leading an ensemble through abstract communication while the improvising process is taking place. The end result is an ensemble that can move together as one mind.

With so many musicians to work with, Mary achieves a myriad of tone colors on “Away With You”, and often breaks the group down into small duos and trios. The icing on the tone color cake is pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, who often meshes with Halvorson’s guitar in ways that make it hard to tell which one is which. Fortunately the steel guitar is not used for ironic kitsch, instead, Alcorn is a serious avant-garde improviser on the pedal steel, and pulls some wonderful effects out of the snaky instrument. The group improvising on here is very much in a jazz vein, but the head tunes often draw on modern concert hall music, as well as marches and processions. Once again there is a possible parallel to Mingus here, but in all fairness, Mary’s music really does not sound much like Mingus, even though they have some similar approaches.

Like much of today’s jazz, “Away With You” can be a bit dry and abstract, but the band also produces some serious heat with blistering saxophone solos on “Spirit Splitter” and “The Absolute Almost”, which are also two of the best tracks on the album. Another interesting cut is the murky atmosphere of “Fog Bank”, which features Alcorn’s slowly meandering steel guitar. If you are looking for whats new in the world of jazz, “Away With You” is a great place to start.

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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snobb
American pianist Craig Taborn is at the forefront of modern creative jazz.He played with saxophonists James Carter and AEOC's Roscoe Mitchell (Taborn's first presence on ECM label),collaborated with techno producer Carl Craig among others.

As leader, Taborn debuted in 1994 on Japanese DIW label. Since that he released five more solo albums covering such wide areas as nu jazz,avant-garde jazz and even jazz-electronics. Craig very often plays piano and electric keyboards combining them on the same album and freely adapting different techniques even on the same composition.Once I saw Taborn playing live as Michael Formanek band member with all-star line-up including saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Gerald Cleaver and Craig really stole the show!

On Taborn more current releases for German ECM label (including this just released Daylight Ghosts) Craig demonstrates newest trend in modern jazz - improvisational musicianship based on tightly composed songs. His quartet contains one of the most influential representative of this stream reeds player Chris Speed (well known by his work in cult Claudia Quintet and solo works for ECM), popular American nu jazz bassist Chris Lightcup and The Bad Plus drummer Dave King.

Of nine compositions eight are Taborn originals ("Jamaican Farewell" is written by Roscoe Mitchell). Mixing rock, electronica,chamber and jazz traditions, album represents a very modern form of jazz, with big attention to composition but staying playful and lively because of continuing jazzy improvisational musicianship. This music can sound attractive for listener of very different background,incl. fans of ambient/rock/electronics, rock-jazz progressive, avant-garde jazz and third stream as well. Based more on atmospheric moods than concentration on technical perfection, this new Taborn release is one among great examples of new jazz, one of this better music making fame to respectful ECM label.

MACEO PARKER US

Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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js
One of the most talented saxophone players to not work in the world of jazz, Maceo Parker, instead found his fame as the best horn player in the world of funk and RnB for several decades. Working with top stars in the business, such as James Brown and George Clinton, Maceo became a well known name on many famous hits as both Brown and Clinton were liable to shout out his name in the middle of a jam so that Maceo would step forth and deliver a fiery solo. In the early 70s, Maceo took a break from Brown’s band and recorded some RnB/jazz crossover albums on his own. Although Brown did not contribute to Maceo’s first couple records, on 1973’s “US”, Brown’s voice and direction are a big part of the funky proceedings.

The first two cuts on “US” are re-mixes of two well known James Brown hits. The first one is “Soul Power”, re-mixed to feature much more soloing from Maceo, and a track called “Party”, which sounds like its based on an extended jam of “Hot Pants”, once again re-mixed with added saxophone solos. These two cuts are the best on the album and hold up well against anything James Brown and his crew recorded while they were smoking hot in the early 70s. Side one finishes out with a couple of laid back disco-jazz numbers orchestrated by Fred Wesley. Although these two tracks aren’t as hot as the openers, their early 70s kitsch arrangements with the wah wah guitar, synthesizer, female backing vocals, incidental strings and double-time conga drums makes for some excellent early 70s time capsule atmosphere.

Side two continues with more of Fred Wesley’s orchestrations, but this time things are much hotter as the band flies through an up-tempo version of Chicago’s “I Can Play for (Just You and Me)”, and a re-recording of a James Brown funk classic, “Doing it to Death”. The album closes with a lengthy ballad called “The Soul of a Black Man”, on which James lays down a rap about Maceo’s integrity and the African-American experience in the USA. This cut is recorded live in front of a small audience and features a long Maceo solo backed by some one (possibly James Brown), improvising string arrangements on a Mellotron.

The final score card for “US” reads; three very funky jams, plus three suave proto smooth jazz numbers and one power ballad makes for an excellent record for fans of that early 70s funk/jazz/RnB vibe.

CHICK COREA Origin: Live At The Blue Note

Live album · 1998 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.48 | 4 ratings
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Renown pianist Chick Corea started his career in jazz highest league playing in Miles Davis band in 60s. After few mainstream solo albums as leader he co-founded technically superior (if short-lived) all-star avant-garde jazz quartet Circle (with bassist Dave Holland, sax player Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul) and then moved to stardom with his fusion band Return To Forever.

Still from mid 70s, when his successful fusion formula experienced dramatic decline under pressure of myriad of clones and and army fuzak players, Corea lost direction for decades unsuccessfully trying to find new inspiration (or another formula of success).Recorded few quite interesting fusion albums as leader,he started series of repeating changes of bands and genres with only very limited success trying everything from pop-jazz to chamber jazz,revitalizing electric fusion formula and returning back to mainstream jazz.

The only thing is obvious with no doubt - starting from late 70s Corea's best bands/albums all are post-bop. His acoustic sextet with young Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen (which opened to Cohen doors to best jazz scenes),drummer and reeds section is probably his Chick's best band for two decades. There are two releases only documenting Origin music, "Live at the Blue Note" debut (later released as box set incl. hours of unreleased material) and studio album "Change", released year later with different drummer (Jeff Ballard replacing Adam Cruz).

"Live at the Blue Note" contains material,selected from a week-long gig in December 1997,recorded in New York club. Sextet plays Corea's new originals with one exception (album's closer "It Could Happen To You"). Musically the album contains quite conservative post-bop with lot of brass/reeds, often sounding as bigger orchestra. Rhythm section is groovy and warm/physical recalling recordings from 60s, Corea plays his trademark tuneful moody piano,often with Latin touch and his old fans can easily hear some citations recalling early Return of Forever Latin scented music. He smartly adds few more complex and freer moments which work as tasteful spices making Origin music more delicious.

For sure, nothing is new here. Starting from mid 70s Corea's music is usually more or less quality, but always safe. Still great musicians interplay and technical excellence makes his best albums (incl. Origin recordings) a pleasant listening. A few years later Corea will establish another short-lived project with bassist Avishai Cohen - the New Trio (with drummer Jeff Ballard). In new Millennium Chick will continue playing with acoustic post-bop trios releasing his better recordings and enjoying moderate success (partially in Japan)

KING CRIMSON Lizard

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.98 | 26 ratings
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Miler72
Some probably felt King Crimson hit a brick wall with In the Wake of Poseidon, considering it nothing more than a clone of its debut. That's a bit unfair, because you really can't imagine "Cat Food" and "The Devil's Triangle" having been already explored on its predecessor. True "Pictures of a City" has a "21st Century Schizoid Man" approach, "Cadence and Cascade" resembles "I Talk to the Wind", and the title track is similar to "Epitaph", but that's just side one. On Lizard, Greg Lake and Michael Giles were gong, in comes Andy McCulloch (who later played in Fields and Greenslade)and Gordon Haskell (who already provided vocals on "Cadence and Cascade"), plus a horn section, many members coming from Soft Machine. This is without a doubt the jazziest of the King Crimson albums. "Cirkus" shows that Gordon Haskell has his own voice distinct from Greg Lake. "Indoor Games" shows a less serious side, while "Happy Family" appears to address the breakup of the Beatles (you can even see the Beatles on the cover of the album). "Lady of the Dancing Water" is probably the weakest thing on the album, a pleasant ballad, but nothing much more. The title track is the only side-length piece Crimson ever done. Jon Anderson made a guest appearance (Yes apparently wanted Robert Fripp to replace Peter Banks in Yes, but Fripp declined because he probably knew where Yes was heading, and wouldn't be compatible with the band, and Yes was more democratic than Crimson). There are some bolero/big band jazz passages, and some really strange typical Crimson type parts with Mellotron and even Fripp's trademark sustained lead guitar at the end. It wasn't an easy listen. The rock critics were never kind to this album, even some fans thought they went off the tracks here. But I gave it a few listens, and the payoff was great. It's another great album worth having.

AL DI MEOLA Casino

Album · 1978 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.79 | 15 ratings
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Miler72
I can understand why I stayed away from Al Di Meola solo albums, but looking back, this is a prime example not to judge a book by its cover. 1978's Casino is his third solo album, which sports such a tasteless cover you may expect some horrific lounge jazz/fuzak, but I am happy to say it's nothing of the sort. He continues on the same Latin/flamenco fusion he explored on Elegant Gypsy, so that means if you like that album, you'll have no problem with Casino, although I don't feel the album really brings anything new to the table that he didn't already do on Elegant Gypsy. A good deal of the album bears more than a passing resemblance to Santana, I guess Di Meola was inspired by albums like Caravanserai, Welcome and Borboletta enough to record albums in a somewhat similar style. While I enjoy those Santana albums, I tend to have problems with some of the vocal songs, and Al Di Meola avoids that problem by making it all instrumental (although Land of the Midnight Sun did feature one vocal track, it was surprisingly nice). "Fantasia for Two Guitars" is one of those all-flamenco guitar pieces he tends to include on his albums, but the rest of the album has various help from various musicians, including Mingo Lewis, who, unsurprisingly played in Santana. There's also a version of Chick Corea's "Senor Mouse", which a version was recorded by Return to Forever off their 1973 album Hymns of the Seventh Galaxy. The RTF version naturally didn't feature Di Meola's guitar playing, but instead Bill Connors. Still this version is quite recognizable, but I imagine RTF performing this piece live quite a bit with Di Meola on board. At first I was a bit dismissive of Casino, but gave it another listen and found it actually an excellent album and worth having if you enjoy Latin fusion.

JULIAN JULIEN Terre

Album · 2000 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.09 | 2 ratings
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Modrigue
Fusion from a parallel Earth

Have you ever wondered how the musical landscape will be if, centuries ago, someone had swap Earth's local populations' instruments with other populations'? Sonorities played by different cultures with their own approaches? For example, what music would have Eastern European nomads created if they were given Indonesian gamelans? What melodies based on pipes and Indian tablas would have musicians from the old Hausmannian Paris composed? Never thought of this question? Well, I had, and so certainly did multi-instrumentalist Julian Julien, as he - at least partially - brought pieces of a possible answer through his first studio opus.

Fully instrumental, "Terre", the well-named, can be described as world/ethnic fusion, maybe post-fusion, yet accessible. Inspired by his various travels and influences, Julian Julien uses a wide range of instruments and sound effects for unusual purposes to weave harmonious and inventive ambiances. First fooled by exotic sonorities, the listener is brought from an unexpected place to another, then to both known and unknown lands, like on unconnected continents at the same time. The surprise factor is therefore kept intact at each listen.

"La grand-voile!" yells the sailor at the very beginning. Opening with an extract from the movie "L'île aux trésors", the title track is a tragic rhythmic violin-driven tune that can distantly remind another French multi-instrumentalist, Yann Tiersen. Completely different, "L'attente" carries well its name, as the xylophone and soft keyboards seem to suspend time. A little Javanese sounding, but with other incursions, this ethereal tracks is like a patchwork of impressions from South-Eastern Asia displayed through Philip Glass's prism. After an enigmatic and tablas pipes introduction, "Tupperware Et Bibelots" unveils a sad accordion and piano theme, turning from melancholic to frightening. You're wandering in the old 19th Century Paris, among boulevards and galleries of clowns. "Bencoleen Hotel" is located in Singapore, and also a short contemplative and dreamy Asian interlude, while the slowly evolving "Souquez" more resembles modal jazz. Through its interlaced piano and violin, you can sometimes hear few distant echoes from SOFT MACHINE. Really nice. The cheerful "Promenade" is charming and quite contrasts with the rest of the record.

Despite its name, "Degung" don't make usage of a gamelan, but of various gongs, keyboards and organs to recreate an impression of the proud Indonesian instrument, however this time for unexpected destinations. Alongside a sinuous cord melody, this tune will transport you for a mystical journey, to an unknown place somewhere between Hungary and Egypt! On the contrary, "Les Yeux" may be my least favorite passage of the disc. This jazzy minimalistic piano title accompanied by a slight electronic background is a bit lengthy. Don't be fooled by the childish opening of "Clémentine", its mysterious xylophone will make you lost your direction in some enigmatic labyrinth. "P'Tite Pêche" continues with the fruit thematic on a touching and melancholic tone. The record finishes with its longest track, "La Tombe Des Lucioles". Inspired by Isao Takahata's famous and beautiful anime "Le Tombeau des Lucioles" ("Grave of the Fireflies" in English), the instruments depict a desolated and chaotic landscape after the war bombing. You can barely hear the victims struggling for their survival... The last part suddenly accelerates. Certainly influenced by John Surman, this ender is simply shivering!

"Terre" is a genuine trip through several genres and places, between the dramatic and the enchanting, the modern and the ancient, the mystical and the melancholic, yet always remaining accessible and quite homogeneous in terms of quality. The album even gained a little success during its release. If you like to travel and enjoy unexpected musical mixtures, this first opus by Julian Julian will transport you to another lands. Very recommended!

15 years after, the artist will give a follow-up to "Terre", however this second volume will head towards a different planet...

ALICE COLTRANE Turiya Alice Coltrane & Devadip Carlos Santana : Illuminations

Album · 1974 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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I'm certain Carlos Santana wanted to meet up and perhaps collaborate with John Coltrane, but it was obviously too late as he passed away in 1967, and Santana had just formed and their debut album won't see the light of day for another two years. It's clear Mr. Santana was a big fan. At least many years later, after being a disciple of Sri Chimnoy, and already releasing a coupe of fusion albums with Santana (Caravanserai, Welcome) and with John McLaughlin (Love, Devotion, Surrender), he got to collaborate with John Coltrane's widow Alice Coltrane. I knew right away this wasn't going to be a Santana album. Much of side one consists of orchestral passages with Mr. Santana's unmistakable guitar playing and some really nice harp playing from Ms. Coltrane. This is truly stuff that you can't imagine being on Caravanserai, Welcome or Borboletta. It's great stuff indeed. "Angel of Sunlight" is the closer to Love, Devotion, Surrender in spirit, has that same intense jamming, although with more of an Indian influence. Tablas are used but also drumming from Jack DeJohnette, and congas from Armando Peraza, Afro-Cuban percussionist, who, unsurprisingly, played with Santana. I also dig the cover, it reminds me of artwork you'd see on various versions of the Bhagavad Gita, which I guess was intentional, given Mr. Santana's association with Sri Chimnoy (Alice Coltrane wasn't a disciple of Sri Chimnoy, though). Rather unique stuff that's well worth having!

EBERHARD WEBER Little Movements

Album · 1980 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.12 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
NOT BAD...JUST NOT MUCH

When looking through the Eberhard Weber discography, let it be said here that Little Movements (1980) is for completists only. It's certainly not a bad album, but Weber has set such a high standard that this one only just barely passes muster.

For the uninitiated, this is the third album by the Colours group, with Weber on bass, Charlie Mariano on soprano sax and flute, Rainer Bruninghaus on keyboards, and John Marshall on drums/percussion. "Bali" and "A Dark Spell" are both dynamic masterpieces: the group interplay is especially strong, and these two would be among the best recordings they ever made. "The Last Stage of a Long Journey" and "Little Movements" are a bit more problematic: experimental, phlegmatic mood pieces that don't quite work. "'No Trees?' He Said" is pleasant in a Pat Methenyish way. There are distinguished performances throughout, and if you own everything else Weber has ever done, you'll find this one coming off the shelf every now and again. Still, Little Movements absolutely pales in comparison to the previous two group albums, Yellow Fields (1976, with Jon Christensen on drums) and Silent Feet (1978). Both are flawless, timeless classics from beginning to end, and contain everything that made this such an outstanding ensemble.

After Little Movements, Weber would continue to make phenomenal albums with seemingly casual effort (more masterpieces: 1982's Later that Evening, and 1993's Pendulum) and also became a part of Jan Garbarek's group. John Marshall would go on to play with Arild Andersen and John Surman, while Charlie Mariano and Rainer Bruninghaus (outstanding players both) would be heard from a lot less often. There's definitely a feeling of finality on this album, as if the group realized their best days were behind them. Where, if anywhere, could they have gone from here? At the very least, the album cover, by Weber's wife Maja, is especially cute.

CAROL MORGAN Post Cool Vol. 1: The Night Shift

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Carmel
Carol Morgan is a jazz trumpeter, composer, educator and author who resides in NYC. Originally from Texas, she is a Juilliard graduate who has worked with many remarkable teachers including Chris Gekker, Mark Gould, Ingrid Jensen, and Dennis Dotson.

Carol’s discography includes six CDs as a leader. The much-anticipated POST COOL (2017) is a return to the Carol Morgan Quartet flavor of her celebrated Blue Glass Music. As a composer, she has been commissioned by DiverseWorks, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble, the Arch-diocese of Houston/Galveston and St. Thomas Presbyterian Church, Houston. In 2008, Carol authored what is now a highly-regarded method for jazz improvisation--a textbook entitled The Practicing Improviser.

Post Cool is a definitive calling card for Morgan, her warm and inviting round trumpet sound is uniquely identifiable from the first notes and is what continues to uplift Morgan among trumpet players of this era. Uniquely tasteful in her note choices and approach, Morgan is an excellent foil to her compadres namely Joel Frahm: tenor sax; Martin Wind: bass; and Matt Wilson: drums; the quartet is a dream team of jazz in a post-cool era.

“Strolling” kicks off the festivities with an easy going swing that features Morgan and Frahm in a counterpoint approach. The melody is wistful and Frahm executes a solo that is chalk full of arpeggios and skillful sets, building a likeable interest for the listener. Morgan’s quick runs, offset by tasteful elongated lines builds the solo with tension and release. Wind and Wilson show their salt with inventive rhythms and dynamism that adds to the elevation of swing and sound.

The classic “Night in Tunisia” is given a respectful run, with Wilson creating interesting rhythm textures, while Morgan sticks to the melody and Frahm creates interesting accompaniment dialog under Morgan. The take is reverential, yet interesting enough to be an original version, not just a rehash.

Two originals adorn this offering, one by Morgan “Night,” and the other by Frahm “Song for Mom,” both full of beauty and depth. Morgan’s tune has dark chocolatey notes dripping with highs and lows, Martin Wind’s bass solo is filled with anticipation and beauty. On Frahm’s tune, a lilting melody is presented, and you can almost hear the story of mom unfold through the music. Frahm’s sax is commanding and full of passion, as he digs into the story with his horn. Morgan in toe also creates impassioned lines and fire. The group pushes to the climax of the song while Morgan creates the beauty in the accompaniment on this tune for Frahm, who holds the melody role. One would expect nothing less from Morgan but a fruitful beauty that lingers long past the listen, and once again this trumpeter has delivered. Another gleaming win in an ever-growing discography of potency. Highly recommended.

WILDFLOWERS Wildflowers 2: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions

Live album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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In the late 70s, it was becoming increasingly difficult for jazz musicians in the avant-garde to get a recording out. Most major labels had lost interest because avant-garde jazz didn’t generate enough income to bother with, unfortunately a lot of great music went unrecorded. In 1977 a small subsidiary of LA based disco label Casablanca, called Douglas, stepped up to the bat and released a set of compilations called “Wildflowers”, that documented New York City’s fabled ‘loft scene’ of the late 70s. This excellent series of compilations still gives us a vivid picture of what that vibrant and creative loft scene was all about. “Wildflowers 2” is of course the second album in that series, and features great performances by stellar musicians such as Anthony Braxton, and a very young Leo Smith, before he added Wadada to his name.

The generally accepted cliché about loft jazz was that everyone was playing ‘free jazz’, but “Wildflowers 2” presents a good example of how varied and unpredictable the loft scene really was. Side one opens with a grooving modal jam by Sonelius Smith that may remind some of Pharoh Sanders’ ‘spiritual jazz’. This track is followed by an extravagant post bop ballad featuring Ken McIntyre on flute and Richard Harper on piano. This song’s dramatic flourishes may remind some of Jaki Byard’s work with Eric Dolphy. This side is great, but the real fireworks come on side two.

Side two opens with the always brilliant Anthony Braxton and his ensemble romping their way through “73-S Kelvin”, a bizarre and often times humorous Braxton original that appears on a previous album with Braxton and Chick Corea’s group, “Circle”. At the end of the composition, Braxton launches into a furious sax solo that shows why he was, and probably still is, the master of extended techniques on the saxophone. The following track features Marion Brown solo on the saxophone as he combines tonal passages with some extended techniques of his own. The album closes with Leo Smith’s ensemble that features a young and very fiery Oliver Lake on saxophone. The opening melody is humorously deconstructive and deliberately obtuse, somewhat like a child that hates their music lessons. Its very refreshing to hear all of this because much of today’s avant-garde seems to be lacking in any sense of irony or humor. After the opening arrangement, Lake and Smith both take turns with solos that are careful in construction, as the ensemble is also very spare and careful in their contributions as well. This is a good example of that well-known AACM approach to free improv that values silence as much as noise.

Looking at the names of the various sidemen on here, many are unrecognizable and unknown, but one surprising name really jumps out, and that’s Stanley Crouch on the drums in Leo Smith’s group. Crouch has become well known over the years as a writer, critic and journalist who is often critical of the avant-garde in jazz. After hearing his flamboyant and devilishly clever contributions to the Leo Smith piece, it becomes obvious that his criticisms are certainly not based on ignorance or any timid feelings about this music.

Like most live recorded avant-garde jazz from this time period, the sound quality on here is a little rough, but back then it seemed like this sort of lack of polish was to be appreciated and admired. An almost kitsch staple of early avant-garde jazz was an acoustic piano that was worn out and out of tune and recorded with a room mic, so there was plenty of vague room reverb. The end result is an instrument that doesn't sound like a European concert hall component anymore, but more like something from Africa with its buzzing off center harmonies. You get a lot of that on here, maybe thats whats missing with today's scene, the pianos are too well cared for, ha.

TOHPATI Mata Hati

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.71 | 3 ratings
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Indonesian guitar virtuoso Tohpati has several group names he works with, and many of those groups lean towards a Western jazz fusion sound, but its in his group known as Tohpati Ethnomission that Tohpati gets deeper into his Indonesian roots, and mixes those roots with the Western sounds of jazz fusion and hard rock. You might think that Gamelan, jazz, pastoral folk melodies and heavy metal guitar would make for an unlikely mix, but on “Mata Hati”, Tohpati and his Ethnomission crew pull it off and come up with some music that sounds like nobody else. Although fellow Indonesian fusion musicians such as Dewa Budjana and Dwiki Dharmawan have been working with large ensembles and multiple guest musicians, Tohpati keeps things simple on here with his core group of Indro Hardjodikoro on bass, Diki Suwarjiki on suling bamboo flute, Endang Ramdan on kendang percussion and Demas Narawangsa on drums. The Czech Symphony Orchestra guests on the opening track, but that is all.

The orchestrated “Jangar” opens the album sounding a lot like a dramatic South Asian movie soundtrack, despite the Indonesian melodies, the sound of this number may remind some of the well-known Indian ‘Bollywood’ soundtracks. Follow up “Tanah Emas” introduces Tohpati’s unlikely mix of ‘Gamelan’ type rhythmic figures and heavy guitar, but as mentioned earlier, this stuff really rocks in its own odd way. Other memorable tracks include the beautifully melodic “Mata Hati” and closing track “Amarah”, which features slashing metal guitars topped by a slow moving bamboo flute melody. Possibly the best track on the album though is “Reog”, which features a super funky hard rock guitar riff that Prince would have been proud to call his own.

There is lots of great fusion coming out of Indonesia these days, but with his use of insistent classical Indonesian rhythms, Tohpati has separated himself from the crowd on “Mata Hati”. Another Tohpati fusion group, Simak Dialog, deals with some similar material in their music, but Dialog’s more hippiefied rustic sound is quite different from Tohpati Ethnomission’s heavier sound. Did I forget to mention that Tohpati tears up the fretboards on this album on heavy distorted guitar, as well as more bluesy-jazzy Herndrix sounds and acoustic guitar as well.

TOMASZ STAŃKO Purple Sun

Album · 1973 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko is most probably country's best known jazz musician for some decades and prestigious ECM label in-house artist. Better known (especially outside of his homeland) from his ECM-sound recordings, in his early ears Stanko played quite different music. Started his career still at late 60s, Tomasz played with in Polish legend Komeda band, starting his career as leader in early 70s.

"Purple Sun" is Stanko quintet third album recorded live in empty hall of Music School in Munich,Germany. All-Polish quartet is completed with German bassist Hans Hartmann here. Album contains four originals (twolong and two shorter pieces). Confusingly enough, "Purple Sun" is often classified in music media (partially Polish) as early example of Polish avant-garde jazz which it isn't.

In reality bass-drums-trumpet-sax quartet with violinist Zbigniew Seifert on board plays high energy fusion strongly influenced by Davis' "Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew". Representing contrast difference from popular Stanko ECM albums of contemporary (chamber) jazz, "Purple Sun" with its raw energy and quite free structure possibly sounds as avant-garde piece for traditional Stanko listeners but everyone familiar with early Miles fusion will confirm their musical similarity.

Stanko's fusion is more European comparing with Miles - there are less American jazz roots (no groove) but lot of German krautrock influence in a form of straight power flow and rock-psychedelia. And yeh - the level of musicians virtuosity is far not as in Davis fusion bands.

Still music sounds really fresh and inspired and common "rockish" aesthetics could be attractive for fans of jazz-rock. In all cases, this album (reissued in Poland on CD at least twice so quite accessible) is not for numerous fans of ECM-period Stanko. Lovers of early Miles fusion will probably find here a nice example of similar music recorded by one of the best Polish jazz musician ever.

RETURN TO FOREVER Light as a Feather

Album · 1973 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.49 | 23 ratings
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Miler72
This is apparently the first true Return to Forever album as the previous album, entitled Return to Forever, was released as a Chick Corea solo album, but it featured the same musicians, so that's how the name stuck, I guess. Light as a Feather continues the Brazilian jazz/Bossa Nova influence, with Flora Purim providing vocals and husband Airto Moreira on percussion. Chick Corea uses strictly electric piano and Stanley Clarke provides only stand up bass here. This is an incredible album, it doesn't have the break-neck Mahavishnu Orchestra-fast playing of Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy or the progginess of Romantic Warrior, it has a more relaxed vibe, but what a wonderful mood Chick Corea and Co. creates here, with lots of lengthy instrumental fusion passages, and of course a Brazilian feel that is ever present. Every time I hear Flora Purim sing, I expect her to either sing in her native Portuguese (she doesn't, she sings in English, since this was aimed for the American audience, naturally) or break into "The Girl From Impanema". Never happens. I wasn't sure if I would like this album, but instead it really knocked my socks off. Usually vocals in fusion albums are a big turn-off for me, but of course Flora Purim being Brazilian works amazingly well here, giving that Bossa Nova influence. If you like Brazilian jazz as well as fusion this album is a totally required!

AL DI MEOLA Land of the Midnight Sun

Album · 1976 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.87 | 21 ratings
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Miler72
Having been blown away by Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior (an album that literally took me years to warm up to, though, but once I did...) and Lenny White's Venusian Summer, I went and tried Al Di Meola's debut album, Land of the Midnight Sun. Like Lenny White's Venusian Summer, he doesn't hire a steady band, just whatever musicians want to appear, but Mingo Lewis of Santana (of the Caravanserai/Welcome/Borboletta-era), Jaco Pastorius, Steve Gadd, Stanley Clarke, even Chick Corea, and others appear. The first two cuts sound a whole lot like Romantic Warrior-era RTF meets Santana, which is no surprise given the members involved. He does a unaccompanied Bach piece on acoustic guitar, and do an atmospheric spacy prog number "Love them from 'Pictures of the Sea'". Surprisingly Stanley Clarke provides vocals here in that spacy prog manner, which does this piece justice. "Morning Fire" is a multi-movement suite, but it's basically one long jam with tons of fretless bass playing from Jaco Pastorius. In fact this was a big reason he ended up a member of Weather Report and became a valuable asset to the band. The last piece is largely Chick Corea on piano and Al Di Meola on guitar, and a rather relaxed piece.

This is truly a great album of Latin-influenced fusion, that I can highly recommend to those who enjoy Return to Forever (naturally) and fusion-era Santana.

PETER EVANS Lifeblood

Live album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Starting from late 60s solo saxophone recordings aren't rare thing, Chicagoan Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and soprano genius Steve Lacy introduced world to that kind of highly creative and usually very free-form kind of jazz. Solo trumpeter albums are much more obscure though.

American trumpeter Peter Evans (better known to wide auditory as Mostly Other People Do The Killing band member) has already released some, but his newest "Lifeblood" is his first solo trumpet album in five years. It contains recordings from different shows recorded in 2015-16 and lasts almost two hour long. To make things even more twisted,"Lifeblood" is released in digital form only - usual download files and ... USB memory stick (or being more correct - USB credit card memory stick). Since the size of content doesn't exceed the space of casual double CD-set, it's obvious that physical recording's form has been chosen not only because of technical needs.

So - what do we have inside? Solo reeds albums are always hit or miss, at their best such music radiate artist's creativity and technical perfection but sometimes we just evidence never-ending demonstration of musician's ego drilling your ears and twitching your nerves. Than 109 minutes long "Lifeblood" can sound as really risky business.

Fortunately it isn't. Evans plays solo trumpet concerts regularly for years so what one can hear on this album isn't just exotic demonstration of technical abilities on request. "Lifeblood" contains two longer pieces ("suites") - twenty-seven minutes long opener of the same title and three-parts forty-minutes long closer "The Prophets". All music is highly improvised but contains never ending mosaic of tunes and rhythms snippets changind each other very dynamically so such a long free-form album doesn't sound boring at all.

Evans plays trumpet with rare virtuosity using his own techniques besides of more traditional, he uses breathing and his mouse as source for percussion added and generally minimalist music is surprisingly dense and dynamic. Quite unusually for music of such kind all concert sound is warm,even intimate at moments. Peter successfully finds the right balance between passionate playing and relaxed atmosphere, music isn't explosive nor meditative.

Surprisingly, almost two hours of solo trumpet music of free form don't require special concentration from listener. It is not elevator music for sure, but it works pretty well sounding at home when I was doing some home works or reading news in internet. I listened to the album three or four times during last some weeks - it says a lot!

USB stick isn't most popular form of physical jazz album maybe, than go for more usual download and don't miss this probably best reeds player solo album of last decade or so.

ORNETTE COLEMAN Body Meta

Album · 1978 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 5 ratings
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snobb
Ornette Coleman was the one among a few jazzmen who started playing what later has been titled "a new thing" still in late 50s. His album "Free Jazz" gave the tag for all new jazz direction which dramatically changed genre's scene for decades to come. Still at the late 60s-early 70s it looked Ornette got stuck in his music(his excellent "Science Fiction" from 1972 is an exception only confirming the sentence).

Fortunately for us jazz lovers he did it again - in late 70s Ornette returned back with new jazz revolution again. His new quintet came all-electric this time - two(!) guitarists, bassist and unorthodox drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson beside of Coleman himself. The music,if still rooted in early free jazz, was seriously different and at the moment sounded extremely modern and non-conventional at the same time. Influenced by some time's dominated trends, Ornette's new music was closer to jazz fusion, or better to say - free funk still staying within jazz idiom.

First ever recorded example of Ornette's new music has been released on their "Dancing in Your Head"(1977) - 31 minute-short LP which contained only one true new band's composition "Theme From A Symphony" (which initially has been planned as EP release) and completed with four-and-half minute "Midnight Sunrise" world fusion piece,recorded with Master Musicians of Jajouka. Then in 1978 same band releases "Body Meta" - true first full album of "harmolodic" jazz. Five compositions, almost forty minutes of excellent energetic and free mix of groovy pulsation, drummers acrobatics and extremely inspired and focused Coleman sax soloing, one among best in his career.

Comparing with many recordings,released by Coleman and his followers later, "Body Meta" has one big advantage - because of permanent changes of tunes and rhythmical structures whole album doesn't sound all that much repetitive and initial fresh and positive impression doesn't change to boredom after first fifteen-twenty minutes of listening.

Coltrane (and his collaborators/followers) will develop and explore this new for the time sound for decades to come but "Body Meta" still will stay one of style cornerstone album in jazz history.

HAMPTON HAWES All Night Session!, Volume 3

Album · 1958 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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js
All Night Session 3” is the third part of a recording session by Hampton Hawes and his quartet, recorded live at Contemporary Studios in Los Angeles on November 11, 1956. Being the third and final part of a lengthy session, by the time the quartet got to this one, they were ready to relax and stretch out, and for half the album, they leave the standards alone and play some free form blues based jams. Although highly acclaimed in his youth, Hawes has become somewhat of a forgotten figure in jazz, unfortunate because he could play with the best of them, which is well documented on this excellent album. Hampton has a wide range of expressions he can draw on, sometimes intense with Bud Powell flavored torrents of high speed swinging bop runs, and other times more quirky and clever ala Ahmad Jamal or Herbie Nichols. It also helps that Hawes has guitarist Jim Hall on board, another modernist with a penchant for unexpected twists of phrase. Musically this album could be called west coast hard bop, not really cool jazz per se, but drummer Bruz Freeman’s tendency to play quietly with brushes does lend a ‘cool’ flavor.

There is a lot of great playing on here, four geniuses stretching out on the blues, but the added bonus is the 5 star recording quality. I’m not sure what people were doing right then that they are not doing right now, possibly it has something to do with digital effects or overzealous compression, but this is what acoustic jazz is supposed to sound like. At the correct volume level, it sounds like you are in the same room with them, and every single line from every musician is crystal clear. Hearing the individual lines is important because when these guys jam the blues, they are not following any standard progression, instead the four are quickly tossing around ideas about possible direction, and then quickly changing again. The rate of communication in this band is intense.

PAINKILLER Guts of a Virgin / Buried Secrets

Boxset / Compilation · 1998 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
This compilation contains the first two EP releases of PAINKILLLER on one CD. It has both “Guts Of A Virgin” and “Buried Secrets” in their entirety. Yes! No tracks have been left out. I hate it when they do that nonsense.

Since both EPs were short little creations both clocking in under 30 minutes, it was very practical to release a combo-CD that had both of them and so it was.

There are no bonus tracks so this is simply EP 1 “Guts Of A Virgin” plus EP 2 “Buried Secrets.”

Sometimes this is listed as “Buried Secrets / Guts Of A Virgin.” Like what? Homie be trippin’. List the first album first for bleep’s sake! Lame, lame, LAME!

Me likey both albums enuff 2 giv 4 starz…..

PAINKILLER Buried Secrets

Album · 1992 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.92 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
John Zorn continued his PAINKILLER band which was one of the earliest examples of mixing avant-garde jazz with grindcore metal and one of the first hardcore bands of the era to delivery all the intense and sinister feel of what extreme metal bands of the same time were conjuring up only mostly without guitar. The second EP release BURIED SECRETS not only continues what was unleashed on “Guts Of A Virgin” but adds on new layers of intensity. Once again John Zorn makes his alto sax sound like a tortured pig being sacrificed to Satan with Bill Laswell pounding out heavily distorted bass lines accompanied by Mitch Harris pounding out intense drumming sessions. There were also a couple of helpers on this one with Justin Broadick adding some guitar, drum machine and vocals on the title track and on “The Toll.” G.C. Green also contributes on bass on the same two tracks.

While BURIED SECRETS carries on most of what the debut dished out, it expands upon its overall sounds. The first moment of true departure from the previous offering’s limitations comes with “Blackhole Dub” which contains just as the title suggests with a dub beat on bass and a simple drum backing while Zorn wails on the alto sax in a very strange way. It no longer sounds like a tortured pig but more like a tortured canary! There is also some dark ambient effects that make it seem very eerie. The production in general seems more polished on this one. The title track is totally different than many other tracks. The addition of the guitar really puts this one in left field but don’t expect any grungy metal power chords or anything. This one is chock full of strange echoey freaky riffs and note bends that reverberate into infinity. There is so much feedback and ambient embellishment that i’m not even sure which instrument is playing what. Zorn and company abuse their instruments so harshly that they simply emit otherworldly sounds and render it impossible for the listener to discern the differences of the sax and guitar. Then the bass and drums finally come in to add some sanity to a serious freak out session.

This album is much more playful as evidenced by the followup to the title track. The 21 second frenetic sax assault “The Ladder” shows the true spirit of punk via jazz and metal and then ushers in more violent and turbulent jazz-metalcore. Zorn astonishes as he makes his alto sax do things unthinkable and creates streams of consciousness that could lead to utter insanity. And add the bombastic drum and bass assaults, it’s utterly maddening. “The Black Chamber” is probably the only snippet of “normal” sax playing as it starts like a recognizable jazz sax type of sound that one would expect in a NYC club of the 60s but of course, nothing stays that “normal” for long in the Zorn world. It becomes another avant-dub type of track with more tortured pig sax squeals that follow. Even the ambient vocal effects sound like possessed pigs seeking revenge as they embrace the powers of the dark side to do so. “The Toll” is another stand out as it begins as an ambient track with a slowly building drum and bass. It is the other track that has guitar and it is used in a conservative way to create an amplified atmospheric presence rather than playing a dominant part. It continues like an avant-doom / sludge metal track with stange guitar and sax craziness. This one actually has vocals.

BURIED SECRETS is a great improvement over the previous “Guts Of Virigns.” There is so much more going on here. While everything from EP one is still in ample supply here, all the tracks don’t sound like they hatched from the same mold. The variations that occur sporadically are a welcome contrast to the more usual suspects. If you’re a fan of the first EP, fear not because all of those slaps in the face are still present and more but on this one, Zorn and company learned the art of ambient enhancement therapy and found new ways to strike terror into the inner ear canals of their fellow homo sapiens. I personally like this second release much better because it contains all of what came before and adds lots of new twists and turns and takes Zorn’s sax torture and incorporates it into a more meaningful way of menacing humanity. This is a dark and tumultuous sonic experience. Once again probably too jazzy for extreme metal heads and too metal for jazz purists but for those who simply want a true tortuous experience that supplicates impeding doom, this is for you.

PAINKILLER Guts of a Virgin

Album · 1991 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.45 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
PAINKILLER was one of the many projects of the prolific avant-garde jazz performer John Zorn and perhaps one of his most metal adventures. This band was quite unique at the time and took the listener where no one wanted to go which would be by mixing the unlikely disparate musical forces of avant-garde jazz with grindcore metal. GUTS OF A VIRGIN was the first of three studio albums but four live albums would also be released. The band consisted of John Zorn on sax, Bill Laswell (countless acts including Praxis, The Golden Palominos, Massacre, Buckethead, Iggy Pop, Herbie Hancock, Public Image Ltd etc) on bass and Mick Harris on drums who was most notably in Napalm Death. Although this is considered just as metal as jazz, there is no guitar to be heard.

GUTS OF A VIRGIN is extreme music to the max. This is guaranteed to alienate most jazz lovers for being too extreme metal and vice versa too jazzy for most metalheads. What we basically get on this cacophonous raucous is a highly distorted bass and drum attack accompanied by Zorn’s alto sax assault that really, i swear sounds like a tortured pig most of the time! It squeals like it’s being slaughtered live and the driving high pitched notes sound like a knife is being driven deep into its heart and twisted while pliers are ripping its snout from the skull. It’s truly tortuous stuff with dark resonating bass lines, pummeling drum abuse and saxophone nightmares. A soundtrack for horror films to be assured.

This is the same type of sax sound that appears on the first Mr Bungle album that was released the same year. It’s no wonder Mike Patton was so enthralled with his playing because Zorn delivers the most metal sound of any sax player i’ve ever heard. GUTS OF A VIRGIN is as filthy and dirty as the title implies. The muddy bass mixed with pig squeal sax create a free jazz / metal cacophony that also shows a bit of humor with song titles such as “Purgatory Of Fiery Vulvas.” The tracks are generally mid-tempo with some flair ups that add some intensity for contrast’s sake. While most tracks are instrumental, a few have some grindcore type of vocals screamed by Mick Harris. While the music is described as free jazz, it generally is so in the frenetic saxophone solos while the bass and drums have a recognizable groove firmly planted in the metal universe. This is a true assault to the senses! The compositions aren’t brilliant but it’s not bad for such an experimental album. Obviously only one for the hardcores!

JOHN ABERCROMBIE While We're Young

Album · 1993 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.92 | 6 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
THUNDERSTORM FADING TO SLOW DRIZZLE

The 1990s were not a golden age for ECM Records in general, or for John Abercrombie in particular. He entered the decade still focused on the guitar-synth/electronic experimentalism that was not popular with his fan base. Then he formed the trio featured on this album, with Dan Wall on Hammond organ and Adam Nussbaum on drums. While We're Young is the best of the three albums this trio recorded, but for those who were hoping for another album along the lines of 1975's Timeless, you may be disappointed. Which is not to say that it's a bad album, but it could have been so much more.

While We're Young is quite simply a dichotomy: the first four tracks feature the atmospheric, boundary-pushing music Abercrombie is known for, while the last four tracks are much more relaxed, and well, mellow. Listen to the hushed opening measures of both "Rain Forest" and "Stormz". The former builds slowly to a fabulous pinched-tone Abercrombie electric solo. The latter showcases a drum/guitar duet, and Abercombie's bended/tremolo notes must be heard to be believed. On "Dear Rain", Nussbaum plays only cymbals over Abercrombie's clear tone and Wall's sustained chords. "Mirrors" is this album's most aggressive and uptempo number, with a drum/organ duet and Wall handling the bass line under Abercrombie's solo. It leads one to wonder what a double-bassist or electric-bassist could have contributed to Abercrombie's understated but distinctive, fluid yet bluesy playing on this album.

After an impressive start, the brakes are applied and the intensity fades. To put it plainly, the last four tracks are elusive, muted, effortless, moody, peaceful, leisurely, etc. There are occasional moments of vigor and energy, but for the most part both compositions and performances pale next to the previously established sound-world and blend one into another. Abercrombie's amplified acoustic on "Scomotion" would fit right in on most any Pat Metheny album of the last 20 years. Such a drastic change-of-pace on an album's second half is not unprecedented, but it is disheartening after such a promising beginning.

At 59:08, While We're Young doesn't overstay its welcome, but the final four tracks do not help matters. Perhaps it's unfair (especially with the passage of decades) to compare everything Abercrombie records with the incandescence of Timeless or 1976's Gateway, but a precedent was indisputably set. If you're a long-time Abercrombie listener, there is much to enjoy on this album, but it can't rightfully be classified among his best. Thankfully it doesn't meander into the long-winded aimlessness of some of his later albums, and it does provide enjoyable listening every time it comes off the shelf. But that's all.

GREG HATZA The Greg Hatza ORGANization : Diggin up My Roots

Album · 2017 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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A native of Reading, Pennsylvania, Greg Hatza’s musical instincts came to him as early and as naturally as the ability to walk, around age four he began formal lessons. The Hammond B-3 became his life’s obsession as a teenager. Because there were no jazz organ instructors at the time, Greg was largely self-taught, picking up most of his insider knowledge from the organ players at jam sessions at a local club called the Grand Hotel. It was the Grand that Baltimore Colts football great and jazz fan Lenny Moore asked the teenager to perform at a club he was opening in Baltimore. Moore became Greg’s manager and Baltimore became Greg’s home. The organist played at the club for four years and was something of a young jazz lion himself, recording two albums for MCA subsidiary label Coral Records, The Wizardry of Greg Hatza and Organized Jazz.

In the late sixties, Baltimore was still an organ town and had its share of great players. It was here that Greg really got a chance to hone his jazz organ skills by playing with the best musicians in town. Lenny’s club was a great stopping point for national jazz artists who came to Baltimore to perform. It was here that Greg met his mentor Jimmy Smith and got to play with him. Smith later advised Greg on his soon to be recorded albums. He also met and got to play in jam sessions with such personalities as Kenny Burrell, Groove Holmes, Damita Joe, Philly Joe Jones, Roland Kirk, Les McCann, James Moody, and Sonny Stitt.

Greg Hatza’s formal education includes a Bachelor’s degree in Composition from the Peabody Conservatory and a Master’s from Towson State University, where he subsequently taught jazz, piano composition, improvisation and music theory for many years. He also performed with the Towson Jazz Faculty Quartet in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Diggin’ Up My Roots, is Hatza’s Lucky 13 album, featuring a greasy groovy good time. Hatza and his crew really serve up a rollicking good-time sound and the nord C2D Organ is steaming hot. The first cut is “Baltimore Strut,” it seems a fine tribute to his roots in Organ jazz/blues. A swingin’, deeply groovin’ sound that instantly sets the tone of what is to come. Saxophonist, Peter Fraize gives an outstanding solo with full throttle lines and a round warm sound. Guitarist, Brian Kooken digs in with jazz/blues lines that are soulful yet delicious jazz lines all sewn up into a canvas that allows organist Hatza to wail and shout atop, with quick building lines and trills, it’s the best of blues and jazz rolled into one, and if your pulse hasn’t jump started by now; check it – as I guarantee your feet are already moving.

Another pleaser in the mix is “High Healed Sneakers,” a mid -tempo slinky groove written by Robert Higginbotham and made famous by Tommy Tucker in 1964, the group definitely kept the original essence of the tune, and its authenticity rings through. Again, Fraize rails off a high-flying solo, with Kooken using a highly-sophisticated jazz/blues vocabulary in his note choices.

I have always had an affinity for “Back at the Chicken Shack” and Hatza has learned his history well, a Jimmy Smith classic, Hatza lays it out soulfully and with absolute authenticity. This organist truly grew up through the ranks, he is dripping with soulful elongated lines and links the lines between jazz, blues and soul with rarity of execution. Smith is a hard act to follow, but Hatza certainly is no slouch, and you can tell, he has put the time in the trenches to pull off this tune.

Overall, Diggin’ Up My Roots is a worthwhile offering that should stay in the forefront of your mind long after you take a listen. Hatza has created a lasting sound, and his ensemble of compadres, add to the depth of the overall enjoyment. A highly enjoyable release, that features an exceedingly tight group sound.

JAN GARBAREK Places

Album · 1978 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.88 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
THE BEST ECM SAX WITH ORGAN ALBUM

For many years, this album was not available on CD, and was very hard to find. Now that it has been re-issued, listeners and collectors can finally hear this very successful pairing of the saxophones of Jan Garbarek with the organ of John Taylor. This album was recorded in December 1977, mere weeks after the very prolific Garbarek played on Keith Jarrett's My Song. He also appears on Gary Peacock's December Poems and Bill Connors' Of Mist and Melting, both of which were recorded at the same time. That's four full-length albums in less than three months, and Places is definitely the best of the four.

There is no double bass on Places, but the album doesn't suffer for it. Three of the four lengthy compositions open with Taylor's ethereal organ. "Reflections" is a two-part epic: "part one" features Garbarek's slow-building phrases, Bill Connors' softly picked acoustic guitar, and Jack DeJohnette's mystical cymbals. Suddenly the tempo picks up for "part two". Taylor contributes background colors over Garbarek's best blaring tone while Connors takes a solo over DeJohnette's louder, more vibrant drums. "Entering" is the shortest and most accessible track. Garbarek plays plaintively, nostalgically over Connors' acoustic guitar. DeJohnette enters halfway through, and the song closes peacefully with a short coda. In spite of brilliant performances, "Going Places" is just a little unfocussed, with a few too many mood changes. After a busy DeJohnette opening (this is his best playing on the album) and much shrill Garbarek soloing, this track moves into much slower, more atmospheric territory. There's also a great Connors solo and a drum-and-organ duet before Taylor switches to percussive piano for the only time on this album. "Passing" has Connors introducing the melody before Garbarek joins in over Taylor's organ cadences. This more subdued, almost bluesy track closes the album with Garbarek's best deep guttural groans and DeJohnette playing military drum patterns.

So where does Places fit within the Jan Garbarek catalog? It's not an earth-shaking, all-time classic like Witchi-Tai-To, or an openly experimental album like Dis or All Those Born With Wings. It's not as accessible as Photo with... or It's Okay to Listen to the Gray Voice, or as introspective as Paths, Prints. There's a similar feel on Places to some of Terje Rypdal's work from the same time period without ever digressing into the early-1970s avant-garde sound. And it's much better than Dansere, Eventyr, or Wayfarer. All this adds up to...highly recommended!

LENNY WHITE Venusian Summer

Album · 1975 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.32 | 6 ratings
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Miler72
This album did nothing but just totally blow me away! Lenny White had already played for Miles Davis on his classic Bitches Brew, and then later on Return to Forever starting with Hymn of the Seventy Galaxy and ending with Romantic Warrior. Venusian Summer was obviously recorded while he was still with RTF, but here he doesn't have a regular band, he has varying guests appear on each cut, including Larry Young (who played with John McLaughlin on Devotion, as well as Love, Devotion, Surrender with McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, as well as tons albums under his own name), David Sancious, Ray Gomez, Doug Rauch (who played on Santana's Caravanserai and Welcome, as well as Love, Devotion, Surrender), Patrick Gleeson (Herbie Hancock's Crossings and Sextant, Julian Priester's Love Love), Peter Robinson (Quatermass, Sun Treader, Brand X), Al DiMeola (RTF), Larry Coryell and others.

The first two songs, "Chicken Fried Steak" and "Away Goes Trouble Down the Drain" (the latter an obvious reference to Roto Rooter, a major plumbing service here in America for you non-American readers, that's been their slogan for as long as I can remember) are just simply amazing funky songs, but I really love how Lenny White diverts from the funk template and gets more experimental. The title track, for example, is a two part piece that starts off rather spacy and eerie, but the second part gets more into fusion territory, a bit like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy-era RTF. "Prelude to the Rainbow Delta" is another short spacy ambient piece that leads to "Mating Drive". Here it still starts spacy and calm, with some faint eerie Mellotron choirs, but then the music really goes into such overdrive it even makes Mahavishnu Orchestra look like slouches (which is something you'd never say especially with the original lineup). "Prince of the Sea" is a bit more calm, but not in the spacy ambient territory. Here you get plenty of dueling guitar from Al DiMeola and Larry Coryell.

I almost forgot to mention the cover. This reminds me of how an H.R. Giger painting would look like if there was color and all the nightmare, alien and death imagery removed (no skulls, skeletons, or creatures from the movie Alien or looks like it should belong said movie franchise). It's because the lady's face reminded me of a Giger paint.

Anyways, Venusian Summer is nothing short of amazing! Many fusion albums seem to stick to one thing throughout and can get a bit monotonous, but here Lenny White really spices it up by exploring different ideas throughout the album, from funk, to full-on Mahavishnu Orchestra-like guitar-driven fusion to spacy ambient parts. I really can't find much fault in this album. It's not mentioned the same way as say, the first two or three Mahavishnu Orchestra album (with the original lineup) or Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior, but this album really deserves to be in your collection!

RALPH TOWNER Chiaroscuro (with Paolo Fresu)

Album · 2009 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
INCOMPARABLE LIGHT AND SHADE

With the passage of time, the trumpet has become increasingly important to ECM Records. Following in the footsteps of Tomasz Stanko and Enrico Rava, we are here introduced to Paolo Fresu, who has led many ensembles and recorded many albums (available as imports) in his native Italy. For his first widely distributed release in he western hemisphere, he is paired with long-time ECM recording artist/guitar virtuoso Ralph Towner. The two met at a festival in Italy, and decided to perform and record together as a duo.

So when was the last time you heard a guitar/trumpet duet? This album works brilliantly on every level despite taking a risk with an unusual pairing. While this is mostly reflective, introspective, meditative music, there is also way too much happening with both performers for it to remain placidly in the background. Towner, who has played on many of ECM's greatest albums (Matchbook, Solstice, Solo Concert, et al), contributes fleet-fingered picking on "Punta Giara", double-tracks a baritone guitar on "Sacred Place" and "Doubled Up", and recaptures throughout the classical/jazz/world/folk sound he has given us since the early 1970s. Fresu plays both trumpet and flugelhorn, and his tone has just enough sharp edges (especially on the title track) to avoid being dismissed as a smooth impressionist. He performs a muted tribute to Miles Davis on "Blue in Green", which receives a very different arrangement from Towner's cover with Gary Burton on 1986's Slide Show album. Chiaroscuro closes with two brief but haunting improv pieces, "Two Miniatures" and "Postlude".

It all sounds "very ECM", and one wonders why this instrumental pairing hasn't been attempted before (or if it has, why so rarely). At 46:43, the idea is not overworked and never drifts into aimless repetitiveness. Outstanding recording and booklet graphics, as always, are a given with ECM. Highly recommended for late-night listening, and for those looking for something different.

ILLINOIS JACQUET The Message

Album · 1963 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Illinois Jacquet was one of the hottest saxophone players of the be-bop 40s. As the 60s rolled around, with interest in bop declining, Illinois began to try out different sounds, including this 1963 foray into commercially viable soul jazz called “The Message”. As far as 60s soul jazz goes, “The Message” isn’t too bad of a recording, not the best you will hear in this genre, but far from the worst too. It’s a rather large ensemble on here, with Jacquet being joined by the great Kenny Burrell on lead guitar, and Ralph Smith on B3. Four others round out a rhythm section of bass, drums, percussion and rhythm guitar. With such a large group you are guaranteed some interesting rhythmic interplay, and all the musicians are careful not to step on each other’s toes. Burrell, Jacquet and Ralph share equally in the solos, and all three sound great. Ralph often prefers a big full stop organ sound, suped-up with massive vibrato. This sort of excessiveness may seem corny to some, but he handles the style well.

There is a variety of music on here, with most cuts leaning towards something that might be commercially profitable. Probably the top track is the fiery uptempo hard bop of “Wild Man”, which features some of the hottest solos on the album. “Turnpike” is a mid tempo blues that fits perfectly with Illinois’ gruff sound and Burrell’s bluesy licks. “On Broadway” is a fun kitsch number that is played in the style of “Tequila” and probably carries some appeal for the exotica crowd. Likewise, “Bonita”, with its Latin rhythms and Persian flavored organ solo may also appeal to the exotica fans. Overall, Ralph Smith’s exaggerated organ style probably carries more appeal for exotica fans than it does for jazz fans. Possibly the weakest cut is “Bassoon Blues’ on which Jacquet plays the blues on the bassoon. He’s not a bad bassoon player, but his chops on this instrument are nowhere near his chops on the tenor.

TERJE RYPDAL Chaser

Album · 1985 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.10 | 5 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
HIS BEST ALBUM OF THE 1980's

Many longtime Rypdal listeners pour contempt on his work from the 1980s, preferring instead to bow and worship before the altar of his 1970s albums. To this day, recordings such as What Comes After, Whenever I seem to be Far Away, Odyssey, Waves, and even After the Rain (a far inferior album) have passionately devoted cult followings. For 1985's Chaser, Rypdal opts for a simple power trio, with relatively little keyboards and no brass, woodwinds, or string orchestras. Bassist Bjorn Kjellemyr and drummer Auden Kleive would also accompany Rypdal on his next few albums, but none would have the fire, the intensity, the imagination, or the radical mood-swings of Chaser.

How can any Rypdal fan not be utterly floored by his howling, ferocious solo over a Kleive drum intro on "Ambiguity", one of his greatest recorded moments ever? Said solo suddenly staggers into rhythmic anthem rock just past the 3:10 mark before the original mood is finally resumed at the end. Turn it up to 20! Rypdal's furious, both-blues-and-jazz-influenced soloing has never been better heard or recorded. For further proof, listen to the wandering fluidity/rhythmic riffing of "Geysir" or the angular, frenzied, pseudo-soundtrack work of "Chaser".

What may rub some listeners the wrong way are the dramatic, atmospheric changes-of-pace inserted between the fiery improvising and faster-paced numbers. "Once upon a time", "A Closer Look", and "Ornen" all follow a similar pattern: slow, smoldering blues compositions that build to a guitar climax with much space for Kjellemyr and Kleive to add subtle, introspective solos. "Transition" is a brief guitar-over-keyboards piece, and "Imagi (Theme)" bids this world farewell-before-departure with tuned percussion and long-sustained tones that sound very close to guitar synth (which they very well may be, although the credits do not mention any guitar synth). In fact, this track points ahead to Rypdal's next album, 1987's Blue, which featured the same line-up but with more experimental gadgets, more keyboards, and is a much shorter and less memorable album than the austere-but-streamlined Chaser.

Many have suggested (or outright proclaimed) that Terje Rypdal is Norway's answer to Jimi Hendrix, Bill Frisell, or Steve Howe, when in actuality he is truly a category all to himself. While definitely an acquired taste, Chaser is his best album of the decade and one of his best ever. It is not a jazz album, a headbanging album, a blues album, or an experimental album, but a world of its own. Previous experience with Rypdal's playing is recommended but not necessary. I remain at a loss to understand why this set has been so maligned over the years. Maybe the backlash has more to do with the very un-ECM album cover rather than the brilliant playing and performances.

ARCHIE SHEPP Archie Shepp / Michel Marre Quintet ‎: You're My Thrill (aka Passion)

Album · 1986 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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In mid 80s one of free jazz cult figures American tenor Archie Shepp returns to his early r'n'b roots again and again. Usually combined with vocals and bluesy hard-bop numbers, Shepp's albums from that period are often a mixed bag, but for followers contain lot of interesting moments.

One of better known albums of such kind is his "Down Home New York", recorded in States and released on renown Italian Soul Note label in 1984. "You're My Thrill"(reissued later on CD as "Passion" with two bonus tracks) was recorded in France and released on tiny domestic Vent Du Sud label. Both vinyl and CD (reissued in 1990)versions are real obscurities.

From very first album sounds it becomes obvious that Shepp (or label) obviously tries to re-vitalize "Down Home NY.."'s successful formula. At the very same way, "You're My Thrill" opens with 10+ minute long catchy r'n'b number of the same way (actually, it is same song as "Dow Home.."'s opener, just titled here as "Passion" and completed with slightly different lyrics)

Then (strictly according to previous album formula again) we have series of hard hard bop ballads with a few freer reeds solos and some of vocals.In contrast to Soul Note release where Shepp plays with team of renown Americans (incl. Kenny Werner on piano and Saheb Sarbib on bass among others), on "You're My Thrill" we hear mostly domestic European band. Weirdest collaborator is German keyboardist Siegfred Kessler using solely analog synths with extremely non-jazzy plasticky effervescent sound.

Supporting band's leader trumpeter/tuba player Michel Marre demonstrates few solos, not on the level of Shepp's better collaborators' though.CD version's two bonuses are more lively compositions, contain more inspired (and a bit freer) playing but can hardly save all album.

Obscure and hardly attractive for casual listener, this album still contains its two or three attractive moments for Shepp's fan or collector.

FOCUS Focus II (aka Moving Waves)

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.92 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Originally released as FOCUS II and re-released under the title MOVING WAVES, this was FOCUS' greatest moment in their entire career. The world went absolutely wild over the lead single “Hocus Pocus” which even hit the top 10 on the Billboard singles chart. An oddity it was in every way especially in the prog world. This song was a riff-driven proto-metal track that actually predicted the use of 80s metal techniques like using the Hungarian minor scale. The mix of this early hard rock with yodeling sessions is still an eclectic oddity even today. Unfortunately this song is an anomaly in the FOCUS canon as well since the rest of the album sounds absolutely nothing like it.

The next three tracks are average classically inspired tracks that really don't offer much and feel a little hokey since they insinuate grander things to come and kind of fizzle out. The title track is the worst on here with horrible vocals and it kind of reminds me of ELP. I wish they would have skipped this one and added another rocker to usher in the grand finale “Eruption.”

“Eruption” seems to be equally loved and disliked. I'm on the love-it side. This 23 minute long piece is a hard rock version of the tale of “Orpheus” and Jacopo Peri's opera “Euridice”. There are many meanderings and variations of a basic melody that repeats subtly throughout the entire piece. I can understand why some may think this is boring as it is repetitive at times. For me I find the subtle spiraling of variations to be interesting and really love the odd breaks and also the more rocking parts. The transitions are unpredictable and I find the melody very infectious which sustains my interest.

Because this album is so strange with two really strong tracks that take up most of the album time and the fact that the rest of the instrumentals are average with only one track that I truly dislike I think this just squeaks by for me as a 4 star album.

NATE WOOLEY Argonautica

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Oregon-born, Brooklyn-based trumpeter Nate Wooley is one (together with cornetist Kirk Knuffke) on the forefront of today's New York adventurous jazz scene. Prolifically documented, Wooley is known by series of very experimental recordings,where he plays using different parts of his disassembled horn,adds vocalization,noise,drones,amplification,etc. At the same time, he released some really accessible music, as "(Dance To) The Early Music",where he plays compositions of Wynton Marsalis.

Nate's new release "Argonautica" is of that category which modern jazz market really needed. For younger generation's numerous jazz fans, who's main listening is different forms of jazz fusion, and who is bored by predictability and limitations of that genre,"Argonautica" builds a bridge to more adventurous but still accessible areas of modern jazz.

The album contains one long composition, but there is no reason to afraid of continued noodling or free form abstract constructions. On "Argonautica" Wooley starts where early Miles Davis'(or very first Weather Report albums') creative fusion has been finished and carefully moves towards freer improvisation and more modern sound never loosing fusion ground under his legs.

Wooley's band is actually a double-trio here: two trumpeters, two pianists and two drummers.One trio is led by Wooley himself and the other - by veteran cornetist Ron Miles. Other band's members are Tyshawn Sorey trio's pianist Cory Smythe with Bureau Of Atomic Tourism's keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin on Rhodes plus drummers Devin Grey and Rudy Royston.

Differently from Miles early fusion, reeds don't fly over the band's sound, instead one can hear lot of fragmented snippets,short solos and variable sounds/noises, sometimes spiced with Dumoulin electronics. Drums and piano generate busy environment and Rhodes goes even funky.

"Argonautica", one almost forty-three minute long composition, is actually a kaleidoscope of all the time changing movements inside of the selected formula's frame. Balancing precisely between fusion and free, it represents fresh and never-boring accessible side of modern avant-garde jazz (or creative adventurous fusion - depending on listener's starting point).

ILLINOIS JACQUET Illinois Jacquet (aka Banned In Boston)

Album · 1963 · Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Illinois Jacquet may no longer be a household name, but in the 40s and 50s he was considered one of the top saxophonists of the early bop, and later swing eras. His sound was often purposefully brusque and rough with a tendency toward piercing extreme’s in register that foreshadowed the strong over the top approach of 60s free jazzers like Albert Alyer and Archie Shepp. When 1963 rolled around, bop was becoming somewhat of an anachronism, in fact Illinois spent the first part of the year with a foray into the new soul jazz sound, but when he cut the self-titled “Illinois Jacquet” for Epic later in 63, it was for playing classic be-bop with some influences from the new hard bop sound and crowd pleasing jump blues. This record may have been somewhat out of step with 63, but removed from its time period, it now sounds like another classic bop record recorded by the originators of the sound who knew how to play it right. Like most musical genres, from country to punk, be-bop sounds best when played by those who made it up, modern players just don’t capture that enthusiastic, somewhat flippant and informed sly attitude that gives the music its main appeal.

“Illinois Jacquet” (later titled “Banned in Boston”) opens with the jump blues of “Frantic Fanny”, and then proceeds through a variety that includes bluesy swing grooves, ballads and some up-tempo be-bop fire. The ballads range from the lovely “Stella by Starlight”, to the borderline corniness of “Imagination”, but possibly the top ballad number is Jacquet’s direct and understated reading of Ravel’s “Reverie”, one of the finest versions of this popular classic that you will find. Of the be-bop numbers, nothing tops the high energy of “Indiana (Back Home Again)”, once again played by folks who know how to play this right, making this album less of an anachronism in today’s world, but more of an important time capsule. This album does not contain some of the more exuberant and fierce playing of Jacquet’s early career, but its still a good solid bop recording, albeit recorded in 1963.

MARCELLO PELLITTERI Aquarius Woman

Album · 2016 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Marcello Pellitteri may not be a household name, but he has played drums with just about every major jazz star you can think of, as well as many pop stars and studio orchestras as well. On his new album, “Aquarius Woman”, Marcello displays his versatility by presenting an album that covers more styles than most people cover in their career. “Aquarius Woman” opens with a couple of grooving hard bop numbers that seem to establish a style for the rest of the album, but instead Marcello follows these openers with a couple of pastoral post bop ballads, and then moves on to RnB ballads, funky hip-hop jazz and some spoken word pieces as well. Pellitteri has a great support group on hand led by the intense alto playing of Orazio Maugeri. Orazio has a bright sound that recalls Jackie McLean, and a dexterity that recalls McLean’s idol, Charlie Parker. Maugeri can not only bop and weave, but his ability to rock out on the funky tunes recalls modern artists like Joshua Redman, or Branford Marsalis’ early funk projects. A long with the core group, various guests show up, including tenor sax man George Garzone, who burns brightly on the opening track.

All of the tracks on here are good, with highlights being the aforementioned swinging opening tracks, and the funky hip-hop/indie rock grooves of “Twenty Three” and “Colors on Your Face”. Some well known cover tunes are given interesting face lifts such as Alicia Keys’ “If I aint got You” which is given some flatted notes in the melody by guest vocalist Nedelka Prescod, and a reversal of the vocal phrasing in a call and response with the saxophone. Much of this album is dedicated to Pellitteri’s daughter, Veronica, who died at a very young 23 years of age. All profits from the sell of this CD will go to the Veronica Pellitteri Memorial Fund, administered by Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.

MILES DAVIS Miles Davis Quintet : Miles Smiles

Album · 1966 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.80 | 34 ratings
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frankbernardi22
Miles smiles and he's not pretending a part. He's really happy for his new family of musicians, so happy that he himself really can't believe this miracle of combo exists on earth and he's the creator of such a beauty. He needed his Golden Quintet, the highest expression of all times (neo) classic jazz, something living its (smiling) summer but with all the dangerous nostalgia of a perfectly mature fruit. So much that perfection that it was like a bridge to the unknown. Pure angst, at the end. Two were the alternatives to follow: the taste of decadence or a cut with the past. This gifted combo, touched by the hand of history, is sqeezed by Miles like a lemon; after, throught the naked "In a silent way", Miles and friends (those with him in that moment, because that was his - and their - own cruel and marvellous fate) will find themselves on the rich but deserted shores of "Bitches Brew", the occasion for many in the world to listen to Davis for the first time. But connoisseurs all around knew very well this perfect microgroove where everybody was smiling, according to Anthony Tuttle liner notes: "The entire quintet plays as if there were a shared smile between them, each man lending his efforts to the whole while the whole reflects the solid contribution of each man". A perfect definition good for every album of Miles magic quintet, starting from "ESP", first studio brick in a solid house. A castle. The building of dreams. "Seven steps..." is still tradition with some changes added but not a convinced piece of the new direction. Miles was waiting for Wayne, the Coltrane he always wanted. And from that lp to "ESP" we have only live albums. We have to wait until 1965, year of "ESP", to taste new flavours: but soon, 1966, everybody smiles with the leader. "Miles smiles" and we believe his smiling to be true. He's even surprised that his meditations or even impulses can find easy incarnation in music. He's really the genius he thinks to be. Everything's so smooth, in those years, that seems incredible, to him, to us, the amount of work, sometimes obscure, difficult work, waiting for Miles just around the corner. Smiling Miles soon will be a very far souvenir if compared to the ground zero of "In a silent way" or the path to hell of "Bitches brew": both streets with no return.

MASAHIKO TOGASHI Masahiko Togashi + Masabumi Kikuchi : Concerto

Album · 1991 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Two Japanese jazz greats pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and percussionist Masahiko Togashi recorded “Concerto” in 1991 – quite prolific period for both (especially for Kikuchi who founded one of his most successful project Tethered Moon with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian right at that time). Released soon after, this duo album hasn't been noticed and became an obscurity. Many Kikuchi fans even don't know such release exists.

In 2016 it has been re-issued in Japan so it is much more accessible now. Being mostly known as an object of discussions between collectors (as rule no-one of them ever heard its content) – is this album really all that good?

Almost two-hour long collection of improvisations is obviously dominated by Kikuchi's piano work. It is probably most lyrical work of everything what Kikuchi has been ever recorded. Bigger part of this double-CD set is filled with down tempo piano pseudo-classical balladry, similar to Russian romantic classics coming from 19 century. Togashi's percussion doesn't produce the beat or rhythm of any kind and is used mostly for ascetic licks over sentimental piano recital.

Inexperienced listener can be fooled by tuneful accessibility of Kikuchi's piano and easily imagine he's listening to slightly modernized chamber romanticism piano pieces. Only after some time one can cath up that music generally starts nowhere and goes to eternity. Familiar with Kikuchi's later recordings knows that he introduced very own avant-garde improvisational techniques, playing accessible liquid tunes' snippets in never-ending cyclic way. In fact, such kind of music can be started at any place of CD and can be finished same way – the resulted piece will be almost as representative as any other taken from the double set.

On some pieces (like “Passing Breeze”) Togashi's percussion takes more initiative and adds more blood to previously almost meditative piano-dominated music. “Unbalance” (longest album's composition lasting 16+ minute) particularly destroys chamber lullabies for characteristic Togashi's percussive air temples and quite refined piano-percussion duels.

Still in all whole album obviously missing dynamics and too often occurs dangerously close to monotonous sound-wallpaper. Few atonal and more percussive pieces demonstrate better balance between tuneful melancholic atmosphere and dramatic tension, but there are not enough of them to save the album from "lullaby" effect.

So - it's great that one more "secret album" of Japanese avant-garde jazz became accessible for public, but it could be mostly recommended for listeners,familiar with Togashi and Kikuchi (avant-garde period) music. Newbies can be seriously disappointed.

DAVE MATTHEWS BAND Crash

Album · 1996 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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To say that Dave Matthews Band is well known is an understatement. Approximately two decades after their formation, they had sold over 30 million record copies worldwide, and are one of if not the only group two have 6 consecutive albums hit number one on the Billboard chart. Whilst DMB is known for their most radio friendly tracks like 'Crash Into Me', the band has a profound set of epic material on much of their early albums. Believed to be the band's first stellar hit was that of 1996's Crash, an album with much to offer and little to take back.

Described mainly as part of the 'jam' band scene, Dave Matthews Band encompasses a handful of different genres into their live performances, the more prominent of these being jazz. Dave Matthews has stated in interviews that his jazz influence came from the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim and Miriam Makeba. While these artist's jazz aspects originate entirely from Matthew's preferred South African scene, these African influences aren't exactly prominent on Crash. Instead, there's a more warm-blooded, swaggery style of pseudo-jazz rock that brings elements from commercial pop rock to make a wonderful twist. The album, while not as profound as say Before These Crowded Streets (1998) with it's grandiose complexity, Crash has it's fair share.

Admittedly Crash is a primarily alternative rock release. There is a clear Barenaked Ladies or R.E.M., or even Phish influence on tracks like 'Say Goodbye' and '#41', especially when it comes to Matthew's guitar playing. These tracks sort of meld into each-other if they become to dull, which they entirely can, but being what the band is primarily known for, the pop-rock songs are played extremely well and are full of heart and emotion. But when the album hits more complex music, lord does it hit well. The beast that is 'Two Step' is perhaps one of the greatest songs to come out of the 1990's, with it's melodramatic tone, somber choruses, fantastic hooks, and of course that bari-sax! It's truly one of DMB's best and is of course my number one recommendation from the album. Now 'Two Step' is really the only song that goes all-out in the vein of progressive music but there are numerous aforementioned alt-rock slammers that are well-known- for good reason. '#41' blends eclecticism with flashy film-score emotional value to great affect. 'Crash Into Me' is by far the most well known song from the band's repertoire, and it's not bad. It's by far one of the more simple songs from the track list, but it's cheerful tone and playful lyrics are enough to make it notable. 'Proudest Monkey' is a very interesting song, clocking in at a whopping 9 minutes, but it hits numerous structural high points throughout it's run time. Imagine 'Crash Into Me', but longer, more improvisational, and more interesting lyrical quality. That's basically what the song is, and to someone like me that's greatly appreciated.

The greatest thing by far about Dave Matthews Band however is Dave Matthews' Band. This band has what I think to be some of the most talented musicians ever put on an album. Now personally I think soppy songs for them are a restriction of true perfection in the long-run, but I'm always happy with what I've got, as well as solace of more illustrious material in their near future after Crash. On board with Dave Matthews' throaty howl is electric guitar god Tim Reynolds (a highly underrated musician), Stefan Lessard on bass, and LeRoi Moore and Boyd Tinsley as the two-man orchestra between the violin and the horn section. My only partial complaint is Carter Beauford's drumming. To say he's bad would be a denial of reality but I can't help that think that on this album (and consecutive ones), he's way overdoing it. You're playing pop, man; keeping it simple creates catchier material, at least for me. Simple drum fills could easily keep a good balance with the material provided, but I suppose going overkill works just as well financial-wise. Granted it does get much more fitting on later albums, but for this the over-complexity just seems abnormal when sitting next to something like '#41'. Just a thought. Even with that though the band has such a wonderful, unspoken cohesion that just makes them play so well. It truly is one of the highlights of the band in general.

Crash, while slightly entry-tier for someone more willing to get into it's progenitors' material, is still a colorful, inspiring release. Slow down to check this Crash out.

MATCHING MOLE Matching Mole's Little Red Record

Album · 1972 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.61 | 10 ratings
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ALotOfBottle
"We are determined to liberate Taiwan!"

Soon after their eponymous debut, Matching Mole hit the road and toured western Europe, appearing on various TV shows and festivals. It was at that time that David Sinclair left the band to play with Hatfield and the North and later on Caravan's For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night. He was replaced with Dave MacRae, a jazz keyboardist from New Zealand, who was already credited as a guest on Matching Mole's debut album. In July of 1972, about half a year after their first work, the band entered the doors of London's CBS Studios to record Matching Mole's Little Red Record. The release was produced by Robert Fripp of King Crimson. In addition, the band invited Brian Eno, the pioneer synthesist, to guest on their album.

The title of the release is an allusion to Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, known as the Maoist bible of the cultural revolution period. The cover art portrays the band members on what looks like a Chinese communist propaganda poster. The inspiration for the cover painting came from a Chinese postcard with a caption that read "We are determined to liberate Taiwan!" Despite a lot of controversy, the group, in fact, had nothing to do with idea for the album art, as the drawing was designed by CBS' graphic designers. Robert Wyatt even admitted that he did not particularly like the design. Wyatt's lyrics on Little Red Record have also been an object of heated discussion. The artist declares that the fight for the righteous socialist world should also be expressed in music and confesses that his beliefs are closer to the Chinese communist world rather than the degenerated capitalist west.

Musically, Little Red Record is a quintessential Canterbury scene album. Matching Mole's style is notably different from their debut album. The group got rid of the song-oriented ballads almost entirely and introduced an even higher amount of jazz-fueled improvisation to their music. However, showcasing the group's members' musical skill does not seem to be the aim of the numerous improvisational passages that appear so frequently on Little Red Record. The heavy repeating passages, which often do provide a base for instrumental solos, create musical tension, which makes the music on this record incredibly moody and full of distinctive mysticism. The typical tongue-in-cheek, Canterbury-styled arrangements are common. This becomes evident with pre-recorded voices and sounds of various conversations played over the band's music, giving the album an eccentric appearance.

The high amount of jazz influences on Little Red Record compared to Matching Mole might partly be caused by the new keyboard player, Dave MacRae. His extensive use of Fender Rhodes electric piano adds a very fusion-esque element to the band's sound, at times similar to the one of Soft Machine. Similarly to Dave Sinclair, MacRae is extremely proficient in many diverse musical situations ranging from as far as subtle drone touches to accurate rhythm keyboard play to rapid, pronounced solo parts. Robert Wyatt's drumming is very dense. He finds himself comfortable playing heavy, varied rhythms in odd time signatures. His characteristic vocals also appear, but more often in a spoken word scenario. Although it may not seem like it at first, Bill McCormick's basslines play a crucial role in Matching Mole's sound, building a strong musical foundation for other members. David Sinclair's fuzz organ solos are replaced with those on Phil Miller's guitar, which he plays with an astonishingly precise touch. Brian Eno with his VCS3 synthesizer is responsible for ambient, electronic passages, creating striking, mystic soundscapes.

The album opens with "Starting in the Middle of the Day, We Can Drink Our Politics Away", which features a male choir supported by a repeating piano passage. The lush, surrounding organ sound builds up tension, which is discharged with a loud, rapid jazz jam on "Marchides". The next track, "Nah True's Hole" is based around a repeating pattern with a conversation in the background. In fact, the female voice belongs to Julie Christie, a famous English actress, who is credited as Flora Fidgit. The things she says are erotically-charged and work particularly well with the passage in the background. On "Righteous Rhumba", Robert Wyatt's lyrics talk about the utopian socialist vision and his repellence towards the capitalist world. "Brandy as in Benj" is a jazz-based piece, aimed at displaying the instrumental skill of Matching Mole's members. "Gloria Gloom" starts out with Brain Eno's lengthy synthesizer texture and resolves into Robert Wyatt's politically-charged song. Towards the end, Eno's input comes back, closing the song in a dark, agitating manner. "God Song", the only acoustic piece, sounds a bit like song-oriented tracks from Wyatt's solo releases. "Flora Fidgit" is another jazz jam, in ways similar to what Soft Machine were doing at the time. The album is closed with "Smoke Signal". The track features tense ambient soundscapes with Robert Wyatt's drum solo. Towards the end, one is capable of hearing soft melodies, sounding as if trying to break through, which eventually fade way.

Matching Mole's iconic Little Red Record could best be described as an eccentric political jazz statement with great musicianship. The controversy the band caused with its appearance and title may partly be responsible for its success. The concept and performance is very interesting and original. This is a legendary Canterbury scene album and is without a doubt a must-listen! Recommended!

THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage

Album · 1978 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.29 | 9 ratings
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ALotOfBottle
The Muffins were formed in 1973, in Washington D. C., soon after a keyboardist and saxophonist Dave Newhouse, a guitarist Michael Zentner, and a bassist Billy Swann found a common unorthodox and anti-commercial approach to music. The group, however, remained nameless until a few months later when they named themselves The Muffins, allegedly after one friend of theirs shouted, "The muffins are here!" while bringing them blueberry muffins and more importantly giving an idea for the name of the band. One year after their formation, they were joined by Thomas Scott, a saxophonist with a big-band background. In 1975, Stuart Abramowitz on drums joined, only to leave one year later with Michael Zentner. While playing a concert in 1976, they stumbled upon a drummer Paul Sears, who stayed in the band. The Muffins founded their own independent recording label, Random Radar Records, under which they released their debut album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978.

With influences of acts such as Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, National Health, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention, and even Caravan, The Muffins have shaped their own, distinctive Canterbury scene-inspired style. Although the United States has always been far from being the heartland of the subgenre and recognized it relatively late, the group's music sounds incredibly natural and authentic. Characterized by strong emphasis put on improvisation, The Muffins go far beyond being just another Canterbury-tinged jam band. The extensive use of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, recorders, and oboes, rather than brass winds, gives the band a varied, unique, almost chamber-like sound, at times reminiscent of Henry Cow's Legend. Keyboard instruments also play a prominent role with smooth, dreamy Fender Rhodes electric piano, reminiscent of Dave Stewart and Tim Hodgkinson-inspired Farfisa organ. Free jazz passages, very much in the vein of Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, are also common, enriching the album with even more of a diverse, varied style. In short: Manna/Mirage is a perfectly balanced mélange between classy avant-garde progressive rock and jazz-influenced Canterbury sound.

The album opens with "Monkey with the Golden Eyes". A calm repeating passage on electric piano is supported by a great interplay of flute and clarinet. Gradually, more instruments are added - xylophone, drums, organ, resulting in an almost ambient texture. In the beginning, "Hobart Got Burned" features just a little part of the previous track until it loses itself in chaotic, quirky, free-form mayhem. At one point, all of the instruments participating in the madness meet and, as if finally entering the same alley, present a theme which would not be out of place on an album by Hatfield and the North. Side One closes with the 15-minute "Amelia Earhart". The piece starts out with mystic, meditative sounds of a wide plethora of percussion instruments, which dissolve into a merry Caravan-like melody. Later, the listener encounters a brief free passage and various different segments of the piece, perfectly displaying the flawless work of every instrument in different musical circumstances. Side Two is fully occupied by a nearly 23-minute suite "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang". The track begins with an interaction of woodwind instruments supplemented by accompaniment on Fender Rhodes. Then, a more energetic, louder motif dominated by saxophones kicks in. What follows is really inexplicable. Let me just say that the piece is dripping with complex arrangements, contrasted segments, dynamically, rhythmically, and instrumentally varied parts, numerous different themes, lengthy improvisational passages, and proficient instrumental work. The Muffins seem to have a well-thought plan for every second of the suite and make use of their recording time perfectly.

Manna/Mirage is an absolutely exceptional record in the history of the Canterbury scene. While in 1978, its sound might have radically drifted towards jazz fusion, this one American band, that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, skillfully carries on traditions set by bands such as Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Hatfield and the North. The release is incredibly consistent, mature, and most of all deeply fascinating. A true gem of the Canterbury scene. Highly recommended!

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