Jazz Music Reviews

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH Leverkusen '97

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

CLARE FISCHER Thesaurus (aka 'Twas Only Yesterday)

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

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

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

FRANK ZAPPA Joe's Corsage

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

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

FRANK ZAPPA Orchestral Favorites

Album · 1979 · Third Stream
Cover art 2.82 | 13 ratings
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"Orchestral Favorites" is a live album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in May 1979. It´s the successor to "Sheik Yerbouti" from March 1979. All material featured on "Orchestral Favorites", was originally meant to be featured on the shelved "Läther" box-set, but ended up being released as one of four individual album releases, instead of the collective work that would have been the "Läther" box-set.

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

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

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

FRANK ZAPPA Sheik Yerbouti

Live album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.47 | 21 ratings
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"Sheik Yerbouti" is an album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was originally released in March 1979 as a double vinyl release through Zappa Records. It was the first release on Zappa´s own label after his acrimonious split with manager and business partner Herb Cohen in May 1976, which meant the end of their co-owned DiscReet Records and a host of lawsuits and disagreements over the remaining part of their distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records. "Sheik Yerbouti" bridges the gap between the two last (out of four) individual albums that Warner Bros. Records released featuring material which was originally meant to be released on the four-LP box set Läther. A box set which was shelved and split into four albums and released by Warner Bros. Records without Zappa´s full consent. The two albums bookending "Sheik Yerbouti" are "Sleep Dirt" from January 1979 and "Orchestral Favorites" from May 1979.

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

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

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

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

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Devotion (aka Marbles)

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

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

FRANK ZAPPA Sleep Dirt

Album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.53 | 17 ratings
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"Sleep Dirt" is an album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in January 1979. It´s the successor to "Studio Tan" from September 1978. All material from "Sleep Dirt", was originally meant to be featured on the shelved "Läther" box-set. The original version of "Sleep Dirt" is entirely instrumental. Some of the tracks were initially written in 1972, and imagined with vocals, for a shelved stage musical titled "Hunchentoot". In 1982 Zappa opted to hire female vocalist Thana Harris to add vocals to "Flambay", "Spider of Destiny", and "Time is Money". He also made Chad Wackermann overdub drums on "Flambay", "Spider of Destiny", and "Regyptian Strut". The 1991 CD reissue of "Sleep Dirt" features these changes, which makes the 1979 original vinyl version and the 1991 CD reissue version of the album very different listening experiences. All original instrumental tracks were recorded between 1974 and 1976.

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

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

FRANK ZAPPA Studio Tan

Album · 1978 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.17 | 17 ratings
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"Studio Tan" is an album release by US artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through DiscReet Records in September 1978. It´s the successor to "Zappa in New York" from March 1978. All material from "Studio Tan", was originally meant to be featured on the shelved "Läther" box-set. As Warner Bros. Records still insisted that Zappa owed them four albums, and Zappa refused to comply with their demands, the label decided to pick material from "Läther" (the master tapes were in the label´s possession) and release the material on individual album releases. Most of the tracks on "Zappa in New York (1978)" were also culled from the "Läther" master tapes, and "Studio Tan" was the second release where the same method was used. So "Studio Tan" was released without the consent of the artist, and was even given a cover artwork completely different from anything else in Zappa´s discography, except for the next couple of releases, which were released under similar circumstances.

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

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

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

FRANK ZAPPA Francesco Zappa

Album · 1984 · Third Stream
Cover art 2.13 | 9 ratings
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"Francesco Zappa" is an album release by US, California based artist Frank Zappa. The album was released through Barking Pumpkin Records in November 1984 and is sandwiched between "Them or Us" from October 1984 and "Thing-Fish" from December 1984.

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

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

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

HADLEY CALIMAN Iapetus

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

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

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

RALPH TOWNER My Foolish Heart

Album · 2017 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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What could Ralph Towner possibly have to add to his deep catalog after 40+ years with ECM Records? Plenty, it turns out, and while some may grumble about the 40:28 running time, My Foolish Heart is proof positive that his unfettered guitar greatness has not even remotely diminished with age.

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

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

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

GEORGE BENSON Shape of Things to Come

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

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

CLAUDIO MILANO (NICHELODEON) NichelOdeon / InSonar & Relatives : Incidenti - Lo schianto

Album · 2021 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Italian seven-octave vocal range singer Claudio Milano, after a seven years gap, returns with an impressive album, released under the NichelOdeon/InSonar & Relatives name. What we got here in fact is a collection of music, recorded with different line-ups in different places all around Italy during 2014-2019.

Extremely eclectic, this album in whole works surprisingly well as if it was recorded at once, according to (mad) scenario. In a few words, what happens here can be described as the soundtrack for (nonexistent) "Picasso's Guernica" movie, recorded by Frank Zappa's XXI century incarnation after his return back to fatherland of Sicily. Quite cinematographic, album's music combines prog rock, metal elements, baroque organs, Gothic darkness, operatic vocals, Weimar Republic operetta, classic strings, bombastic pathetic atmosphere cross-mixed with Diamanda Galas aesthetics and... many many more.

Vocals (and lyrics) are still a king here, so I would recommend to find the lyrics in the language you understand (originally - in Italian),it helps (English translation has been kindly provided to me by Claudio himself). As with many of Claudio's previous albums, the main problem is who the listener is. The album is so radically eclectic, that it's difficult to imagine which musical genre fans will accept it as "music produced for them". Those fearless hearts, searching for something they probably never heard in their life, must give it chance.

ESPERANZA SPALDING Songwrights Apothecary Lab

Album · 2021 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 3.45 | 2 ratings
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Esperanza Spalding’s latest album, “Songwrights Apothecary Lab”, is much more than just a collection of songs, instead it represents Spalding’s latest research into music as a healing force. The album title is the same as a program that Spalding curates at Harvard in which musicians, therapists and neuroscientists come together to study the healing powers of music. The big question to the typical layman then is, ‘does this really work’. I think if you are need of healing and open to the influence of this music, then yes, you may feel its effects. On the other hand, if you are busy and distracted you may not notice much of anything. The healing comes to those that seek it.

Musically this is a very diverse set that draws on art pop, rhythmic drones, various styles of jazz and introspective folk music. Finding comparisons can be difficult, but there is a good dose of Alice Coltrane on here, maybe a bit of Joni Mitchell and the avant-garde horn arrangements on Formwela 9 may remind some of Charles Mingus or Sun Ra. Formwela 3 gets into a free fusion jam with Wayne Shorter on board, but the harsh horn sound is not a typical one for Shorter. Although most of this music is not particularly dissonant, this is far from easy listening or background music, this album demands you pay attention, its just too detailed not to.

Although most of these tracks fall into a singer/songwriter category with the expected introspective lyrics about relationships and one’s relationship with the world, there are a couple of good instrumentals as well. The first two tracks get into a nice Indian influenced drone complete with carnatic vocals from guest Ganavya, and Formwela 8 is a lengthy African groove with what sounds like a Lowery organ involved, the same organ sound that Alice Coltrane preferred. No doubt this is a very ambitious musical work, but how well that translates into an enjoyable listening experience may vary per the listener. Esperanza obviously tries to come up with music that is unique, and to that end she very much succeeded here, but there are going to be those who wish there were a few more familiar riffs here and there,

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE Fresh

Album · 1973 · Funk
Cover art 2.81 | 7 ratings
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Well known amongst aficionados of the funk, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Fresh” took the funk in a ‘fresh’ new direction. Instead of basing the jams on a repeating melodic bass line, Sly and his crew open up the texture and feature a structure where all the musicians interact with short little riffs and accents that intersect in sometimes mind boggling sound kaleidoscopes. The painting term, ‘pointillistic’ could apply here, in which many small events stand on their own to create an ensemble whole. Not everything on here is advanced scientific future funk, Sly’s old school good times RnB still shows up on a few tracks, but for the most part, “Fresh”, holds up to its name with some exciting new directions in music.

This album takes syncopation to new levels, which makes it surprising that the drummer on board, Andy Newmark, is a rock session drummer not usually known for playing in this style. How well he performs is somewhat mysterious as he is mixed very low and his playing is sometimes assisted by a drum machine. Its up to the other players to produce the timing to pull this off and they do a great job, particularly bassist Rusty Allen, who had some mighty big shoes to fill when highly influential and innovative original bassist Larry Graham left to start his own band. How good the rest of this ensemble is at finding their place in the mix is on full display on the album opener, “In Time”, cheekily named as the musicians stay in time while adding little hits and riffs that never collide and always surprise as we wonder how do they do this.

Lyrically this album is also a whole new bag for Sly as he leaves behind the feel good anthems of his late 60s work and embraces the ambiguities of the 70s. Many of these songs feature abstract word play that might be hard to pin down, but can still be interesting and amusing. Musically Sly also introduces new structures in which one rhythmic idea repeats for the whole song without any need for verse/chorus type constructs. When applied correctly, this sort of African approach carries a lot of strength. Most of these tracks are excellent, but some might take exception to Sly’s over wrought vocals on “Que Serra Serra” and “Let Me Have it All”.

MASADA New Masada Quartet

Album · 2021 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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The original acoustic Masada, presented at the end of the last century was an innovative and partially genre-defining John Zorn project with Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen, and Joey Baron combining Klezmer and free jazz. Electric Masada modifications in the beginning of the new Millennium was a true bomb, an explosive mix of heavy metal and free jazz scented with Near East knotty tunes.

Twenty years later, this new incarnation includes the guitarist Julian Lage, the bassist Jorge Roeder, and the drummer Kenny Wollesen. If electric Masada was an Yiddish free jazz metal on steroids, New Masada Quartet sounds more like four seasoned veterans' unhurried conversation about the time they were young sitting under still-warm autumn sun. There is still a lot of Klezmer in the new album's music, a spark or a few of guitar/sax free soloing and a lot of mid tempo melancholy. Nothing revolutionary can be found here, not even high-energy ecstatic danceable, as on many recordings from the last century, and unfortunately - not even catchy melodies are presented. True, for the old band's fans this release is a reminder of sort how great the original Masada was at their time. Better choose one of the two-decades old releases, as a rule they are better for sure.

IKE QUEBEC With A Song In My Heart

Album · 1980 · Swing
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
BALLADS'N'BLUES

In this album's effusive sleeve notes by Bob Porter, Ike Quebec is called "one of the very best tenor players who ever lived." That might be stretching it just a bit, but it's nice to have With A Song In My Heart to hear what the fuss was all about. Both Jimmy Smith and Grant Green thought highly enough of Ike to have him sit in on two different albums each.

Part of Blue Note's infamous "LT" series, this album was recorded in two sessions less than a year before Ike's untimely death from cancer (age: 44) in 1963. Often compared to Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, Ike's late night boudoir tone is on full display throughout these recordings. If the listener should notice a lack of cohesiveness, it's because these songs were not meant to be compiled to make an album, but to be released as 45s for the jukeboxes of bars and restaurants. Lightly backed by organ, guitar, bass, and drums, Ike wails his way through six standard ballads. The tempos pick up for "With a Heart in My Song", "All of Me", and "But Not For Me" before returning to the blues phrases he plays so well.

Due to "personal problems", Ike Quebec's recording career can be considered "spotty" at best. In the interest of full disclosure, all nine of the songs on With A Song In My Heart have been compiled with others into a 2-CD set with all of his "jukebox" work. Consider this album to be an effective sampler, despite the darkly lit theatre curtain that serves as its cover.

ROY HARGROVE Roy Hargrove/Christian McBride/Stephen Scott Trio : Parker's Mood

Album · 1995 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
DRUMMERLESS YET TIMELESS

This trio album was first announced to the world in the September 1995 issue of DownBeat, in a cover story with Roy Hargrove and Kenny Garrett. Naturally, it was one of those "young lions of jazz" stories that mentioned Parker's Mood would be released to celebrate Charlie Parker's 75th birthday. While the three performers (Hargrove, trumpet, Christian McBride, bass, and Stephen Scott, piano) would all move on quickly to other projects, and while there is a multitude of Bird tribute albums out there, this one is different and deserves to be heard again and again.

First, look at the track listing. While many people have covered "Yardbird Suite", "Parker's Mood", "Steeplechase", and even "Dewey Square" (I'm thinking of you, Mr. Redman) over the years, these three really dug deep into the Parker catalog for material. Heard any versions of "Laird Baird" recently? How about "Cardboard" or "Bongo Beep"? The opener "Klactoveedsedsteen" is an almost unknown masterpiece of bebop writing that, were there any sensitivity toward such things in the world today, this recording would have restored to rightful prominence. (Of course, the song's title alone has probably scared off most of the potential audience.) For those who want to investigate further, the CD booklet lists the original Parker recordings with dates and record labels.

Then there's the performances. Did I tell you these guys are awe-inspiring? Of the 16 tracks, 10 include the whole trio, including a speedy version of "Marmaduke", a poignant "Laura", a driven "Dexterity", and the Latin swing of "Repetition". The three duets are "Yardbird Suite" for trumpet and piano, "Laird Baird" for piano and bass (McBride's playing is unreal here), and "Chasin' the Bird" for trumpet and bass. And of course, everyone receives a solo spotlight: Hargrove on "Dewey Square", a blistering "Red Cross" by McBride, and Scott's freeish read of "April in Paris". The trio's closing "Star Eyes" will remain in your mind long after it's over.

The players address the challenges associated with playing these songs without a drummer in the liner notes, and the end results exceed everyone's expectations. That's to say nothing about not including an alto sax, but the compositions prove to be durable enough to handle these unique arrangements, which of course is the biggest tribute of all. The total program lasts 64:37, but flies by in seemingly 1/10th of that time. In spite of the seriousness of purpose, a good time was clearly had by all. Parker's Mood is highly recommended to both Bird acolytes as well as those who have not yet heard how powerful and far ahead of their time these compositions are.

CHET BAKER Blood, Chet And Tears

Album · 1970 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Does a cheezy album title mean that the music on said album will be cheezy too, in the case of Chet Baker’s, “Blood, Chet and Tears”, it certainly does. In case you don’t get the reference, the album’s title is based on the band name, Blood Sweat & Tears, only they snuck Chet’s name in there, ha ha ha, get it, yeah it’s a real downer. Anyway, with a title like that I assumed the whole album would be BS&T covers, and there are several of their songs on here, but they also felt the need to put some real corny classics on here like “Sugar Sugar:” by the pretend band, The Archies. Chet plays trumpet on all the songs and also sings on two of them. His backup band contains some top jazz and session musicians like Joe Pass, Tommy Tedesco and Hal Blaine, but nobody can save this album from being a rather bland outing. The arrangements are nothing special and most of Chet’s playing sounds like he is barely interested.

Of the bad entries, one of the worst is Chet’s vocal version of the Beatles’ “Something”. The original is a pop masterpiece but Baker seems very uncomfortable with the word flow and his usually distinctive vocal style never gets a chance with the overall plodding presentation. None of the BS&T songs do well, which is odd because there was a lot of jazz and big band arranging in that group, but the tunes don’t seem to inspire Chet too much. There are a few good ones on this album, “Evil Ways’ hit’s a groove and Baker almost sounds like Herb Alpert for a while. Chet’s lazy behind the beat phrasing on the trumpet is used to good effect on “Sugar”, making this one a good cut for one of those kitsch exotica CD compilations. The very best track by far though is Baker’s vocal version of “Come Saturday Morning”. It’s a well written song and Baker’s vocals floating over the string section is just sublime. Sometimes these kind of pop cover outings can be a lot of fun, such as Don Ellis’ “Connection”, but there just seems to be a lack of inspiration and energy on most of this Baker opus.

EDDIE HARRIS Silver Cycles

Album · 1969 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Eddie Harris built a solid reputation early in his career as someone who could turn out catchy soul jazz numbers that did well on Black radio stations. As he headed into the late 60s, Eddie, like so many others in the music world, felt a desire to branch out and experiment more. This desire to try new things came to fruition on Harris’s 1969 album, “Silver Cycles”. On this LP, Eddie established a new norm that would go on to mark much of the rest of his career as a tireless eclectic experimenter who was adept at many musical genres.

“Silver Cycles” opens with two excellent funky soul jazz workouts that I would imagine his record company insisted on placing first so that his long time fans would find what they were expecting. On third track, “Smoke Signals”, Eddie signals a definite left hand turn as this mysterious number paints an exotic atmosphere with wordless vocals and echoed saxophone lines. All through out this album Harris makes use of an Echoplex and also sometimes replaces his acoustic sax with the odd sounding electric sax. Side one closes out with, “Coltrane’s View”, which resembles “Naima”, and a sublime big band power ballade called “I’m Gonna Leave You by Yourself”. This last track is worth the cost of the entire album and one of the best songs of Harris’ lengthy career.

Side two is the more experimental side and features a lot of Eddie playing the saxophone by himself and building overlapping lines with his echo machine. His various rhythm sections (there are many guests on here) provide psychedelic fusion over drive on “Little Bit”, and insanely up tempo avant-garde bebop on “Infrapolations”, which bears some resemblance to “Giant Steps”. Musically “Silver Cycles” compares well to other experimental fusion records of the era from folks like Miles and Herbie, so why isn’t this album a well-known fusion classic? A couple things work against this album, the two colors only album cover looks cheap like a bargain bin album, and yes, Eddie’s albums tended to hit the bargain bin often and he seems to always have a cheap looking album cover. Another problem is the production, this album just sounds kind of flat in a way, but from a purely musical perspective, “Silver Cycles” is a gem in the late 60s world of psychedelic fusion.

MILES DAVIS Blue Moods

Album · 1955 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 4.34 | 7 ratings
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The only release for Charles Mingus 'Debut "Blue Moods" is Miles Davis' second LP 12 "and was recorded on July 9, 1955 and released the same year. The style is Cool Jazz, which is a very relaxed and relaxing Jazz more pushed towards the listener than to demonstrate skills and complicated and, in some cases, incomprehensible solos, typical of other forms of Jazz. One of the things to note about "Blue Moods" is the fact that none of the musicians who join Miles Davis on this album are true Cool Jazz experts and, admittedly, this fact can hear it. In fact it is precisely this having to adapt to a genre that is not really that makes "Blue Moods" really explosive and that still makes it fresh and engaging today.

Musically "Blue Moods" consists of four tracks arranged by Teddy Charles (except "Alone Together" which is arranged by Charles Mingus, who also produces the album). As mentioned "Blue Moods" is made up of very relaxed compositions which are easy to listen to and which feature great work by the band and not by a soloist or group of soloists. I don't see it as a Miles Davis album but a band where Miles Davis is the head of operations.

"Blue Moods" is an album, therefore, also suitable for those who are not an expert in Jazz but are looking only for a relaxed and relaxing music and do not want the complexity of certain Jazz. And, because it is the truth, it would have in front of it an authentic masterpiece for how fresh and engaging it is still.

GEORGE BENSON Space

Album · 1978 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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George Benson is a fantastic guitarist and, author. He has won several "Grammys" and is also known in the Rock world. Also because he is really a musician who knows how to combine Jazz with Rock, Funky and Soul and he always knows how to be himself.

In 1978 the compilation "Space" was released which opens with a "Funky" version (even if only as an arrangement) of "Hold On, I'm Coming" by Sam & Dave which is an unreleased (from the sessions of "Good King Bad ") and that I really like it a lot because of the Funky component, which makes it very Rock. But, with "summertime" (like all other songs it is live from "In Concert-Carnegie Hall" as "Sky Dive" which is unreleased as a recording), Soul comes to the surface. A Motown Soul. And the two aspects of George Benson are placed side by side without fear of making it appear that they are different genres or artists. However, what is surprising is the extreme versatility of a unique artist."Space" continues, after the first two pieces, in favor of a very linear and technical Jazz with a gram warmth that came to us fresh and not at all aged and flows away perfect and relaxing in its very recognizable sounds.

I don't rate "Space" as a proper compilation. To me it sounds more like a studio & live album, due to the two unreleased albums and I can say it's a really good album. Which I really recommend to all lovers of good music.

JEFF BECK Rough and Ready

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.36 | 9 ratings
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I can't find a true identity for this second Jeff Beck Group.I know it's common thing but I'm a Cozy Powell fan and Jeff Beck is one of my favorite guitarists. Also here plays Max Middleton, one of the best keyboard players of that era. Bob Tench is too underrated a singer and bassist, Clive Chaman, is certainly no fallback. It must be said that Jeff Beck was a fantastic innovator and without him there would be no Heavy Metal. But it is equally true that here, in this "Rough and Ready", he drastically breaks with the past to devote himself to a sort of POP Jazz Rock that has Soul and Funk moments that I don't mind at all. Only that POP component does not help to understand this choice.And today it also destabilizes the fact that the next album, "Jeff Beck Group", is a really beautiful and compelling Blues Rock album and more in line with what Jeff Beck was known for.

Musically I think that "Rough and Ready" is more interested in an audience open to certain contaminations of Progressive Soul and certainly Blues Rock than a Jazz audience, although it is, in truth, a Jazz Rock album with various digressions in other musical genres (and well blended). In my head, although "Rough and Ready" is certainly a good album ... It just doesn't convince me as an album. Great music in general. Which convinces me, as single songs. But that leaves me very bitter in my mouth. And that makes me say "Rough and Ready" is a wrong album.

DON ELLIS Soaring

Album · 1973 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.78 | 3 ratings
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Don Ellis’ “Soaring” is another one of those albums that is a tale of two sides, with one side being quite different from the other. Side one of this album is classic Don Ellis high energy modern big band music with ambitious arrangements, lots of odd-metered rhythms, electronic effects and screaming solos. Side two, instead, centers more around ballads and pop type material. The whole album is worth a listen, but I bet most Ellis fans are going to gravitate to side one. A big plus on this album is Bulgarian keyboardist Milcho Leviev who shares Don’s enthusiasm for complex arrangements, odd metered rhythms and wild solos enhanced with electronics. Milcho was always Don’s most valuable sideman.

Some highlights on side one include Milcho’s “Sladka Pitka” which features Bulgarian rhythms and Leviev’s crazed solo on an electric piano enhanced with wah wah effects. Ellis’ “The Devil Made Me Write this Piece” features African rhythms and Don himself taking a drum solo. Side one closes with “Go Back Home”, a foot stomping soul jazz rave up that was a crowd favorite. Throughout this side Don delivers many hair raising solos on the trumpet showing he ranked with the best of the day. In fact, this album may be the one album of his that best showcases his soloing abilities.

“Invincible” opens side two and is probably the best track on this side. It starts as a ballad but then builds, guided by Vince Denham’s powerful sax solo, as it goes through constant modulations and then a classic Don Ellis false ending. The rest of this side is taken by two ballads that are quite sentimental by Ellis standards. I think this album was intended to include all the fan favorites, so that might explain the more pop oriented material. One other track on this side, “Sidonie”, brings back the Bulgarian rhythms and energy, but it lacks the luster of the tracks on the first side. Its kind of convenient the way they split the music on this album, I will probably spin side one now and again, but its possible I may never give side two another listen. Not that it is so bad, but its not what I would normally be drawn to in a Don Ellis recording.

WEATHER REPORT This Is This

Album · 1986 · Fusion
Cover art 3.15 | 12 ratings
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"This Is This" is the 14th full-length studio album by US Jazz rock/fusion act Weather Report. The album was released through Columbia Records in June 1986. It´s the successor to "Sportin´ Life" from 1985 and was more or less released to fulfill the band´s contract with Columbia Records. Growing tensions and a feeling that the band had run its course meant that Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter ended Weather Report after the release of "This Is This".

Although Omar Hakum only performs on "Consequently" and Peter Erskine performs the drums on all other tracks, the remaining part of the core quintet lineup who recorded the two direct predecessors is intact: Joe Zawinul (keyboards/synths), Wayne Shorter (soprano & tenor saxophones), Victor Bailey (bass), and Mino Cinelu (percussion, vocals). Carlos Santana makes a guest guitar appearence on the opening title track and on "Man With the Copper Fingers", and his unmistakable playing style makes those songs stand out quite a bit. It´s not often Weather Report have included guitar on their music.

Stylistically the material on "This Is This" are relatively diverse and the listener is treated to ethnic world music styled fusion, ambient jazz rock/fusion ("I'll Never Forget You"), and a furiously fast played fusion track in "Update". If you´re familiar with the last couple of albums, you won´t be surprised by what "This Is This" has to offer. The musical performances are on a high level on all posts, and the album also features a well sounding production job, so while it´s certainly not the band´s most interesting release, it´s not a bad quality release either. On the other hand the choice to disband was probably the right one, as "This Is This" and the last couple of releases before that, only offer very little new and for the most part the music is lacking the edge of the band´s 70s heyday. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

MUNDELL LOWE TV Action Jazz!

Album · 1959 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Its hard to beat the sound of 50s jazz when it comes to classic black and white noir crime TV. So successful is the pairing that exotica collectors coined the term ‘crime jazz’ to describe the dark urban music that accompanies TV detectives and the hoods they stalk. Henry Mancini’s music for “Peter Gunn” is often given credit for inventing this genre, so it comes as no surprise that when Mundell Lowe put together his “TV Action Jazz!” LP, he included two tracks from Mancini’s popular soundtrack. “TV Action Jazz!” might seem like a totally kitsch album, and that element is there, but it also features some excellent jazz arranging and solos from top stars of the day like Herbie Mann and Donald Byrd.

The style on here is laid back hard bop and cool jazz, but this isn’t an entirely west coast band on here, more like a meeting of west and east coast cool schools. Lowe has an octet to work with and takes advantage of that set up to create creative arrangements and mini-big band tone colors. Mundell takes a majority of the solos, and his mix of bop and blues guitar riffs recall Joe Pass, only more laid back and with some interesting twists and turns here and there. Tony Scott has a beautiful tone on the clarinet which sounds great on the slinky opening melody to “Mike Hammer Riff Blues”. The young Donald Byrd does not get a lot of solo space, but when he does, he emulates the popular cool players of the era, namely Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Eddie Costas’ solos on piano and vibes carry that cool school tendency toward cleverness, humor and the non-cliché.

Although there are several well known songs on here, such as “Peter Gunn” and “Perry Mason Theme”, Lowe greatly improves these old warhorses with modern abstract arrangements that only hint at the originals. Sure, those that collect kitsch exotica are going to be attracted to this record, but it also contains all those things that made late 50s cool jazz so cool. it’s a win-win on both fronts.

WEATHER REPORT Domino Theory

Album · 1984 · Fusion
Cover art 3.44 | 13 ratings
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"Domino Theory" is the 12th full-length studio album by US jazz/fusion act Weather Report. The album was released through Columbia Records in February 1984. It´s the successor to "Procession" from 1983 and features the same quintet lineup who recorded the predecessor.

"Procession" was the first Weather Report to more prominently feature vocals and lyrics, although the band had made brief experiments with vocals on earlier releases too. The trend to include vocals continues on "Domino Theory", which opens with the stunning "Can It Be Done" (sung by Carl Anderson), but Weather Report have not abandoned their jazz/fusion instrumental work, which is as impressive as ever on the 11:10 minutes long "Db Waltz", which follows. That track also features brief moments with vocals, but no lyrics. We´re treated to funky and jazzy rhythms and bass work, Wayne Shorter´s exciting saxophone playing, and Joe Zawinul´s always intriguing and creative use of keyboards/synths.

While some of the material are quite brilliant, there are other times when I don´t think Weather Report quite hits the mark. "The Peasant" is for example unnecessarily long and becomes a little tedious with its ambient sound, and few climaxes. "Predator" features a lot of nice rhythmic playing, but it´s also a track which isn´t really leading to anywhere. The same can unfortunately be said about "Blue Sound Note 3", which is a relatively experimental affair, but again lacking direction and catchiness, until about 5 minutes in, when some melancholic saxophone melodies come in to save the day. "Swamp Cabbage" is decent enough, but not exactly a mind blowing track. I like the dark and haunting atmosphere of the title track, but it´s another ambient track, and "Domino Theory" could definitely have been a little more interesting with fewer ambient moments.

"Domino Theory" features a detailed, organic, and well sounding production. Some people may not appreciate some of the 80s synths choices, but Zawinul is a master of his craft, and anything he touches is at least interesting to listen to. Upon conclusion "Domino Theory" isn´t the greatest release by Weather Report. It starts out strong with "Can It Be Done" and "Db Waltz", which to my ears are the two best quality tracks on the album, but from then on the highlights are few and far between. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

MELVIN VAN PEEBLES Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Soundtracks
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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An intense movie deserves an intense soundtrack, and that’s what we get with “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Revenge”. A controversial movie when it was released in the early 70s, “Sweetback” is considered one of the first of the “blaxploitation” genre and the first film to feature a militant African American man in confrontation with the authorities and succeeding. Whereas some soundtracks can stand alone musically with plenty of songs that you can listen to apart from the movie, not this OST. Much of this album features sounds, jarring noises and dialog from the movie, not just music. This is a very intense album, almost avant-garde in places when snippets of dialog overlap with gun shots, police sirens, snarling dogs, yelling, screaming, pure chaotic noise, sexual climaxes and gospel choirs. No, this one is not for the timid, and if played loudly in a dark room, it can be downright intimidating. But, boring it is not. Any collector of the unusual and the bizarre in music ought to check this one out.

Side one opens with main character Sweetback answering a gospel choir acting as a sort of ‘Greek chorus’ letting him know what he is up against if he takes on ‘the man’. There is plenty of noise interspersed as this soundtrack builds a hallucinogenic inner city nightmare of confusion. “Running Song” is a fast paced jazzy rock groove with Sweetback saying over and over to his feet and legs to get moving as he runs from the law. This side ends with a relentless jazz funk workout. The band on here is no other than Earth Wind and Fire making one of their first appearances and playing a lot of old school funk and soul that sounds nothing like the slick sophisticated style they would develop later in their career.

Side two opens with a couple of RnB numbers that are probably the closest to regular music that you will hear on here, but when the off-kilter sounds of “Sanra Z” enter, it sounds like the band is falling down drunk and we are back into chaos land. What follows is some of the most intense moments yet as sections of dialog are layered on top of each other with plenty of yelling, cussing and racial epithets to spare. This album is not for everyone, but those who seek the unique and unusual will find a goldmine here.

RON CARTER Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette & Gonzalo Rubalcaba : Skyline

Album · 2021 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Super-trio album, "Skyline", reunites Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba with his American mentors - drummer Jack DeJohnette and acoustic bassist Ron Carter. Rubalcaba played with them in the late 90s, when he arrived to Miami from the Dominican Republic.

On "Skyline", all three musicians offer some of their previously played tunes. So, this album is more about collaboration and emotional colors than about really a new thing. The opener, "Lágrimas Negras"(traditional Cuban "Black Tears" from 20th) played as a bolero is an absolute winner. "Novia Mia" is another Cuban classic, dreamy and melancholic.

Still, the main album's flow is mainstream jazz, with swinging rhythm section and lots of groove. Ron Carter adds his "Gypsy" (originally released in 1979 on his album with Chick Corea) and “A Quiet Place” from his 1978 album, "A Song for You", (Jack DeJohnette played on the original version as well). DeJohnette offers “Silver Hollow”, originally recorded with his fusion project New Directions in 1978, and “Ahmad the Terrible” - his dedication to Ahmad Jamal. Rubalcaba's addition is “Promenade”, from his late 90s album, and “Siempre Maria” - another Cuban rhythm scented song, originally released by him in 1992. The album's closer, "RonJackRuba", is a bluesy improv, which was born right in the recording studio.

During the decades of the genre's existence, acoustic trio post bop experienced many ups and downs, and nowadays it is far not so noticeable and dominating as it was in late 60s or early 70s. Quite often new generations of jazz fans are more familiar with once widely influential fusion or more modern jazz sounds of the late 90s and New Millennium. Still it's post bop which is saving the jazz tradition till now, and sometimes it is undeservedly forgotten. "Skyline" is an album made by the genre's masters, reminding us how great this music can sound again.

MIROSLAV VITOUS Universal Syncopations

Album · 2003 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
NOT WHAT YOU WANTED

Let me begin by saying this is a very good album and worthy addition to your Miroslav Vitous collection. That being said, it also needs to immediately follow that this is NOT an early-1970s throwback album. Fusion fans must have foamed at the mouth when this was originally released and they scanned the line-up of musicians. So what do we actually have here?

Only 2 of the 5 names appearing on the front cover play on all 9 tracks: Miroslav Vitous (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Both of their performances throughout are outstanding, with "Medium" being a viciously driving duet. John McLaughlin, in only his second appearance on the ECM label, appears on only 2 tracks: "Univoyage" and "Faith Run". His understated contribution to the latter is much more substantial than that on the former, and on both songs, he only plays acoustic guitar. Chick Corea (piano) performs on 3 tracks: "Univoyage", "Sun Flower", and "Miro Bop". Jan Garbarek (tenor sax) plays on 7 of the 9 tracks (with 2 co-composing credits), making this album much closer to a trio album with special guests than a quintet album. "Bamboo Forest", "Beethoven", and "Brazil Waves" feature only the trio. The 5 players, in fact, only appear together on "Univoyage".

The most controversial aspect of this album is the inclusion of a brass trio (trumpet/flugelhorn/trombone) on "Univoyage", "Tramp Blues", and "Faith Run". This ensemble adds light background touches and sound effects here and there, and a punctuation phrase every now and then. These contributions don't ruin the album or overly clutter the sound, but one wonders why they are there at all.

So if you were looking for a 21st Century Mahavishnu, composed and recorded 30 years after their glory days, you've come to the wrong place. Universal Syncopations is one of those albums that will always live in the shadow of what it could have been, and what listeners may have been expecting from these players. Which is a shame, because it's still a very good Miroslav Vitous album, in spite of who is and isn't playing.

MAHOGANY FROG In The Electric Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LARRY YOUNG Mothership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REZ ABBASI Unfiltered Universe

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

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

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

SUN RA The Solar-Myth Approach Vol. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Arrangements For Guitar By Marco Pereira

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

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

SUN RA Crystal Spears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YUSEF LATEEF The Doctor Is In ...And Out

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

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

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

MILT JACKSON Reverence And Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

STEVE GADD Steve Gadd Band : At Blue Note Tokyo

Live album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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If you were a jazz fan in the 70s then you no doubt are very familiar with the drumming of Steve Gadd. Possibly only Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea left a bigger jazz footprint in the 70s than Steve, whose creative drumming showed up on so many jazz, funk, RnB and pop albums throughout the decade, and of course right up to today as well. “At Blue Note Tokyo” is Steve’s latest album and it showcases his band at a relaxed and very groove oriented live show at the famous club in Japan. Joining Steve are his usual band mates of Kevin Hays on keys and vocals, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Walt Fowler on trumpet and longtime associate David Spinozza filling in on guitar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILES DAVIS Quiet Nights

Album · 1963 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.24 | 16 ratings
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“ Quiet Nights” could have been a much better album, but unfortunately the meddling greed of Columbia never let this project develop naturally. Miles and Gil had a sincere interest in Brazilian music and put together a couple of art pop covers of Brazilian songs which Columbia jumped on in an attempt to ride the new Bossa Nova fad. The songs did not make the pop charts so the whole project was shelved for a while. Later Miles and Gil recorded several more songs in a Brazilian style and then again the project sat for a while. At a later date, in an anxious move to satisfy the suits at Colombia, Theo Macero dug up a ballad Miles had recorded with his previous combo, slapped that with the other tunes and released the album which now contained only 25 minutes of music. Miles was quite angry with the move and broke relations with Macero and Columbia for some time.

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

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

CHRIS POTTER Sunrise Reprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MACHINE MASS Machine Mass Sextet : Intrusion

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

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

VIJAY IYER Vijay Iyer Sextet ‎: Far From Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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