Jazz Music Reviews from Abraxas

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Now Here This (with The 4th Dimension)

Album · 2012 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 2.33 | 5 ratings
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It's rather sad or dissapointing to realize that such great artists run out of fuel with time. It's the case of hundreds, many of the grand 60s and 70s rock bands suffered from it, and also jazz musicians (and equally happens to painters, film directors, etc)

Not everyone is a Picasso or, for jazz sake, a Miles Davis, that with each new stylistic period they turn things upside down and make something of their own.

John McLaughlin is one of my favourite guitarists, his early solo work that meandered through free jazz and psychedelia was superb, while with Mahavishnu and Shakti he was breathtaking. Then the mid 70s came... not everything was lost, but you could clearly notice territories being walked again.

And now we are in 2012. What happened? I'd say production values changed, what's the sound of those drums? He's hitting inflated bags. The keyboards are digital as if we were still in the 80s and buried in the mix. I don't know why, but John since Industrial Zen or maybe even before, decided to add a very artifical distorted sound to his guitar that sounds like.. emm.. samey? undistinguished? The bass is there, doing a billion things, slapping and complex lines, but it sounds like in those various 80s fusion albums that just don't have bite.

In definitive, unquestionably, you hear the talent and the experience of these guys, John is a legend. And no, this is not pop or commercial music, he didn't sell his soul to the devil. But still, I really don't notice where's John's mind and spirit in this. He's having fun, playing energetic fusion, but sounds like plastic, nothing much to digest or even taste.

This probably sounds more interesting live, where the drums have a warm sound, while the rest get a chance to improvise and free their minds. If you don't mind if John isn't doing anything remotely new and that the sound is probably the laziest use of 2000s technology, then check this out; he still has the chops.

RETURN TO FOREVER Romantic Warrior

Album · 1976 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.10 | 41 ratings
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Prog Warrior

Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior has always been a dilemma for me since it features technically perfect musicans and some brilliant instrumental crafting, but the overall result has never striked me as technical Jazz Rock or something really jazzy which is what you expect from Corea & Friends; Romantic Warrior has always striked me as a Prog Rock album played by jazz-leaned musicians. And besides sounding more Prog Rock than Jazz Fusion, it has never been an album I enjoyed much due to its prog-rock-focus (and hey, I'm a big prog fan).

Right away with the opener entitled 'Medieval Overture' with its flashy modern keyboards and the ever-changing times, even including some resemblance to Gentle Giant's medieval roots and weird complexity, you know that Return to Forever is not the jazz rock band which played the raw Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy nor the elegant Where Have I Known You Before anymore.

The second tune called 'Sorceress' is the only part from Romantic Warrior which can be classified as straight Jazz Rock, with its funky but steady rhythm being the responsible of the inevitable addictiveness to the tune. However the main performer is Chick Corea with an excellent blend of various synths, a piano, an electric piano and some floating keyboards, all played with such proficiency and delicacy, you really can't ask for more, except that you could argue that Hancock did this some years before. One of the band's greatest tunes.

As soon as 'Sorceress' finishes the title track begins in a very majestic way with Corea's fascinating piano, Meola's marvellous acoustic guitar and Stanley's upright bass. However that's only the intro, it then gets into a jazzy state with an excellent rhythm base which each member has the chance to step in and make an unbelievable solo. Superficially it may seem very much as a jazz rock tune because the musicians play unmistakably in a jazz rock manner, but the composition itself if you pay attention to the details you'll notice more of a prog-feel than a jazz rock one. It's executed with perfection, but sometimes I feel I'm not getting anything from it.

Next track is 'Majestic Dance' and this tune confirms that this is not Return to Forever playing jazz rock if not prog rock. Meola's catchy guitar riff then accompanied by Corea's synths is undeniably in the prog-vein. Anyway, Meola being the composer, he's undoubtedly the highlight here with his mind-blowing shredding. However the proof that Majestic Dance is inclined to prog rock are the bizarre passages with Corea's synth and a keyboard sound akin to a xylophone which reminds you of Ruth Underwood when playing with Zappa. It's good, but those bizarre passsages are just unnecessary.

Romantic Warrior continues in the prog-vein with 'The Magician'. A frenetic tune full of oddities which reminds you once again of Gentle Giant's medieval influences and bizarreness. Probably the weirdest tune in Return To Forever's catalogue, and that's only because it yells Prog! Technically amazing, though zero pleasure listening to it

The album finishes with the highly acclaimed among Prog fans, 'Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant'. It's a 11 minute piece full of intricating sections varying from completely technical stuff to some soft jazzy-inclined passages to prog-esque stuff. The main performers are Chick Corea and Al Di Meola both dueling with some really fine soloing, however there's also a lot of room for Lenny and Stanley to stand-out. Overall, a Prog instrumental which many prog bands wished they could make, however for my personal taste I would take any simple but addictive funky jazz rock tune to this technical show-off.

The conclusion to Romantic Warrior is a no-brainer for me, it's a refined and complex Prog Rock record made by jazz inclined musicians, however most of it doesn't strike a chord with me, the excessive medieval interludes and solos just seem to show-off and don't fit, it's rather unpleasant in places. I do want to make it clear that if you're looking for the jazz rock Return to Forever, this is not the place to come, either Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy or the even better Where Have I Known You Before are what a jazz rock fan should be looking for. Don't get me wrong I don't consider Romantic Warrior a Prog Rock record because it's technical, The Mahavishnu Orchestra has demonstrated being highly technical and even heavy, yet the jazz rock credentials are very clear in them, unlike in this record, Romantic Warrior with it's prog-esque cover-work and titles from the tunes, but more importantly, the clear way Return To Forever composed the tunes which is in a very prog-manner, so this can't, in my opinion, be considered a jazz rock classic either a masterpiece of that genre.

3.5 stars: Highly recommended to Prog fans, don't fear the Fusion label because anyone will admit that this record has more to do with Prog than with Fusion. For Fusion fans, well I'm sure you already have this, it's a classic because of its commercial success, but stylistically it's not really a Fusion masterpiece as 'Where Have I Known You Before'.

SPINETTA JADE Alma de Diamante

Album · 1980 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.83 | 4 ratings
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-It's really unfortunate and sad that Spinetta has just recently passed away, at age 62. He was truly one of Argentina's most beloved and greatest artist, having a career that goes from the late 60s to modern times, passing through various genres and succeeding in them, always covered with the man's fantastic poetic lyrics and gorgeous voice. I grew listening to a pair of his records, being my dad a fan and later my elder brother, and although I was turned-off at first, due to his expressive vocals, I later became a fan as well. I've listened to a good bulk of his discography, and he has simply filled me with total pleasure and emotion. The following review is one I wrote a while ago, but would like to post it here in the Jazz Archives to catch some notice of this brilliant man. Rest in Peace "Flaco".-

After the disbandment of Invisible, lead singer and songwriter L.A. Spinetta's most-prog oriented band, he released a solo album in 1978 entitled A 18' Del Sol (At 18 minutes from the sun), one of his most acclaimed solo efforts evoking the future jazz fusion spirit of his later 80s band, Spinetta Jade.

In 1980 the debut of Spinetta's jazziest group was finally released, called Alma de Diamante ("Diamond's Soul"), and damn, what a debut! Of course, it's not a real debut in the sense that it is the first time they compose and play in studio, Spinettta & Co. were already professionals by that time, so expect a very polished debut without the usual flaws of typical debuts.

First, let's state what type of fusion this band delivered. It's a smooth and very melodic fusion, with floating and chilling keyboards, an entertaining and diverse (but not technical-kind) rhythm section, some good emotional soloing from the guitar and synths (not dated!), and, finally, soulful vocals and poetic lyrics that is the band's most unique feature. Comparisons? Well, it reminds me a bit of Holdsworth's 80s solo stuff, the melody department specifically. But no, it's not really a clone or a derivative fusion band.

But what's so good of this fusion? Ah, the whole mixture of the previously stated elements. The instrumentals, 'Amenaber' and 'Digital Ayatollah', show the band in real fusion grounds, but maintaining Spinetta's melodic and cheerful spirit. The rest of the compositions have the lovely vocals of Luis Alberto, but they're not simple tunes though, still a lot going on from the band, powerful melodies, excellent solos, great instrumental parts, all in all making very pleasant and entertaining melodic fusion.

In last place, I'll say why this is in my opinion the band's greatest album. Mainly because this is purely consistent in great material and there's simply no filler or unmemorable parts. But mind you, the remaining three albums of the band are all quite different and worth of listening (with the exception of the last album), Los Niños Que Escriben En El Cielo "plays" a lot with varied time signatures and Bajo Belgrano is a very uplifting record with greater pop sensibilities that don't harm.

5 stars: masterpiece of Spinetta Jade and of Argentinian music. Unique album in this country that I highly recommend if you want to hear what Argentina can offer musically alongside stuff by Invisible and Seru Giran. If you're a fan of the lighter, more melodic fusion, this is a must, however if you are more into the avant-side of fusion like the Mwandishi albums by Hancock and the like, well this album might not be such a necessary record for you to get.

JOHN COLTRANE Meditations

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.18 | 15 ratings
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If you read the title, Meditations, then you’re aware about Coltrane's albums prior to this, you also know about Pharoah Sanders' solo albums, and finally you read: "Meditations is an extension of A Love Supreme", you go wild and think you'll listen to one of the greatest 'spritual' jazz albums ever. This is what I imagined: John and Sanders unite to play an anthemic tenor line full of strength and spiritual powder, McCoy gently enters and so does Garrison. Then the double rhythm section create an awesome African tribal rhythm, and the music evolves from there, with soulblowing solos from both sax men.

Sadly, no, it's nothing like that. There's nothing meditative on this album. Coltrane barely plays memorable and original melodies and solos. Sanders is just showing one part of himself, his chaotic side. Concerning this being labelled "..an extension of A Love Supreme", well, only the names of the compositions follows the idea of spiritual elevation and peace.

The music? Ah, it saddens me, slightly. I really don't know what John had in his mind. I mean, I sometimes fear it was the LSD or it was the damn critics that wanted him to fully embrace the "new thing" (free jazz) just for racial/social purposes, that made Trane make such dark and noisy music and yet he went and titled them like 'Compassion', 'Om', 'Love', etc.

I don't completely detest free jazz, I even find the idea pretty fascinating, like Coleman's music. But to create such turmoil, it seems pure rage without a sense of control, just free. And probably that's great for some, I've read that people liked every time John went into even nosier grounds, but I actually doubt he, the artist, was satisfied with that. I don't know why he had so much trouble finding satisfaction in his music, he was a virtuoso at his instrument and as a composer he was great, he also had great ideas, that of fusing Eastern and African music to his jazz, but he never actually did it. He added another drummer, Rashied Ali, alongside Elvin (more than a capable drummer), maybe to have a more percussive backup, but that was not it, it generated a wall of sound. McCoy sounds rather forced in making dissonant sounds, since his soloing is still his usual powerful post-bop one. Garrison could have perfectly not played at all, and we wouldn't notice any difference.

And although John and Pharoah occasionally pick-up some bells and eastern percussive instruments, it has a superficial meaning; it seems that they play them once they got bored of tearing their saxes off.

Mind you, this is not like Om which is: "1, 2, 3, NOISEEEEEEEE stop". Trane did have some ideas on his mind for this album, while restraint is sparse, on each composition you can figure out a sax melody which, however, evolves into cacophony. 'Compassion', for example, has its restrained moments, but it just seems like his older modal tunes with a busier rhythm section, while Tyner sounds so damn nervous he's hitting all the wrong chords.

'Love' and 'Serenity' seem the only tunes which are fairly listenable, with some noteworthy tenor line, although the band is there disturbing rather beautiful melodies.

I'll be sincere, this is not nice music. And I agree, not every music one listens to has to be beautiful, finely polished, etc, but I think Trane at this moment of his life, can be compared to a sort-of death metal band or something alike, it's the artist's deepest and most dark emotions set loose without a minimum conscience of what it sounds.

What really disappointed me was the idea that this album is titled Meditations and all that that I said at the beginning. Yes, now I'll state it: I do think that he made this to prove critics that he belonged to the "new thing", otherwise he could have released First Meditations instead, which is the quartet version of this album, and it's actually what I was expecting this to be.

Fan of free jazz? Get this, you'll hear tenor god, Coltrane, blowing hard, while tenor half-god, Sanders, squeaking like no one else. You'll also hear Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones fight for the drum place. Tyner? He's creating an obscure atmosphere. Garrison? Not there.

If you're not a fan of free jazz, or don't really want to hear much noise from Trane, get "First Meditations, the real extension of A Love Supreme". I’ll just add that it saddens me that Pharoah could never join forces with his master, Coltrane, to make something truly worthy.

JOE HENDERSON Our Thing

Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.98 | 6 ratings
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One of the best tenor saxophonists that came after the hard bop wave, with leading forces being guys like Coltrane, Rollins and Dexter Gordon, was Joe Henderson. Although, like any saxophonist from the time, he was influenced by Trane's sheets-of-sound and spiritual powder, Joe became a force of his own.

However, he wasn't uniquely brilliant in such an early stage, neither on his debut(Page One) nor on this, Our Thing, you hear something completely fresh. It's hard bop alright. But what makes this hard bop session different is mainly Andrew Hill, the pianist which I think helped Joe to reach his own voice. Hill is known for being one of the most interesting jazz pianists to come out in the 60s, driven by atonal chords and visceral melodism, so having him playing rather straight-forward energetic hard bop is interesting, don't you think?

Did Andrew adapt? Yes and no, he sometimes feels forced to play common back-up lines like in any hard bop session, but in compositions like 'Teeter Totter', you can really listen to him being him. I'm not really sure of this, but he makes me think of Thelonious Monk playing in a straightforward jazz band, were there's a kind of antagonism, which thankfully works.

Must I insist that this is a hard bop release? Three of the five compositions were written by Kenny Dorham, a veteran in comparison with the rest, who is a master in catchy hard bop (check his album Una Mas, also with Joe). Mind you, the rhythm section of Pete La Roca and Eddie Khan, are a bit more sophisticated than your usual hard bop rhythm, but they're not really in the standards of Carter and Williams or Garrison and Jones, for example.

Henderson, himself, is playing energetically, not necessarily repeating phrases from his influences, but he's yet to deliver something truly fantastic, which would be the following year, with In N' Out.

Great musicians getting in better shape for future releases, that is what Our Thing is. Fans of hard bop will enjoy this, but for its time, 1963, this is not exactly fresh, like I stated at the beginning, that's why I rate it with 3 stars. If you're looking for a place to start with Joe, get In N' Out, and then move on forward, counting his work as sideman, like Unity by Larry Young and The Real McCoy by Tyner.

BOBBY HUTCHERSON Dialogue

Album · 1965 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.61 | 8 ratings
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What makes Bobby Hutcherson's discography so interesting to listen to, is that the style of music varies much depending on who are the main composers on each album. Stating that, Bobby, although being the leader, he hasn't always composed everything for his albums (and that's not bad!).

It's the case of Dialogue, Bobby's first release (but not really the first recorded), that established the vibraphonist as a leading force of the post-bop movement, edging the avant-garde, having previously played on Dolphy's renowned work, Out to Lunch, and some of Andrew Hill's advanced jazz albums.

But is Bobby actually the mastermind behind all these edgy, loose jazz compositions, featured in Dialogue? No, actually Andrew Hill and Joe Chambers are the ones responsible of this. I've already mentioned Hill before, what about Joe? Well, he's the drummer, but a constant member on Hutcherson's album and a leading composer in many of them. Chambers' compositions are commonly risky and chaotic, advocating free jazz, both 'Idle While' and the title track are not accessible by any means.

But let's not forget that Andrew, the pianist, is also an advocate for complex, quirker post-bop ideas. Add to that that there's Sam Rivers contributing his wide selection of woodwind instruments, Dialogue ends up being a hard-digesting album, that requires various listens, and not necessarily all will click.

For me this doesn't really show Bobby's ideal music, since a) he doesn't compose any of it, and b) you can listen to his actual debut, The Kicker, where hard bop is the norm. Not saying Dialogue is bad, or that Andrew and Joe aren't good composers, it just seems that Bobby doesn't have much room to express himself.

Mind you, I highly recommend this if you're an Andrew Hill fan, you'll probably love it, and also if you're into Hancock's most wild jazz stuff like 'The Egg' and 'Survival of the Fittest'.

However, if you're looking for a place to start with Bobby's music, I'd say check Happenings, where he's the main composer and the music is inventive post bop.

THUNDERCAT The Golden Age of Apocalypse

Album · 2011 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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New stuff! Ok music fans, I've got a confession to make. Some time ago, I used to think that the 21st Century had nothing new to offer artistically, where mainstream music floods the air waves, which is all just music companies products (a.k.a. crap).

But I was wrong, I veered towards some electronica from this new millenium, as well as some indie music, like DJ Shadow (also from the 90s) and Flying Lotus, and damn, these guys are bloody creative! Yes, they sample past glories, from the 90s all backwards, but they really create original and interesting music, for anyone willing to accept that electronics have become a central part of the 21st century.

What we've got here, fresh from the oven (2011!), is The Golden Age of Apocalypse by Thundercat, a very talented bassist who had previously worked with hardcore band, Suicidal Tendencies, and most recently with, the already mentioned experimental DJ/producer, Flying Lotus, who happens to be producing this work!

What Thundercat has to offer us is overall a very chilling album, with dreamy compositions fullfilled with synths and repetitive drum patterns, plus the ocassional sweet and echoey vocals and some really fine bass playing, reminding us of past fusion bass giants.

But don't be fooled, this is neither repleted with electronics or samples nor a totally soft, boring affair. The Golden Age of Apocalypse starts off sampling George Duke's 'For Love (I Come Your Friend)', already showcasing good musical references. And then there are tracks like 'Fleer Ultra' and 'Jamboree' that shows an interesting mix of jazz fusion and electronica.

However, for me the best moment of the album are heard in both, 'Is it Love?' and 'For Love I Come', wisely put on one after the other, having a fabulous flow. The former pulls off the dreamy aspect of this album at its best, with a quirky vocal melody, and majestic jazzy bass playing. The latter is a cover rendition of George Duke's tune, which had previously been sampled at the beginning of the album. Thundercat does a marvellous job, bringing his own ideas into it at full shape, beautiful vocals and spacey atmosphere, which later turns into a jazz fusion instrumental led by bass.

Ok, it wasn't my intention to start writing this review as if this album was "the" 21st century album to purchase, my intention was to state that there's actually very good stuff going on these days, even though it's not out there in front of the music shops, it's buried in the vast world of the internet.

What Thundercat gave us was a refreshing taste of an easy-listening, yet with some noteworthy arrangements, hybrid of fusion, electronics and bits of R&B and funk, surely denoting the bassist's musical taste (just listen to 'Walkin' it's like the late 70s al over again!).

Fine stuff, Thundercat might outdo himself next time, if he tries to experiment a bit more, get into wilder territory, within the jazz and electronic context. Yet, as his debut album, he did the right thing. This is recommended!

GATO BARBIERI Fenix

Album · 1971 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 4.29 | 8 ratings
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Who would have thought that the powerful, soul-blowing, but rather underground music of Pharoah Sanders and the like would reach Argentina, the farthest south country on America (it's also a continent, you know)?

By the late 60s and early 70s this "hippie jazz" movement I like to call was having a high point, Alice Coltrane, Liston Smith, Michael White, etc, were releasing peace-minded music with jazz tinges, very religiously inspired. But what was going on in Argentina? Historically, we were still in a big crisis, full of terror and repression, soon to be replaced by the military dictatorship (by 1974). Artists of all kind usually traveled to Europe, although rock and folk bands were having their heyday back then, with a wild youth.

It's the case of Gato Barbieri, tenor saxophonist, who brings the peace and relentless energy of Pharoah to Latin America. Fenix, from 1971, fuses vast latin percussion (unlike Sanders' african inclination) with big and powerful sax melodies that veer towards free jazz. But alike his inspiration, Sanders, he doesn't often get into atonal or chaotic moments. But I'm not trying to make Barbieri sound as a Sanders-clone, he does imitate that fat, fuelled, resounding sax of the latter, but I think Gato grooves quite more and has that latin feel, that makes him sound more pleasant for the unaccustomed ear.

If you're interested in either latin jazz or "hippie jazz", Fenix is a must-have. Just in case you didn't notice, Lonnie Liston Smith is playing keys, Ron Carter on bass, Vasconcelos on percussion, there's even Lenny White on drums! Yep, this is a stellar session with excellent tenor sax on the front and lots of percussion backing up.

SOFT MACHINE Bundles

Album · 1975 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.04 | 19 ratings
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Allan Holdsworth's Soft Machine

With the inclusion of a guitarist, and not any, if not the one and only Allan Holdsworth, The Soft Machine could fully develop and deliver the jazz rock style that was featured on both previous albums, Six and Seven. While Allan was the key-factor to produce this, the other ''sections'' of the bands still offer quite a lot:

The 'rhythm section' compromised by John Marshall and Roy Babbington had already showed their capability as a team on Seven, so in Bundles they continue being relentless, Roy with his persistent bass lines and John with his variety of delicate jazz fills and rapid powerful ones.

The 'keyboard section' formed by founding member Mike Ratledge and Nucleus' keyboardist, Karl Jenkins, had also showed their capability as a team already since Six, adding lots of jazzy runs as well as some spacey stuff. However, what is highly surprising in this album, is that the keyboards are pretty much in the background, it's shocking in comparison to the complete keyboard driven Seven.

The 'solo section' while mainly being compromised by recently arrived Allan Holdsworth, being the main performer on Bundles delivering plenty of solos full of originality and energy, though not his finest I've got to admit, there's still the ocassional solo spot for either Karl's sax/oboe, Mike's synths and John's drum kit. John playing a drum solo on the tune 'Four Gongs Two Drums'.

As for the music, the trend of relating each track with the following is also present here, so again expect a flawless flow making some unrelated(by name) tunes be related forming one big great piece and that's the case from 'Bundles' up to 'Four Gongs Two Drums' making one related big piece of 14 minutes. The other standout is obviously the 19 minute splitted piece called 'Hazard Profile' which showcases all the characteristics from the stated sections.

Bundles in its essence features the line-up Soft Machine had been waiting for since Six, which is the reason why the album is so darn good and the reason why it overshadows the, similar in style, antecessors. While definitely not being in the style of the albums that made Soft Machine a popular Canterbury band, those were Third and both Volumes, Bundles shows us once again that this band is capable of playing diferrent varieties of jazz forms and still play them at full steam with all of the Machine's originality, this doesn't sound like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Retrun to Forever. This is Soft Machine's jazz rock masterpiece.

MILES DAVIS Filles de Kilimanjaro

Album · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.31 | 24 ratings
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Who's that on the cover? The one and only Mademoiselle Mabry!

Filles de Kilimanjaro sets the definition of a 'transitional album'. From this album, there's an after and before. While Davis first introduced the Rhodes and an electric guitar one year before in Miles in the Sky to his music, the compositions on that were still pretty much standard jazz, and when I say 'standard' I mean your standard Davis post-bop with his famous Quintet consisting of Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, so it's top-notch 'standard' jazz.

In Filles there's a split, with the exclusion of Hancock and Carter for the first time in 4 years, in the first and last tune, replaced by future "lasting" members, Chick Corea and Dave Holland. However, these two tunes aren't so interesting taking in consideration the pieces where Hancock participates. The opener, 'Frelon Brun', is an energetic jazz track featuring solos from Miles, Wayne and Chick, though the highlight for me is Tony Williams' quite fierceful fills, not your average jazz drummer, that you should already know. 'Mademoiselle Mabry', on the other hand, is a very gentle tune being mainly an extension and expansion of Hendrix's 'The Wind Cries Mary', it's a nice mix of blues and jazz.

Now to the more interesting pieces, these are 'Tout de Suite' and the title track. While 'Tout de Suite' introduces itself like another tranquil and night-mood jazz tune with relaxing electric keyboards and soft drumming, its middle section, however, lasting over 8 minutes, is like a loose sort-of jam very similar to 'Shhh/Peaceful' from In a Silent Way with Hancock playing those same fast twists in the keys while Tony and Ron keep a steady rhythm.

The title track also expands further the jazz realms as it would later be known in Bitches Brew. It has a repetitive, though engaging rhythm done by Carter's bass and Williams's drums, and on top of that there's Wayne, Herbie and Miles sharing notes and dueling pacifically. A proto-typical Miles composition of his 'electric/fusion' period.

So yes, Filles de Killimanjaro and Miles in the Sky are the albums where Miles would build on top of in the next couple of years. Though not as chilling as 'In a Silent Way' or as rocking as 'A Tribute to Jack Johnson', both Filles and Miles in the Sky are excellent records of jazz delving into a primitive style of fusion.

4 stars: Highly recommended for fans of energetic and loosier jazz, and of course this is essential to understand how Miles' creativity and compositional skills progressed.

BOBBY HUTCHERSON Components

Album · 1965 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.01 | 7 ratings
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I'm not really an expert when it comes to jazz vibraphonists, I know just a couple, but from the ones I know, Bobby Hutcherson definitely belongs to the more adventurous ones out there in jazz. Of course, this is mainly due that he played in the 60s era, where free jazz and post bop were the norm (alongside other more commercial jazz settings), and he was a recurrent member on Andrew Hill’s edgy music.

The question now is, are his albums actually good? Cause, in the 60s, post-bop abounded, and some of it, despite great playing and ability, it wasn't all that worthy or original for that matter. But alas, Bobby did play noteworthy post-bop, and Components from 1965 is one I recommend(although for beginners I'd go for Happenings.

As any Blue Note player, you get the great advantage to be surrounded by incredible musicians (although that happens in jazz in general). It's the case of this album where Herbie Hancock finally gets the piano seat in Bobby’s band, previously having been Duke Pearson and Andrew Hill, evoking his complex and yet accessible playing displayed in Maiden Voyage. But Herbie is just one part of the big picture, there's James Spaulding playing flute or alto sax, an ex-Sun Ra player, so you can expect quality and originality from him. Then there's a typically great rhythm section, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers, the latter being as well a central composer in this album. And as last ingredient we have Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, augmenting Spaulding's sax, just like he did with Coleman on Maiden Voyage.

What is interesting of this record specifically, it’s like almost two different albums joined together, side 1 being Hutcherson's compositions, which are 60s hard bop tunes heading to the more sophisticated hard bop of the likes of contemporaries: Hancock, Joe Henderson, McLean. These are four well-played tunes, and different from each other, where I think the title track, a moving hard bopper, and ‘Tranquility’, a lovely gentle piece without any sax or flute, are the best.

Side 2, on the other hand, is Joe Chambers' package of tunes. Here we have full-blown avant-jazz music, not replete with atonality, but the "structured mess"(yes, a paradox) kind, cause you know it's actually composed, but then again you listen and it just seems notes and chords thrown in at random. Yet, there's 'Juba Dance', which is a rather Dolphy-esque tune, showcasing a rather odd drum rhythm for jazz, and what actually is going on is some carefully played ping-pong between vibes, marimba, piano and flute. The final track is not shabby either, entitled 'Pastoral', it's expectedly calm and with a very up-lifting mood, a pity that it's quite short.

So Components is not entirely consistent in style, but still most of it is really good jazz edging post-bop, with a pair of avant-jazz tracks for the more demanding jazz listener.

Yes, I recommend this, Hancock fans can easily check this, and of course, if you're a Bobby fan and don't have this, you're missing a mix of his really fun hard bop-ish tunes and a more wildish style of his.

BILLY COBHAM A Funky Thide of Sings

Album · 1975 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.10 | 6 ratings
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Right from the start, Billy Cobham's jazz fusion take was mainly funk inflected, so it's no surprise that with time he would play even funkier stuff than before. Now Billy is accompanied with a whole set of brass players, among them there's the famous Becker Brothers on board, so the keyboards and guitar that were in his debut an important part of the music, now they're simply another part of the big picture.

The music is rather accessible, but not yet mainstream jazz funk as you would have thought. The brass players support the main melodies and various solos throughout, and the tempo throughout is rather rapid, unlike the more tranquil and jazzier Crosswinds.

The first five tunes are all excellent straight-forward jazz funk tunes with all the aspects I mentioned before. The sixth track however, entitled wrongly 'A Funky Kind of Thing', is a 9 minute drum performance, ultra-boring if you're not fond of complete drum show-off. The last track though, called 'Moody Modes', introducing itself with Milcho Leviev's elegant keyboards, is by all means the best composition in this album, lasting 12 minutes, the trumpet playing is simply gorgeous and how the composition develops, it's incredible, probably one of Cobham's greatest arrangements.

Despite the last grandiose composition, the album overall is simply good brass-led jazz funk that is fun and all, but not the most rewarding of Cobham releases neither of fusion in general, actually, any of Cobham's previous efforts are better than this and so is the following one, Life & Times.

3 stars: solid album, still not repeating ol' formulas, but yet not quite there as some of Billy's other works. Get this after you've listened to the four previous albums, including the live Shabazz. If you're fond of jazz funk though, I highly recommend you this, this still has bite and originality.

DOWN TO THE BONE From Manhattan to Staten

Album · 1996 · Acid Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Ahh, acid jazz, groovy, nocturnal, slick, sampled, jazz. Down to the Bone is one of my favorite groups from the genre, they combine excellent catchy rhythm samples with live instruments as guitar, keyboards, bass and sax as a whole making a funk fest of the highest caliber.

Their debut, From Manhattan to Staten (1997), has a way more electronic feel rather than real band one, but that's where the majesty lies on. It even tends to be more soft jazzy compared to the more funk-oriented Jamiroquai, also Down to the Bone here is completely instrumental.

What you will find in this music is rather common grooves from either soul jazz or 70s funk-jazz filtered with the modern sampling devices and keyboards, and extended with catchy soloing.

If you're into groovy music, this is a must-have. Probably not the most innovative acid jazz album out there, but a highly enjoyable one nonetheless and a classic in my opinion.

JOHN ABERCROMBIE Timeless

Album · 1975 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.80 | 12 ratings
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Check the line-up. What did you imagine? Wrong. Jan Hammer is mainly playing the organ throughout, so his Mahavishnu synth lines are almost inexistent. Ironically, John Abercrombie is the one that reminds us of Mahavishnu, with the often fast guitar licks. But mind you, this is not high fuelled jazz rock.

One thing you probably didn't notice was that this album belongs to the ECM label. And yes, this label shows its characteristic mellow, moody and cold sound, already by 1974. Its ECM, I think, that restrains John and the rest from doing anything really rock-ish. And that's a good thing. The remaining member of the trio being the widely known drummer, Jack DeJohnette.

The six compositions share the label's dark and mysterious mood, but some with more powder than others. Both 'Red and Orange' and 'Lungs' will make you doubt if what I'm saying is actually true, since these two are very force-driven with an exhilarating band, but still these have some elements that are not usually heard on say Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return to Forever.

'Love Song' and 'Remembering' however, are acoustic, piano and guitar only. These remind me a bit of Metheny's mellow acoustic affairs, a man well associated with ECM, or also Bill Connors' acoustic albums, also an associate from the label.

The title track couldn't be more ECM-ish. Twelve minutes of slow-moving music that has very subtle elements. Probably Jan Hammer's greatest intervention with the Moog in his entire career, creating channels of mystery and psychedelicness. One will either dismiss this for its lack of memorable melodies, or praise it for its unique atmosphere and progression.

Timeless isn't exactly "timeless", but it's unmistakably a noteworthy album in any wide jazz collection, being an interesting and smart link between post-bop, fusion and ECM jazz. Recommended with the guarantee of discovering something pretty fresh, though not exactly stunning.

JOHN COLTRANE Transition

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.39 | 10 ratings
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1965 saw the release of what can be considered John Coltrane’s magnum opus, A Love Supreme that is, reaching his peak both as a spiritual expressionist and a virtuoso and original/innovative jazz musician. Another significant album that year was Ascension, although I’m not fond of it, it's nonetheless an important album for both Coltrane and the free jazz genre. Besides a pair of other albums from that year, it was actually after Coltrane's death that we, fans, discovered that '65 was such a crucial and productive year for John. Impulse! started releasing albums from that year like newspapers, Sun Ship, First Meditations, Gleanings, Living Space, and there was Transition.

The latter is aptly titled, since it's not much different from A Love Supreme and contemporary works, where the freeness wasn't taking control of Trane's entire music, actually there's this majestic balance of spiritual climaxes and more down-to-earth post bop with extreme talent.

Like I usually say, Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane achieved what John, their predecessor, never did in an entire album, that is to play pure spiritual jazz ("hippie jazz") where peace and love are main themes, which is what John's musical life seems to always have desired but never quite did it. But it's in this case, Transition, where we find the composition 'Welcome', a rather short tune (in comparison with the rest), that highlights peacefulness rather than virtuosity or chaos. Both Tyner's sprawling piano and Trane's brief sax appearances are just sublime. It’s not of lesser interest to know that such an “unknown” tune by Trane was later covered by Santana.

That is already of big interest for Coltrane fans, but what might be of bigger interest is the 'Suite' of 21 minutes that dares to challenge A Love Supreme's awesomeness. The playing and interaction between members is in great shape like it has always been, and the different parts connect well with each other, indeed making one of John's most overlooked gems. As you should expect, you can hear a wide range of moods, from the soulful, the bluesy, the more chaotic and the rampant, with room for each member to show their unique style and their essential contributions to Coltrane’s music.

The last track, 'Vigil', is also very interesting, being a duo of Jones and Trane. 'Vigil' isn't as freaky and dissonant as one would expect, it's actually very digestible compared to the rageous and offensive duels that are in Interstellar Space which has Rashied Ali instead of Elvin Jones.

Lastly, there's the title track which is a typical 61-64 Trane composition, with the classic McCoy chords and the brilliant sax soloing.

Transition is undoubtedly a must-have for fans, not only it provides understanding of Coltrane's mind evolution, it's damn great in its entirety with top-notch material.

PAT METHENY As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (with Lyle Mays)

Album · 1981 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.21 | 18 ratings
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Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays back in the late 70's and through the 80's managed to achieve a couple of jazz masterpieces with their own original, very American sound; As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls was one of those various masterpieces, although it doesn't actually fall in the 'jazz' category.

The album starts off with the tour-de-force that the title track is, being over 20 minutes of pure bliss. This is not jazz fusion or any form of jazz, though, it's more of an ambient epic with mellow and dark themes that flow flawlessly together creating a thrilling journey in which Lyle is the main performer playing some delicate and intriguing keyboards that as a whole create a chilling aura. Having said that this is not jazz fusion, you must not expect Metheny's traditional synth guitar; Metheny mainly plays gentle bass and guitar bits on top of Lyle's mesmerizing soundscapes. To add a bit of bite to the music, Nana Vasconcelos is here adding the last ingredient to the music with his splendid percussion.

The following track, 'Ozark', is in the style of Pat Metheny's Group. You've got the usual up-lifting mood with Lyle's cheering piano and Pat's constant acoustic guitar. A lovely tune to play in a sunny day.

'September Fifteenth' is a sad, though beautiful tune that is dedicated to Bill Evans, the marvellous jazz pianist who passed away on September 15th 1980, after a long struggle with drugs. Pat and Lyle really play with their hearts on this tune.

'It's For You' is a tad bit melancholic with some very mellow passages in which Nana uses his voice as an instrument of melancholy. Metheny is heard with his 12-string guitar and his unique electric guitar delivering a delightful solo which finalizes the tune greatly.

The album ends with 'Estupenda Graça'(Stupendous Grace), a short and delicate tune with Nana being the one that leads the tune with his voice. This track finishes the album indeed with ''stupendous grace''.

In the end, I wouldn't consider As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls a jazz fusion masterpiece, so jazz fusion/rock fans that want to check out Pat Metheny, they better start with American Garage and the debut of the Pat Metheny Group, which actually aren't fusion in the classic way of Return to Forever or Weather Report. However anyone who is keen on Metheny's and Lyle's unique compositional skills this album should be checked out.

RETURN TO FOREVER Musicmagic

Album · 1977 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 1.97 | 11 ratings
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Return to Forever's last album to date, Musicmagic, shows yet another major style swift and as a consequence it has received bad praise.

In their inception, the band played a very exquisite mix of jazz and latin inspired music, they later moved to a completely instrumental and electric sound where their brains joining the jazz rock movement in the heights of Mahavishnu Orchestra. They rapidly added funk and some classical/symphonic arrangements to their sound, and it was extremely apparent in their commercially successful Romantic Warrior, an album that can be associated to prog rock.

So what had Chick Corea in mind for Musicmagic? It was definitely something new. New because the line-up is changed drastically, the guitars are out once again as in their first albums, vocals are back but from Chick's wife, Gayle Moran, singer of the second line-up of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Lenny White is not on the drums and a brass section is added, first (and last, as for now) time in the group's life. Stanley Clarke is the only remaining member, the only one who was together with Chick in the whole evolution of the band.

As a result, you have a pretty big mixture of things. The latin influences, the classical ones, some rock and funk. Having said that, it seems like a completely interesting album, especially when it's in hands of Chick Corea, but that's not really so. Being the dawn fo the 70s there are some really cheesy moments that jazz fusion, in general, was suffering from.

However if you can pass those moments, the album actually presents rather complex and interesting arrangements that are not repetitions of older ones. Say 'Music Magic' or 'The Endless Night', both 9+ minutes, has the band playing this new style with excellent execution, with both groove and intricacy.

A good comparison would be Chick's solo album 'The Leprechaun' which has a similar idea in mind, mixing jazz fusion with classical ideas mainly. The result on both is not completely successful, but at least it's different from a lot of fusion from its time, and of course the chops and the grooves are always to be found.

So, if you can handle a very different Return to Forever that plays a weirdo fusion with vocals and some lighter late 70s grooves, this is good enough for any jazz rock collection.

RETURN TO FOREVER No Mystery

Album · 1975 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.59 | 21 ratings
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Return to Forever's second album with Al Di Meola on board, released in 1975, is a varied album and rather different, compositionally, from the more concise and exciting Where Have I Known You Before, although sound-wise they're not that different, you'll notice the same type of keyboards and rhythms.

The band of course still plays top-notch, each member being highly proficient in their respective instrument, even Meola now has developed his highly acclaimed shred style. But playing greatly does not make an album good by any means.

The first four tunes are straight-forward funk with a typical groove and without any diversity, they go on and on with the same ryhthm and messy mixture of clavinet, electric piano and synths from Corea which tries to emulate Hancock's superb groove, but he utterly failed to make something that good, and it's not even memorable. The title track and 'Interplay' are acoustic affairs with Corea showing his great capability on the piano, probably the most entertaining tunes on the album and they're not even fusion pieces, that's not saying much?

The album concludes with a 14 minute suite called 'Celebration' which tries to assimilate the epicness of 'Song for the Pharoah Kings' from the previous album, but it doesn't achieve its mission. It's either very similar to the previous album or simply doesn't hold the listeners attention for too long.

I suppose it's no mystery the rating of this album: definitely a weak fusion record with few memorable passages. If you take in account the greatness of 'Where Have I Known You Before', this album is just for collectors. Get this after you've got the rest of the band's discography. As for fusion fans in general, you can avoid this.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Between Nothingness & Eternity

Live album · 1973 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.74 | 19 ratings
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Between Heavy Jazziness & Uncomprehensible Complexity

Between Nothingness & Eternity is a ticket to, well, nothingness and eternity, passing through all the diversity and virtuosity this line-up could offer back in the 70s, yes the whole unbelievable deal: the speed-of-light passages, the ear-bleeding rhythms, the eternal duels between members John, Jerry and Jan, the heavy blastings riffs, the delicate and intriguing indo material, and the ocassional intricating jazzy grooves.

While the same tracks featured here were later released as studio versions on the Lost Trident Sessions album which do present the tracks as they were intended to be, without any jamming nor noodling plus a clean production, I consider Between Nothingness & Eternity to be a much more rewarding listen since the intensity and capacity the players show on this live experience is completely unique in it, which is totally withdrawn from the studio versions.

The live performance begins alike Birds of Fire and Inner Mountaing Flame, with the calling of the legendary gong and the trademark Mahavishnu introductory guitar lines, however after that it becomes all new and unpredictable: From frenetic up-lifting melodies to the never ending duels of electric guitar, electric piano and moog, and violin; nobody is better than the other, each member shows they're highly capable of playing demanding stuff but that's not it, they manage all this to make it appealing for the listener, even so that I'm sure that a 'serious' heavy rock fan of stuff like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and the like can get a tremendous kick out of the playing in here since besides being fusion, it rocks!

The concert moves on to 'Sister Andrea', a funkier treat as a whole, somewhat similar to the groovy but still heavy 'Miles Beyond' from Birds of Fire. While composed by Jan Hammer, there's still a lot of room for the rest of the band; an evolving beast-alike guitar solo from John at the beginning, a fast and somewhat dissonant violin solo in the middle and ending finally with a fascinating moog show-off by the composer himself of course, Jan.

The live show finalises with the 20+ minute extravagant track called Dream. It may seem a chaotic mess when you first listen to it, full of unnecessary self-indulging sections, frenetic passages that seems to be played by people who dare more than what all a man can dare of, and in the end it is that! However, once again they've managed, above all that uncomprehensible indulgement, to achieve an incredible unique jazz rock piece which is seemed to be played by raging gods, in which in the very end of the track these gods seem to reconcile and tune things down.

Final words of this overlooked live gem is that it's essential for any rock fan interested in listening to some of the wildest playing out there from the 70s played live, even if in parts it may seem incomprehensible. Not the best place to start though, but it's safe to purchase this after having bought and understood Birds of Fire and Inner Mountaing Flame.

An outstanding ''goodbye'' album from this unbelievable line-up, which no other band yet has showed such skill delivered in such a unique and rockin' way.

ARCHIE SHEPP For Losers

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.98 | 4 ratings
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For Losers is a collection of previously unreleased music from 1968-1969 by Archie Shepp, just like Kwanza. Alike the latter, this album also shows the tenor man moving away from his free jazz and playing broader stuff, such as odd mixes of R&B, gospel and free jazz, even his line-up is expanded including guitar or vocals or some organ in occasions.

Stylistically though, the compositions from here are rather different to Kwanza's, For Losers focuses on its first 4 tunes in mainly gospel/blues and while they are decent enough, what makes For Losers actually worthy is the 21 minute 'Un Croque Monsieur'.

It's an avant-garde jazz piece that isn't really out-there, hence my liking of it. What I find so good of it is that it is splitted in four different parts, not something I often hear in jazz; the first part consists of a rather groovy piano repetition as the base while the musicians liberate their souls without the need of shrieks or any other free-jazz cliché, then there's a short completely free part, after that we get a melancholic part with female vocals, and the for the end we get a new piano pattern which is dark in tone and again the musicians free themselves.

Both Kwanza and For Losers are not classic jazz albums, that’s for sure, but they are very interesting ones, showing the evolution of a free-jazz player that actually leaves behind most of the free stuff and heads towards some non-typical jazz music in his own weird avant-way.

If you're fond of avant-garde jazz, the big piece on here makes the purchase worth it. If you're more of a middle-ground jazz fan like me, who likes some so-called free jazz pieces, but rather dislikes shrieks and dissonancy, then you might also get a treat out of this album, from both the diverse short tunes and the central piece.

Good Shepp album, conceived with originality.

DONALD BYRD Ethiopian Knights

Album · 1972 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 4.20 | 9 ratings
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Ok, what we have here is like a mirror reflecting Miles Davis' 70s style, slightly changed. Donald Byrd, also a well-known jazz trumpeter, by the end of the 60s had also become interested in the use of electric instruments and the use of them for long improvisations, much alike the basic idea of Davis' electric bands. Though if you compare Davis fusion music with Byrd's, there are a lot of differences.

First of all, the musicians on board were crucial for Miles' improvisations, having such unique players as Hancock, Grossman, McLaughlin, and so many others, without those specifically he wouldn't have managed to do what he did. That's not really the case of Donald's electric albums, not wanting to disregard the ability of his players, it's just that none really seems to add their own voice, not a flaw though, just a clear difference. What is similar is that both trumpet players called many musicians to play, thus having a richer sound with more room to interact, and it’s the case of this album where you have the chance to hear Hutcherson’s vibraphone as a great element to the psychedelic atmosphere.

Another difference is that Miles Davis was way more ambitious and constantly wanting to progress, with the addition of new production techniques, African and Indian influences, and what-not. Byrd, on the other hand, played it safer, mainly being interested in funk and still retaining much of his hard bop roots, on Ethiopian Knights we get two 15+ minute jams with repetitive grooves (akin to Davis' repetition) and spacey keyboards being the base of these improvs, while on top there's room for a lot of groovy soloing, which really doesn't compare to the creative soloing of Davis' records but it's still good. What I’m trying to say is that, while both players had funk and psychedelic music ideas on their minds, it’s the case of Donald that he remains way more simplistic compared to the constant interaction of Miles’ band which is always trying to stretch out.

My conclusion is that, although Donald Byrd didn’t make brilliant improvisations as those from Miles Davis, Ethiopian Knights (and Electric Byrd from 1970) is still a forgotten spacey funk gem of the early 70s that should be listened by everyone who is fond of long improvisation which are slow-moving and have repetitive grooves, yet there’s actually more going on than one thinks. Not a masterpiece, but still highly enjoyable.

BILLY COBHAM Spectrum

Album · 1973 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.43 | 38 ratings
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The accessible, though effective and addictive, entry to the Jazz Rock world...

Being a huge fan of Deep Purple, specially of their record featuring Tommy Bolin, Come Taste the Band, I was searching back then what else had this incredible and unique guitarist had made. First thing to come up was obviously this record, Spectrum by a unknown drummer for me at that time. Bought it with no hesitation, and when I first played it I can assure you that I was no less than astonished! Already from the initial blast-off of Cobham's rapid show-off drumming and Jan Hammer's fast paced Moog, I had to raise the speakers volume up to 11.

After having listened to the entire album, I really felt that Tommy Bolin's guitar work in here had really outdone his already marvelous work he had done with Deep Purple. In here he's capable of expressing much more than what he was allowed to express with Deep Purple; a totally mind-blowing mix of powerful rock-esque tones with funk and jazz sensibilities, as well as completely unique crazy sounds: this was immediately shown in the opener, Quadrant 4, though in Stratus can also be easily heard.

However that's as far how Tommy Bolin sounded, that said, he's not the only one sparking in here. Already knowing it's a solo album by a drummer, Billy Cobham, (and he's not any drummer) you must expect lots of show-offs by him as well, that is in each of the tunes the intro is done by him solely and of course all along the tunes his presence is always worth of mention; indeed a master of the drum-case.

Also, let's not forget of the Moog-master player, Jan Hammer, who few other players can match his proficiency on the synths, Hancock, Duke and Corea come to my mind. In this record he also standouts with lots of fresh sounds and ideas very much alike as he did with Mahavishnu Orchestra, worth mentioning is the eternal duels against Tommy Bolin, in which in the end you really can't be sure who really won, since both offer such creative and blasting solos: clear example of this is Taurian Matador.

So far from the descriptions from the standout members makes it seem more of a 'rock' record than a Jazz one, doesn't it? Well, don't think it's like that, you got Joe Farell, from the early Return to Forever line-up, delivering jazzy sax/flute melodies among some of the tunes, these are: Le Lis and Spectrum. And of course let's not forget that Tommy Bolin, Jan Hammer and Billy Cobham are very inclined towards jazz, so in the end do expect a full- blown jazz jock record with lots of funky and rock leanings, but still faithful to the jazz-roots.

The musicianship on board needs no more mention, while the compositions not actually being the most inventive nor most complex, and definitely any of the classic fusion bands really outdo anything on here on those terms(composition), they still all groove with such energy and become instantly addictive since day one, which in this case few of the classic jazz rock bands can manage to do that.

Masterpiece by Billy Cobham, Tommy Bolin, Jan Hammer & Co.

JACKIE MCLEAN Demon's Dance

Album · 1970 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.23 | 5 ratings
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Jackie McLean was a well-known hard bop alto saxophonist among jazz musicians through the late 50s; however I've always found his 60s post-bop material to be more exciting, featuring many great jazz players such as Hancock, Hutcherson, Moncur III, Morgan, et al.

It's in the case of Demon's Dance, released in 1967, where trumpet virtuoso, Woody Shaw, and the relentless drummer, Jack DeJohnette appear. Accompanied by the lesser known LaMont Johnson on piano, assimilating the McCoy Tyner style which is utterly fantastic, and Scott Holt on bass.

In almost all cases where Shaw participated, he leaves his trademark, both in his unique playing and compositions. Here we have two of his compositions, 'Boo Ann's Grand' and 'Sweet Love of Mine', both clearly post-bop pieces which resemble the 60-63 period of John Coltrane; great soloing from Jackie and Woody, and outstanding performance of DeJohnette.

The title track and 'Floogeh' are also post-bop pieces with the hard bop roots of Jackie heard clearer than in the Shaw pieces. The other two compositions are from trumpeter Cal Massey, 'Toyland' a nice ballad showing Jackie's emotional side, while 'Message from Trane' finishes the album with more quality post-bop, although probably the least memorable of the bunch.

Demon's Dance is definitely another solid and highly enjoyable album from McLean, although Jackie plays it safe without any innovations or more adventurous compositions like many contemporary post-bop records to this, or even compared to his own releases. Anyway with the addition of a Klarwein cover art, although rather creepy in this case and may mislead jazz purists, what else would you want?

Fans of Coltrane, Shorter and the like, shouldn't hesitate in getting this if you're in the need of yet another minor jazz gem.

RETURN TO FOREVER Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy

Album · 1973 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.20 | 30 ratings
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By 1973, Return to Forever finally hired a guitarist and got rid of the saxophone and vocals, so this is what Chick calls Return to Forever's first "electric" album. After two pleasant latin jazz albums, Chick & Co decided to experiment with the surgence of this new thing called "fusion" that bands like Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra were already doing (and what British jazzers, Nucleus and Soft Machine, were doing even a bit earlier).

The band tried their best to do their own kind of jazz rock, with all the potential that the line-up had to offer. The result was brilliant in terms of musicianship, the four members were technically capable of making intense jazz rock, however that's also a flaw, sometimes the band (as they would later do in Romantic Warrior) focuses too much in their instruments rather in the composition. Also have in mind, that it's not Al Di Meola who is on guitar, it's Bill Connors, a highly capable jazz guitarist, but unfortunately the production of the album didn't help him much, leaving a bit to desire from him. My last complaint would be that Chick Corea is missing his set of synths on his keyboard deck, making much of the record sound pretty samey at first listens, due to the monotonic sound of organ and electric piano solely (although the playing of the Rhodes here is astonishing).

It's a pitty though, I've seen live shows from the tour of this album (through YouTube) and the music sounds better because Chick had already added the synths to the band's music, plus the muddy production is not present. That shows me that I actually see no major flaws in these technical but entertaining compositions, if not in the sound of the overall record, its production is not really the best.

Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy is definitely a big step over Light at as Feather, and while sounding different and not as mature as the Meola records, it is up there with those in terms of musical ability.

A classic jazz rock album that has the unfortunate flaw of having a muddy production and monotonic sound (due to the former), and probably sometimes the focus on the technical playing. The upcoming 2011 tour of the band, which will have the entire Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy as the set-list (if I'm not mistaken), is something that nobody should miss.

EARTH WIND & FIRE Last Days and Time

Album · 1972 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 3.00 | 3 ratings
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With the great Mati Klarwein cover work, I knew I had to get this. Last Days & Time, Earth, Wind and Fire's third album (first for Columbia Records), was my first introduction to the band, without counting the well-known dance hits. This album made me realise that this band was more than just a popular disco band, they knew how to groove and rock in their own R&B-ish way.

Although the album is made of mostly R&B tunes full of light strings and smooth vocals, there’s the occasional jazzy and funk headed composition, like the superb instrumental, 'Power', demonstrating how good they are at their instruments and at making hot funk, featuring Maurice White on the marvellous, overlooked instrument, the kalimba. 'Time is on your Side' and 'Remember the Children' are also great funky songs full of clavinet and catchy guitar riffs.

As for the typical R&B songs, 'They Don't See' and 'I'd Rather Have You' are very entertaining and good at it, while the remaining songs, of course decent, I don't find anything particularly good/memorable in them.

Definitely not one of EW&F's best albums, but still an enjoyable one, with some noteworthy compositions, that shows their transition of pure funk of their first two albums to the more R&B of later albums.

Recommended, but if you're new to the band and want to hear something that makes them a worthy band, check the live album Gratitude where there’s the perfect sum-up of the band, their whole funk potential plus sweet poppy and dancing songs.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA The Inner Mounting Flame

Album · 1971 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.64 | 63 ratings
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Inner Volcanic Jazz Rock

John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin was the second guitarist to play with Miles Davis on studio, but actually the first one to go beyond jazz idioms. At first he sounded a bit shy, a subtle guitarist, but with time he became a very impressive semi-psychedelic jazz guitarist with layers of wah-wah and impressive licks, notably shown in Live-Evil and Big Fun (although mainly in Tony Williams' Lifetime).

However, once John decided to form his own fusion band, just like Zawinul, Shorter and Corea did, his style changed into a ferocious and explosive style that had never been heard at that time. Some, bigger fans of Davis’ experimental stuff, may miss the guy’s subtlety, but they can’t deny the magnitude of development that McLaughlin did with the guitar.

But that’s not really it, as his guitar evolved considerably, his compositions grew as well and sound like liquid lava still spreading smoke, with the eclectic mix of heavy rock, jazz, sparse Indian influences, technical musicianship and symphonic arrangements, all in all making the unmistakable sound of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. Yes, I said technical musicianship back there, Billy Cobham is the other freak on board, a monster on the drum-kit. The remaining musicians all are talented but don’t really stand out as the former two, at least not in this album; Jan Hammer here plays the traditional early 70s keyboards (organ, piano and electric piano) still missing his Moog, Jerry Goodman is on the electric violin, and Rick Laird on the bass.

Other than saying what styles can be heard on this innovative album, it’s useless to try to pin down a band that seriously influenced the sound of McLaughlin & Co.

What I can say is that future bands would be inspired by The Mahavishnu Orchestra, it can be heard on King Crimson’s heaviest record, Red, the technical approach Return to Forever did on Romantic Warrior, maybe a bit in the eclectic songwriting of The Dixie Dregs, and of course dozens of future shred guitarists were influenced by John.

Undoubtedly one of the many truly groundbreaking albums from the 70s, and one of the best at it. And although in Birds of Fire they’d find a more balanced approach, with room for every member to shine, for me the compositions and the execution of these in Inner Mounting Flame are by far superior thus the better album.

JEAN-LUC PONTY Enigmatic Ocean

Album · 1977 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.73 | 24 ratings
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An Ocean of Jazz Rock Delights

Enigmatic Ocean is not simply a solo work by grand violin player Jean-Luc Ponty, the album presents a whole band full of very talented and famous musicians from the jazz rock realm, each musician being as unique and as vital as Jean-Luc is for the music that Enigmatic Ocean offers, so it's definitely a group work rather than a solo work which I'm going to talk about.

First I'll talk about Allan Zavod, while not as reknown as any of the other members on board, his singular keyboard delivery is by every means one of the aspects that makes Enigmatic Ocean such an addictive and great jazz rock record. Zavod is the responsible of creating that marvellous floating atmosphere all through the album which no other jazz rock record features; Allan is indeed a subtle player but that's what makes his presence on the album so indispensable, Ponty didn't want an excentric keyboard player who could play extreme synth solos, he wanted someone that could pull-off a particular ambience to the whole album, while of course giving out some ocassional solos. Notable proof of Zavod's unique presence is the 12 minute suite entitled 'Enigmatic Ocean'.

Then there's Ralphe Armstrong, member of the second line-up of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. His playing on this album is absolutely outstanding but foremost it's very on top of the mix making him also an essential part of the music. He delivers lots of frenetic funky-tinged bass lines which resonate all through the record, especially on 'The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea (Part 3)' which features a solo by him.

To complete the rhythm section Ponty brought Steve Smith, a future reknown session drummer of both pop and jazz artists. His playing is steady and is very a la classic jazz rock, full of fast fills, but let's say he knows what to play for each mood.

Then comes Allan Holdsworth, the so mighty fusion guitarist of many famous records of the genre. As he is known to do, he always standouts even if it's not he who leads the compositions. He delivers his unique tone everywhere within fast solos which are only to compete with Ponty's rapid and unstoppable violin soloing.

The only member left to talk about is of course the ''owner'' of this splendid record, that is Jean-Luc Ponty, member of plenty of jazz-related artists/bands. Like Holdsworth, he's also used to standing out in each recording he is featured in even when it's not he who is the composer, but this time he is the composer! Varying from melancholic notes to the rapid-paced ones while soloing with Allan which is truly mind-blowing; he is obviously indispensable for this integral work.

So Enigmatic Ocean is indeed a group-work, each member contributing their own touch and as a result creating a fantastic and unique jazz rock album which each member has space to standout.

While Ponty is not recognised as a fusion innovator in terms of composition, he actually plays it safe with grooves and soloing on top, the quality of these two elements is simply masterful plus it's distinguishably Ponty and you don't easily confuse it with other melodic fusion acts, and because of that it's a true masterpiece of collaboration between members.

Essential to your Jazz Rock/Fusion collection and highly recommended for fans of any of the members on board, also Zappa fans might get a good kick out of this. You really won't get better violin-fusion music than this.

WEATHER REPORT Weather Report

Album · 1971 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.35 | 25 ratings
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In a Silent Way

After the musical exploration that Miles Davis with his ''electric bands'' had achieved, the members that formed these bands decided to explore even further for themselves. One of these seperate groups was Weather Report which featured the alliance between Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter.

From the three classic jazz fusion groups that triumphed in the 70's, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Return to Forever, Weather Report will always be the less recognised and loved by "rock" fans. The obvious reason is that Weather Report never had a guitarist and instead the leading instrument was the saxophone and different aural keyboards, and besides that, they actually never played jazz rock in the manner of Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra which both headed mostly towards rock or funk and in a highly technical way(not that Weather Report weren't capable of pulling off technical music).

Weather Report instead of adventuring further the rock sensibilities that Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson had, they opted to explore further the jazz improvisation essence of those albums, the result being pretty much avant garde fusion similarly like Hancock's Mwandishi trilogy. The apex of this exploration was 1972's I Sing the Body Electric.

As for the debut, from 1971, the band clearly showed which path they had chosen and the result is very much in the vein of In a Silent Way by Miles Davis. Overall a pretty moody album with delicate saxophone notes and mysterious jazzy organ/electric piano bits. However, it's not a totally calm and ambient-esque sea, with Alphonse Mouzon and Miroslav Vitous on the rhythm section, there's some really energetic stuff going on, more akin to Davis' live performances from the time, just not as psychedelic. Also Zawinul's electrically modified Rhodes can be pretty wild, add to that the really fine melodies that Shorter and Joe came with, that's what made it pretty different from Miles' more vague melodic ideas from the time. There's also Airto Moreira contributing exotic percussion which is a real plus.

So, basically, if you're a fan of Miles Davis' 69-71 output, this Weather Report album and I Sing the Body Electric will surely satisfy you after repeated listens. Also there's a chance you'll like more Zawinul & Shorter doing this type of music, than Davis'.

HERBIE HANCOCK Sextant

Album · 1973 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.33 | 37 ratings
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Everybody knows what John McLaughlin did in the 70s, as well as what Joe Zawinul with Wayne Shorter did, and also what Chick Corea did. But everyone seems to forget what Herbie Hancock did first before doing his commercially successful funk-fusion.

Hancock formed a sextet in 1970 known as the Mwandishi group, alike the early years of Weather Report (Zawinul & Shorter), this group followed the master’s (Miles Davis) experimental footsteps, recalling the freaky improvisation and grooves, but this time the idealist being Herbie. It’s already clear by listening to the band’s debut or Weather Report’s debut in any case, that these two groups didn’t have in their minds to emulate Miles 70s music, if not just capture a part of it, and from there evolve in their singular way.

However, it’s not in the debut where Hancock & Co. really develop the highly inventive and sophisticated group that those who know the work praise (it still was pretty great though). It’s actually in the following, Crossings, with the addition of substantial member, Dr. Patrick Gleason and his synths, that things start to really be creative and ahead of its time.

For their third and final release, entitled Sextant, they stretch things even further, more abstract compositions and repetitive cyclic rhythms a la Davis. If Crossings sounded to you already dense and full, well Sextant is here to give you more, though not necessarily better.

‘Rain Dance’ starts things off in a very odd way full of bleep-blops out of Patrick’s synths, surely emulating the rain. It’s mostly electronic music, not far from the German school of Klaus Schulze & Co., with jazzy passages every now and then just to assure you that you bought a Herbie Hancock record. Way too experimental sounding for my taste.

‘Hidden Shadows’ brings back the highly inventive psychedelic fusion of Crossings. Repetitive complex rhythms with a lot going on in the background, say mellotrons, synths, percussion, you name it. The composition evolves slowly with increasing number of participants and of grooves, all in all making a spectacular odd mix of chilling psychedelic music and moving fusion. Herbie’s piano solo near the end is fascinating.

‘Hornets’ is the central composition of the album lasting 19 minutes. Again a cyclic rhythm is present, one that would inspire Eddie Henderson’s Realization album. Psychedelic ambience is featured throughout with a lot of different keyboards, plus interesting woodwinds. It could have been another masterpiece like 'Sleeping Giant' from Crossings, but for me it drags for too long, even there’s the presence of a kazoo which is simply annoying.

A fusion landmark in terms of creativity and ability of the musicians on board to play unique eclectic fusion, but it’s actually only the second composition that makes this album really worthwhile.

Recommended to fans of Davis' 70s albums and fusion-alike. However, you should get Crossings first before delving in Sextant which is clearly more experimental and less consistent.

JOHN COLTRANE Om

Album · 1967 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.07 | 11 ratings
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Tenor legend, John Coltrane, throughout his rather short but extremely productive solo career, was capable of pulling out some of the most expressive music on earth but also some very painful music to hear, just a proof of the genius and mystery of the much praised Trane.

It is on the infamous Om album where he delivers one of the freer jazz music I've ever had the annoyance to hear. There's even this myth that it was recorded when the band was in an acid trip, not really surprising since John was well aware of LSD and consumed it a lot in his final years. (According to Eric Nissenson's "Ascension: John Coltrane & his Quest")

I should first admit that I'm no advocate of "the new thing", but I'm nonetheless a huge fan of Trane and most of his discography. It's from 1965 onwards that things started to get wackier; I've simply sought for these albums out of pure curiosity and to understand John's highly evolutionary mind-state and quest, even though I knew that it would not really be of my appeal. (although I did find some good surprises)

John since his spiritual awakening around 1957 left alcohol and heroin behind, and in his music he was constantly trying to express "God", while not from any specific religion, if not purely its essence of love, among other spiritual values. And here is when I think that his followers in later years expressed this sentiment much better than Coltrane himself did, say the music of Pharoah Sanders or Alice Coltrane managed to be way more meditative and spiritual-like than the dissonant and replete of fiery avant-garde of John.

Unlike other avant-garde albums by John where at least a melody or idea in mind are present when playing, very much inspired by Ornette Coleman, it is on Om where there's no sense of direction in any second of the 29-minute piece. And sincerely I find it hard to find any spiritual ambience or theme, other than the introductory chant of a Buddhist text which sounds very dark. It's simply this, every member is literally playing whatever they please and generate unpleasant sounds and as a whole it's simply a wall of noise.

Definitely not a recommended album for jazz fans, exception being avant-garde jazz fans that might get a kick out of this. Also, Coltrane fans will probably want to get this out of pure curiosity like I did, but really, just get it if you find it super cheap.

Mind you, although this is one of the most annoying and boring jazz records I've ever heard, it really doesn't change my mind a single bit concerning Coltrane's genius. He was an expressive man, although in his late days he expressed everything that in his mind surged, you can never say that he didn't follow his own, personal, music and life quest that led to many artistic masterpieces.

BILL BRUFORD One Of A Kind

Album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.45 | 25 ratings
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Bill Bruford is a highly praised drummer within Progressive Rock circles, where he played original, complex and dynamic fills for King Crimson and Yes, but Bill has always been a jazz man in spirit and that is clearly shown throughout his solo work and diverse projects.

One of his first projects was the band named 'Bruford', a fusion group with fantastic musicians on board: fusion legend, Allan Holdsowrth on guitar, the underappreciated keyboard-master, Dave Stewart, and Jeff Berlin on bass.

While by the late 70s fusion had become both very soft and commercial with a very superficial sound, or on the contrary, it became highly technical, with no sense of emotion and not much innovation regarding composition.

One of a Kind from 1979 indeed belongs to the technical kind of fusion, but as a fan of Return to Forever, probably the originators of this technical show-off with symphonic arrangements and melodies, I find One of a Kind to be a very good album.

Besides the technically perfect execution on the compositions with various changes of tempo and time meters, plus the addition of noteworthy melodies which would become the standard for 80s fusion, it's actually the unique playing of each member that makes this album so good. Allan Holdsworth's guitar playing especially, by this time he had already found his sound and it's astonishing on this record. Stewart's keyboard performance is good with nice laid back piano and floating keys, but maybe a tad bit derivative, unlike his playing on National Health or Hatfield & the North where you find his true original sound.

I know that many despise the technical and emotionless fusion brand, but I really don't see any sin in enjoying this type of music every now and then, especially when the musicians interact so damn well and deliver memorable and grandiose melodies, rhythms and solos.

An excellent fusion album which I actually don't regard it one of the peaks of the genre, but still highly recommendable if you're into 70s fusion in the like of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, 11th House, you know the deal.

GRANT GREEN Street of Dreams

Album · 1966 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.23 | 6 ratings
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Blue Note-addict, Grant Green, released dozens of albums throughout the 60s showing clearly his evolution and diversity in different contexts, having played with lots of renowned musicians. In Street of Dreams we got the trio that played in Talkin’ About which is Larry Young on organ, Elvin Jones on drums and Green on guitar, plus the addition of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson on this session.

The unision of B3 Hammond Organ and jazz guitar is not something new at all, but Grant Green probably made my favourite album featuring this unision, which is this. But that's only telling half of the story, since actually I love this album also because of the combination of vibraphone and organ, the former playing the upper keys while the organ does the lower register, as a whole creating a fantastic sound which isn’t common in jazz (or elsewhere).

Street of Dreams is in its essence a dreamy and night-mood album, as the title suggests. And that's actually surprising since Larry is not actually known for being a calm organist, neither is Jones' drum-kit accustomed to playing gently nor much of Bobby's vibes.

What is also surprising is that all four compositions are covers, mainly popular early 50s songs (sang). But Green & Co. really make these compositions their own, as great jazz musicians are known of doing. It's in the case of 'Lazy Afternoon' that the band even turns the original 4/4 into a 5/4 tune! But mind you, it's a slow-paced 5/4 unlike 'Take Five'. Yes, the four compositions are mainly slow-driven tunes with no real need of power; it's the whole subtlety and dreaminess that makes this album so enjoyable, and of course the exquisite solos of each of the members.

Although many will object of considering this a great Green record, since the guitarist's classic features are not present, I still think this is an excellent album, and like I said at the beginning, one of the best in combining guitar and organ, even though those particular instruments don’t actually show-off, they’re simply joined as one within the whole flow of the album.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Extrapolation

Album · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.02 | 17 ratings
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John McLaughlin's 1969 solo debut, Extrapolation, shows the guitarist as one more of the many capable jazz guitarists of its time, his style had still not fully developed. Also noticeable in his playing in In a Silent Way, also from 1969, which is very subtle and there's no way one can anticipate the fiery style he would later develop.

However, the album is still surprisingly good, mainly because of the compositions which are exciting post-bop led by John's primitive jazz guitar style and the looser sax of John Surman.

What surprises me even more is the similarity between this rather rock-less session and the rock-headed British fusion band, Nucleus, and its debut, Elastic Rock from 1970. Both have a lot in common, the absence of distortion (or any other effects) in the guitar, the simple though memorable riffs, the extensive sax soloing and the active rhythm section. It makes Extrapolation look like an early fusion record, although it really isn't.

Free jazz influences are heard throughout Surman's sax playing, and McLaughlin's guitar style isn't safe either. But there's nothing on Extrapolation I would really call free jazz all through, it's in the edge I'd say, so fans of John and of post-bop can handle this album easily.

Extrapolation is overall a very enjoyable forgotten album led by a still developing McLaughlin who shows us his jazz roots.

It is in his second album, Devotion, where you can hear John experimenting with rock and his guitar is full of effects. But still, Extrapolation is an equally good, though very different, album to its successor. Recommended.

RETURN TO FOREVER Where Have I Known You Before

Album · 1974 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.17 | 27 ratings
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Where have I heard this before? Nowhere actually, this album is one of a kind for its time. This album is Return to Forever's peak compositonally speaking, while as musicians they would get more techincal on the famous, more progressive rock-oriented, Romantic Warrior.

Where Have I Known You Before is the first album with guitar-maestro Al Di Meola, while still very young(19 years-old!) thus not showing his finest capabilities, that is his ground-breaking shredding style as he would do in Romantic Warrior, he still showcases great textures and solos to the band, something Bill Connors didn't manage that well with Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. Besides that addition, Chick Corea adds to his keyboard-set the synthesizers (and clavinet) Return to Forever is well-known of, and in what a classy and professional way he manages to play them for the first time! The rhythm section was getting better with each album, that is Stanley with his funky and complex bass lines and Lenny with his energetic drumming.

The album starts-off with a typical fusion composition, 'Vulcan Words', that showcases unstoppable drumming and constant bass thrilling your ears plus the new additions of Corea's synth in a splendid melodic solo, then Al with a gratifying solo and finally Stanley with his own solo.

The album continues with 'Where Have I Loved You Before', a jazz piece only meant for the one and only Chick Corea on his magical piano. Chick Corea demonstrates his most sincere and delightful piano touches, something that made him a well-respected piano(and jazz) player.

That lovely piece soon ends and what actually did was to make an excellent intro to the eternal love that 'The Shadow of Lo' always gives to me with its inital keyboard palette of notes. However that sweetness lasts for the first half of the tune. The second half is a totally different story, it returns to the speedy fusion style of the opener with the fast paced synths and rhythm, every now and then adding some really funky substance where Meola adds a brilliant guitar solo.

The album returns to the solo piano section that 'Where Have I Loved You Before' presented, this time with 'Where Have I Danced With You Before' which presents a more robust feel compared to the former but still maintaining it's delightness, like many of Corea's solo piano pieces.

The pace of the album returns to its brisk jazzy form with 'Beyond the Seventh Galaxy', while definitely short in length compared to the two previous jazz fusion songs, this one is still capable of showing their abilities as musicians and composers. It's actually a remake of 'Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy', this time with synths, showing what that album would have sounded with that addition.

Continuing with the short fusion songs comes up 'Earth Juice', this one being the only one that can be considered rather repetitive and not on par to the rest of the songs, with its constant simple drumming, Al and Chick add some few variations which are far from being either really exciting or creative, which in the end it doesn't keep the listener's attention for long. Fortunately it's short and doesn't damage much the album's flow.

Approaching to the end we got the last of Corea's solo piano tunes, 'Where Have I Known You Before', indeed the most beautiful and delicate of the three of them. This reminds me of 'Peace Piece' by Bill Evans, a piano masterpiece.

The final track is the Return to Forever epic entitled no less majestic than 'Song to the Pharoah Kings'. Opening in such a refined way with the synths and subtle organ, you really can't predict what comes next. After two minutes of elegance the track really starts to take shape, follows a semi-dissonant and chaotic passage, it then all evolves into an ingenious and polished track full of exciting and creative keyboards, a really pulverizing guitar solo in the middle, and all this within a stupendous rhythm.

Where Have I Known You Before is essentially Return to Forever's magnum opus in the creative and composition side. It features the perfect blend of the band's first two albums' Latin classiness and subtlety with Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy's jazz rock powder. This is the album that Return to Forever should be known-of, it simply has it all what made Return to Forever one of the classic Jazz Fusion bands alongside Weather Report, Hancock and Mahavishnu Orchestra back in the 70's.

LARRY YOUNG Heaven on Earth

Album · 1968 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 5 ratings
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One of Larry Young's last full-fledged jazz albums, Heaven on Earth from 1968, shows Khalid going back in time to his early soul jazz albums. It can be very disappointing to hear someone who is exploring new grounds with each new album and then suddenly returns five slots back.

Yes, Heaven on Earth is a disappointing Young album. With the huge progress from Into Somethin' to Unity and then to the avant-garde of Of Love & Peace and then even to a more accomplished album, Contrasts, you get this.

Undoubtedly, Larry's playing on this soul jazz release is by far more exquisite and unique than most of his B3 pals, but that doesn't save the album. The compositions are mostly forgettable, with the exception of 'The Herafter' which retains the more adventurous style of previous releases, with guitarist George Benson doing some non-standard jazz stuff, as well as with the more free-ish saxophonist, Herbert Morgan, showing at least a glimpse of the great Larry Young.

This is you average organ-led soul jazz album of the 60s, which the only thing worthwhile is Larry's unique playing on some of the tunes, plus the addition of the underappreciated guitarist, George Benson.

Only Larry Young and Soul Jazz collectors should get this.

JAMIROQUAI Emergency on Planet Earth

Album · 1993 · Acid Jazz
Cover art 4.02 | 9 ratings
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I first came to Jamiroquai for their pop/funk hits released throughout the new millennium, they offered a different angle to what the mainstream is used to, with music inspired by disco and 70s funk, and not simply superficial music.

However, it is the 90s Jamiroquai that is purely musical-focused and not trying to score hits (although they still did, not surprisingly). The early Jamiroquai belonged to the wave of British acid jazz from the 90s and they were one of the best at it.

Their debut, Emergency on Planet Earth, released in 1993 brought back to the music industry the grooves and well arranged compositions of Stevie Wonder and the like. Not only that, Jamiroquai also had a message, awareness to the world concerning man-made natural disasters (deforestation, pollution, etc), although he would later adopt a more friendly set of lyrics.

While some funk-heads may criticise Jamiroquai for not doing anything new, there are some others who think that the band achieved to produce some infectious songs containing great musicianship and smart interludes. Yes, I belong to the 21st century music crowd, so maybe I stick to Jamiroquai as ‘my Stevie Wonder’, but actually I like both for different reasons. I really don’t think Stevie ever really grooved like Jamiroquai does.

However, this album is nonetheless 'retro', the funky guitar, the disco-inspired string arrangements, the slapping bass, fusion-like keyboards, catchy brass lines, you name it. And although in some cases you can pin-point some bands that might have influenced this, for me Jamiroquai made a perfect sum-up of the vast funk movement of the 70s and turned it into their own, like a "best of 70s straight-funk" featuring the singular vocals of Jay Kay and the 90s production.

Emergency on Planet Earth is groovy from start to finish, and each song has different arrangements and in some cases they're full blown instrumentals. And although I find the whole album to be above average funk/acid jazz, there are certain highlights I'd like to mention.

'Too Young to Die' is the first one, and it's one of my favourite funk songs. It's incredibly catchy with its bass line and friendly vocals, but not only that, it has some very nice string and brass arrangements which add a lot to the song, and even an instrumental break typical of good funk/fusion bands.

'Music of My Mind' is another highlight, with its chilled fusion-like introduction full of synthesizers; it later evolves into a fast-paced instrumental with noteworthy solos and arrangements.

'Blow You Mind' is the perfect balance between vocal-led song and instrumental, with Jay even scatting alongside the brass resulting very pleasant. There are some great spacey keyboards throughout by Toby Smith, making the song actually “blow your mind”.

'Revolution 1993' is the last highlight, a 10 minute song that is presented like an actual revolution, where the music becomes tighter and louder by the end. Throughout you can listen to the great rhythm section and thoughtful brass, plus the initial addictive synth line. One of Jamiroquai's finest moments if you ask me.

Although many jazz fans are allergic to funky ("commercial") rhythms, I still think that this album is excellent and one of the classics of acid jazz, in spite of the retro sound. So, if you like catchy jazz-inspired music, Jamiroquai is both, addictive and interesting instrumentally.

JOHN PATTON Let 'em Roll

Album · 1965 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.01 | 3 ratings
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"Big" John Patton is another of the various soul jazz organists from the 60s, and although he's not unlike many of his contemporaries, he had the luck (to say it somehow) of having stupendous musicians contributing to his albums.

It's in the case of Let 'em Roll where Blue Note-addict Grant Green is playing groovy and memorable guitar and there's also the master vibraphonist, Bobby Hutcherson. The combination of organ and vibes for me is killer, and add to that such a great guitarist like Green, you have one splendid session.

Yes, this is soul jazz, and while its essence is staying funky and simple, John Patton makes a highly enjoyable album with its catchy grooves and original solos. Let 'em Roll still suffers from the typical soul jazz flaws, the melodies can be derivative thus lacking a bit of bite and creativity.

But all in all, this is one solid album which is very entertaining for those who like smoothness and/or groovy organ-led jazz. Grant Green fans will enjoy this as well. A recomended soul jazz record.

PHAROAH SANDERS Karma

Album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.62 | 25 ratings
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Pharoah Sanders might well be the king (or pharaoh, in this case) of what I like to call "hippie jazz". I refer hippie jazz to the music that was inspired by John Coltrane's vision of religions and God, this music has the feel, and sometimes lyrics, expressing peace and love in the earth. Other supporters of this movement would be Alice Coltrane, Lonnie Liston Smith, Leon Thomas, among other like-minded musicians.

When John Coltrane added Pharoah to his classic quartet by 1965, Sanders was seen as either a potentially great avant-garde saxophonists or simply an ear-ache, with his extensive appliance of shrieks.

With the death of Trane, Sanders went solo and his playing matured with each new release, although still using the shrieks as a method to express ecstasy in the music, it is clear that Pharoah became a great unique tenor saxophonist, and not only that, his compositions were also unique and praised by the avant-garde jazz audience.

It is in Karma, released in 1969, where Pharoah’s full potential is shown in, and in my opinion this is his magnum opus, and one of the high points of the avant-garde movement.

The album has only two compositions, a 32 minute piece called ‘The Creator Has a Masterplan’ and a rather short in comparison tune called ‘Colors’. It is obvious that it is the big piece the central part of the album, and what makes this Pharoah’s greatest album.

‘The Creator Has a Masterplan’ can be considered as a continuation to Coltrane’s masterpiece ‘A Love Supreme’, both have that simple, hypnotizing bass line (although made slightly different), both open in an abrupt way with wailing saxophone evoking a supreme being, and both deal explicit, with lyrics, the adoration of a God, no matter what religion. Agree or not with these spiritual views, no one can deny the whole euphoric feel that these two mega-compositions achieve. However, Pharoah does not rip-off ‘A Love Supreme’, he makes his own “love supreme” composition. It is a way more tranquil and spiritual-sounding composition than anything Coltrane ever did, and the composition is by far denser in terms of instrumentation, lots of Eastern percussion plus the addition of Leon Thomas’ magnificent vocals. It’s no surprise that Lonnie Liston Smith is in here as well, playing his piano which is pure bliss. Warning, Sanders does happen to shriek with the whole band in a pure chaotic way for a few minutes, although not pleasant, it’s something that the tenor man would do throughout his whole career, and some few chaotic minutes in a 32 minute euphoric piece is more than ok for me.

As for the second and last track, ‘Colors’, it’s actually another gem, although a minor one. It continues with the love-and-peace themes and feel, but it’s not an extension of the main piece. This time Leon Thomas expresses sadness in an ecstatic way, and as a whole it’s a beautiful closer, where Pharoah does well avoiding any shrieks.

Truthfully no words can really express what I feel when I listen to both of these “supernatural” pieces, I just recommend you, open-minded jazz listener, to give them a try.

Don't fear the avant-garde jazz label, it’s not really free in any similar way to Albert Ayler’s free jazz or Coltrane’s late free jazz, with the exception of the occasional shrieks. Karma, and Sanders discography in general, is pretty accessible for anyone accustomed to lengthy saxophone solos and repetitive themes.

DR LONNIE SMITH Turning Point

Album · 1969 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.10 | 4 ratings
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Dr. Lonnie Smith is a well known B3 Hammond Organ player, one of the many Jimmy Smith soul jazz followers. He has played with Lou Donaldson, George Benson, Red Holloway, among others, and his stint with Lou made him be signed to Blue Note Records. Turning Point was his second release for that label, released in 1969, however the quality admittedly is not of a Blue Note record.

What happens with many followers of a specific style, they end up making rehashes of older material with the lack of creativity and adventure. It's the case of Turning Point that it's simply another typical soul jazz album with very predictable solos and grooves, even though the musicians on board are definitely capable of doing more.

The sound overall is very monotonic, it's hard to notice when one tune ends and the other starts. Sincerely I can't find any redeeming features, not even the organ playing, an instrument I love, thrills me even in the least.

1.5 stars: I suppose there are worse things, but this is clearly a non-recommended album unless you're a soul jazz collector.

ARCHIE SHEPP Kwanza

Album · 1974 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.52 | 5 ratings
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By 1969 most free jazzers were already looking for new ground, already past Coltrane's death, "the new thing" wasn't being well received anymore even by the supporting minority. It is in the case of free jazz pillar, Archie Shepp, who started to try out electric instruments and groovy rhythms.

Mind you, Archie Shepp on this album doesn't leave his free jazz roots behind completely, but it's clear that this is by far a more concise set of tunes which could appeal to an open-minded group of jazz fans by the late 60s. 'Back Back' and 'Slow Drag' are proof of this, with repetitive keyboard grooves and some catchy brass line, there's extended soloing throughout but these never reach the common climaxes of free jazz.

'Spoo Dee Doo' is another different side of Archie, featuring the great Leon Thomas on vocals; this is a wonderful short tune with guitar and occasional brass.

'New Africa' is a very tense and moody Grachan Moncurr III (trombone) composition, but for the listener's surprise, the band restrains from doing anything really "free", at least anybody accustomed to Coltrane's extensive soloing shouldn't have any problem. As the title suggests, it evokes African music, both in rhythm and in the occasional yodelling, and the result is really good.

Last track is 'Bakai', a Cal Massey cover that John Coltrane played in his debut album back in 1957. Well, it's 1969 now and it's Archie Shepp who's leading the composition. The differences are abysmal, the former being a hard-bop rendition while the latter a way freer and monotonic one.

As a whole, Kwanza shows Shepp in an interesting new direction with some sense of groove and restraining from the dissonancy of his completely free stuff. And although nothing here strikes you as genius, the music has this weird mix of catchy lines and extended soloing, making this a very enjoyable weird jazz record and probably a good entry to Archie’s music.

SOFT MACHINE Third

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.75 | 53 ratings
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Who said that the British couldn't play great jazz as the Americans?

Man, this is a unique jazz gem yet to be heard by most jazz fans. Ok, probably most wouldn't dig it, but who cares? The Soft Machine's third release is one of a kind in the entire world, released in a time where 'jazz fusion' was at its early stage, this band seemed to be ahead of most contemporary jazz rockers. Surely Miles Davis was jealous of what this band made contemporary to the man's jazz rock experiments.

At times so fine and British-jazzy, at others so chaotic, sometimes dreamy as a German electronic band, yes, this is freaky jazz (rock?). Before I enter in details, I'd like to state that the overall production is rather weak but being 1970 not many had great productions either, so take that in mind. However, after all, this is majestic twisted jazz, who needs great production anyway? Ok, Miles Davis needed one.

First composition, 'Facelift', is the one that is most inclined towards free jazz and avant-garde out of the four big compositions. It has a lot of dissonancy and experimental bits, though with repeated listens you will get the whole thing better, but I got to admit that I usually skip this. Probably the only composition of the album that seems to be affected by the raw and dusty production, though that's mainly cause it was recorded live. Mind you, when I'm in the mood for it, it's like listening to an extremely powerful and noisy rock jam which really rocks. It does evoke a bit the prog rock trend with a flute solo, among other things. Recommended mainly to fans of Henry Cow and The Mothers of Invention's most avant moments, and maybe some free jazz.

Second composition, 'Slightly All the Time', announces The Machine's future albums (Fourth and Fifth), being heavily based on jazz with great saxophone playing courtesy of Elton Dean plus a great rhythm section, including a bass line that is similar to 'Tout de Suite' by Davis. The composition evolves a lot, from gentle paces to faster ones, from beautiful melodies and moods to more ferocious ones. Definitely an amazing construction, the first masterpiece on the album.

Third composition is 'Moon in June', a composition that has a huge fan base and I, after repeated listens, became to be part of it. It's the only track featuring vocals; these are from the one and only Robert Wyatt, the drummer of the band. A tad bit melancholic and psychedelic at first, but in the very middle of the tune it all becomes another Soft Machine rockin' jazzy jam with a solid performance of overlooked keyboard master, Mike Ratledge. The ending is pretty much noise, featuring backward playing and a noisy violin, but since already from the beginning the track seems to be very schizophrenic in mood, it fits really well. Odd at first, but very rewarding after various listens, it's undoubtedely Wyatt's vocal section that is the most enjoyable and unique.

Fourth composition, 'Out Bloody Rageous', is yet another incredible tune that is more akin to 'Slightly All the Time' in the jazzier aspect. But the highlight of this tune is not actually the jazzy playing, if not the five minute spacey intro which is pure bliss. Of course, the overall playing of the rest of the band in the rest of the composition is fantastic, great bass work and especially superb woodwind playing, as well as a really fine keyboard solo from Mike Ratledge. One of the band's greatest achievements.

No further comments other than my recommendation: Highly recommended if you're a jazz and fusion fan looking for something completely fresh, this may blow your mind, beware.

Yes, four different and mind-blowing compositions, which three of them I consider completely timeless, making as a whole a masterpiece, one of the various peaks of British rock/jazz, and definitely the Softs most creative effort.

Third is The Soft Machine's unique jazz style masterpiece, previously they released a psychedelic jazzy rock masterpiece (Vol. 2), and in future years they would release a fusion masterpiece (Bundles). What an amazing band.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Devotion (aka Marbles)

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.28 | 13 ratings
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The John McLaughlin Experience

John McLaughlin is one of the most acclaimed jazz fusion guitarists alongside Allan Holdsworth, Larry Coryell and Al Di Meola, he’s considered one of the precursors of the shred and simply one hell of a versatile guitarist with an easily recognisable style, fusing Western and Eastern ideas, similarly to what his idol, John Coltrane, had done.

By 1970 John had already played with the impressive psychedelic jazz rock band, Lifetime, together with drum force Tony Williams and post-bop organist, Larry Young, as well as with the legendary Miles Davis and his innovating jazz experiments, most famously known for Bitches Brew. However, in none of these appearances he actually sounds like the McLaughlin we all know about, his style was still developing and maturing.

It’s actually on Devotion where John’s first exposure of his ferocious and unique style is shown in, I had always thought that it was in The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s debut released in 1971, but I was wrong. Here he finally drives his guitar crazy and sounds like if he’s putting it on fire, alike Hendrix showed us three years prior to this. And alike Hendrix, here he's repleted with wah-wah and other guitar effects, all in all making his guitar more akin to the psychedelic era.

But beyond McLaughlin’s amazing guitar, we’ve got once again beside him, the former jazz organist, Larry Young, now mainly playing one-of-a-kind trippy ambiences not known by many (or any) organists, who would later also repeat these special auras on the more famous guitar-devotion album, Love Devotion & Surrender, with Carlos Santana. There’s also Buddy Miles, from the Band of Gypsys, a very powerful and groovy drummer, plus a rather unknown but still competent bassist, Billy Rich.

Definitely not alike The Mahavishnu Orchestra, this is mainly psychedelic jazz rock more in the vein of Emergency! by The Tony Williams Lifetime, but John actually matures a bit from that session, and makes a much less improvised affair, mainly noticing in the length of the tunes, with five tracks out of six being below the 6 minute mark. Also, what is noticeable like I already stated, is the man’s guitar style, already fully developed in the beast that is very well known in his main band. It’s really surprising to already hear most of McLaughlin’s famous licks at such an early stage of his career, even though they're played on top of rather simplistic psychedelic/blues inspired tunes.

Devotion overall is really a special album and it should have made a bigger impact if it had had a better record label. But it’s really no big deal, since one year after this, John's abilities were recognised with his main band’s debut, Inner Mounting Flame.

This is far from the technical outburst of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin here is simply having a lot of fun with incredible out-worldly concise jams which are never self-indulgent or long to bore you. Fans of Hendrix, Tony Williams Lifetime, Miles’ 69-75 releases, and any other psychedelic/improvised (jazz) rock record should check this.

HERBIE HANCOCK Head Hunters

Album · 1973 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 4.56 | 47 ratings
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Hunting Funk

Hancock by mid-1973 had completely dismissed his previous highly experimental band, with the exception of multi-brassist Bennie Maupin, and decided to strip things down and make a commercial move. However, this did not imply loosing the man’s outstanding creativity and ability, he just felt that his previous avant-jazz works weren’t understood and thought of connecting with a wider audience this time (similarly to what Davis had in mind in 1972).

How else to connect with the masses than with hyper funky and slightly improvisational music? Herbie is in charge of the whole keyboard set this time, demonstrating his great capability on the latest synths and on the funk keyboard, the clavinet, also the Rhodes is still to be found. Undoubtedly a big influence to fellow fusion keyboardists, Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea, who would start to incorporate synths and clavinet.

While the music captures the roots of the funk acts of the time, Head Hunters managed to become a landmark of funk-jazz, sounding fresh even today. However, this does not mean that this is Hancock’s finest hour on the funk-jazz realm, but it’s undeniable the footprint that this album has left. The man and his band (called The Headhunters) would later develop better and more exciting and complex funky compositions, to be heard on Thrust and Man-Child.

To start with, Hancock delivered ‘Chameleon’ which has one of the most addictive synth lines ever made, but that’s something you always get from Herbie, even in his jazz days he was groovy and catchy as the future Stevie Wonder. The composition features everything a funk band needs, tight and groovy rhythm section (percussion, bass and drums), catchy lines (courtesy of Bennie’s various brass instruments) and great musical interplay, each member communicates perfectly with each other. Only flaw would be that it's a tad bit long for its own good.

The band later does a remake of the classic jazz tune, ‘Watermelon Man’, this time it’s slicker and a bit more complex in its weird funky way. I’m not really fond of this version; it just doesn’t groove much for me and thus doesn’t suit the album’s mood, but it's not bad at all.

Next composition is ‘Sly’, obvious reference to famous funk band, Sly & the Family Stone. While it is an undeniably groovy tune full of clavinet and impressive Rhodes, the tune is pretty much loose and leaves a lot for improvisation and soloing, with highly active percussion and drums all through. Good but not that good.

Final track is ‘Vein Melter’, a far more spaced out composition full of floating keyboards, smooth electric piano, and airy saxes/flutes. It’s somewhat like an anticipation of the futuristic funky style of Thrust, but it also evokes past avant/psychedelic leanings from The Sextet.

There’s no doubt that we should give full credit to this album for initializing the funk-fusion movement, and with the addition of many incredible grooves in here, this is a very enjoyable album, although not entirely consistent to be considered a masterpiece. A classic nonetheless which should be listened by every music fan who is even slightly interested in funk.

MILES DAVIS On the Corner

Album · 1972 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.15 | 30 ratings
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Abusive Funk

Released in 1972, one of Davis’ last 70s studio albums, it is yet another explorative and improvised album with yet another genre in mind. Before it had been with rock, succeeded in Jack Johnson and sort-of exceeded in Live-Evil, psychedelic rock was simply a piece of the puzzle that Bitches Brew was. With On The Corner it was funk the genre that Miles had in mind to delve deep into its roots and make it grow like something that doesn’t sound like funk in any way.

I’m simply guessing by saying that this is inspired by Funkadelic and Sly & the Family Stone, the former being the psychedelic funk continuation of Hendrix, while the latter would give the basis to Hancock’s supreme funk-fusion. But saying that On The Corner is a funk album is simply being deaf, it is actually far from anything the aforementioned bands did, like I already stated at the beginning. Avant-garde funk? Yeah, that’s a bit closer, but what does that actually mean or sound like?

It’s actually easy to imagine if you already know other Davis’ 70s works, it is a pretentious project consisting of a line-up of the highest calibre, among those the ever-so majestic McLaughlin on guitars and Hancock being one of the keyboardists on board, including percussion (tabla amongst them!) and electric sitar for the first time in Davis’ career. The music that resulted in here is way out there, with African and Indian echoes interpolated with psychedelic passages and repetitive weird grooves, all in all making some, to quote Fela Kuti, “expensive shit”. ‘Expensive’ because it’s so rich in textures and rhythms, plus the always incredible spacey ambiences that Miles pulls off with his wah-wah and the rest of the band. ‘Shit’ because it’s bombastic and incoherent at first listens, and it may be incoherent for some people forever, and I can’t blame them, it’s a hard and lengthy ride and not for everyone’s appeal.

I really have no idea what in the hell was Miles thinking (smoking?) when he said that this album was intended to connect with a wider audience, mainly black. I’d call this also ‘abstract music’, a term that fellow reviewers use to describe Thrust by Hancock, where there’s absence of actual melody and there’s only a theme that is repeated all along in the four compositions and there are musical adventures that grow on top and beneath them.

Yeah, ‘expensive shit’ indeed. Not an album I usually listen to, and admittedly not one I’m completely fond of, but still it was worth my money listening to such crazy jams, and really cool to listen to it alongside real funk albums, the comparison between them makes my mind explode. Recommended and not recommended, you should have already figured out why is that.

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