Jazz Music Reviews from js

CHICK COREA Return to Forever

Album · 1972 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 4.37 | 35 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
It seems that in any musical genre, the most creative work goes down during the days in which said genre is being created. For sure the most intense bebop happened in the early 40s, and although you may still hear some good bop to this day, it will never be quite the same again. The same could also be said for jazz fusion, a genre that became an easy target for criticism over time, but in the heady days of its inception, some really interesting music was created under the fusion moniker, which leads us to Chick Corea’s first attempt to lead a fusion group while recording the album, “Return to Forever”. Chick was hardly new to the fusion world at the time of this recording, he had already participated on several ground breaking albums by Miles Davis, but, as stated earlier, “Return to Forever” was Chick’s first fusion recording as band leader. Corea’s albums as leader prior to this were definitely shaking up the jazz world, whether he was making cutting edge post bop tracks with Roy Haynes, or avant-garde excursions with Anthony Braxton, Chick was definitely a pianist to watch in the early 70s.

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

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

THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.80 | 14 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Not only is “Brilliant Corners” one of Thelonious Monk’s best albums, but its also considered one of the better recordings in the history of jazz. Don’t expect a lot of fireworks from this one though, instead, most of these blues based tunes are played in laid back medium tempos, or even slower, but do expect maximum creativity and a brilliant ensemble that moves together as one mind. Monk does have a particularly strong crew assembled here, with Sonny Rollins and Max Roach on board, plus Ernie Henry and Oscar Pettiford are no slouches either. Clark Terry and Paul Chambers replace Henry and Pettiford for one cut, but they too are up for the great interplay that goes down on this disc.

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

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

JOSH NELSON The Sky Remains

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

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

KENNY BURRELL Midnight Blue

Album · 1963 · Jazz Related Blues
Cover art 4.49 | 10 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
In the early 60s, jazz artists cutting a blues album was not an uncommon thing at all. Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and others put out some of their most successful albums during this time by applying their be-bop chops to some well known blues changes. In early 1963, when Kenny Burrell approached Blue Note head, Alfred Lion, about cutting a blues album, this propisition probably came as no surprise to Lion who was more than happy to let Kenny in the studio to create his blues masterpiece, “Midnight Blue”. The title of this album tells you everything you need to know, this is definitely late night blues with an emphasis on laid back tempos and soulful solos, as opposed to extroverted blazing technique. The band Kenny assembled on here was perfect for the date, with the aforementioned Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Ray Barretto on congas, Major Holley Jr on bass and the understated Bill English on the traps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MACHINE MASS TRIO / MACHINE MASS Plays Hendrix

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

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

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

DIZZY GILLESPIE The Dizzy Gillespie - Stan Getz Sextet

Album · 1954 · Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“The Dizzy Gillespie-Stan Getz Sextet” may not seem like a particularly imaginative album title, but when this album came out in the early 50s, grouping those two artists together was all it took to grab people’s attention in anticipation of what they may come up with. In those days, Dizzy was the master of east coast high energy be-bop, while Getz was the king of west coast cool, this may have seemed like an unlikely pairing at first, but when they recorded together, they meshed and pushed each other to come up with a sum that was even greater than its talented parts. Adding to the attention grabbing aspects of this record, the backup band is an all-star one with Max Roach on drums, Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar.

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

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

JOHN DAVERSA Wobbly Dance Flower

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

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

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

"BROTHER" JACK MCDUFF Check This Out

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

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

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

MILES DAVIS Facets (CBS France)

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

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

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

TINA RAYMOND Left Right Left

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

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

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

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.48 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Always working at the forefront of what is new and interesting in today’s jazz scene, Craig Taborn has produced one of the better albums of his career, and also one of the better new jazz albums this year with, “Daylight Ghosts”. Building on the style he established on 2013’s brilliant “Chant”, Craig continues to use repeating rhythmic figures to construct his compositions that some have compared to minimalism. Taborn’s ‘minimalism’ has very little to do with composers like John Adams or Phillip Glass, but instead reflects the timeless music of Africa and Indonesia, as well as composers who pull from that deep well such as Steve Reich. To these insistent rhythms Taborn adds a swinging flow borrowed from today’s post bop, as well as some rhythmic drive from the fusion side of things and the end result is a musical style that sounds like no one else but Craig Taborn.

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

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

DUKE ELLINGTON An Intimate Piano Session

Album · 2017 · Swing
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Although Duke Ellington has always been highly acclaimed for his composing, arranging and band leadership, you rarely hear much about his piano playing, possibly because there are not that many recordings available that highlight his skills at the keyboard. That unfortunate situation has been somewhat alleviated recently with this latest release of Ellington archival recordings called “An Intimate Piano Session”, which features Duke, mostly by himself on a grand piano, playing tunes that we don’t hear too often from him. Ellington was not a particularly flashy or technical player, but what he plays is often far more interesting than those who might have greater technical skills. In a recent interview, modern piano maverick Matthew Shipp pointed out that as a developing pianist he avoided the 70s triumvirate of Corea, Jarrett and Hancock, and instead focused on earlier players such as Ellington. No doubt Sun Ra’s path less traveled also revealed a strong Duke influence too.

Some of the best cuts on this CD come with the first four tracks. Here we hear the Ellington harmonic formula; ragtime, blues and stride piano mixed with mid-20th century concert hall music, particularly Debussy and Delius. This mix of blues and elegant impressionism became the predominate musical language of the 20th century, and for much of the current century as well. There are many more great cuts on here, particularly a very moving “Melancholia”, and “New World A-Comin”, which shows Duke at his most extravagant and technically flashy as he seems to be channeling piano virtuosos like Rachmaninoff and Chopin. There are couple cuts that feature vocalists Anita Moore and Tony Watkins. Of these two singers, Moore comes across better, as Watkin’s overly dramatic and operatic tenor sounds like period kitsch in today’s scene. This CD closes with a few cuts that feature Ellington on piano with organist Wild Bill Davis and a small rhythm section. Of these cuts, “The Lake” is sublime Latin exotica, but the rest are hardly essential.

There are a couple cuts on here that could have been left off, track 7 and 17 are unexplainable little song segments that serve very little purpose if any. The version of “Satin Doll” features Duke’s well known rap about finger snapping, possibly amusing if you never heard it before, but most long time Ellington fans have heard this routine a hundred times by now. Also, most of the tracks on “An Intimate Piano Session” are not polished performances, Duke stumbles here and there and attempts things he can’t quite pull off, but really good jazz isn’t necessarily about polish, Also, there is a noticeable tape slip on the second take of “Lotus Blossom”. Overall, this is a good CD that provides valuable insight into Ellington’s harmonic language on the piano, but with a little editing, it could be even better.

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

Album · 2017 · Swing
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
The Microscopic Septet is one of those eclectic downtown NYC combos that got their start in the early 80s during the so-called ‘knitting factory scene’. The band disbanded in the late 80s, only to reappear a few decades later for today’s NYC scene that still leans toward eclectic influences and a quirky sense of humor. Microscopic has always favored a swing feel in their music, but not in a nostalgic or museum sense, instead, they often infuse their music with bits of the avant-garde, as well as polkas, tangos, cartoon music, punk rock and whatever else may be laying about. On their latest album, “Been Up So Long it Looks Like Down to Me”, the Septet leans heavily on their swing roots as they present eleven originals, plus two covers, that sound like they could have come from a swing dance club in the 40s. All the same, don’t confuse this album with that whole bothersome ’swing revival’ that came out of San Francisco in the post grunge mid 90s. Microscopic’s music is way more informed about what swing was, and can be in the future, than most of the heavy handed dull trend followers that made up the fortunately short lived ‘revival’.

The basic makeup of the Septet is a four piece saxophone section backed by a three piece rhythm section. Right off the bat this gives the band a sound similar to the Four Brothers, the famous spin off combo from Woody Herman’s big band. Other comparisons to the Microscopic sound could be found in the smaller combos led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sun Ra. The fact that most of the members of the Septet are dedicated to this one band gives their horn section a nice cohesion and flow that is often missing from many modern ensembles whose players have to play in many bands just to pay the bills.

There are lots of great cuts on here. “Dark Blue” has a ‘talking’ bari solo that gets into some call and response with the other horns, “PJ in the 60s” opens with a fierce free solo before settling into some excellent Duke flavored riffs, “Migraine Blues’ features some hard driving Count Basie riffs topped by another wild bari solo, and “Quizzical’ has an interesting arrangement that seems to modulate through many keys in a sort of Don Ellis meets Ellington effect. If there is one song that doesn't seem to fit, it would be, "When its Getting Dark", a campy RnB number that sounds similar to the the theme from the old Batman TV show. I guess its only similarity to the other numbers is that, like the rest, it uses blues changes for its chord progression. The song does redeem itself towards the end when it builds up to four saxophones soloing frantically at the same time.

It seems lately that it has become somewhat hip for avant NYC bands to take another look at the possibilities in pre-bop jazz. The result has been some interesting ’hot’ music that gets away from the dry intellectual sound of modern post bop. If this re-examination of early jazz results in imaginative and swinging albums like “Been Up So Long…”, then it can only be a good thing.

ERROLL GARNER Ready Take One

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

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

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

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

WAYNE SHORTER Night Dreamer

Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.68 | 13 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
“Night Dreamer” is an album that finds Wayne Shorter in a state of transition as he was still rooted in the hard bop style that started his career, but also starting to lean toward the more abstract style that will serve for the greater part of his remaining career. It’s a talented, and somewhat unusual ensemble that Shorter has assembled here. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, at that time, were mostly known for their famous work with Coltrane, but in 1964, when this album was recorded, Tyner and Jones were on the verge of splitting from Coltrane’s increasingly experimental approach to jazz. Also on hand is trumpeter Lee Morgan, who would go on to be the ‘go to’ trumpeter for many Blue Note soul jazz and bluesy hard bop recordings. The powerhouse grooving bass of Reggie Workman rounds out this rather eclectic, but very energetic and creative crew.

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

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

MARY HALVORSON Mary Halvorson Octet : Away With You

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

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

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

MACEO PARKER US

Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
One of the most talented saxophone players to not work in the world of jazz, Maceo Parker, instead found his fame as the best horn player in the world of funk and RnB for several decades. Working with top stars in the business, such as James Brown and George Clinton, Maceo became a well known name on many famous hits as both Brown and Clinton were liable to shout out his name in the middle of a jam so that Maceo would step forth and deliver a fiery solo. In the early 70s, Maceo took a break from Brown’s band and recorded some RnB/jazz crossover albums on his own. Although Brown did not contribute to Maceo’s first couple records, on 1973’s “US”, Brown’s voice and direction are a big part of the funky proceedings.

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

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

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

WILDFLOWERS Wildflowers 2: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions

Live album · 1977 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
In the late 70s, it was becoming increasingly difficult for jazz musicians in the avant-garde to get a recording out. Most major labels had lost interest because avant-garde jazz didn’t generate enough income to bother with, unfortunately a lot of great music went unrecorded. In 1977 a small subsidiary of LA based disco label Casablanca, called Douglas, stepped up to the bat and released a set of compilations called “Wildflowers”, that documented New York City’s fabled ‘loft scene’ of the late 70s. This excellent series of compilations still gives us a vivid picture of what that vibrant and creative loft scene was all about. “Wildflowers 2” is of course the second album in that series, and features great performances by stellar musicians such as Anthony Braxton, and a very young Leo Smith, before he added Wadada to his name.

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

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

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

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

TOHPATI Mata Hati

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.72 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Indonesian guitar virtuoso Tohpati has several group names he works with, and many of those groups lean towards a Western jazz fusion sound, but its in his group known as Tohpati Ethnomission that Tohpati gets deeper into his Indonesian roots, and mixes those roots with the Western sounds of jazz fusion and hard rock. You might think that Gamelan, jazz, pastoral folk melodies and heavy metal guitar would make for an unlikely mix, but on “Mata Hati”, Tohpati and his Ethnomission crew pull it off and come up with some music that sounds like nobody else. Although fellow Indonesian fusion musicians such as Dewa Budjana and Dwiki Dharmawan have been working with large ensembles and multiple guest musicians, Tohpati keeps things simple on here with his core group of Indro Hardjodikoro on bass, Diki Suwarjiki on suling bamboo flute, Endang Ramdan on kendang percussion and Demas Narawangsa on drums. The Czech Symphony Orchestra guests on the opening track, but that is all.

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

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

HAMPTON HAWES All Night Session!, Volume 3

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

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

ILLINOIS JACQUET The Message

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

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

ILLINOIS JACQUET Illinois Jacquet (aka Banned In Boston)

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

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

MARCELLO PELLITTERI Aquarius Woman

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

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

CHARLES MINGUS The Great Concert of Charles Mingus

Live album · 1971 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.91 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
This review is written using the original 3 LP set in a huge foldout gate sleeve cover. If you had to pick the number one top recorded jazz performance known to mankind, you would have a hard time finding one that topped “The Great Concert of Charles Mingus”, a live set that was recorded in Paris in 1964, but not released until the early 70s. It doesn’t hurt that two of the greatest performers of all-time, Mingus and Eric Dolphy, have possibly the best performances of their careers on here, but also the brilliant supporting cast of Jaki Byard, Dannie Richmond and Clifford Jordan are likewise inspired for possible career topping performances as well. Johnny Coles was supposed to be on trumpet, but sickness knocked him off of every performance except the very first cut. This opening cut, by the way, is mis-labeled as “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, when it actually is “So Long Eric”, a better choice for an opening tune anyway.

The concert opens with a nice bluesy groove for the first couple solos, but when Dolphy steps up for his solo, all hell breaks loose and things continue to unravel from there in a rainbow kalediscope of colliding musical ideas. Remaining tracks like “Parkeriana” , “Meditations on Integration” and “Fables of Faubus” feature bizarre complex arrangements that show that both Mingus and Dolphy were very capable modern concert hall composers. When the band is cut loose from the arrangements, they burn with an unprecedented intensity. So much of the music on here pre-dates what is happening in jazz in the early 21st century, such as tonality blended with atonality and compositional structure blended with free blowing. Add to that, something unique to this session, intellectualism blended with emotional fire.

Eric Dolphy is often incorrectly grouped with early 60s “free” players such as Albert Alyer and Archie Shepp. While Dolphy did play free jazz on occasion, and was quite adept at it, this recording is a good example of how Dolphy’s true calling was working with melody and chord changes. Eric’s attempts to take these things to extremes made him more an extension of the Charlie Parker school of music, which is reflected in the mash-up of Parker melodies presented during “Parkeriana”.

If there is one problem with this recording, it would be in Jaki Byard’s volume level, he just sounds a little distant compared to the others, which is a shame because he is a brilliant and under-rated pianist. Byard never really got with the modern minimal sound of Bud Powell and Monk, instead he played more in the old school huge stride based sound of Earl Hines and Art Tatum, which Byard would modernize with atonal clusters of notes and noisy clatter which blended great with the Mingus-Dolphy approach. There is always a lot of mischievous humor to what Jaki serves up as well.

If you ever wonder why jazz fans make a big deal out of Charles Mingus, this record should help you understand why

JEFF BECK Loud Hailer

Album · 2016 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
You have to admire an artist who can keep changing and challenging themselves, even late in their career. After decades of fusion and instrumental rock albums, Beck has thrown us a serious left turn curve here with the recent “Loud Hailer”. Its as if Beck has discovered political punk rock 40 years after the fact, but its never too late to try something new as “Loud Hailer” turns out to be one of the hottest and most emotionally charged albums of Beck’s very successful and lengthy career. The way this album came about is interesting in itself, apparently Jeff was at a party, thrown by friend Roger Taylor, at which the ‘entertainment’ was the noisy post-punk RnB of vocalist Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg. Jeff was so impressed with what he heard that he invited them to help make his new album, and also enlisted their producer, Fillipo Cimatti.

Not much from Jeff Beck’s past could prepare long time fans for this new album. Although Jeff is well known for his virtuoso guitar solos, there is very little of that on here, instead the emphasis is on Rosie Bones and her angry and passionate political musings. Beck’s supporting guitar work is rough and bluesy, drawing heavily on rootsy Missippii delta riffs that are turned into massive industrial sledge hammers via Fillipo Cimatti’s very modern and bigger than life production. Although the sound on here is thoroughly modern, the rawness of the music recalls classic hell raisers like Iggy Pop, the MC5 and early Funkadelic.

Some have been critical of Rosie’s lyrics, possibly searching for something more eloquent and definitive, but great rock lyrics are never about surety, instead the random energy of doubt, frustration, and confusion have been the hallmark of rock’s passion since the early days of ‘My G..g..g..generation". Along with her anti-’new order’ anarcho political lyrics, Rosie also sings about current vacuous pop culture, difficult relationships, the price we pay in pursuit of carnal pleasure, and some hope for the future. It helps that Rosie is a great singer who can veer from punky raps to sweet melodies and anything else in between. The icing on the cake is Fillipo Cimatti’s massive industrial strength production. Jeff Beck’s guitar has never sounded so huge and destructive, and the beats supply the crushing blows to back it all up.

Those looking for Jeff Beck’s fusion guitar playing best pass on this one, but if you are looking for raw angry poetic gut level rock/RnB that combines the best of John Lennon, Iggy Pop, Curtis Mayfield, Curt Cobain and Black Flag, then you have to come to the right place. “Loud Hailer” will be one of the best rock records to come out this year. Put this in the car and turn it up loud and I bet people will get out of your way, this music is an unstoppable tidal wave.

SUN RA The Sub-Dwellers

Album · 2011 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
There was a time when Sun Ra recordings were rare and fans and collectors had to look far and wide in obscure places to locate them. Somewhere in the mid 80s, all this changed as certain small labels found there was a market for Ra’s strange music, and thus began an outpouring of all sorts of previously unreleased Sun Ra music, some of it of fairly dubious quality, which leads us to the 2011 archival release of “The Sub-Dwellers” on a vinyl LP. “The Sub-Dwellers” consists of recordings of Sun Ra reciting his poetry in a very low-fi setting. Hardcore Ra fans may find this interesting, but probably not too many others will.

Side one of “The Sub-Dwellers” was recorded in 1982, while side two was recorded in 1966. On side one Ra’s voice is backed by incidental music played by synthesizers and the whole orchestra. The sound is ultra low-fi as it sounds like the music is coming from a portable cassette player that Ra may be holding while he recites his words. On side two the accompaniment seems to come from two or three performers on African instruments. The sound on side two is even more low-fi than the previous side. The poetry itself is an acquired taste, sometimes very clever and profound, while other times it seems like Ra may be pulling our leg. Much of Ra’s content has similarities to ancient holy books like the Bible, Koran or I Ching, other times he seems to delight in word play, almost child-like in its repetitive petulance, like Dr Suess run through a LSD blender.

There is definitely an audience for this future obscurity. First of course are fans of Ra’s poetry and collectors who need everything Ra ever recorded. Also, there are those who seek particularly odd recordings and low-fi field recordings who will find this record to be a treasure. Finally, home recording artists looking for s spoken word snippet to go on their latest spaced out groove will find plenty of quotable quotes on “the Sub-Dwellers”.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Blue Note's Three Decades Of Jazz - Volume 1 - 1959 - 1969 (aka A Decade Of Jazz Volume Three (1959-1969))

Boxset / Compilation · 1969 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
(This review is dedicated to Bobby Hutcherson, whose brilliant vibraphone playing on this record helps propel Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch”) If you like to frequent places where used vinyl is sold, then you are likely to run into these Blue Note collections that came out in the late 60s and re-issued in the mid-70s. If you see the collection featured in this review, this one that features tracks from 1959 to 1969, then you will want to pick this one up because it is a treasure trove of classic 60s jazz cuts. First you get a heaping helping of funky hard bop soul jazz, including masterpieces of the genre such as Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”, Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father”, Jimmy Smith’s “Back at the Chicken Shack” and Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins Con Carne”. As if that wasn’t enough, Blue Note tops off all that soul with the always interesting outside work of Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” and Ornette Coleman’s “European Echoes”, plus the exotic sounds of Donald Byrd’s “Christo Redenter”. Almost every cut on here is a genre defining pillar that continues to be important and enjoyable to this day. Possibly the only track that might not belong is Ike Quebec’s almost maudlin “Blue and Sentimental”, but it too is saved by Grant Green’s jaggedy guitar work.

I would imagine there were some at Blue Note who might have wanted to separate the more experimental fare from the other tracks, but fortunately they didn’t do that. Instead, everything is lumped together which gives the album a much more interesting flow as abstract pieces segue way into blues and back again. If you have been into jazz for very long at all, then you probably already recognize at least three or four of these tracks. Since re-issues of this album can be found at a low price, pick it up, this is an excellent overview of 60s jazz, albeit with an accent on soul jazz/hard bop, but with enough other stuff thrown in to keep things interesting and lively.

DONALD BYRD Electric Byrd

Album · 1970 · Classic Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 7 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Just as psychedelics had swept through the world of rock-n-roll in the 60s, it also eventually influenced the world of jazz too, albeit a few years later. This mixture of jazz fusion and psychedelia sometimes resulted in some interesting music, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in particular were able to use electronic effects to enhance their early 70s albums, but then there were albums by other artists that were proof that all the electro gizmos in the world could not save mediocre music. In fact, if the artist was leaning too heavily on the electronic effects to save his album, that only made such effects all the more cheezy and annoying, which brings us to Donald Byrd’s unfortunate “Electric Byrd”. The album title alone lets you know that they are hoping the word ‘electric’ will help sell the album.

Donald Byrd came on strong in the late 50s as a rising star in the world of hard bop. He cut records with some of the best, including Quincy Jones, Phil Woods, Herbie Hancock, Pepper Adams and many more. As the earning power of jazz began to dwindle, Byrd spent the rest of his career involved more in RnB, dance, pop and fusion, whatever helped pay the bills. So it came to pass in 1970 that Miles Davis got a huge promotional push from Columbia for his “Bitches Brew” album, and the dollars came rolling in. Not to be outdone, Byrd bought himself an echo machine, plugged in his trumpet and recorded “Electric Byrd“, but he forgot an important step, writing some memorable material that’s worth recording.

The opening track on “Electric Byrd” is probably the best track on the album. Here we have a laid back African groove that sounds like a cross between Sun Ra and Lonnie Liston Smith, and the effects are not too overbearing. It’s the second, and closing track on this side where things go very wrong. Here we have Ron Carter walking the bass over a simple two chord blues vamp. This is the kind of music musicians play late at night when they are too tired to play a real song. Also, walking the bass is a great technique, but it sounds like a total anachronism against all the needless psychedelic effects. In among the ‘go nowhere solo noodling’, some sax player starts shrieking, but it seems more out of boredom and frustration than inspiration. The drummer tries to go into double time, but its too late, the others have nodded off, or just don’t care anymore.

Side two opens with echoed trumpet screams that sound like a direct rip of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”. This track recovers for a bit with a nice Latin melody and groove from Airto, but then someone starts messing with the echo on the electric piano and the rhythm gets swamped with sludgy echo syrup. Closing track, “The Dude”, cans all the effects and goes for a decent funky soul jazz riff in a style that Byrd will be picking up soon after he ditches all the psychedelic crap. Its an okay track, but it seems like an odd fit with the other three cuts, possibly it was originally meant for a different album.

There are some okay moments on here, particularly opener “Estavanico”, but much of the rest of this album is best appreciated as hippie kitsch from an age of not-so-innocent indulgence.

NIECHĘĆ Niechęć

Album · 2016 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Sometimes you don’t know what might show up in your mailbox, for instance this odd looking CD that arrived from Polish group Niechec. The strange album cover doesn’t reveal much, but what a great surprise when you give it a spin and all of this exciting and passionate modern jazz-rock comes firing out of the speakers. Because of their frequent use of repeating minimalist type passages, you could put Niechec in the nu jazz genre, but unlike many other nu jazz groups, there is nothing lite and fluffy about these guys, instead, like a lot of music from Poland, this CD is raw and emotional, and the band doesn’t mind raising some fierce noise when it is called for.

The music on here is so eclectic that it is probably best to view the tracks individually to get an idea of what is going on. Album opener, “Koniec”, is a harsh noisy jazz rock number with plenty of rapid change-ups in that style first initiated by the Mr Bungle/John Zorn school of music. On this track Maciej Zwierzchowski reveals his huge baritone sax sound, often playing heavy noire riffs that recall Mel Collins’ work on early King Crimson albums. Tomasz Wielechowski also turns in a fierce atonal solo on the distorted electric piano. The next three cuts reveal Niechec’s interest in a more relaxed electronica flavored post rock groove that recalls Tortoise or Masfel. Track 5, “Krew”, opens with atonal saxophone squawking that alternates with quieter sections and strange demented circus like music.

“Widzenie” uses a repeating piano part that sounds like classic prog rock to which they add a driving drumnbass beat and another free form sax solo. On “Atak”, the band digs heavy into that same ‘crime jazz soundtrack’ sound that inspired much of early King Crimson. Album closer, “Trzeba to Zrobic”, continues with more heavy saxophone sounds, sometimes recalling Doldinger’s first “Passport” album. This number closes with lots of crazy mayhem as the whole band chimes in with collective spiraling chaos.

Niechec is a band that deserves much wider recognition. There are other bands using the same hip modern sounds that these guys use, but the difference is that Niechec knows how to put a complex composition together, as well as a lengthy arrangement that makes sense. There should be a wider market available for these guys, including fans of modern prog rock, the wilder side of today’s jazz rock scene and anyone looking for interesting, eclectic and unpredictable music.

DUKE ELLINGTON Duke Ellington, Volume 1 - Mrs. Clinkscales To The Cotton Club (1926-1929)

Boxset / Compilation · 2005 · Classic (1920s) Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
The lengthy title to “Duke Ellington: Mrs Clinkscales to the Cotton Club Volume 1 1926-1929” pretty much tells you what you will find on here, or does it? Actually, despite the misleading title, this massive collection of music contains many tracks from 1924 and 1925, when Ellington was part of The Washingtonians. You would think the producers of this CD would be proud of this, as many Ellington collections don’t go back that far. Why they got part of the title wrong remains a mystery, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a great collection of music that often sells for a reasonable price. If you are wondering about the rest of the title, Mrs Clinkscales is the unlikely name of the piano teacher who set young Duke on his musical journey, and the Cotton Club is where Duke will find fame in the early 30s.

Late 20s jazz is a style you rarely hear from anymore. Other early jazz styles such as Dixieland, swing and New Orleans have so many revivals and re-constitutions that they have never really left us, but the high octane exuberant nature of 20s jazz makes it hard to incorporate into other styles. The late 20s was also a time of experimentation, with arrangers staying on top of the latest developments in concert hall compositions, as well as developing some tricks of their own. Although as his career will develop, Ellington will become a master of cool and sophisticated music, in the late 20s, his compositions matched the high speed tempos and bright major key tonalities of his contemporaries. In fact, as you listen to this collection chronologically, you can hear Ellington begin to introduce his slinky minor key noire sounds when songs like “East St Louis Toodle Oo” and “Black and Tan Fantasy” start to show up. As jazz began to change in the 30s, those relaxed minor key melodies stayed in the Ellington set, while the more ‘20s’ sounding fare got left behind.

Lots of good tracks on here, if you looking for the numbers with imaginative arrangements; CD 1 has “I’m Gonna Hang Around My Sugar” and CD 2 has “Hop Head”, “Washington Wobble” and Jubilee Stomp”. CD3 has “Hot and Bothered”and CD 4 has “Tiger Rag”. If you have any curiosity about late 20s jazz, this is a great place to start. For Ellington fans, this is a chance to hear the Duke in a style that he (or anyone else) never returned to.

BILL FRISELL When You Wish Upon a Star

Album · 2016 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.07 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
It seems that over the years Bill Frisell has drifted further from the world of new jazz and fusion, and more into a one man genre of his own making, something that might best be called “Nostalgic Americana”. In this new ‘genre’, Frisell has positioned himself alongside such classic ‘twangy’ guitarists like Tommy Tedesco, Duane Eddy and Chet Atkins. So it is more or less within this style that Frisell presents his new CD, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, a collection of music from classic movies and TV shows, a trip down memory lane so to speak.

The music on here is a real mixed bag, tracks from “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Psycho”, “Once Upon a Time in the West”, “The Godfather” and “The Bad and the Beautiful” present sophisticated arrangements that Frisell’s small ensemble handles with sensitivity and modern creativity. Despite the small group, Bill’s cohorts do a great job with their orchestrations and manage to sound much fuller than five people. Special mention should go to the subtle wordless vocals of Petra Haden. On the negative side, there are other cuts that might seem trite or downright corny, for instance; “Bonanza”, "Moon River", “Happy Trails”, and a few others. After a while it becomes obvious that the real make or break for this CD is how attached one might be to movie themes and that whole attractive nostalgia that tends to surround classic movie culture. In short, those who might want to make a big bowl of popcorn and grab a box of Kleenexes for the inevitable misty eyes will find a lot to like here, “When You Wish Upon a Star” presents the perfect atmosphere for such rememberances, but if you are looking for some new jazz, you best mosy along pardner.

CECIL TAYLOR Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come (2xLP)

Boxset / Compilation · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
”Nefertiti the Beautiful One has Come” is an interesting album for Cecil Taylor fans, because it shows the artist in transition and still working out his approach to the piano. By the time we get to the 70s, Taylor will have refined his ability to present explosive ideas cascading in constant evolution, much like waves pounding a rocky shore, but back in 62, when this set was recorded, you can still hear some of Taylor’s roots in the blues and hard bop. Elements of Ellington, Monk and McCoy Tyner all make their appearance on here, alongside Taylor’s expected unique skittish barrages that sound like no else.

Cecil’s two band mates on here, Jimmy Lyons on alto, and Sonny Murray on drums, make up one of the best and most sympathetic bands Taylor ever worked with, and the three together make up one of the top trios of early 60s jazz. Taylor’s two sideman are very much with him in the ‘new freedom’ of the early 60s, but even more than Taylor, they reveal a lot about where they came from. Lyons is obviously a fan of Charlie Parker, and quotes from him constantly, other possible references might include Johnny Griffin and Ornette Coleman. Meanwhile, Murray’s approach to free rhythm sounds like the fills of Max Roach and Roy Haynes strung together without the parts where they just keep time. Sometimes this trio sounds like Monk’s band when it featured more outside saxophonists like Pat Patrick.

All of the tracks on here are good, and most are what you would expect from Taylor, but some of the odder more unexpected cuts worth mentioning include “D Trad, That’s What”, on which Taylor pounds out some noisy barroom blues for a while, and the well known standard “What’s New”, which has Taylor actually playing to the chord changes of the original, but very much in his own way. As far as the ‘free’ playing goes, the band really hits their stride on the two cuts that make up side four.

The sound quality on here is not great, and the piano Cecil has to play is saloon style out of tune, but most recorded avant-garde jazz back then sounded like this, in fact, bad production almost seemed to be a point of pride, as if to deny any commercial concerns whatsoever. Still, at a reasonably loud volume, this record doesn’t sound too bad, but at low volumes, it can sound murky.

EARTH WIND & FIRE That's the Way of the World

Album · 1975 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.14 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Although as the 80s dragged on, they eventually became a talented, yet sometimes bland pop group, this was not how Earth Wind and Fire started. Many would be surprised to know that the roots of this group go back to Chicago’s avant-garde AACM, and their first album was the soundtrack to the outsider classic, “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song”, on which EW&F played furious psychedelic fusion in the style of Herbie’s Sextet. After this rather obscure beginning, founder Maurice White decided to keep the creativity intact, but also aim for some radio play too. With all this in mind, EW&F grew to be a powerhouse in the world of RnB, fusion, rock and pop during the 70s, and many would agree that they hit their first major peak with the 1975 studio masterpiece, “That’s the Way of the World”.

In the mid 70s, no other RnB or rock band carried as much pure talent as EW&F, their horn section could outplay many jazzers, their rhythm section could hold their own against WAR, Santanna or Weather Report, vocally they took arrangements to new heights in harmony and range, and finally, their compositions were modern, complex and way ahead of the field. Throughout the 70s, EW&F’s compositional approach was more influential on fusion artists than most other jazz artists. All through “That’s the Way”, EW&F tops driving syncopated African rhythms with floating abstract harmonies that recall Ellington and Debussy.

Almost every song on here is a classic, with only one sore thumb, the rather cliché ballad, “All About Love”. Modernist ballads with soaring harmonies were EW&F’s trademark, so its hard to understand how this less than stellar cut made the grade, but its all made up when it is followed by a short and attractively bizarre synth instrumental. For fans who already like this album, you need to check out the album “Gratitude”, on which the band plays these songs live and takes their mix of Ellington, Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Ohio Players, to new levels. As mentioned earlier, as the 80s dragged into the 90s and beyond, EW&F, much like their musical compadres Chicago and Genesis, became more wind and earth, and much less fire.

STAN KENTON Kenton in HI-FI

Album · 1956 · Big Band
Cover art 4.66 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
One of the more polarizing artists in the history of jazz, there seems to be no middle ground with Stan Kenton, people either love him or hate him. Kenton kicked off his band leading career in the 1940s and quickly established himself as a bit of a radical as his bands often dealt with rather complicated charts and concert hall type concepts that some saw as at odds with the essence of jazz. His bands could be huge and often emphasized sheer power and volume over more subtle qualities. Critics often pointed out that Kenton’s music was clumsy and it didn’t ‘swing’. As is often the case with polarizing figures, the truth about Kenton’s music lays somewhere in the middle of popular opinion. His music may be a bit heavy-handed at times, and his charts may lack the grace and charm of other classic big bands, but there is still a lot of interesting music within the Kenton catalog, and saying his bands couldn’t swing is overstepping a bit.

In the mid-50s it became very popular for big band leaders to re-record their more famous hits in the new ‘hi-fidelity’ stereo format. So it is in 1955 that Kenton joins this growing trend by recording “Stan Kenton in Hi-Fi”, a collection of past hits re-recorded with a massive modern (50s) stereo sound. Listening to these tracks is exciting, this is a very dynamic band and they play plenty of high energy swing numbers with a few more reflective numbers scattered throughout. Kenton’s often reliance on sheer power is in evidence with plenty of screaming trumpets, but overall these are fun tracks with an upbeat positive vibe. There are plenty of good solos, but honorable mention should go to tenor player Vido Musso who has a very original voice and is one sax player who deserves wider recognition.

Kenton’s sound was heavily influenced by Jimmie Lunceford, and you can also hear some Ellington too. Comparing Kenton to the other big band greats, you could say that he does not have the irresistible groove of Count Basie, nor the slinky subtle tone colors of Ellington, but Kenton’s band has good youthful energy and then there is always that sock-to-the-jaw sheer power. That youthful energy is always a part of the Kenton appeal, and this album reveals just a hint of mid 50s rock-n-roll as it seems that Kenton was often aiming for that frat boy party vibe.

There are plenty of good cuts on here and no duds. Some standouts include the up-tempo rush of “Artistry Jumps”, the Latin groove of “Peanut Vendor” and the third stream ambitions of “Concerto to End All Concertos”. Sure Kenton may not be as cool as Duke or the the Count, but people should not write him off, despite his reputation for stiffness, this is decadently fun and dynamic music.

FLETCHER HENDERSON Quadromania: Wrappin' It Up

Boxset / Compilation · 2005 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
These Quadromania CD compilations are extremely inexpensive, which makes them suspect at first, but this four CD collection of Fletcher Henderson tracks called “Wrappin It Up” is surprisingly good, especially when you consider the bottom barrel price. Fletcher Henderson is probably the most under appreciated figure in popular jazz history. A contemporary and early band mate of Louie Armstrong, and a precedent for Ellington’s orchestra, Henderson’s importance in the development of jazz is topped only by Armstrong, Ellington and Charlie Parker. If Henderson remains a mystery to you, then this compilation will make for an excellent introduction.

Jazz music was at a peak in the late 20s and early 30s, when most of these tracks were recorded. The music had become far more sophisticated and arranged after leaving New Orleans for New York, but at the same time, this period of jazz was often more experimental and devilishly intense than much of the swing music that followed in the late 30s. Listening to these tracks reveals complex and difficult arrangements topped with crazy hot solos, all played with mind boggling ease and confidence by artists who often went on to more fame with the Ellington Orchestra and others. Coleman Hawkins is all over this collection, but you will also hear the early careers of Russell Proscope, Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladner, Buster Bailey, Don Redmond and many other greats. The recorded sound and flow from track to track is quite good. Some CD collections of older music feature jarring differences between tracks, fortunately there is none of that on “Wrappin It Up”.

Sometimes modern (especially Western) ears have a hard time hearing details in music like this. The big sound of rock and RnB that originated in the 70s becomes a barrier to understanding music from other time periods and cultures where ‘production’ is non-existent. Whether its Indonesian Gamelan, Bach harpsichord inventions, early blues or 20s jazz, the difference from post 70s music is remarkable, and sometimes preferred by some. The other barrier to understanding 20s jazz is its tonality. This was a time when the brightness of major scales was the dominate sound. Since the 50s, the minor blues scale has come to dominate Western music including hard bop, modern blues, hard rock, metal, modern RnB and hip-hop. Some may interpret the bright sound of late 20s jazz as ‘happy’, but a giddy cocaine fueled exuberance would probably be a more fitting description. This was, after all, music for gangsters and illegal partiers, and it was outlawed in many parts of the US.

The big difference in this music compared to jazz today is in the ensemble work. The guys in Henderson’s band traveled together and played long strings of one night gigs while playing the same tunes night after night. The way this band can move together while playing high speed complex syncopated arrangements is something you will not hear today because today’s musician has to play in four or five different ensembles just to keep busy and pay the bills. Unfortunately, the sort of commitment needed to play in an ensemble like this is not usually available anymore.

JIMMIE LUNCEFORD Lunceford Special

Boxset / Compilation · 1967 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
About half of the Jimmie Lunceford compilations out there are titled “Lunceford Special”, named after his most popular song, so to specify which “Lunceford Special” this review is covering, it should be pointed out that this is from the Columbia Hall of Fame series released in the late 60s. Even non-jazz fans will recognize the names of Count Basie and Duke Ellington as being two of the greatest big band leaders of all time, but only the hardcore jazz fans know that in his heyday, Lunceford’s band was often more popular and more musically formidable than either of those two giants. Why Lunceford’s popularity has waned over time is easily explained by the fact that he passed away a couple decades before the other two, and did not get a chance to further improve his legacy and fame in the more promotion savvy 1950s-70s. More than likely, more passing of time will work to Lunceford’s advantage and hopefully he will eventually return to his place as big band leader supreme. To understand why Lunceford was so popular, you only have to give this record a spin and you will hear how hot and dynamic his band was.

While Ellington’s band was known for their smooth sound and classical ambitions, and Basie’s band was known for its hard rockin dance beat, Lunceford’s band fell in between the two. Lunceford’s band had a driving rhythm section which made them a favorite amongst the dancers, but their arrangements are deceptively complex, full of interesting change-ups, counter melodies and rhythmic juxtapositions. Their set material often featured popular sing along melodies for the dancers, cloaked in crazy jazz arrangements for the more serious listener.

Of the two sides of this LP, side two is the better. On this side we get less of the ‘jokey’ double entendre dirty lyrics of side one, and more arrangements that feature hot solos and complex ensemble work, and no vocals. Most of the tunes on here are from 1939, when the band was at a peak, but “Flaming Reeds and Screaming Brass” from 1933 is a real eye-opener with its fierce energy and bizarre arrangement that foreshadows Charles Mingus. Another top cut is title tune “Lunceford Special”, with its simple but effective repeating riff that conjures up instant images of dance floor mayhem. The sound on this album is not too bad, it sounds like a lot of high end was cut off of the eq to get rid of surface noise, there is always a trade off in dynamics when you do that. Also, the copy I have was ‘re-channeled’ for stereo, always a bad idea and an unfortunate practice that faded with the end of the 70s.

GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC ENSEMBLE It's All in the GAME

Album · 2016 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
When you first listen to “Its All in the Game”, the premier recording by The Great American Music Ensemble led by Doug Richards, you are liable to think that here is a big band that can rival the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, especially when it comes to an ability to span the decades. Then, upon reading a little background, it turns out that although this CD was not released until 2016, it was actually recorded in 2001! It is really hard to believe that a recording this strong was delayed for fifteen years, but such is the music business. On the positive side, its nice “Its All in the Game” finally saw the light of day because it still sounds fresh, and will probably be one of the best big band recordings released this year.

Doug Richard’s ensemble excels in three main areas,: radical reconstructions of well known tunes, inspired productions of older big band sounds that are hard to re-produce, and vocal numbers based around the stellar voice of Rene Marie. Looking at the first, many of the tracks on “Game” are well known standards such as “April in Paris and “In the Mood”, but these charts are chopped up with odd-metered rhythms, sudden tempo changes and all the other tools of the modern composer. Despite the difficult arrangements, the end result sounds energetic and fun in a manner that recalls Don Ellis in the late 60s. The second area involves an ability to re-create sounds of the past (especially Ellington) without sounding contrived. On “Stardust”, Jon Faddis’ screaming trumpet recalls Ellington Orchestra trumpeter Bubber Miley, a sound that is hard for many modern players to reach. On “When its Sleepy Time Down South”, violinist Joe Kennedy Jr recalls Ellington violinist Ray Nance, once again, it’s a violin style that you just don’t hear anymore. Unfortunately, in the time that this recording sat on the shelves, Kennedy passed away. Finally we get to the best, and that is the tracks that feature vocalist Rene Marie. Rene has a strong rhythmic approach, but her vocal attack is deceptively soft, the juxtaposition of the two is fascinating to listen to as she has to be one of the top vocalists in jazz today, and a perfect choice to lead a big band. Sometimes her soft but strong approach can sound like the great Betty Roche, who sang Ellington’s first version of “Take the A Train’.

The final plus about this recording is the production, everything on here sounds full and vibrant. So here we have excellent charts that seamlessly combine the classic with the modern, played by a virtuoso ensemble that is having a blast, there is nothing to complain about here, all the pieces fit, just hope that Doug Richards will now be encouraged to do more recordings like this.

RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK Blacknuss

Album · 1972 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.91 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
You can never really know what to expect from a Rahsaan Roland Kirk record, he was never one to be bound by style or genre, instead, he approached any style he wanted with his trademark enthusiastic energy and off-the-wall creativity. So it comes to pass in 1972 that Kirk hits us with this rather wild collection of soul jazz tunes, plus a few expected unexpected oddities, called “Blacknuss”. In the early 70s, much of the soul jazz world had morphed into a groove-heavy style of psychedelic fusion, and “Blacknuss” fits in well with all of that. This is groove based music, but as you would expect from Kirk, this is not a particularly laid back album, instead, many tracks are often exploding with near chaotic energy.

Most of the tunes on here are well known RnB/pop numbers, but you have never heard them played like this before. Along with all the covers, there are also a couple of Kirk originals; “Which way is it Going” is a high speed country romp with frantic flute playing and some yelling too, and title cut “Blacknuss” is African fusion, once again hitting a high speed tempo. Kirk has some great support musicians on here, with honorable mention going to organist Mickey Tucker and his old school full-stops-out organ sound that puts cuts like “I Love You Yes I Do” and “Old Rugged Cross” right over the top. Next time you’re throwing a party, forget about that fluffy little acid jazz record and put this on instead, “Blacknuss” would make a great soundtrack to a party about to teeter out of control.

KAI WINDING Soul Surfin (aka !!! More !!! (Theme From Mondo Cane))

Album · 1963 · Exotica
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Kai Winding was one of the best be-bop trombonists of the 1940s and 50s, playing with top notch bands like Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton, and cutting some highly acclaimed trombone duets with J.J. Johnson. Flash forward to the late 50s and bop wasn’t paying the bills anymore so Kai started turning more to pop offerings to make ends meet. In 1963 Kai released “Soul Surfin”, a fairly successful pop/rock-n-roll record that spawned a major hit with “More” from the movie “Mondo Cane”. You could call this a ‘rock’ record, but its orchestrated rock, more in line with pop big bands like Quincy Jones and Henry Mancicni, not the harder street sounds of Link Wray or Dick Dale. Needless to say, to modern ears this is not so much a rock record as it fits much more with what has been dubbed exotica or lounge music. It’s the sound of the swingin 60s in a suburbia styleee. The album title implies that Kai is mixing surf music and soul jazz on here, and that’s partially true, but that blend is somewhat filtered through an orchestrated easy listening format. Some of the tunes rock, but its not a teenager’s rock, instead, its rock for the double martini business lunch crowd and Las Vegas lounge sharks.

Kai is not the only big jazz star on here, the great Kenny Burrell is also on hand supplying all the requisite surf guitar licks and doing his best to channel Duane Eddy, and maybe its no big surprise that Kenny is great at this sort of thing. One of the biggest pluses on here is the production, the early 60s was the glory days of “hi-fidelity”, and this album still sounds great. Just the right amount of reverb makes everything sound massive, especially the trombone section. The best cuts on here include the one’s where they get creative with the orchestrations, sometimes adding a Ondoline to the mix. The Ondoline, much like the Ondes Martenot, is a French pre-synthesizer keyboard that sounds a bit like a theremin. Exotica collectors will want to check out, “China Nights”, “Surf Bird”, “Spinner” and “Hearse Ride”, all of which include creative orchestrations. The downside of this album are some songs that have been recorded way too many times, including; “Pipeline”, “Sukiyaki” and “More”. As is typical with these albums, the one ‘almost jazz’ cut comes at the end when they play a somewhat surf version of Herbie Mann’s “Comin Home Baby”, with short solos for both Kai and Kenny. Jazz fans and admirers of Winding’s bop skills will want to stay clear of this record, but the fans of the space-age bachelor pad vibe will find a lot to like on “Soul Surfin”.

VASIL HADŽIMANOV BAND Alive

Live album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Jazz fusion is alive and well in 2016, and still making a steady comeback thanks to artists like Vasil Hadzimanov and his new lively live album; “Alive”, which features Vasil’s usual electric quintet expanded with the inclusion of saxophonist David Binney. The spirit of early Weather Report can be heard on here, both the Miroslav and Alphonso versions, which is always a good thing as Vasil channels Zawinul while Binney invokes Wayne Shorter, but there is a lot more influences at work on here than just the past. Like a lot of modern fusion artists, Hadzimanov has modernized his sound with shades of electronica and drumnbass rhythms, plus influences from around the world, particularly the Balkans and North Africa. Also, like a lot of modern fusion, the boring slickness of the 80s is far behind us on “Alive”, instead, this music is raw, imaginative and energetic with a very loose approach.

“Alive” opens with two lengthy cuts that bear some resemblance to the aforementioned Weather Report, and while Vasil and David’s call and response might remind some of classic Zawinul and Shorter, over time, Binney tends to eschew the minimalist Shorter style, and instead digs deep into his saxophone with sheets of notes that recall modal masters like Kenny Garret and John Coltrane. After these two openers, things diversify a bit with the percussion led “Oldazim” and the North African rock of “Dolazim”. Later in the album, the quiet and meditative “Razbolje Se Simsir List” uses classical type motifs and “Uaiya” presents Binney’s most extensive solo. Overall there are no bum tracks on the entire album, its smokin hot from start to finish.

PHIL WOODS Round Trip

Album · 1969 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
One of the top alto sax players of all time, Phil Woods cut plenty of serious bop tracks, as well as more experimental fare, but he also had no problem heading into pop areas as well. “Round Trip” is a good example of one of his more pop efforts, but don’t think of this album as lightweight, instead, there is plenty of artistry and creativity at work in the orchestrations, which are topped by Phil’s always brilliant playing. As is the case in any genre of music, there are bad pop jazz albums, and there are good ones, and this is definitely one of the latter. What we have on here are eleven short energetic tracks, about half are Woods originals, with the rest including some lesser played standards and covers of some of the more interesting pop tunes of the day. Artsy ambitious pop was the order of the day back in 1969, with groups like the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel raising the bar on what could be contained in a radio friendly song, and those ambitions are reflected in Phil’s orchestrations and arrangements on “Round Trip”.

No doubt Phil’s time with the Quincy Jones orchestra is in evidence with these smart punchy arrangements, but you can also hear the influence of the hippiefied progressive big band music of Don Ellis too. This is very much a late 60s creation, bursting with the sort of optimism that defined much music during that time. The songs are short and to the point, and likewise Phil’s solos are short too, but still transcendent. Phil is just about the only soloist on here, with the exception of one short piano solo, and a brief sax battle with Jerry Dodgion. Unfortunately there are no other musician credits on here except Johnny Pate.

Phil Woods recently passed on, but before he left us, he played one last concert, a re-creation of the famous “Charlie Parker with Strings” album. No doubt that album was a favorite of Woods. Listening to Phil’s extensive use of strings on here makes you wonder if “Round Trip” was possibly Phil’s 60s style tribute to Parker’s pop side.

JAMES BROWN In the Jungle Groove

Boxset / Compilation · 1986 · Funk
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
If you only own one James Brown record, “In the Jungle Groove” is the one to have. This is much more than just a compilation, this album is a near perfect labor of love by the folks at Polydor who put it together. Many of these tracks are well known, but were hard to get in the past because they did not appear on an album, or they did not appear as a single. Also, many of these tracks are complete versions, rather than edited versions released previously as singles. One cut, “I got to Move” had never been released before at all, which makes all of this a treasure trove for James Brown fans. Most of these cuts feature Brown and his band at their very peak in the late 60s to early 70s. Although the personal varies per track, many famous names show up over and over, including; Bootsy Collins, Catfish Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Jimmy Nolan, Bobby Byrd and many more. Even if you own previous versions of these songs, you still need to hear the power of the re-mixes presented here. There is no dead air on this one, every single track is smoking. Also, the long versions contain vocal and Hammond B3 improvs from James you have never heard before, he does get ‘out there’ sometimes.

When this album came out in 1986, it was right on time for the sampling revolution in hip-hop. If you listened to late 80s hip-hop, then you have heard these riffs a thousand times on sampled tracks that ranged from excellent re-workings of James’ music, to utter banality that dragged James’ music into mediocrity. Either way, this album is almost more of a soundtrack to the late 80s than the late 60s, aint it funky now.

BERNIE WORRELL Retrospectives

Album · 2016 · Funk
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
When you think of 70s keyboard heroes who manned giant stacks of futuristic keyboards and synthesizers while mixing their jazz and classical training with the rock and RnB sounds of the day, names like Chick Corea, Keith Emerson and Herbie Hancock all come to mind. No doubt those were the names that topped all the keyboard player polls year after year back then, but there was another artist who did all the same things, but his name slipped under the radar, and that keyboardist is the ultra creative Bernie Worrell. Possibly because Bernie worked behind the huge shadows of larger than life characters like George Clinton and Bootsie Collins, in the various P-funk ensembles (Parliament, Funkadelic etc), that Bernie did not get the notice he deserved. Still, if you listen to those old P-funk tracks, no one contributes more than Bernie, and P-funk’s hugely elaborate arrangements would not have been possible without someone with Bernie’s training and classical background.

After leaving P-funk, Bernie has continued to work as a sideman with artists like Bill Laswell, Buckethead, various Talking Heads, Govt Mule, Les Claypool and others in the jam band scene. Worrell occasionally records as a leader, but he still does not grab a lot of attention, maybe its because his albums as a leader are not as strong as his contributions as a sideman. His latest release, “Retrospectives”, may be a good example of this. The premise behind “Retrospectives” sounds very promising at first, basically this is an album on which Bernie re-visits some of his favorite P-funk tracks and records instrumental versions of those tracks. To any long time Worrell and P-funk fan this is an exciting idea, but unfortunately the album does not come through as strongly as you wish it could. Some tracks are okay, but others are fairly lackluster.

Probably the biggest problem with this album is that it sounds like Worrell covered everything by himself. The drum tracks are not strong, nor is the production. An over reliance on ‘silly’ synthesizer sounds from the exotica era also becomes tedious and overbearing after a while. Many of these songs could use a little breathing room from all the persistent synthesizers. Overall this album sounds like a fun hobby home project, not the keyboard powerhouse it could have been. Possibly Worrell could get a good producer like Bill Laswell involved, and a real drummer, and these tracks could get a better life.

Despite the problems, there are some good tracks on here, “You Hit the Nail on the Head” is played reggae style with a melodica lead, and perennial favorite, “Flashlight”, is cloaked in string synth arrangements that Beethoven would be proud of. Possibly the two strongest tracks come at the end with “Balance” featuring a stronger drum sound and less synth clutter and “The Moment”, a punchy Prince style synth-rocker with the best production on the whole album. There are enough good moments on “Retrospectives” to make it worthwhile to Bernie Worrell fans, but you have to wonder what this would have sounded like if more time had been taken.

ADAM MAKOWICZ Adam Makowicz & George Mraz ‎: Classic Jazz Duets

Live album · 1982 · Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Adam Makowicz started out his musical career as a classical piano student at the Chopin Conservatory in Krakow Poland. Sometime in the mid-50s, Adam became interested in the jazz music that he heard on underground radio broadcasts. Poland was under USSR domination at this time and jazz was mostly forbidden. Once it was learned that Adam was playing jazz, he was kicked out of the university and spent many years as a mostly homeless person. Despite the hardships, Makowicz continued to develop an outstanding technique as a jazz pianist. Interestingly enough, the style that Makowicz developed was an older style, one rooted in the physical demands of stride piano and artists such as Art Tatum and Earl Hines. Early jazz piano required that the pianist be like an orchestra by themselves, with both hands pounding out fistfuls of notes. This was quite different from the more minimalist style pioneered by Monk and Bud Powell that had become the popular style with most modern pianists. This older style that Adam leaned towards could have been caused by his cultural isolation, or it could have been the style he preferred, or maybe a bit of both of those causes. Still, it is also interesting to note that those early jazz pianists who developed the big two-handed stride style were also very influenced by the Chopin pieces they learned in their youthful piano lessons. It would not be too far off to say that Chopin may be the connecting factor between Makowicz and the jazz pianists he admired.

In 1977, famed producer John Hammond brought Makowicz to the US where Adam began to record many albums. Cut forward to 1982 and Adam enters a jazz club called Bechts with fellow European bassist, George Mraz, to record “Classic Jazz Duets”. Side one of the album contains four bebop standards played brilliantly by the two artists. There is a lot of creative interplay as the two effortlessly slip in and out of double time, or reel off precise unison passages at blinding fast tempos. This could have been an outstanding neo-bop album, but problems emerge on side two. This side opens with a blazing version of “Cherokee” which keeps the good vibes flowing, but then the duo decides to cover the cheezy 70s pop song, “If”, yes the song by ultra-cheezy soft rock group Bread. Unfortunately, Adam’s very busy technique becomes quite tacky in the hands of this very trite pop dead end. After this, the album closes with yet one more tune more associated with lounge music than bebop. Its unfortunate these two clunkers undermine what could have been a much better album.

Despite the two questionable tunes, this album is still worth picking up for fans of that sort of heavily technical playing featured by artists like Oscar Peterson, or the aforementioned Art Tatum and Earl Hines. Adam’s playing, and his interactions with Mraz are at times mind-boggling.

BRAD MEHLDAU Where Do You Start

Album · 2012 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.02 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
In 2012 the Brad Mehldau trio released two albums, “Ode” and “Where do You Start”. With its lineup of all original tunes, “Ode” seemed like the heavier album compared to “Where do You Start”, which consisted of a mish-mash of modern pop tunes, hard bop standards and a couple originals that are mostly jam sessions. But its worthwhile to give “Where do You Start” a timely re-listen though, because although “Ode” may still be the stronger album, there are plenty of gems on “Start” as well. As mentioned earlier, this is an eclectic album, with about four moody pop ballads, a couple hard bop standards, two Latin jazz tracks and a couple of excellent Mehldauish modal grooves. Most of the songs are good, but fans of Brad’s ‘jass’ playing could probably use a few less of the pop tunes.

The two best tracks,“Got Me Wrong” and “Jam”, are both superb modal jam sessions on which Mehldau channels a timeless early 60s coffeehouse groove with a modern fracturing in his solos. All through this album, Mehldau’s ability to spin original solos that grab your ears and don’t let go is in full effect. Brad’s elastic sense of rhythm, uncanny ability to separate his hands, plus his ability to play phrases that sound like no else continue to make him one of the most interesting musicians today. Elsewhere on this album, its great to hear Brad spin some original solos on hard bop standards by Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins, Brad doesn’t cover material like this all that often, but he can play a very intense Bud Powell flavored neo-bop.

A good portion of this album is taken up with the sort of moody pop playing that Brad is famous for. Certainly he is the master of this sort of languid phrasing and impressionist sounds, but with so many good energetic tracks on here too, sometimes you wish the more droopy numbers would move along and make way for another jam session. This isn’t Brad’s best album, but his playing on here is outstanding and there are enough good tracks that his fans will probably want to pick this up. Those who wish to hear more serious jazz playing from Brad and his trio may want to check out his “Art of the Trio” series.

THELONIOUS MONK Paris 1969

Live album · 2013 · Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
This review is written using the double LP version of this recording. I would imagine when most Monk fans see the 1969 recording date on this album, they not only approach with caution, but probably assume this is one to avoid entirely. The previous year of 1968 had been one of Monk’s roughest, with more time spent in hospitals, rather than clubs. His long time rhythm section finally had to leave him for more work, and only saxophonist Charlie Rouse remained, who was also having problems of his own. Monk’s performances during this time had become spotty and many assumed his career was about over. So it was, in late 1969, Monk and Rouse set out for Europe with a young inexperienced rhythm section in an attempt to prove they still had something to say. “Paris 1969” was recorded on the last day of that tour, and the big surprise is that Monk and his young band sound great.

There are no big surprises on the first two sides of this four sided collection, on which Monk and his band play spirited renditions of well known Monk favorites. This is probably not the most exploratory playing from Monk and Rouse, but they aren’t exactly loafing either. The rhythm section is made up of two young unknowns, (Nate Hygellund on bass and Paris Wright on drums), who were never heard of much again outside of this recording, but they both turn in very strong performances. On side three things change up a bit when Monk plays a few numbers solo. The old school stride version of “I Love You Sweetheart of all my Dreams” is a real treat and must of sounded like a rare jewel during the heavy-handed musical environment of 1969. Also nice is Monk’s solo version of “Crespuscule with Nellie”, a tune that makes a lot more sense the way Monk plays it solo, as opposed to band versions which seem clumsy in comparison.

On side four things change again when Philly Jo Jones takes the drum chair for the last couple numbers. As mentioned earlier, Paris Wright is a solid and even inspired drummer, but Philly Jo is an absolute master of rhythm. Philly Jo’s drum solo on “Nutty” is a textbook example on how a good drummer can expand on the rhythms of the melody through increasingly imaginative variations. The concert closes with Monk and Philly Jo playing short versions of “Blue Monk” and “Epistrophy” that reveal what Monk’s music can really sound like. It’s a bit of a tease coming at the end of the album like it does.

Probably the biggest negative issue with this album is the sound quality. This concert was recorded for TV, and it sounds like a TV broadcast, which means it sounds much better than a bootleg, but not as good as a studio recording. Monk’s music is purposefully coarse and dissonant in the first place, so possibly a rough recording shouldn’t be a big issue.

THELONIOUS MONK The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall

Live album · 1959 · Big Band
Cover art 4.22 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
When Thelonious Monk recorded “The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall” in 1959, his career was at a peak, no longer a sometimes derided outsider, Monk had finally emerged as a ‘living legend’, and a recognized leading architect of modern jazz. The concert, at which ‘at Town Hall’ was recorded, received much attention because this was to be Monk’s first attempt at presenting his music in a big band format. Initial critical reception to Monk’s big band performance was somewhat tepid. Many felt that Monk’s band members didn’t really get his music, nor his feel for rhythm, but many years later, after our eardrums have been pummeled with barbaric volume, such idiosyncrasies are probably barely noticeable anymore, ha. But seriously, this recording has aged well, and although Monk’s orchestrations are not particularly revelatory, the combined effort of all the musicians on here results in an imaginative, if somewhat quirky, late 50s hard bop LP.

To get help orchestrating his first big band album, Monk enlisted longtime fan and big band arranger, Hal Overton. The two worked painstakingly on several Monk originals before they called in a band for some rehearsals and then the concert/recording. Despite his well deserved reputation as a composer and innovator, Monk’s orchestrations are not particularly remarkable, but as can be expected, a little bit odd. The choice of instruments favors the low end sounds, and Monk uses this to paint dark murky colors. Similar to his piano playing, much of Monk’s ensemble arrangements are almost simple and plain. His best use of the orchestra comes when he is able to add contrasting lines to his melodies, lines that were often only implied by his piano.

A big plus on here is Monk’s band mates, a virtual all-star crew of jazz talent at that time, including; Donald Byrd, Phil Woods, Charley Rouse, Pepper Adams and more. Phil Woods in particular shines with his ‘bird like’ flight on “Friday the 13th”. On “Little Rootie Tootie”, the entire front line of the band plays Monk’s original recorded solo as a unison solo. The end result of so many horns trying to stay together on such a jaggedy solo results in some humorous train wrecks. Monk’s playing is brilliant throughout, but especially on “Monk’s Mood” where his rhythmic shifts produce almost hallucinogenic effects. Overall, this isn’t one of Monk’s best, but it still rates high in his discography, and due to the big band format, partly as a curiosity.

STEVE COLEMAN Steve Coleman and The Mystic Rhythm Society : Myths, Modes and Means

Live album · 1995 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
Saxophonist Steve Coleman first hit the scene in the mid 80’s with his personal take on funk-jazz that he called M Base funk. Coleman’s M Base vision was modern and urban, with spiky angular rhythms that interconnected in ways that pushed the funk into avant-garde deep waters. By the time we get to 1995’s live set, “Myths Modes and Means”, Coleman’s music has expanded into an eclectic collage of sounds that owes as much to older African traditions than funk, fusion or jazz. Yet, it is this use of classical African sounds that puts “Myths, Modes and Means” on the forefront of today’s music scene, more than just jazz or fusion, this is African music for the new century.

It is a colorful ensemble that Coleman presents on here, Steve mans the sax chair while trumpeter Ralph Alessi joins, or battles him on trumpet. Two keyboardists (Andy Milne and a then new to the scene Vijay Iyer) provide piano and tasteful synthesizer, while two percussionists (Rameesh Shotham and Josh Jones) provide rhythms from India and Africa. Rapper/poet Kokayi adds occasional hyper verbal assaults that work great with the music. We’ve all heard bad attempts at mixing jazz and rap, but there is none of that nonsense on here, Kokayi’s lyrics are tough, rhythmic, real and improvised on the spot. All of this is anchored by the hard rhythm section of Reggie Washington on bass and Gene Lake on drums. The icing on the cake is the Koto playing of Miya Masaoka. A couple lengthy tunes on here open with solo Koto playing, and the Koto’s sound and scales set a mood that stretches back many centuries. The Koto is not exactly an African instrument, but it fits really well, filling in for Egyptian instruments that disappeared over the years.

The music on here is just as eclectic as the instruments that are used. There is plenty of Coleman’s hard edged abstract funk, but there also moments when Coleman produces sounds on the sax that mix with the percussionists in a way that recalls field recordings of classical African music. On “Song of the Beginnings” a string synthesizer is used to solo over African percussion, furthering the idea Afro-Futurism. You won’t find too many more albums that can logically mix somber solo Koto playing with hard-edged hip-hop. There is so much music on here, its hard to believe this is just one CD. Wth three ‘epic’ 20 minute plus African odysseys, plus four more potent shorter tracks, this album seems like a three LP gatefold set from the 70s.

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) Stretch Music

Album · 2015 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.48 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from JMA partners
js
The last couple months of 2015 have been a great time for fans of current jazz. First Matthew Shipp and Dave Douglas come out with top notch avante-garde post bop selections, and now Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah hits us with his visionary future-fusion called “Stretch Music”. You can call this music ‘fusion’, but this isn’t your grandfather’s fusion. In Scott’s artistic vision, the old 70s based jam sessions are replaced with unique compositions and sophisticated harmonic movement. Each song is a gem of electro-acoustic orchestration backed by modern rhythms, and for those who miss the old gnarly distorted jazz-rock jams, Scott includes a couple of those too.

Scott pulls from a wide variety of musical material on here; “TWIN” is a mournful trumpet melody over a driving African rhythm, “The Corner” is avant-funk, “Of a New Cool” is an orchestrated lounge tune with drumnbass rhythms that goes into a post bop jam, and “The Last Chieftain” gets into free rhythms and a screaming trumpet solo. There are many more tracks where Scott more or less makes up some genres of his own, while every tune has a sound and texture that can only be described as ultra-modern.

Scott surrounds himself with a great cast of players on here, with special mention for the flute playing of Elena Pinderhughes, the sax work of Brandon Cook, and some guitar guest spots for Matthew Stevens. Christian’s main asset on here is his compositions, but his trumpet playing is also strong, and he is one of the few modern players who doesn’t aways recall Miles or Freddie Hubbard. It is hard to get a voice of your own on the trumpet anymore.

JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
Kind of Blue Cool Jazz
MILES DAVIS
Buy this album from our partners
A Love Supreme Post Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
Buy this album from our partners
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Progressive Big Band
CHARLES MINGUS
Buy this album from our partners
Giant Steps Hard Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
Buy this album from our partners

New Jazz Artists

New Jazz Releases

That Old Feeling Swing
BEN PATERSON
Buy this album from MMA partners
Ian Brighton & Henry Kaiser : Together Apart Jazz Related Improv/Composition
IAN BRIGHTON
Buy this album from MMA partners
Genuinity Post Bop
NOAH PREMINGER
Buy this album from MMA partners
Earthlings Classic Fusion
VICTOR GOULD
Buy this album from MMA partners
Cubist Post Bop
HAL GALPER
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Free Jazz MP3 download/stream

New Jazz Online Videos

Gerardo Nu´n~ez Trio Guitarra Flamenco GUITFESTSEVILLA 2013
GERARDO NÚÑEZ
js· more than 2 years ago
More videos

New JMA Jazz Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions

More...

Latest Jazz News

members-submitted

More in the forums

Social Media

Share this site
Follow us