Jazz Music Reviews from js

SOT Monster Master

Album · 2022 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.56 | 4 ratings
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SOT has a rather unusual lineup for a jazzy rock band. The expected guitar and drums are there, but in place of a bassist, SOT features Lars Andreas Haug on tuba. The tuba is no gimmick but instead proves its versatility by covering the bass foundation for the rockin parts, and then moving into the upper register for simulated orchestral sections. SOT is a very eclectic band and the use of the tuba expands the different sound colors and genres they can draw upon. Guitarist Skjalg Reithaug, thankfully avoids that awful digital metalish saturation sound you hear from so many guitarists today, but instead goes for a natural distortion that gives his guitar that rock edge, but still allows every note to be very clear. Skjalg, like his tubist brother, is very versatile, moving from fusion like solos, to sweeping chorused arpeggio ambiance, as well as Indian modes and raga influences. Arild Nyborg is the newcomer on drums who doesn’t ‘miss a beat’ in keeping up with SOT’s often fast changing meters and time signatures.

SOT is an instrumental band, save for the occasional wordless choir effect, and they fall somewhere between prog rock and fusion, but they avoid some of the more heavy handed and overly dramatic tendencies of both those genres, and the lack of pretentious song lyrics and vocals are also a plus. There is an upbeat, sometimes humorous, and always celebratory nature to these jams. SOT is having fun and they do well in sending that message to their audience. Musical styles they cover are broad. One staple they fall back on is quick changing rock guitar riffs that recall Jan Akkerman and Focus. Other sections draw on Indo-fusion in a John McLaughlin style. The lengthy title cut has a long section in which the band goes into a slinky Ellington vamp while an unaccredited bari sax player adds to the jazz noire vibe. Despite all the busy jazz rockin, some of SOT’s best moments come during ambient breaks where the string sounding keyboards and the tuba provide panoramic orchestral soundscapes. Finally, the choral buildup at the end of “Sunship” is a high point on the album. SOT is an excellent band and don’t think that tuba is a cute gimmick, it really works.

ANTHONY BRAXTON For Four Orchestras

Album · 1978 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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You have to wonder if maybe Prince got his idea for calling himself an unpronounceable symbol from Anthony Braxton, who had been naming his compositions with various symbols and diagrams years before Prince made his famous name change. Take for example, this three record set that has been named “For Four Orchestras”. That is not the actual name for the composition presented on these records, the actual name is a multi-colored symbol displayed on the album box, and this symbol is also used as the title within the extensive booklet that comes in the box. All this aside, this is a fascinating piece of music in which Braxton takes four orchestras and passes sounds and melodic fragments among them so that the audience, that is seated in between the orchestras, is treated to a surround sound experience in which the music is in constant spatial motion.

Braxton was partly inspired by other modern composers, such as Ives, Stockhausen and Xennakis, who had worked with similar ideas. Musically, “Four Orchestras” , falls into that sort of aleotoric sound and approach favored by John Cage and the many people who were influenced by him. One hallmark of composition in the middle part of the 20th century is that people had devised music that did not compete with the natural sounds around us. Like much music from this era, “Four Orchestras”, need not be totally separated from neighboring sounds, whether they be birds singing, traffic and construction work, or people talking and laughing. Much of Braxton’s piece consists of somewhat pleasant atonal melodic snippets that are passed around the various groups, then at other times more dissonant sounds will build in volume and intensity, and then there are sections where thick tone clusters hang in the air like dark clouds.

Of course the salient feature of this work is the movement of sound. Ideally, you should have the quad version of this record and a quad record player. I do have a vintage quad stereo, but unfortunately the album I have is only stereo, but I did play it on simulated quad, and the surrounding orchestral colors are fascinating. Even in stereo though, this music sounds interesting enough. This album comes with a fifteen page booklet full of pictures and detailed explanations from Braxton. Anthony’s writings are very intellectual, but you know he has to be pulling your leg when he starts talking about his future compositions that will feature dialog between galaxies and star systems.

CHARLES LLOYD Geeta

Album · 1973 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Charles Lloyd was one of the original jazz rockers, he was playing the Fillmore before Miles was, and in fact, Miles took half of Charles’ band (DeJohnette and Jarrett) when it came time for Miles to try jamming for the hippies. So its no big surprise that when jazz fusion went through a psychedelic phase, Charles was part of that with his album “Geeta”. Like many psyche jazz albums, there is some good stuff on here, as well as some things that are better left behind in that ’far out’ time period. Musician credits on the album cover are just plain weird and sketchy. Many of the players are given extravagant aliases, and the Indian stringed instruments are not credited at all, even though the dholak (Indian percussion) performers are credited. Some websites provide better info, but still not everything.

Side one opens with the lengthy Indian flavored fusion jam, “Geeta Suite”. Blackbyrd McKnight burns like crazy on the electric guitar, sounding like a cross between John McLaughlin and Pete Cosey. Blackbyrd will also show up on other jazz psyche records of that era. Charles mostly sticks with the alto flute as he avoids shrill annoying high end workouts on the flute. The alto has a beautiful sound for this sort of Indian fusion, and Lloyd works it well. Side one closes out with a more traditional Indian number. Side two opens with a “Stones Medley” that mostly sounds like another spiritual jazz journey until a well known Stones melody appears and kills the mood, sending this promising jam into cheezy cover tune territory.

The last three tracks are some of the best this album has to offer, with “Maxfield Blue” bringing more sonic attacks from Blackbyrd, while the last two numbers head into a sort of Austin Powers psyche rock exotica. These last two would be great for an aspiring rare groove DJ, if such a thing still exists. The drummer on here, Sonship Theus, is incredibly intense but mixed somewhat low. Apparently he had a playing philosophy that demanded he go all out for the Lord at all times, he pretty much was incapable of anything but all out attack. A lot of jazz fans find these sort of psyche albums to be no more than period kitsch, but this style and era of jazz has actually picked up more cult like followers in the new century than existed in the 70s.

DAVE LIEBMAN Light'n Up, Please!

Album · 1977 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Dave Liebman is probably one of the top saxophonists to come out of the 70s scene. He has played with greats including Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, Miles Davis and so many more, but even the greats have an off day, and for Liebman that would be this album, “Light’n Up Please”. Its not a terrible album, but far from a great one for sure. Initial problems occur just looking at the cover. Who does a photo op in the back of a Ford Pinto? Not only was it a complete crap car, but if someone had struck the car‘s infamous backside, Dave and his lovely missus would have surely gone up in flames. Then on the back cover you get a sticker telling you that the track listing on the album back cover is incorrect and you are to read the record label to get the correct listing. We haven’t even placed the album on a turntable and we are already off to a bad start, ha.

Apparently “Light’n Up” was Dave’s shot at funk jazz, a hugely popular style at that time, but this just isn’t Dave’s forte. He even enlisted JBs member Pee Wee Ellis to help out, but it didn’t work. To the novice this album may sound okay, but just play it back to back against the JBs, the Meters or the Headhunters and you will hear that something is just not quite right. Part of the problem is in the rhythm section. The cuts that feature Tony Saunders on bass and Jimmy Strassburg on drums are the better ones, but the ones that feature Jeff Berlin on bass and Al Foster on drums suffer. Jeff is a good prog and fusion bassist and Al is top notch in post bop and fusion, but as a funk team, they just don’t lock with each other, and Dave doesn’t lock with them either. Dave plays his usual flowing post bop lines instead of the short punchy riffs that make funk work. I’m reminded on Monk’s famous advice to Steve Lacy, ‘make the drummer sound good’.

Dave’s song writing on here is not great either, for supposedly being funk tunes, a lot of the music is just clumsy. One of the better cuts, “Chicken Soup” is just a straight up rip off of Maceo’s “The Chicken”, yet Dave puts his name on the song writing credits. The best song on the album, “Tranquility of the Protective Aura” is the only song not written by Liebman, instead it was penned by keyboardist Harold Williams and it is a luxurious piece of Ravelish exotica. Once again, this isn’t a really terrible album , but if you really love good funk music, you will hear the weaknesses pretty quickly.

SUN RA Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra : Secrets of the Sun

Album · 1965 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.57 | 3 ratings
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It is so nice that you can go in record stores now and get classic Sun Ra records in brand new condition. “Secrets of the Sun” originally came out in 1965, but it has been recently re-issued and is available at better record stores today. The cover credits this album to Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra, but actually this is one of those Sun Ra small group albums, which are often special and unique. If you are familiar with “Angels and Demons at Play” and “Night of the Purple Moon”, then you are familiar with some of Sonny’s small group albums, but unfortunately, “Secrets” is not quite as good as those two masterpieces, but its not bad either. Like all 60s Sun Ra albums, the recording quality is not great, the piano is out of tune, and the mixing is just bizarre, but all these things are standard trademarks of classic Sun Ra.

The first two tracks on side one feature somewhat laid back semi-free jazz played over vague rhythmic ostinatos, with performers wandering in and out of the mix. Ahrt Jnkens (possible fake name) plays the ‘space voice’, which sounds like someone vocalizing through a horn and changing the sound with a plunger. It sounds like Ellington’s horns on acid and downers. It’s a little bit annoying but seems to fit in with the vibe okay. Closing track, “Space Aura”, is the closest thing to a real jazz song on here as the combo hits an off-kilter hard bop groove while Pat Patrick, John Gilmore and Marshall Allen turn in solos.

Moving on to side two, on “Love in Outer Space”, Marshall Allen solos on the ’morrow’, which sounds a lot like a bass clarinet, while accompanied by somewhat faint and distant percussion. “Reflects Motion” is the closest track to sounding like classic 60s free jazz, with John Gilmore and crew sounding similar to what Archie Shepp was doing during this time period, but of course it was Archie who learned all this from John in the first place. This track has a bizarre opening as Gilmore and Marshall Allen play a fast and lengthy unison line that sounds like a cross between be-bop and an atonal tone-row concoction. Throughout this album Sun Ra focuses his piano solos on playing dense block chords in interesting rhythmic juxtapositions. It is somewhat similar to things Dave Brubeck would try, but Dave sounds so square and forced compared to what comes to Sonny with ease. “Secrets” is a good album for Ra fans, its just unique enough to add another facet to the Sun Ra legacy. it’s an interesting album, but not a great one.

JOHNNY GRIFFIN The Little Giant

Album · 1959 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Johnny Griffin is a power house tenor player that deserves more recognition, but really, almost any great sax player who is not Coltrane or Charlie Parker could use a little more props. Johnny’s album, “The Little Giant”, came out in 1959, right in the middle of that mid 50s to mid 60s period in jazz when all the recordings sounded great and so many musicians were at a creative peak. Joining Griffin on here is an all-star cast, including a very young trombonist, Julian Priester. Julian will go on to perform avant-garde jazz with Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock’s electronic sextet and also some very out there combos of his own, so its interesting to hear him playing swinging solos in a hard bop context. The three man horn line is completed with Blue Mitchell on trumpet, giving the group an almost big band sound at times.

The three songs written by Norman Simmons make the most of this horn ensemble with complicated arrangements that often imitate big bands in their call and response between horn sections, and between soloist and ensemble. His, “Olive Refractions”, opens the album with high speed bop and the best arrangement on the album. Other tracks include Babs Gonzazlez’s, “Lonely One”, an exotic number that has Griffin playing a melody over tympani like tom toms before moving into a high speed free modal jam. “Playmates”, by Saxie Dowell is an odd choice with its bright major key contrasting with all the minor blues on this album. The song sounds like a cross between early New Orleans jazz and a TV beer commercial, but its sunny flavor does make for an interesting contrast. Griffin penned “63rd Street Theme”, a noire blues that would work great as a ‘crime jazz’ soundtrack.

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Cannonball Adderley Sextet : Planet Earth

Boxset / Compilation · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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“Planet Earth” is an excellent album, yet few seem to know it even exists. The cover says that these songs have been released before, but doing a short casual search I could only find two of the tracks on Cannonball's Sextet in New York live album. The first four tracks feature the same band and all in live settings. It certainly does not sound like a comp until you get to “Seventh Son”, which is quite different from the other tracks. Technically this is Julian’s (Cannonball) album, but it seems more like a Yusef Lateef album. Yusef wrote the four live tracks, and the music reflects his semi avant-garde post bop with some Eastern modal leanings. The songs are very forward looking and in many ways sound a lot like the jazz you hear today in the second decade of the new century. Louis Hayes’ drumming in particular reflects today’s style in that he swings, but he does not confine himself to the ride cymbal, instead he is all over the set.

The two lengthy tracks on side are both up tempo modal hard bop. Yusef goes Coltrane-beast on the first track, but then breaks out the oboe for some Eastern flavored runs on “Brother John”. Hearing his oboe may remind some of how influential Yusef was on Les McCann’s mystical, “Invitation to Openness”. The Adderly Brothers show their bop roots, but also branch out into some odd sounds and effects while Zawinul is in full bop mode as he channels Bud Powell. Over the years Joe will not play this way much again, so its interesting hear him in this style on here.

Side two opens with another energy track, but then switches gears for the more abstract and mysterious “Syn-Anthesia” which has the group working like a small orchestra. The album closes with Zawinul’s “Seventh Son”, which sounds like another one of Joe’s somewhat commercial soul jazz tracks. Julian and Yusef do not appear on this one as Nat dominates with a bright sunshine muted trumpet solo. As mentioned earlier, this album has almost disappeared from known discogs. I found it in a used record shop and I seriously doubt this will ever be re-issued.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Apocalypse

Album · 1974 · Fusion
Cover art 3.57 | 34 ratings
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Apocalypse” was the third album for Mahavishnu Orchestra and saw the band going through some changes. The first two albums were probably some of the most divisive albums in jazz history. There was nothing subtle about Mahavishnu’s first two outings. Their heavy rock approach and bombastic sound were a turn off to many jazzers, but a definite attraction to the prog rock crowd who flocked to them in droves. As if the band was not cumbersome enough already, this third album was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, a sign that the big prog rock sensibilities might reign supreme on this one, but upon hearing it, fortunately its not really all that. To their credit, Mahavishnu always had top notch musicians and their fiery solos could raise the roof, and with this third album they raise that ante with some new exciting players. Bassist Ralphe Armstrong and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty were just a notch above the people they replaced and now McLaughlin finally had some people in the band who could hold their own against him. Michael Walden replacing Billy Cobham was a fairly even trade and Walden does a great job of fitting into the Cobham style while supplying his own unique syncopations and energy.

The first side of the album presents a surprisingly coherent musical vision as John steps up as a worthy composer and arranger fitting band and orchestra passages together to build a dynamic musical piece. Some highlights include a heavy string motif that sounds like a cross between Mussorgsky and King Crimson and a middle section where John lays down a repeating impossibly funky riff, one of his best since “Jack Johnson”. The closing ballad, sung by Gayle Moran, is one of the finest bits of composition in McLaughlin’s long career. On side two, things get a bit more disjointed, but separate sections still have nice things to offer. There is one high energy trio jam with John, Ralphe and Michael that allows Armstrong to show what an incredible bass player he is, but it is marred by an overly processed sound on the guitar. On the bad side of things, the section towards the end that features furious trading of fours with a string section is just kind of ridiculous, this is the sort of excess that dragged down many a 70s prog rock opus.

GRANT GEISSMAN Blooz

Album · 2022 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Grant Geissman has recorded a lot of albums during his busy career, but never one quite like “Blooz”. Geissman has always been a fan of the blues but this is the first album he has recorded featuring the genre. Its not really a ‘pure blues’ album, or as Grants says himself, “ The album is called “Blooz” because its my take on the blues. It’s a fairly wide interpretation, and not always traditional.” So with that in mind, its no surprise we find many variations on the blues featuring influences from jazz, Latin rock, rockabilly, rhumba, boogaloo and more. A rotating cast of musicians are featured here, and many you have probably heard of before such as Tom Scott, Randy Brecker, Robben Ford and Joe Bonamassa. In many ways this may seem like a guitar player’s album, with Grant listing which vintage guitar he is using on each track, but horns and keyboards, especially the B3, all add their own colors.

“Carlos En Siete” is Latin rock in 7/4 time and is Grant’s tribute to Carlos Santana. Geissman’s solo on this one reflects the influence Carlos has on Grant’s playing. “Rage Cage is a rock boogie in the style of ZZ Top, with Jim Cox’s B3 solo taking the jam into soul jazz territory. “Preach” and “Fat Back” sound like classic 60’s Blue Note with Randy Brecker adding his horn to the former, and Tom Scott adding his saxophone to the latter. “One G and Two J’s” has a Bo Diddley beat and features a three guitar lineup when Grant is joined by Josh Smith and Joe Bonamassa. “Blooz” is a fun ride, liven up your nest outdoor BBQ with some contemporary takes on the blues and soul jazz.

KEITH JARRETT Fort Yawuh

Live album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 10 ratings
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Throughout his lengthy career, Keith Jarrett has been one of the most important pianists of our time, but there was something different about his youthful playing that you don’t hear as much over the years. Before the Koln concert, the classical performances and the association with the somber 80s ECM sound, Jarrett’s playing was a lot funkier and bluesy soulful with plenty of gospel and roots country riffs to go around for everyone. Its from this earlier phase of his career that we get the loose, experimental and mostly high energy live concert known as “Fort Yawuh”. Joining Keith on this concert is his very talented, ‘American Quartet”, with Dewey Redman on tenor, Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Part-time member, Danny Johnson, joins on percussion.

The album starts with the free post bop of “If the Misfits (Wear It)”, which opens with what sounds like the musicians imitating a North African field recording before going into high speed free-bop mode. Keith’s piano runs are both lightning fast and harmonically interesting at the same time. Dewey follows him with a strong tenor solo that shows the Coltrane and John Gilmore influences of the time. The album title track follows, and features the piano trio in free mode, but when they kick into an African rock groove, Redman joins with a Chinese musette solo that works really well with this sort of non-western rhythm. Side two kicks off with the gospel groove of “De Drums”, halfway through the track the rhythm picks up the tempo as Redman leads the band in a high energy soul jazz romp. Album closer “Still Life, Still Life”, is a ballad, but during Jarrett’s opening solo improv, he takes the tune into some very complex twisting turning twelve tone treatments.

The salient features on this album are enthusiastic energy and an open mind towards any possible musical influence. This group pulls from all the various musical influences described above, yet all those influences come together to make one sound and nothing sounds contrived or unnatural. There is a real joy at work in this album that is rare to come by.

SUN RA Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
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“Celebration for the Comet Kohoutek” is a live concert recorded by the Sun Ra Arkestra on December 22, 1973 at New York City’s Town Hall. The first side of the album is a fairly good recording, at least by Sun Ra standards, of an excellent performance. Side two starts off okay, but then falters significantly for the last half of that side. After a brief opening, side one kicks off with the well known “Astro Black”, sung by the Arkestra veteran, June Tyson. From here the band goes into mixtures of hard bop grooves and screeching free jazz with fiery solos from many of the horn players. Specific credits are not given, but possibly that is Kwame Hadi behind those fiery trumpet solos. As for the other players, you can expect the usual suspects such as Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and the rest of the crew.

Halfway through this side Sun Ra steps in with an incredible analog synthesizer solo. If you have heard his early meanderings on “My Brother the Wind”, you will not believe how much Ra’s technique on the synth developed after those early experiments. He must be using a fairly complex setup because the sounds he is producing, and the way he is able to pull up endless variations, is far beyond what a Mini-Moog is capable of. I know Sonny used the Korg MS-20 some, a pair of those linked together could probably pull off these sort of cross-modulated wave forms. After Ra’s solo fades, the percussion section kicks in for an aggressive African groove over which Sonny at first supplies something close to classic soul jazz riffs. Ra playing in this style is very rare and its quite a treat for long time fans of his, but soon he moves back to supplying more elctronic sounds to the percussion celebration.

After a brief Arkestra intro, side two goes into more synthesizer excursions from Sonny, and once again his technique, control and imagination are very impressive. The way in which the tone colors constantly morph and change recalls Milton Babbit’s “Ensemble for Synthesizer”. I would not be surprised if Ra was very familiar with that landmark electronic piece. After the lengthy solo, the band tries to reappear, but something has happened, they sound like they are in another room way down the hallway. The last half of side two is given to call and response vocal numbers, including the over recorded, “Space is the Place”. These songs get tedious quickly because the arkestra is barely audible while the vocalists are way too loud. When one singer starts doing lounge club RnB type vocals on “Space is the Place”, its time to go ahead and hit the tone arm eject. Overall, possibly the most salient feature on this album is Sun Ra’s extended synthesizer solos. I do not know of any other record of his that contains such a wealth of synth colors. Other albums of his often sound like he is just learning how the device works.

JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON A Real Mother For Ya

Album · 1977 · RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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You have to admit that “Real Mother For Ya” has a real mother of an album cover . Yes that’s Johnny’s mom pushing him in a baby carriage that has been made to look like a gold Rolls Royce, implying that young Johnny has grown up to do pretty well for himself in the music business, which indeed he did. Starting in the 50s, Watson was a star guitarist and vocalist in the blues world, especially in Houston where he was from. Moving out to LA, Johnny made the transition to a modern funk sound, and did so convincingly, scoring several big hits, while still maintaining much of his blues flavor. One such big hit was this album’s title track, with its humorous tales of ironic disappointment, rip-offs and plain bad luck. These are the kind of lyrics that anyone can relate to and Watson delivered them with plenty of funny asides in his distinctive twangy voice. The song became a real mover on the dance floor with its double heavy bass reinforced with a heavy analog synthesizer. As is typical for dance records, the title track comes first on side one so that DJs will have no problem finding it.

Sometimes albums like this, which are centered around a big hit, have nothing but filler after the hit passes, but the rest of “Real Mother” contains some well written and creatively produced tracks. Johnny covers all the bases on here, writing all the songs, playing all the instruments except horns and drums, and taking care of production as well. Watson is a great producer, different parts stand out and shimmer as he achieves great separation and clarity, and often puts some semi-psychedelic glitter on things. Johnny’s writing style combines blues, RnB, jazz and art pop, like a mix of Curtis Mayfield, The Ohio Players, The Crusaders and The Beatles. Some interesting tracks include the somewhat spacey, “Your Love is My Love”, on which Watson delivers all the vocals through a vocoder foreshadowing today’s frequent use of such vocals and, “I Wanna Thank You”, on which Johnny reveals he is just as good on the piano as he is on the guitar. “Nothing Left to be Desired” has a dreamy middle section on which Watson builds vocal layers over a jazzy chord progression. Johnny’s lyrics are never deep or heavy, but he delivers them with plenty of clever humor and spoken asides. Looking at the horn section, I see frequent Frank Zappa sideman Walt Fowler on trumpet. As many already know, Watson delivered some humorously over the top vocals on Zappa’s “One Size Fits All”.

JOHN COLTRANE John Coltrane/Archie Shepp : New Thing At Newport

Live album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.12 | 5 ratings
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This review of “New Thing at Newport” is based on the original LP on the Impulse! label, and what a beautiful production it is. You get a gatefold album cover with plenty of inside liner notes written by Nat Hentoff and Archie Shepp, plus a nice photo of Archie on the back cover decked out in about the coolest sports jacket you have ever seen. Shepp and John Coltrane share this album, but they do not play together. One track from Coltrane’s evening performance leads off the album, which is followed by four Shepp tracks that took place earlier that day in the afternoon.

Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up” is an absolute powerhouse performance from arguably the hottest quartet in jazz history. This is the last year that Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner will stay with John, but they certainly found their mountainous peak before moving on. The recording quality is pretty bad, but John and McCoy come through loud and clear. The lead melody is a short little RnB riff, but listen how Coltrane works it and develops it. There is a reason why other musicians consider him to be a genius and worthy of emulating. Possibly knowing what Coltrane was going to be doing that evening, Archie decides not to go for the same intensity during his afternoon performance. Instead, he presents an eclectic set of almost chamber-like avant-garde jazz, possibly somewhat similar to Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” album.

The recording quality on the Shepp tracks is much better, possibly the Coltrane set just had way too much sonic volume to deal with. “Rufus” is a free post bop number with great playing from Archie, as well as Bobby Hutcherson on vibes who is excellent all though his part of the album. “Le Matin des Noire” has some interesting arrangements and sometimes resembles a 20th century avant-garde classical piece. “Tracks” is a short little spoken diatribe against heroin and the injustices that encourage it, and “Call Me by My Rightful Name” is a ballad of sorts with Archie shifting between a pretty melody and very odd atonal excursions.

BRAD MEHLDAU Jacob's Ladder

Album · 2022 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
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Well here it is, Brad Mehldau’s somewhat ballyhooed alleged return to his youthful progressive rock roots. Truth be told, “Jacob‘s Ladder“ is not exactly a prog rock album, which may be a good thing for some, but prog does play a big part on this rather eclectic album. Along with covers of some classic songs like “Tom Sawyer“, “Cogs in Cogs“ and “Starship Trooper”, you also get a fair share of ‘trappy’ electronica nu jazz, a synthesizer fugue, some readings from the Bible, semi-classical instrumental ballads, some art pop and more. In the prog tradition, this is a very ambitious album, but how does it all add up to the listener. To paraphrase from David Byrne, “some good points, and some not as good points”. Ambitious musically, but also literally as Brad muses on man’s relationship with God in his very thoughtful opening liner notes. Second track, “Herr und Knecht”, presents intense music as Tobias Bader screams out an internal debate from Hegel’s “Phenomenology”. Yes, some of this album is far from easy listening.

“Cogs in Cogs” gets three different treatments, first a nu jazz dubish instrumental, then a cover with vocals, and then finally a synthesizer fugue that sounds like a tribute to Wendy Carlos. “Tom Sawyer” gets a jazzy treatment and overall sounds a lot better without Geddy Lee’s vocals. On “Jacob’s Ladder II”, we get an excellent Mehldau piano solo over an electronic trap groove. “Jacob’s Ladder III” has Bible verses over sampled choirs and then ends with some very intense anguished screaming and yelling, you have been warned. Closing track “Heaven …” is an album highlight as the assembled all-star band does an excellent cover of “Starship Trooper”. Cecile McLorin Salvant’s beautiful wordless vocals open the track before Safia McKinney-Askeur comes into handle the lyrics. It closes out with Brad’s relaxed and lyrical piano solo over Yes’ famous closing three chord vamp.

I didn’t come close to covering all the material on here, there is just too much to cover. Brad seems to be wrestling with the big issues here, both spiritual and philosophical. It takes a certain amount of guts and integrity to release an album that aspires to be all that Mehldau presents here.

JOHN COLTRANE Concert In Japan

Live album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.17 | 5 ratings
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“John Coltrane Concert in Japan” does not have very good sound quality, but it is an important example of an important group at a time of important development. Back when this album was recorded (1966), it seemed all avant-garde jazz was poorly recorded, as if that was one more way of avoiding commercialism and/or the establishment. To this day I sometimes wonder if that was the case for some of the early free jazz albums. By 1966, free jazz was not exactly new anymore, but it was still fairly new to a lot of people and it would still take a few more years for free jazz to become an accepted part of the jazz world.

Although very much an avant-garde album when it was recorded, Coltrane’s playing on here is mostly tonal as he delivers sheets of modal scales and pentatonic colors. Pharoh Sanders, on the other hand, is more apt to slip into screams and exclamations, as well as making his saxophone sound like a pre-colonial African reed instrument no where near the European concert invention it is. Rashied Ali’s drumming continues the African vibe as he is able to sound like a large African percussion ensemble by himself. Alice Coltrane supplies cascading scales and chords, often imitating an Indian tamboura in the way she provides a constant background for the soloists. Jimmy Garrison on bass is the only person left from Coltrane’s more traditional previous group, but unfortunately you can barely hear him at all.

If Sanders and Ali bring an African sound, the Coltranes often seem to be channeling classical Indian music with John’s relaxed opening to “Peace on Earth” sounding much like a morning raga. The way the two Coltranes build their improvisations again recalls Indian ragas. Although, “Peace on Earth”, mostly lives up to its name, the rest of the music on here is quite intense, especially when Sanders gets everyone fired up with his fierce repeating atonal scales. On the closing track, Sanders and Coltrane finally solo together and what a hell raiser that is. Too bad there was not more of their simultaneous improvs on here.

BRAD MEHLDAU Suite : April 2020

Album · 2020 · Third Stream
Cover art 3.48 | 2 ratings
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“Suite: April 2020” is Brad Mehldau’s attempt to capture his feelings during the pandemic while he and his family stayed home to keep from catching or spreading the infectious germs that were sweeping the world. There is of course a good bit of melancholic reflection, but also a small dose of joy that comes from time spent with family. It is a solo piano recording of course, so many solo albums came out during this time from many artists.

The first nine tracks are the highlight of the album. These tracks do flow much like a suite and you will probably find yourself listening to these as a whole, rather than as separate tracks. These are the tracks that dwell on the more somber side of the pandemic, the solitude and reflection that many of us went through. As through composed semi-classical piano pieces, these nine are quite brilliant and sound much like mid-20th century French neo-classical piano works, particularly recalling the piano compositions of Francis Poulenc. Any of these tone poems would hold up well in a contemporary classical concert. A couple tracks that follow are more light-hearted, almost silly, as they attempt to capture the feeling of family fun. These songs are okay, but unfortunately they break the hypnotic spell that Brad built during the first nine performances.

Next up, Mehldau performs an interesting cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”, introducing a bit of his trademark intertwining contrapuntal lines. This is followed by Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” which sounds like a fairly standard lounge version, maybe Brad wanted to leave the song alone and let it speak for itself. Apparently the closing number is a Mehldau original as there are no song writing credits given, but its title and music sound like a sentimental pop song from a bygone era. If you put together a CD that featured the first nine tracks plus the Neil Young cover and left the others out, you would have a more consistent suite.

CLARE FISCHER Thesaurus (aka 'Twas Only Yesterday)

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

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

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

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Devotion (aka Marbles)

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

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

HADLEY CALIMAN Iapetus

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

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

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

GEORGE BENSON Shape of Things to Come

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

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

ESPERANZA SPALDING Songwrights Apothecary Lab

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

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

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

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE Fresh

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

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

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

CHET BAKER Blood, Chet And Tears

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

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

EDDIE HARRIS Silver Cycles

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

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

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

DON ELLIS Soaring

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

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

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

MUNDELL LOWE TV Action Jazz!

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

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

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

MELVIN VAN PEEBLES Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

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

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

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

MAHOGANY FROG In The Electric Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUN RA The Solar-Myth Approach Vol. 1

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

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

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Arrangements For Guitar By Marco Pereira

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

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

SUN RA Crystal Spears

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

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

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

YUSEF LATEEF The Doctor Is In ...And Out

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

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

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

STEVE GADD Steve Gadd Band : At Blue Note Tokyo

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

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

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

MILES DAVIS Quiet Nights

Album · 1963 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.23 | 17 ratings
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“ Quiet Nights” could have been a much better album, but unfortunately the meddling greed of Columbia never let this project develop naturally. Miles and Gil had a sincere interest in Brazilian music and put together a couple of art pop covers of Brazilian songs which Columbia jumped on in an attempt to ride the new Bossa Nova fad. The songs did not make the pop charts so the whole project was shelved for a while. Later Miles and Gil recorded several more songs in a Brazilian style and then again the project sat for a while. At a later date, in an anxious move to satisfy the suits at Colombia, Theo Macero dug up a ballad Miles had recorded with his previous combo, slapped that with the other tunes and released the album which now contained only 25 minutes of music. Miles was quite angry with the move and broke relations with Macero and Columbia for some time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MACHINE MASS Machine Mass Sextet : Intrusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GENE HARRIS AstralSignal

Album · 1974 · RnB
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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In the early to mid 70s, many a jazz musician was drawn to both the growing impact of the new funk groove, as well as the psychedelic sound borne from the 60s. Gene Harris was no exception as his “AsrtralSignal” album from 1974 bears trademarks from that groovy early 70s era, which is also reflected in the very ‘cosmic’ title of the album. Gene Harris was no stranger to mixing jazz with dance rhythms, in fact his entire career was built around a solid reputation as one of the top soul jazz artists from the mid 50s until the 70s and beyond. With “AstralSignals”, Gene took things one step further from his gospel based roots to embrace the new funk style of Sly Stone and James Brown. On this funk foundation, Harris layered multiple horns, vocals and electronic instruments to build his imaginative arrangements.

The album opens with a heavily reverbed cosmic statement from Gene before we launch into an exotic instrumental topped with wordless vocals. Next up, a very funky synth intro leads the band into Sly Stone’s well known song chant about racial name calling. After a laid back instrumental with more wordless vocals, Harris closes out side one with some of his signature gospel riffs on the piano in a double tracked solo performance.

Side two kicks off with a rockin instrumental version of Credence’s “Green River”. On Chicago’s “Beginnings”, Gene handles the lead vocals and sheds some new tone colors on this well known number. This side closes out with some more funk-jazz jams with Harvey Mason’s “Higga Boom” being a real highlight. This album has its ups and downs, but the ups make it well worth it for fans of funk jazz, exotic lounge music, rare groove and other jazz related crate digging.

CARLOS SANTANA Love Devotion Surrender (with John McLaughlin)

Album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.80 | 21 ratings
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Love Devotion and Surrender” is an odd one in the Carlos Santana discography. Released in 1973 when jazz fusion had hit a popularity peak and had enticed rockers like Carlos and Jeff Beck to take part in the genre, this will be one of a few full fusion albums that Carlos will release during this time. Santana is joined on here by the flamboyant John McLaughlin as they pay tribute to both John Coltrane and Sri Chimnoy. The spiritual jazz of Coltrane and Pharoh Sanders is a big influence on here, but so is the macho rockin jazz fusion of the day, making for a sometimes clumsy hybrid.

The album opens with Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, which is given a huge electric mystical 70s hippie sound that is attractive at first, but as McLaughlin and Santana flail at each other with ill-advised lick trading exercises, the track becomes more of an athletic workout than something more musical. Fortunately this is the only song on which they ‘battle’ each other in this fashion. “Naima” is played acoustically and in very good taste, but their performance doesn’t offer anything new to this often recorded ballad. Side one closes out with “The Life Divine”, on which the two guitarists get to stretch out without the annoying frantic lick trading of the opening cut. Many great drummers are credited on this album, but there is no doubt that it is Billy Cobham on “Life Divine”, his distinctive drum roll makes it obvious.

Side two is taken up mostly with “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord”, possibly the best track on the album and one in which the two guitarists are allowed to stretch out unfettered and finally organist Larry Young is allowed to take a ride. Larry eschews the more rockin style of his band mates and turns in the most interesting solo on the album. Unfortunately, the last part of his solo is almost buried by McLaughlin’s insistent rhythm playing. The album closes with another short ballad featuring McLaughlin’s rather pedestrian piano playing.

The opening of this album promises good things to come with its big open psychedelic sound and spirited energy, but as things develop, many of the solos are not that interesting as they lean heavily on repeating rock riffs delivered with the subtlety of a sledge hammer. All of the performers could have done well to pay attention to Larry Young’s approach as he swells in and out of the mix adding tamboura like colors that blend well with the electric guitars and the multitude of percussion. Very much a product of its time, “Love, Devotion and Surrender” is for those who like the excesses that marked what was both good and bad musically in the 70s.

GRANT GREEN Green is Beautiful

Album · 1970 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.02 | 4 ratings
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Green is Beautiful” is a transitional album for Grant Green as it finds him moving more from the hard bop of his early career and more towards a funk/RnB sound. Like a lot of soul jazz LPs form this era. ‘Beautiful’ is kind of hit and miss with about one half good RnB jazz grooves, and about one half pop ditties that are forgettable. Side one opens with a cover of James Brown’s “Aint it Funky Now”, and it’s a solid cooker with great solos from the whole crew, including saxophonist Claude Bartee, who might remind some of Eddie Harris. This side closes out with the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. This song was popular with soul jazz musicians, but it never works well. Although it’s a good song in its original format, the different changes in the arrangement don’t lend itself very well to jazz or RnB solos.

Side two opens with another JB’s style groove, “The Windjammer”, which is followed by a very lackluster “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”. I’m not sure whose idea it was to include this very cheesy pop song, but it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. It’s a bad song to begin with and there is no way to save it, or make it better. The album closes with the best track, “Dracula”, another funk number and one of the few tracks with a very strong melody. If you keep the three best tracks on “Green is Beautiful”, you have a decent funk jazz album, albeit one that mostly sounds like a jam session. It doesn’t hurt that Green in his crew know how to turn in hot solos over an infectious groove.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Blue Note Re:Imagined

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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“Blue Note Re:imagined” is a two CD collection of tracks on which current UK jazz, hip-hop and RnB artists use classic Blue Note songs as inspirations for new creations. Taking a jazz song that was originally written in swing time and then slapping a contemporary backbeat on it does not always go well, so its fortunate that many of these artists often create creations that bear little resemblance to the original. Looking at this collection as a whole, if you are expecting some hip contemporary jazz leaning pop, then you will be happy with this, but if you expecting every track to be a heavy modern jazz statement, you may find yourself wanting, but all the same, there is some good contemporary, or ‘nu’, jazz to be found.

The best jazz cuts on here come from the artists who have the strongest reps, including Shabaka Hutchings, Alfa Mist, Blue Lab Beats, Nubya Garcia and Ishmael Ensemble. Of the pop tracks, Fieh’s “Armageddon” is a standout with its interesting chord progressions. Of the tracks that don’t work as well, Ezra Collective tries to place a hip-hop beat on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and it totally undermines the mystical flow of the original. There is a saving grace on this one though via an amazing keyboard solo from Joe Amon-Jones. On the other hand, Nubya Garcia’s hip-hop reworking of “A Shade of Jade” is almost an improvement over the hard bop original. A surprise success is an odd wordless vocal rendition of “Maiden Voyage” by Mr Jukes that works really well despite what that idea would sound like on paper. I ended up making my own CD off of this two CD album by recording just the best tracks and leaving off the others, with a little editing like that you can end up with a very good collection of today’s UK nu jazz sound.

HERBIE MANN Stone Flute

Album · 1970 · Fusion
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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Along with Miles Davis and Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann was one of the most eclectic jazz artists of his time, with albums ranging from pop to avant-garde, any single album can be in a totally unique style that is unlike any of his other albums. 1970’s “Stone Flute” is one such album, as it finds Herbie experimenting with drifting ambience, psychedelic sound and a sense of time suspended. The music on here is very similar to sound experiments that Miles Davis was performing as he was making the tracks that would show up a few years later on “Big Fun” and “Get Up With It”. If Mann didn’t hear any of those sessions, I’m sure he heard the somewhat similar “In a Silent Way”, certainly both artists were trying out similar ideas and approaches as they sought to produce music that hung in the air with a sense of infinite space.

Herbie has a backing band on here, but they are mostly in the background as side one slowly unfolds with Mann’s flute, sometimes double tracked., dominates the proceedings. A time warped version of the Beatles “Flying” is a highlight on this side of the album. Side two opens with the more busy and dissonant free fusion of “Miss Free Spirit”. This track also features the only solo from vibraphonist Roy Ayers who unleashes a torrent of scattered scales. Side two closes with two abstract ballads that put Herbie front and center again. There is no keyboard player listed on the credits, but the sound of held chords on a Lowery organ show up often. There is also a string quartet who are often arranged deep into the mix adding more vague sounds mixing with the other background instruments. If you enjoy Miles spaced out tracks like “He Loved Him Madly” or side four of “Agharta”, you will probably like “Stone Flute” too. This album was very much ahead of its time as it pre-dates more recent efforts by artists like Brian Eno, Bill Laswell and much of today’s nu jazz scene.

JOHN DAVERSA Cuarentena : With Family at Home

Album · 2020 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Its not unusual for a John Daversa album to carry a theme outside of the music itself, so it is with his new album, “Cuarantena: With Family at Home”, on which he explores the importance of familial relationships in a time of quarantine through a collection of boleros, a musical form that was often a part of his family gatherings when he was young. Many of these compositions by Daversa are homages to various family members, and also many other of the compositions were written by other family members. Interspersed between the tracks, the various members of Daversa’s quintet discuss how family and music interact in their own lives. Speaking of the assembled quintet for the recording, this is an all-star ensemble with top names at every position; Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Carlo De Rosa on bass, Dafnis Prieto on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion.

As mentioned already, every one of these songs is a bolero, but do not expect sameness, instead this album is laden with creative eclecticism. Boleros tend to be rhythmically laid back and very melodic, and you do get a lot of that on here, but there are variations too. “#45” features some high speed bebop unisons, “#22” contains fiery solo trade offs, “Puppitas” has a far out arrangement that borders on the avant-garde, and “#19”builds into an aggressive samba like energy. Still, the hallmark of “Cuarantena” are the more laid back boleros that fascinate with their open spaces and relaxed timing. The open spaces can almost recall a classic ECM disc, only with a Latin flavor and no icy reverb. When Daversa’s lonely trumpet plays over a sparse accompaniment I’m also reminded of Miles’ classic “Quiet Nights” album. All members of the band are careful not to overplay and the tracks are made more interesting because different members of the band will drop out of the mix for a while instead of all five going at it all the time. Overall, a most valuable player award could go to Rubalcaba whose wide ranging skills can add variety through his knowledge of post bop, Latin jazz and classical.

This is a beautiful album, very thoughtful and sensitive. Its great to hear musicians with mind blowing chops set their pyrotechnics aside for a while to just play music that anyone can relate to, not just fans of jazz or Latin music.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Trio Introducing Freddy Gambrell (aka Meet Chico Hamilton)

Album · 1958 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Freddie Gambrell is another pianist you can file under the tag, ‘one of the best piano players you never heard of.’. The reason you probably never heard of him is that he only recorded three albums, and the best of those three, “Chico Hamilton Presents Freddie Gambrell”, shows up in the Chico Hamilton discography, not Gambrell‘s. The best way I can introduce Freddie is to describe how I found his playing. I was listening to a 5 CD collection of Chico Hamilton music from the late 50s on random shuffle when I noticed this rather odd and attention grabbing pianist would show up occasionally. His playing was rooted in hard bop, but there were these weird surprises and unexpected jumps in his solos. All of this was reminding me of Herbie Nichols or Jaki Byard, but this guy was obviously neither of them. I didn’t even think that Chico ever worked with a pianist, but upon checking the CD package I see there is this one album with pianist Freddie Gambrell, someone I was not familiar with at all, so I wanted to find out more.

Apparently after recording this one album with Chico in 1958, Freddie released two more in 1959, with neither making much of an impact and although he worked regularly in San Francisco for the rest of his life, both as a pianist and big band leader, you can not find much more information about him than that. So really, the best of Freddie’s lasting legacy is just this one album with Hamilton. The style on here is west coast hard bop, in other words somewhat laid back. Chico and bassist Ben Tucker provide a rhythmic pocket for Gambrell but not much else. There is little interplay between the players and no bass or drum solos either, this is very much a Gambrell solo act. Freddie’s playing is rooted in the pre-Bill Evans school of Art Tatum and Erroll Garner, with a lot of blues thrown in as well. Then there are his unique excursions that can go anywhere unpredictably, this is what grabbed my attention about this guy in the first place, and its what continues to get my attention anytime I give him a listen. If you like any of the other pianists I referenced in this review, or other slightly off-kilter players like Monk or Ellington, then give Gambrell a try. This is one jazz musician who should be better known.

WYNTON MARSALIS Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra : The Ever Fonky Lowdown

Album · 2020 · Third Stream
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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After an incredibly long and productive buildup, it looks like Wynton Marsalis has hit the apex of his career with “The Ever Fonky Low Down”, a tour de force of spoken word, music and dance that speaks volumes against the negative forces that have been on the rise in recent times. The album itself is excellent, but I do hope someday he makes the filmed performance of this more available because with dancers, a large music ensemble and a charismatic narrator in Wendall Pierce, much of the appeal of this opus is visual. The real star of the show here is the lengthy text read by Pierce as the hustling character, Mr Game (“Sell you a loan that will take your home“). Mr Game is part insincere wealthy preacher, corrupt politician and conniving criminal hustler all rolled into one as he attempts to brainwash his audience. The words were all written by Wynton, who is apparently just as talented at libretto as he is with music as he displays the background for the cynical logic that threatens our world today. I won’t try to give out too many details about Mr Game’s rap as he tries to deride ‘they’ and buildup ‘his people’, but you will hear similarities to Hitler’s speech about the Polish people, Trump’s exaggerated and fabricated claims about illegal immigrants and the twisted logic of those who try to justify, or deny, the evils of slavery, genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’. But its not just about the Mr Games of the world, instead, Wynton is challenging us to look deeper at how we react to Mr Game and his opponents. Do we let them manipulate and divide us, or are we able to think for ourselves and keep our moral compass on track.

The rhythms on here are pure New Orleans in many flavors such as RnB, Dixieland, odd metered modern jazz, post bop modal grooves, street marches and more. On top of this rhythmic foundation Wynton interjects his orchestrations that show similarities to Ellington, Mingus, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Sun Ra. There are plenty of hot solos from the all-star band and lots of free form interaction during the longer jams. It's very telling that the music is based in New Orleans, that fertile birthplace of creativity from which a subjugated people ended up spreading their culture and changing much of the world. As mentioned before, this is a very visual production and its great watching the three male dancers improvise and move in synchronicity with methods taken from jazz ballet and New Orleans street dancing. Also enjoyable is Wendall Pierce’s very charismatic performance, especially when his eyes flash like the devil when Mr Game moves in for the ‘closer‘. Wynton's hand picked musicians bring much personality to the proceedings as well, particularly the three female singers and blues/country guitarist and vocalist Doug Wamble, whose southern drawl can sound charming and also ironically troubling.

What makes ‘Fonky Lowdown’ so powerful is that Marsalis has very thoroughly laid out what dangers lay in wait in today’s world. In a recent interview Wynton pointed out, “This is no time to be sleep walking”. I was already aware of much of what Marsalis relates here, but I have never heard it all illustrated in such a cohesive manner, once again, in Wynton’s own words, “showing us a blueprint on how to rise above populist propaganda”. Don’t expect easy answers or liberal platitudes on how to make things better. Also don't expect cliche shaming and a roll call of past grievances. Instead, Marsalis is shooting for bigger game as he displays the thinking that allows those that should know better to stand by while the 'Mr Games' of the world go about their business. 'Fonky Lowdown' is a call for everyone to pay attention and be ready to act if needed.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Between Nothingness & Eternity

Live album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 24 ratings
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Although most Mahahvishnu Orchestra fans tend to go for their first two studio albums, its the third album, the live “Between Nothingness and Eternity”, that best captures what this band was best at, high energy hard rock. Whereas other fusion pioneers of the day were mixing and matching various genres and cultures, Maha went straight for the rock jugular, mixing a Deep Purple/Hendrix Experience adrenaline fueled rhythm overdrive with solos that fused bebop agility with rock n roll sledge hammer tonality. There was nothing particularly subtle about this group, and that’s why many jazz fans were not interested, but many rock fans embraced them as a band that set a higher standard for ultimate shredding. “Eternity‘s” recording quality is far from perfect, there is distortion and uneven sound balances, the performance is somewhat sloppy, but that intense explosive energy that was this band’s salient feature comes through more on this live outing than it does on their previous studio albums. Consider “Eternity” to be the first ‘punk jazz’ album if you will.

There are lots of cool musical highlights to be found on here. Side one opens with McLaughlin’s signature sweeping tamboura like guitar arpeggios that promise a special performance to come. A few minutes into this side Cobham launches into a high speed double time beat that foreshadows the hardcore thrash scene that will happen in the 80s. This side closes with “Sister Andrea”, which features one of the funkiest Fender Rhodes riffs ever. The best highlight on side two comes when the rest of the band backs off and allows Cobham and McLaughlin to take off on a high speed conversation that matches the old Mitchell/Hendrix jams for a display of two guys who really enjoy each other’s musical company. That interchange also shows how Maha was essentially a McLaughlin and Cobaham band. Bassist Rick Laird does well, but he is essentially a jazz musician. Violinist Jerry Goodman digs into the funk numbers, but seems over his head when Cobham turns up the tempo. Keyboardist Jan Hammer deals with the music by more or less imitating McLaughlin.

John’s original idea for the band was supposed to be himself, Cobham, Larry Young on keyboards, Jean Luc Ponty on violin and Tony Levin on bass. That would have been the better band as both Young and Ponty would have brought more original ideas that could have stood on their own and countered McLaughlin’s intensity.

MAGIC MALIK Magic Malik Fanfare XP, Vol. 2

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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You may have noticed the recent drop off in new albums since the world wide pandemic put a serious dent in things. As many people seek the refuge of self quarantine, artists have been forced to dig through their recording archives and release things that may not have been put out under better circumstances. We can consider our selves very fortunate that Magic Malik was able to release “Fanfare XP Vol 2” while things cleared up in Europe for a while, because at this point, this album looks to be one of the best this year so far.

For many jazz woodwind players, the flute is a secondary instrument, something to play when they aren’t playing saxophone, but for Malik, it is his main axe, and it shows. Malik gets a big beefy sound out of the flute, no small feat as it can lean towards shrill thinness very easily. “Vol 2”, like many of his albums, features a fairly large ensemble with big sounding horns like the trombone to compete with, but Malik’s muscular flute tone is always able to elbow its way into the mix. Making yourself heard is not always easy in a Malik composition as he often has more than one solo going at a time, plus most tracks feature busy ensemble arrangements that compete with the soloists for air time.

You could roughly categorize the music on “Vol 2” as ‘nu jazz’, due to its use of modern beats and tasteful electronics, but unlike other trendy nu jazz offerings that tend to be lite and fluffy, Malik’s compositions are big on substance and innovation. Its that balance of attractive modernity and deep complex musical arrangements that promote concentrated listening that make “Vol 2” such a success. It’s not boorishly heavy, but it is definitely way more than hip background. If you want to hear something new in jazz that will still sound great 50 years from now, “Fanfare XP Vol 2” is your ticket.

ROBERT FRIPP (No Pussyfooting) (with Eno)

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.70 | 7 ratings
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Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s “No Pussyfooting” will probably be regarded as a ground breaking recording in the long run of music history, but it was barely noticed when it came out in the mid-70s. In fact, I would imagine that many who bought this back then were pretty disappointed in what they had just purchased. Both artists at the time were enjoying successful art rock careers and I am sure many were looking for a cross between Fripp’s King Crimson and Eno’s Roxy Music, only to find that their collaborative effort sounded nothing like either of those bands. This album is not the first ambient album, but it is one of the first to be marketed toward a rock/pop audience, and as such it broke all sorts of new ground that both artists would go on to enjoy as ambient music continued to be a big part of their careers, as well as the careers of the thousands of artists that they inspired. Ever since the mid-90s electronica boom, ambient music has become a very popular genre, and you can trace the roots of that popularity right back to Fripp and Eno.

Side one opens with an F# drone that Fripp solos over in a raga like style in the Dorian minor mode. His solos are given infinite sustain via Eno’s tape loop methods. Once again, Eno was not the first person to use tape loops like this, but possibly the first to use them in this sort of Hendrix meets Shankar psychedelic sound that would eventually attract the more experimental side of the rock world. Side two uses a busier backdrop via Eno’s VCS3 synthesizer as Fripp solos in E Ionian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes before finally fading out. Fortunately Robert is a very talented soloist who has no problem constructing an interesting narrative over a drone like background, otherwise, this album could have been a real snooze-fest.

Given the long history of ambient music at this point, this album does not sound particularly unusual anymore, but back in the day many of us were watching the record spin around for the first time and wondering when was the drum beat going to kick in, ha. It never kicks in. Welcome to your brave new ambient future.

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