Jazz Music Reviews from js

JOHN DAVERSA John Daversa Big Band : American Dreamers (Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom)

Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Down through history there always seems to be a certain politician who is so void of positive ideas and real solutions that he desperately blames the ‘immigrants’ for his nation’s problems and seeks to increase his popularity with this morally corrupt message. This worked well for Hitler, and despite what a tragedy he turned out to be, it still seems to work for some. The problem being that there is always enough of the population who is either under educated enough, or xenophobic enough to fall for such nonsense. Satirical cartoon show “The Simpsons” presented a biting send up of such posturing when they aired an episode in the mid 90s in which their corrupt mayor chose to wiggle out of a tight spot regarding taxes by ‘blaming the immigrants’. So it comes to pass just a few decades later in a prime example of reality imitating TV, the voters of the US elected a president who used this same tired and predictable rhetoric to actually win the presidency.

Dreamers are children who were brought to the US, under no power of their own, as non-citizens and who have since been working hard to prove themselves as capable US citizens. Many lawmakers support these Dreamers and have been trying to provide a path for their eventual citizenship. Unfortunately, many of these dreams have been dashed lately by a new administration that rose to power by provoking irrational fears about these Dreamers and are busy trying close their path to citizenship. John Daversa’s “American Dreamers” is a new CD that gives these young people a voice and allows them to tell their stories in their own words and also allows them to participate in Daversa’s power packed big band.

If you have ever worked as a teacher, you will recognize the voices in these stories, these are the voices of your students, and believe me, that makes all this hit you like a ton of bricks. In my many years as a music teacher in the US, I would estimate over half the students I have worked with have been immigrants. To hear the ambitious and unpretentious young people on this CD describe how their dreams may be crushed is beyond heart-breaking, and really kind of burns me up inside. Hopefully this CD will help people realize what a horrible tragedy is taking place here.

“American Dreamers” is a great listen just to hear the young musician’s stories, but you also get John Daversa’s big band playing wild arrangements that can recall ‘out-there’ band arrangers such as Don Ellis, Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra. Most of the tracks are covers that have been completely re-arranged into fresh new pieces. James Brown’s “Living in America” has crazy horn syncopations that sound like the JBs gone berserk. “Stars and Stripes” is given a fast changing de-constructionist arrangement that may remind some of Anthony Braxton’s humorous marching band send-ups. Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song” is given screaming horns and a fierce rap from a young man from Senegal named Caliph. The music on its own would make “American Dreamers” one of the best modern big band albums of this year, but when you add in the importance of the message being presented here, you have a jazz record that has transcended mere art and become a powerful social statement that will hopefully help people understand what is truly going on here.

SOFT MACHINE Hidden Details

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Its nice to see the longest running act in the world of jazz-rock fusion is still at it, but its even nicer hearing them operating at a creative peak more similar to their early years. I don’t know if this is a live in the studio performance, but it sounds like one. The songs naturally segue way into each other, and there is no evidence of over dubs as every performer is quite clearly in the moment and interacting with their band mates. At this point in their career, Soft Machine are able to cover all the different phases of their past, particularly their jazzy horn driven music of the early 70s, and their more muscular guitar driven jazz-rock of the mid-70s. What’s particularly notable about the current lineup is that they often break things down so that only one or two people are carefully interacting and taking their time building unique sounds and melodies. These frequent changes in ensemble makeup and texture help make “Hidden Details” the interesting listen that it is.

As mentioned earlier, the many styles of Soft Machine are on display here. There are a couple of lengthy funky rock numbers for those who seek the guitar shredding of Chris Etheridge. Theo Travis shines on flute on some up tempo jazz, and on “Life on Bridges”, the whole band goes off on a noisy free improv. “Heart Off Guard” and “Broken Hill” contain moments of pure pastoral melody, and elsewhere they re-visit Soft Machine’s classic minimalist tributes to Terry Riley. There are a couple tracks from previous Soft albums, but this band clearly puts their own stamp on those cuts. The album closes on a good note with the floating looped sounds of Travis' flute. “Hidden Details” is one of the better Soft Machine albums to come out in a while, In particular, Theo Travis on woodwinds and keyboards seems to be in touch with those elements that constituted some of this band’s best music.

THE BAR-KAYS Coldblooded

Album · 1974 · Funk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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If you are not a fan of 70s funk music, or from Memphis, then you may not have heard of The Bar-Kays, but they are one of the longest running acts in the history of RnB/rock. Off the top of my head, the only bands that I can think of that have been around longer are The Isley Brothers and The Rolling Stones. “Cold Blooded” was The Bar-Kays recorded offering in 1974, and it featured them playing the pure funk of the times, as the disco thump that would alter the beat was still a few years away. The Bar-Kays had scored some hits in the late 60s as a Staxx sponsored RnB act, but their transition to rock, and later funk, did not bring any hits right away. They would eventually modernize and become a hit factory in the late 70s, but on “Cold Blooded’, they are still a few years away from all that.

“Cold Blooded” opens with the title track of the same name, and its probably the best cut on the album. Featuring a rampaging African-Latin rhythm section and building horn lines, this one sounds a lot like Mandrill or Osibissa in the early 70s. After this, The Bar-Kays settle into some solid funk tunes that often bare some similarities to 60s Sly and the Family Stone, and 70s Isley Brothers. The Bar-Kays are from the south, and it shows. Their tempos tend to be relaxed, their lyrics lack the irony of the p-funk mob, and their gospel influence is undeniable. Lyrical themes on the album are typical for the times and range from testaments to peace and love, warnings about the ways of the world, and musings on relationships gone bad. There are no insincere corny love songs on here, nor even a trace of disco vapidness. Overall “Cold-Blooded” is a good, but not remarkable, album in its genre. Any fan of classic 70s funk should probably check this out.

SADAO WATANABE Round Trip

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Round Trip” is an album that is quite a bit different from the music Sadao Watanabe is usually known for. Although not exactly a household name in the West, Sadao has been one of the top jazz saxophonists of the last six decades, putting out many albums as a leader while working as a sideman with almost every top name in the business. Watanabe is usually known for his sweet Charlie Parker influenced tone on the alto sax which he has used to cut many top notch post bop albums, as well as more commercial type fare too. “Round Trip” is a whole nother trip altogether, on here Sadao plays the soprano sax with a biting and harsh sound as he and his band mates play high octane avant-garde fusion. The band mates, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous had all been playing similar over the top free fusion at this time, with DeJohnette and Corea fresh from some insane gigs with Miles at the Fillmore.

The album opens with the title track, which is an out and out free jazz barn burner with unbelievably high speed drumming from Jack, plus Sadao’s piercing soprano that seems to be mimicking traditional Asian reed instruments. This track covers most of side one and also features a top notch solo from Corea, who at this time was still playing at his youthfully intense best. His solos during this time revealed an interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, as well as the avant-garde, with the end result sounding like a cross between Eddie Palmieri and Cecil Taylor. In a short time after this recording, he will loose some of his early fire. The only drawback to this track is some occasional hyper attacks from someone on a vibraslap, not really sure who is responsible for this bothersome sound.

Side two opens with Jack pounding out an energetic fractured jazz rock beat while the rest join in for a very 70s jam. Whereas as side side one was atonal, on this new track the band settles into a D Mixolydian modal jam, a scale with a Celtic/Indian sound that was very popular with the hippie generation. Sadao continues with his odd soprano sound that now sometimes seems to mimic a bagpipe. Chick’s piano solo takes the music way outside the modal scale for some crazy adventures and Jack follows him every step of the way before Sadao leads the way back to the original groove. The final track, “Sao Paulo”, is some sort of Brazilian jazz gone berserk. Ulpio Minucci joins the band on piano for this one and he and Chick pound out intense interlocking rhythmic patterns while Sadao joins Jack in the percussion section.

This is an okay avant-garde jazz record circa 1970, you can find worse, but you can also find better. As far as Jack and Chick playing music like this, I would check out Miles live at the Fillmore. For Miroslav, check out his first album, or the first Weather Report album. If you are looking for a first Sadao Watanabe album, I would not go with this, find one where he is playing alto sax, his playing on that instrument is sublime. As for those who appreciate the experimental excesses of the late 60s to early 70s, "Round Trip" has enough good moments to overcome the lesser moments. In accordance with the time period, they get fairly crazy on here at times, and often in a good way.

SUN RA Astro Black

Album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.96 | 4 ratings
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Sun Ra’s “Astro Black” came out in the early 70s when Ra was still heavily immersed in electronic sounds, and still a few years away from his re-interest in performing big band charts. This is the version of Sun Ra that appeals to those who discovered his music via psychedelic rock and fusion. There isn’t a lot of ‘jazz’ per se on “Astro Black”, but there are plenty of imaginative dronish jams with signature Sun Ra sounds and approaches. There is no acoustic piano in site on this one, as Ra devotes himself to synthesizer, organ and electric piano, and conjures up plenty of exotic sounds with this set up. There is an odd sound mix on here that heavily favors Ra and bassist Ronnie Boykins, but in many ways this makes perfect sense in that its Boykins’ repeating bass lines and Ra’s persistent electronics that frame these songs. The horn players and percussionists are free to come and go, while Ra and Boykins provide a constant backdrop. All the tracks on here are good, but possibly the best is “Hidden Spheres”, which opens with a very well recorded African percussion ensemble laying down a heated groove before the rest of the band joins in.

“Astro Black” makes for a good addition to any Sun Ra collection. Its not one of his best, but far not near his worst. The way in which the bass is used to anchor every track makes this one unique in the Sun Ra discog. Those casual fans who prefer the electronic Sun Ra will want to get this too, there are plenty of other worldly sounds on here.

QUINCY JONES Smackwater Jack

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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In the late 50s Quincy Jones was a big hit as one of the new leaders in jazz big band, as well as a very influential orchestral arranger in any style of music. The 60s saw Quincy move more into soundtrack work. As the early 70s rolled up, Jones was still scoring soundtracks, but he also began to release his own albums again, but they were no longer purely big band affairs anymore. Jones is a one hundred percent jazz musician for sure, but he also excels at ambitious art pop and RnB. On “Smackwater Jack”, Quincy rolled all those influences together and produced an album with a mix of 70s and 60s sensibilities. Seventies because of the multi-sectioned art pop arrangements that mirror the progressive rock and RnB of that era and the very modern funk and RnB beats that drive the solo sections. The album mirrors the 60s in its glitzy big band arrangements and Quincy’s ongoing sense of 60s suburban kitsch hipness of the Johnny Carson/Playboy/Vegas/ era.

“Smackwater Jack” is basically a big band album disguised as a pop album. This formula will work well for Jones a few years later when he starts doing the same thing for Michael Jackson. The big band on “Jack” is all-star affair, some of the soloists include, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Milt Jackson, Toots Thielman, Jim Hall and Eric Gayle. You can expect plenty of top notch and inspired solos on all these tracks. Unfortunately Quincy sings on two songs, and he’s not a great singer. Also, the theme from the first Bill Cosby show features Bill himself with some ‘amusing’ vocalizing that probably seemed funnier in the past. Other songs on the album also center around TV themes, plus there are few covers of pop and RnB hits too. One album highlight is the lengthy arrangement of “Whats Going On” that features Valerie Simpson on vocals. Because of its unique combination of rough street smart rhythms and glitzy big band pop kitsch, “Smackwater Jack” rates high with crate diggers and exotica collectors, but it also contains plenty of high quality energetic big band RnB/jazz.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Various ‎– The Progressives

Boxset / Compilation · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Often label samplers have a few interesting songs and then the rest is just filler. This is not the case with this Columbia double LP from the early 70s. Almost every song on here is a complete gem full of high energy performances and very unique compositions. In the early 70s many talented performers and composers with backgrounds in rock and jazz began to merge these two idioms with the exploratory nature of 20th century concert hall music. The end result, as this record shows, was an infinite variety of sounds, structures and improvisations.

On Weather Report's "Unknown Soldier", Gregorian vocals alternate with Stravinsky meets Herbie Hancock horn and reed lines till they are interrupted by ominous warning sirens ala Edgar Varese. The whole song is driven by an understated but restless free jazz double time rhythm and has a middle section that allows Wayne Shorter to really go off.

"Sundance" by Keith Jarrett is a particularly fun and energetic piece by this often dour and introspective pianist. On this cut he gives us rock influenced free jazz somewhat similar to Miles at the Fillmore. The amazing rhythm section of Paul Motion and Charlie Haden, as well as the energetic guitar work of Sam Brown help add to the kinetic and almost chaotic atmosphere. "Jump Monk" features Charles Mingus leading a free wheeling avant big band through a great Ellington influenced old school noir jazz tune that is totally infectious in it's good time grooves.

Some of the album's rock highlights include "Knots" by Gentle Giant, an amazing piece that mixes pre-classical and 20th century composition with heavy progressive rock and avant - garde jazz. The song has a tight structure that doesn't waste a note in it's deliberate unfolding. On "Marchides", Matching Mole displays their odd take on jazz rock with a middle section that consists of a repeating whole tone pattern on electric piano topped by a bass solo.

Other top tracks include Ornette Coleman playing beautifully stark melodies backed by his own orchestrations, Don Ellis playing big band party funk in odd meters and Wendy Carlos' neo-classical composition played entirely on the Moog.

The only song that doesn't measure up on "The Progressives" is "Haida" by Paul Horn. It sounds like he is in a cove full of Dolphins and playing new age flute melodies while the Dolphins squeak and squawk and plead with him to leave them alone.

DAVID "FATHEAD" NEWMAN Captain Buckles

Album · 1971 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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In the early 70s, soul jazz artists began picking up on the new funk styles of James Brown and Sly Stone, subsequently their music started moving closer to what was happening in the fusion scene. At this point in jazz history, the difference between soul jazz and fusion is not that great. Likewise, both genres were also picking up on the increased interest in musical styles from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1971, soul jazz stalwart, David Newman, gave his reputation a boost when he took on some of the new modern influences of the times and released “Captain Buckles”, which featured hard driving funk as well as some Latin and Calypso rhythms too. More of an RnB artist than a jazz artist, still, Newman’s intense sax solos are held in high esteem by any jazz fan.

Side one of “Captain Buckles” opens with the energetic funk of the title cut, which is powered by drummer Bernard Purdie, possibly one of the most imitated and sampled drummers from the 70s, and he is also one of the main reasons why this album is so good. The rest of this side is taken with the aforementioned Calypso and Latin numbers, plus an obligatory reading of the Beatles’ “Something”. Even in the early 70s, soul jazz artists were still apt to include one possible radio hit on their album. Side two opens with the raging hard bop of “The Clincher”, which includes one of Newman’s best solos on the album. David follows that with a ballad reading of “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was”, which is a much better slow jam than the previous Beatles clunker. The ultra-funky “Negus” closes the album and features guitarist Eric Gales’ best solo. Overall “Captain Buckles” is one of David Newman’s better albums, and is mostly devoid of the sort of corniness that sometimes mars soul jazz albums.

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) The Emancipation Procrastination

Album · 2018 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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Duke Ellington’s musical allegory “A Drum is a Woman”, was a clever story that foretold jazz’s future as a musical style that would adapt to every culture on the globe, and even go to outer space, but no matter how far jazz may wander and change, its strength and substance comes from returning to the music of Africa. Drawing upon the rhythms of Africa, as well as African tendencies in hip-hop and Detroit techno, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah continues to add new vitality to the world of jazz fusion with his latest album, “The Emancipation Procrastination“. Scott’s been on his hybrid style for a while now, so if you are familiar with his last couple albums, then you may know what to expect here, well composed melodies over abstract beats that combine Africa, hip-hop, drumnbass and techno all orchestrated with subtle and tasteful electronics and effects.

Along with Scott, another star soloist on here is flautist Elena Pinderhughes. Most of us probably don’t usually think of strength when describing a flute player, but Elena’s playing carries more strength than we would normally associate with the flute. Her solos and orchestrations are a big plus on “Ruler Rebel (re-mix)”, “Ashes of Our Forever” and “The Cypher”. Other notable sidemen include Braxton Cook on saxophone and Lawrence Fields on keyboards. A host of others help out on bass, guitar, drums, percussion and electronics. Much of the music on, “Emancipation” stays in the aforementioned styles that Scott has become known for, but towards the end of this album comes two lengthy tracks that get into more of a sweaty energetic freeform fusion work out. These two closing numbers make for a nice contrast given the length of the entire CD.

ABDULLAH IBRAHIM (DOLLAR BRAND) The Journey

Album · 1977 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Recorded and released in 1977, “The Journey” is a different sort of album for Abdullah Ibrahim, who was still going by the name of Dollar Brand at this time. Ibrahim is usually known for his hypnotic African grooves, and you get a good bit of that on “The Journey”, but you also get a lengthy, less typical for him, free jazz excursion featuring some stars from NYC’s pioneering free jazz movement. Ibrahim had just moved to NYC from South Africa before he recorded this, and apparently he was immediately embraced by the avant-garde vanguard, including such renowned musicians such as Don Cherry and Hamiet Bluiett.

Side one opens with an energetic South African calypso that is relatively short and to the point. Abdullah leaves the piano alone for this one and instead gives us a fiery soprano saxophone solo. The lengthy “Jabulani” takes up the rest of this side and features the large ensemble in free jazz mode as they pass the solos around so that eventually everyone gets a free ride. This is that original form of free jazz that sounds like bebop gone berserk, so much more rhythmic and lively than often what passes for free jazz today. Side two is made up of the 20 minute plus “Hajj”, which is an absolute groove monster based around North African rhythms and melodies. Talib Rhynie’s ‘snake charmer’ oboe melodies are a real plus on this one, as is Bluiett’s clarinet solo as most of the musicians all get a turn to play with the oriental mode that comprises the main theme. Abdullah plays piano on this one as he provides a repeating rhythmic figure that is the backbone of the piece.

“The Journey”, with its free jazz excursion, is a somewhat different album for Ibrahim, but really all of this eclectic music comes together and makes total sense, thanks to the talent of the assembled crew here that is equally at home with in the groove playing, as well as going completely outside.

ME'SHELL NDEGÉOCELLO Ventriloquism

Album · 2018 · Jazz Related Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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At first glance its fairly obvious that Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album “Ventriloquism”, is a set of cover tunes, but these versions are far more than mere copies, instead, Meshell and her quartet transform each of these songs into something much more than what they were originally. The 80s are often maligned as a musically plastic decade, and there is some truth to that, but listening to how Meshell has taken a handful of mostly lackluster 80s corporate pop tunes and turned them into something deep reveals that there is some gold hidden within this seemingly musical muck. This is an excellent album anyway you look at it, but when you consider what this material sounded like before Ndegeocello transformed everything, it makes “Ventriloquism” into something truly inspired. These pop/RnB songs were the soundtrack of Meshell’s youth, which helps explain why these are the songs she would choose to work with in the first place.

Apparently Meshell’s band spent some time listening to Neil Young’s lonesome and world weary “Harvest” while recording this, and that lowdown country flavor comes through as many of the tracks open with simple finger picking folk/blues guitar, the complete opposite sound that these songs had back in the 80s. Once the tracks get rolling though, guitarist Chris Bruce and keyboardist Jebin Bruni start weaving layers of soft psychedelic sounds that give these songs a pleasant hallucinatory drift. The salient feature are the tempos, all of them quite slow in a very mesmerizing way. Kudos to Meshell that she didn’t break this mood with any ‘uptempo’ numbers, as such a move would have surely hurt the thorough integrity of this art pop masterpiece. Listening to the persistent down-tempo mood of this album may remind some of Roxy Music’s “Flesh and Blood”, on which they also took hot blooded hits like “In the Midnight Hour” and “Eight Miles High”, and turned them into sensual drifting dreams.

So many interesting transformations take place on “Ventriloquism”, but possibly the most surprising is George Clinton’s techno funk hit “Atomic Dog”, which somehow becomes a blissed out psychedelic folk number that early 70s Pink Floyd would have been proud of.

SLY5THAVE The Invisible Man : An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre

Album · 2017 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I have to admit that the idea of an ‘orchestral tribute to Dr Dre’ first hit me as some kind of joke along the lines of The Monkees play heavy metal, or Mozart goes reggae mon. It was hard to imagine the sparse hip-hop arrangements of Dr Dre in an orchestrated format, but Sly5thAve’s new album, “The Invisible Man, an Orchestrated Tribute to Dr Dre”, has certainly proved me wrong. In a year laden with highly creative artsy RnB albums, “The Invisible Man” has been able to stand out as one of the best for 2017. The combination of Dr Dre’s laid back grooves and Sly’s hip, slightly retro, orchestrations are an irresistible combination that may have you playing this one over and over.

Sly5thAve is actually Sylvester Uzoma Onyejaka II, a versatile saxophonist who also produces and doubles on a variety of instruments. His talents have brought him work with many including Prince, Maceo Parker, all of the Marsalis Brothers and many other top RnB, pop and jazz musicians. “The Invisible Man” is just Sly’s second full length album, but it sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran. Right off the bat these orchestrated soulful tracks may have you thinking Isaac Hayes and Quincy Jones, and there is some of that sound here, but even closer is the arranger that Dr Dre was fond of sampling from, David Axelrod. Sly’s use of pulsing steady rhythms often recall Axelrod’s sometimes processional sounding arrangements that could almost border on regal and militaristic in an almost campy sort of way. In that respect, another similar famous arranger comes to mind, and that’s George Martin, the exotica composer who also did arrangements for the Beatles, particularly the ‘Sgt Peppers’ album. Still, with the Dr Dre’s iconic beats and attitude going on, Sly’s orchestral creation stands in a world all its own.

The hip-hop world was all over this record when it came out, but the jazz world didn’t seem to take much notice, which is unfortunate because there is plenty here for a fan of contemporary jazz to like. Many of these tracks feature jazz solos by a variety of top notch musicians, for instance the burning guitar solo by Patrick Bailey on the hard driving “Curtis”, or Sly‘s Eddie Harris like electric sax ride on “The Jam Part III“. Although this album lists 23 total tracks, many of the tracks blend together to make just one song, such as the ultra funky string of tracks that start with “No Diggity”. For those who may be rapaphobic or raptose intolerant, although this is a Dr Dre tribute, there is no rapping on here. Meanwhile. others may want to use these tracks to back up some original free verse.

PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND So It Is

Album · 2017 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Remember the days when jazz was the music for wild hell raising parties and secret drug dens? No, …me neither, because just like you I was not around from the 1920s to the 1940s. Instead, just like you, I came up in that post Miles/Coltrane era when jazz moved out of the dens of sin and into the universities where it now competes with classical music for student dollars. This is not a bad thing because a lot of great jazz has come out since the 50s. While jazz was transforming, Little Richard and Chuck Berry borrowed parts of jazz, gave it a more pronounced backbeat, and created a whole new music for hell-raising and wild parties, rock-n-roll and RnB. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s new album; “So It Is”, doesn’t sound anything like 20s-40s jazz, but it does return jazz to a partying foot-stomping vibe, only with a more current sound.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was started back in 1961, and for many years they did exactly what their name implies, they played original New Orleans jazz the way it is supposed to be played, and provided many a good time for tourists on their visit to New Orleans. Starting in the late 90s, under the guidance of a whole new generation that had joined the band, the band began to open up their horizons and started to take on a myriad of jazz styles, as well as music from outside the jazz world. On this latest offering, they find a rhythmic common ground between New Orleans jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz and Calypso, and produce smoking hot beats that make it hard to sit still. On top of these pressure cooker grooves, they layer classic minor key noire melodies, the type preferred by Ellington and others of the swing era, and also often found in early Jamaican ska and Afro-Cuban mambos. The end result is exactly what people are talking about when they refer to ‘hot jazz’, because this is one of the hottest for 2017. This is not background music, try to play this in the car and keep the volume down, you won’t be able to. All seven tracks are great, but if all of them reached the peaks of “Santiago”, “La Malanga” and “Mad”, this would be a five star album. On another plus, all of these tunes are original. One can only hope The Hall Band can deliver more like this the next time out.

CHICO HAMILTON The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet

Live album · 1960 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The early part of the Chico Hamilton discography is a bit of a confusing mess to descramble with many tracks showing up on more than one album and many albums bearing the same title such as “The Chico Hamilton Quintet” or “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” etc. To clarify the situation, this “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” album that is being reviewed here was part of a live concert recorded at Strollers back in 1955, but not released until 1960, probably to cash in on the rising popularity of the band. This concert shows Hamilton’s creative group in fine form as they combine a wide array of styles including west coast bebop, hard bop, classical chamber music and rhythms from Africa and South America. All of this music was presented with that distinctly 50s west coast style that came to be called ‘cool’. You really couldn’t call Chico’s quintet avant-garde, but they were one of the more experimental and unorthodox bands of the time, definitely beating out a path all their own.

The album opens with two well known standards, “Caravan” and “Tea for Two”, which the band gives signature creative arrangements. The version of “Caravan” shows the cross-relationship between west coast jazz and the lounge exotica scene of the time, no surprise as many exotica records were performed by west coast jazz musicians. Two up tempo numbers follow with “Fast Flute” living up to its name as Buddy Collete fires off a frantic flute solo while backed by Hamilton’s driving rhythm, which sounds rooted in the music of Africa or Brazil. On track six, “A Mood”, the band shows their specialty, a cleverly arranged melody with shifting time signatures and a surprise around every corner. Something for ‘deep listening’ that still has the snap of a catchy pop tune. “I’ll be Loving You” is their ballad offering and features Buddy’s flute playing melodic exchanges with Fred’s cello. Another up-tempo bop number closes out the set in energetic fashion and features a very musical drum solo from Hamilton, always a master of that peculiarly west coast ‘playing with brushes’ sound.

“The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” is a good example of a young jazz group all excited about the new possibilities that are being offered to them as they learn from each other. If there is a drawback to this album, the sound quality of the recording is okay, but a little murky, especially the guitar. I’m going to guess that maybe this was not meant to be a released album until the record label saw how popular the band had become.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette (aka Spectacular!)

Live album · 1955 · Cool Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” is not the first Chico Hamilton album, but it’s the first to present his popular quintet and its west coast flavored ‘chamber jazz’ sound. In current times, the term chamber jazz has become vague and often misapplied to jazz that has more in common with art pop and new age music, but in the 1950s, chamber jazz actually meant jazz with a pronounced element of classical chamber music. In other words classical music written for small ensembles. This album is a sort of slap together type affair with supposedly half the tracks coming from one studio session, and the other half from a live date, but judging by the different production values of some of the tracks, I would guess there may be even more sources for these tunes. For the most part, the studio tracks reveal intricately arranged chamber works, while the live ones get into a mellow west coast hard bop swing.

“A Nice Day” opens up the album, and it sets the mood for the Hamilton chamber jazz sound as carefully arranged cello and clarinet lines sometimes give way to concise solos, but mostly its about the creative arrangements. This sound is featured on approximately four tracks, while most of the rest feature Hamilton and crew playing relaxed hard bop jams live at a club with very sparse arrangements and plenty of solo space for guitar and saxophone. If cellist Fred Katz appears on the live cuts, then he must be mixed very much in the background. Studio track, “Blue Sands” is a very interesting ‘exotic’ number that hints at Hamilton’s world fusion direction in the 60s, but the recording is very murky and sounds like it was recorded somewhere different from all the other tracks. Amongst the live tunes, “Free Form”, is an odd experiment, not really free jazz as such, but more like an improvised modern classical piece, it sort of works, but mostly seems almost out of place with the mellow west coast bop numbers.

“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” isn’t a bad album, and fans of Chico and 50s creative west coast jazz in general, may want to get this, but for somebody looking for their first Chico Hamilton record, this is not the one to get.

THELONIOUS MONK Thelonious Monk / Sonny Rollins (aka Work aka The Genius Of Thelonious Monk)

Split · 1956 · Bop
Cover art 4.57 | 4 ratings
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“Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins” is one of those thrown together affairs pulled from three different sessions, in fact Rollins does not even appear on every track. Such records are often unsatisfactory, but this one is different as it presents a very coherent musical vision. Some ‘experts’ call this an EP, while others call it an LP. The truth is, with about 18 minutes on the first side and 16 on the back, it falls sort of in between, but possibly closer to an LP. The first recording session for this record took place in November 1953 and featured the Thelonious Monk Quintet, of which Rollins was a member. The second session was in September ‘54 and featured Monk’s trio sans Rollins of course. The last session was in October ‘54 and featured the Rollins’ quartet, of which Monk was the pianist. The track order on this record mixes these sessions up in a way that makes total sense and adds to the feeling of a congruous record.

The playing on here is brilliant, Monk’s career was nearing a peak and he sounds relaxed and happy, far different from the inconsistent performances that came much later in his career. Rollins is also in fine form, supplying endless melodic variations over Monk’s more blunt and percussive accompaniment. The Monk trio cuts feature Art Blakey on drums, whose short solos are inventive displays of metric trickery and phrase manipulation that is a perfect compliment to Monk’s approach to music. The choice of tunes on here is also good. Side one opens with Rollins joyfully flying over two well known upbeat standards, and closes with the Monk trio playing a lesser known Monk original, “Work”, that is quite abstract compared to the two openers. Side two opens with Monk’s trio playing “Nutty”, a piece that appears on many Monk recordings, and closes with his quintet playing another odd Monk favorite, “Friday the 13th”, on which Rollins shows he can easily handle Monk’s peculiar musical creations. This may not be the top record that Monk put out, but it holds up well against many of his best.

DIZZY GILLESPIE Diz And Getz

Boxset / Compilation · 1955 · Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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“Diz and Getz” is a re-issue that combines two previous albums, “The Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz Sextet” and “More of the Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz Sextet”. “The Dizzy Gillespie-Stan Getz Sextet” may not seem like a particularly imaginative album title, but when that album came out in the early 50s, grouping those two artists together was all it took to grab people’s attention in anticipation of what they may come up with. In those days, Dizzy was the master of east coast high energy be-bop, while Getz was the king of west coast cool, this may have seemed like an unlikely pairing at first, but when they recorded together, they meshed and pushed each other to come up with a sum that was even greater than its talented parts. Adding to the attention grabbing aspects of the record, the backup band is an all-star one with Max Roach on drums, Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar.

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

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

CHICK COREA Return to Forever

Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 4.34 | 37 ratings
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It seems that in any musical genre, the most creative work goes down during the days in which said genre is being created. For sure the most intense bebop happened in the early 40s, and although you may still hear some good bop to this day, it will never be quite the same again. The same could also be said for jazz fusion, a genre that became an easy target for criticism over time, but in the heady days of its inception, some really interesting music was created under the fusion moniker, which leads us to Chick Corea’s first attempt to lead a fusion group while recording the album, “Return to Forever”. Chick was hardly new to the fusion world at the time of this recording, he had already participated on several ground breaking albums by Miles Davis, but, as stated earlier, “Return to Forever” was Chick’s first fusion recording as band leader. Corea’s albums as leader prior to this were definitely shaking up the jazz world, whether he was making cutting edge post bop tracks with Roy Haynes, or avant-garde excursions with Anthony Braxton, Chick was definitely a pianist to watch in the early 70s.

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

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

THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.60 | 15 ratings
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Not only is “Brilliant Corners” one of Thelonious Monk’s best albums, but its also considered one of the better recordings in the history of jazz. Don’t expect a lot of fireworks from this one though, instead, most of these blues based tunes are played in laid back medium tempos, or even slower, but do expect maximum creativity and a brilliant ensemble that moves together as one mind. Monk does have a particularly strong crew assembled here, with Sonny Rollins and Max Roach on board, plus Ernie Henry and Oscar Pettiford are no slouches either. Clark Terry and Paul Chambers replace Henry and Pettiford for one cut, but they too are up for the great interplay that goes down on this disc.

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

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

JOSH NELSON The Sky Remains

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

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

KENNY BURRELL Midnight Blue

Album · 1963 · Jazz Related Blues
Cover art 4.56 | 10 ratings
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In the early 60s, jazz artists cutting a blues album was not an uncommon thing at all. Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and others put out some of their most successful albums during this time by applying their be-bop chops to some well known blues changes. In early 1963, when Kenny Burrell approached Blue Note head, Alfred Lion, about cutting a blues album, this propisition probably came as no surprise to Lion who was more than happy to let Kenny in the studio to create his blues masterpiece, “Midnight Blue”. The title of this album tells you everything you need to know, this is definitely late night blues with an emphasis on laid back tempos and soulful solos, as opposed to extroverted blazing technique. The band Kenny assembled on here was perfect for the date, with the aforementioned Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Ray Barretto on congas, Major Holley Jr on bass and the understated Bill English on the traps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MACHINE MASS TRIO / MACHINE MASS Plays Hendrix

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

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

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

DIZZY GILLESPIE The Dizzy Gillespie - Stan Getz Sextet

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

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

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

JOHN DAVERSA Wobbly Dance Flower

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

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

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

"BROTHER" JACK MCDUFF Check This Out

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

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

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

MILES DAVIS Facets (CBS France)

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

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

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

TINA RAYMOND Left Right Left

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Certainly a lot of people were upset at the outcome of the last US presidential election. Finding a way to voice their disappointment and frustration may have been difficult for many, but for drummer Tina Raymond, the solution became obvious, and that was to record her first album and have it reflect her concerns about her country in the present, as well as her hopes for the future. The end result is the CD “Left,Right Left”, a collection of instrumental protest songs and patriotic songs. The CD title itself refers to the political divide in the US, often strongly amplified by an overly hyped media, that is more than happy to point out that the coasts of the US tend to represent left leaning politics, while the heartland represents the right. To help her with these musical portraits, Tina enlisted two highly skilled musicians, bassist Putter Smith and pianist Art Lande. Smith also contributed two politically themed originals to help fill out the album.

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

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

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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Always working at the forefront of what is new and interesting in today’s jazz scene, Craig Taborn has produced one of the better albums of his career, and also one of the better new jazz albums this year with, “Daylight Ghosts”. Building on the style he established on 2013’s brilliant “Chant”, Craig continues to use repeating rhythmic figures to construct his compositions that some have compared to minimalism. Taborn’s ‘minimalism’ has very little to do with composers like John Adams or Phillip Glass, but instead reflects the timeless music of Africa and Indonesia, as well as composers who pull from that deep well such as Steve Reich. To these insistent rhythms Taborn adds a swinging flow borrowed from today’s post bop, as well as some rhythmic drive from the fusion side of things and the end result is a musical style that sounds like no one else but Craig Taborn.

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

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

DUKE ELLINGTON An Intimate Piano Session

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

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

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

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

Album · 2017 · Swing
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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The Microscopic Septet is one of those eclectic downtown NYC combos that got their start in the early 80s during the so-called ‘knitting factory scene’. The band disbanded in the late 80s, only to reappear a few decades later for today’s NYC scene that still leans toward eclectic influences and a quirky sense of humor. Microscopic has always favored a swing feel in their music, but not in a nostalgic or museum sense, instead, they often infuse their music with bits of the avant-garde, as well as polkas, tangos, cartoon music, punk rock and whatever else may be laying about. On their latest album, “Been Up So Long it Looks Like Down to Me”, the Septet leans heavily on their swing roots as they present eleven originals, plus two covers, that sound like they could have come from a swing dance club in the 40s. All the same, don’t confuse this album with that whole bothersome ’swing revival’ that came out of San Francisco in the post grunge mid 90s. Microscopic’s music is way more informed about what swing was, and can be in the future, than most of the heavy handed dull trend followers that made up the fortunately short lived ‘revival’.

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

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

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

ERROLL GARNER Ready Take One

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

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

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

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

WAYNE SHORTER Night Dreamer

Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.48 | 13 ratings
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“Night Dreamer” is an album that finds Wayne Shorter in a state of transition as he was still rooted in the hard bop style that started his career, but also starting to lean toward the more abstract style that will serve for the greater part of his remaining career. It’s a talented, and somewhat unusual ensemble that Shorter has assembled here. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, at that time, were mostly known for their famous work with Coltrane, but in 1964, when this album was recorded, Tyner and Jones were on the verge of splitting from Coltrane’s increasingly experimental approach to jazz. Also on hand is trumpeter Lee Morgan, who would go on to be the ‘go to’ trumpeter for many Blue Note soul jazz and bluesy hard bop recordings. The powerhouse grooving bass of Reggie Workman rounds out this rather eclectic, but very energetic and creative crew.

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

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

MARY HALVORSON Mary Halvorson Octet : Away With You

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

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

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

MACEO PARKER US

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

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

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

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

WILDFLOWERS Wildflowers 2: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions

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

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

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

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

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

TOHPATI Mata Hati

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

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

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

HAMPTON HAWES All Night Session!, Volume 3

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

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

ILLINOIS JACQUET The Message

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

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

ILLINOIS JACQUET Illinois Jacquet (aka Banned In Boston)

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

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

MARCELLO PELLITTERI Aquarius Woman

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

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

CHARLES MINGUS The Great Concert of Charles Mingus

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

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

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

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

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

JEFF BECK Loud Hailer

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

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

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

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

SUN RA The Sub-Dwellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

DONALD BYRD Electric Byrd

Album · 1970 · Fusion
Cover art 2.99 | 8 ratings
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Just as psychedelics had swept through the world of rock-n-roll in the 60s, it also eventually influenced the world of jazz too, albeit a few years later. This mixture of jazz fusion and psychedelia sometimes resulted in some interesting music, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in particular were able to use electronic effects to enhance their early 70s albums, but then there were albums by other artists that were proof that all the electro gizmos in the world could not save mediocre music. In fact, if the artist was leaning too heavily on the electronic effects to save his album, that only made such effects all the more cheezy and annoying, which brings us to Donald Byrd’s unfortunate “Electric Byrd”. The album title alone lets you know that they are hoping the word ‘electric’ will help sell the album.

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

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

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

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

NIECHĘĆ Niechęć

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BILL FRISELL When You Wish Upon a Star

Album · 2016 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.11 | 3 ratings
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It seems that over the years Bill Frisell has drifted further from the world of new jazz and fusion, and more into a one man genre of his own making, something that might best be called “Nostalgic Americana”. In this new ‘genre’, Frisell has positioned himself alongside such classic ‘twangy’ guitarists like Tommy Tedesco, Duane Eddy and Chet Atkins. So it is more or less within this style that Frisell presents his new CD, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, a collection of music from classic movies and TV shows, a trip down memory lane so to speak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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