Jazz Music Reviews from snobb

SAM RIVERS Sizzle

Album · 1976 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Strangest Sam Rivers album ever - instead of the free-bop of his early works or the avant-garde jazz he is well-known for, Rivers plays four long fast-tempo funky pieces in a style one could expect from Sonny Sharrock or Ronald Shannon Jackson.

The band contains two drummers (incl. Barry Altschul), Dave Holland on bass/cello and guitarist Ted Dunbar. Rivers himself plays sax, piano and a lot of flute. Released on his regular Impulse! label, this album didn't reach the target listeners for that sort of music and critics didn't receive it well.

Energetic and straight-forward, this album's music has its moments, but comparing with much more complex and knotty River's regular albums of the time, it is simply not the work of his league.

JON HASSELL The Living City (Live at the Winter Garden 17 September 1989)

Boxset / Compilation · 2023 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Very first weeks of a new year bring us an exceptional release. Two grand artists of electronic music of the 80s - American conceptualist trumpeter/keyboardist, Jon Hassell and Brit early ambient key figure, Brian Eno meet on a perfectly recorded in 1989 live album! Both artists already collaborated on the well-known "Fourth World" album, released in 1980, which gave the name for Hassell's future musical style of eclectic crossover combining electronics, jazz improvisation and non-Western rhythms.

The album's material contains a 68-minute Jon Hassell's group live performance from World Financial Center Winter Garden in New York City, recorded in September 1989 (just few months before exactly same group recorded "City: Works Of Fiction" studio album). Eno had designed an audio-visual installation in the 10-story glass-vaulted pavilion, inspired by the hunting, ceremony, animals, and weather sounds of the Ba-Ya-Ka pygmy tribe from Cameroon gathered by Louis Sarno, and mixed the band playing live with multimedia installation sonics.

This recorded material hadn't been released until 2014, when it got serious studio remixing/reworking. Still it's first release as bonus material with "City: Works Of Fiction (Expanded Edition)" reissue passed almost unnoticed. In February 2023 it comes as separate vinyl album, and it's a great chance to find a new listener.

The music presented on "The Living City" from the very first minutes recalls Miles fusion albums from mid-70s. The main difference is Miles long pieces are mostly based on improvisation, Hassell's music is more structured and organized, and sounds like a composition against Miles jamming. Hassell's prepared trumpet sounds very much as analog keyboards, and heavy studio wizardry gives to the whole music a less organic, but more contemporary sound. On some pieces Daniel Scwartz plays physical groovy funky bass, which adds a lot of life to the mix, and perfectly balances quite emotionless by it's nature electronic sounds.

Recorded during a live gig, this music sounds more alive, and more inspired then Hassell's renown studio works. Well recorded, it represents perfectly the missing link between Miles Davis mid-70s fusion and Nils Petter Molvær nu jazz from mid-90s. Highly recommended.

SOPHIA DOMANCICH Le Grand Jour

Album · 2021 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Outside of France, Parisienne pianist Sophia Domanchich is mostly known because of her association with British Canterbury scene leading artists, such as Gong drummer Pip Pyle (who was her partner for some years) and, more significant, former Soft Machine members, sax player Elton Dean and bassist Hugh Hopper.

In her homeland, she is a renown musician and composer, active in both classical music and jazz. She started her career in music as an accompanist in Paris Opera, it was Steve Lacy(among others), who introduced her to jazz in the late 70s. Since then she has been a significant figure on the French scene, often combining modern concert hall music and jazz.

"Le Grand Jour"("The Great Day") is her newest to date album (and first original release of just revitalized French jazz label PeeWee!). Domancich presents eleven of her originals here (plus an opener - John Lewis "Jango"). She does here what she knows best - plays solo acoustic piano and (simultaneously) Fender Rhodes. The music can be described as elegant chamber jazz, influenced more by Satie than Chopin. Sophia's compositions are of an elegant cool beauty, opposite to the French scene's Montmartre sentimentality. The ascetic use of electric piano in moments recalls the sound of church organ, in other places it adds a rock song feel, in both cases it makes solo piano sounds more lively.

Being quite accessible, this album's music is of a multilayered origin, every listening opens new elements and emotions, again and again. It's like an Old Paris architecture - you can enjoy looking at these old Cathedrals and buildings again and again, never being bored.

GARY PEACOCK Gary Peacock / Ralph Towner : Oracle

Album · 1994 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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This collection of acoustic strings duets from two jazz greats, bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist Ralph Towner, was released on the prestigious German ECM label (in Germany, US and Japan) in 1994 and never reissued. As one can expect from an ECM release, it contains quite comfortable chamber jazz, still a bit more lively than the label's regular "atmospheric" albums. Both Peacock and Towner are ECM regulars, (Peacock - most significantly as a Keith Jarrett trio member, Towner - as leader, and partially leading his Oregon band),but they never played as a duo until this recording. Nine duo originals, each written by Peacock or Towner, are meditative, melancholic in moments, but contains some sparks and even groove, and generally are more vibrant than what some might expect from ECM recordings. Still, the main attraction is the virtuosity of both of this duo's members. Towner plays unusual for jazz, a classic guitar, which sounds surprisingly in place here. He even adds some Indian elements in some tunes. Minimalist strings-only duo's slow/mid tempo music can't avoid some lack of variety going from piece to piece, but the album, with no doubt contains lots of pleasure for fans of both artists, as well as fans of ECM label aesthetics.

DAVID MURRAY David Murray Brave New World Trio With Brad Jones And Hamid Drake : Seriana Promethea

Album · 2022 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Tenor saxophonist, David Murray, who was a significant figure on the American avant-garde jazz scene in the 80s, is still active today. Always known by his accessible and melodic take on avant-garde jazz, over the decades he lost a big part of his fire, but not his tunefulness

On Murray newest release,"Seriana Prometea", the jazz veteran presents his new all-star acoustic trio with excellent drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Brad Jones. Seven of the eight pieces on the record are Murray's own (the exception is Sly & The Family Stone’s hit “If You Want Me to Stay”). The album's compositions cover a wide specter of genres, from funky r'n'b ("Seriana Promethea" and "If You Want Me To Stay"), to Latin ("Anita Et Annita" and "Switchin' In The Kitchen"), to a rock-song of sorts ("Necktar"), to Oriental ("Metouka Sheli (Ballad For Adrienne)") and a jazzy pop-song ("Rainbows For Julia").

Perfect rhythm section adds a lot of textures that makes the music sound accessible, but far from simple. True, these songs could be written and recorded in the 80s, but it's not necessarily a bad sing.

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

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

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

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

MASADA New Masada Quartet

Album · 2021 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.02 | 2 ratings
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The original acoustic Masada, presented at the end of the last century was an innovative and partially genre-defining John Zorn project with Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen, and Joey Baron combining Klezmer and free jazz. Electric Masada modifications in the beginning of the new Millennium was a true bomb, an explosive mix of heavy metal and free jazz scented with Near East knotty tunes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

REZ ABBASI Unfiltered Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIJAY IYER Vijay Iyer Sextet ‎: Far From Over

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

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

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

VIJAY IYER Uneasy

Album · 2021 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.07 | 3 ratings
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Last year in jazz, heavily influenced by the COVID pandemic, wasn't a regular one. With live gigs and even studio recording sessions being very often unavailable for many, musical market reacted quite soon flooding on-line sales points with tons of vaults material, rehearsal recordings and DIY-level home-made new music, which too often wouldn't be released under normal conditions at all.

There still were released (and still continue to come) some really good albums during these difficult times, renowned American pianist Vijay Iyer's new just released "Uneasy" is one of them.

It is Iyer's second trio album for ECM, the previous one was released in 2015, but the new trio is quite different from the first one. In fact, now we have a super-trio of sort, including one of the brightest creative drummer of the last few years Tyshawn Sorey and growing stylish bassist Linda Oh, who's solo works require a wider introduction, and she's one of the busiest acoustic bassist on today's scene as a collaborator.

From the very first sounds one will note that the new album sounds quite unusual for an ECM release. Recorded at Oktaven Audio Studio in Mount Vernon, NY, it doesn't have that characteristic cool and sterile sound of Oslo's Rainbow studio, or some other European facilities beloved by ECM. The opener, "Children Of Flint", is one of the best compositions on the whole album, with a lot of emotion and even some drama. As almost all the other album's songs, it is an Iyer's original (Gerri Allen’s “Drummer’s Song” and not really impressive version of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” are the two only non-originals here).

Iyer's own compositions come from different periods of time, some of them have been already recorded on his other albums. Still, here they sound way different. Not as radical as many of Iyer's previous albums, "Uneasy", with its dominating mid-tempo all-acoustic groovy sound and extremely successful balance between post-bop tradition, creativity and modern sound, is possibly one great candidate for being a soundtrack for this last pandemic year - worried, calmer, sad and hopeful. Surprisingly, it was recorded in December 2019, but it anticipates pretty well the atmosphere of changes which came very soon.

Quite accessible, it brings lot of pleasure when listening, one of the very best works already released this year.

GARY BARTZ Gary Bartz & Maisha : Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Gary Bartz was a celebrity of sorts half-a-century ago when he played on the forefront of the then young American fusion and post bop scene. Seasoned veteran doesn't record too often but still is active today.

Maisha is a fashionable British African fusion band, playing relaxed and sunny-bright music around burgeoning London scenes. Combination of the two is presented on "Night Dreamer" - vinyl-size long album, recorded in 'popular in 80's' direct-to-disc techniques in Dutch Haarlem (not American Harlem).

Starting from the opener, "Harlem - Haarlem", the listener can enjoy the usual Maisha sound, just less relaxed, better framed and more energized. Or - Bartz's fusion, made from Maisha's African influenced jazz. To be honest, "Maisha featuring Gary Bartz" would be a better tag to this album than tagging it as Gary Bartz's album as leader as the album is currently titled.

The sound is great, Bartz sounds warm and soulful and the music is positive and comfortable in general, but quite soon one can feel like you are listening to just one long song. Repetitive rhythms with no striking tempo, rhythm or tonal changes make this short album sound a bit like a long live jam without any specific direction. Some short pieces can be accepted as nice examples of modern revitalization of fusion from the early 70s, but unfortunately, in full it doesn't work as well.

Here we have two great artists coming together to sound much like musical wall paper, it isn't what one would expect from such a collaboration.

MASAHIKO SATOH 佐藤允彦 Masahiko Satoh Trio : Transformation '69/'71

Album · 1971 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Almost all of Japanese pianist Masahiko Sato's albums were released solely in Japan which means they are not easily accessible in the Western world. For those interested in the best Japanese jazz, his name is probably heard, but the problem is where to start with his prolific discography.

Being one of the very best Japanese jazz pianists of the last half-a-century (the other equal name is Yosuke Yamashita), Sato released plenty of albums, and they all are quite different stylistically. He was one of the leading stars of the early Japanese avant-garde jazz scene, switched towards fusion later, returned back to freer forms, collaborated with more modern electronics wizards, etc, etc.

Still, if you are new to his music, and want to chose the one album where to start, "Transformation '69/'71" is the place.

Side A is recorded in 1969 and the music is excellent post-bop, groovy and elegant, with Sato's original "Tigris" being almost a jazz standard level song. This material comes from exactly same sessions (March 17 and 20, 1969) which are presented on Sato's debut album "Palladium"(1969).

Side B is recorded with the same trio (including another Japanese avant-garde jazz scene legend drummer Masahiko Togashi and more straight and lesser known acoustic bassist Yasuo Arakawa), but two years later. The album's title comes from those two session dates and the second one is polarly different from the first one.

Still with some beauty and grace, the trio here plays knotty jazz with lots of air inside. As it is characteristic almost exclusively to early avant-garde jazz, being a free form music here radiates some spiritual energy and doesn't sound as formalistic experiment at all. It's interesting that "cosmic" effects on side B are produced by Togashi percussion, not early synth.

It doesn't evidence Satos' evolution from mainstream towards free jazz though, since during these same few years he played very different music (the good example of his r'n'b / jazz rock album is 1970 "Bridge Over Troubled Water").

This short (less than 35 minutes) album is a quintessence of Satoh's music, and it's sound quality is extremely high even for so high raised Japanese jazz recordings sound standards of the early 70s. Original vinyl is a rarity, but 2011 CD reissue (of same excellent crisp sound) being out of press still circulates on secondary market.

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) Axiom

Live album · 2020 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Five years ago I saw Christian Scott playing live on his European tour with almost the same band (vocalist Isadora Mendez Scott is not on board, sax player Braxton Cook instead of current Alex Han and percussionist Joe Dyson instead of Weedie Braimah). He sounded quite similar to what is recorded on this newest album "Axiom", just here he sounds a bit better.

Exactly as during the gig I saw live, Scott speaks a lot, plays trumpet and manages his band well. Flutist Elena Pinderhughes is a night's star filling space with nice solos generally, not too knotty for the band's music. Lawrence Field's retro keys sound great and add a lot of 70s spirit.

Comparing with some of Scott's last studio albums, music here is much more organic, and that's for good. There is a groove and a lot of African percussion, and in general this album is not much different from today's popular London based African fusion influenced sound.

Exactly as during the concert I saw, songs here are quite long, being accessible and not too complex, the lengthiness can make the album simply sound a bit bulky as a result. Still, taking in account all the pros and cons, "Axiom" is probably the best Scott album I have ever heard.

CHARLES TOLLIVER Connect

Album · 2020 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Trumpeter Charles Tolliver made his name during the late 60s-early 70s, playing creative post bop in small bands with pianist Stanley Cowell and sax player Gary Bartz among others and co-founding an impressive progressive big band Music Inc. His albums from early 70s all are classics and sound pretty well even now.

From late 70s Tolliver disappeared from active recordings with a very few predominantly live recordings coming from 90s and 00's. "Connect" is his first studio album in fourteen years.

Recorded and released in UK, the veteran's album is of traditional 70s size - 39 minutes (or vinyl LP) long. It contains four Tolliver originals, some of them has been already heard on his more current albums in big band arrangements. His cross-generation all-American quintet (recorded in renown RAK studio during European tour) contains seasoned musicians bassist Buster Williams (played with Herbie Hancock and Archie Shepp among many others) and drummer Lenny White (of RTF fame), mid-generation altoist Jesse Davis and youngster pianist Keith Brown. Fashionable Brits tenor Binker Golding participates as a guest on two tracks.

Well recorded, music itself is quite conservative and recalls more early 70s than second decade of a New Millennium. What is not necessarily a bad thing, just depending on the listener's taste. Compositions are tight, up-tempo, quite straight and not too knotty, just well played without any tricks. Fans of post bop and early fusion ca.72 will probably enjoy the sound which is really rare nowadays.

There are two reasons why "Connect" isn't as great an album as some of Tolliver's best works. First, compositions are not all that memorable, and second - drummer Lenny White (as almost always) sounds very much as rock drummer in a jazz band - heavyweight,straight-forward and non-subtle that doesn't add elegance to whole music at all. It's interesting that Binker Golding's, who is an artist of very different background and generation, soloing is quite successful and embellishes the song's sound a lot.

TOWER OF POWER Step Up

Album · 2020 · Funk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Tower Of Power were a true giant of funk in the seventies, and even if they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2018, they are not going to slow down. Their previous release "Soul Side of Town" was a perfect one, presenting rich sound of funky brass band with excellent vocals and quality songwriting. From very first seconds, their most current album "Step Up" sounds as continuation of that previous one, and it's not strange at all.

The opener "East Bay! All the Way!" jumps right on the dance floor but unexpectedly disappears after less than a minute (very same way as on their previous album). What comes after is "Tower Of Power" at their best - beautiful vocal harmonies, memorable tunes and groovy perfectly arranged music, on the level of their best releases, coming from the 70s.

Under the skin, new album is not actually all that new - it contains solely tracks from the same sessions which gave us their previous release, "Soul Side of Town". Then, its pros and cons lay right in its origin. The material is surprisingly strong since we're speaking about the album of outtakes, some songs are possibly even stronger than some numbers included in "Soul Side of Town". From the other hand, there are no visible difference in sound, arrangements or compositions between current and the previous release. "Step Up" could easily be a second half of imaginary double "Soul Side of Town" set.

Both albums represent best funk and groovy r'n'b coming right from the 70s, the genre's golden age. After many line-up changes, the band still is rooted in their founders Emilio Castillo lead vocals/tenor sax and Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka bari, and the full sound of a twelve-piece band with some guests. There is no particular use of electronics, and no traces of more modern arrangements, but for fans of big sound of funk/r'n'b bands from 70s, (like Earth,Wind & Fire), this music is a real pleasure. If you like it that way, and still didn't listen to "Soul Side of Town", better start there. If you already like "Soul Side of Town", take "Step Up" for another doze of excellent music.

SAM RIVERS Sam Rivers trio - featuring Cecil McBee and Norman Connors : Emanation

Live album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Reedist Sam Rivers was one of key figures in New York loft jazz, but before that he did his name playing as a member of Cecil Taylor's group. Rivers left only a limited amount of recordings coming from the 70s, so any archival release from that time attracts interest of artist's fans.

"Emanation" comes from 1971 Rivers' Jazz Workshop residency in Boston and contains just one 76-minutes long track, divided in two parts because of physical vinyl album space limitations. "Emanation" represents a rare recording of early Rivers' trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Connors, which has been documented only once till now - on excellent (and as well live) "Stream", recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973 and released same year on Impulse!.

Trio format for Rivers usually was a platform for his most freer experiments and "Emanation" is no exemption. The album opens with inspired sax soloing tuneful and playful, and high energizing all at once. Sound quality is quite acceptable for such sort of recordings, but the mix is a real problem here. Drums fill the sound mix with lot of cymbals, but what is even worse - at 11:25 Rivers leaves the scene for McBee's almost five minutes long bass solo improv, during which the listener hears almost nothing, especially during the very first minutes. Bass is placed far behind the scene on the sound mix, and it's a real pity since McBee does a really great job here.

At 16:00 Rivers returns with flute, and then switches to piano (sounding a bit out of tune and too far behind the scene in the mix as well). Still in whole the recording demonstrates pretty well the spirit and energy of the time, and evidences Rivers great ability at playing post-bop rooted free jazz in his own inspired and quite accessible way.

"Emanation" is a great addition for Rivers (who was under-documented, especially during his early solo period) fans. Not really a place to start for newbies, it is a valuable evidence of this great artist's legacy and in general - the spirit of the time.

MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS Celestial Birds

Boxset / Compilation · 2020 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It is almost an axiom that no-one likes compilations in jazz (and rock music as well). Still, there are hundreds and thousands of them, predominantly with the openly commercial reason of trying to sell old as new, usually collecting all the most successful pieces in one place.

"Celestial Birds" is oppositely different. It contains some more unusual Muhal Richard Abrams compositions, with a strong accent on early electronics sound.

Avant-garde jazz never had a commercial potential as musical genre, and it has even less in the 20's. The risk of releasing such albums is moderately high, but thanks to zeitkratzer series director Reinhold Friedl and German label Karlrecords the world got the rare possibility to refresh (and for many newcomers - to find out) this lesser know side of AACM founder.

Vinyl album's side A is dedicated to 22+ minutes long "The Bird Song", which originally filled whole side B of Abrams debut, "Levels and Degrees of Light", released in 1968. The composition opens with recitative Chicagoan poet David Moore's poem and continues with dominating analogue synthesizer's vibes scented with minimalist saxes(Anthony Braxton & Kalaparusha), bass(Leonard Jones), drums (Thurman Barker) and violin (Leroy Jenkins). Differently from later and more regular use of electronics in jazz, here the whole music sounds quite cold, technological and close to minimalist composers pieces. It's interesting, that for this compilation the original version of the song has been used, with reverberations removed from the CD reissues.

"Conversations With The Three Of Me" is taken from much later, 1989 album "The Hearinga Suite", released in Italy. Here we found Abrams playing solo, first on piano and then - on synth. Piano part sounds as neo-classic dry composition which ends as spacey synth improvs. "Think All, Focus One" is another Abrams solo composition, played solely on analogue synths (comes from 1995 album of the same name). Abrams sounds not much different from Frank Zappa playing Synclavier on his unorthodox album "Jazz From Hell". The closer, "Spihumonesty", is recorded with a larger combo, including Roscoe Mitchell on reeds among others. Dominating synths sound here is mixed with free jazz small orchestra.

Early recordings presented on this compilation are coming from the time when synthesizer meant actually an extremely expensive studio, which were rare and hardly accessible for the jazz musician. Abrams was among very first jazz musicians experimenting with synthesis of jazz and electronics, and his works sound interesting even now.

GINGER BAKER Ginger Baker Trio ‎: Going Back Home

Album · 1994 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.11 | 3 ratings
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Imagine British rock supergroup Cream with jazz bassist Charlie Haden instead of Jack Bruce and Americana-jazz guitarist Bill Frisell instead of Eric Clapton. Here they are - original Cream drummer-led Ginger Baker Trio. They sound actually as it looks on paper - quite odd.

Frisell fans will recognize his guitar sound from very first seconds, and it stays a signature sound for all of the album. Haden, most of the time, stays on safe support, but Baker's ambition to be a leader is obvious, not always for good. His playing recalls an elephant, dancing in a crystal glass room, elegance (with big help of strangely sounding drum set, probably a rock band's one), and this thunder like drums are placed on the front of the sound mix.

Two standards (incl.Monk's Straight, No Chaser) sound unusual, but hardly all that attractive. Other songs are members' originals, some sound more like rock songs (and they are probably among the better songs). Most of the time I've been thinking that this album's edition in "minus one" format (without the drummer, of course) would sound really more attractive (if a bit too sleepy, as many similar Frisell works). In general, all the music sounds as if it has been recorded separately by each musician at home and then mixed as one in the studio, not a good feeling for jazz of any form.

Not really unlistenable, this album has its attraction in the weird combination of musicians, but too often it doesn't work properly.

CHARLES LLOYD 8 : Kindred Spirits (Live From The Lobero)

Live album · 2020 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Charles Lloyd, one of the few still active jazzmen from Coltrane era, made his name in mid 60s playing soulful hard bop and spiritual jazz, often beside rock musicians in arenas, not tiny jazz clubs.

In the eighties, he returned back on scene with slightly modified post-bop, adopted to more chamber-like ECM listeners. Not really grooveless as many European ECM recordings, his music was accessible, tuneful and enough safe to fit comfortably in label's catalog. In new Millennium, Lloyd moved to Blue Note again with some usual and some unorthodox recordings(as 2018's Vanished Gardens with Lucinda Williams). '8: Kindred Spirits ',recorded during his 80th birthday celebration gig on March 15, 2018 at his hometown venue, Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre,and released in early 2020,comes as a pleasant surprise.

Recorded with his slightly modified regular band from some last years (guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland), this album contains strong songs from different periods,but more important - for the first time for many years (if not decades)it leaves safely comfortable (some can say -'sleepy') zone of Lloyd releases from few last decades and music here really burns.

Depending on edition (the regular one contains just four songs plus DVD), the listener receives some well played, muscular and tuneful music, played with enthusiasm, spiritually and a touch of adventure. The opener,'Dream Weaver,'comes from Lloyd's glory day in mid sixties (most probably it is his biggest hit ever). Stretched till twenty-plus minutes, it has enough space for some extended improvisations still staying warm and framed at the end of the day. 'Requiem', the ballad originally released in 1992 on Lloyd's one of ECM album, sounds bluesy and 'organic' against more sterile original.

'La Llorona', a Latin trad tune, is elegant and only very slightly melancholic here.The closer,'Part 5: Ruminations,' is second longest album's composition, and besides of strong tune it has a lot of place for soloists improvs (some of which are quite free). Besides of Lloyd's regular pianist Gerald Clayton,in big part responsible for band's sound for years, there's a guitarist Julian Lage who makes this album so special. Lot of excellent guitars soloing refresh the sound a lot and makes all music sound very gracious.

Other editions can contain three vinyls+DVD and deluxe editions with full concert documented (12 songs). Strong choice of material and lively, inspired musicianship makes '8: Kindred Spirits' one of the better Lloyd release for some years,if not decades.

YOSUKE YAMASHITA 山下洋輔 Yosuke Yamashita Trio ‎: Dancing 古事記

Live album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Dancing 古事記" is respected Japanese piano player Yosuke Yamashita's debut album, coming from the time he was a student of musical college in Tokyo. A bassless trio, coming from behind the barricades during the student occupation of Waseda University in July 1969.

The years 1968 and 1969 were both a breaking point in Western world, with counterculture peak, explosion and start of decline as well (ie Woodstock, barricades in Paris' Sorbonne, etc, etc). The world will never be the same again, and what is probably much less known, these events catalyzed the reaction in Japan as well.

Three tracks, of which first 50-seconds long one is not a music but recorded on barricades agitator's speech (on Japanese). It introduces the atmosphere of the moment and two upcoming long free jazz pieces perfectly.

What in a Western world of the time is a rock revolution of late 60s, on Japanese ground has it's equivalent in avant-garde jazz, extremely radical music for the time.

Yamashita plays with his early days trio, containing drummer Takeo Moriyama and sax player Seiichi Nakamura. Their music here still doesn't reach the level of aggression known from Peter Brötzmann's "Machine Gun", but despite of some tuneful inclusions, it sounds as perfect soundtrack to the actions in a student campus that's for sure.

Later same year Yamashita will release with same trio his first studio album "Mina's Second Theme" which bring him first success, still as underground jazz artist for the beginning.

Quite aptly titled "Dancing 古事記", this album represents both the spirit of era and a music of the short-lived but very creative moment of Japanese jazz history.

P.S. There is still available short filmed video from this concert on youtube which is very recommended for those interested in catching the spirit of the moment

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain : Is That So?

Album · 2020 · World Fusion
Cover art 2.55 | 2 ratings
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Living legend English guitarist John McLaughlin is a man responsible for probably best ever recorded guitar fusion album. His early interest to Indian music (and culture in general)is well documented on "My Goal's Beyond"(1971) and more significantly on early Shakti albums which were again excellent examples of Indo-fusion.

Don't be fooled by the name though - the newest work, credited to McLaughlin as leader, "Is That So?", is not in the league of both above mentioned masterpieces.To be honest, "Is That So?" in reality is first of all vocal album of prolific Indian singer and films soundtrack composer Shankar Mahadevan. Being a cult figure in India, he's almost unknown in Western world, so crediting his album to McLaughlin as leader is understandable marketing trick for American label AbstractLogix,who released the album just a week ago.

Then,under the cover we have what we have. Shankar Mahadevan sings six lyrical songs,ballads of sort, under minimalist accompaniment of McLaughlin processed guitars and even more minimalist licks of another Indian,former Shakti tabla player Zakir Hussain.

Fortunately, all music doesn't sound as Bollywood soundtrack. It is more rooted to Indian traditional sound, but it is still first of all singer's album. McLaughlin guitars sound processed using computer,is liquid,rhythm-less and hardly differs from what could be produced using inexpensive synths. Tabla's soloing is most livable and most attractive element of all music, but we don't get a lot of it. Harmony-less Indian music without rhythmic component after some time sounds same again and again, at least for Westerner's ear.

Quite a weird release,it will hardly attract McLaughlin guitar work's fans or even Shakti early albums lovers. Maybe Shankar Mahadevan singing followers will find it interesting though.

YOSUKE YAMASHITA 山下洋輔 Yosuke Yamashita Trio ‎: Sunayama

Album · 1978 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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During early seventies, pianist Yosuke Yamashita trio were a front-line power of Japanese avant-garde jazz. Cecil Taylor-influenced high-energy percussive straight-in-your-face piano playing style in combination with Akira Sakata's free sax attacks and drummer's (Takeo Moriyama and later, Shota Koyama)rock-heavy artillery built complex,usually knotted aural constructions of surprisingly well-organized beauty. Their albums,released between 1970 and 1975 all are classics of Japanese avant-garde jazz.

On "Sunayama", Yamashita's work from second half of 70s, one can evidence quite unusual for him instrumentation. Credited to his regular trio, the album contains three pieces,recorded actually by septet/octet when Yamashita's trio is improved with brass section (and an electric guitarist on one track).

Being characteristic for his trio busy high energy free jazz under the skin, in many moments album's music sounds as avant-garde jazz big band with rich brass (and addition of soling electric guitar on "Usagi No Dance - Dedicated To Pepi"). It's interesting to mention, that intentionally or not the combo never sounds as one small orchestra - more like two groups of musicians, the trio and four-piece brass section improvising each their own way.

On paper it most probably sounds as a chaos, but surprisingly enough all album long Yamashita controls the situation well and final music has its own internal order. Not such explosive as on his earlier works, this album's attraction lays mostly in a rare possibility to hear the great master trying something different. Perfectly recorded (as many Japanese releases coming from seventies), "Sunayama" is an attractive release for Yamashita fans, still probably a bit risky try for newcomers.

Being for years an obscurity, in 2009 the album has been reissued in Japan on CD so there is a bigger chance to find it now.

JOE MCPHEE McPhee, Rempis, Reid, Lopez, Nilssen-Love : Of Things Beyond Thule Vol 1

Live album · 2020 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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One of the early releases coming in a very beginning of a new year is a collaborative work, recorded by high class free improvisers quintet of seasoned tenor Joe McPhee and cohort of younger creative jazz stars.

Joe McPhee (probably in a pair with Charles Gayle) is one of the busiest veterans of loft jazz around playing with many today's sound names and recorded intensively. His new quintet contains such leaders of modern avant-garde jazz as sax payer Dave Rempis and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, rising star cellist Tomeka Reid (who toured Europe last year as Art Ensemble of Chicago's member) and relatively lesser known New Yorker bassist Brandon Lopez.

Just two compositions, recorded live at Chicagoan The Hungry Brain on December 16 2018. Each lasts less than 20 minutes.Quite surprisingly, there are only a few explosive moments on this album, slow to mid-tempo music predominates. Saxes often sound as bird calls communication with cello vibrations and lot of percussion on the back. Common mood is more philosophical than energizing, and excellent interplay between quintet members builds intellectual and rousing atmosphere. Without leaving a frames of the genre, this album belongs to a more successful examples of live recordings in prolific Joe McPhee discogs.

EVAN PARKER Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton : Concert in Vilnius

Live album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Three British free jazz giants playing together already for some decades, recorded live during their gig at Vilnius Jazz Fest in 2017. Three names that are written in gold to European avant-garde jazz history playing in my hometown and I just listen to their playing two years later from my home sound system and not live from the dark scene of the Russian Drama Theater, a regular home for Vilnius Jazz Fest for the last few years? What's wrong with me?

Or - it's not me? In a fast changing world where even my conservatism towards technologies gives up against the comfort of paying for your Saturday coffee and eclairs with smart phone apps and using Google Maps trying to find a shorter way from small countryside town to nearest lake, free jazz, just in one day, turned into a predictable attraction. What was a blowing-your-head new experience in 60s, reinvented in loft culture in the 80s and reborn for a short time at the beginning of the new Millennium, in one day just became an artifact of the past, the world that doesn't exist anymore.

Four free form improves, near an hour of music. Well recorded, with few screams and applause from the public here and there, the music here is competent but doesn't radiate an energy of artists earlier concerts. Not explosive but more philosophically calculated, and often slightly melancholic, somehow it transfers that feeling of paradise lost very well.

As with almost any bigger free jazz artist, all three musicians never repeat same thing twice, but at the same time all what they play sounds already heard for many times. True, the difference is in tons of nuances, but do we are still interested in all these small things?

Anyway, those who love the music of the times when they were young will really appreciate the album. For young folks it will probably sound as a strange thing, but in all cases Parker, Guy and Lytton are those who left their significant footprint in a history of European jazz.

WILLIAM HOOKER Symphonie Of Flowers

Album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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William Hooker - one among the most technical and progressive thinking drummers around, who has played with Billy Bang, Thurston Moore, David Murray, David S. Ware and William Parker among many others, comes with his new ambitious work. Double-vinyl album "Symphonie Of Flowers" contains a suite of sorts. Drums are obviously the dominant here, but there are duos (with piano player Mara Rosenbloom), trios, and bigger combo music presented.

The album opens running train-like with Hooker's drumming pushing the music ahead, that rhythm and the feeling doesn't disappear the whole album long. Pianist Mara Rosenbloom plays free piano in a manner of Cecil Taylor. Then there is a trio of Hooker, Rosenbloom and saxophonist Stephen Gauci, with free sax soloing series. On three songs, pianist Mara Rosenbloom plays duets with multiple drummers,and a larger ensemble contains electronic musician Eriq Robinson among others.

Quite a long recording, this album isn't boring or repetitious. The music varies from muscular rock-like avant-garde jazz, to energetic electronics-spiced wizardry. As with many of his previous albums, Hooker works in a class of his own and always offers something new for open ears listeners.

AVRAM FEFER Avram Fefer Quartet : Testament

Album · 2019 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Sax player Avram Fefer's trio, already known from their two previously released albums, has improved with their new release by adding cult guitarist Marc Ribot. The final result is accessible and enjoyable music, a mix of all-in-one but without possibly expecting chaos.

There are a lot of things happening when you start listening, and it's difficult to decide whether it is a jamming rock band led by shredding guitar hero Marc Ribot, or is it an Ayleresque avant-garde jazz quartet with tuneful high energy saxist Fefer on the front. Up tempo compositions contain explosive guitars, a lot of exotic influences (from African to klezmer), and very groovy pushing ahead rhythm section.

Different from many bands of the same genre, Fefer's quartet doesn't sound too serious, too complex or too abstract - not at all. Just don't expect to find any directions here - the musicians obviously enjoy playing their music and they expect the listener feels the same way.

AMIRTHA KIDAMBI Elder Ones : Holy Science

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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New York based singer and composer Amirtha Kidambi just released her third album as leader - on Astral Spirits(Phase Eclipse), already second new album coming this year(From Untruth - just released in Japan, after the US release, as well).

Her debut, released three years ago, Holy Science, passed somehow unnoticed,and that's a shame. Born in US of Indian origin, Amirtha combines in her music some best traditions of India’s Carnatic,American free jazz and modern drone.

Just four lengthy tracks,each as a part of "Yuga" suite,contain Amirtha's (predominantly wordless) vocals recalling Jeanne Lee under strong accompaniment of lesser known but perfectly working sax-bass-drums trio. The music,if a bit ascetic,is complex and multilayered with each listening opening more new details.

Excellent debut on the edge between jazz/non-jazz avant-garde and Indian classic.

PORTICO QUARTET Memory Streams

Album · 2019 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Brits Portico Quartet always had very special place on British nu jazz scene since they arrived more than a decade ago. Among very firsts in a genre their sound was closer to Brian Eno ambient than melodic chamber jazz/songs-oriented soft fusion of their scene's colleagues. But even more important - their ambient-jazz was very organic thanks to the use of exotic "hang"(form of steel-pan) instead of modern electronics of more club-oriented bands.

They received an early fame and some decline, changes in line-up and hardly successful flirting with vocal-based pop. With "Memory Streams" they return back to basis and it's their true return to form of sort.

Oppositely to their very early releases, band's fans wouldn't find an unexpected sound and very new music in general; on Portico's new album they play mostly everything they already played before. But they do it well.

Very melodic well executed "organic" ambient jazz,very accessible and often balancing on the dangerous edge with "elevators music" but fortunately never crossing the border. Not really a listening for one's brain but simply beautiful music for many's heart.

Band's traveling Europe with new program these days so don't miss your chance to see them playing live.

ANTHONY JOSEPH People of the Sun

Album · 2018 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I really like having the opportunity to hear your beloved album at a live concert, it doesn't happen as often as I would like unfortunately. In case with Anthony Joseph "People Of The Sun" I was lucky enough to experience that.

Released on the tiny French label Heavenly Sweetness, "People Of The Sun" demonstrates fashionable new London jazz with its Caribbean influences. Trinidad-born band's front man Anthony Joseph (who is a professor of creative literature at London University) prefers to call himself a poet, and is obviously rooted in the free jazz and spoken word traditions of the late 60s and Gil Scott-Heron legacy. Joseph is more Caribbean Leonard Cohen than Amiri Baraka.

Album music is full of calypso, salsa, reggae, steel pans sound and Latin accent. Anthony combines his homeland rhythms with funk and spiritual jazz adding slightly melancholic lyrics without avoiding sharper themes such as slavery or problems of more current life in the Caribbean. All of this is offered with philosophical elegance and doesn't quite sound similar to an "angry men" street manifesto at all.

With fifteen musicians participating, the musical part is well-arranged with a percussive relaxed sound, accessible and very dance-able. Short instrumental solos are presented here and there as spices in a brew, it adds to the music's very livable and even hip feel, being in reality not all that simple, the album is very accessible and vibrant.

Returning back to their show, there was a smaller band of slightly different line-up playing live. They sounded much heavier, less refined and recalled more funk-rock garage band than relaxed Caribbean orchestra as heard on album. The compositions played were mostly all more extended with burning long soloing (partially Jason Yarde sax, wah wah guitar or percussion) and very charismatic dynamic Joseph on the front. It perfectly demonstrated band's live energy - opposite side of generally quite relaxed studio material.

One great example of today's London jazz scene great both for your legs, your heart and your head.

PHIL RANELIN Phil Ranelin Collected 2003-2019

Boxset / Compilation · 2019 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The opener "Freddie's Groove" says it all - excellent tune with deep respect to mainstream jazz tradition and rich brassy arrangements, I'm sure you will love it from the very first seconds. Phil Ranelin, an Indianapolis born unsung slide trombone hero you most probably never heard about served much better awareness than he got till now.

First Boston,than - Los Angeles based for decades, Ranelin dedicated above mentioned song to his childhood friend Freddie Hubbard. Started recording as leader in mid 70s, he released two excellent free jazz influenced albums on own Tribe label ("Vibes From The Tribe"(1976)) contains some early example of free funk),later switching to more orthodox jazz. Still, his music has always been very soulful,tuneful and often spiritual.

At the end of the last century, Ranelin was known and popular mostly between DJs,searching for rare grooves. His early music re-release and album of remixes(2001) make him more visible for wider listener. In new Millenium, he recorded and released a series of albums for West Coast tiny label Wide Hive, which is responsible for this compilation.

Already mentioned opener,"Horace´s Scope","Shades Of Dolphy","This One´s For Trane" and compilation's closer "Black On The Nu" all come from his Wide Hive debut (and probably best release for the label)- " Inspiration"(2004). In fact, you have here all the album but two tracks.

Latin scented "Blue Bossa","Living A New Day" and "Metamorphisis" come from his second release on Wide Hive,"Living A New Day"(2005). Spiritual jazz/fusion with melancholic touch, memorable tunes and lot of tasty slide trombone soloing.

"A Tear In Elmina","Moorish" and "In Search Of The One" are taken from Ranelin album, recorded with congas percussionist Big Black. Not only more percussive, but surprisingly freer and closer to his earlier works from mid 70s, spiritual jazz."Perseverance" ,originally recorded for the same album, on this compilation is presented in a new edition, as Eastern-scented exotica.

The rest partially less impressive material comes from Ranelin last released album to date "Portrait In Blues" plus some unreleased songs.

Some renown collaborators presented are Pharoah Sanders(on "This One's for Trane") or then virtually unknown Kamasi Washington on compositions,coming from "Perseverance" album.

In a light of revitalized spiritual jazz popularity peak in UK and partially around US and Europe, this compilation is an excellent present for everyone who never heard Ranelin's name but is interested in this genre's music of highest probe. For fans (as myself), who already owns his best Wide Hive released albums "Inspiration" and "Perseverance", the compilation gives a possibility to evaluate his better songs coming from other label's albums.

MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS Levels And Degrees Of Light

Album · 1968 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"Levels And Degrees Of Light",released more than a half-century ago, is an almost forgotten cornerstone evidence of the entire epoch, and that's a shame. One of AACM founder pianist Muhal Richard Abrams (or simply Richard Abrams at the time of release) debut contains lot of ideas which have been developed for upcoming decades with a great success.

Just three longish compositions, all different but beautiful in their own way. One big surprise is lot of ambient sounds, similar to "white noise" on two longest album's compositions, recalling early synthesizers sound. Not common in jazz, early (rare and really expensive) synthesizers attracted interest of some known pianists, as Paul Bley or Richard Teitelbaum among others,so there are some recordings coming from 70s with use of this instrument,but the biggest surprise is that there on "Levels And Degrees Of Light" no electronic devices are used at all!

Main sources of ambient noise are Gordon Emmanuel vibes on opener and Leroy Jenkins violin on "The Bird Song". On "Levels And Degrees Of Light" classically trained vocalist Penelope Taylor sings over the ambient sounds, with addition of Abrams soloing on clarinet. Album's longest composition "The Bird Song" (filling all B-side on original vinyl release, but stated second in line on CD reissue)contains characteristic for 60s recitative poetry (read by David Moore).

"My Thoughts Are My Future - Now And Forever" which closes digital edition of this album, is shorter and more usual for the time groovy high-energy free jazz composition with staccato piano,sax soloing from Anthony Braxton (most probably his first ever recorded work) and lot of space for drummer Thurman Barker.

The album which probably doesn't sound such a radical from time distance at the day of release was innovative and perfectly illustrated the musical concept of then newly established musical school/movement of innovative Chicagoan artists which is still alive and active nowadays.

GONG The Universe Also Collapses

Album · 2019 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Founded in France in late 60s by Australian beatnik Daevid Allen Gong for decades was possible best known musical hippie commune, based in Europe. They never received a commercial success but after all these years there are still people around discussing their Radio Gnome Trilogy (I'm serious - I can even mention a name or few!).

So, right after the half of a century (serious age for active music collective, isn't it?) we get an offer to listen to the new music recorded by "Gong". What is in a menu?

Band's founder and spiritual/creative leader Daevid Allen passed away in 2015 and the yeasr after there was released an album contained his legacy (unfinished ideas and works and lot of music from his younger collaborators who played beside of him). It was quite a great memorial release if not really a Gong album. Now, three years later (and four years after Allen's death), we have an album of new material,not something from the vaults. I'm far not a person who idolize even a great artists, but in a case with Gong things are not so simple.

Original Gong has always been more then just a band, in fact at their best they were talented counter-couture commune playing for fun and time to time recording their hippie-dada-space tales to dedicated followers. There were lot of line-up changes and there were more then a few Gong versions as well. Even best of them (different then Allen "original" one) was a better-then-average jazz fusion band (I'm speaking about so-called "Pierre Moerlen Gong" and their "Shamal" and "Gazeuse!" albums from mid 70s), but they lost that Allen's childish playful freakiness from very first steps. It was Allen himself who saved this ingredient for any project ,he participated, no-one else.

Returning back to newest album,"The Universe Also Collapses" is surprisingly strong (for second decade of new Millennium) progressive rock release. Skilled musicians who all played on last Gong album with Allen still on board - "I See You"(2014) - do the great job here. From twenty-plus minute long space-rock opener "Forever Reoccurring" ("Hawkwind" fans must to hear it for sure)to short guitars driven well-arranged "If Never I'm And Ever You" (do you still remember American AOR bands from early 80s?)to "My Sawtooth Wake" (I really respect Steve Wilson music too)and finally the closer "The Elemental" (Jethro Tull goes AOR?)they play a high quality progressive rock of sort with enthusiasm and positive energy not so characteristic for the time when progressive rock too often become a form of self parody.

Still is it enough for calling themselves "Gong"?

THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO Nice Guys

Album · 1979 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.98 | 5 ratings
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The Art Ensemble of Chicago(AEOC) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. They already played a series of gigs in US and announced upcoming European tour in October. Double album with new studio and some live recordings "We Are on the Edge" has been just released as well.

The band for all these decades was an unorthodox avant-garde celebrities of sort - their early circus-like shows and use of nontraditional sound instruments ("little instruments" - bells, bicycle horns, birthday party noisemakers,etc,etc)made them name partially around Europe as non-conformist forerunners, at the same time they were rarely supported by music critics and never experienced real commercial success. With years to come they received almost cult status as influential early avant-garde jazz band, but many newcomers are often disappointed when listening their one or another album.

There are many reasons why it happens that way, but the main one is their music worked well when evidenced live and in the times when them looked really alternative/counterculture act (i.i. late 60s -early 70s). The Western world was different and it wanted something revolutionary or even "revolutionary". They just started in right time (and in a case with Paris ca.1969 - in right place). Their music doesn't date all that well, at least some part of it.

The other reason why many their albums (to be honest - almost all) doesn't sound all that attractive today is on a peak of their early popularity they released plenty of badly recorded and edited music. All but one their albums recorded between 1969 and 1974 were released on tiny European (predominantly French) labels as BYG or America and often sound as unedited demos. In case with AEOC music bad sound mix and uninspired editing means that the listener receives a collection of muddy directless never-ending noises coming from small instruments time to time interrupted by tuneful marches and "true" instruments soloing. Those familiar with band's impressive discogs will probably agree that it is almost impossible to mention even a few really great their albums (in whole). As rule, even their better releases contain few stronger pieces and lot of fillers. At the same time, early live recordings are predominantly of bootleg quality and can be recommended for hot fans and collectors mostly.

Their first American major label release came in 1974 only (on Atlantic) and it stays one of their better works for sure. Second album has been released after five years only, and it is the one we are speaking about - "Nice Guys" on prestigious ECM! Musically it represents a wide variety of regular AEOC music, but in term of quality it is a big step ahead. Renown by their recordings exclusive airy clear sound, ECM people recorded the material in their main Tonstudio Bauer in Ludwigsburg with full respect to each of many sounds traditionally produced by band. At last the dedicated listener can hear every smallest bell's ring and car signal's call as if he's in a room where the band is playing live.

Surprisingly how much that sound/mix quality adds to band's music - being musically mostly the same on "Nice Guys" the band sounds much richer and for sure more attractively. Then, there are only 6 compositions chosen for the album and them mostly are all quite short (in AEOC terms). It means there are no long bulky "little instruments" soling at every possibility, as it was before. General band music's relaxed and improvisational nature is presented well enough but still all material is edited making it much more listenable.

The opener "Ja" contains reggae rhythms and is one of these band's songs that stays in memory for years. Less than two-minutes long "Nice Guys" is a groovy song nicely filling the gap between the opener and "Folkus" - a longer and freer composition demonstrating all the collection of band's "little instruments" and gongs sounds and excellent recording studio and ECM engineers abilities as well. And - it doesn't sound annoying or boring.

On "597-59" band runs ahead on whole cylinders with continuing reeds soloing over the groovy drums/bass shaking ground, in a true free jazz fashion. Finishes with extended solo bass dance.

"Cyp"doesn't have such busy sound as other album's compositions, it is slower,almost static with crispy sound from each instrument, free and near philosophical. "Dreaming of the Master" - the closer and longest album song, is dedicated to Miles Davis and surprisingly enough it sounds not much different from Miles himself, circa late 50s.At least in the beginning and the end - central part is dedicated to free jazz.

"Nice Guys" is a high quality representative AEOC album covering their first five years. As almost any other ECM release it has re-issued many times and it isn't a problem to find it for purchase. One better choice for newbies and anyone interested to find out why Art Ensemble of Chicago are celebrities till now. Find it, listen and then go to see them live.

WILLIAM PARKER Voices Fall From The Sky

Album · 2018 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Voices Fall From The Sky" is an unusual album even for bassist and composer William Parker who's music is always way unpredictable. And not because it is a massive three-CD set - Parker often uses similar format for his releases in new millennium. Simply, it is a vocal album. Parker often uses vocalists for some his projects, but songs with vocal usually take smaller part of the album, if at all. And here we have three-CD set exclusively dedicated to vocalists!

Not all music here is jazz and far not all material is new as well. First disc in a set, titled same as whole release - "Voices Fall From The Sky" - is a new recording with only a short opener coming from Parker's 2006 album "Long Hidden: The Olmec Series". It contains predominantly duos or small combos playing avant-garde ballads (jazz and non-jazz) sung by ten different female and male singers, one or two per piece). It works quite well and recalls Ran Blake recordings with Jeannie Lee."We Often Danced" with Fay Victor is a peak. On this part, Parker himself plays on five songs only (all but one - bass, and ngoni on "Airlift").

Disc 2 titled simply "Songs" contains lot of previously released material. Only four songs have been previously unreleased and are material from the vault (recorded in 1991 and 1993). All them are minimalist duets of William Parker on bass or Japanese pianist Yuko Fujiyama with singers Lisa Sokolov or Ellen Christi. All but one rest songs on this CD are duets as well, piano or bass plus singer, all comes from already released albums. Parker is an only bassist, but we can hear two more pianist - another Japanese Eri Yamamoto and Parker's regular collaborator Cooper-Moore changing each other. Well known from other Parker projects singer Leena Conquest is added on the vocalists list (beside of lesser known Senegalese Mola Sylla). Predominantly dark bare-naked minimalist ballads continue the spirit and atmosphere of the first set's CD. Part are jazzy, others - more camber/non-jazz avant-garde.

CD 3 opens with live big-band version of "The Essence Of Ellington" with Ernie Odoom on vocals, recorded live in Italy in 2012 and already released on Parker's "Essence Of Ellington" same year. It continues with "Lights Of Lake George" sung by Indian classical vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay and supported by same Parker's Orchestra (already released in 2008 on "Double Sunrise Over Neptune"). Deep sultry Leena Conquest voice is easy recognizable on perfect but already heard "For Fannie Lou Hamer"(from "For Those Who Are, Still",2015). "Deep Flower" is groovy composition with recitative vocals coming from obscure "Wood Flute Songs. Anthology / Live 2006-2012"(2013).

What comes after is probably a biggest surprise of whole release. Parker's composed four-part avant-garde jazz suite of sort, performed by trio of already mentioned above Japanese pianist Eri Yamamoto,Estonian drummer Leonid Galaganov and Afro-American mezzo-soprano AnnMarie Sandy combines avant-garde minimalist piano-drums duo with operatic vocals. It is a new material, released for the first time here, it not always works but at the same time it is the music which attracts the attention for sure.

Whole set closes with beautiful "Natasha's Theme" from "Alphaville Suite, Music Inspired By The Jean Luc Godard Film", a Parker's album released in 2007 on French Rogueart Jazz label.

A mixed bag, this album contains a lot of great music and some interesting music, but cleaned from reissues and edited till more listenable size of single CD, it could be an another Parker's strong release. Still worth listening for sure, at least for recordings one can't find on any other Parker's album.

WILLIAM PARKER William Parker Quartets : Meditation / Resurrection

Album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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There are quite a few avant-garde jazz veterans still creative and active around, but surprisingly enough some of them experience a true renaissance for last decade or more. Henry Threadgill or Wadada Leo Smith are great examples. Bassist William Parker, who played still with Cecil Taylor, is another one on the list. What is even more surprising, all three artists mentioned above during last years somehow switched towards more monumental forms of music releasing large scale recordings, from extended suites to double and triple disc sets one after another.

Parker's "Meditation/Resurrection" is another example of such release. Double-CD set contains twelve compositions recorded with two different bands, each on separate disc. The music presented is characteristic for Parker melodic groovy avant-garde jazz rooted in trad jazz and blues with African rhythmic elements and European composition influences.

Both parts sound not all that much different what is understandable - both are recorded by same William Parker core trio consisting of himself on acoustic bass,alto saxophonist Rob Brown and drummer Hamid Drake, just rounded out till quartet with two different musicians.

On a first CD it is a kalimba and trumpet player Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson. With Hamid Drake switching on gong and Parker himself playing tarota (a Catalan double-reed instrument) in moments, "Meditation" is quite a true title for this part. Partially relaxed, freer and esoteric, this music combines Eastern gathering with early jazz and blues marching playfulness.

On a second CD,"Resurrection", core Parker's trio contains their usual fourth member - pianist Cooper-Moore (all quartet is known under the name "In Order To Survive"). Here pianist is a significant player pushing the band towards more structured compositions with brilliant Rob Brown alto and Parker bass soloing above often bluesy in deep but complex and knotty piano-drums rhythmic flow.

Equally strong release among some more released by Parker during last years, not too massive but (as even more in case with his so beloved triple sets) would be more useful released as two separate albums. OK, his label probably has a different opinion here.

JAMIE SAFT The Jamie Saft Quartet : Hidden Corners

Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Pianist/keyboardist Jamie Saft is one of more interesting figure connecting New York down town jazz with burgeoning London jazz scene (through collaboration with London-based RareNoise label). His newest all-star quartet's album "Hidden Corners" continues this direction presenting Saft & Co.s touch on such a fashionable in London spiritual jazz.

Album's opener "Positive Way" is possible the best illustration what "Hidden Corners" are all about - soulful composition influenced by "Love Supreme"/Coltrane circa '65 music will obviously attract fans of Pharoah Sanders spiritual jazz re-birth. It is most memorable song coming from the album, what comes after is quite a mixed bag though. Right after very skilled but not same inspired quartet offers freer journey which is quite bulky and directionless.

Rest of the album contains a songs collection of two types - more soulful and spiritual (though a bit faceless) compositions and freer but too formal and emotionless pieces. Music here is well played but has no chances to win in a competition with enthusiastic youngish British bands dominating on London scene. Today's spiritual jazz attracts new listeners mostly because of its fresh, maybe partially naive, atmosphere and re-invented spirit of late 60s. Saft's quartet sounds as a bit bored bunch of pros playing some fashionable tunes on request (or because of contractual obligation). Not a bad music, but it lacking inspiration.

JOHN ZORN John Zorn / George Lewis / Bill Frisell ‎: More News For Lulu

Live album · 1992 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.05 | 3 ratings
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John Zorn is one of key figure in New York down town scene for some last decades who for many listeners associates with radical experimentation and/or prolific accessible jazz-related releases long lasting history. Both tags are right, but Zorn has much more faces then just this. In late 80s, besides of developing one of his most shocking and influential Naked City project, based on Japanese brutal avant-rock jazzier interpretation, Zorn played in unusual trio with his regular guitarist of that time Bill Frisell and AACM trombonist George Lewis. Two albums has been recorded - both in Europe.

First one - "News For Lulu" - is mostly studio work, when its continuation "More News For Lulu" contains similar material but this time coming from two gigs - one in Paris and the other in Basel, Switzerland. Unusual trio of sax player, trombonist and guitarist plays Blue Note material,or more precisely - hard bop compositions from Sonny Clark, Hank Mobley, Big John Patton, Kenny Dorham, and Freddie Redd, in addition to one selection from Misha Mengelberg.

Most unusual is the fact that this music, recorded almost in the same time when Zorn worked with Naked City,sounds very bright, swinging, light-full and in general very optimistic. Surprisingly enough, trio doesn't cross hard bop frames too often and their down town touch on material is noticeable mostly by modern arrangements and some freer soloing.

Probably a bit too long (lasting one hour and 18 minutes),the album demonstrates some repetitiveness in a second half, but in all it's an enjoyable example of three highest class musicians' work, one among best music John Zorn ever recorded under his name and excellent entry point for newcomers with mainstream jazz background interested in John Zorn massive legacy and unorthodox modern jazz in general.

ALLISON MILLER Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom : Glitter Wolf

Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Perfectionist modern jazz album sounding as if it is a progressive rock one. First new(coming from 2019) release in my player with serious chance to win a place on year's top list.

Drummer Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom is a super-group of sort with varying line up and number of members but in all cases rooted around her,bassist Todd Sickafoose and violinist Jenny Scheinman. On different stages cellist Eric Friedlander and pianist Myra Melford were the members among others. "Glitter Wolf" is recorded by sextet improving core trio with pianist Myra Melford, cornetist Kirk Knuffke and clarinet player Ben Goldberg.

Tightly composed melodic and quite complex musical material is played by the band intensively gigging for two years - one can hear how perfectly they feel each other! Miller's drumming pushes well produced(under the hands of Ani DiFranco & Carly Simon producer Julie Wolf) songs ahead with muscular energy more common for rock albums. At the same time, all things happen under perfect control avoiding chaos or directionless development. There are no lyrics/vocals otherwise the album could be alternatively classified as excellent art-rock work. Each composition has it's own face, atmosphere and is precisely executed.

Differently from some modern jazz albums, "Glitter Wolf"(isn't the title sounding rockish?) successfully avoids sterile chamber/academic sound. It often sounds as your morning alternative music TV, all these young guys with beards singing their songs with guitars somewhere out of town at the sunrise...

It is jazz sounding as rock or just cross-genre music without formalism and repetitiveness, radiating positive energy - really rare thing our days. It must be heard!

MAKAYA MCCRAVEN Universal Beings

Album · 2018 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.52 | 2 ratings
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"Universal Beings", a massive double album and the result of four gigs recorded material, heavily reworked in a studio, is a genre-defying album of sort. Depending on starting point, the music here could be tagged as hip-hop with jazz elements or jazz- hip hop. French-born Chicago-based drummer Makaya McRaven himself calls it “organic beat music".

Four different bands played gigs in four world's large music centers (all-acoustic) and the resulting tapes have been digitally processed,looped and mixed in studio. Differently from more conventional clubbing music of this kind, original live material (with lot of improvisations) gives very new quality to the final sound - the music being quite flexible and liquid sounds surprisingly "lively".

New York side is recorded with harpist Brandee Younger, cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Joel Ross, and bassist Dezron Douglas. Strings-dominated band plays tuneful and quite soulful mid-tempo fusion with world elements and lot of ambient. Chicago side is radically different with London new jazz scene's leader tenor Shabaka Hutchings on forefront.More raw sound and lot of sax soloing in combination with characteristic Afro-beat and repetitive hip hop structures makes it sounding not much different from Hutchings own more organic projects as Sons Of Kemet or Shabaka and the Ancestors.Cellist Tomeka Reid who plays on New York side as well produces here some sound which could be mistakenly indicated as analog synth on the background in the moments.

London side is not much different from Chicago's.Probably the reason is another rising name from London scene's - tenor Nubia Garcia sounding often as Pharoah Sanders on his spiritual jazz albums. Los Angeles side contains dominating Jeff Parker guitars sound adding lot of blood to music (plus Josh Johnson on alto, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on violin, Carlos Niño on percussion and very physical acoustic bassist Anna Butterss). Groovy fusion with exotic rhythms and some beautiful tunes.

All-together hour-and-half long album doesn't lasts long, always changing instrumentation,rhythms and arrangements make it one beautiful soundtrack to second decade of new century modern jazz scene's non-existing documentary. Newbies seeking for short but informative introduction to most modern jazz of today are in a right place choosing this album.

CHICK COREA Chick Corea, Christian McBride & Brian Blade : Trilogy 2

Live album · 2018 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
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Same way as five years ago, with first snow Chick Corea acoustic trio's live recordings collection from world tour comes again this early winter. Titled "Trilogy 2" it is obvious continuation of their successful 2013 Japanese release (in 2014 released in Europe and US as well). Complied from 2010-2016 concerts, this time it is a double CD (previous one was a triple) and comes from Japan again. Most probably next year will offer more accessible Western editions as well.

Working formula didn't change a lot - with opener "How Deep Is The Ocean" (the only song presented on both first and second "Trilogies") with Corea's Latin/Fusion hits "500 Miles High" and "La Fiesta", his early success "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" and few standards.

As in case with first "Trilogy", biggest interest here is a new interpretations of known songs. Started with very relaxed and even unusually for him slightly sentimental manner, Chick after few first songs returns back to more dynamic enthusiastic grooving post-bop - music he plays best starting from mid 70s.

Despite of obviously entertaining character of presented material, trio of highest class professionals never sound repetitive or boring, mostly because of unexpected takes on well known material. It's really impressive to hear how different from popular versions many songs sound without leaving mainstream/chamber jazz frames.

Great X-mas present for pianist fans.

ANDREW CYRILLE Andrew Cyrille/Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Frisell : Lebroba

Album · 2018 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.10 | 5 ratings
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Seasoned drummer Andrew Cyrille is better known by his collaboration with leading jazz musicians of different time periods starting from Cecil Taylor to Anthony Braxton to Oliver Lake among many others but he has released two dozen albums as leader as well."Lebroba" is his second album for prestigious German ECM label and here he leads a super trio containing living legends trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Bill Frisell.

Don't worry much about unimaginative album's title(Lebroba is a contraction of Leland, Brooklyn and Baltimore, birthplaces of trio's members), the music is really more impressive.

Frisell,who did his name playing with John Zorn's radical avant-garde projects and later moved solo towards trademark Americana-jazz, is in great form here and differently from his many solo works from last decades he plays more inventively and far not such safe. There are even some explosive guitar solos what wasn't heard from him possibly from 80s. Still everyone knowing his sound will easily recognize who's playing guitar here.

Wadada Leo Smith was one of AACM founders in early 70s and he experiences huge renaissance during last two decades after all these years.His trumpet is a main beauty of "Lebroba" music. On many pieces he sounds as early electric Miles but not pushing the music ahead with explosive soloing,instead slowing it down with aerial and quite dry sound.

Now the music - it is expected for those familiar with Smith's most current works, but still quite different. Low-to-mid tempo songs are well-composed and sound not meditative but dry-calculated, minimalist and contains some internal tension. The opener is renown Frisell song "Worried Woman" sounding here as if Frisell has invited Miles Davis to his small band.

"Turiya:Alice Coltrane Meditations and Dreams:Love" is written by Smith and lasts 17+ minutes."TGD" is written by all three members and last two songs are Cyrille's.

Minimalist, with anchoring drummer and airy guitar and trumpet interplay (what an usual format for a trio!)spiced with tasteful and live-full (and sometimes free) soloing this music is new, beautiful,quite accessible but trully creative.

It's almost unbelievable how jazz veterans (with youngest Bill Frisell(68))can take risks searching for new sounds and succeed doing it.

SATOKO FUJII Kira Kira : Bright Force

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Pianist Satoko Fujii is one among best internationally known creative jazz artist from Japan leading numerous projects (usually incl. her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura). Smaller groups as rule have each own name so Fujii/Tamura quartet with French duo of Peter Orins(drums) and Christian Pruvost(trumpet) is known as Kaze,all-Japanese drum-less quartet with Yasuko Kaneko(trombone) and Kazuhiko Tsumura(guitar) is known as Gato Libre(Satoko plays accordion not a piano here).

Kira Kira is Satoko's newest project to date where usual pair of Fujii and Tamura is combined with renown Australian keyboardist Alister Spence and young Japanese drummer Ittetsu Takemura who is a regular member of Satoko's big bands.

"Bright Force", project's debut, contains two polar parts both coming from same concert recorded at Knuttel House in Tokyo in 2017. Because of problems with sound quality recorded material has been seriously edited, putting the gig's opener meditative micro-tonal three-part suite "Luna Lionfish" to the end of the album and bringing energetic "Because Of The Sun" and "Nat 4" at the beginning. Not like the recordings sound became better but loud explosive two first pieces with soloing trumpet on the front prepare the listener to easier acceptance of knotty but not so catchy suite's entry.

Main music's characteristic on whole album is still a tension, build by Tamura's freer trumpet solos and Spence's Rhodes passages. The drummer is a rock-heavy and Satoko's percussive piano work adds even more muscularity in a sound. Add lot of Spence's electronic effects for full picture.

Fujii,Tamura and Spence previously already played together as quartet(with The Necks drummer Tony Buck)so there is a feel of working band in Kira Kira music.

A bit more ascetic and more complex than usual Fujii's music renown from her American,European or Japanese Orchestras,"Bright Force" is another strong release of prolific Japanese pianist. Celebrating her 60 jubilee Satoko promised to release a new album every month during all 2018(Kira Kira's debut is one of them). Big part of her program is already released, mostly all of them contains an interesting music. Waiting for more to come.

MARILYN MAZUR Flamingo Sky

Album · 2014 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Flamingo Sky" is the last to date studio album from Danish percussionist and composer Marilyn Mazur. Born in NYC to Polish and African-American parents and living in Denmark from she was a child, Marilyn played with some leading American jazz artists icluding Miles Davis late 80s band (never recorded though with him). On her solo albums Marilyn mixes world music,electronics and jazz in usually optimistic beautiful Neo-hippie brew.

"Flamingo Sky" is not an exemption, and even the cover art says it all. Small band consists of Mazur on percussion,occasional piano and singing, dreamy vocalist/percussionist Josefine Cronholm and guitarist/electronics wizard Krister Jonsson (plus electric bassist Klavs Hovman on two tracks). Based on Caribbean rhythms (steel pan or something what sounds as steel pan is dominating on many songs),album's music covers much wider territory than Latin jazz. Tasteful use of electronics makes music sounding more modern than let say Flora Purim works from seventies, groovy bass and true jazzy vocalize pushes it more towards acid jazz. Being very melodic with feel-able touch of psychedelia, songs quite surprisingly often recall some early 70s Allen Gong's compositions.

It happened to me seeing her playing live few years prior to the release of this album with bigger band on seaside open air Klaipeda jazz fest, similar music there sounded more arranged and orchestrated building shamanic show of sort. Studio album is less complex, a bit more lazy and easily radiates that almost euphoric atmosphere of late summer day somewhere in Latin America. Nice music somewhere between spiritual jazz and acid jazz, especially if you like lyrics about elephants using the phone and the butterflies.

PHRONESIS We Are All

Album · 2018 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.46 | 5 ratings
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After eleven years of activities and seven successful albums London-based Phronesis were probably most respectable contemporary jazz trio in UK. Few years ago, when their music started sounding a bit too safe and predictable they did a double shot trying to improve the situation. First they recorded (at Abbey Road Studios in London) much more muscular album ("Parallax")then they ever did before. I saw them playing life with these new songs and they sounded as high-energy power trio, but from the bad side their new music lost part of their melodies putting them in danger to become "another fusion piano trio". An year after they released an excellent album of their known songs recorded with Frankfurt radio big band. What's next?

Just released their ninth album "We Are All" doesn't open radically different horizons, but it looks here they finally found their best ever balance between slightly melancholic chamber jazz and more modern and youthful power trio sound. Trio's songs are tightly composed and precisely executed again with bigger attention to melodies. They reduced high energy of "Parallax" till controlled groovy sound with complex interplay between virtuoso piano soloing and physical acoustic bass.

"We Are All" represents contemporary European jazz at its best - multilayered intellectual improvisational music sounds almost as accessible as pop and rock songs without loosing its quality. One critic called "Phronesis" "the best modern jazz piano trio since EST", with "We Are All" release they have serious evidence that he was right.

ANGLES Angles 3 : Parede

Live album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Swedes Angles started a decade ago as sax player Martin Kuchen-led sextet playing modern mix of avant-garde jazz, Balkanica and electronic jazz. Very tuneful,emotionally colored and politically sharp songs made them one of most popular Nordic jazz band right after their debut in 2008 (on Portuguese Clean Feed label). They grew up from sextet to octet (Angles 8) for their third album and till nonet(Angles 9) for their fourth one (all - recorded live).

Band'sound became more orchestrated (possibly as the answer to success of their colleagues another Nordic super-group Fire! who grew up from power trio to progressive big band) and more sharp on Angles' two studio albums,recorded in 2014 and 2017. Being a classy band, their formula became a bit too predictable so the year 2018 gives their fans a radical change.

Angles' new album "Parede" (yes, live for sure) is recorded by Angles 3 - and they are really a trio now! Based predominantly on the compositions from their last studio album "Disappeared Behind The Sun", new Angles model is rooted on Albert Ayler free jazz tradition. Sax player Martin Kuchen with old drummer Kjell Nordeson and new Norwegian drummer Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (a member of The Thing power super-trio together with reedist Mats Gustafsson, the leader of above mentioned Fire!) instead of Angles' original Johan Berthling play bare-naked versions of of well-arranged Angles 9 originals.

The difference in music comparing with any previous Angles line-up is significant even if there still are some Balkan tunes, melodies snippets and soulful Kuchen sax soloing. Trio Angles play free jazz of old school, it radiates energy, emotions and live listeners participation is right in place here.

Probably, more Angles side-project than logical continuation, Angles 3 released truly unexpectable album at a moment when it looked they became too predictable. Not every "bigger" Angles fan will stay happy with this new music but I believe they will find some new listeners too with this step.

VLADIMIR CHEKASIN Second Siberian Concert

Live album · 1994 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Sax player/multi-instrumentalist Vladimir Chekasin was my very first experience listening jazz live. As undergraduate university student in 1981 or 1982 I felt some initial interest to jazz even if my strong prerogatives were Black Sabbath (going) and The Stranglers(coming). I lived in same town with famous free jazz Ganelin trio and when trio's member announced his solo concert in my university Aula I just decided to give the jazz a chance.

This evening changed my life, not less.It looked there were even no air to breath in overcrowded old building's hall with high wooden doors and white columns. Students and younger professors waited for something... unexpected. And it happened - Chekasin played quite emotive solo gig using circular breathing techniques, simultaneously playing of two saxophones and free improvisation against strange electronic device, kind of early analogue modulator/synthesizer. Fortunately for newcomers as I was, Chekasin's music was far from formal, it contained lot ot tunes snippets, emotive soloing and strange rhythms what made it surprisingly accessible.

At the end of the night I didn't realize (as many others sitting and standing near me in a hall) what it was - we just evidenced highest class musical shamanism session we had never saw in our lives. From that day I started visiting jazz concerts more often but it still took two decades to start listening jazz recordings.

"Second Siberian Concert" is recorded just a few years later in Novosibirsk - largest Siberian academic city, and till now it stays a last recording evidence of Chekasin musicianship as leader. He still plays time to time but concentrates mostly on jazz education in Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater and leading excellent student's Big Band.

The quartet recorded contains of Chekasin, playing plenty of reeds (obviously using simultaneously playing techniques since there are no other reeds player on board and one can hear different reeds played at the same time),analogue synth and occasionally piano; Romania-born Vilnius-based keyboardist Oleg Molokoedov (piano,analogue keys,synth) and local rhythm section - bassist Sergey Panasenko and drummer Sergey Belichenko.

The year is 1985 and synthesizers (especially in jazz, and more precise - in Soviet jazz!) still look like extreme modernism so no strange whole music is heavily overloaded with their sounds. Synths are still analogue so their sound doesn't attack listener's nerves as later time plastic electronics but still great Chekasin's sax soloing and two-reeds interplay too often disappears without significant traces in that wall of synth sounds.

Three compositions (two long and one - two-minute short) are mostly improvised but contain plenty of composed sources incl. popular swing tunes,themes from ballet,Slavic folklore elements and circus marches. Sound quality is only average though.

Released in 1994 only, after Soviet Union finished existing, this album has been never well known or widely distributed. Now available on bandcamp as digital download, it represents nice opportunity to hear one of the most interesting innovative artist of the region. Not a best artist's work for sure, it still is a valuable evidence in Chekasin's far not so umerous discography.

GANELIN TRIO/SLAVA GANELIN Live In East Germany (aka Catalogue)

Live album · 1980 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It's quite paradoxical that Ganelin Trio, most probably the only European band which played free jazz by the same way and on the same level of creativity and virtuosity as genre's American leaders, have deep Eurasian roots. Founded in early 70s in Vilnius, capital city of then Russians occupied Lithuania, it included three emigrants from Russia motherland.

Band's leader pianist and composer Vyacheslav (Slava) Ganelin was born in a family of Russian Jews not far from Moscow in the end of WWII and moved to occupied Vilnius with his parents being 4 years old boy. Sax player Vladimir Chekasin born in Sverdlovsk (now - Yekaterinburg), Ural's industrial town right on the border between Europe and Asia. He graduated as classic clarinet artist in his hometown conservatory and moved to Vilnius already being young perspective musician at 24. Drummer Vladimir Tarasov comes from Russian sub-Arctic city of Archangelsk, important Russian Navy port in the Far North, where he played jazz in local clubs still being teenager. At 19 he started music studies in St. Petersburg Conservatory but has been dismissed same year because of propaganda of jazz(!).He didn't return to Archangelsk but moved to Vilnius, where he started playing jazz with pianist Ganelin in legendary Vilnius' "Neringa" restaurant.

So, in year 1971 in Vilnius, town where I was born and grew up (ok, I was only 8 years old boy in 1971), three future avant-garde jazz giants founded the trio which influenced all Lithuanian jazz scene for decades ahead. For outsiders, it's almost impossible to imagine in what world trio's music was born. As a century before that Russian Empire banned the use of Lithuanian language in a territory of occupied Lithuania in any form,other than spoken word (i.i. books,newspapers,schools and University education on Lithuanian all were under the ban), their successors Soviet Empire banned on all controlled territories any forms of Western culture, different than some classical music. Rock music was a main target as it sounded as a right danger for Communist regime, jazz (since there as rule is no lyrics) was classified as "rotten Capitalism" propaganda and was under pressure and strict control as well. Vilnius (besides of Tallinn in Estonia, another Russian occupied European country) was a true mecca for semi-underground jazz since the town during Soviet rule became a quite isolated place, kind of sleepy province far from Moscow and Leningrad where everything was under strict control of KGB eyes. There in Lithuania of that period even existed a jazz studies in State Conservatory (established not in capital Vilnius, but in Klaipeda - smaller town 300 km west on Baltic coast, even more far from Big Brother's eyes).

So, there were some fresh air for jazz musicians in Vilnius with possibility to play in restaurants, Universities halls and even on local radio/TV in rare cases. From other hand, Vilnius was in same isolation from internal world (read - world outside of USSR) as any other place in Empire of Evil. There was no possibility to buy jazz recordings or to hear modern jazz played on radio (rare exception was a Polish radio often plying pop jazz, it was possible to hear it in Vilnius). The only source of musical news was a contraband vinyls coming from West which were extremely rare, banned and as a result unbelievable expensive (to buy one I often needed to pay my young graduate engineer two weeks' salary).

There were active exchange of used vinyl and home-made tapes between musicians and jazz fans as well which often was main sources of any new information. In that atmosphere three young musicians with classical music education and underground street-wise new jazz information started playing music never heard here before. As a result, Ganelin Trio,especially on early stage, sounded as fresh and unexpected European version of Art Ensemble of Chicago: they played lot of instruments (often sounding as much bigger combo than real trio) mixing American free jazz with their classic music formal roots and in part Russian folklore.

There are lot of recordings coming from late 70s - early 80s recorded by trio, but almost all of them are bootleg level live tapes, smuggled through the border and released in UK by another Russian Jew emigre in UK Leo Feigin on his Leo records. "Live In East Germany" is a good example of such release - rare foreign gig (recorded in Eastern Germany), as usually - one long composition divided on two vinyl sides. Trio sounds as much bigger band (Ganelin even plays some distorted guitars closer to the end of the gig, Chekasin plays multiple saxophones simultaneously), there is lot of freedom, lot of melodies, hyper-energy of their live shows and lot of humor and circus as well.

All music sounds fresh and unexpected and surprisingly well organized what evidences classical musicians' education. Don't be fulled by the year of the concert - because of Iron Curtain free jazz came to this part of Europe much later and there are one of very early evidences of it. Taking in account the time correction because of political reasons, they are as fresh as US free jazz of mid 60s.

One great (and for many jazz fans unexpectable) music, it is easier acceptable now because of some re-issues around. Ganelin left for Israel in 1987 disbanding the trio, he teaches music in Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy and plays regular concerts in Vilnius till now. Chekasin teaches in same Academy and runs students big band, Tarasov switched towards avant-garde audio-visual arts, one can hear/see his new installations regularly.

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