Jazz Music Reviews (new releases)

JOHN DAVERSA Cuarentena : With Family at Home

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

CHARLES TOLLIVER Connect

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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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 fusion era 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 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.

MAGIC MALIK Magic Malik Fanfare XP, Vol. 2

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

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

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

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.

CHRIS POTTER Circuits

Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 4.95 | 2 ratings
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AWESTRUCK - SO MUCH MUSIC!

Don't let the word "much" throw you. This is not a long, meandering album. Rather it's an unparalleled exercise in how much music four gifted musicians can pack into a visceral 61:35. A huge departure from his relatively restrained work on ECM, not only is Circuits Chris Potter's best album yet, but it's also a strong contender for one of the best of the last decade.

This 21st century fusion masterpiece open with a brief "Invocation", a multi-tracked chorale with layers of saxes and clarinets. The temperature rises with the massive thrust of "Hold it", where James Francies's keyboards remind one of the mid-1970s performances of Hancock/Zawinul/Duke. "The Nerve" is this album's "Eastern"-flavored number, beginning with a loop-pedal of multi-tracked flutes before settling into a groove. "Koutome" features a bass clarinet intro and the bubbling/bustling drums and percussion of Eric Harland before a segue into the chaotic "Circuits". More tape-loops, a mind-bending synth solo, and sax lines of Monkian-complexity almost beg for transcription: I dare you!

The non-pastoral "Green Pastures" is probably this album's most accessible composition. After a synth bass/bass clarinet opening, the Michael Brecker comparison Potter is often saddled with applies here. "Queens of Brooklyn" provides a brief respite from the intensity, with mellow soprano sax over piano chords, before dissolving into a brooding sax/clarinet chorus backed by guitar (played by Potter). Then strap yourself in for the ridiculously speedy tempi of "Exclamation" and the rhythmic, keyboard-heavy "Pressed for Time". Potter and Harland seemingly never stop soloing, while Francies contributes a Fender Rhodes showpiece. Then sit back and wipe your brow when it's all over. Let it also be said that Linley Marthe contributes phenomenal electric bass to "The Nerve", "Koutome", "Circuits", and "Exclamation".

I'm not sure if Potter painstakingly writes out all his lines/arrangements beforehand, but whether or not he does, it's obvious a lot of time, work and thought went into this recording. Circuits (appearing on the Edition label) is one of those albums you can listen to for the rest of your life and still not hear everything. Some will say, "there's too much going on" or "this is just showing off", as this is a far more extroverted album than much of Potter's previous work. Yet Potter and Harland remain leaders in the jazz field on their respective instruments, while both Francies and Marthe are names to be reckoned with based on this album. Until hearing Circuits, I might have proclaimed Dave Holland's Prism album (2013, also featuring Eric Harland) to be the clearest candidate for Jazz Album of the 2010's Decade. Now, I'm not so sure.

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.

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.

TONY ADAMO Did Mark Murphy Believe in UFOS?

EP · 2020 · RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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By NICHOLAS F. MONDELLO Allaboutjazz

The interrogative title of this fine track shares an interesting insight, as well as its supposition. Whether the late singer literally did buy into UFOs—a la Sun Ra who saw "space as the place"—or he didn't is irrelevant. What is key is the fact that Mark Murphy has had a definitive and lasting impact on jazz vocalists today—and very much so on the High Prince of sing-speak, Tony Adamo who salutes Murphy on this infectious single. Further, the savvy integration of Michael Franks' "Don't Be Blue" into the performance adds encouragement and a positive sheen on the proceedings. It's a brilliant production choice.

Adamo, the ultimate hipster's hipster, is dead on his game on this hip-hop grooved masterpiece. Brilliantly performed and laid down over a killer rhythm, Adamo speaks "jazz gospel" and offers verbal high praise to Murphy by way of his own poetics about Murphy's verbiage on Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments." (Murphy wrote a well-known version of lyrics for the classic tune.)

https://www.allaboutjazz.com/did-mark-murphy-believe-in-ufos-tony-adamo-ropeadope-records

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.

JOEY DEFRANCESCO In The Key Of The Universe

Album · 2019 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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With a title like "In the Key of the Universe", and promotional advertising that plays up Pharoh Sanders' contributions on saxophone, it would be easy to think that Joey DeFrancesco is trying to cash in on the current 'spiritual jazz' revival on his new album. Its true that there are some tunes on here that reference Sanders' past as the originator of the spiritual modal jazz style, but none of this is gratuitous or insincere, and there is also such a wide variety of music on here that the modal jams are just a part of what goes down. Also, Sanders only appears on a couple tracks, elsewhere on here the very capable Troy Roberts supplies the tenor, alto and soprano sax work. In short, 'In the Key' is one of Joey's better albums and is rife with inspired solos and top notch song writing.

DeFrancesco's rapid fire solos take the Coltrane idea of 'sheets of sound' to new levels on the Hammond B3. This is used to good effect on the energetic post bop of "Awake and Blissed", and then given a double dose on the bebop barn burner, "It Swung Wide Open". The next couple tracks feature Pharoh, who still sounds as great as ever, as he takes a somewhat laid back and mature approach to classic material such as "The Creator has a Master Plan". Some other highlights include a couple of mystical samba lounge outings and a few hard groove blues numbers.

On the two closing tracks, Joey caps things off with something we don't hear often enough, really interesting melodies set to non-cliche chord changes. Both of these songs would make for great vehicles for others to try out their creativity on. The production is a little heavy on the reverb, which sounds fine on the groove numbers, but a bit heavy handed on the uptempo ones.

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.

PORTICO QUARTET Memory Streams

Album · 2019 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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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.

BIG BEAT Sounds Good. Feels Good

Album · 2019 · Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Big Beat is a new big band originating from William Patterson University in New Jersey that also doubles as a hot horn driven RnB outfit with Allison McKenzie on vocals, plus when they break it down to the rhythm section, they are also an intense fusion combo that is not afraid to take things on an ‘outside’ trip. There is a lot of versatility at work here as each song on “Sounds Good Feels Good” displays a different side of the group. Although this is very much a modern ensemble, there is a healthy 70s style looseness to the group, as well as a similar open-minded approach to eclectic material.. It’s no surprise then that their playing often recalls other 70s big band leaders such as Thad Jones, Don Ellis and Gil Evans who embraced, fusion, RnB and experimentalism in wide open anything goes arrangements.

Allison McKenzie sings lead on seven of the nine tracks and she has the sort of range and versatility that should make her well known with or without her fellow band members. Her style easily shifts from jazz to RnB, making her the perfect vocal front person for this versatile group. Her solo voice is good enough, but occasionally she double tracks her voice into some very interesting harmonies and vocal arrangements. The two instrumental numbers give the band a chance to get crazy. On “Just Too Much”, Will Dougherty’s electric piano solo pushes drummer Joe Spinelli into some free form mayhem, and on “A Penny for Your Thoughts”, the band peaks with an aggressive hard rock drive topped with an equally intense electric trombone solo.

Four of the vocal numbers are McKenzie originals, and they hold up well against some classic covers composed by Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and the Jackson 5. This band is just getting started, and if they can keep this together the future looks very bright as they hit a good balance between bring the party energy and complicated and challenging arrangements. I would imagine that this is a band best enjoyed in a live situation.

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.

HENDRIK MEURKENS Cobb's Pocket

Album · 2019 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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For those not hip to pro musician lingo, the word pocket refers to keeping a steady groove, and if a drummer has ‘pocket’, then the rest of the band can solo with confidence knowing their man is not going to drop the beat or lose the momentum. One of the kings of pocket for several decades now has been Jimmy Cobb, the drummer for Miles Davis’ famous groove fest known as “Kind of Blue”, as well as countless other well known jazz recordings on up to the present. It should come as no surprise then that when Hendrik Meurkens wanted to record his new album of hard bop and soul jazz numbers he reached out to his old friend Jimmy to man the drum chair one more time, hence his new CD title, “Cobb’s Pocket”. Joining Hendrik and Cobb on here are two other veterans who have jammed often with Meurkens in the past, Mike LeDonne on B3 and Peter Bernstein on guitar.

Hendrik is somewhat of an odd one in the jazz world in that he is a virtuoso harmonica player. He started out on vibraphone, which he still teaches, but switched to harmonica early on and remains one of the few jazz performers on the instrument. Don’t expect too much of the bluesy and country sounding clichés we often associate with the harmonica, instead, Meurken’s playing is infused with rapid bebop runs that recall saxophonists like Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy. Some of the wide interval leaps he takes almost sound like vibraphone licks, possibly he pictures the vibe keyboard while choosing his notes. LeDonne and Bernstein fill out the sound with a mix of blues and bop sourced soulful solos.

Three of the tunes are Henrik originals. Meurken’s tunes remind me of 60s Quincy Jones in that they would make for great TV theme songs. Other tunes include a Latin flavored Mancini “Slow Hot Wind” and Sam Jones’ hard driving “Unit Seven”. Possibly the top track is the high speed title tune, “Cobb’s Pocket”.

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"?

RAY OBIEDO Carousel

Album · 2019 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Even if you don’t recognize his name, if you are a fan of contemporary jazz and RnB you have probably heard the guitar playing of Ray Obiedo many times by now. Ray is a busy session guy who has recorded with just about everyone in his field, including heavy weights like Herbie Hancock, Sheila E and George Duke. Ray also releases his own albums, and many of those are favored by the jazz radio crowd, so there is a good chance when you are hearing jazz as background, that might be Ray as well. “Carousel” is Obiedo’s latest CD and it finds him serving up an eclectic mix of RnB, Brazilian, Cuban, smooth jazz and more.

Ray invited 32 musicians to work with him on “Carousel”, with many coming from his hometown area of Northern California where they work with local stalwarts such as Tower of Power and Santana. Some of the better known guests include Bob Mintzer, Toots Thieleman, Peter Garibaldi and Andy Narell. As mentioned earlier, every track carries a distinctive rhythm and flavor as Ray attempts to cover all the bases. Two of the more energetic songs come early on with the RnB of “Jinx” and the Latin drive of “Sharp Aztec”. Bob Mintzer’s funky sax solo on “Modern World” is also a winner. Possibly the top track though is a mystical cover of Mancini’s, “Lujon”. First of all, it is a Mancini composition, and secondly, the ambient drift and arrangement on this track has a more modern sound. A couple other songs seem geared towards the radio in a smooth jazz context. Throughout “Carousel”, Obiedo plays soulful licks and solos that recall George Benson and Wes Montgomery, two other guitarists who were adept at combining hard bop grit with pop sheen.

WYNTON MARSALIS JLCO with Wynton Marsalis and St. Louis Symphony : Swing Symphony

Album · 2019 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Certainly Wynton Marsalis has worn many different hats in his career as a musician, but possibly his strongest talent is as a classic 3rd stream composer, and his latest effort “Swing Symphony”, does much to bear this out. Much like Stravinsky and Ravel, Marsalis is a ‘natural composer’, that is to say, no matter how complex or complicated his music may get, it always seems to roll along as naturally as someone walking down the street whistling a favorite melody. This is an ambitious piece that strives to present the history of jazz in a concert hall setting, but don’t expect a dry history lesson, do expect some swingin music and plenty of hot solos backed by driving rhythmic accompaniment.

Much of “Swing Symphony” recalls that time period when jazz first met classical under the guidance of composers like Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud and others. In that respect this piece could be seen as ‘future retro’ in that it captures the modern tone of a certain era that manages to remain modern in appearance for all history, for instance, the always futuristic style known as art deco. In many ways, the more experimental music of the 20s and 30s is the art deco of the musical world. Wynton’s symphony does not stay in the 30s, but even as the presented musical styles move up to the late 20th century, its that early mix of classical and jazz that marks the overall tone of this piece.

Avoiding a laborious retelling of all the events in “Swing Symphony”, it is interesting to note some of the highlights. Before the symphony gets into jazz’s roots as ragtime, there is a brief opening section that recalls Ellington’s version of African music. Yes, it all starts with Africa, and I never doubted Wynton would start anywhere else. After this, the ragtime arrangements kick in and then there is a trumpet break, who is this, Buddy Bolden or Louie Armstrong or possibly a little bit of both. In the third movement of the symphony we find ourselves in the swing era and Wynton does a great job of capturing the sound of the Ellington saxophone section.

The fourth movement opens like a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie as we move from bebop to Afro-Cuban. A particularly melancholic saxophone melody closes out this movement and it is quite possibly a reference to the tragic downfall of one of jazz’s most prominent geniuses, Charlie Parker. As we move through the last three movements the music becomes more abstract and dissonant, often recalling Edgar Varese, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Gil Evans. Movement five features a modal hard bop jam in the style of Coltrane and Miles, and in movement six we get some rather brutish and clumsy rhythms, possibly a satirical jab at fusion. Movement seven brings back an African groove, this time existing halfway between the worlds of the Duke and Sun Ra with a dash of Stravinsky and the symphony closes out with a floating abstract return to swing.

“Swing Symphony” is one of those pieces that should gain strength through the ages and hopefully it will find its deserved place in the concert hall 3rd stream repertoire. Its easy to imagine a future symphonic program that might include Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto”, Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige’, and Marsalis’ swingin symphony.

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.

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Brazilian Guitar Music by Marco Pereira

Album · 2019 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Something wonderful happened in the world of music starting sometime in the 1920s and continuing to today and that is the merging of jazz and European classical traditions to create new modern hybrids. Its hard to think of a composer past the 1920s that wasn’t influenced by jazz’s sophisticated syncopated rhythms, and certainly jazz musicians had no chance to escape the classical influence as more than likely most of their advanced lessons centered around Chopin, Bach and the rest. In today’s musical universe, other musical components can enter the picture as well, such as Indian ragas, Indonesian Gamelan and Latin American traditions. Its within that merger of classical, jazz and Brazilian practices that we find the new album by Marius Noss Gundersen, “Brazilian Guitar Music by Marco Pereira”.

The title says it all, Gundersen’s new album is a collection of compositions for classical acoustic guitar written by Marco Periera, who’s classical compositions are inspired by Brazilian song forms. In the album liner notes Periera expresses his gratitude to Marius for producing the first album entirely devoted to Marco’s music. Marco also includes very helpful notes for every track on the album, which is nice because very few of us are going to be familiar with all of the Brazilian traditions he is referencing, so its good to have some program notes as a guide if you want to learn more.

The compositions are excellent, deep enough for close and repeated listening, but also pleasant enough to be attractive to people who might not know a thing about Latin jazz or contemporary classical music. Marius’ guitar playing is impressive as he tends to bring out the delicate side of this rather difficult instrument. Listening to how well he can control volume as an aid to expression proves that he is definitely in that upper echelon of guitarists. Fast passages sound unrushed and handled with ease, this CD is a treasure chest for fans of nimble finger picking in any style. So many good tracks on here, but some standouts include, “Estrela da Manha” with its mystical mixolydian chord changes, “Bate-Coxa” has an almost Carribean sounding celebratory style, and album closer, Baiao Cansada” with its modernistic Lydian melodies.

BRANFORD MARSALIS Branford Marsalis Quartet : The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul

Album · 2019 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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For those who like their jazz on the more heated side of things, Branford Marsalis’ “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul” should fit the bill. Its been said by more than a few that Branford’s studio recordings are no match for the fire of his live performances, and that may still be true, but this new one is probably the one studio recording that gets the closest to his live intensity, and likewise, this is also one of the better recordings in Branford’s lengthy career. Not everything on “Secret” is high energy, there is a variety of styles at work here, but it’s the ones on which Marsalis cuts loose that really mark this album as something special.

Opener “Dance of the Evil Toys” sets a modernist tone with its blend of a loping African rhythm, Stravinsky like snaky melody and harsh piano smashes. They throw a change up by introducing the ballad, “Conversation Among the Ruins”, as the second number, but it is a remarkable composition, something worthy of inclusion in future standard collections. The rest of the album is made up of a variety of 21st century post bop meets 60s free jazz with Branford and pianist Joey Calderazzo knocking out one high intensity solo after another. This all culminates with album closer, Keith Jarret’s “The Windup”, whose wacked out punky be-bop melody and arrangement sounds like something from today’s NYC scene, not the 70s when Keith wrote it. If there is one track that doesn’t quite fit, it’s the laid back Latin groove of “Cianna”, whose somewhat restrained solos don’t fit the energy and creativity of the rest of the album. Maybe that one is supposed to be the radio friendly song.

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

Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 4.48 | 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!

TONY MONACO The Definition Of Insanity

Album · 2019 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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If there is one musical genre I would not have expected to make a comeback, soul jazz would be that one, and that goes double for Hammond B3 soul jazz. Much like cool jazz and bebop, soul jazz seemed terminally connected to the era that spawned it, and the B3 itself became terribly un-hip during the 80s and seemed destined to stay that way. You can thank both England’s acid jazz scene and changing tastes in US commercial jazz radio for opening the door for funky bluesy B3 jazz to return, but not necessarily in a nostalgic way, this music has managed to adjust and sound relevant and hip again. One deserving recipient of this revival is B3organist Tony Monaco who has just favored us with his 11th album as a leader, “The Definition of Insanity”. This is one helluva fun album, and if that sounds too glib or shallow I’m sorry, but I have been listening to this one a lot lately and it never fails to pick me up, it’s a kick and a half.

“The Definition of Insanity” is an extremely eclectic album, yet it all works. Tony usually includes some originals on his albums, but this time he decided to go mostly with covers and just one original, and that’s where much of the eclecticism comes from as Tony takes on tunes from Phish, Lee Morgan, The Grateful Dead, Floyd Cramer and even includes a classic Italian ballad. Tony cites organists Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes and Larry Goldings as influences, and all that comes through in his flashy blues drenched solos. Along with plenty of classic soul jazz, this album also covers, Latin, Middle-Eastern grooves, country and a couple vocal ballads too.

Some highlights on here include the driving energy of Phish’s “Cars Trucks Buses”, the contemporary groove of Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down” and the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin” which makes for an excellent soul jazz number. On Floyd Cramer’s country classic, “Last Date”, Tony manages to make the B3 imitate a steel guitar. A couple ballads feature Tony’s vocals which may remind some of Willie Nelson, and that is a good thing. There is a lively energy to this entire outing, during my initial listens I just assumed this was a live date, it certainly sounds like one. As I said earlier, this is a ‘fun’ album, and I definitely need something like this in my collection sometimes.

VASIL HADŽIMANOV Vasil Hadžimanov Band : Lines in Sand

Album · 2019 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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How does one put out an interesting fusion record these days? Once the new kid on the block, fusion has been around for almost 60 years now, what can someone do that’s new in the fast approaching third decade of the new century. A good place to start would be to check out, “Lines In Sand”, the new CD by Balkan keyboardist Vasil Hadzimanov. Here we find music that combines influences from the Balkans and Middle East with American jazz, funk and RnB plus plenty of modern day sounds and rhythms via the youthful world of electronica and European nu jazz and you end up with a creation that opens new doors and presents fusions of fusion that you haven’t heard before.

Vasil Hadzimanov has been performing and composing professionally for almost 25 years now, and his group featured on here has been together since 2001. The fact that these guys have known each other for some time shows in their intuitive interactions. For being a fusion record, “Lines in Sand” is gratefully short on long winded solos. There are plenty of barn burning rides for Vasil and his band mates when needed, but often they eschew the solos for a more team oriented approach to improvisation. In that respect they recall classic Weather Report at their best. Of the solo spots themselves, honorable mention must go to guest saxophonist Rastko Obradovic and his Coltrane like excursions.

It’s the variety and the creativity within that variety that makes “Lines in Sand” work. Here is a band that can go from swinging acoustic post bop to Balkan techno within one song and make it sound as organic and natural as a hearty bowl of super crunch granola.

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