Jazz Music Reviews (new releases)

TONY MONACO Over and over

Album · 2024 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Back in the 60s and 70s, Hammond B3 soul jazz was a gateway into the jazz world for many RnB and rock fans since so many rock/RnB bands had organ players who brought their soul jazz riffs to a larger rock oriented public. Greg Rollie, Billy Preston, Jon Lord and Greg Allman were just some of the rockers whose solos reflected their interest in the jazz B3 greats they emulated. Unfortunately the B3 and soul jazz fell out of favor during the synthesizer and Rhodes dominated fusion years, kind of ironic since soul jazz was the original fusion, but lo and behold, in the past couple decades soul jazz has staged an unlikely comeback and the sound of the B3 is back on the jazz air waves and nightclubs.

Tony Monaco is a big part of this B3 revival as he has cut 13 albums since 2000 and is still going strong. “Over and Over” is his latest release and it reflects the sort of diversity one can expect from a good soul jazz record. High energy hard bop is represented by “One for Pat Martino” and “Ready Set Go”, and Latin grooves come with “My Lil Rosie Girl” and “Sailboat”. The rest of the album features funk and hip-hop rhythms topped by album closer “Uprooted” which is a dead ringer for a JB’s track, complete with Jimmy Nolan style chicken scratching.

Tony lists the usual B3 suspects as influences, Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes, Jack McDuff etc, but probably the influence that shines through the most is Jimmy Smith. Jimmy always had a little more bebop to his playing and less RnB riffing, and Tony’s playing reflects that influence. This should come as no surprise as Tony studied with Smith for several years and has performed at Smith’s club as well. Guitarist Zakk Jones has a contemporary John Schofield influenced sound in which RnB, hard bop and blues blend seamlessly. On the album closer he goes distorted jazz rock style recalling Mike Stern’s work with Miles Davis. Reggie Jackson is the funky drummer that drives this trio as they offer a non-stop joy ride with no dud tracks.

JEFF LORBER The Drop

Album · 2023 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Hey there, music aficionados and fellow seekers of sonic adventure! Today, we're diving headfirst into the vibrant world of contemporary fusion with none other than Jeff Lorber's latest offering, "The Drop." Lorber has an insatiable appetite for groove sounds, and my hope is you will be inspired to explore them for yourself after reading this article.

Let's kick things off by exploring the playing on "The Drop." From the moment you hit play, it's abundantly clear that you're going to hear some seriously talented musicians. Jeff Lorber, alongside longtime collaborator Jimmy Haslip (bass), leads the charge with their trademark finesse and virtuosity. Lorber's keyboard work is mesmerizing, effortlessly gliding between smooth melodies and funky, rhythmic chordal grooves. Haslip's basslines provide a rock-solid foundation, locking in with the groove's feel with impeccable precision.

But the charmed sounds continue with the supporting cast of players on this album. From Gary Novak's dynamic drumming to the soulful saxophone stylings of Randal Clark, each musician brings their A-game to the table, elevating Lorber's compositions to new heights.

Speaking of compositions, Lorber truly shines as an architect of sound on "The Drop." Each track is meticulously crafted with a focus on texture and emotion, seamlessly interlacing together elements of jazz, funk, and R&B into a cohesive sonic chronicle.

Take "New Mexico," for example. The sultry horn hooks and Marc Lettieri's lead and rhythm guitar, anchored by Cornelius Mims' infectious bass groove, transport you to a smoky jazz club in the heart of the Southwest. Meanwhile, Lorber's nimble keyboard work dances atop the rhythm section with effortless grace, painting a vivid musical portrait that is exhilarating.

Turning our attention to "Hang Tight," the track unfolds with a laid-back groove that firmly nestles itself in the pocket, exuding a sensual allure that's hard to resist. Here, the percussive finesse of Lettieri's guitar lays a textured foundation, against which Lorber's keyboard melody and solos surge forward with dynamic vigor. Lettieri, with his exquisite touch, opts for taste over flash—his solos are melodic and prioritize depth of feel over flash. Haslip's six-string bass resonates with profound wisdom, anchoring the ensemble with its robust bottom end. His solo ventures into the upper echelons of his instrument's range, offering a glimpse into his versatile and agile musical mind. Each note and rhythm crafted by Novak, Haslip, and Lettieri interlocks with Lorber's vision, creating a sound that's inviting.

Elsewhere on the album, tracks like "On the Bus" and "Keep Moving" showcase Lorber's uncanny ability to blend intricate melodies with infectious rhythms, resulting in compositions that are equal parts cerebral and toe-tappingly infectious.

Last but certainly not least, let's talk about the chemistry between the players on "The Drop." Fusion music is all about collaboration and synergy, and Lorber and his crew have it in spades. The way they anticipate each other's moves, trading solos and riffing off each other's energy is enchanted.

Whether it's the interplay between Lorber's keys and Gary Novak's deep groove pocket on "Reception" or the dynamic call-and-response between horns and rhythm section on "Tail Lights," the chemistry between the musicians on this album is palpable. It's the kind of musical telepathy that can only come from years of shared experience and mutual respect.

"The Drop" is a tour de force of modern fusion music that showcases Jeff Lorber Fusion at the peak of their creative powers. With its stellar playing, captivating compositions, and undeniable chemistry, this album explores the possibilities of what's possible in groove fusion. So, grab your headphones and crank up the volume; trust me, you won't be disappointed.

ANGELIKA NIESCIER Angelika Niescier - Tomeka Reid - Savannah Harris : Beyond Dragons

Album · 2023 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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On ancient maps there were unknown territories signed as "Hic Svnt Dracones"(here are dragons). Polish-born Germany raised sax player Angelika Niescier leads her all-female non-convential sax / cello / drums trio towards "beyond dragons" territories.

There is not much of Polish cultural influence in Angelika's music - no beautiful tunes, no melancholy, no spiritual atmosphere at all. Having grown up in Germany from the tender age of 11, Niescier sounds much more like Peter Brötzmann than Adam Pieronczyk (or Tomasz Stanko, if you want). The trio's other member, American cellist Tomeka Reid, is a significant figure on the international contemporary jazz scene, she adds a lot of creative vibes to the album's music. Third member, lesser known NYC-based drummer Savannah Harris, holds her own and does not descend below her better known collaborater's musicianship.

The album's music, which sounds free from first touch, actually contains Angelika's compositions mixed with improvisation, all under strict Niescier control. Quite heavyweight and teutonically-brutal by nature, "Beyond Dragons" is still not a radical assault attack in Brötzmann's fashion, more a well calculated, but creative product of German engineering. Not really often such music is produced by young female trio hands.

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Chamber Music by Marco Pereira

Album · 2023 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It certainly seems the world has taken a turn towards the ugly lately. Not only do we hear WWIII type saber rattling, but political leaders in the news seem determined to outdo each other with how callous and downright mean they can be. Possibly one of the best remedies for all this harshness is the beauty that can be found in music. “Chamber Music by Marco Pereira”, the new album by guitarist Marius Noss Gundersen, is almost radical in its difference to today’s culture of crude stupidity. Marco is blessed with the ability to touch us with melody, texture and mood. His music provides sensitivity and delicateness as nourishment to a world that is in need.

Periera is a Brazilian composer who works with a mix of Brazilian rhythms, (chorro, samba, bossa, bolero etc) plus neo-classical long forms and art pop songs. This seems not unusual in Brazilian music where high art and rhythmic songs are not necessarily exclusive of each other. Gunderson provides some nicely detailed liner notes where he expresses his gratitude to Periera for teaching him all things Brazilian in the world of music. Likewise, Marco also provides notes explaining aspects of each of his compositions. Its nice when artists take time with presentation. The music on here is a varied mix, sometimes upbeat and uptempo and sometimes more somber. Some pieces take on a more neo- classical type development, while others lean more towards Brazilian pop or jazz ballads. The closing number features some blazing fretwork for those that know that Marius is capable of such.

There is a lot of variation within the musical ensembles presented on each track, some pieces feature small chamber orchestras, while others may be performed with duos or trios. There are also female vocals on a couple tracks too. With so many different ensembles, recording locations and recording engineers, it’s a surprise how well this album flows from track to track. The production on here is excellent and the sound is crystal clear and fortunately devoid of any digital sugar coating.

MICHAEL FORMANEK Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet : As Things Do

Album · 2023 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Michael Formanek has enjoyed a respectable double bassist status on the New York creative jazz scene for three decades. He is probably better known by his association with reedist Tim Berne, but he has released many works as leader as well. Here on, "As Things Do", Formanek demonstrates more his abilities as a composer, the occupation he is renown for during the last decade or more.

Formanek leads the all-star Elusion Quartet on this, already their second album together. It's another New York scene veteran, sax player Tony Malaby, who steals the show though. His sax soloing is always on the front, sometimes recalling the bird calls, other times sounding as a human voice. His sax is soulful, tasteful, intelligent and full of life. Pianist Kris Davis, who released possibly one of the most highly rated albums of the year this year, stays a bit in the shade here, with just a few elegant solos and some nice interplays with Malaby (who participates on her above mentioned live album as well).

Formanek (who as usually plays vertical bass himself) composition's are a bit of a mixed bag. Tightly and precisely written on a knotty but quite accessible matter, they sound sometimes a bit too dry and too calculated. Even the very emotional Malaby soloes do not always add enough vitality. Partially, the second album half sounds quite formalistic.

Even if not a strongest Formanek work, this album is worthy to be heard because of the high level musicianship.

MIKE CLARK Kosen Rufu With Eddie Henderson

Album · 2023 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.52 | 2 ratings
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Legendary "Headhunter", Mike Clark, who only released a dozen albums as leader in three decades, just released already his second studio work this year. Even more unusual, differently from his work in Hancock's Headhunters and all series of his own albums, the music on both of his new albums isn't funk-jazz at all. Clark is obviously returning to pre-funk-jazz mainstream, propelling it right to the second decade of a new Millennium.

The sextet contains another former Headhunter, percussionist Bill Summers, legendary trumpeter (and former member of another Herbie Hancock band, Mwandishi) Eddie Henderson, veteran double-bassist Henry Franklin, eclectic keyboardist Wayne Horvitz (renown by his collaborations with John Zorn and Bill Frisell among others) and punk-jazz sax player Skerik. It's quite surprising, that such an unorthodox collective plays well controlled and precisely framed bop. True, the arrangements are very contemporary and makes the entire music very attractive. No surprise then, that among the original compositions there is a classic version of Eric Dolphy's "Hat and Beard" from possibly the most renown free-bop album in jazz history, "Out To Lunch". Six decades after the original's release, such music can hardly be described as "avant-garde jazz", as it was in 1964, but the addition of this genre-defining composition from the past helps a lot to understand what Clark's "Kosen Rufu" is about.

In fact, the great drummer recorded his very own "Out To Lunch" for the second decade of 00's. Rooted in the best bop tradition of the 50s, with help from extra-skilled collaborators, Clark presents a very contemporary sounding "new-bop", very percussive, tuneful and full-bodied. Perfectly recorded (with "old school" crystal clear warm sound), the album's music contains extended moody Henderson trumpet soloing over the groovy physical rhythm section on many songs. Former Headhunters' background sparkles perfectly on funky "BBQ on Auseon" and "Signature". "Luconchu's Night Out" demonstrates high energy with both reeds dueling. Some freer improvs never destroy the quite comfortable music flow.

Very modern sounding album which at the same time perfectly illustrates what the real Jazz (with big "J") is, the feeling that has been partially forgotten for a while. Many listeners will return back to this music again and again.

HUGH MASEKELA Hugh Masekela & Siparia Deltones : Siparia to Soweto

Album · 2023 · African Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Renown South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela's posthumous album, "Siparia to Soweto", contains the recordings he made during his visits to the Caribbean isle of Trinidad in 2012-2016. Masekela recorded all of these songs with the leading domestic steel pans orchestra, Siparia Deltones, and now these songs are being released for the first time ever.

The album's opener, "The Meeting Place", invites the listener to a colorful world of Caribbean calypso, with Masekela singing and playing trumpet solos over the danceable steelpan pulsations. Song after song, the musicians demonstrate all of the kaleidoscope of Afro-Carribean styles, danceable and with sparkling energy.

Predominantly Caribbean (thanks to the steel pan sound and specific region rhythms), the album's music contains some songs with stronger South African township vibe (such as "Lady" or "Mae Mae"). Possibly, the main attraction to this album is how well the two different, but strongly related, musical cultures fit together showing their similarities, while demonstrating obvious differences.

Similar to many better albums of similar music, this warm, emotive and colorful fest of life is a true relief when the days become shorter and the sun is more and more a rare guest on the greyish North European sky and the first snowflakes indicate the winter is not too far away.

WOLFGANG MUTHSPIEL Wolfgang Muthspiel, Scott Colley & Brian Blade : Dance of the Elders

Album · 2023 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Class is in session, but forget the lecture hall; today's syllabus takes us straight into the musical sandbox of Wolfgang Muthspiel's “Dance of the Elders.” Now, if you haven't jammed to Muthspiel before, here's the 411: this Austrian guitarist is a jazz maven, and he's got the creds to prove it. Teaming up with Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums, this is more than a trio—it's a microcosm of musical evolution.

Context, my friends, context! Think of this album as a sonic seminar where each track is a guest lecture from a different department. We've got cameos from the world of classical music, nods to folk traditions, and a heavy dose of jazz improvisation. It's like attending a conference where Bach and Joni Mitchell share the stage with Brad Mehldau—and they're all jamming together.

Track-by-track, or should I say, lecture-by-lecture, we will explore “Dance of the Elders.” Starting with "Invocation." Picture walking into a cathedral of sound; this track lays the foundation for the album with its meditative, quasi-spiritual vibes. Muthspiel himself calls the "endless loop" a "vast landscape." Think of it as musical mindfulness.

"Prelude to Bach" is your Music History 101 recap, but with a twist. The trio takes a Bach classic and improvises around it, reminding us that the Baroque era was the OG jam session. Next on the syllabus is "Dance of the Elders." This is where ethnomusicology meets polyrhythms. The track incorporates global influences, offering a musical melting pot or, if you will, a 'World Music 101' in under 10 minutes.

Here's where the curriculum gets more interdisciplinary. "Liebeslied," folks, isn't just a waltz that's made its way into the jazz canon. Oh no, this tune has roots that reach deep into the socio-political tapestry of Weimar Germany. We're talking Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the Lennon and McCartney of political theater, if you will. Now, when Muthspiel's trio takes on this gem, what we're witnessing is not just a musical performance but a nuanced cultural commentary—jazz as the literature of the oppressed, so to speak.

Alright, art majors, let's pivot to "Folksong." This tune is a masterclass in 'less is more.' Muthspiel's guitar sets the canvas with broad harmonic strokes, while Colley's bass adds fine, textured lines. Blade's drumming? Think Jackson Pollock meets Monet—rhythmic splatters bound by subtle finesse. They navigate a folk melody over evolving chords, layering sonic hues like a painting that demands a double-take. Simple yet deep—just like the best art.

How about we let "Cantus Bradus" speak for itself in the language of virtuosity? Influenced by the work of Brad Mehldau, this track showcases harmonic genius and rhythmic acumen. Muthspiel's guitar weaves intricate textures, intricacies met in full by Colley's bass and Blade's drumming. This trio's conversation here isn't casual banter; it's a series of eloquent monologues, responding to and building upon each other. For those of you looking to dissect layers, this is your analytic playground. It's practically a master's thesis in rhythm and harmony, all within the span of a few minutes.

"Amelia," the denouement. It's like the trio took a seminar on Joni Mitchell and aced the final exam. It pays homage while adding fresh academic footnotes.

You see, my scholarly compatriots, “Dance of the Elders,” isn't just a jazz album; it's a multidisciplinary research project. The trio pushes the boundaries, not only of what jazz can be but also of what music, in a holistic sense, has the potential to communicate. So, as we journey from the ethereal to the earthly, from the complex to the accessible, we're reminded that, in the end, it's all part of the more excellent academic discourse—a musical one, in this case.

So if you're looking for a musical text that requires, nay, demands multiple readings—or listenings, in this case—"Dance of the Elders” is your seminar's required listening.

CLAUDIO MILANO (NICHELODEON) ManifestAzioni live 2011​-​2023

Live album · 2023 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Vocalist/voice artist Claudio Milano is a stand-alone figure on the Italian music scene. A singer with wide-range operatic vocals, Claudio works on a fragile soil mixing classical music, free improvisation, Italian tradition and progressive rock aesthetics. Knowing Claudio almost for two decades, I still can't stop wondering about his ability to disappear for years and then return on the scene as a Phenix back again.

Newest Claudio release - double-CD album "ManifestAzioni live 2011​-​2023" contains previously unreleased live music from the last twelve years, recorded by Claudio's different projects and collaborations.

The double set opens with very eloquent music - true rock song, recorded by legendary Rock Progressivo Italiano band Area descendants, Area Open Project, with Claudio responsible for the vocals. In the early 70s, Area was a very popular band led by Greek-Egyptian vocalist Demetrio Stratos, renown by his theatrical vocals and unusual voice improvisations. Claudio obviously pays respect to Stratos, one of his big influences. An excellent piece for fans of progressive rock with original Area bassist Ares Tavolazzi on board.

Six set's tracks come from I Sincopatici - Milanese keys/bass/drums trio, accompanying Claudio singing the songs based on Dante Alighieri's poetry. Six more tracks are recorded with "border music" band Strepitz, with feel-able folklore influences and rock arrangements (Area's original guitarist Paolo Tofani's three-necks guitar soloing on "Aghe Aghe benedete" is impressive).

There are pieces on this set coming from some of Milano's own projects from the previous decade (multimedia NichelOdeon and duo with sounds artist Marco Tuppo InSonar) as well.

Second set's disc opens with a vocal-only composition, based on controversial Bulgarian author Nikolay Rainov (who studied Theology in Russia) "Il Diavolo Creatore". "Pan’s Pot" is a duet with voice artist Arrington De Dionyso and "SenseNonSex" is a vocal duet with Giulia Zaniboni.

Being of very eclectic origin, this album's material fits together quite well, especially on CD 1. With great recording quality considering its a collection of different periods archival recordings, and feel-able Italian progressive rock tradition, this release is probably a bit more framed than many of Claudio's previous works. Those already familiar with Claudio Milano's art will no doubt enjoy this, and probably it will attract some new listeners as well.

JOE ALTERMAN Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann : Big Mo & Little Joe

Album · 2023 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Remember when jazz was as much about mentorship as it was about music? Joe Alterman certainly does. His tribute to Les McCann is a compelling example of mentorship, friendship, and timeless sounds. The Atlanta-based pianist's offering, "Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe," released on August 11, 2023, is a nostalgic nod to McCann's musical genius and a modern reinterpretation of his works.

McCann, a legend in his own right, was known for his expansive ensemble works. Here, Alterman condenses the vast soundscapes of McCann to an intimate trio of piano, bass (Kevin Smith), and drums (Justin Chesarek). The result? A tight-knit sound that retains the expansive feel of McCann's originals but with an added intensity and focus. In the process, Alterman breathes fresh life into lesser-known tracks that followed the iconic McCann's "Compared To What."

"Gone On And Get That Church" is steeped in gospel roots. There's an undeniable soulfulness, transporting listeners straight to a sunlit Sunday morning church service. Smith's bass and Chesarek's drums provide a driving backdrop to Alterman's rhythmically driving improvisation.

"Someday We'll Meet Again" carries a funky rhythm. Alterman's agile technique remains ever at the service of his expressive musicality. His soloing – built on rich bluesy ideas – speaks to his mastery and reverence for McCann's gospel blues influence.

"Ruby Jubilation" brings us a gospel swing that feels so right, with the trio's chemistry shining bright. Smith's bass line, undulating and assertive, complements Chesarek's dynamic drumming. Alterman's expressive touch on the keys here hints at a depth and versatility that's simply enthralling. Can I get a witness?

The choice of instrumentation pays homage to the quintessential jazz trio. Gospel influences, rich rhythmic textures, and the unmistakable touch of Alterman on the keys weave a tale of friendship, nostalgia, and spirituality. The impeccable recording quality, courtesy of Trammell Starks and the mastering finesse of Dave Nelson and Marlon Patton, ensures that every nuance is warmly captured.

This album chronicles a decade-long relationship between two jazz stalwarts. As the tracks flow, so do the tales of mentorship and camaraderie. Alterman's relationship with McCann comes through the music as deeply personal, making this tribute stand out from countless others.

While “Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe” induces us to reflect on the outcomes of jazz education's shift to academic institutions, this album beckons us back to an era where mentorship was intimate and deeply personal. It evokes memories of dimly lit bars, impromptu jam sessions, and life lessons intricately woven through every note and rhythm, handed down from master to apprentice.

In "Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe," Alterman reminds us that mentored jazz tells stories, evokes emotions, and bridges generations.

THE BUDOS BAND Frontier's Edge

EP · 2023 · RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Thanks to the acid jazz movement of the late 80s and the rare groove DJs, a lot of 60s music was given a new life. Genres such as blaxploitation soundtracks, exotica, psychedelic RnB and soul jazz were pushed aside in the 80s as being too much of their time period and way too kitsch for sophisticated tastes. Surprise, all of these genres became cooler than ever since the mid-90s and are continuing to hold a steady popularity among devoted cult followings. This leads us to the Budos Band who hit the scene in 2005 playing their approximation of Ethiopian jazz mixed with Afro-beat and other influences. In recent times, they have been sliding towards 60s psychedlic funk and RnB, which is the case with their latest EP, “Frontier’s Edge”.

This is a power packed EP with seven compact tunes and no wasted space. Budos is a large ensemble, featuring anywhere from eleven to thirteen band members. Their horn sound is very African, sounding similar to Cymande or King Tubby’s dub experiments. The foundation of the group is trap set plus percussion and their jams are driven with funky wah-wah guitar and Farfisa organ, tying the pop music of Africa with the sounds of early Funkadelic and the Chambers Brothers. There are occasional short solos, but mostly this band is about great melodies pushed by a polyrhythmic base and sprinkled with psychedelic pixie dust. The effects from analog tape delay and the characteristic feedback such machines can produce is a big part of their colorful sound. This is righteous vibes music, drop the needle and let the party start.

ORRIN EVANS The Red Door

Album · 2023 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Pianist, composer and one-time member of nu jazz trio Bad Plus, Orrin Evans on his new album, "The Red Door", sounds exactly like one can expect - quite straight forward, tuneful and accessible. Containing a well balanced collection of standards and originals, the album sounds very much as if it comes right from the eighties.

If Evan's former band's musical aesthetics can be described as pop-songs played in a fashionable jazzy key, the newest Evans work is more a traditional jazz band playing some popular jazz tunes. There are some freer solos on a few compositions, but generally very competent band plays up-tempo, sometimes r'n'b influenced well-rounded pieces. Three of the album's songs contain vocals - including the popular Jazzmeia Horn on "Big Small".

Taking a few risks, Evans music is well-done, sounds warm and comfortable without being cheesy. Listeners with nostalgia for eighties straight-forward jazz will probably find a lot to enjoy here.

JAE SINNETT Jae Sinnett's Zero To 60 Quartet : Commitment

Album · 2023 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It is a testament to an artist's vitality and creative skill when they can churn out their 19th record and still have it bristle with an electrifying freshness. Jae Sinnett, a veteran jazz drummer, composer, and bandleader who has spent decades enhancing his craft and teaching others to find their own musical voices, precisely achieves this with his album, “Commitment.” The record, an exhilarating mélange of Sinnett's compositions, and an intelligent reworking of standards explore jazz's multifaceted nature that showcases the immense versatility of the Zero to 60 Quartet members. The ensemble made up of all-star musicians, including Steve Wilson on alto and soprano saxophones, Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Allen Farnham on piano, and Terry Burrell on acoustic and electric bass, complement Sinnett's powerful drumming perfectly, each one adding a distinctive color to the rich tapestry of sounds.

The album sets off to a thrilling start with Sinnett's "Takin' It There," a formidable nod to the hard bop genre, pulsating with the energy that sets the tone for what follows. An equally impressive exploration is evident in the reinterpretation of Frank Foster's composition, "Simone." Sinnett's innovative arrangement and his polyrhythmic drumming are complimented by Brecker's fluid horn ideas and Farnham's application of modern voicings, imparting a modern edge to this timeless classic. Sinnett displays a nuanced understanding of pacing and intensity, demonstrated in the selection of tracks such as "Muhammara's Dance" and "Wait For Me." Here, muscular modern jazz is showcased with a display of raw, undiluted talent, each musician contributing to the overall energy of the pieces while retaining their individualistic flair.

The quartet's efforts to straddle diverse genres continue beyond there. Clare Fischer's Latin-tinged "Morning" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's rhythmic finale, "Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)," are delightful surprises that underscore the ensemble's ability to effortlessly navigate between different styles with Sinnett's deep rhythmic understanding leading the way. What truly stands out in this album is the artistic symbiosis between the quartet members. There is a clear dialogue between the musicians as they seamlessly move between solos and ensemble playing. Sinnett, a masterful drummer, and visionary composer, directs the flow of the music, expertly underpinning the melodic explorations of his colleagues while occasionally stealing the spotlight with his riveting solos.

Jae Sinnett's Zero to 60 Quartet has succeeded in creating an album that exemplifies the idea of 'Commitment'—a commitment to the craft, exploration, synergy, and, most importantly, to the listener. With each track, the album tells a unique story, creating a listening experience that is both thought-provoking and engaging. The audaciousness of the performances and the sagacity in the compositions make “Commitment” a stellar addition to Sinnett's extensive discography and a testament to his ongoing relevance in the jazz world.

DAVID HAZELTINE Blues For Gerry

Album · 2023 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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With the hutzpa of a brilliant polychord on a perfectly tuned Steinway and the elegance of a gently whispered standard melody, David Hazeltine steps back into the limelight with his latest gem, "Blues for Gerry." This album is a creative journey and a nostalgic trip down the Criss Cross memory lane, marking Hazeltine's first venture as a leader with the label in over a decade. The spirit of Gerry Teekens, Criss Cross' original founder, resonates in each measure, subtly tracing the evocative, rhythmic undertones this album delivers.

This compelling set of music, recorded in a whirlwind six-hour session, brings together the genius of modern jazz luminaries - Peter Washington and Joe Farnsworth - conjuring a magnetic synergy throughout the album. It's like savoring a rich blend of vintage wine, each track bearing its unique flavor yet still reflecting the distinct Criss Cross signature. By revisiting the essential "blues" that Gerry Sr. loved so dearly, Hazeltine crafts an intimate tribute that is as much about the past as it is about the future of jazz. So, sit back, tune in, and let the vibrant echoes of Hazeltine's piano, Washington's double bass, and Farnsworth's drums serenade your senses. Class is in session, folks - and the subject is "Blues for Gerry."

"Here Again," a dynamic Hazeltine opener that quenches your thirst for swing with the trio's elastic execution, is a track that serves as a tone-setting beacon, priming your ears for the sonic discoveries that lie ahead.

Hazeltine's interpretation of "Tangerine" is an instant stand-out, his masterful arrangement infusing the standard with an irresistible Latin flair. His chord voicings here are a veritable work of beauty, expertly sprinkled across the canvas of the rhythm section, painting a vibrant, pulsating picture.

The eponymous "Blues for Gerry" and "Firm Roots" dial the swing-o-meter back up, featuring a rich tempo spectrum that offers a delightful dance between the medium and the up-tempo. Again, Washington and Farnsworth prove themselves a formidable swing machine, supplying a steady, infectious rhythm that Hazeltine adorns with his polished lines and syncopation.

Midway through the album, we traverse the familiar terrain of "Body and Soul," "It Could Happen to You," and "Skylark," standards that have been visited and revisited countless times in jazz history. However, the trio breathes fresh life into these oft-trodden harmonic footprints. Hazeltine leads the charge, his inventive approach to harmony offering a refreshing outlook that frames these standards in an entirely new light. It's like revisiting a beloved book, only to discover that new chapters have been added. These performances are the album's heart, marking a memorable juncture in this real jazz musical journey.

As we round off this melodious journey through "Blues for Gerry," it becomes increasingly clear that Hazeltine has, once again, penned a radiant chapter in the narrative of jazz. This album doesn't just pay homage to the genre's roots and points towards its promising future. The potent collaboration with Washington and Farnsworth has given rise to a body of work that dances deftly on the delicate edge of tradition and innovation.

Suppose there's one truth to be gleaned from Hazeltine's latest opus. In that case, it's the reaffirmation of the pianist's exceptional ability to fuse swing, harmonic complexity, and emotional authenticity in a single, seamless, musical breath. In a world that can sometimes feel devoid of swing, "Blues for Gerry" offers a much-needed swing infusion, a record that makes you tap your foot, nod your head, and let the blues sway your spirit. Class is dismissed, but the music continues.

JEFF RICHMAN XYZ

Album · 2023 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Carmel
Jeff Richman, a distinguished musician, composer, and producer, has carved a remarkable career as one of the world's foremost fusion guitarists. With an enduring influence from the late, great Jeff Beck, Richman's technical mastery and improvisational genius speak to his deep roots in rock and fusion. His impactful contributions to fusion have set him apart as an innovative trailblazer and advanced the genre, pushing its boundaries to new frontiers. A graduate of the esteemed Berklee School of Music in 1975, Richman's work in music has been steady for nearly half a century as his unique offerings continue to enrich the world of fusion.

"XYZ," Richman's latest album, is a testament to patience, innovation, and the art of collaboration. After several years since his last release, "Sizzle," Richman returns with his eighteenth record as a bandleader, serving up nine original compositions that marry his signature fusion sound with a modern-day swagger. Richman's ensemble is propelled by the talents of rhythm section powerhouses Vinnie Colaiuta and Jimmy Haslip, alongside notable keyboardists George Whitty, Scott Kinsey, Mitchel Forman, Otmaro Ruiz, and trumpet soloist Jeff Beal. This diverse line-up of musicians provides a rich backdrop for Richman's intricate compositions. Expanding upon Richman's established sound, "XYZ" ventures into a new sonic territory, delivering a fresh take on the limitless possibilities of fusion.

The album's title track, "XYZ," overflows with Richman's distinctive guitar-playing style, where his remarkable improvisation skills are prominently displayed. The solo Richman performs is an intricate tapestry that strikes a delicate balance between the sophistication of jazz and the raw energy of rock and blues. Richman's journey through the song's diverse musical landscape is underpinned by the blues' authentic emotion and the adventurous exploration of various jazz chord voicings, scales, and modes. His choice of notes, the intricate bends, and the way he uses the whammy bar all contribute to creating a musical narrative rich in rock's energy and dynamics. The result is Richman's unexpected twists and turns rooted in Richman's innate understanding of the song's underlying chord progressions and his ability to quickly and creatively navigate through them. In addition, his improvisation enhances the composition, making the music feel spontaneous yet coherent, a testament to his fluency in the language of jazz fusion.

"Optamystical," a Richman original, showcases the fusion guitarist's exceptional creativity and originality as he explores an array of musical terrains, cleverly navigating through shifting moods and textures with the steady pulse of Colaiuta and Haslip grounding the groove. What sets Richman's guitar playing apart is his ability to maintain a clear, warm, and lyrical tone, even when manipulating his sound through various effects to match the song's evolving sections. This careful, thoughtful approach to sound design and tone shaping is a testament to Richman's originality and enhances the track's overall appeal, drawing listeners into the intricate details of its construction.

Richman's "XYZ" is a remarkable testament to his enduring musical abilities and innovation in the ever-evolving world of jazz fusion. The album exhibits Richman's command over his instrument, his profound understanding of music theory, and his innate ability to fuse diverse musical elements seamlessly. The diverse talents of the assembled musicians further enrich the album, providing a robust, nuanced canvas for Richman's compositions and improvisations. "XYZ" meets the high standards set by his previous albums, but he also pushes the boundaries of his expression with jazz fusion guitar. It's an offering that undoubtedly expands Richman's legacy, solidifying his position as a leading innovator in the genre and a must-have for all fusion lovers, especially guitarists.

BRAD MEHLDAU Your Mother Should Know : Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles

Live album · 2023 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
Much like some other aging jazz musicians such as Bill Frisell and John Scofield, Brad Mehldau seems to be heading in a somewhat nostalgic direction these days. His previous album saw him exploring the prog rock of his youth, and now his latest, “Your Mother Should Know”, goes back a bit further and into the musical reign of The Beatles. If you have ever heard Brad’s lengthy improv on “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, then you will know that he can pull things never imagined before from the simplest pop tune, but this Beatles tribute is not that extravagant. Instead, on this album Mehldau more or less stays with the original tune, both in melody and in the general length of the song, but what he inserts while exploring these songs makes for some fascinating listening.

The handful of Beatle songs that jazz musicians like to play are on here, particularly “Here, There and Everywhere”, a song well on its way to becoming a ‘standard’, but there is also some sillier stuff that one wouldn’t expect a jazzer to touch. In the well written pamphlet that accompanies this CD, Brad explains how he found it interesting that The Beatles would often dive into older styles of pop and vaudeville. In that style Brad gives us, “Your Mother Should Know”, and an Art Tatum and Ellington influenced version of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. On, “I Saw Her Standing There”, Mehldau digs into his boogie-woogie chops, something he is not usually known for.

“I am the Walrus” may be the artiest art pop song ever, and a real challenge for a solo piano player, but Brad handles it well by mostly sticking to the structure of the original with some interesting embellishments added. Yes, this album is kind of ‘cute’ and nostalgic, but there is enough true artistry and imaginative changing of harmonies and tone colors to make it interesting to even the hardcore jazz fan, or someone who just likes creative contemporary music. A hallmark of Brad’s playing is that he rarely gives into gratuitous flash, every note he plays counts and is well considered, and that is why he is so adept with pop material as pop songs are often composed under similar constraints.

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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snobb
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.

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