Jazz Music Reviews (new releases)

MICHAEL RABINOWITZ Uncharted Waters

Album · 2017 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
When I saw that this album had been released, I knew I had to hear it for myself: I mean, just how many jazz albums have you come across where the band leader plays bassoon? Michael has been making a name for himself since graduating with a BFA in music performance from SUNY at Purchase in the late seventies. He is highly regarded as an improviser within the scene, and has played with and collaborated in many different settings. He first came across Nat Harris (guitar) and Ruslan Khain (bass) in 1995 at the Kavehaz jazz club in New York City, and the trio developed a sound together while playing across the New York metro area. Ten years later he played with Vince Ector (drums) with the Charles Mingus Orchestra, and from there the band Bassoon In The Wild was born. This is their first album, although it is credited solely to Michael.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a bassoon as a lead instrument in any musical style, and on hearing this I wonder why on earth not? In many ways, it is similar to a baritone sax, but there is more depth and vitality, as well as a surprisingly high register. Michael is an undoubted master, making this large and ungainly instrument do exactly what he requires. He has an incredibly fluid approach, and the notes seem to sweep into each other, almost as if they are a living being. He is often at the forefront of the sound, but is also prepared to take a back seat and let the others take the lead when the moment is right. This is the type of relaxed jazz where each player is a master, and all know that there is no need to be flashy or play five thousand notes to the bar, but rather [play exactly the right note at exactly the right time to enhance the overall feel.

This album isn’t available until the beginning of July, but anyone who wants some classic jazz with some incredibly warm sounds and memorable playing, should have this noted in their diary.

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.48 | 4 ratings
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js
Always working at the forefront of what is new and interesting in today’s jazz scene, Craig Taborn has produced one of the better albums of his career, and also one of the better new jazz albums this year with, “Daylight Ghosts”. Building on the style he established on 2013’s brilliant “Chant”, Craig continues to use repeating rhythmic figures to construct his compositions that some have compared to minimalism. Taborn’s ‘minimalism’ has very little to do with composers like John Adams or Phillip Glass, but instead reflects the timeless music of Africa and Indonesia, as well as composers who pull from that deep well such as Steve Reich. To these insistent rhythms Taborn adds a swinging flow borrowed from today’s post bop, as well as some rhythmic drive from the fusion side of things and the end result is a musical style that sounds like no one else but Craig Taborn.

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

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

MIRIODOR Signal 9

Album · 2017 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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kev rowland
So the Canadians are back with their ninth studio album, and a slight change in line-up as they move back to a quartet, but as all of the guys play multiple instruments anyway there isn’t a noticeable difference in that area. As with the excellent ‘Cobra Fakir’, the first word that springs to mind is “staccato”, as this is music that is rapidly moving around and for the most part doesn’t have time for long held-down chords but just wants to get on with it. Coming from a RIO/Avant background, they have been listening to some of the early Canterbury bands as well as to King Crimson and Art Zoyd to create something that is always interesting and complex, and just a little different to much that is available within the prog scene, let alone mainstream.

It is the type of album that will polarise opinions, as those who like it will enjoy it a great deal, while others will fall into the “what on earth are you listening to” camp, and won’t give this album the time it both needs and deserves to get the most out of it. This is complex, with lots of melodies and counter-melodies, with Bernard Falaise often crunching the guitar against myriad keyboard sounds, but that can all change in an instant. It is music that does demand respect and attention, and those prepared to do just that will get a great deal out of this, as it is incredibly rewarding.

JACK DEJOHNETTE In Movement

Album · 2016 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
SCINTILLATINGLY TIMELESS!

I'm making the assumption that everyone reading this review will KNOW who I'm talking about when I refer to the fathers of Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison. As a longtime DeJohnette listener, I found it VERY compelling that he would elect to record an ECM album with the sons of two legends he had performed with oh-so-long ago. Allow me to say with all the enthusiasm I can muster that while risks have been taken, the results can only be described as an album for the ages.

How can such a claim be justified with mere words? Here's a rundown of each player's performance:

Matthew Garrison: I start with Matthew because he offers this album's biggest surprises. Unlike his father, he plays the electric bass and adds "electronics" to a majority of the eight tracks. For those hoping for a good old-fashioned blowing session, you've come to the wrong place. Yes, the players' pedigrees would lead one to assume this will be a nostalgic look backward, but it just plain is not. Garrison adds spikey yet swirling textures to the title track after opening with an electric solo, and a pulsing, thudding bassline to the spooky "Two Jimmys". He rumbles on "Serpentine Fire" and broods behind the wistfully fluttering "Lydia". The album would most likely have ended up radically different (read: far less modern) without his significant contributions.

Ravi Coltrane: For as long as he lives, Ravi will be a source of amazement for having the utter boldness to play the same instrument as his father. And naturally, for as long as he lives, the two will be compared and contrasted. On In Movement, he plays the tenor on only two tracks (a mournful take of his father's composition "Alabama" and "Two Jimmys"), and soprano on the rest. While the screaming, squeaking tones heard on the title track and "Serpentine Fire" will elicit a smile of recognition, Ravi's playing is unquestionably influenced by his father without being too derivative. Some will no doubt point to his performance on "Rashied" and insist he's trying just a little too hard to recapture his father's snarly, volcanic tone, but Ravi is truly his own man. In Movement is simply not a pale reflection of past glories.

Jack DeJohnette: For someone who has been playing professionally for over 50 years, this album's drumming is downright phenomenal! Listen especially to the scintillating, intricate cymbals on "Alabama" and "Two Jimmys", and the stomping bass drum and imposing snare on "Serpentine Fire". Forget about the idea of taking it easy before sailing off into the sunset: the man has lost none of his ability, and is "all over the place" without ever dominating the material. If you want to be reminded of his fiery playing from the mid-1970s (on albums such as Gateway and Timeless), listen to his intro on "Rashied". There will be grumbling about the two tracks he leads from the piano rather than the drums (a free take of "Blue in Green", and the lightly airy-yet-still-haunting "Soulful Ballad"), but these two offer a reflective change-of-pace, and a nice contrast to the rest of the album.

Because of the players involved, In Movement will certainly be listened to and discussed for some time to come. Let me just restate that this is an amazing album, and an immediate candidate for all "best of" lists. Fans of DeJohnette, Coltrane, and Garrison will be coming back to this one again and again, long after the inevitable media hoopla has died down. Packaging and recording are (as always for ECM) immaculate. And for the cynics who say this is the closest ECM will ever come to releasing a Coltrane album, can I just say, "Thank God!"

PHRONESIS The Behemoth

Album · 2017 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
During a decade of their activities, Nordic-British trio Phronesis built a strong reputation as leading UK-based jazz band of new generation. Led by charismatic Danish bassist Jasper Høiby, trio successfully combined renown Swedes EST-influenced contemporary chamber jazz with their own well-composed themes and energetic live performances. After some years of fame, trio members try to find out new destinations where their music could be developed. On "Parallax", their studio album released in 2016, Phronesis for the first time leave safe waters of comfortable and successful music of their early albums and switch to more muscular (and less tuneful/memorable) fusion sound - with mixed success. Seeing them playing live last autumn with program which contained both old (contemporary chamber jazz) and new (fusion) songs, was quite a controversial experience. Older compositions were all much more polished,tuneful and often just beautiful, new muscular songs radiated energy and groove but as rule were quite faceless and unmemorable.

Anyway, this spring Phronesis made another unexpected step - trio released album of their well-known songs recorded with German big band. This time it works without doubts - excellent Julian Arguelles arrangements with lots of horns soloing and perfect muscular big band sound help to show Phronesis compositions' potential in full. There are no tricks or gimmicks in orchestra's music at all - all album sounds as best Gil Evans or Charles Mingus big orchestra recordings. Music is full-bodied, well balanced, tasteful and played with lot of positive energy and enthusiasm.

Excellent generalization of Phronesis first decade of activities - with lot of optimism and looking ahead, not in a past. One of the best big orchestra release I heard for years.

OLIVER LAKE Right Up On

Live album · 2017 · Third Stream
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland


Oliver Lake is showing no signs at all of slowing down, even though he released his debut album as long ago as 1974, and continues to play and record with a variety of ground-breaking jazz groups. He has been working with the Flux quartet since 2002, and this album is their first collaboration together. Somewhat unusually, this isn’t a collaboration in the sense one would normally expect, but instead features The Flux Quartet performing seven of Oliver’s compositions for string quartet, and he only joins them on alto sax for three of these.

The result is something that is grounded in jazz, but with real avant-garde and classical stylings. This is as abrasive as it is compelling, and while never easy to listen to has a depth and breaking soul that cries out to be heard. I have never heard strings played as harshly as this, the beguiling sound one normally expects is nowhere to be heard, and instead we have music that wouldn’t be out of place on a kitsch Seventies Italian horror noir. This certainly isn’t music for the fainthearted, yet for those who are brave enough to keep turning this up there is a very special world indeed to be discovered. To my poor old jaded ears this is fresh, invigorating, compelling and immediate. From the first note to the very last I was intrigued and excited, as these musicians combine to create something incredibly significant.

DUKE ELLINGTON An Intimate Piano Session

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

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

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

EVAN PARKER Evan Parker & RGG : [email protected]

Live album · 2017 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
In a world of modern technologies one need just to have a wish and make few easy steps to establish a new jazz label. Music market is overloaded with releases, many of them are just a memorabilia for artists friends and families, but some contain really great music.

Polish young and ambitious label Fundacja Słuchaj! for some time releases (mostly) live recordings of Polish and world known advanced jazz musicians, many albums contain really impressive music. One of their very fresh releases presents quite unorthodox quartet, formed for one-night concert in probably Polish most renown jazz club Krakow's Alchemia.

British sax player Evan Parker needs no introduction. Being one of the living legend UK's free jazz, he plays and record really a lot, but mostly with avant-garde musicians. Polish contemporary jazz trio RGG are known and really popular collective in Poland playing music influenced by their great compatriot Tomasz Stanko and ECM-style European chamber jazz in general. Here on "[email protected]" Parker and RGG play four free improvised compositions and its works surprisingly well.

First of all, Evan Parker doesn't steal the show but plays as equal collaborator with trio and it saves the gig from being just another "Evan Parker plus supporting local band" night. From other hand, RGG staying melancholic tuneful typical Polish piano trio play freer and groovier than on their regular recordings. In fact, RGG build melodic and rhythmic basis for tasteful and surprisingly lyrical, but always energetic Parker's sax solo improvisations.

Album's music is perfectly recorded and well edited - one can find here that rare balance between accessibility and adventuress which saves any jazz release from being both far too "out" and boringly predictable. True label's success, bravo!

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

Album · 2017 · Swing
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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js
The Microscopic Septet is one of those eclectic downtown NYC combos that got their start in the early 80s during the so-called ‘knitting factory scene’. The band disbanded in the late 80s, only to reappear a few decades later for today’s NYC scene that still leans toward eclectic influences and a quirky sense of humor. Microscopic has always favored a swing feel in their music, but not in a nostalgic or museum sense, instead, they often infuse their music with bits of the avant-garde, as well as polkas, tangos, cartoon music, punk rock and whatever else may be laying about. On their latest album, “Been Up So Long it Looks Like Down to Me”, the Septet leans heavily on their swing roots as they present eleven originals, plus two covers, that sound like they could have come from a swing dance club in the 40s. All the same, don’t confuse this album with that whole bothersome ’swing revival’ that came out of San Francisco in the post grunge mid 90s. Microscopic’s music is way more informed about what swing was, and can be in the future, than most of the heavy handed dull trend followers that made up the fortunately short lived ‘revival’.

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

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

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

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) Ruler Rebel

Album · 2017 · DJ/Electronica Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott made his name during the last few years on the wave of jazz crossovers oriented to young rock, RnB or techno fans, during an explosive growth of popularity (Kamasi Washington with his triple CD is another great example).

I happened to see Scott playing live two years ago during his European tour - he demonstrated his showman and leadership abilities leading his young musician's band, and being much more than a virtuoso trumpeter. He spoke a lot (really more than he played trumpet), mostly about racial problems in his hometown of New Orleans.

Two years later, in 2017, Christian Scott announced releasing a trilogy dedicated to "re-evaluation of the social political realities of the world through sound... slavery in America via the prison industrial complex, food insecurity, xenophobia, immigration, climate change, gender inequality, fascism and the return of the demagogue". Not surprisingly, the trilogy's first album "Ruler Rebel" goes deeper into electronics/hip-hop culture and demonstrates sounds that are more usual for London clubs than for New Orleans streets.

Christian Scott leads basically almost the same band as on his previous album, with flutist Elena Pinderhughes on board. The music on here is a quite beautiful mix of African rhythms, heavily adapted to modern urban culture's ears with wide use of samplers and rhythm machines. There are lot of Scott's trumpet soloing on this album, mostly all straight-ahead clear tones flying over electronic rhythms/samples somewhat similar to smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti's manner. Probably the main attraction in this album's music is a quite successful mix of New Orleans positive energy and modern urban electronic sound. Not strange is that Scott is even more popular in London clubs than in native America - what may sound as exotic in New Orleans is very close to most modern London youth club's sound standards, with conspicuous difference since similar British bands are usually rooted in Caribbean rhythms.

Not so much a jazz record, this new album's great mission is first of all to introduce young communities, often associated with different musical traditions, to jazz culture and its modern possibilities.

ERROLL GARNER Ready Take One

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

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

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

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

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

Album · 2017 · Swing
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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kev rowland
The complete title of this album is ‘Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me: The Micros Play The Blues’, and was recorded in just two days last May. The Micros were originally formed in 1980, but split up in 1992 after releasing four albums. These were then reissued as two double CD sets by Cuneiform in 2006, which were so successful that it prompted the band to reform (with only one line-up change). Since then they have released three other albums, and are now back with their fourth. There is only one problem, now that I’ve heard this one I’m going to have to go back and get all the others! When playing jazz recorded before 1960, something I’ve been doing a lot of over the last few years, there are some bands that come close to the boundary with blues, providing a swing and feeling that interweaves the two genres, and that is what I am listening to right now.

This is class Golden Age jazz being taken into blues and creating music that is incredibly accessible, enjoyable, and just so damn soulful all at the same time. My father introduced me to jazz when I was young, encouraging me to listen to Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, Bunk Johnson and others, and I know he would get a real kick out of this release as it is right up his alley. They’ve listened to the orchestrations of Duke Ellington, and the way that Thelonious Monk played piano, and brought all this into an incredible album that I can listen to all day. Strangely enough, the song that made the most impression on me is not a blues number as such, but instead is a rather well-known carol. I can honestly say I’ve never heard “Silent Night” played like this before. It starts with just piano, but there is dissonance and chords that don’t quite fit, but actually do very well indeed. This moves into a full band piece that is always recognisable but is taking the song into very new directions indeed. This is a wonderful album, and for details on this and many more invaluable releases visit the label

TOHPATI Mata Hati

Album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.72 | 4 ratings
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kev rowland


Tohpati Ario Hutomo (a.k.a. Bontot) is probably best known for his twenty-year tenure in the incredible simakDialog, but he launched his project Ethnomission back in 2010 with ‘Save The Planet’, and at long last he has brought the band back for a second venture. He of course provides all the guitars, and is joined by Demas Narawangsa (drums), Indro Hardjodikoro (bass), Endang Ramdan /(kendang – a type of two-headed drum used particularly in Gamelan ensembles) and Diki Suwarjiki (suling – a bamboo ring flute, also used in Gamelan ensembles). If that wasn’t enough, they are all joined on the opening track by the Czech Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michaela Ruzickova, which certainly adds a different feel to the overall piece.

With the instrumentation being used, it would be easy to imagine that this is a hard to listen to (to Western ears) romp through traditional Indonesian music, but that is a long way from reality. Tohpati is a guitarist with an incredibly clear sound, and while he is often at the core of what is taking place, he knows just when it is time to step to one side and let others take over. Indro is a revelation, with some stunning bass lines, and one can imagine Tohpati there with a huge smile on his face as he lets his bandmate take centre stage. There is a lot of Indonesian musical references and styles, of course, but this is fusion at its very truest, fusing not only jazz and melody but also Asia and the West in a way that is seamless, marvellous, and entrancing. There is only one thing to be done with an album as good as this. When you shake yourself back into the real world after the fifty-two minutes have flown by, have a good stretch, settle back, and put it on again.

MARY HALVORSON Mary Halvorson Octet : Away With You

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

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

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

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.48 | 4 ratings
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snobb
American pianist Craig Taborn is at the forefront of modern creative jazz.He played with saxophonists James Carter and AEOC's Roscoe Mitchell (Taborn's first presence on ECM label),collaborated with techno producer Carl Craig among others.

As leader, Taborn debuted in 1994 on Japanese DIW label. Since that he released five more solo albums covering such wide areas as nu jazz,avant-garde jazz and even jazz-electronics. Craig very often plays piano and electric keyboards combining them on the same album and freely adapting different techniques even on the same composition.Once I saw Taborn playing live as Michael Formanek band member with all-star line-up including saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Gerald Cleaver and Craig really stole the show!

On Taborn more current releases for German ECM label (including this just released Daylight Ghosts) Craig demonstrates newest trend in modern jazz - improvisational musicianship based on tightly composed songs. His quartet contains one of the most influential representative of this stream reeds player Chris Speed (well known by his work in cult Claudia Quintet and solo works for ECM), popular American nu jazz bassist Chris Lightcup and The Bad Plus drummer Dave King.

Of nine compositions eight are Taborn originals ("Jamaican Farewell" is written by Roscoe Mitchell). Mixing rock, electronica,chamber and jazz traditions, album represents a very modern form of jazz, with big attention to composition but staying playful and lively because of continuing jazzy improvisational musicianship. This music can sound attractive for listener of very different background,incl. fans of ambient/rock/electronics, rock-jazz progressive, avant-garde jazz and third stream as well. Based more on atmospheric moods than concentration on technical perfection, this new Taborn release is one among great examples of new jazz, one of this better music making fame to respectful ECM label.

CAROL MORGAN Post Cool Vol. 1: The Night Shift

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Carmel
Carol Morgan is a jazz trumpeter, composer, educator and author who resides in NYC. Originally from Texas, she is a Juilliard graduate who has worked with many remarkable teachers including Chris Gekker, Mark Gould, Ingrid Jensen, and Dennis Dotson.

Carol’s discography includes six CDs as a leader. The much-anticipated POST COOL (2017) is a return to the Carol Morgan Quartet flavor of her celebrated Blue Glass Music. As a composer, she has been commissioned by DiverseWorks, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble, the Arch-diocese of Houston/Galveston and St. Thomas Presbyterian Church, Houston. In 2008, Carol authored what is now a highly-regarded method for jazz improvisation--a textbook entitled The Practicing Improviser.

Post Cool is a definitive calling card for Morgan, her warm and inviting round trumpet sound is uniquely identifiable from the first notes and is what continues to uplift Morgan among trumpet players of this era. Uniquely tasteful in her note choices and approach, Morgan is an excellent foil to her compadres namely Joel Frahm: tenor sax; Martin Wind: bass; and Matt Wilson: drums; the quartet is a dream team of jazz in a post-cool era.

“Strolling” kicks off the festivities with an easy going swing that features Morgan and Frahm in a counterpoint approach. The melody is wistful and Frahm executes a solo that is chalk full of arpeggios and skillful sets, building a likeable interest for the listener. Morgan’s quick runs, offset by tasteful elongated lines builds the solo with tension and release. Wind and Wilson show their salt with inventive rhythms and dynamism that adds to the elevation of swing and sound.

The classic “Night in Tunisia” is given a respectful run, with Wilson creating interesting rhythm textures, while Morgan sticks to the melody and Frahm creates interesting accompaniment dialog under Morgan. The take is reverential, yet interesting enough to be an original version, not just a rehash.

Two originals adorn this offering, one by Morgan “Night,” and the other by Frahm “Song for Mom,” both full of beauty and depth. Morgan’s tune has dark chocolatey notes dripping with highs and lows, Martin Wind’s bass solo is filled with anticipation and beauty. On Frahm’s tune, a lilting melody is presented, and you can almost hear the story of mom unfold through the music. Frahm’s sax is commanding and full of passion, as he digs into the story with his horn. Morgan in toe also creates impassioned lines and fire. The group pushes to the climax of the song while Morgan creates the beauty in the accompaniment on this tune for Frahm, who holds the melody role. One would expect nothing less from Morgan but a fruitful beauty that lingers long past the listen, and once again this trumpeter has delivered. Another gleaming win in an ever-growing discography of potency. Highly recommended.

TOHPATI Mata Hati

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

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

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

PETER EVANS Lifeblood

Live album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Starting from late 60s solo saxophone recordings aren't rare thing, Chicagoan Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and soprano genius Steve Lacy introduced world to that kind of highly creative and usually very free-form kind of jazz. Solo trumpeter albums are much more obscure though.

American trumpeter Peter Evans (better known to wide auditory as Mostly Other People Do The Killing band member) has already released some, but his newest "Lifeblood" is his first solo trumpet album in five years. It contains recordings from different shows recorded in 2015-16 and lasts almost two hour long. To make things even more twisted,"Lifeblood" is released in digital form only - usual download files and ... USB memory stick (or being more correct - USB credit card memory stick). Since the size of content doesn't exceed the space of casual double CD-set, it's obvious that physical recording's form has been chosen not only because of technical needs.

So - what do we have inside? Solo reeds albums are always hit or miss, at their best such music radiate artist's creativity and technical perfection but sometimes we just evidence never-ending demonstration of musician's ego drilling your ears and twitching your nerves. Than 109 minutes long "Lifeblood" can sound as really risky business.

Fortunately it isn't. Evans plays solo trumpet concerts regularly for years so what one can hear on this album isn't just exotic demonstration of technical abilities on request. "Lifeblood" contains two longer pieces ("suites") - twenty-seven minutes long opener of the same title and three-parts forty-minutes long closer "The Prophets". All music is highly improvised but contains never ending mosaic of tunes and rhythms snippets changind each other very dynamically so such a long free-form album doesn't sound boring at all.

Evans plays trumpet with rare virtuosity using his own techniques besides of more traditional, he uses breathing and his mouse as source for percussion added and generally minimalist music is surprisingly dense and dynamic. Quite unusually for music of such kind all concert sound is warm,even intimate at moments. Peter successfully finds the right balance between passionate playing and relaxed atmosphere, music isn't explosive nor meditative.

Surprisingly, almost two hours of solo trumpet music of free form don't require special concentration from listener. It is not elevator music for sure, but it works pretty well sounding at home when I was doing some home works or reading news in internet. I listened to the album three or four times during last some weeks - it says a lot!

USB stick isn't most popular form of physical jazz album maybe, than go for more usual download and don't miss this probably best reeds player solo album of last decade or so.

GREG HATZA The Greg Hatza ORGANization : Diggin up My Roots

Album · 2017 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Carmel
A native of Reading, Pennsylvania, Greg Hatza’s musical instincts came to him as early and as naturally as the ability to walk, around age four he began formal lessons. The Hammond B-3 became his life’s obsession as a teenager. Because there were no jazz organ instructors at the time, Greg was largely self-taught, picking up most of his insider knowledge from the organ players at jam sessions at a local club called the Grand Hotel. It was the Grand that Baltimore Colts football great and jazz fan Lenny Moore asked the teenager to perform at a club he was opening in Baltimore. Moore became Greg’s manager and Baltimore became Greg’s home. The organist played at the club for four years and was something of a young jazz lion himself, recording two albums for MCA subsidiary label Coral Records, The Wizardry of Greg Hatza and Organized Jazz.

In the late sixties, Baltimore was still an organ town and had its share of great players. It was here that Greg really got a chance to hone his jazz organ skills by playing with the best musicians in town. Lenny’s club was a great stopping point for national jazz artists who came to Baltimore to perform. It was here that Greg met his mentor Jimmy Smith and got to play with him. Smith later advised Greg on his soon to be recorded albums. He also met and got to play in jam sessions with such personalities as Kenny Burrell, Groove Holmes, Damita Joe, Philly Joe Jones, Roland Kirk, Les McCann, James Moody, and Sonny Stitt.

Greg Hatza’s formal education includes a Bachelor’s degree in Composition from the Peabody Conservatory and a Master’s from Towson State University, where he subsequently taught jazz, piano composition, improvisation and music theory for many years. He also performed with the Towson Jazz Faculty Quartet in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Diggin’ Up My Roots, is Hatza’s Lucky 13 album, featuring a greasy groovy good time. Hatza and his crew really serve up a rollicking good-time sound and the nord C2D Organ is steaming hot. The first cut is “Baltimore Strut,” it seems a fine tribute to his roots in Organ jazz/blues. A swingin’, deeply groovin’ sound that instantly sets the tone of what is to come. Saxophonist, Peter Fraize gives an outstanding solo with full throttle lines and a round warm sound. Guitarist, Brian Kooken digs in with jazz/blues lines that are soulful yet delicious jazz lines all sewn up into a canvas that allows organist Hatza to wail and shout atop, with quick building lines and trills, it’s the best of blues and jazz rolled into one, and if your pulse hasn’t jump started by now; check it – as I guarantee your feet are already moving.

Another pleaser in the mix is “High Healed Sneakers,” a mid -tempo slinky groove written by Robert Higginbotham and made famous by Tommy Tucker in 1964, the group definitely kept the original essence of the tune, and its authenticity rings through. Again, Fraize rails off a high-flying solo, with Kooken using a highly-sophisticated jazz/blues vocabulary in his note choices.

I have always had an affinity for “Back at the Chicken Shack” and Hatza has learned his history well, a Jimmy Smith classic, Hatza lays it out soulfully and with absolute authenticity. This organist truly grew up through the ranks, he is dripping with soulful elongated lines and links the lines between jazz, blues and soul with rarity of execution. Smith is a hard act to follow, but Hatza certainly is no slouch, and you can tell, he has put the time in the trenches to pull off this tune.

Overall, Diggin’ Up My Roots is a worthwhile offering that should stay in the forefront of your mind long after you take a listen. Hatza has created a lasting sound, and his ensemble of compadres, add to the depth of the overall enjoyment. A highly enjoyable release, that features an exceedingly tight group sound.

NATE WOOLEY Argonautica

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Oregon-born, Brooklyn-based trumpeter Nate Wooley is one (together with cornetist Kirk Knuffke) on the forefront of today's New York adventurous jazz scene. Prolifically documented, Wooley is known by series of very experimental recordings,where he plays using different parts of his disassembled horn,adds vocalization,noise,drones,amplification,etc. At the same time, he released some really accessible music, as "(Dance To) The Early Music",where he plays compositions of Wynton Marsalis.

Nate's new release "Argonautica" is of that category which modern jazz market really needed. For younger generation's numerous jazz fans, who's main listening is different forms of jazz fusion, and who is bored by predictability and limitations of that genre,"Argonautica" builds a bridge to more adventurous but still accessible areas of modern jazz.

The album contains one long composition, but there is no reason to afraid of continued noodling or free form abstract constructions. On "Argonautica" Wooley starts where early Miles Davis'(or very first Weather Report albums') creative fusion has been finished and carefully moves towards freer improvisation and more modern sound never loosing fusion ground under his legs.

Wooley's band is actually a double-trio here: two trumpeters, two pianists and two drummers.One trio is led by Wooley himself and the other - by veteran cornetist Ron Miles. Other band's members are Tyshawn Sorey trio's pianist Cory Smythe with Bureau Of Atomic Tourism's keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin on Rhodes plus drummers Devin Grey and Rudy Royston.

Differently from Miles early fusion, reeds don't fly over the band's sound, instead one can hear lot of fragmented snippets,short solos and variable sounds/noises, sometimes spiced with Dumoulin electronics. Drums and piano generate busy environment and Rhodes goes even funky.

"Argonautica", one almost forty-three minute long composition, is actually a kaleidoscope of all the time changing movements inside of the selected formula's frame. Balancing precisely between fusion and free, it represents fresh and never-boring accessible side of modern avant-garde jazz (or creative adventurous fusion - depending on listener's starting point).

MARCELLO PELLITTERI Aquarius Woman

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

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

MOSTLY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE KILLING (Live)

Live album · 2016 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Russian inventor of French descent Léon Theremin (who invented one of a very early electro-acoustic musical device known as Termenvox, beloved instrument of French electronic music artist Jean-Michel Jarre till now) once said on Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin: "Stalin wasn't bad. . . . It was mostly other people did all the killing."

American band which chose this citation as their name must have a lot of (risky) humor, and yes - they have. Quartet of skilled musicians did their name playing tributes-parodies on known jazz albums from the past, incl. Art Blakey's A Night in Tunisia (Blue Note, 1960); Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music (Atlantic, 1960); Roy Haynes' Out of the Afternoon (Impulse!, 1962); Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert (ECM, 1975).Their "Blue" is a note-for-note reproduction of the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue.

With growth of members' solo activities, band themselves don't release a lot, "(live)" is their the only album released this year. More important, containing material comes from as far as autumn of 2012,when the concert has been recorded in Poland during Jazz & Beyond Improvised Music Festival in Katowice.It's a bit strange that it is released just now - during all these years band enjoyed high popularity and they have released only two live albums till now ("live" is band's third).

Anyway, new album contains well recorded music based mostly on band's four first (and as many will agree most raw and funny) albums, "President Polk" comes from upcoming in 2013 their album "Slippery Rock!" though. Musicians are in great form, they obviously enjoy playing to dedicated public, so band music's fans get MOPDTK at their best - almost burlesque-like high energy tuneful jazz-punk circus. 75-minutes long it doesn't last like such what is always a sign of non-boring and truly entertaining show.

JEFF BECK Loud Hailer

Album · 2016 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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You have to admire an artist who can keep changing and challenging themselves, even late in their career. After decades of fusion and instrumental rock albums, Beck has thrown us a serious left turn curve here with the recent “Loud Hailer”. Its as if Beck has discovered political punk rock 40 years after the fact, but its never too late to try something new as “Loud Hailer” turns out to be one of the hottest and most emotionally charged albums of Beck’s very successful and lengthy career. The way this album came about is interesting in itself, apparently Jeff was at a party, thrown by friend Roger Taylor, at which the ‘entertainment’ was the noisy post-punk RnB of vocalist Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg. Jeff was so impressed with what he heard that he invited them to help make his new album, and also enlisted their producer, Fillipo Cimatti.

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

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

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

HENRY THREADGILL Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

Album · 2016 · Third Stream
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Henry Threadgill's "Old Locks And Irregular Verbs" is an exceptional album, one among few released this year. Living AACM legend, Threadgill is high respected not only among avant-garde jazz fans. His music is almost always tuneful, well structured and being adventurous as rule is quite easy accessible.

"Old Locks..." are different beast though. It's a tribute to "improvisation conduction" pioneer Butch Morris, and it represents Threadgill as a composer (he doesn't play here at all). Four parts suite is played by a bit unusual (but probably expected from Threadgill) band - two star-pianists(Jason Moran and David Virelles), two alto saxophonists,cellist,tuba player and drummer. Music itself is closer to Threadgill's AACM colleague Wadada Leo Smith's more current monumental works, but perfectly avoiding later's often bombastic monumentalism.

In fact, "Old Locks..." are one of quite rare successful examples of brewing (modern) classics and jazz - being pre-composed, all album sounds extremely fresh and dynamic, full of jazz swings and freer soloing.Strictly looking, it is not jazz mixed with classics anymore, it is the new music rooted in both but distanced far enough from both to be accepted as independent genre.

Quite different from more regular Threadgill recordings,this music has his signature with no doubt - in tunes, light and optimistic atmosphere surprisingly successfully combined with New Orleans funeral marches echoing. It's not like such work is exclusive for Threadgill - everyone familiar with his obscure Zoid's debut album remembers for sure how strange it sounded offering two amorphous percussive pieces closer to minimalism than to usual Threadgill's full-blood pulsating jazz (tuba player Jose Davila plays on both above mentioned albums). But for listeners waiting for "another Threadgill" who's expectation are based on his more regular music, this album brings a surprise.

One can hardly mention bad or even average album, released by Threadgill, "Old Locks And Irregular Verbs" is not only good, it opens some new horizons. Not often such thing happens on modern jazz scenes.

KENNY BARRON Book Of Intuition

Album · 2016 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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What an album name! A mysterious title like "Book of Intuition" didn't fail to catch my eye. The album cover is pretty cool too.

According to the linear notes, Kenny Barron has been playing with this trio for the last several years but hasn't made a studio recording with them until now. Now I personally haven't listened to Kenny Barron's other groups so my expectations were pretty open.

Regarding the lineup, one thing I struck by was the amount of intensity in the drummer Jonathan Blake. He didn't play particularly loud or in the way, but managed to add a lot of energy to Kenny Barron's playing. "Cook's Bay" has a memorable moment where Kenny plays a short lick with both hands two octaves apart, giving it a distinct samba-type sound. Blake responds to it immediately with a samba-type fill.

Most of the tunes on the album are Kenny Barron originals. The others are two Thelonious Monk tunes (Shuffle Boil, Light Blue) and a ballad by Charlie Haden (Nightfall). Although I have enjoyed Kenny Barron play Monk tunes in the past (he's quite good at imitating him), I found these to be among the weaker ones on the album. Kenny's own tunes, such as "Magic Dance," "Cook's Bay," or "Lunacy" are filled with a lot of fun harmonic colors that give this album a nice taste. "Cook's Bay" in particular is my favorite track on the album.

Kenny Barron is a fantastic soloist, but I couldn't help but feel like many of his solos had too many long lines. There comes a point in his solos when it sounds like an idea would need to end, but would keep on going like a run-on sentence. I don't want to overly critique Kenny Barron, but it makes the listening experience less accessible.

Overall, "Book of Intuition" is a fun album. Kenny Barron and his trio offer the modern jazz world a nice album that gives original sounds within a more traditional vocabulary.

NIECHĘĆ Niechęć

Album · 2016 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Sometimes you don’t know what might show up in your mailbox, for instance this odd looking CD that arrived from Polish group Niechec. The strange album cover doesn’t reveal much, but what a great surprise when you give it a spin and all of this exciting and passionate modern jazz-rock comes firing out of the speakers. Because of their frequent use of repeating minimalist type passages, you could put Niechec in the nu jazz genre, but unlike many other nu jazz groups, there is nothing lite and fluffy about these guys, instead, like a lot of music from Poland, this CD is raw and emotional, and the band doesn’t mind raising some fierce noise when it is called for.

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

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

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

AKIRA SAKATA Arashi : Semikujira

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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70 years old veteran of Japanese avant-garde jazz reedist Akira Sakata leads furious acoustic trio with two young Scandinavians - Swedish bassist Johan Berthling and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The name of the trio is Arashi("Storm"), and their second album,released two years after their self-tittled debut,recorded in Swedish studio and released on Austrian label, is titled "Semikujira"("North Pacific Whale").

Paal Nilssen-Love is extremely prolific artist and producer pushing all Nordic adventurous noisy jazz ahead, bassist Berthling is known as Swedish super bands Angles and Fire!/Fire! Orchestra member, so one can expect really muscular and quirky rhythm section work here - they fulfill expectations in full. Still main star of the show is Akira himself,who not only plays alto sax and clarinet, but adds lot of vocalize (which hardly can be called "singing").

Differently from many other Akira's more abstract works, Arashi is power trio which plays well framed muscular free jazz in New York of 80s tradition, but on very Japanese manner. Over the tight rhythm basis Akira blows some attacking if quite soulful sax soloing, but much more impressive is his absolutely shamanic vocalizes in Japanese,repetitive,hypnotizing and very organic.

From songs titles it's obvious that Japanese folklore, or better to say - ritualistic songs were taken as source of inspiration, and the result is not less than fascinating. Without loosing trad songs structure and some melodious component,power trio reworks them right to free jazz shamanic compositions which surprisingly enough don't lose their relation with shamanic nature of originals.For sure Sakata's voice is not for everyone taste, but those familiar with Japanese brutal avant-rock or experimental radical free jazz (which was a main source of inspiration for John Zorn series of early releases),or fans of Diamanda Gallas' singing will accept Akira's vocal pyrotechnics without big problems.

Arashi's debut two years ago received lot of positive critics, their second work is even better.

BILL FRISELL When You Wish Upon a Star

Album · 2016 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.07 | 2 ratings
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It seems that over the years Bill Frisell has drifted further from the world of new jazz and fusion, and more into a one man genre of his own making, something that might best be called “Nostalgic Americana”. In this new ‘genre’, Frisell has positioned himself alongside such classic ‘twangy’ guitarists like Tommy Tedesco, Duane Eddy and Chet Atkins. So it is more or less within this style that Frisell presents his new CD, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, a collection of music from classic movies and TV shows, a trip down memory lane so to speak.

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

REBECCA KILGORE Moonshadow Dance

Album · 2016 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Rebecca Kilgore is a song stylist extraordinaire, known for her effortless portrayals of the Great American Songbook, with more than 40 recordings to her credit. She has appeared with Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall and on “A Prairie Home Companion,” and has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. She was inducted into the Jazz Society of Oregon’s Hall Of Fame in 2003 and to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2010. What is so uniquely keen about this project is it marks her debut as a songwriter, partnered with a pillar of the Portland jazz community Ellen Vanderslice; (though an architect by trade) she is an accomplished and prolific composer as well. The two are united with fellow songwriter, vibraphonist and pianist Mike Horsfall for a delightfully engaging offering entitled Moonshadow Dance.

The album traverses from romance to heartbreak to full of fun, and lyrically hints to her great pal Dave Frishberg, none is a better example than the sardonic “I Live in a Condo,” filled with swinging precision and instantaneous chuckle, penned by Horfsall it’s a delightful way to open the disc and set the mood. A rumba version and Kilgore’s original “Birthday Song, Generic” further endeavors the easy going, breezy feeling. What an injection of joy this album can bring to any day of the week, but don’t let the seemingly deceiving easy going vibe fool you, the musicians are top-shelf and the songs are so standard similar, you almost have to pinch yourself to remember you are listening to originals.

A highlight for me was “Aeolian Shade” a harmonically dark tune, gave me a chance to hear Kilgore represent a smoky timber of her voice. Penned by Vanderslice and Horfsall, Kilgore effortlessly shines; she is introspective and poignant and dips down deep in her range and floats effortlessly atop the accompaniment. Other highlights include and passionate “I’m Not Susceptible to You,” an up-tempo Latin take on “Cantando o Amor,” be sure to note there is also a reprise version of this track which is scaled down to voice and guitar with Marco de Carvalho at the helm of nylon strung guitar. This is particularly delightful, as you can hear each intent of the notes sung by Kilgore and played by de Carvalho. Moonshadow Dance does not disappoint, Kilgore continues to show why she is such a consummate jazz vocalist, her swing is effervescent, her tone of voice is timeless and she is an effortless technician. Truly another highlight to add to your collection, highly recommended.

VIJAY IYER Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith : A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke

Album · 2016 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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snobb
Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Vijay Iyer are both brightest representatives of two different jazz generations and ambiences. Smith is one of AACM founders,who played with Anthony Braxton and in late 90's - first decades of new century became one of the leaders (together with Henry Threadgill) of re-vitalized crossover avantgarde jazz releasing series of large-format albums.

Vijay Iyer came to jazz scene in 90s and during next two decades built the reputation of one of leading pianist playing world fusion,avant-garde jazz even mixing both with contemporary classics.

"A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke" is first duo's album. Released on German ECM label,it sounds according to label's standard - sound is crystal clear and emotionally quite cool.

Iyer plays piano, Fender Rhodes and uses some (lap top?) electronics which often sounds like early analogue Moog.

On a mid-tempo compositions Smith's trumpet flies over Iyer's almost chamber piano or,alternatively, electronics bass pulsation weaving unique aerial and meditative in moments aural sculptures where European and Indian classic roots are mixed with American minimalism and avant-garde jazz aesthetics.

If Iyer's few previous works for ECM already prepared listener for such sound, for often massive and even bombastic Smith's music of last decades it's quite unusual turn. Fortunately, all sound perfectly showing more intimate side of Smith's musicianship.

Structurally album contains opener, seven-part suite and the closer, and requires repeated listening. Not a jazz in a traditional sense, but no-one expects too traditional music from such duet. Excellent work, setting up new standards for jazz in contemporary world.

SANTANA Santana IV

Album · 2016 · Latin Rock/Soul
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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dreadpirateroberts
Expectation.

It's always tough reviewing an album which is anticipated to be a band's 'return to its heyday' and the classic line-up from early 70s Santana is a pretty exciting prospect.

And it certainly works on just about every song. It's fun to hear interplay between Santana and Schon again for instance, especially on one of the stand-outs like 'Echizo' or the almost meditative 'Fillmore East' (and it must be said that Shrieve fires up a bit on 'Echizo' too, which is great) but there are a few songs that don't nail it for me.

Some of these are the vocal cuts ('Choo Choo' is one) but that isn't to say Rolie is in bad shape, he sounds great - especially on the smouldering 'Blues Magic' or the punchy 'Shake It' - but there's just a sense that everyone was so excited to play together again that they left a few b-sides in the running order.

Overall, the band is less fiery than in their youth (and that's not a surprise or a problem truly) but there's still passion and surprises to be had. Again, like 'Shape Shifter' a while back - I wouldn't call this an essential Jazz-rock album but don't write it off out of hand either, have a look if you're unsure.

GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC ENSEMBLE It's All in the GAME

Album · 2016 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
When you first listen to “Its All in the Game”, the premier recording by The Great American Music Ensemble led by Doug Richards, you are liable to think that here is a big band that can rival the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, especially when it comes to an ability to span the decades. Then, upon reading a little background, it turns out that although this CD was not released until 2016, it was actually recorded in 2001! It is really hard to believe that a recording this strong was delayed for fifteen years, but such is the music business. On the positive side, its nice “Its All in the Game” finally saw the light of day because it still sounds fresh, and will probably be one of the best big band recordings released this year.

Doug Richard’s ensemble excels in three main areas,: radical reconstructions of well known tunes, inspired productions of older big band sounds that are hard to re-produce, and vocal numbers based around the stellar voice of Rene Marie. Looking at the first, many of the tracks on “Game” are well known standards such as “April in Paris and “In the Mood”, but these charts are chopped up with odd-metered rhythms, sudden tempo changes and all the other tools of the modern composer. Despite the difficult arrangements, the end result sounds energetic and fun in a manner that recalls Don Ellis in the late 60s. The second area involves an ability to re-create sounds of the past (especially Ellington) without sounding contrived. On “Stardust”, Jon Faddis’ screaming trumpet recalls Ellington Orchestra trumpeter Bubber Miley, a sound that is hard for many modern players to reach. On “When its Sleepy Time Down South”, violinist Joe Kennedy Jr recalls Ellington violinist Ray Nance, once again, it’s a violin style that you just don’t hear anymore. Unfortunately, in the time that this recording sat on the shelves, Kennedy passed away. Finally we get to the best, and that is the tracks that feature vocalist Rene Marie. Rene has a strong rhythmic approach, but her vocal attack is deceptively soft, the juxtaposition of the two is fascinating to listen to as she has to be one of the top vocalists in jazz today, and a perfect choice to lead a big band. Sometimes her soft but strong approach can sound like the great Betty Roche, who sang Ellington’s first version of “Take the A Train’.

The final plus about this recording is the production, everything on here sounds full and vibrant. So here we have excellent charts that seamlessly combine the classic with the modern, played by a virtuoso ensemble that is having a blast, there is nothing to complain about here, all the pieces fit, just hope that Doug Richards will now be encouraged to do more recordings like this.

VASIL HADŽIMANOV BAND Alive

Live album · 2016 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Jazz fusion is alive and well in 2016, and still making a steady comeback thanks to artists like Vasil Hadzimanov and his new lively live album; “Alive”, which features Vasil’s usual electric quintet expanded with the inclusion of saxophonist David Binney. The spirit of early Weather Report can be heard on here, both the Miroslav and Alphonso versions, which is always a good thing as Vasil channels Zawinul while Binney invokes Wayne Shorter, but there is a lot more influences at work on here than just the past. Like a lot of modern fusion artists, Hadzimanov has modernized his sound with shades of electronica and drumnbass rhythms, plus influences from around the world, particularly the Balkans and North Africa. Also, like a lot of modern fusion, the boring slickness of the 80s is far behind us on “Alive”, instead, this music is raw, imaginative and energetic with a very loose approach.

“Alive” opens with two lengthy cuts that bear some resemblance to the aforementioned Weather Report, and while Vasil and David’s call and response might remind some of classic Zawinul and Shorter, over time, Binney tends to eschew the minimalist Shorter style, and instead digs deep into his saxophone with sheets of notes that recall modal masters like Kenny Garret and John Coltrane. After these two openers, things diversify a bit with the percussion led “Oldazim” and the North African rock of “Dolazim”. Later in the album, the quiet and meditative “Razbolje Se Simsir List” uses classical type motifs and “Uaiya” presents Binney’s most extensive solo. Overall there are no bum tracks on the entire album, its smokin hot from start to finish.

HARRIS EISENSTADT Old Growth Forest

Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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snobb
Harris Eisenstadt is probably most popular Canadian jazz drummer of younger generation. With no doubt for many listeners his name associates with "Canada Day" series of nu jazz albums first of all, but he has released some avant-garde and third stream music as leader as well.

On Harris' newest album as leader, released on Portuguese Clean Feed label, he plays original compositions with tree renown American advanced jazz artists. With two of them - trombonist Jeb Bishop and bassist Jason Roebke - Eisenstadt already played in same trio (led by Bishop) and even released one album on Polish Not Two label eight years ago.Harris current quartet includes one new member - tenor Tony Malaby, one of brightest contemporary advanced jazz sax player around.

Album's material has been recorded spontaneously in a studio right after two gigs in New York's The Stone. All musicians are true professionals and mostly had some experience playing together, but lot of time has gone from these dates. The material (even if Eisenstadt is stated as composer) is obviously mostly free-improvised, and it's obvious that the quartet isn't a working band.

Despite of all members' professionalism, recorded music contains only a few attractive moments. Most of the time the listener gets quite bulky and not too much inspired jam session,demonstrating how great musicians constantly are loosing their ways. Started from nowhere, the flow of short snippets tries to get the direction or at least to be transformed in better interplay,but generally it never happens. The final impression is that four great musicians must to play the jam they don't have inspiration for.

With no doubt this album's line-up will attract many fans of modern creative jazz, but I afraid only hottest fans will probably find it at least enjoyable.

BERNIE WORRELL Retrospectives

Album · 2016 · Funk
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
When you think of 70s keyboard heroes who manned giant stacks of futuristic keyboards and synthesizers while mixing their jazz and classical training with the rock and RnB sounds of the day, names like Chick Corea, Keith Emerson and Herbie Hancock all come to mind. No doubt those were the names that topped all the keyboard player polls year after year back then, but there was another artist who did all the same things, but his name slipped under the radar, and that keyboardist is the ultra creative Bernie Worrell. Possibly because Bernie worked behind the huge shadows of larger than life characters like George Clinton and Bootsie Collins, in the various P-funk ensembles (Parliament, Funkadelic etc), that Bernie did not get the notice he deserved. Still, if you listen to those old P-funk tracks, no one contributes more than Bernie, and P-funk’s hugely elaborate arrangements would not have been possible without someone with Bernie’s training and classical background.

After leaving P-funk, Bernie has continued to work as a sideman with artists like Bill Laswell, Buckethead, various Talking Heads, Govt Mule, Les Claypool and others in the jam band scene. Worrell occasionally records as a leader, but he still does not grab a lot of attention, maybe its because his albums as a leader are not as strong as his contributions as a sideman. His latest release, “Retrospectives”, may be a good example of this. The premise behind “Retrospectives” sounds very promising at first, basically this is an album on which Bernie re-visits some of his favorite P-funk tracks and records instrumental versions of those tracks. To any long time Worrell and P-funk fan this is an exciting idea, but unfortunately the album does not come through as strongly as you wish it could. Some tracks are okay, but others are fairly lackluster.

Probably the biggest problem with this album is that it sounds like Worrell covered everything by himself. The drum tracks are not strong, nor is the production. An over reliance on ‘silly’ synthesizer sounds from the exotica era also becomes tedious and overbearing after a while. Many of these songs could use a little breathing room from all the persistent synthesizers. Overall this album sounds like a fun hobby home project, not the keyboard powerhouse it could have been. Possibly Worrell could get a good producer like Bill Laswell involved, and a real drummer, and these tracks could get a better life.

Despite the problems, there are some good tracks on here, “You Hit the Nail on the Head” is played reggae style with a melodica lead, and perennial favorite, “Flashlight”, is cloaked in string synth arrangements that Beethoven would be proud of. Possibly the two strongest tracks come at the end with “Balance” featuring a stronger drum sound and less synth clutter and “The Moment”, a punchy Prince style synth-rocker with the best production on the whole album. There are enough good moments on “Retrospectives” to make it worthwhile to Bernie Worrell fans, but you have to wonder what this would have sounded like if more time had been taken.

CHES SMITH Ches Smith with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri: The Bell

Album · 2016 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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snobb
From the first dozen of albums released in 2016,there is one stand alone release. US drummer Ches Smith,better known as Xiu Xiu and Mr.Bungle member (or John Zorn collaborator, depending on one's background), in the very first days of 2016 released his debut on German ECM label. It is not his first album as leader, he already has released series of solo drums albums in US and few more - with collaborators in Europe (on Portuguese Clean Feed and Polish For Tune labels), but his appearance on ECM is still quite surprising.

Respected chamber jazz (and sterile European ambient/world fusion in a past) label doesn't look like proper home for ex-Mr.Bungle guy. Still things are changing though.

On "The Bell" Smith leads acoustic trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri, both are far not a newbies for the label. Besides of playing drums,vibraphone and bells Ches Smith is composer of all album's material (part of it is obviously improvised, but generally the line between composed and improvised is extremely thin on this album).

So, surprisingly for Ches Smith but expect-ably for ECM release,music on "The Bell" is kind of chamber jazz,spiced with improvisational elements, but strongly influenced by modern classical composition. Both pianist and violist feel very comfortable with slow,often dark and calm atmosphere and, more surprisingly, Smith himself finds right place in this quite unusual for him environment.

First half (bigger) of "The Bell" represents similar by its tempo and atmosphere dark chamber jazz, the last third (starting from Wacken Open Air) is faster,sharper and moves towards contemporary jazz avant-garde.

A bit risky release,since its target is hardly Mr.Bungle fans nor ECM chamber safer chamber jazz lovers, it opens new interesting page in Ches Smith musical biography. "The Bell" contains interesting music,but I am even more curious what can come next from same or similar concept Ches Smith' projects.

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