Jazz Music Reviews (new releases)

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

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

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

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

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

MAHOGANY FROG In The Electric Universe

Album · 2021 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Mahogany Frog is a modern instrumental group that often gets lumped in with the contemporary prog rock crowd, but there is so much more to their music than what a simple genre label like that can describe. The Frogsters describe their music as a meeting of today’s electronica with 70s progressive rock, 60s psychedelia and 50s exotica. This isn’t too bad a description, especially if you add in movie soundtracks, particularly of the Italian persuasion. As far as the prog rock influence goes, we are not talking about the heavy-handed clichés that took hold post 1972, but more about all that great experimental music that ran from 1966 to 1972. Frog's latest outing, “In the Electric Universe”, took much longer to conceive than their previous albums and this shows in the very careful sound sculpting that takes place on here. Sounds, noises and sonic textures play a big part on this new one, and whether or not you think that emphasis has weakened their melodic content would probably be a matter of individual taste.

The opening track, “Theme from P.D.”, is like a suite with its many themes and developing sections. The next two tracks feature Frog's interest in late 60s psychedlic progressive rock filtered through an electronica lens. Follow up number, “CUBe”, is a heavy trip-hop/rock groove with a phat synth bass line. "Octavio" has a grand sound as it moves from modern RnB to cinematic glory rock. Album closer, “Sun Dog”, has a beautiful ambient melody that is slowly engulfed in noise only to finally emerge again. Much more than just a ‘rock band’, fans of electronic jam bands, classic exotica and movie soundtracks should give Mahogany Frog a chance. These guys are creating instrumental monuments that are hard to equal.

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Arrangements For Guitar By Marco Pereira

Album · 2021 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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“Arrangements for Guitar by Marco Pereira” is the second installment in a series of tributes to Pereira by guitarist Marius Noss Gundersen. Marius is a Norwegian who specializes in classical music and Brazilian traditions, which makes him a perfect fit to play the arrangements of Pereiera which walk a fine line between Brazilian art pop and contemporary classical music. Marco is a super star in Brazil, his career has found him working with top performers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento and he is well known for his arrangements, compositions and performances on classical guitar which have won him many awards and competitions over the years. On this new album, Gundersen has picked out twelve Pereira arrangements of art songs by well known Brazilian composers such as the previously mentioned Jobim and Nascimento, as well as Egberto Gismonti and Chico Buarque. Gundersen faithfully recreates Marco’s arrangements, which makes this very much like a contemporary Brazilian classical concert.

Every piece on here is a gem. Marius has technique to burn, but he never resorts to pure flash in his playing, consider him the exact opposite of a certain ‘elegant gypsy’ in that regard. These are, for the most part, melodic and somewhat somber or sentimental tone poems, but if you are looking for some fire, the demanding chart for “Frevo” should satisfy those looking for some burning Latin passion. Also “Modinha” and “Chega de Saudade” lean a bit in that direction as well. The Brazilian take on rhythm is present here, but don’t expect any cliché type bossa nova or samba, the tunes and arrangements on here lean in a more sophisticated and classical tradition. Quite simply, this is beautiful music performed by someone with commanding technique and complete mastery over their instrument.

STEVE GADD Steve Gadd Band : At Blue Note Tokyo

Live album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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If you were a jazz fan in the 70s then you no doubt are very familiar with the drumming of Steve Gadd. Possibly only Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea left a bigger jazz footprint in the 70s than Steve, whose creative drumming showed up on so many jazz, funk, RnB and pop albums throughout the decade, and of course right up to today as well. “At Blue Note Tokyo” is Steve’s latest album and it showcases his band at a relaxed and very groove oriented live show at the famous club in Japan. Joining Steve are his usual band mates of Kevin Hays on keys and vocals, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Walt Fowler on trumpet and longtime associate David Spinozza filling in on guitar.

This being a live gig, the band keeps things mostly cool in a crowd pleasing way, and even includes a couple vocal numbers that are always a good way of building a stronger report with an audience. The CD opens with “Where’s Earth” with a touch of psychedelic mystery. The following two tracks, “Doesn’t She by Now” and “Timpanogos” are two of the best on the album with their catchy melodic content and no sweat infectious groove. The following blues and vocal tracks seem more like crowd pleasers and they work well that way.

The band picks up some steam on the Latin flavored “One Point Five” with Kevin Hays turning in a short but intense montuno driven piano solo and Gadd giving us his only solo on the album. The two following funk numbers keep the energy level up there with “Way Back Home” pushing Hays into another hot piano solo, this time with a New Orleans flavor. “Rat Race” keeps the funk flowing with Spinozza turning up the saturated distortion for his most rocking solo on the album.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRIS POTTER Sunrise Reprise

Album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
ROUND TWO

Just by looking at the cover artwork, one can tell that if ever an album invited a comparison with a previous album, Chris Potter's Sunrise Reprise does so unflinchingly. His 2019 album Circuits was a blistering, breath-taking fusion ride that remains one of the greatest jazz albums of the last 10 years. With James Francies (keyboards) and Eric Harland (drums) returning, the now-dubbed Circuits Trio has given us a post-lockdown album that, while different from the previous work, is still a vital force to be reckoned with.

Sunrise Reprise is a touch more exploratory than Circuits was, but without any let-up in intensity. There is no real cross-over into avant-garde territory, and yet boundaries have been exceeded and risks have been taken. "Sunrise and Joshua Trees" sets the pace with a synth intro before a long, brooding tenor sax line is eventually doubled and tripled with soprano sax and clarinet. "Southbound" and "Serpentine" are both reminiscent of the Circuits sound world: viciously complex sax lines doubled by keyboard before solos. Harland sits out "The Peanut" (which has already drawn comparisons to "Naima"), and if I were played this track while doing the blindfold test, I might have thought this was the late, great Marion Brown blowing on the horn.

Then there is the epic, "Nowhere, Now Here/Sunrise Reprise". At 24:27, nothing is held back while the trio maneuver through many different tempi and atmospheres. A flute intro over dreamy keyboards opens the proceedings before synth bass, tenor sax, and frisky drumming are added. Francies channels late-1970s keyboard textures while Harland jabs like a heavyweight champ. At the 10-minute mark, samplers take over, leading to a diffuse, experimental section. Eventually a steady rhythm is established while keyboards and saxes enter, fade, and re-enter. By the 20-minute mark, the saxes have dropped out entirely and the journey ends with keyboards over a pounding bass drum. Despite the track's prodigious length, at no time does the trio drift into aimless noodling or repetitiveness, nor is there any sense of "drag". A pre-determined course has clearly been set, and the players sprint to the finish with flying colors.

If I have one minor complaint about Sunrise Reprise, it's the overuse of synth bass. Circuits had bass guitarist Linley Marthe on 4 out of 7 tracks, and his presence is missed on Sunrise Reprise. Perhaps it's just a mixing issue, but here the synth bass is overly prominent and almost becomes a soloing instrument. Nevertheless this is just a small quibble on an otherwise phenomenal album. While not quite the masterpiece that Circuits is, there is still plenty here to sink your teeth into for many years of listening. Let's hope Edition Records continues to make this trio's recordings available to its envelope-pushing listeners.

MACHINE MASS Machine Mass Sextet : Intrusion

Album · 2021 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Intrusion” is the fourth album by Machine Mass, and it continues their tendency to try something new on each album. The core of the band is Michel Delville on guitar and Tony Bianco on drums. For this fourth album Michel brought on some cohorts from his jazz rock group, Wrong Object, Antoine Guenet on piano and Damien Campion on standup bass. Making the group a sextet are a horn frontline of Laurent Blondiau on trumpet and Manuel Hermia on saxophone. Despite the addition of a couple of rockers from Wrong Object, “Intrusion” is Machine Mass’ most jazz centered album to date, but there is also a good dose of their more expected psychedelic fusion too.

The album opens with Coltrane’s “Africa”, with the band staying true to the original’s spiritual jazz/post bop swing, with Delville’s scorching distorted guitar solo being a definite Machine Mass signature addition to this classic. Following track, “Intrusion”, is very much in the current North European jazz sound, and is a bit different from Mass’ previous albums. Its good for bands to try new things. From here we get a short free jazz section that settles into the off center funk fusion of “Not Another Loud Song”. “The Roll”, has Mass back on the modern jazz tip with that drumnbass bop style that is so popular in NYC these days, while “ED” brings the band back to their trademark psych fusion roots with a massive prog rock chord sequence buildup. The CD closes with Machine Mass’ second time to record “In a Silent Way”. Its hard to add much to this tune and Mass does about as well as anyone could hope to, Guenet’s piano chord voiceings add something unique.

VIJAY IYER Uneasy

Album · 2021 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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Last year in jazz, heavily influenced by the COVID pandemic, wasn't a regular one. With live gigs and even studio recording sessions being very often unavailable for many, musical market reacted quite soon flooding on-line sales points with tons of vaults material, rehearsal recordings and DIY-level home-made new music, which too often wouldn't be released under normal conditions at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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