Modern Jazz

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MILES DAVIS Kind of Blue Album Cover Kind of Blue
MILES DAVIS
4.94 | 85 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE A Love Supreme Album Cover A Love Supreme
JOHN COLTRANE
4.87 | 63 ratings
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CHARLES MINGUS The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Album Cover The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
CHARLES MINGUS
4.86 | 46 ratings
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MILES DAVIS In a Silent Way Album Cover In a Silent Way
MILES DAVIS
4.80 | 70 ratings
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MILES DAVIS 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis) Album Cover 'Round About Midnight (aka Miles Davis)
MILES DAVIS
4.85 | 25 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Miles Smiles Album Cover Miles Smiles
MILES DAVIS
4.84 | 27 ratings
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ERIC DOLPHY 'Out to Lunch!' Album Cover 'Out to Lunch!'
ERIC DOLPHY
4.82 | 37 ratings
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ALICE COLTRANE Ptah, the El Daoud Album Cover Ptah, the El Daoud
ALICE COLTRANE
4.85 | 21 ratings
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MCCOY TYNER Sahara Album Cover Sahara
MCCOY TYNER
4.94 | 11 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Get Up With It Album Cover Get Up With It
MILES DAVIS
4.84 | 17 ratings
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JOHN COLTRANE Giant Steps Album Cover Giant Steps
JOHN COLTRANE
4.76 | 41 ratings
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SONNY ROLLINS Saxophone Colossus Album Cover Saxophone Colossus
SONNY ROLLINS
4.81 | 20 ratings
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modern jazz Music Reviews

CECIL TAYLOR Silent Tongues (aka I Grandi Del Jazz)

Live album · 1975 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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js
If you had to pick three architects of modern jazz piano, you could just about cover everything with Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor. Despite his phenomenal talent, Taylor may have seemed like the lesser influence at first, as most of his followers were relegated to the avant-garde end of things, but over the years his influence has grown and these days you are liable to hear Taylor type assaults on the piano from guys like Craig Taborn, Jason Moran or others, while they perform with modern fusion and post bop groups.

If you are not familiar with the piano playing of Cecil Taylor, he is one of the most intense musical performers ever, jazz or otherwise. His music is relentlessly energetic, full of jarring dissonances and unbelievable flurries of atonal notes unleashed at super human speed. Although his music may seem like noise to some, to the fan of avant-garde composition, there is an incredible logic and flow to Taylor’s music. I use the term “composition” on purpose, because although there is much improvisation in his music, the overall effect is more similar to an avant-garde concert hall piece, rather than a ‘free jazz’ workout. Taylor’s music does tend to get grouped with the free jazz crowd, and he has performed in free settings with others, but on his own, Cecil’s ability to logically assemble ideas comes through just as much as the force and volume.

“Silent Tongues” is a live recording that captures Taylor at his best, playing solo. Along with the constant antonality, you can sometimes hear bits of familiar music, blues riffs chopped to pieces or flowery classical romanticism gone berserk. It seems Taylor’s tries to avoid the ‘modernisms’ of the Evans/Tyner sound and draws more from early jazz piano players from Jelly Roll and Eubie Blake up to Art Tatum. Sometimes I feel like I’m listening to ragtime run through a blender. Some might try to draw comparisons between Taylor and the piano work of Sun Ra, but I’m sure those two were well aware of each other and managed to stay somewhat polar opposites within the avant-garde realm, ha. The one thing that is hard to describe though, is these certain moments where Taylor draws so much thunder and lightning out of the piano, you find it hard to believe one human can do this.

If you are fan of modern music, you will want to pick up “Silent Tongues”. Cecil Taylor’s piano playing is a miracle.

WILLIAM PARKER Painter's Spring

Album · 2000 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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snobb
New York acoustic bassist William Parker started his musical career in jazz as far back as the early 70s, collaborating with Don Cherry and, more notably, Cecil Taylor. Still, it was already the 90s when he became one of the main figures in the down town avant-garde jazz scene, experiencing hard times once again - this time being deeply in the shade of fashionable-again mainstream jazz.

A prolific leader and collaborator, he became a real star (and probably the leading acoustic bassist on the avant-garde jazz scene) only in the first decade of the new century. Being very physical and muscular, his bass usually sounds tuneful and even lyrical, which is what often makes his music attractive for a wide audience.

With busy drummer Hamid Drake, William Parker played together in one of the most successful Peter Brotzmann projects from the 90s, Die Like a Dog (initially born as an Albert Ayler tribute project). Now, as a trio with the lesser known reedist Daniel Carter, they have recorded a collection of muscular but tuneful, almost catchy compositions, "Painter's Spring", quite straight (by William's standards). All but two of the songs are William's originals, and they all generally sound like a mosaic of paintings (it's a rare case where the album's title means a lot). There is no obvious leader and the music is a product of equal collaboration between all three musicians.

With all of its accessibility and beauty, this album is probably the best entrance to the usually more complex and quirky, but always colorful world of Parker's music.

TOMMY PELTIER'S JAZZ CORPS The Jazz Corps (Featuring Roland Kirk)

Album · 1967 · Post Bop
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js
The general cliché about west coast jazz was that everyone sounded like Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan doing their ‘cool’ thing, and certainly folks on the left coast tended to play with a more relaxed feel, but the west coast was also very open to new ideas (Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry were far more welcome in LA than NYC) as well as influences from around the world, particularly Asia and Latin America. Its within this air of openess that we get this great jam featuring Tommy Peltier’s Jazz Corps and their special guest, the always brilliant Roland T. Kirk ( apparently not yet named Rahsaan at this point).

Peltier and his Corps were an ongoing local staple at the famous Lighthouse jams in Hermosa Beach CA. Often Tommy and his group would open for various headliners such as Cannonball Adderly and Yusef Lateef, which would give the Corps an opportunity to rub shoulders with the greats. I would imagine this is how they were able to secure a recording date with Kirk on board. The resultant album, “The Jazz Corps featuring Roland Kirk” would have been a solid recording even without Kirk, but having Roland on board helps raise things a notch or two. Not only does Roland bring his spectacular solo skills to the mix, but having an extra multi-horn man on board gives the Corps six pieces, including a three horn front line, which helps the band create fresh tone colors to make each tune unique. This is most apparent on the modern ballad, “Serenity”, where two flutes combine with a muted trumpet for a sound all their own.

The lengthy modal improvisations from India known as ragas had a strong influence on west coast jazz in the 60s as many an artist took up a beatnik flavored take on the raga sound with long jams that used one scale or mode, rather than chord changes, for soloists to work with. This modal approach to jamming runs all through “The Jazz Corps” , with an influx of Latin rhythms on many tunes adding even more of a west coast style international mix. Add to all that, this mini big-band ensemble’s use of interesting tone colors and their ability to weave more than one melodic line at once with improvised arrangements and you have a very imaginative record that holds up well to repeat listens.

As mentioned earlier, many of the tunes on here have a relaxed approach, but towards the end of side two the band’s expressed interest in the music of Ornette and Don Cherry kicks in and they move outside during a high energy ride called “Meanwhile”. This cut features Kirk’s most intense solo on the album, a furious assault on the stritch, a sax/clarinet hybrid from the early days of jazz. Overall this is a great album, very unique and featuring a sort of intricate sensitivity and creativity that will soon disappear from jazz for a while, bludgeoned by the heavy-handed conformity of the fusion fad.

SAMUEL YIRGA Guzo

Album · 2012 · World Fusion
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dreadpirateroberts
Samuel Yirga is a young Ethiopian pianist (perhaps known to fans of ‘Dub Colossus’), whose playing seems most influenced by Jarrett, but whose compositions very much reflect a ‘world’ feel. There’s a mix of Latin, Jazz, Classical and traditional Ethiopian pieces here, but with a fairly slick production, which seems a feature of label Real World.

‘Guzo’ sometimes bring Mulatu Astatke to mind (‘Tiwista’) and can be a very rhythmic album, with tracks like ‘My Head’, ‘Abet Abet’ or the fantastic cover of ‘I Am the Black Gold of the Sun’ bringing a lot of percussion into play. Samuel also has three beautiful solo pieces on the album – my favourite being the haunting ‘Ye Bati Koyita.’

His debut also features some great guest vocal performances, the ‘Blues of Wollo’ featuring the moody wails of Genet Masresha being a real standout. The album has been pretty rewarding over repeated listens and I’m looking forward to hearing whatever’s next for Samuel Yirga.

ARCHIE SHEPP Down Home New York

Album · 1984 · Hard Bop
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snobb
After a series of mainstream recordings, Archie Shepp changed things up during the late 70s-early 80s with "Down Home New York", a great stand alone album returning more freedom to Shepp's sound.

Released on the Italian Soul Note label, 'Down Home' opens with a ten minutes long modern r'n'b influenced title song, full of energy and pulsating rhythms, openly recalling street-wise hip-hop atmosphere of the time. This Shepp original includes all the band's member's vocals, most probably this song became a reason for negative critical reaction on this album. Some critics obviously were still waiting for Shepp's return to his non-conformist free-jazz of the late 60s, or at least another comfortable hard bop album. Shepp did the unexpected step instead - releasing an album that mixes spiritual jazz, r'n'b and free-bop (which is not really all that far from what he's playing most recently). Anyway, his open eared fans received this album with big respect, and it is now known as Shepp's best work coming from the 80s.

After the title song, Shepp plays thye soulful standard, "Round About Midnight", spiced with freer soloing. After bassist Saheb Sarbib's original "May 16th", and the free-bopish and bluesy "The 4th World", Shepp closes the album with a straight take on Coltrane's "Straight Street". All the musicians are great here, particularly the very physical bassist Saheb Sarbib, and piano player Kenny Werner. Shepp himself is in great form and this release in whole represents one of these rare excellent inspired albums coming from the 80s. Its just a pity it's so short!

modern jazz movie reviews

WEATHER REPORT Live in Germany 1971

Movie · 2010 · Classic Fusion
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Sean Trane
Well if the world still has to find some live recording from the very first studio all-star line-up (not likely, though), at least we've got now something very close to and we can even see the quintet at work with this just-as-famous version in the form of a German TV show called the Beat Club. With only Airto Moreira gone, replaced by Brazilian countryman Um Romao, the other four being Vitous, Shorter, Mouzon and Zawinul, Weather Report embarked on this TV show adventure not knowing that Alphonse Mouzon would leave the band in a while.

As you'd expect this broadcast consisted mainly of tracks from the debut album, but some are fairly different as WR always made improvisation their force. So you'll recognize 'Umbrellas generic structure, but drafted fairly differently, not just because of Romao's constant change of percussions instruments - he's one of the visual focus of the group, who otherwise remains fairly static and even blows a flute (and later some whistles) for a short while. One of the big difference between the studio album and this broadcast is that Miroslav has taken up the electric bass (his contrabass is still very present but mainly played with a bow), thus allowing even more energy to invade the quintet's shared space. The group's steaming-hot improvised fusion is simply awesome and flows naturally from your speakers like a river of fresh lave spewing out from your volcanic woofers.

Clearly the gravitational centre of the band is Zawinul's Rhodes, but it is clear that it is the group's tightness its main force. Morning Lake is much needed breathing space, starting out slowly with Shorter's sax signalling the dawn for Romao's birdsongs. Just past that Dom pulls an Brazilian berimbau . Drummer Alphonse sings funkilly (rather well, too) a rare sung track in the closing medley, but it's will veer into the Dr Honoris Causa - later on the Body Electric album.

A while later, Mouzon would leave the band and be replaced by drummer Erik Gravatt and this line-up would go on to record Body Electric and the Tokyo concert (released in 77, but part of it in the ISTBE album) and in the process become the definitive line-up of the Vitous- era Weather Report But for now, this German TV broadcast is an inestimable witness of the group's almost original line-up, and is just as essential as their debut album, the Tokyo concert or Body Electric.Too bad it's relatively short, though. Run for this baby...

MEDESKI MARTIN AND WOOD Fly In A Bottle

Movie · 2011 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
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js
“Fly in a Bottle” is a documentary that follows Medeski, Martin and Wood while they are on tour developing the music that will become “Radiolarians”, as well as some of the recording sessions for that same album. The music on here is excellent, MM&W have a come a long way over the years. They were always a talented band from the start, but their confidence has grown. The funky tunes are funkier than ever, and the psychedelic jazz-rock tunes are more powerful, imaginative and original. Almost any music fan might enjoy watching their concerts and even some of their recording sessions, but a lot of the rest of this DVD is for hardcore fans only.

Along with the footage of MM&W playing music, you also get a lot of footage of them on tour visiting ecological tourist spots and talking, hanging out etc, which is where I think a lot of non-fans will probably start losing interest. They seem like nice sincere guys, but they aren’t particularly entertaining or charismatic, which is often the case with nice sincere guys. There are also some artsy short videos that follow the main feature, some more entertaining than others. Fans of MM&W may want to pick this up, it’s a well-made video and the music is excellent, but non-fans may find this lacking in substance in places.

DIXIE DREGS Live At The Montreaux Jazz Festival

Movie · 2005 · Classic Fusion
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Slartibartfast
This was the Dixie Dregs lineup that I first come to know live and otherwise. The Montreaux Jazz Festival performance was used for side two of the LP Night of the Living Dregs. I had no idea the concert was filmed. This represents the band at their prime. Keyboardist Mark Parrish, would soon be replaced by T Lavitz, who is a better keyboard player, but this as this performance testifies, he was no slouch either. Oddly enough, the back cover of this DVD shows a band picture with the original keyboardist from Freefall, Steve Davidowski (guess there was only room for one Steve in this band). Steve Morse was at his most inspired around this time, even though he has certainly grown in skill over the years.

The set list is a little disappointing as it lacks some of the prime cuts from What If (Night Meets Light, Odyssey, Travel Tunes, What If), but I'm not complaining. Now I have something more than just memories of the many Dregs shows I saw back then. It is more of a forward looking set which includes Attila The Hun, that didn't show up on an album until three years later. Also of note, but of less interest to progressive rock fans, is the bluegrass style ditty, Kathreen, never released on a regular album, but only showed up on their demo album, The Great Spectacular, from 1975. If you have a copy of that album, you have something rare, indeed.

Thrown in for bonus are two live TV appearances, one on American Can'tstand (Bandstand) and one on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert. On the former, you get to see them both try out a vocalist, in an attempt to appeal to a more mainstream audience, and with Mark O'Connor, who only played with them for one album, but a few great live shows before the band disbanded for a few years.

As great as the band studio albums were, the live shows took things to an even higher level. Now you can see what you missed, unless you didn't.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Abstract Logix Live! / The New Universe Music Festival 2010

Movie · 2011 · Classic Fusion
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js
Abstract Logix’s New Universe Festival of 2010 was probably one of the more significant fusion concerts in recent history, and it is all captured in excellent form on this concert video. Many of the top names in current fusion are here and what a great varied and colorful approach they all bring to this music that will always be associated with its 70s roots. Ranjit Barot fuses fusion with Indian flavors and orchestral music, Human Element bring back the beautiful noise and chaos that has been absent since the early days of jazz-rock, Wayne Krantz takes on the modern NYC flavor with his harsh jarring free funk, Jimmy Herring plays sentimental, sometimes delicate, progressive rock flavored fusion, and of course the great John McLaughlin rounds it all up with high speed post bop mixed with funk and contemporary fusion. Every single performance is top notch and very convincing in letting us know that there is still plenty of life left in this sometimes maligned genre.

The music on here is great, but the video itself is even better. Its amazing how far concert videos have come over the years. This one is clear as a bell and features lots of accurate close-ups of the musicians as they display their virtuoso skills. They say that fusion is a musician’s music, if that is the case, then this video is a great learning tool for the aspiring player. Much of the footage on here goes right to the source and features the musician’s hands as they work their scales and fret boards. Any aspiring fusionist can pick up a lifetime of high speed licks and extended technique by studying this video and even stop-starting it it frame by frame. Long gone are the days of vague camera angles from way far away and pointless shots of musicians grimacing while they play, this video is all about accuracy and showing you exactly how this music goes down. This is a spirited and enthusiastic concert and highly recommended for fans of modern fusion.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Live At Montreux 74/84

Movie · 2007 · Classic Fusion
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Slartibartfast
The 1984 appearance of the MO was a lineup that didn't have any of the previous MO lineup of musicians except for John. Still there was a pretty impressive roster. Jonas Hellborg, on bass, steals the show. I suspect he's been rather influenced by Jaco at this point. Also, we also have Bill Evans, fairly fresh out of his stint saxing with Miles Davis. There's also a fine drummer, Danny Gottlieb, who'd played with Pat Metheny prior. Don't know much about Mitchell Forman. With John experimenting with the Synclavier Guitar so much, the keyboards are almost redundant in this ensemble. I had a hard time sitting through this at first. It definitely has that '80's taint, if you know what I mean. But I've warmed up to it. It's a bit like an attempt to return to the magic of the original lineup that doesn't quite get there. Still, if you judge it in the context of the time, it's not too bad.

I got this for one reason and one reason only, it was the two video bits from the Apocalypse lineup of Mahavishu Orchestra. Actually calling them bits isn't quite accurate. Wings of Karma and Hymn to Him are actually decently long pieces. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had some actual orchestra musicians with them there at Montreaux. The first inkling I got that there was some live footage from this MO lineup was a poor quality video of Smile of the Beyond on a certain video clip web site many of us know of. It's very disappointing that we only get two clips from the show with video and the rest are audio only. I'm guessing the rest of the original footage has been lost. One can only hope that it will resurface. The performance is a bit more structured than the more compact MO's could be live, but that's to be expected due to the larger number of musician's involved. Still the core band does get to work in some improvisation, McLaughlin in particular.

This release is all in all a pleasant surprise for 2007, but there's more video out there from the older Mahavishu Orchestras, and I hope to see that material surface soon. It gets a four on the round up.

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