Post-Fusion Contemporary

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Post-Fusion Contemporary is a broad umbrella genre that contains several recent trends in jazz. One important branch of Contemporary Jazz (which first appeared in the mid 1970s) is rooted in Northern Europe and is often associated with the ECM label. This is a somber style of jazz often played in straight (non-swing) rhythm with elements of regional folk music and early 20th century classical music. This style is sometimes referred to as ‘chamber jazz’. Some early practitioners include Keith Jarret and Jan Garbarek. Although originally rooted in Europe, today this style is played and enjoyed around the world.

Another branch of the Contemporary sound started in the late 70s when artists such as Jeff Lorber and Pat Methany began to play in a style that mixed fusion with elements of smooth jazz and post bop. This was a somewhat light and radio friendly style of jazz, and a very dominant force until acoustic post/hard bop made a comeback.

Although most early forms of Contemporary Jazz were of a light and borderline easy listening nature, today’s Contemporary artists are often playing in a more energetic and rhythmic style influenced by indie rock, hip-hop, RnB, drumnbass, world beat and fusion. Leading the way in the new sound is the modern jazz piano trio. Heavily influenced by the popular trio, e.s.t., most of these groups consist of a trap set, acoustic bass and a very powerful virtuoso piano player.

Today’s Contemporary genre often borders on Classic Fusion, but there are differences. The rock influence in fusion comes from extravagant jam band artists like Jimi Hendrix, while the Contemporary artist draws from moody and dronish indie rock bands like Radiohead and REM. Fusion tends to have a basis in Afro-Latin or funk rhythms, while Contemporary Jazz tends to have straighter rhythms taken from pop and art rock.

Generally speaking, the difference between Contemporary and Post Bop is that Post Bop usually swings, while Contemporary often does not, although the new Contemporary piano trios continue to blur lines by occasionally playing in a post bop swing style too. Harmonically speaking, Post Bop usually uses the extended harmonies of jazz (9th chords, 11ths etc), while Contemporary may mix jazz harmonies with the simpler triadic harmonies of pop or classical.

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JOHN ABERCROMBIE Current Events Album Cover Current Events
JOHN ABERCROMBIE
4.88 | 4 ratings
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JAN GARBAREK It's OK To Listen To The Grey Voice Album Cover It's OK To Listen To The Grey Voice
JAN GARBAREK
4.80 | 5 ratings
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JOHN SURMAN Saltash Bells Album Cover Saltash Bells
JOHN SURMAN
5.00 | 3 ratings
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EBERHARD WEBER Pendulum Album Cover Pendulum
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4.73 | 6 ratings
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KEITH JARRETT Paris Concert Album Cover Paris Concert
KEITH JARRETT
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KEITH JARRETT Sleeper Album Cover Sleeper
KEITH JARRETT
4.57 | 7 ratings
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RALPH TOWNER Matchbook (with Gary Burton) Album Cover Matchbook (with Gary Burton)
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4.65 | 4 ratings
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KETIL BJØRNSTAD The Sea Album Cover The Sea
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4.50 | 6 ratings
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KEITH JARRETT The Köln Concert Album Cover The Köln Concert
KEITH JARRETT
4.34 | 30 ratings
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RALPH TOWNER Solstice, Sound and Shadows Album Cover Solstice, Sound and Shadows
RALPH TOWNER
4.67 | 3 ratings
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MIROSLAV VITOUS Journey's End Album Cover Journey's End
MIROSLAV VITOUS
4.67 | 3 ratings
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MIROSLAV VITOUS Universal Syncopations Album Cover Universal Syncopations
MIROSLAV VITOUS
4.67 | 3 ratings
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post-fusion contemporary Music Reviews

JOHN SURMAN Saltash Bells

Album · 2012 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Steve Wyzard
APOCALYPTICALLY IRRESISTIBLE!!!

Let me put it to you straight: if you own and love Upon Reflection (1979), Withholding Patterns (1985), and/or Road to Saint Ives (1990), you absolutely, positively MUST hear Saltash Bells. As of this writing, John Surman has now dwelt among for 7 decades, and while it's too soon to tell if this album will be his definitive masterpiece, this utterly compelling solo statement MUST be heard to be believed. And while Surman has recorded a number of solo albums over the years (some more successful/memorable than others), Saltash Bells is truly special, different, and one for the ages.

Inspired by his beloved Cornish countryside, we are given no other clues regarding the songs' titles or the album's thematic concept; the only liner notes are a "thank you" to his son for help with electronics. Unlike some of his previous, more measured albums, we are instantly aware of the busier, percolating synths beneath his soloing on the opener, "Whistman's Wood". "Glass Flower" is a showpiece for alto, bass, and contrabass clarinets. "On Staddon Heights" begins hauntingly only to become the album's most rhythmic track: with the magic of multi-tracking, soprano sax leads soar over baritone sax bass lines. "Triadichorum" is a short piece for three baritone saxes. Too lively to be elegiac, "Winter Elegy" is probably the most "traditional" Surman composition: a repetitive synth pattern is joined by a rumbling, tidal contrabass clarinet before tenor and soprano sax lines are contrapuntally woven into a musical tapestry.

The baritone solo "AElfum" is merely a prelude to the album's most awe-inspiring number, the End-Of-All-Days title track. There is almost too much going on here for mortal comprehension with who-knows-how-many horns in the multi-tracking arrangement of the century. What "Desireless" is to Jan Garbarek, "Saltash Bells" is now to John Surman. Opening with random tinkling synths and closing with sampled church bells, this mind-bending exercise in canon will no doubt repay hours of listening and re-listening. Before the mood grows a little too serious, Surman throws us a curveball with two jaunty, upbeat songs. "Dark Reflections" (a mass of soprano saxes) is angular, perky, and hypnotic, while "The Crooked Inn" features baritone and soprano bouncing off one another to almost humorous effect. A harmonica is introduced in the album's closer, "Sailing Westwards". All folky and countryish connotations are dashed to bits when a gurgling baritone is joined by piercing soprano over a rolling boil of synths before fading to a murmur of chirping insects. Unreal!

John Surman's gift for saxophone/woodwind melody is unparalleled, and the career renaissance that began with 2009's group album Brewster's Rooster continues unabatedly with the solo Saltash Bells. This is no wistful gaze backwards before riding off into the sunset, but an aggressive, jaw-dropping statement of virtuosic proportions. This album cannot be recommended more highly, especially to those with previous exposure to Surman's magical music. And at 59:13, it's not too much of a good thing. Only one questions remains: why did it take three years from recording (June 2009) to release (June 2012)?

TOMASZ STAŃKO Suspended Night

Album · 2004 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Steve Wyzard
ALBUM OF THE DECADE

I wish there were some way words could convey not only what a huge surprise this album was when it was released, but also how it has almost single-handedly re-defined and re-invigorated jazz in the 21st century. ECM Records has raised the stakes by placing a sticker on the shrink-wrap with a quote from The Guardian: "If everyone who owned Kind of Blue heard Stanko's new album, it would top the charts tomorrow." The point of comparison, while understandable, is a bit of a stretcher: Kind of Blue has two saxophonists, five titled tracks, and runs almost 25 minutes shorter. Still, for everyone who appreciates what has been described as "2AM jazz" (moody, atmospheric, unhurried, haunted), Suspended Night absolutely MUST be heard to be believed.

Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko returned to the ECM label in the early 1990s and released a few experimental albums that didn't attract much attention. Everyone took notice in 2002 with the release of Soul of Things, where he introduced his new quartet (Marcin Wasilewski, piano, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, double bass, Michal Miskiewicz, drums/cymbals) on 13 lively, adventurous but unnamed tracks. Much deeper and broader in scope, Suspended Night not only fulfills the potential indicated by the previous album, but also escapes into entirely new and different directions. Only very rarely does 69:07 pass so quickly, and every note is magic. If Soul of Things can be described as "uptown", Suspended Night is simply "timeless".

There's no point in describing all 11 tracks or discussing individual solos, as all four players are at the top of their game. There is, however, one absolutely definitive composition that should instantly erase any pre-existing misconceptions (such as "it's morose/slow/gloomy"). "Suspended Variation II" opens on the bass, before adding piano, trumpet, and drums. The unforgettable melody line is almost playful (yes, it swings!) and excitement builds with each solo and return to the opening theme before a memorable, sudden ending. If the world's few remaining jazz radio/satellite stations would only play this track, it would do far more to build interest than comparisons to Miles Davis. And so it goes throughout: Stanko shares so much of the spotlight with his young trio that he's almost a guest on his own album. Listen to the percussive intro and false ending of "Suspended Variation III", or the uptempo "Suspended Variation VIII" to hear his most fiery playing on the album. The imaginative "Suspended Variation V" introduces tension with a wildly angular bass line, while "Suspended Variation VII" is wholly improvised. The closing "Suspended Variation X" is obviously the resolute "last call of the evening" number, with awe-inspiring cymbals playing over a slow fade to black.

Suspended Night is one of those albums that many people will discover simply via word-of-mouth long after its release, and then wonder "Why didn't I know about this before now?" All ECM recordings are exquisitely produced, engineered, and mastered, but this one is truly special, exemplary in a very crowded field. 2004 was a stellar year for recorded jazz, but Suspended Night is the ne plus ultra and is an almost shoo-in candidate for album of the decade. There is no shortage of jazz featuring great playing/writing/atmospheres, but the Tomasz Stanko Quartet has now perfectly married all three together. This is one for the ages: no comparisons necessary!

EBERHARD WEBER Pendulum

Album · 1993 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Steve Wyzard
LATE NIGHT CONTEMPLATIVE

This is definitely not Eberhard Weber's most accessible album, but it is one of his very best. In fact, it can stand head-and-shoulders next to masterpieces like Yellow Fields and Silent Feet in spite of being very different from those two albums. This otherworldly music is produced entirely by Weber himself with the assistance of an echo unit, and the results are unlike anything you've ever heard. Don't expect a typical bass soloist album: at times, it sounds like there are at least five different players/instruments (including percussion) performing at one time. Much thought has gone into the final product, as these are wholly-conceived compositions, not rambling solos.

From the fluid virtuosity of "Street Scenes" to the hauntingly nostalgic "Silent for a While", every track is a show-stopper and a world unto its own. The sometimes dreamy atmospheres and textures could elicit accusations of "new age", but the material never settles for simple prettiness. Conversely, don't let the scratching, searching arco performances scare you: there are experimental explorations, but they never degenerate into ugliness or contemptuousness. With Pendulum, Weber reaches his absolute peak as a composer, performer, and sound-painter, and if you have any familiarity with his group albums, this album is a quintessential must-own. One would be hard-pressed to find a better, more fascinating ECM release from the entire decade of the 1990s.

TOMASZ STAŃKO Soul Of Things

Album · 2002 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Steve Wyzard
RESURRECTION OR REVIVAL?

Technically speaking, the trumpet quartet never really went away, but with 2002's Soul of Things, Tomasz Stanko revitalized the medium and brought it to the front and center of public discussion. The first of three albums with this line-up (Stanko, trumpet, Marcin Wasilewski, piano, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, bass, Michal Miskiewisz, drums), Soul of Things is very "uptown": calm / sparse / measured / intimate. The liner notes inform us that this group has played together for a few years, and all the players do conduct themselves admirably. Yet there is also a slight "first album" self-consciousness and hesitancy to the proceedings. Which is NOT to say I don't like it. There's a reserved, understated beauty to Soul of Things that's not available anywhere else, even in the Stanko catalog.

There are no "songs": the 13 tracks are roman-numeralled "variations", but with very little (if any actual) cross-referencing between them. Most can be described as meditative, wistful, wayfaring, unhurried, deliberate. Beautiful variation II brings to mind snow-flurries sparkling in a street lamp's glow. The tempi are increased for the bright and bubbly III and X, while IV and XI are impassioned and anthemic, soundtrack material for an unmade film. VII is seemingly improvised, and XIII opens with a moving Stanko solo, before closing the album with a crystalline, transfigured coda.

Soul of Things never drags, but at 74:57, it does run a shade long. Were one given access to the entire sessions, deciding what to edit out couldn't have been easy. Stanko does add his grainy dissonances throughout the performances, and drummer Miskiewicz shines above his peers, receiving the most solo space (especially on VIII). This album's "buzz" was definitely justified, and those looking for the typical ECM melancholy are directed elsewhere. Soul of Things is essential and irreplaceable.



JAN GARBAREK Paths, Prints

Album · 1982 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Steve Wyzard
LONG, LONG LINES

The cover photo, by Petra Nettelbeck, is almost an ECM cliché: a long, empty road stretching off into nowhere beneath a clouded sky. The music contained within, however, is not. Released in 1982, Paths, Prints is one of Jan Garbarek's most atmospheric and introspective albums. "The Path", "Footprints" (with ethnic percussion and wood flute), "The Move", and "Arc" are all Garbarek classics. This album introduced guitarist Bill Frisell to a wider ECM audience (he had previously appeared on a very obscure Eberhard Weber album, Fluid Rustle, in 1979), and was also the first of three album appearances by Weber as Garbarek's sideman after breaking up his Colours band.

From the soprano showpiece "Kite Dance", to the wistful "To B.E." (Bill Evans, perhaps?), to the moody "Considering the Snail", to the (seemingly) improvised "Still", Paths, Prints can definitely be classified among the upper echelon of Jan Garbarek albums. Some will no doubt complain this album is too "slow", or that drummer Jon Christensen is given too little to do. Yet for those who enjoy Garbarek's sax lines that threaten to extend indefinitely, or are long-time listeners to the hypnotic timbres of Frisell or Weber, this album is highly recommended. Not an introductory work for the uninitiated, but yes, a great Sunday afternoon album.

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