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GRANT GEISSMAN Blooz

Album · 2022 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Grant Geissman has recorded a lot of albums during his busy career, but never one quite like “Blooz”. Geissman has always been a fan of the blues but this is the first album he has recorded featuring the genre. Its not really a ‘pure blues’ album, or as Grants says himself, “ The album is called “Blooz” because its my take on the blues. It’s a fairly wide interpretation, and not always traditional.” So with that in mind, its no surprise we find many variations on the blues featuring influences from jazz, Latin rock, rockabilly, rhumba, boogaloo and more. A rotating cast of musicians are featured here, and many you have probably heard of before such as Tom Scott, Randy Brecker, Robben Ford and Joe Bonamassa. In many ways this may seem like a guitar player’s album, with Grant listing which vintage guitar he is using on each track, but horns and keyboards, especially the B3, all add their own colors.

“Carlos En Siete” is Latin rock in 7/4 time and is Grant’s tribute to Carlos Santana. Geissman’s solo on this one reflects the influence Carlos has on Grant’s playing. “Rage Cage is a rock boogie in the style of ZZ Top, with Jim Cox’s B3 solo taking the jam into soul jazz territory. “Preach” and “Fat Back” sound like classic 60’s Blue Note with Randy Brecker adding his horn to the former, and Tom Scott adding his saxophone to the latter. “One G and Two J’s” has a Bo Diddley beat and features a three guitar lineup when Grant is joined by Josh Smith and Joe Bonamassa. “Blooz” is a fun ride, liven up your nest outdoor BBQ with some contemporary takes on the blues and soul jazz.

ANTONIO ADOLFO Octet and Originals

Album · 2022 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Antonio Adolfo is one of the top composer/arrangers in Brazil, not only in jazz, but also pop, RnB and all manner of Latin styles. His latest album, “Octet and Originals”, is an album made up entirely of his original compositions, some of which have been recorded before, but now they have been given new arrangements for this new album. It is a very talented octet that Adolfo has assembled here, and their many tone colors bring a mini-big band flavor to the album. Adolfo handles the piano and brings his Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock influenced style to fill out the ensemble.

Rhythmic diversity is a big part of this new album. “Boogie Baiao is so named because the tune shifts from a Brazilian baiao to a stateside RnB boogie for the closing section. “Cascavel” mixes maracatu, calango and sambao and “Emau” is based on the quadrilha, a Brazilian folk dance that is characterized by the accent on the upbeat. “Feito Em Casa” combines baiao and samba, but closes with some grooving soul jazz riffs. Some of the tunes on here are already well known as vocal numbers, but Adolfo decided to re-record them as instrumentals. The original “Heart of Brazil” was sung by Dione Warwick and expressed concern for preserving the rain forests of Brazil. “Pretty World” is a pretty ballad whose lyrical version has been covered by Stevie Wonder, Herb Alpert and others.

“Octet and Originals” should have strong appeal to Adolfo’s large fan base and fans of contemporary Brazilian jazz in general. The large ensemble presented here is capable of so many different shades and tone colors, often sounding much like French classical composers such as Debussy and Ravel, yet pushed by exciting Brazilian and US rhythms and topped by hot jazz solos. All of the soloists are great but special mention should go to the tenor sax and flute work of Marcelo Martins.

DANA FITZSIMONS Fault Lines

Album · 2022 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I had just finished listening to a large part of the Paul Bley discography when the “Faultlines” CD by Dana Fitzsimmons showed up in the mail. Call it coincidence or divine intervention if you will, but the similarities to Dana’s album and a typical album by Bley were striking. Here you have artists that are both just as at home with a lyrical ballad as they are with pure exploratory improvisation, as well as artists who know how to freely improvise in ways that are subtle and attractive to a wide variety of listeners. In Fitzsimmon’s press release, Bley is not mentioned as an influence, but other contemporaries of his are, including Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, but most importantly to Dana as a drummer, the music and drumming of Paul Motian figures prominently on this album. Joining Dana for this outing is pianist Bill Graham and Bassist Brandon Boone. This is not a typical jazz album on which the rhythm section acts only as support, instead all three musicians interact equally in a constant three way conversation. Much of this music is freely improvised, but it is still mostly tonal and rhythmic, but at the same time, very loose and unpredictable. This is Dana’s album, but Graham’s piano work is one of the most salient features on the album with his often relaxed swinging right hand figures that recall Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau, and Bill also wrote many of the tunes on the album too.

The band engages in Tristano styled brainiac bop on “Slant Anagrams” and “Number Six”, and rocks out some on “Borders”, which closes with Graham playing Brubeck style block chords in stubborn repeating rhythms against Dana’s free drumming. The trio gets more avant-garde on “Weeble Wobbles” and “Intersections”, but contrasts that with a fairly straight ahead reading of Richard Rogers’ “Where or When”. Much of the rest of the album centers around rather abstract and spacious moody pieces that aren’t typical ballads, but lean in that direction. The trio closes with Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia”, which picks up a sort of Neil Young flavor with Dana’s lazy but pronounced snare backbeat and Bill’s country flavored piano work. Musically, “Fault Lines” is brilliant, but the production could use a little better focus and clarity, especially on Brandon’s bass and Fitzsimmon’s cymbals, but this is a minor complaint really, overall this album is highly recommended for fans of today’s post-post bop.

KOBE VAN CAUWENBERGHE Ghost Trance Septet plays Anthony Braxton

Album · 2022 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Anthony Braxton (born June 4, 1945) is one of the most respected of creative contemporary music composers and musicians, still active today (just a few months ago he played live in my hometown with his Saxophone Quartet). His early works (coming from the 60s and 70s) are mostly from the avant-garde jazz field, and some are accepted as genre standards. Later Braxton moved towards cross-genre compositional forms, usually related with jazz, but containing elements of contemporary concert hall music, some ancient folk, etc.

Braxton's one remarkable experimental work is his Ghost Trance Music series, inspired by 19th century Native American Ghost Dances and written between 1995 and 2006. The concept of GTM composition is based on idea, that there exists a "primary melody", which Braxton describes as "a melody that never ends". This line of music is written to be played in unison by any performer who wishes to participate in the "ritual circle dance". There is more information on Braxton's musical legacy presented in this nicely designed "organic" CD package's booklet, but generally one doesn't need to learn much before listening. The music itself is complex, but quite accessible.

Belgian guitarist Kobe Van Cauwenberghe, who created the project 'No [more] Pussyfooting', with music by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, and is a member of electric guitar quartet Zwerm, is currently affiliated with the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp for an artistic research project on the music of Anthony Braxton. In 2020 he released "Ghost Trance Solos" - a solo guitar album with three Braxton compositions from Ghost Trance Music. "Ghost Trance Septet plays Anthony Braxton" is a logical continuation of Kobe's work - four Braxton Ghost Trance Music series compositions, recorded by skilled Belgium-Danish septet.

More current Braxton music is rarely played by other musicians and it's a shame. Different from dominating composers, who often combine elements of different genres in one, Braxton returns back to a past trying to find the roots and the rules and codes, and uses what he finds in his new written music, on a genetic level, not like inspiration or imitation. As a result, his music sounds as an engineered work, mechanically, but not formal or dry, since each brick has its own lively soul.

Van Cauwenberghe's septet of guitar (who in moments demonstrates that he is familiar with shredding guitar techniques playing in rock bands), bassist, drummer, pianist, sax player and trumpeter play selected Braxton compositions with respect and their own touch at the same time. For me, the program sounds as if six skilled professionals build a modern building - a unique one, with style and respect to the past, but without nostalgia, bravely looking ahead. Four compositions, 95-minutes of music, recorded on two CDs, happen to be an intriguing listening, which surprisingly lasted less then it was expected. Nicely realized great idea - hope we will hear more Braxton compositions, recorded by younger generation artists more often.

BILL ORTIZ Points Of View

Album · 2022 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Trumpeter Bill Ortiz has worked with many well-known artists over the years, but possibly he is best known for his sixteen years with Carlos Santana (2000-2016) Along with Carlos, Bill has also toured with Bay Area RnB groups like Tony Toni Tone and En Vogue, and has also performed with top jazz musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea. Add to that list many RnB, blues and Latin jazz performers and you get an idea of how much Bill gets around. His latest album, “Points of View”, takes Ortiz in more of a Latin jazz and fusion direction, which is different from his previous albums which were more RnB and hip-hop oriented. There is an amazing all-star cast assembled for this album, too many stars to list, but two of the top contributors include Dennis Chambers on drums and Azar Lawrence on tenor saxophone. Although “Points of View” is very much a modern album, there is a spiritual connection to the 70s with songs by artists like Eddie Henderson, Lonnie Liston Smith and Brian Jackson, but it’s Azar’s big soulful tenor sound that brings that organic 70s vibe more than anything else.

There is a wide variety of music on here, each song has its own unique flavor that stands on its own. Looking at some album highlights, opening track “Sunburst” brings the jazz-rock energy. Although Bill rarely sounds like Miles, on this rockin track he seems to channel Miles’ aggressive riffs from his Live at the Fillmore album. “Okonkole y Trompa” is a mystical African flavored rumba with Bill’s deep toned flugelhorn sounding like an ancient African horn sounding over a percussion groove. The psychedelic Afro-Cuban sound is also found on “Fusion/Noche Cubana", on which Ortiz plays echoed trumpet lines over the percussion backdrop. “Aint Gon Change a Thang” is funky Latin RnB and has Bill playing a processed trumpet that sounds like Randy Brecker’s work combining mutes and wah pedals. And there are plenty more tracks of course. Though out the album, Ortiz’s trumpet playing is bold and forthright, very much in the Latin tradition, and also similar to power trumpeters like Freddie Hubbard and Jon Faddis.

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FREDDIE HUBBARD Straight Life

Album · 1971 · Fusion
Cover art 4.23 | 16 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
SUNSET SHADOWS

Let's address the elephant in the room right away: Freddie Hubbard's Straight Life album will always live in the shadow of its predecessor, Red Clay. There are those of us who believe this comparison is unfair, despite the two very different albums being recorded only 10 months apart. Yet as ground-breaking as the Red Clay album is, it's Straight Life that remains the far more awe-inspiring session of the two, even with its slightly shorter running time.

Straight Life gives us two long jams with an all-star group, and one classic ballad performed as a trio. As soon as you hear Freddie's trade-offs with Jack DeJohnette that open "Straight Life", you will know you're about to hear something special. The first big solo goes to Joe Henderson (tenor sax): a true 4-minute monster that will erase any doubt on whether he belongs among the all-time greats. Then it's Freddie's turn, before Herbie Hancock (banging away on electric piano), George Benson (guitar), and DeJohnette (drums) are given space to strut their stuff before Hubbard returns to wrap it all up. "Mr. Clean" has Hubbard and Henderson playing the main theme in tandem before and between everyone's solo spaces. This track moves and grooves more deliberately than the previous one, and Benson features more prominently. The album closes with a truly beautiful version of "Here's that Rainy Day". Hubbard and Benson duet before being joined by bassist Ron Carter, a truly memorable finish to a truly classic album (with no lost/missing tracks on subsequent re-issues).

So what's not to like? The critical orthodoxy will insist these songs are not compositions, but simply backdrops for soloing (as if that's a bad thing). Occasionally the musical textures (which also include a very busy percussionist, Richie Landrum) can become cluttered, but with all this firepower, why not use it? It was probably strongly suggested to Freddie that he make another Red Clay, but thankfully he didn't, and the jazz world is better for it. Hubbard's future CTI albums would add strings/horns/woodwinds (without Herbie Hancock), and just never be as downright masterful as Straight Life always will be.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Apocalypse

Album · 1974 · Fusion
Cover art 3.57 | 34 ratings
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Apocalypse” was the third album for Mahavishnu Orchestra and saw the band going through some changes. The first two albums were probably some of the most divisive albums in jazz history. There was nothing subtle about Mahavishnu’s first two outings. Their heavy rock approach and bombastic sound were a turn off to many jazzers, but a definite attraction to the prog rock crowd who flocked to them in droves. As if the band was not cumbersome enough already, this third album was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, a sign that the big prog rock sensibilities might reign supreme on this one, but upon hearing it, fortunately its not really all that. To their credit, Mahavishnu always had top notch musicians and their fiery solos could raise the roof, and with this third album they raise that ante with some new exciting players. Bassist Ralphe Armstrong and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty were just a notch above the people they replaced and now McLaughlin finally had some people in the band who could hold their own against him. Michael Walden replacing Billy Cobham was a fairly even trade and Walden does a great job of fitting into the Cobham style while supplying his own unique syncopations and energy.

The first side of the album presents a surprisingly coherent musical vision as John steps up as a worthy composer and arranger fitting band and orchestra passages together to build a dynamic musical piece. Some highlights include a heavy string motif that sounds like a cross between Mussorgsky and King Crimson and a middle section where John lays down a repeating impossibly funky riff, one of his best since “Jack Johnson”. The closing ballad, sung by Gayle Moran, is one of the finest bits of composition in McLaughlin’s long career. On side two, things get a bit more disjointed, but separate sections still have nice things to offer. There is one high energy trio jam with John, Ralphe and Michael that allows Armstrong to show what an incredible bass player he is, but it is marred by an overly processed sound on the guitar. On the bad side of things, the section towards the end that features furious trading of fours with a string section is just kind of ridiculous, this is the sort of excess that dragged down many a 70s prog rock opus.

KEITH JARRETT Fort Yawuh

Live album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 10 ratings
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Throughout his lengthy career, Keith Jarrett has been one of the most important pianists of our time, but there was something different about his youthful playing that you don’t hear as much over the years. Before the Koln concert, the classical performances and the association with the somber 80s ECM sound, Jarrett’s playing was a lot funkier and bluesy soulful with plenty of gospel and roots country riffs to go around for everyone. Its from this earlier phase of his career that we get the loose, experimental and mostly high energy live concert known as “Fort Yawuh”. Joining Keith on this concert is his very talented, ‘American Quartet”, with Dewey Redman on tenor, Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Part-time member, Danny Johnson, joins on percussion.

The album starts with the free post bop of “If the Misfits (Wear It)”, which opens with what sounds like the musicians imitating a North African field recording before going into high speed free-bop mode. Keith’s piano runs are both lightning fast and harmonically interesting at the same time. Dewey follows him with a strong tenor solo that shows the Coltrane and John Gilmore influences of the time. The album title track follows, and features the piano trio in free mode, but when they kick into an African rock groove, Redman joins with a Chinese musette solo that works really well with this sort of non-western rhythm. Side two kicks off with the gospel groove of “De Drums”, halfway through the track the rhythm picks up the tempo as Redman leads the band in a high energy soul jazz romp. Album closer “Still Life, Still Life”, is a ballad, but during Jarrett’s opening solo improv, he takes the tune into some very complex twisting turning twelve tone treatments.

The salient features on this album are enthusiastic energy and an open mind towards any possible musical influence. This group pulls from all the various musical influences described above, yet all those influences come together to make one sound and nothing sounds contrived or unnatural. There is a real joy at work in this album that is rare to come by.

ONENESS OF JUJU / PLUNKY & ONENESS / PLUNKY Bush Brothers & Space Rangers

Album · 1996 · RnB
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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On the wave of the unfading popularity of African influenced jazz in England, UK-based label Strut continues their series of US funk-RnB bands from 70s Oneness Of Juju reissues. The band's debut, "African Rhythms", has been reissued by Strut in 2002, and in 2018 once again. Band's second album, "Space Jungle Luv"(originally from 1976), has been reissued by Strut in 2002 and 2021. "Bush Brothers & Space Rangers", chronologically the band's third recorded album, received its European reissue in 2022 for the first time ever (recorded in 1977, this album has been released for the first time in 1996 only, and reissued only once after - in 2002 in Japan).

Oneness of Juju were the mid-70s continuation of early 70s SF/NYC - based sax player James Plunky Branch's avant-garde jazz band Juju, who moved to Richmond, Virginia in late 1974 and switched the direction towards funk and RnB. Their debut album (still partially with old Juju line-up) under the new name, "African Rhythms", was critically acclaimed, and contained more commercially popular music for the time with a mix of funk and RnB with African-spiritual jazz elements.

For their third album, recorded two years later, the band adds guitarist Ras Mel Melvin Glover, drummer Tony Green (instead of Babatunde) and pianist Brian Jackson (both - from Gil Scott-Heron's band) and percussionist Okyerma Asante. As a result, they loose a bit of funky edge, but receive a more sophisticated sound.

The album's opener,"Breezin'", is probably better known from George Benson's instrumental version, but it's originally a Bobby Womack song, and it comes with vocals here, a nice dreamy relaxed RnB piece. "African Rhythms", Plunky's original, is represented here by a longer very percussive acoustic version, and it sounds even better then on the band's debut, one of the album's top tracks. "Nooky", another Plunky original, is placed somewhere between the band's earlier funk-jazz and the more polished RnB, with soloing sax on the front all the time.

Side B opens with an interesting example of an early "ecological" protest song, "Be About The Future". "Afro Beat" is a very percussive funky song. "Plastic (Is Easy To See Thru)" is another one of the album's top cuts, very much a George Clinton-like piece of P-funk. The album's closer, "Rhythms Timelessness", is a two minutes-long funky instrumental with lots of guitar soloing on the front.

Japanese P-Wine reissue for the first time presented 5 never before released bonuses, on the latest Strut reissue they are available as downloads. "West Wind" is a longish relaxed African-ballade with a flute, "All Blues" is a bluesy RnB with lot of sax and piano soloing and strong vocals, sounds a bit out of place here though. "The Stuff To Make You Move", is danceable RnB and the more funky, "Get Your Head Together", with male vocals, both don't add much to the album.

SUN RA Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

Live album · 1993 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.55 | 2 ratings
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“Celebration for the Comet Kohoutek” is a live concert recorded by the Sun Ra Arkestra on December 22, 1973 at New York City’s Town Hall. The first side of the album is a fairly good recording, at least by Sun Ra standards, of an excellent performance. Side two starts off okay, but then falters significantly for the last half of that side. After a brief opening, side one kicks off with the well known “Astro Black”, sung by the Arkestra veteran, June Tyson. From here the band goes into mixtures of hard bop grooves and screeching free jazz with fiery solos from many of the horn players. Specific credits are not given, but possibly that is Kwame Hadi behind those fiery trumpet solos. As for the other players, you can expect the usual suspects such as Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and the rest of the crew.

Halfway through this side Sun Ra steps in with an incredible analog synthesizer solo. If you have heard his early meanderings on “My Brother the Wind”, you will not believe how much Ra’s technique on the synth developed after those early experiments. He must be using a fairly complex setup because the sounds he is producing, and the way he is able to pull up endless variations, is far beyond what a Mini-Moog is capable of. I know Sonny used the Korg MS-20 some, a pair of those linked together could probably pull off these sort of cross-modulated wave forms. After Ra’s solo fades, the percussion section kicks in for an aggressive African groove over which Sonny at first supplies something close to classic soul jazz riffs. Ra playing in this style is very rare and its quite a treat for long time fans of his, but soon he moves back to supplying more elctronic sounds to the percussion celebration.

After a brief Arkestra intro, side two goes into more synthesizer excursions from Sonny, and once again his technique, control and imagination are very impressive. The way in which the tone colors constantly morph and change recalls Milton Babbit’s “Ensemble for Synthesizer”. I would not be surprised if Ra was very familiar with that landmark electronic piece. After the lengthy solo, the band tries to reappear, but something has happened, they sound like they are in another room way down the hallway. The last half of side two is given to call and response vocal numbers, including the over recorded, “Space is the Place”. These songs get tedious quickly because the arkestra is barely audible while the vocalists are way too loud. When one singer starts doing lounge club RnB type vocals on “Space is the Place”, its time to go ahead and hit the tone arm eject. Overall, possibly the most salient feature on this album is Sun Ra’s extended synthesizer solos. I do not know of any other record of his that contains such a wealth of synth colors. Other albums of his often sound like he is just learning how the device works.

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