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jazz music reviews (new releases)

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) Axiom

Live album · 2020 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Five years ago I saw Christian Scott playing live on his European tour with almost the same band (vocalist Isadora Mendez Scott is not on board, sax player Braxton Cook instead of current Alex Han and percussionist Joe Dyson instead of Weedie Braimah). He sounded quite similar to what is recorded on this newest album "Axiom", just here he sounds a bit better.

Exactly as during the gig I saw live, Scott speaks a lot, plays trumpet and manages his band well. Flutist Elena Pinderhughes is a night's star filling space with nice solos generally, not too knotty for the band's music. Lawrence Field's retro keys sound great and add a lot of 70s spirit.

Comparing with some of Scott's last studio albums, music here is much more organic, and that's for good. There is a groove and a lot of African percussion, and in general this album is not much different from today's popular London based African fusion influenced sound.

Exactly as during the concert I saw, songs here are quite long, being accessible and not too complex, the lengthiness can make the album simply sound a bit bulky as a result. Still, taking in account all the pros and cons, "Axiom" is probably the best Scott album I have ever heard.

WYNTON MARSALIS Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra : The Ever Fonky Lowdown

Album · 2020 · Third Stream
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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After an incredibly long and productive buildup, it looks like Wynton Marsalis has hit the apex of his career with “The Ever Fonky Low Down”, a tour de force of spoken word, music and dance that speaks volumes against the negative forces that have been on the rise in recent times. The album itself is excellent, but I do hope someday he makes the filmed performance of this more available because with dancers, a large music ensemble and a charismatic narrator in Wendall Pierce, much of the appeal of this opus is visual. The real star of the show here is the lengthy text read by Pierce as the hustling character, Mr Game (“Sell you a loan that will take your home“). Mr Game is part insincere wealthy preacher, corrupt politician and conniving criminal hustler all rolled into one as he attempts to brainwash his audience. The words were all written by Wynton, who is apparently just as talented at libretto as he is with music as he displays the background for the cynical logic that threatens our world today. I won’t try to give out too many details about Mr Game’s rap as he tries to deride ‘they’ and buildup ‘his people’, but you will hear similarities to Hitler’s speech about the Polish people, Trump’s exaggerated and fabricated claims about illegal immigrants and the twisted logic of those who try to justify, or deny, the evils of slavery, genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’. But its not just about the Mr Games of the world, instead, Wynton is challenging us to look deeper at how we react to Mr Game and his opponents. Do we let them manipulate and divide us, or are we able to think for ourselves and keep our moral compass on track.

The rhythms on here are pure New Orleans in many flavors such as RnB, Dixieland, odd metered modern jazz, post bop modal grooves, street marches and more. On top of this rhythmic foundation Wynton interjects his orchestrations that show similarities to Ellington, Mingus, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Sun Ra. There are plenty of hot solos from the all-star band and lots of free form interaction during the longer jams. It's very telling that the music is based in New Orleans, that fertile birthplace of creativity from which a subjugated people ended up spreading their culture and changing much of the world. As mentioned before, this is a very visual production and its great watching the three male dancers improvise and move in synchronicity with methods taken from jazz ballet and New Orleans street dancing. Also enjoyable is Wendall Pierce’s very charismatic performance, especially when his eyes flash like the devil when Mr Game moves in for the ‘closer‘. Wynton's hand picked musicians bring much personality to the proceedings as well, particularly the three female singers and blues/country guitarist and vocalist Doug Wamble, whose southern drawl can sound charming and also ironically troubling.

What makes ‘Fonky Lowdown’ so powerful is that Marsalis has very thoroughly laid out what dangers lay in wait in today’s world. In a recent interview Wynton pointed out, “This is no time to be sleep walking”. I was already aware of much of what Marsalis relates here, but I have never heard it all illustrated in such a cohesive manner, once again, in Wynton’s own words, “showing us a blueprint on how to rise above populist propaganda”. Don’t expect easy answers or liberal platitudes on how to make things better. Also don't expect cliche shaming and a roll call of past grievances. Instead, Marsalis is shooting for bigger game as he displays the thinking that allows those that should know better to stand by while the 'Mr Games' of the world go about their business. 'Fonky Lowdown' is a call for everyone to pay attention and be ready to act if needed.

CHARLES TOLLIVER Connect

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Trumpeter Charles Tolliver made his name during the late 60s-early 70s, playing creative post bop in small bands with pianist Stanley Cowell and sax player Gary Bartz among others and co-founding an impressive progressive big band Music Inc. His albums from early 70s all are classics and sound pretty well even now.

From late 70s Tolliver disappeared from active recordings with a very few predominantly live recordings coming from 90s and 00's. "Connect" is his first studio album in fourteen years.

Recorded and released in UK, the veteran's album is of traditional 70s size - 39 minutes (or vinyl LP) long. It contains four Tolliver originals, some of them has been already heard on his more current albums in big band arrangements. His cross-generation all-American quintet (recorded in renown RAK studio during European tour) contains seasoned musicians bassist Buster Williams (played with Herbie Hancock and Archie Shepp among many others) and drummer Lenny White (of RTF fame), mid-generation altoist Jesse Davis and youngster pianist Keith Brown. Fashionable Brits tenor Binker Golding participates as a guest on two tracks.

Well recorded, music itself is quite conservative and recalls more early fusion era than second decade of a New Millennium. What is not necessarily a bad thing, just depending on the listener's taste. Compositions are tight, up-tempo, quite straight and not too knotty, just well played without any tricks. Fans of early fusion ca.72 will probably enjoy the sound which is really rare nowadays.

There are two reasons why "Connect" isn't as great an album as some of Tolliver's best works. First, compositions are not all that memorable, and second - drummer Lenny White (as almost always) sounds very much as rock drummer in a jazz band - heavyweight,straight-forward and non-subtle that doesn't add elegance to whole music at all. It's interesting that Binker Golding's, who is an artist of very different background and generation, soloing is quite successful and embellishes the song's sound a lot.

ANTONIO ADOLFO BruMa (Mist): Celebrating Milton Nascimento

Album · 2020 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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“BruMa” is not only Antonio Adolfo’s musical tribute to Milton Nascimento, but also a tribute to Milton’s attempts to help the victims of flooding in two Brazilian cities, which is reflected in the album’s title. The Bru refers to the city Brumadinho, and Ma refers to Moriana, two cities who suffered catastrophic consequences when earthen dams collapsed. Adolfo has worked with Milton as far back as the late 60s, which makes him a perfect candidate for reworking some of Nasciemento’s music. Many of these songs will be familiar to others, not only from Milton’s previous albums, but also from albums by artists such as Wayne Shorter and Stanley Turrentine. This is a Brazilian jazz album, but don’t expect non-stop bossas and sambas, those rhythms are used, but so are many other rhythms from Brazil, as well as rhythms from the worlds of contemporary jazz and RnB. Subtlety is the key here, Nascimento’s music is full of tricky rhythms and chord changes, but Adolfo’s smooth arrangements make this into an album almost anyone can enjoy.

There is only one samba on here, “Cancao Do Sal’, and it is one of the best tracks with an excellent driving piano muntuno to push it forward. “Caxanga” uses Afro-Brazilian rhythms from Bhia that sound a lot like jazz RnB from the US east coast. Likewise, the relaxed shuffle of “Nada Sera Como Antes” is similar to a hip-hop jazz groove. With a four horn front line there are plenty of solos to go around, with some of the best coming from the Coltrane inspired tenor of Marcelo Martins. The classic music of Milton Nascimento is in good hands with these tasteful mini-big band arrangements.

ANDREA MORELLI Andrea Morelli e Silvia Belfiore : DIFFRAZIONE

Album · 2020 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Since the introduction of the term "third stream" in the early 60s, there were many recordings released trying to combine jazz and classical music, with mixed success. Way too often the two genres crossover sounded like classic compositions adaptating to more modern sound by adding jazzy rhythms and arrangements, or contrarily - moving jazz bands to the music hall and extracting from their music groove and joy, leaving bloodless sterile compositions.

There still have been some successful examples of the concept, and Italian reedist Andrea Morelli's "Diffrazione" is one of them. Taking twelve compositions, written by two grands of the transition era from classic music era to modern days, Frenchman Eric Satie and American Duke Ellington. He adapted them for modern chamber sax/flute - piano duo with great success.

Eric Satie, French composer known from his compositions for piano, written in the end of the 19th century, isn't all that often cited by jazz musicians. Recognized as an avant-garde composer of sorts by his contemporaries, Satie wrote many short pieces where he rejected the classic idea of musical development, building the basis for coming soon minimalism, but still leaving a lot of romanticism elements in it.

"Diffrazione" contains eight short Satie pieces (mostly all popular "Gnossiennes","Gymnopedies" plus "Sarabande" and "Je te veux", all written between 1887 and 1913), all played by the duo of Andrea and Italian pianist Silvia Belfiore. All of them are musical pieces of exceptional beauty, sounding slightly melancholic but without nostalgia, with an excellent level of emotional taste. Warm and deep chamber sound brings the listener to characteristic atmosphere of European salon on the edge of nineteen and twenties centuries, leaving the old world for soon coming modern one, with all its expectations and troubles.

The album content's other half - five Ellington songs (written between 1928 and 1967). They are ambassadors of a new world here - more rhythmical, obviously less related with old-European classic legacy, and - much more optimistic. Still, adopted for chamber duo, Ellington songs sound softer, better rounded and with many emotional colors, more common for European music.

Placed in the album's program as almost always interchanging, Satie and Ellington musical compositions always differ by their mood, but surprisingly well fit, balancing each other. Altogether, they build that fragile form of jazz and classic crossover which balances on the edge between two genres never crossing the borders and producing music of new quality.

On the album's closer - Ellington's "Angelica" - duo is extended to trio, adding drummer Alessandro Garau. This gives more rhythmic qualities to the composition, which is quite playful itself, and perfectly closes the program on joyful, optimistic note.

Album's title "Diffrazione" means "diffraction", or deviation of waves from main trajectory (the effect, first observed by Italian Francesco Maria Grimaldi, by the way). On Morelli "Diffrazione" the listener can observe the deviation from classical and jazz main trajectories with an elegance and big respect to the source.

You don't need to be a fan of jazz or classics, or both, you don't even need to know all this music terms and tags - this is the music for everyone, excellent combination of taste and master ship.

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CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Trio Introducing Freddy Gambrell

Album · 1958 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Freddie Gambrell is another pianist you can file under the tag, ‘one of the best piano players you never heard of.’. The reason you probably never heard of him is that he only recorded three albums, and the best of those three, “Chico Hamilton Presents Freddie Gambrell”, shows up in the Chico Hamilton discography, not Gambrell‘s. The best way I can introduce Freddie is to describe how I found his playing. I was listening to a 5 CD collection of Chico Hamilton music from the late 50s on random shuffle when I noticed this rather odd and attention grabbing pianist would show up occasionally. His playing was rooted in hard bop, but there were these weird surprises and unexpected jumps in his solos. All of this was reminding me of Herbie Nichols or Jaki Byard, but this guy was obviously neither of them. I didn’t even think that Chico ever worked with a pianist, but upon checking the CD package I see there is this one album with pianist Freddie Gambrell, someone I was not familiar with at all, so I wanted to find out more.

Apparently after recording this one album with Chico in 1958, Freddie released two more in 1959, with neither making much of an impact and although he worked regularly in San Francisco for the rest of his life, both as a pianist and big band leader, you can not find much more information about him than that. So really, the best of Freddie’s lasting legacy is just this one album with Hamilton. The style on here is west coast hard bop, in other words somewhat laid back. Chico and bassist Ben Tucker provide a rhythmic pocket for Gambrell but not much else. There is little interplay between the players and no bass or drum solos either, this is very much a Gambrell solo act. Freddie’s playing is rooted in the pre-Bill Evans school of Art Tatum and Erroll Garner, with a lot of blues thrown in as well. Then there are his unique excursions that can go anywhere unpredictably, this is what grabbed my attention about this guy in the first place, and its what continues to get my attention anytime I give him a listen. If you like any of the other pianists I referenced in this review, or other slightly off-kilter players like Monk or Ellington, then give Gambrell a try. This is one jazz musician who should be better known.

MASABUMI KIKUCHI Feel You

Album · 1993 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Piano player Masabumi Kikuchi, who passed away in 2015, was an unsung hero of multicultural American-Japanese jazz. Born in Tokyo in 1939 and living in New York from 1974, he went a long way on both US and Japan scenes, playing with greats such as Gil Evans, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson and Terumasa Hino among many others. Masabumi experienced early fame as a leader playing then popular fusion in early 70s, and partially playing an early synthesizers jazz. From 90s, he became a member of Paul Motian band for decades still releasing his own albums extensively.

"Feel You" is one of Kikuchi's more obscure releases, recorded in New York and released in Japan and Germany. Here Masabumi plays as old school acoustic trio with lesser known Americans bassist James Genus and drummer Victor Jones. Stylistically covering large range of genres, "Feel You" is first of all true TRIO's album. Each member has his own significant voice here, and there is enough space for every one of them.

Album opens and closes with "Pain Killer"(I & II respectively). Funky memorable tune with deep wooden bass sounds as if the bassist is a leader of the trio. "Zig Zag" comes as true 70s post bop song with a spark, here (as well as on some others compositions) one can hear Kikuchi's moaning, not in such annoying way as Jarrett does, fortunately.

"Free Stroll" is mid-tempo freer piece, as it's title says, and the longest song on this album. Partially constructed as a dialogue between soloing piano and double bass with a support of drummer, this song is surprisingly accessible, even attractive despite of its quite loose structure.

"Little Treat" is a little ballad quite similar to such well known from Paul Motian's trio recordings (surprisingly, it is James Genus' original, the only other than Kikuchi's originals on this album, which besides of them contains two standards as well). "It Never Entered My Mind" is one of the standards (written by Hart & Rodgers), sounding here slightly melancholic and very airy.

Masabumi Kikuchi was known by his own very individual piano playing manner, when playing he's been leaving a lot of silence between separate notes. Some called his manner "a Japanese influence", he often wasn't agreeable with this tag, but as a result his music is very often quite meditative, with a touch of melancholy, but with a strict control over emotional coloring. Being a child of two radically different megalopolises, Tokyo and New York, Masabumi very often sounds as a lonely artist in a big city. Like Woody Allen in his movies, Masabumi paints his New York, just not from the Near East or Eastern Europe (Allen's heritage), but from his big city Zen-Buddhist roots.

"Up Beat Blues" actually is a brilliant post-bop piece with sultry sound demonstrating excellent collaboration between all three band members. "20th St. Shuffle" is an acoustic fusion of sort, where Kikuchi plays minimalist staccato piano over the drummer's fanfares, imitating a moving train's sound all song long.

Even if the album looks quite eclectic in genres on paper, in real life it sounds organic, united in one musical post from a capable and inspired trio.

Since both original vinyl releases (Japanese and European) are collectable rarities, the only existing reissue on CD (coming from Japan,2015) is probably easier and cheaper to find. Not really the album for newcomers, "Feel You" is interesting and valuable release for everyone who already found out the original beauty of Kikuchi's better known works and wants more.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Between Nothingness & Eternity

Live album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.49 | 21 ratings
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Although most Mahahvishnu Orchestra fans tend to go for their first two studio albums, its the third album, the live “Between Nothingness and Eternity”, that best captures what this band was best at, high energy hard rock. Whereas other fusion pioneers of the day were mixing and matching various genres and cultures, Maha went straight for the rock jugular, mixing a Deep Purple/Hendrix Experience adrenaline fueled rhythm overdrive with solos that fused bebop agility with rock n roll sledge hammer tonality. There was nothing particularly subtle about this group, and that’s why many jazz fans were not interested, but many rock fans embraced them as a band that set a higher standard for ultimate shredding. “Eternity‘s” recording quality is far from perfect, there is distortion and uneven sound balances, the performance is somewhat sloppy, but that intense explosive energy that was this band’s salient feature comes through more on this live outing than it does on their previous studio albums. Consider “Eternity” to be the first ‘punk jazz’ album if you will.

There are lots of cool musical highlights to be found on here. Side one opens with McLaughlin’s signature sweeping tamboura like guitar arpeggios that promise a special performance to come. A few minutes into this side Cobham launches into a high speed double time beat that foreshadows the hardcore thrash scene that will happen in the 80s. This side closes with “Sister Andrea”, which features one of the funkiest Fender Rhodes riffs ever. The best highlight on side two comes when the rest of the band backs off and allows Cobham and McLaughlin to take off on a high speed conversation that matches the old Mitchell/Hendrix jams for a display of two guys who really enjoy each other’s musical company. That interchange also shows how Maha was essentially a McLaughlin and Cobaham band. Bassist Rick Laird does well, but he is essentially a jazz musician. Violinist Jerry Goodman digs into the funk numbers, but seems over his head when Cobham turns up the tempo. Keyboardist Jan Hammer deals with the music by more or less imitating McLaughlin.

John’s original idea for the band was supposed to be himself, Cobham, Larry Young on keyboards, Jean Luc Ponty on violin and Tony Levin on bass. That would have been the better band as both Young and Ponty would have brought more original ideas that could have stood on their own and countered McLaughlin’s intensity.

YOSHIO SUZUKI Friends

Album · 1973 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Former Sadao Watanabe bassist Yoshio Suzuki's solo debut album is an essential example of what Japanese jazz of that time is. High energy mid to fast tempo perfectly executed compositions (all - Suzuki originals) that are well played and even better recorded in a warm wood sound fashion of the audiophile dream of the time, Three Blind Mice Records.

Five compositions played by the Suzuki quartet (with the addition of flutist Hideo Miyata on Samba De Chico) are characteristic transitional from post bop to acoustic fusion pieces with bop rhythmic structures and rock band energy.

Sax player Kohsuke Mine is in his best form (few months later he will release his probably best ever album "Out Of Chaos" in a very similar style), pushing the music ahead with his soulful but high energy soloing. Suzuki acoustic bass is competent, if not too original, drummer Hiroshi Murakami (Masabumi Kikuchi band's member for years) is A-list collaborator and pianist Takehiro Honda is another star on his own a member of Sadao Watanabe's quartet at the time of this album's release).

After four more traditional pieces (each between eight and ten minutes long), the album's closer is different - "Samba De Chico" represents an early fusion take on Latin jazz, adding a guest flutist soloing over the whole composition. It is the least successful song on the album, where a too fast tempo destroys authentic Latin music beauty converting it to not too impressive soundtrack for Taco advert.

To be a really great album, the music here probably lacks more compositional originality, but "Friends" is still a really good album and could be recommended for those enjoying Kohsuke Mine's early works.

ROBERT FRIPP (No Pussyfooting) (with Eno)

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.69 | 6 ratings
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Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s “No Pussyfooting” will probably be regarded as a ground breaking recording in the long run of music history, but it was barely noticed when it came out in the mid-70s. In fact, I would imagine that many who bought this back then were pretty disappointed in what they had just purchased. Both artists at the time were enjoying successful art rock careers and I am sure many were looking for a cross between Fripp’s King Crimson and Eno’s Roxy Music, only to find that their collaborative effort sounded nothing like either of those bands. This album is not the first ambient album, but it is one of the first to be marketed toward a rock/pop audience, and as such it broke all sorts of new ground that both artists would go on to enjoy as ambient music continued to be a big part of their careers, as well as the careers of the thousands of artists that they inspired. Ever since the mid-90s electronica boom, ambient music has become a very popular genre, and you can trace the roots of that popularity right back to Fripp and Eno.

Side one opens with an F# drone that Fripp solos over in a raga like style in the Dorian minor mode. His solos are given infinite sustain via Eno’s tape loop methods. Once again, Eno was not the first person to use tape loops like this, but possibly the first to use them in this sort of Hendrix meets Shankar psychedelic sound that would eventually attract the more experimental side of the rock world. Side two uses a busier backdrop via Eno’s VCS3 synthesizer as Fripp solos in E Ionian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes before finally fading out. Fortunately Robert is a very talented soloist who has no problem constructing an interesting narrative over a drone like background, otherwise, this album could have been a real snooze-fest.

Given the long history of ambient music at this point, this album does not sound particularly unusual anymore, but back in the day many of us were watching the record spin around for the first time and wondering when was the drum beat going to kick in, ha. It never kicks in. Welcome to your brave new ambient future.

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