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jazz music reviews (new releases)

SOT Monster Master

Album · 2022 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.56 | 4 ratings
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js
SOT has a rather unusual lineup for a jazzy rock band. The expected guitar and drums are there, but in place of a bassist, SOT features Lars Andreas Haug on tuba. The tuba is no gimmick but instead proves its versatility by covering the bass foundation for the rockin parts, and then moving into the upper register for simulated orchestral sections. SOT is a very eclectic band and the use of the tuba expands the different sound colors and genres they can draw upon. Guitarist Skjalg Reithaug, thankfully avoids that awful digital metalish saturation sound you hear from so many guitarists today, but instead goes for a natural distortion that gives his guitar that rock edge, but still allows every note to be very clear. Skjalg, like his tubist brother, is very versatile, moving from fusion like solos, to sweeping chorused arpeggio ambiance, as well as Indian modes and raga influences. Arild Nyborg is the newcomer on drums who doesn’t ‘miss a beat’ in keeping up with SOT’s often fast changing meters and time signatures.

SOT is an instrumental band, save for the occasional wordless choir effect, and they fall somewhere between prog rock and fusion, but they avoid some of the more heavy handed and overly dramatic tendencies of both those genres, and the lack of pretentious song lyrics and vocals are also a plus. There is an upbeat, sometimes humorous, and always celebratory nature to these jams. SOT is having fun and they do well in sending that message to their audience. Musical styles they cover are broad. One staple they fall back on is quick changing rock guitar riffs that recall Jan Akkerman and Focus. Other sections draw on Indo-fusion in a John McLaughlin style. The lengthy title cut has a long section in which the band goes into a slinky Ellington vamp while an unaccredited bari sax player adds to the jazz noire vibe. Despite all the busy jazz rockin, some of SOT’s best moments come during ambient breaks where the string sounding keyboards and the tuba provide panoramic orchestral soundscapes. Finally, the choral buildup at the end of “Sunship” is a high point on the album. SOT is an excellent band and don’t think that tuba is a cute gimmick, it really works.

JON HASSELL The Living City (Live at the Winter Garden 17 September 1989)

Boxset / Compilation · 2023 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Very first weeks of a new year bring us an exceptional release. Two grand artists of electronic music of the 80s - American conceptualist trumpeter/keyboardist, Jon Hassell and Brit early ambient key figure, Brian Eno meet on a perfectly recorded in 1989 live album! Both artists already collaborated on the well-known "Fourth World" album, released in 1980, which gave the name for Hassell's future musical style of eclectic crossover combining electronics, jazz improvisation and non-Western rhythms.

The album's material contains a 68-minute Jon Hassell's group live performance from World Financial Center Winter Garden in New York City, recorded in September 1989 (just few months before exactly same group recorded "City: Works Of Fiction" studio album). Eno had designed an audio-visual installation in the 10-story glass-vaulted pavilion, inspired by the hunting, ceremony, animals, and weather sounds of the Ba-Ya-Ka pygmy tribe from Cameroon gathered by Louis Sarno, and mixed the band playing live with multimedia installation sonics.

This recorded material hadn't been released until 2014, when it got serious studio remixing/reworking. Still it's first release as bonus material with "City: Works Of Fiction (Expanded Edition)" reissue passed almost unnoticed. In February 2023 it comes as separate vinyl album, and it's a great chance to find a new listener.

The music presented on "The Living City" from the very first minutes recalls Miles fusion albums from mid-70s. The main difference is Miles long pieces are mostly based on improvisation, Hassell's music is more structured and organized, and sounds like a composition against Miles jamming. Hassell's prepared trumpet sounds very much as analog keyboards, and heavy studio wizardry gives to the whole music a less organic, but more contemporary sound. On some pieces Daniel Scwartz plays physical groovy funky bass, which adds a lot of life to the mix, and perfectly balances quite emotionless by it's nature electronic sounds.

Recorded during a live gig, this music sounds more alive, and more inspired then Hassell's renown studio works. Well recorded, it represents perfectly the missing link between Miles Davis mid-70s fusion and Nils Petter Molvær nu jazz from mid-90s. Highly recommended.

ERIC GOLETZ Standard-ized

Album · 2023 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
After working as a sideman and session musician for 30 years, trombonist Eric Goletz has, for the last three years, been putting out a new album as leader every year, which brings us to 2023’s, “Standard-ized”. Whereas Eric’s earlier efforts focused on original music, this new one, as if you could not tell from the title, features standards, with many arranged in different styles than you may have heard them before. There are a variety of ensembles at work here as well, ranging from trios to septets, with some selections featuring a string quartet.

I get the feeling Eric was working on a more contemporary radio friendly approach on his new album when circumstances pushed things in a different direction. Apparently Eric and his group had been given a casual cocktail gig on which they decided to just have fun playing songs that they knew well. It’s what musicians call a ‘blowing session’, playing freely on songs that they are very comfortable with and having rambunctious fun doing it. So successful was this gig that they decided to record a demo to score similar jobs and so successful was this recording session that they decided to return and record even more tunes. The end result is an album that is about one half blowing session, and about one half radio friendly ballads which are often backed by the string quartet and led by vocalist Lajuan Carter.

For my money, the best part of this CD is the high flying bop numbers like “Mayreh”, “Just in Time” and “Nutville”. On these the band sounds loose and relaxed, On first listen I thought these tunes were being played live, and apparently a lot of them were unrehearsed first takes in the studio. There are also a couple soul jazz groove tracks that bear a similar energy. Of the ballads, the best is Eric, backed only with bass and drums, playing Stevie Wonder’s sublime “Overjoyed”. This is an album of standards and fortunately they picked a lot of tunes that have not been overplayed, but there are also a couple tracks on here that some of us have probably heard a few too many times.

DAVID MURRAY David Murray Brave New World Trio With Brad Jones And Hamid Drake : Seriana Promethea

Album · 2022 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Tenor saxophonist, David Murray, who was a significant figure on the American avant-garde jazz scene in the 80s, is still active today. Always known by his accessible and melodic take on avant-garde jazz, over the decades he lost a big part of his fire, but not his tunefulness

On Murray newest release,"Seriana Prometea", the jazz veteran presents his new all-star acoustic trio with excellent drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Brad Jones. Seven of the eight pieces on the record are Murray's own (the exception is Sly & The Family Stone’s hit “If You Want Me to Stay”). The album's compositions cover a wide specter of genres, from funky r'n'b ("Seriana Promethea" and "If You Want Me To Stay"), to Latin ("Anita Et Annita" and "Switchin' In The Kitchen"), to a rock-song of sorts ("Necktar"), to Oriental ("Metouka Sheli (Ballad For Adrienne)") and a jazzy pop-song ("Rainbows For Julia").

Perfect rhythm section adds a lot of textures that makes the music sound accessible, but far from simple. True, these songs could be written and recorded in the 80s, but it's not necessarily a bad sing.

DAVID BLOOM David Bloom and Cliff Colnot : Shadow Of A Soul

Album · 2022 · Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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js
“Shadow of a Soul” is the fourth album by composer David Bloom, and just like on his three previous albums, he has enlisted Cliff Colnot to provide arrangements. These two make quite a team, its hard to put an exact genre on their work, big band arranging is the closest you can get, but this is much more than just that. The ensembles on “Shadow” range from big bands to smaller groups with very unique instrumental groupings. Every single piece on here has its own ensemble and tone colors, and the musical influences range from contemporary jazz to art pop and soundtracks, as well as impressionistic classical music. Most of the pieces are fairly short, never much longer than five minutes, with some being only a minute or two which gives the album an appealing library music type effect. Brevity is a rare thing in the world of jazz.

Latin rhythms play a big part on some of the best tracks. “For Eddie P” features Afro-Cuban rhythms in a tribute to Eddie Palmieri, and pianist Ryan Cohan does a great job of channeling Eddie’s fierce and dissonant piano barrages. Ryan is also featured on other tracks as well. Some other Latin tracks feature the saxophone work of Mike Smith and the bright high end trumpet work of Victor Garcia. Besides the Latin numbers, you also get tone poems that recall the pastoral work of Gil Evans and Marie Schneider. Alto flutes are often featured in the melodies, delivering their signature smooth sound.

Bloom lists Wayne Shorter as a major compositional influence, and album opener “Mischievous Mark Colby”, could pass as a Shorter piece, particularly when Dave Liebman delivers an imaginative soprano sax solo. Dave also appears on the album’s title track as well. You could call much of this album ‘big band’ music, but ultimately this is contemporary instrumental music that draws on many influences and sound colors.

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YOSUKE YAMASHITA 山下洋輔 Quiet Memories

Album · 2020 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
Yosuke Yamashita, who will celebrate his 80 birthday later this month, is one of Japanese avant-garde jazz piano key figures. His trio during the late 60s - mid 70s released a series of excellent high energy impressive technique albums, building a golden fund of the country's creative jazz (incl. cult "Chiasma" and bold, very special atmosphere "Frozen Days", which I really like more, among some others). Yosuke moved towards more mainstream post-bop during 90s, played with big bands and recorded some semi-classical works. "Quiet Memories" is his last to date studio album, a 78 year sold pianist's solo work.

Recorded in a studio in Tokyo, this album contains eleven compositions: three standards, one Corsican folk song and seven Yamashita originals. As one could expect, Yamashita plays his whole life's music from mature, seasoned artist position. Fortunately, the album isn't a collection of sentimental ballads. It builds a very specific atmosphere of lite sadness and understanding that a long-lasting artist's career (and life) is going into the final faze. Unusually (for Yamashita) emotionally colored, it contains some his best songs from his youth (as "Mina's 2nd theme" and "Chiasma"), played more emotionally, than in the original versions. "Thought of Beatrice" is a Corsican ballade of rare beauty. Standards anchoring the album's music, make a tighter connection of Yamashita's own compositions with jazz roots. All the time interchanging the music's tempos perfectly controls the whole album's mood, making it more Zen-balanced, rather than melancholic. And without surprise, Yamahita choses "On the Sunny Side of the Street" for the closer.

WOODY SHAW Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard

Live album · 1978 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.45 | 3 ratings
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Mssr_Renard
Woody Shaw is one of my favorite seventies and eighties post-bop trumpeteers. A great composer and bandleader aswell.

Almost all of his seventies albums are worth listening, but this live-album is where the magic really happens.

The lp- and cd-version of this album are almost completely different. My review is about the lp.

This livealbum (recorded on two nights: august 5th and 6th, 1978 at the Village Vanguard, New York) features five originals (three from Shaw, one from drummer Lewis and one from pianist Gumbs). The final song is only a theme so it doesn't really count.

The quintet featured, is a very steady one and the interplay is magnificent. Sometimes it reminds me a bit of Jazz Messengers during the Shorter/Hubbard/Walton/Fuller-days.

Shaw plays no trumpet, but only cornet and flugelhorn, wich he does mostly during these days.

The album kicks off in a nice uptempo fashion with the Shaw-original Stepping Stone

On the song In a Capricornian Way (a 3/4 waltz) Jefferson (saxophone) and Gumbs (piano) really show their worth. During the pianosolo, you can also hear how tight Lewis and Houston (bass) sound. A great rhythm trio. The basssolo is very nice aswell. Perhaps I A Capricornian Way is one of the most beautiful songs I know. I like jazz-waltzes very much, I guess.

Side two opens with the Gumbs-penned It All Comes Back to You with some tasty flugelhorn and soprano saxophone interplay. Jefferson and Shaw are a match made in heaven. Here you can also hear the splendid rhythmsection.

Seventh Avenue is an uptempo hardbopper, written by drummer Lewis. The theme of the song is unisono cornet and saxophone mimicking policesirens or something similar and the whole song is crazy and tries to capture the craziness ofcthe city. A wonderful composition.

The last song (improvisation) is dedicated to executive producer and manager Maxine Gregg and has a nice theme to end a perfect live-album, wich you keep turning over and over to play it again and again.

The line-up on this album is also featured on Rosewood and Woody Three.

The song Escape Velocity from these concerts is featured on Woody Three. Theme for Maxine is turned into a seven minute song with Joe Henderson on the album Rosewood (wich in fact came out a year earlier).

ANDY SUMMERS Charming Snakes

Album · 1990 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
THE WORD IS BIG

If I had to recommend just one Andy Summers solo album as his most representative, I would unquestionably pick 1990's Charming Snakes. It's just one of those albums where everything clicks: songs/performances/production/ special guests are all at the highest level. Naturally, without any vocals, it wasn't a best-seller and passed straight into obscurity shortly after its release. Still, Charming Snakes deserves to be heard by anyone who has ever been captivated by Summers's peerless guitar playing and the extraordinary tones/textures seemingly only he can elicit.

At the time this album was dropped onto an unsuspecting public, record companies were heavily investing in "shredding" guitar virtuosi like Eric Johnson and Steve Vai. Recorded over 2 weeks in February 1990, I can't help but wonder if that environment influenced this album's production as there is very little of the haunted atmospherics that Summers is known for. While certainly NOT an exercise in heavy metal excesses, Charming Snakes is bold, brash, and "in your face". Summers contributes jagged guitar lines to "Mexico 1920", multi-guitar layers to "Rainmaker", slide guitar, banjo, and a weird solo to "Mickey Goes to Africa", and where-did-that-come-from guitar patterns to "Monk Gets Ripped" and "The Strong and the Beautiful". His amazing riffs are doubled with soprano saxophonist Bill Evans on "Innocence Falls Prey", and with trumpeter Mark Isham on "Easy on the Ice". (Don't you love these song titles?)

So you want special guests? If anyone comes close to stealing Summers's thunder, it's powerhouse drummer Chad Wackerman, whose busy fills and big sounds are everywhere. The previously mentioned Evans appears on 8 of the 11 tracks, while Isham is on 4 of the 11. Old frenemy Sting plays a funky bassline on the title track. The one and only Herbie Hancock plays on 4 of the 11 tracks, including a solo piano intro to "Big Thing". Co-producer David Hentschel adds a powerful organ to "Mickey Goes to Africa".

"Big Thing" deserves special mention as the album's stand-out track. For those who think Summers is all about pedalboard effects, you really need to hear his big riff and big solo on this epic (7:07) showpiece. On the quieter side, "Charis" offers a brief respite with a guitar/soprano sax duet. Another highlight is the gloomy and brooding "Passion of the Shadow", which has a deceptively simple 6-note line that you will never forget.

Firing on all cylinders, these frantic performances sound as if they were recorded last week. If you've ever had any interest in Andy Summers's post-pop sound world, Charming Snakes is an absolute must-listen, must-have, must-own. There were some live shows after this album's release, and it would have been fascinating to hear how some of these songs would have translated to the concert stage. While most of what the prolific Summers has recorded is worth hearing, this unforgettable album is unequivocally his most powerful compositional statement. Track down a copy and turn up the volume, preferably on a BIG sound system.

THE AWAKENING Hear, Sense And Feel

Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Mssr_Renard
The Awakening are an all-star collective, here with their first album on Gene Russell's indie-label Bkack Jazz, wich existed for only four years (1971-1975). The label focussed on consciousness and the advancement of African-American jazz-musicians.

Musically 'Hear, Sense and Feel' can be described as a hybrid of modal jazz, post-bop and jazzrock because of the electric piano and electric bass on a few tracks. You might even call this spiritual jazz, because it has some similarities to Lonnie Liston Smith.

Pianist Ken Chaney and trumpeteer Frank Gordon are co-leading this collective, and they all are related to the AACM.

The album features dome fine hornplaying, nice lush piano and some funky and here and there boppish rhythms, with sometimss a 'free' feel. But mostly the album is modal and soulful. A pleasant listening with great solos allover.

Right now all the Black Jazz albums are being reissued by Real Gone Music, wich is a treat.

SAM RIVERS Sizzle

Album · 1976 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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snobb
Strangest Sam Rivers album ever - instead of the free-bop of his early works or the avant-garde jazz he is well-known for, Rivers plays four long fast-tempo funky pieces in a style one could expect from Sonny Sharrock or Ronald Shannon Jackson.

The band contains two drummers (incl. Barry Altschul), Dave Holland on bass/cello and guitarist Ted Dunbar. Rivers himself plays sax, piano and a lot of flute. Released on his regular Impulse! label, this album didn't reach the target listeners for that sort of music and critics didn't receive it well.

Energetic and straight-forward, this album's music has its moments, but comparing with much more complex and knotty River's regular albums of the time, it is simply not the work of his league.

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