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jazz music reviews (new releases)


Album · 2024 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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On "Green Lights," saxophonist and composer Troy Roberts embarks on a unique musical journey, illuminating the corridors of modern jazz with his vivid compositions and dynamic playing. His music draws a rich, emotive line through the map of his musical and geographical migrations, inviting the listener to connect with his personal experiences. This album, released under Toy Robot Music, reflects Roberts' artistic and personal journeys and marks the first time this gifted ensemble has recorded together under Roberts' leadership.

From the opening track, it's clear that "Green Lights" is based on conversational jazz between musicians who enjoy and respect each other. Roberts, alongside guitarist Paul Bollenback, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Jimmy MacBride, establishes a seamless dialogue that sounds telepathic. The ensemble's responsiveness and mutual intuition are the bedrock upon which this album is built.

"Green Lights" opens the album with a flourish. The synergy among the musicians is palpable, marked by Roberts' robust, expressive saxophone and the ensemble's crisp, fluid interaction. Bollenback's guitar, with its rich Fender Rhodes-like tone, and Patitucci's growling bass lines create a lush, rhythmic tapestry, setting the stage for an album that feels both explorative and grounded.

"The Question" and "By Your Side" are prime examples of the band's versatility, showcasing contemporary harmony and rhythm and a traditional jazz waltz, respectively. In "The Question," the ensemble skillfully navigates through the well-written composition, allowing Roberts to display his deft control over the tenor saxophone during his impressive solo. Meanwhile, "By Your Side" offers an emotive contrast, emphasizing lyrical solos and traditional jazz aesthetics. This diverse range of musical styles keeps the listener engaged and excited throughout the album.

"Solar Panels" is an up-tempo swing, based on a standard that allows the ensemble to weave through the progression with finesse and fervor. "Harry Brown" and "Jive Dumpling" further highlight the ensemble's chemistry and interactive playing. "Harry Brown" delves into modal jazz, while "Jive Dumpling" mixes modern and contemporary jazz for a playful, rhythmically intricate track that will surely put a smile on your face.

"Up To No Good" and "The Scotsman's Ballad" each offer different feels for the ensemble to express through. The former showcases modern jazz sensibility meshed with tight compositional structure, and the latter is a tender, profoundly emotive ballad highlighting Roberts' sensitivity and control. Ending with "Stretch Armstrong," the album revisits the roots of jazz in a straight-ahead swing that allows each musician to shine individually and, as a whole, bring the album to a compelling close.

"Green Lights" is an album built on camaraderie, resulting in an auditory journey that resonates with anyone who appreciates the beauty of skilled jazz musicianship and the stories it can tell.


Album · 2024 · RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Finally they did it! This London-based nine-piece band just released the album, which with no doubt will become one of the upcoming summer's soundtrack. Danceable, tuneful and radiating positive energy, this music somehow catches the vibe of the moment transferring it to a brilliant sound.

Nubiyan Twist are a significant act on the British scene for the last decade, partially with the very strong 2021 "Freedom Fables" release. Still, they somehow were not really essential, with sporadic releases and snippets of ideas and sounds. "Find Your Flame" puts everything in the right place though. Recorded in freshly-fashionable 70s retro r'n'b key, under the skin the album contains much more.

From the opener "Lights Out ", a groovy r'n'b piece with guest veteran Nile Rodger's guitar licks, the listener finds himself participating in a moody r'n'b fiesta, Tower of Power style. "All The Same", contains guest rising artist Ria Moran and offers more contemporary electronic sound plus dreamy vocals and the regular Nubiyan Twist's brass. Still very danceable.

On "Woman", the band switches all power mixing African rhythms and multilayered vocals and rap. "You Don’t Know Me" is another richly arranged r'n'b piece with powerful vocals and a touch of electronics near the brass soloing. "Carry Me", a true Afro-beat song, features Seun Kuti as guest. Side A closer, "Battle Isn’t Over" is a beautiful neo r'n'b song with tasteful arrangements.

"So Mi Stay", initially a single, released to advertise the whole upcoming album, is quite comfortable but far non-boring song with a touch of electronics and vocals/rap. "Pray For Me Part 1" moves towards soul tradition and contains marching brass on the back (in a Shabaka Hutchings fashion) and rap vocals as well. "Pray For Me Part 2" is, oppositely, an African fiesta.

"Reach My Soul" is a tuneful and soulful richly orchestrated ballad with African rhythms. "Find Your Flame" starts from electronica infected rhythms but develops towards an African danceable song very soon. "Slow Breath", the closer, fits here very well being a mid-tempo soulful Afro-Caribbean piece.

All songs are very diverse, well-written and perfectly executed. As a result, the whole album sounds as one big piece of beautiful music, by it's vibe and atmosphere recalling very much best r'n'b releases, coming from early 70s.

BLANKFOR.MS BlankFor.ms, Jason Moran, Marcus Gilmore : Refract

Album · 2023 · Jazz Related Electronica/Hip-Hop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Attempts to combine electronic artists with jazz artists in a recording or performance setting can often be clumsy and ineffective, often leaving the two camps in separate worlds while sharing the same space. Patrick Gleeson’s work with Herbie Hancock was successful, but they were the exception. Since the early 90s or even earlier, many contemporary acid jazz and nu jazz artists have made extensive use of electronics to good effect, but any attempt to fuse an electronic performer with a live band usually ends up with nothing more than some gratuitous scratching and repetitive sample bites that don’t really do a lot for the spirit of live improvisation.

In 2023, sound artist BlankFor.ms (Tyler Gilmore) set out with a new project in which he manipulated the live performances of pianist Jason Moran and drummer Marcus Gilmore and the result is one of the more successful mergers of live electronic artist and jazz artist to date, and it is all presented on Tyler’s album, “Refract”. In this performance, Marcus and Moran improvise while Tyler loops there efforts on the fly and in general morphs and bends what they play into new shapes. Their interplay is absolutely seamless, it is really hard to tell what is being played and what has already been played and is undergoing treatments, it’s a truly captivating performance and a real breakthrough in the world of improvisation. It doesn’t hurt that such creative and eclectic musicians such as Jason and Marcus are involved, Moran in particular is probably one of the most versatile and creative pianists happening today.

The music is very varied, moving from intense atonality to drifting ambience and many points in between. Some highlights include “Inward Curve”, on which Tyler takes Marcus’ busy drum work and turns it inside out while Moran takes flight on a solo. “Tape Loop A” also takes drumnbass type beats and scrambles them up. “Release”, features Moran’s piano work while Tyler grabs bits and pieces and loops them. This sort of busy activity is the highlight of the album, but there is also a fair amount of ambient tracks as well. The ambient tracks can be effective, but this sort of thing has been done before as some of this sounds like it could be on the next Roger Eno album. Unfortunately, for the last third of the album Marcus is barely present which is a shame. If these three do another project together, it would be nice to hear more of the scrambled beats and intense piano work outs.

SHABAKA Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

Album · 2024 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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I spent last week almost locked in by cold windy and rainy weather in a small apartment in "Dear old Stockholm" (which didn't look all that dear under occasional snowflakes falling around in the second half of April). Under lead-heavy clouds, the only things that brightened my mood there were seagulls' screams flying over the town and a few CDs I took with me for the trip. Shabaka's "Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace" was one of them.

Band leader and reeds player Shabaka Hutchings is with no doubt the most significant figure of a new generation of the London jazz scene. For a decade he dictates musical fashions with his projects, Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming and Shabaka & the Ancestors covering the wide range of genres from space-jazz to Afro-beat and avant-garde jazz. Still, till now his music was always very rhythmic, energetic and often explosive.

On "Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace", Shabaka's first real solo album, he plays predominantly flute (not saxophones or bass clarinet, as he usually did before). As a result, we got a very much flute-jazz album, which can be an acquired taste.

Shabaka, quite predictably for such kind of music, starts somewhere between new age and world fusion here on his new album, fortunately he develops it towards more sophisticated and tasteful contemporary jazz with melodic songs and touch of electronics. There is a list of renown musicians participating here, but still it is obvious that Shabaka is an obvious leader. Even playing the music which doesn't associates with him a lot (predominantly Far Eastern, Eastern European and Latin American flutes), Shabaka sounds a bit like Shabaka from Comet... or Shabaka from Sons of Kemet.

Among the guests, there are participating pianist Jason Moran (on two songs) and rising South African star Nduduzo Makhathini, Floating Points on Rhodes electric piano, renown bassist Esperanza Spalding (on two songs), respectable New York drummer Nasheet Waits and even freshly established flutist André 3000. Still there are vocalists/rapers who's participation is probably most influential.

Differently from all of Shabaka's previous music, "Perceive Its Beauty..." is a heavily meditative and quite relaxed work, fortunately it doesn't slip into esoteric sleepy listening. Arrangements are all tasteful and quite original, rhythm changes are presented too, each of the songs included has it own face.

Never a big jazz flute fan, I chose this album because of my interest in Shabaka's music. Still, this music really made my day brighter, more comfortable and harmonic, even under dark Nordic sky. I believe those appreciating flute in jazz will find much more to enjoy.


Album · 2024 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Trumpeter Curtis Taylor released two EPs late in the previous decade, but the recent, “Taylor Made”, is his first full length album as a leader. Curtis is hardly a new comer to the jazz world, having already worked with Gregory Porter, Patrice Rushen, Cyrus Chestnut and many others. His new album reflects some modern trends in post bop jazz with its fusion and art rock/pop influences as in what you might get if you mixed pianist Bill Evans with Radiohead or Blur. Curtis has a clean and precise sound on the trumpet and avoids any gimmicks associated with the instrument in a style similar to current players like Marquis Hill and Wynton Marsalis, or going further back, Clifford Brown. Pianist Theron Brown reflects the art pop meets post bop sound of Brad Mehldau with a grounding in Herbie Hancock, and on the ballad material he might display grand loungey flourishes that recall Ahmad Jamal. Saxophonist Marcus Elliot recalls Joshua Redmon, with, once again, an ability to mix post bop and more current pop/rock type flavors.

“Taylor Made” is a fairly eclectic outing, one highlight is the high octane bop of “Heightened Awareness”, it would be nice to hear more tracks like this in the future. “Kham’s Dilemma” is abstract post bop with a fusion drive and “For Her” is the romantic ballad in 3/4 time. The last three tracks on the album get more into their art pop meets post bop blend with the imposing buildup chords of “Indomitable” sounding like an acoustic prog rock number. “Hashtagged” is in 7/4 time that is somewhat disguised as almost in waltz time. “Journey” has a driving snare rim click and sounds like something Miles’ second quintet would have played in the mid 60s. This is a nice start for Curtis, and with his background in jazz, RnB, pop and gspel, its hard to predict where he might head next.

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Album · 1964 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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When it comes to discussing the top jazz saxophonists, Coltrane and Parker are givens, often followed closely by Rollins and Dolphy, but who is next in line. One name that doesn’t get mentioned often enough is Johnny Griffin. Early in his career, Griffin was often billed as “the world’s fastest saxophone”, but for some reason, the passing of time has eased Johnny more into the background. Possibly it is because Griffin was never particularly controversial, no publicized problems with drugs and alcohol or an early death to help immortalize him, Johnny was just a damn good saxophone player, maybe that’s not enough to hold the public’s wandering attention.

Griffin’s “Night Lady” was released in 1964 and finds the tenor man in fine form. This was recorded after Johnny had moved to Europe and was working with the big band led by Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland, as well as working with other artists too. To assemble the quartet for this recording, Clarke on drums and Bolan on piano were obvious choices, with Ellington sideman Jimmy Woode taking on the bass. This is a talented band with the extroverted Clarke playing all over the set in a style similar to today’s post bop drummers. Much like Griffin himself, Francy is also an under rated talent. Although Danish by birth, Francy’s playing has a lot of funky gospel and blues to it. A favorite technique of his is to grab a gospel riff and then insistently repeat it with slight variations as he hammers his point across. Every member of this band plays with a sense of contagious enthusiasm and smart-assed wit.

Apparently Griffin’s playing style had mellowed some since moving to Europe, but that might have been more about changing musical styles as laid back bluesy hard bop and soul jazz replaced the more frantic bebop of Johnny’s youth. A lengthy jam on “Night Lady” opens the album and finds the band swingin the blues, this style also covers much of side two as well. Of the standards herein, Griffin plays endless variations on the melody of “All the Things You Are” and manages to get some fire going on the usually tired sounding “Summertime”. “Little Man You’ve had a Busy Day” is one of Johnny’s favorite ballades and features an elegant solo from Francy. This is a great album for those who like pure jazz with no unnecessary additives or phony flavor enhancers.


Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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England-born composer, band leader and sax player Cassie Kinoshi is on the top now writing music for orchestras, theater, dance and visual-arts. Just a few weeks ago she released the second album of her popular SEED band, recorded mostly live with an orchestra. Still, everything started five years ago, with the debut release of Cassie Kinoshi's initial project, the ten-piece SEED Ensemble's "Driftglass".

"Driftglass" combines some lesser known London scene artists and already popular ones (such as Ezra Collective keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones and Sons of Kemet's tuba player Theon Cross among others). Cassie's band released an excellent soundtrack of the time - richly orchestrated Afro-Caribbean based spiritual jazz album with sweetly-sour tunes, knotty danceable rhythms and in general a relaxed and exhilarating feel.

Some songs contain spoken word poetry or vocals, others are just moody instrumentals, but they all vary enough in mood and arrangements making the whole album versatile and non-monotonous at all. Unrepentant atmosphere of early 70s r'n'b and fusion organically mixes with the more contemporary Caribbean rhythms and tunes of nowadays London. It is a great start. Not really a prolific recording artist, Cassie Kinoshi still has more than enough to say.

IRA KASPI You And The Night And The Music

Album · 2012 · Vocal Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Matti P
This is the seventh album by the Finnish jazz vocalist IRA KASPI (b. 1964). Seemingly, surprisingly, it's still her latest. On her earlier albums she's more or less oriented towards new compositions made for her (sometimes also co-written by her), but this one's dedicated to international classics -- although not entirely. The musicians in "Jazz Diva Band" are pianist Mikael Jakobsson, Jussi Kannaste on tenor sax, Ape Anttila on guitar, bass and percussion and Markku Ounaskari on drums. "With Strings" refers to the Lohja Town Orchestra led by Esa Heikkilä.

On her debut album Inner Voices (2001) I sensed a little Suzanne Vega in her voice. I liked that, but I don't deny her expression has matured in eleven years.

Kaspi herself was especially pleased by the beautiful orchestration on the opening song 'Don't Go to Strangers'and I fully agree, it is gorgeous in its romantic feel. An obvious highlight. The title track where the arrangement focuses on the band has a nice atmosphere that makes you forget that the piece is so often covered. Slightly melancholic 'How Do You Keep Up the Light' was written by Kaspi and Anttila but it fits in harmonically among the standards.

I've heard great interpretations of 'Someday My Prince Will Come', by e.g. Cassandra Wilson, and IMHO this relatively lighthearted version loses the needed romantic aspect. 'The Gentle Rain' was composed by Luiz Bonfa and originally (?) performed by Astrud Gilberto whose soft expression I prefer. The orchestration is nice, though. 'Call Me Irresponsible' emphasizes the band, especially the sax.

'The Good Life' immediately makes me think of Tony Bennett. Kaspi's version also has romanticism in the delicate arrangement, making this one of the better tracks. After two further standards the album closes with another Kaspi-Anttila composition 'The Best Is Yet to Be Coming'. It is surprisingly uptempo and groovy, but apart from a cool piano solo it's not among my faves here.

All in all, I think years back I liked Kaspi's aforementioned debut over this one. I would have wanted more of the lush orchestrations that are at their finest in the opening piece, and the set feels slightly worn-out and unoriginal. Worth three stars anyway.


Album · 2022 · Fusion
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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Matti P
Guitarist ATTE AHO from Helsinki, Finland, was 27 years old at the time of releasing his eponymous debut album. He has played in several combos, not only in jazz but also in pop, e.g. vocalist Anna Abreu's group. With this solo album he proves to be a gifted composer in addition to being a great musician. His electric guitar is accompanied by Kasperi Kallio's keyboards, Mikko Kuorikoski's bass and Johannes Pakkala's drums. The all-instrumental album also features some guest performances, even some strings. Upon my very first impression I'm really charmed by the lush, bright, rich and elegant soundscape.

As a guitarist Aho recalls big names such as Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and perhaps slightly David Gilmour -- not that he'd imitate anyone. We're dealing with rock oriented fusion with a fairly melodic and accessible approach, by which I definitely don't imply this music to be simple or diluted. The vibrant jazz groove is there. Atte Aho's many-sided background as a musician in the popular field surely shows here in a good way, the same way as with Jeff Beck.

There are eight tracks on this 50-minute album. The track lengths are between 4:49 and 7:35. 'Labyrinth' is an excellent opener and a good example of what's on offer. The guitar has the lead role but the keybaords and the rhythm section are not left in the background. Everyone plays excellently. The dynamic sound is juicy, nuanced and enjoyably airy instead of being stuffy in the least. On 'Ulan Bator' the spotlight is momentarily on the electric piano.

Already on the third composition 'Wave' the listener is guaranteed that there's also a more emotional and sensitive level to the music. 'Guidance' is a beautiful, slow and mellow piece. The more energetic side is showcased on the aptly titled 'Elastic Energy', and even it maintains a good balance without becoming too hectic. The sound is at times very big and bold but never crosses the line of being overblown and self-indulgent.

I'm very pleased that I accidentally found this artist and album. without a doubt this is among the finest jazz/fusion albums of recent years that I've listened to. A pure delight to ears, mind and heart. Let's leave a half star's growing space for future releases.


Album · 1971 · Fusion
Cover art 3.53 | 4 ratings
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“Barefoot Boy” is one of Larry Coryell’s earliest albums and features the rugged fusion style that was popular in the early 70s. The early days of fusion were somewhat exciting with musicians combining the freedom of Coltrane with the sonic effects of Hendrix into a new style of music that paid the bills a little better than post bop. Larry was one of the major leaders in this new style and you can certainly hear his influence on John McLaughlin, Pat Martino, Bill Connor and a host of others. Like a lot of fusion from this time period, “Barefoot Boy” is really just a jam session. There is very little structure at work here, but the immense talent of the musicians involved make it a worthwhile listen for the fusion fan.

The album opens with Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen”, which most people know from the Santana “Abraxas” album. The Coryell version is barely recognizable as the musicians waste no time getting straight into the solos. Saxophonist Steve Marcus channels Coltrane’s soprano sax style with a million notes sheets of sound. Larry follows with Sonny Sharrock styled noise onslaughts followed by a very Hendrix inspired rock solo. Hendrix’s sound mixer, Eddie Kramer, is on hand and he gives Larry’s solo all the wild panning effects that Eddie used on “Electric Ladyland”. Side two closes out with the funky RnB of “The Great Escape” which has Steve Marcus doing a much more soulful solo on tenor saxophone. The driving guitar riff on this one is one of the more focused points on this record.

Side two is given entirely to “Call to the Higher Consciousness”, which starts off as a Coltrane style modal post bop jam, but the riffing soon morphs into a somewhat tired sounding Grateful Dead cliché. This track lacks rhythmic excitement as there is little to back up the increasingly indulgent solos. Marcus does his Coltrane soprano thing again and ace drummer Roy Haynes takes a ride as well. Since this is the great Haynes, this is a very musical solo and not just your typical rock n roll display of thunder and power. Pianist Michael Mandel tries to interject a little jazz into this one, but overall this number just sort of drags along.

For the jazz fan looking for some challenging in depth listening, “Barefoot Boy” isn’t exactly “Out to Lunch”, or “Giant Steps”, but for those who enjoy the kitsch sounds of early 70s psychedelic fusion, Coryell and his cohorts deliver the goods.

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