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jazz music reviews (new releases)

STEVE GADD Steve Gadd Band : At Blue Note Tokyo

Live album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
If you were a jazz fan in the 70s then you no doubt are very familiar with the drumming of Steve Gadd. Possibly only Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea left a bigger jazz footprint in the 70s than Steve, whose creative drumming showed up on so many jazz, funk, RnB and pop albums throughout the decade, and of course right up to today as well. “At Blue Note Tokyo” is Steve’s latest album and it showcases his band at a relaxed and very groove oriented live show at the famous club in Japan. Joining Steve are his usual band mates of Kevin Hays on keys and vocals, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Walt Fowler on trumpet and longtime associate David Spinozza filling in on guitar.

This being a live gig, the band keeps things mostly cool in a crowd pleasing way, and even includes a couple vocal numbers that are always a good way of building a stronger report with an audience. The CD opens with “Where’s Earth” with a touch of psychedelic mystery. The following two tracks, “Doesn’t She by Now” and “Timpanogos” are two of the best on the album with their catchy melodic content and no sweat infectious groove. The following blues and vocal tracks seem more like crowd pleasers and they work well that way.

The band picks up some steam on the Latin flavored “One Point Five” with Kevin Hays turning in a short but intense montuno driven piano solo and Gadd giving us his only solo on the album. The two following funk numbers keep the energy level up there with “Way Back Home” pushing Hays into another hot piano solo, this time with a New Orleans flavor. “Rat Race” keeps the funk flowing with Spinozza turning up the saturated distortion for his most rocking solo on the album.

ANTHONY JOSEPH The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives

Album · 2021 · African Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Caribbean-born, London-based poet, university professor and singer/musician Anthony Joseph is often tagged in adverts as "leader of the black underground" in London, but leaving the marketing tricks aside I would call him Caribbean immigrant's poetic soul.

His song lyrics split right by half between bitter-sweet melancholic rememberings dedicated to his native Trinidad and Tobago, and more dark, but still very artistic and beautiful in their own way, themes from Caribbean immigrants life in England.

Differently from cult figure Shabaka Hutchings, the true leader of younger wave of enormously popular new London street-wise Afrojazz, Joseph is too wise, too philosophical and not enough confrontational for being the leader of any underground.

It took three long years for me waiting for his new release after I've been so highly impressed by Joseph's previous one, "People Of The Sun"(2018) both recorded and live. All Joseph's albums work for me by the same way - after very first listening I feel ... slightly disappointed. Music sounds too simple, too predictable. Then after repeated listening it slowly grows on me in a progression. And quite soon it occupies my player for months, as it happened with "People Of The Sun", (it became my most often listened album during the last two years).

Oppositely to the above mentioned work, which happened to be massive double-vinyl longer than an hour long release, "The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives" is of classic single vinyl size, and I love this format more and more. At early days of digital technologies, 80+ minutes of regular CD album looked as huge advantage against thirty-something minutes of vinyl. But quite soon we all realized that increased space worked against the artists themselves. Trying to fill technically available free space of commercial recordings, labels and artists started adding a lot of not-so-mandatory material in their albums. As a result, really well edited containing no fillers album is a real rarity for a few decades, even speaking about the best artists' music.

So, we have here just six songs, each between four and ten minutes long. Characteristic soulful Caribbean jazz with simple but memorable melodies, knotted rhythms and not so simple arrangements. Less Latin, than previous work. Same working band with Jason Yarde on sax, percussionist Roger Raspail and Thibaut Remy on guitar among others. Shabaka Hutchings on sax as guest (Shabaka just released his own new album with his band "Sons Of Kemet" - similar Caribbean jazz with surprising amount of vocals, which is still more musical and less poetic work, compared to Joseph's newest release).

Same themes about Caribbean and immigrants' life in London. "Calling England Home" is an absolute peak, everything about Joseph's creation is concentrated there. Same bitter-sweet and melancholic atmosphere, balancing well between love, frustration and hope. Not really a new step - its just like watching another movie from a director you like and with actors you love.

DAVID ANGEL Out on the Coast

Album · 2021 · Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This week’s installment on jazz musicians who deserve more recognition goes to composer and arranger David Angel. As orchestrator Brad Dechter put it, “David Angel is quite possibly the best composer you have never heard of “. You may not know David by name, but you have probably heard his music in countless TV shows and movies including a long running gig on “Bonanza” that started when David was only 21. Along with his work as soundtrack composer and educator, David has also been running a big band rehearsal group out of Los Angeles since 1969. A remarkable number of big name artists have passed through that band including George Bohannon, Bud Shank, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Pepper, Victor Feldman and many more. Given how long Angel has been running this project it comes as a surprise that prior to this year Angel had only one album out as a leader. Long time associate and horn player Jim Self decided it was time to get more of Angel’s music out to the public so he organized this extensive recording project that resulted in the three CD, “Out on the Coast”.

David’s music is very west coast, with a typical track rolling along in a relaxed swing feel, but there is variety too with Latin numbers, waltzes, ballads and blues too. David’s forte is contrapuntal arranging in which intertwining voices twist around each other in kaleidoscope textures. These arrangements will often continue even while the soloists stretch out providing interesting tone colors to counter the solos. David cites French impressionists such as Ravel and Debussy as major influences, as well as early ‘cool’ proponents such as Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans, and of course the Duke.

Most of these tracks are David Angel originals with a few covers thrown in as well. Of the originals, some standouts include a Quincy Jones sounding bluesy jam session called “Ah Rite” and “Out on the Coast 3” on which the two flutes melody recalls kitsch TV soundtrack music from the 60s. There are also several lengthy suite like numbers on which David displays his ability to bring different moods to one piece of music. Of the covers, Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” features alto saxophonist Gene Cipriano channeling Johnny Hodges to make this one really come alive with the spirit of the Duke’s long running band. Also from the Ellington repertoire we get French horn soloist Stephanie O’Keefe doing an excellent job on Billy Stray horn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”.

CHRIS POTTER Sunrise Reprise

Album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
ROUND TWO

Just by looking at the cover artwork, one can tell that if ever an album invited a comparison with a previous album, Chris Potter's Sunrise Reprise does so unflinchingly. His 2019 album Circuits was a blistering, breath-taking fusion ride that remains one of the greatest jazz albums of the last 10 years. With James Francies (keyboards) and Eric Harland (drums) returning, the now-dubbed Circuits Trio has given us a post-lockdown album that, while different from the previous work, is still a vital force to be reckoned with.

Sunrise Reprise is a touch more exploratory than Circuits was, but without any let-up in intensity. There is no real cross-over into avant-garde territory, and yet boundaries have been exceeded and risks have been taken. "Sunrise and Joshua Trees" sets the pace with a synth intro before a long, brooding tenor sax line is eventually doubled and tripled with soprano sax and clarinet. "Southbound" and "Serpentine" are both reminiscent of the Circuits sound world: viciously complex sax lines doubled by keyboard before solos. Harland sits out "The Peanut" (which has already drawn comparisons to "Naima"), and if I were played this track while doing the blindfold test, I might have thought this was the late, great Marion Brown blowing on the horn.

Then there is the epic, "Nowhere, Now Here/Sunrise Reprise". At 24:27, nothing is held back while the trio maneuver through many different tempi and atmospheres. A flute intro over dreamy keyboards opens the proceedings before synth bass, tenor sax, and frisky drumming are added. Francies channels late-1970s keyboard textures while Harland jabs like a heavyweight champ. At the 10-minute mark, samplers take over, leading to a diffuse, experimental section. Eventually a steady rhythm is established while keyboards and saxes enter, fade, and re-enter. By the 20-minute mark, the saxes have dropped out entirely and the journey ends with keyboards over a pounding bass drum. Despite the track's prodigious length, at no time does the trio drift into aimless noodling or repetitiveness, nor is there any sense of "drag". A pre-determined course has clearly been set, and the players sprint to the finish with flying colors.

If I have one minor complaint about Sunrise Reprise, it's the overuse of synth bass. Circuits had bass guitarist Linley Marthe on 4 out of 7 tracks, and his presence is missed on Sunrise Reprise. Perhaps it's just a mixing issue, but here the synth bass is overly prominent and almost becomes a soloing instrument. Nevertheless this is just a small quibble on an otherwise phenomenal album. While not quite the masterpiece that Circuits is, there is still plenty here to sink your teeth into for many years of listening. Let's hope Edition Records continues to make this trio's recordings available to its envelope-pushing listeners.

MACHINE MASS Machine Mass Sextet : Intrusion

Album · 2021 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Intrusion” is the fourth album by Machine Mass, and it continues their tendency to try something new on each album. The core of the band is Michel Delville on guitar and Tony Bianco on drums. For this fourth album Michel brought on some cohorts from his jazz rock group, Wrong Object, Antoine Guenet on piano and Damien Campion on standup bass. Making the group a sextet are a horn frontline of Laurent Blondiau on trumpet and Manuel Hermia on saxophone. Despite the addition of a couple of rockers from Wrong Object, “Intrusion” is Machine Mass’ most jazz centered album to date, but there is also a good dose of their more expected psychedelic fusion too.

The album opens with Coltrane’s “Africa”, with the band staying true to the original’s spiritual jazz/post bop swing, with Delville’s scorching distorted guitar solo being a definite Machine Mass signature addition to this classic. Following track, “Intrusion”, is very much in the current North European jazz sound, and is a bit different from Mass’ previous albums. Its good for bands to try new things. From here we get a short free jazz section that settles into the off center funk fusion of “Not Another Loud Song”. “The Roll”, has Mass back on the modern jazz tip with that drumnbass bop style that is so popular in NYC these days, while “ED” brings the band back to their trademark psych fusion roots with a massive prog rock chord sequence buildup. The CD closes with Machine Mass’ second time to record “In a Silent Way”. Its hard to add much to this tune and Mass does about as well as anyone could hope to, Guenet’s piano chord voiceings add something unique.

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DOKO Ikebana

Album · 2019 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Doko is a Belgian duo of reedist/synth player Gregor Siedl and drummer Nicolas Chkifi playing free jazz scented rhythmical improvs.

Different from more popular nowadays electronics improvisers, their music isn't too abstract or psychedelic. Rooted in minimalism and obviously influenced by Berlin school of the 70s, they often sound as a freer deviation of Can.

Often well framed by real drum/ drum machine rhythmical frames, they sound most interesting when they incorporate African rhythms to bold Teutonic marching pulsation. Freer analog module filled pieces sound more nostalgic, but don't work such well.

Free sax soloing is presented too, but rhythms and analog synth loops are still dominating. In moments their music recalls early Japanese avant-rock, but the latter is much more chaotic and brutal.

Cross-genre music for required taste which has its moments.

MILES DAVIS Quiet Nights

Album · 1963 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 3.05 | 13 ratings
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“ Quiet Nights” could have been a much better album, but unfortunately the meddling greed of Columbia never let this project develop naturally. Miles and Gil had a sincere interest in Brazilian music and put together a couple of art pop covers of Brazilian songs which Columbia jumped on in an attempt to ride the new Bossa Nova fad. The songs did not make the pop charts so the whole project was shelved for a while. Later Miles and Gil recorded several more songs in a Brazilian style and then again the project sat for a while. At a later date, in an anxious move to satisfy the suits at Colombia, Theo Macero dug up a ballad Miles had recorded with his previous combo, slapped that with the other tunes and released the album which now contained only 25 minutes of music. Miles was quite angry with the move and broke relations with Macero and Columbia for some time.

It’s a shame that it turned out as it did because much of the music on “Quiet Nights” is excellent. Most, but not all, of the tunes are complex and interesting, and Gil Evan’s orchestrations are as imaginative as ever, while Miles delivers one soliloquy after another in some of the better ballad playing of his life. The album’s mix of jazz and lounge sensibilities foreshadow the modern era of ambient nu jazz, and this album has a strong following amongst fans of 60s exotica. In another bad moment of commercialism, Columbia touts this album on its back cover notes as being a Bossa Nova album, but although it is very Brazilian, standard Bossa Nova it isn’t.

One issue with this album that I have never seen raised before is the high volume at which the trumpet is mixed. Miles is front and center and quite a bit louder than the orchestra background and the frustratingly faint percussion. In the era when this was recorded, popular ballad instrumentals, often played by a tenor sax, sounded better coming out of a car dashboard speaker if there was not too much orchestral clutter. Possibly this is the sound they were going for. Still, I think some of tone colors might have sounded more interesting if there had been more of an attempt to blend Miles with Gil’s imaginative orchestrations.

RORSCHACH Rorschach

Album · 2019 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Rorschach, or more precisely, Rorschach test, is controversial psychological test developed in the early 1920s and named by its author Swiss Hermann Rorschach. It's based on psychological analysis of personal interpretations of inkblots and suggested to be used to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. Such inkblot example is used as the front cover art for unorthodox Belgian quartet named "Rorschach" debut album.

In combination with seven untitled free form compositions, subjoined with authors recommendation "title the music pieces with your own associations", it becomes obvious that the listener is offered to participate in such a test of sorts, just interpreting musical pieces, not inkblots.

Rorschach quartet is in fact existing Antiduo (teacher/pupil pianists duo Erik Vermeulen and Seppe Gebruers) expanded by adding two drummers, Eric Thielemans and Marek Patrman. On paper this may sound quite confusing and even probably dreadful, but in real life this album consists of seven beautiful etudes, very different from often hardly accessible free form improvisational music. The two pianos play a lot of melodic snippets, often with obvious roots in European romantic classics, what builds is a very moody atmosphere, with touch of sentimentalism, almost dreamy. True, musical compositions have no special structure and develop unpredictably but somehow the pianists control that process very well. Drummers are both delicate, with use of mallets more often than sticks, and are more responsible for adding some sound accessories to the whole music than for framing or anchoring the sound. Abstract and impressionistic, this music has a more modernism spirit of the 20th century than of the more destructive and noisy fashion of more current experimentalism.

As the album's authors suggested in their liner notes, I tried to interpret their offered sound-blots as I felt them. Short excursion to Rorschach testing evaluation analysis says that interpretations of the same inkblot varies depending on many factors, even a person's origin and cultural background. So, every listener will probably hear something different, but I expect many will like what they hear anyway.

FRED WESLEY Damn Right I am Somebody (wth the JB's)

Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Damn Right I am Somebody’ is an excellent jazzy funk release recorded by the JB’s during their second peak after reforming under the leadership of tromboner par excellance, Fred Wesley. Wesley’s records usually reflect the style of the people he is working with at the time, in this case that would be one of James Brown’s very best early 70s ensembles. This is hard grooving James style funk with the characteristic slight swing feel and Afro-Cuban accents from conga player Johnny Griggs. Unfortunately, the musicians on here are not listed, but some givens include Jimmy Nolan on guitar, Maceo Parker on sax, John Starks on drums and James Brown on incidental vocals. If you have ever seen Eddie Murphy’s hilarious send- up of James’ nonsense syllable improvisations, you will love album opener ‘Damn Right I am Somebody’ where Brown unleashes a constant stream of onomatopoeia crazyness.

If you know your early hip-hop samples and loops you will know that this is the JB’s album with the synthesizer. Some references claim that James is the synth player, while others list vocalist Bobby Byrd. Either way, the persistent synth noodling on several cuts adds an excellent exotic flavor to this record. All the songs on here are great, but one stand out is ‘I’m Payin Taxes, What am I Buyin’, where Jimmy Nolan provides a killer guitar riff that won’t quit. Jimmy Nolan is the god of rhythm guitar .. word.

Most of the songs on here are classic JB’s funk except for ‘Make Me what You Want Me to be’ which is a classy orchestrated soul-jazz pop number, likewise their lover’s groove re-make of Marvin Gaye’s ‘You Sure Love to Ball’ sets a different mood as it closes the album and turns down the lights for the rest of the evening.

TOMAS FUJIWARA Triple Double

Album · 2017 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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snobb
Boston-born Brooklyn-based drummer Tomas Fujiwara is quite well known by his participation in projects playing with Matana Roberts and Michael Formanek among many others. On "Triple Double", his own album as a leader, he combines two unorthodox horns-guitar-drums trios in one band (including 2/3 of the Thumbscrew trio, Halvorson and Fujiwara, but not Formanek).

All-star band of two drummers (Tomas Fujiwara & Gerald Cleaver), two guitarists (Mary Halvorson & Brandon Seabrook) and two horns (Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet & Ralph Alessi on trumpet) plays modern high energy fusion with lot of free jazz elements.

From the very first opening sounds with great old-fashioned separated by channels guitar's sound (with recognizable Halvorson's guitar on the left side and Seabrook on the right) it became obvious that "Triple Double" is not another explosive attack on listener's ears. With heavy anchoring drummers, often playing in unison and framing the music (with longish just-drummers solo piece), melodic and emotionally rich compositions sometimes sound as if they are complex rock pieces, but with all-the-time changing rhythms, plenty of guitar and horn free solos and in all very complex, almost big-bandish, multilayered sound remind listener that we're listening to a real jazz band.

Catchy tunes, excellent techniques and perfect interplay makes this album one great example of modern creative jazz, difficult to classify, and often because of that appealing to very different listeners. It would be extremely interesting to see such a band playing live, it looks like their announced 2020 European tour (with second trumpeter Adam O’Farrill instead of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum) has been postponed due to COVID19 pandemic, with some concerts moved on-line.

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