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jazz music reviews (new releases)

DAVE FLIPPO Dedications

Album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Dave Flippo is a veteran of the Chicago jazz scene where has worked for years as a pianist, arranger, bandleader, vocalist and arranger. “Dedications” is his latest album and derives its name from the fact that Dave wanted to write original tunes dedicated to his band members, with each tune bearing a stylistic request from said band member. The end result is a very eclectic album on which Dave fulfilled his percussionist’s wish for an odd-metered Greek dance tune and his drummer’s request for a free flowing piece in which he could play outside the rhythm and so on. Adding to this eclectic mix, Dave also threw in some cover tunes in a wide variety of styles. It is a very talented quartet (quintet on two tunes) that Dave has assembled here, and they often sound much bigger than just four people. Woodwinds player Dan Hesler adds to their diverse sound by picking just the right instrument to flavor each tune, moving from flute to a variety of saxophones as well. Everyone in the band is a powerful soloist, which helps keep every track cookin from start to finish.

Lots of fun tracks on here. Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” makes for an excellent soul jazz groove number in the style of Eddie Harris or Stanley Turrentine. Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” flies high as a re-harmonized post bop cooker and Radiohead’s “Karma Police” works well as a melancholy jazz waltz. Of the many originals, “Giraffe Trek”, takes off as an African Latin groove topped with several fiery solos and “Syrotic” is the aforementioned high energy Greek dance tune in 14 time. Elsewhere on the album you get plenty of gritty hard bop on tracks like “Spring Joy” and the aptly titled “Freewheelin”. “Metamorphosis” is the lengthy closing number on which drummer Heath Chappell is allowed to play freely while the band moves through a variety of styles and tempos.

HASHIMA Starry Night

Album · 2021 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"Starry Night" is Serbian quartet Hashima's third album, and their second release for American label Odradek Records (who previously re-released Hashima's second, originally Serbia-released album "The Haywain", in 2019). It contains more eclectic material than their previous one, and muically it moves noticeably towards prog/post rock.

Above mentioned eclecticism is not strange at all, knowing that the compositions presented come from some very different sources. "Glaciers", "Eclipse" and "Muriel" are all recorded in the renown La Buissonne Studios in France and are rooted in the band leader Igor Mišković's childhood memories about some nights in 1999 when NATO planes bombed his hometown of Belgrade. These contain short lyrics and Igor's vocals.

NATO bombings of Serbia in 1999 is one of the most dramatic events in the country's last decade, and the memories about it are very fresh and emotive there till now. I haven't been there during the bombings, but my wife, who is native Serbian, was there and these nights in her hometown of Loznica where some military objects were bombed as well, are very fresh in her memory. I spent some years in early 00' living around Western Balkans, and I heard from many different people their memories about these days. One can see the building in a centre of Belgrade, half-destroyed by the bombings, still today, and it is obviously left unrepaired as a monument for the drama. As a result, in today's Serbia we have radically separated population by their opinion about the future - some see their future in modern Western world, as part of European civilization, and others - believing in some mystical "special way" (far not for the first time in the country's history), furiously proposed by Eurasian-Orthodox Russia.

Mišković himself, who is of a younger generation and saw these events more with child eyes, says in liner notes: "It had been a very odd and difficult situation and emotional experience to spend strangely beautiful childhood days during a period of bombing in Belgrade, Serbia in 1999". What I really like in these three songs there is some sadness, and some darkness, and a bit of melancholy, but there is no hate or hysteria, or pain. The world is more difficult than we would like it being, and sometimes things go not the way we would like them going, but we must to find the way to live in this real world.

Rest of the songs are all different but generally fit together with the first trilogy (which is obviously responsible for the album's title) quite well. "Dance No.1" is possibly the jazziest piece on the album with trombone soloing from guest star Italian Gianluca Petrella, still with very recognizable Hashima's mid-tempo slightly melancholic sound. "Release" is a live version of their debut album's song, presented here in collaboration with choir which builds a very church-like pastoral atmosphere.

The closer, "Junkopedia", is a soundtrack to a short movie about Serbian painter Leonid Šeika, an almost eight-minute long freer jazz piece.

In all, it's great to evidence that Hashima found their own recognizable sound, and continues releasing strong music and doesn't avoid some new searches.

STEPHAN THELEN Fractal Guitar 2

Album · 2021 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.57 | 2 ratings
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“Fractal Guitar 2” is the second installment in Stephan Thelan’s ongoing fractal guitar series and it bears a lot of similarity to the first album, although you can also hear some improvement as Stephan and his returning all-star cast of electronic guitar heroes refine and develop their approach to modern day spatial guitar explorations. The emphasis on “2” is a little more focused on rhythm and mood, but you still get a good share of fret board fireworks from Stephan, David Torn, Jon Durant, Markus Reuter, Henry Kaiser and others. I don’t know how directly Stephan may have been influenced by contemporary African music on this one, but the carefully interlocking guitar patterns and poly rhythms bear strong similarities to today’s African fusion. Despite a healthy dose of great solos here and there, the real pleasure in “2” are those chiming guitar riffs that mix together and create kaleidoscope textures floating in a very welcome outer space.

The best tracks are the first four which seamlessly flow together as just one long song. The final two tracks are still good, but “Celestial Navigation” has a stop-start ¾ time feel that doesn’t flow as well as the previous tracks, and closer, “Point of Inflection” has a slightly different production that leans a bit in a rockish direction, although the song’s fade to ambiance does make for a good album closer. These are minor complaints and are only included so that this evaluation does not come across as too glib. Overall, “Fractal Guitar 2” is an e4xcellent choice for fans of cosmic guitar and ambient groove music along the lines of Bill Laswell, Steve Hillage, Ozric Tentacles, Terje Rypdal, and Miles’ mid 70s band with Pete Cosey on guitar.

STEVE GADD Steve Gadd Band : At Blue Note Tokyo

Live album · 2021 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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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.

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YUSEF LATEEF The Doctor Is In ...And Out

Album · 1976 · Fusion
Cover art 3.07 | 2 ratings
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Coming out in 1976, Yusef Lateef’s “The Doctor is in …and Out” was a late comer to jazz’s short lived psychedelic phase, but like many of the somewhat obscure psych-jazz of that era, its found a second life among collectors of rare groove and jazz exotica. In many ways, Lateef was a natural for this style, his many African flavored long winded spiritual modal jazz jams were already one foot in the psyche world as it was. Throughout his career, Yusef was an artist who was interested in fusing jazz with whatever he felt like trying. “The Doctor…” isn’t a great album, nor a particularly bad one, but it is worthwhile for those who like those somewhat off the beaten path kind of opuses.

Side one opens with three rather laid back groove based fusion jams on which Lateef spins solos on flute and oboe. Joining him on keyboards is the great Kenny Barron, who shows up on more of these kind of albums than anyone except maybe Herbie Hancock. Before he became the king of contemporary hard bop, Kenny was all about his arsenal of synthesizers, effects and other electronic keyboards. As usual, Barron turns in a great job with his rhythmic accompaniment and hot solos. Side two picks up steam a bit with two grittier funk jazz numbers, the first recalling Eddie Harris and the second, Herbie’s Headhunters.

For the last three tracks of the album, Yusef takes a very hard left turn with some rather out there outings. “Technological Homosapien” is some sort of talk about technology that is hard to make out sometimes because the words are being over powered by odd sounds on the synthesizer. “Street Musicians” is just that, a recording of some street musicians performing a rather sad and mournful melody. The album closer takes the cake for oddness though, as Lateef solos along side an old sentimental pop song that may be altered electronically somewhat. As mentioned earlier, this album is mostly good for someone into acid jazz putting together a DJ set or mix tape that will have listeners trying to guess ‘where did you find that exotic jam‘.

MILT JACKSON Reverence And Compassion

Album · 1993 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard

You've heard the putdowns: "Uncle Milty-baby", "Tuxes and Cocktail Lounges", and "Everybody's Darling Dozing Deacon of Good Vibezzzz". Then there's the Damned with Faint Praise category: "consistent", "dexterous", "solidly entertaining", and, of course, "nice". Very occasionally, a voice in the wilderness will speak up. Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton have never been shy about the influence of Milt Jackson upon their music. The Rev has even been called "one of the great soloists in jazz". So just who is he, really?

If ever an album qualified as a "career achievement" album, Reverence and Compassion is it. No, it can't rightly be called the greatest moment in the history of recorded sound, but simply the album that sums up and epitomizes his very full life in music. Who is Milt Jackson? Listen to this album! 50% classics and 50% originals, Milt calls it "the best CD I have ever made" in the liner notes.

So who's accompanying Milt on this album? On piano, Cedar Walton almost steals the show on "Reverence", "Young and Foolish", and "Newest Blues". On bass and arrangements, the underrated John Clayton sets down a funky groove on "This Masquerade", receives a solo spotlight on Milt's composition "J.C.", and duets with him on "Compassion". Drummer Billy Higgins is admittedly under-utilized, but he provides a great solo on the galloping "Bullet Bag". Everyone plays like the momentous occasion it is, but it's Milt's awe-inspiring playing that dominates the album. At 61:30, Reverence and Compassion is not in an agitated hurry to go anywhere, yet it never drags or meanders.

It should be mentioned (because everyone else does) that there is also a huge string orchestra and a six-piece brass section on this album. The textures can be slightly heavy, and from time to time, there are reminders of the infamous CTI sound. Listen to the haunting, otherworldly performances of "Little Girl Blue" and "It Never Entered My Mind". This is achingly beautiful (without being soporific), endless blue sky music, even if they do close with "Here's That Rainy Day". I've heard many a "sleepy w/strings" albums in my day, and let it be said here that this is not one of them. And while Milt still had a few more albums up his sleeve before the end of his life, the truly poignant Reverence and Compassion is the one to remember him by.

DOKO Ikebana

Album · 2019 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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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 3.02 | 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.


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.

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