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jazz music reviews (new releases)

GARY BARTZ Gary Bartz & Maisha : Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Gary Bartz was a celebrity of sort half-a-century ago when he played on the forefront of the then young American fusion and post bop scene. Seasoned veteran doesn't record too often but still is active today.

Maisha is a fashionable British African fusion band, playing relaxed and sunny-bright music around burgeoning London scenes. Combination of the two is presented on "Night Dreamer" - vinyl-size long album, recorded in 'popular in 80's' direct-to-disc techniques in Dutch Haarlem (not American Harlem).

Starting from the opener, "Harlem - Haarlem", the listener can enjoy the usual Maisha sound (to be honest, "Maisha feat. Gary Bartz" tag fits much better to this music than tagging it as Gary Bartz's album as leader), just less relaxed, better framed and more energized. Or - Bartz's fusion, made from Maisha's African influenced jazz.

The sound is great, Bartz sounds warm and soulful and the music is positive and comfortable in general, but quite soon one can feel like you are listening to just one long song. Repetitive rhythms with no striking tempo, rhythm or tonal changes make this short album sound a bit like a long live jam without any specific direction. Some short pieces can be accepted as nice examples of modern revitalization of fusion from the early 70s, but unfortunately, in full it doesn't work as well.

Here we have two great artists coming together to sound much like musical wall paper, it isn't what one would expect from such a collaboration.

MIKE SCOTT Collecting Things

Album · 2020 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Mike Scott is a 20 year veteran of the Los Angelas music scene and every ten years or so he puts out a CD of original music. His latest, “Collecting Things”, is his third album as a leader and finds him performing an eclectic, but relaxed set of hard bop, blues, Latin jazz and folk rock instrumentals. Scott has that Jim Hall influence that we tend to associate with the west coast, plus a good dose of Wes Montgomery’s blues jazz. In a recent interview, Pat Metheny complained that too many current guitarists sound like himself, well Pat would be happy to know that Scott does not sound like Pat, or any other guitarists with that contemporary soft sound. Instead, Mike’s attack has some welcome bite to it, somewhat like John Schofield, but without a trace of John’s well known clichés. Helping Mike out here we also have the keyboards of Joe Bagg, plus Darek Oles on bass and Jake Reed on drums.

Mike has a background in classical guitar, and his training in expressive finger picking pays off on the opening classically flavored “Sol Minor Prelude”. This is followed by three hard bop/blues tracks with “Jack’s Dilemma” achieving a nirvana like tranquil balance with its very cool space blues vibe reminiscent of “All Blues” and “Killer Joe”. “On a Clear Day” is the one cover on the album and it is given a Latin rhythm which also applies to the next two numbers. Mike concludes the album with a couple soulful rock ballads that have a Curtis Mayfield or Bobby Womack vibe to them.

“Collecting Things” is one of those albums that will probably slip by a lot of people. Mike’s playing is somewhat understated, but he is very musical and repeat listens will surely play to this CD’s advantage. The aforementioned “Jack’s Dilemma” is a great song for showing Mike’s strengths. A simple melodic statement packed with a lot of soul and delivered with perfectly patient timing.

STICK MEN With Gary Husband : Owari

Live album · 2020 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Although already powerful enough in their original trio format, as of late Stick Men have been augmenting their line up with special guests. Such is the case on their new live album, “Owari”, where they are joined by well known fusion keyboardist Gary Husband, who has been showing up on albums by artists such as John McLaughlin, Alan Holdsworth, Jack Bruce and many others. Gary makes for an excellent addition to the band as he blends in effortlessly as if he has been with this group from the beginning. This recording turned out to be a very special one time performance as the band’s planned one month tour of East Asia got reduced by Covid concerns to just one show in Nagoya Japan. The end result is a band very hyped and in focus for this one time happening, and the excitement and adrenaline come through on this very well produced live recording.

As usual, Stck Men are wearing their King Crimson influences unashamedly on their sleeve as they launch into well composed prog rock with plenty of metal and Euro funk flavors that recall KC at their best, particularly albums like “Starless and Bible Black” and the live “USA”. When the band launches into “Larks Tongue in Aspic Part II” it sounds so natural you will find yourself assuming it was going to come up anyway. Most of these heavy syncopated rocking tracks are instrumental, but Tony Levin takes the vocal mic on “Prog Noir”. Tony has a great natural voice and you have to wonder why he didn’t get the vocal job in KC over the somewhat nasal Adrian Belew. Along with the rock numbers you also get a few ambient improvisations. Some of these are better than others, but the best is the dark crawl of “Swimming in T”, on which the band really locks into a one mind performance.

I was a little surprised that there was not as much soloing from either Markus Reuter or Gary Husband as I would have expected, both are capable of hair raising fusion style onslaughts, but I suppose a tight ensemble sound was the goal here, and to that end they succeeded in a big way. “Owari” is one of the best prog rock albums for 2020, and it also has plenty of cross-over appeal to fans of modern jazz fusion and interesting instrumental music in general.

DAN BONSANTI The 14 Jazz Orchestra : Cartoon Bebop

Album · 2021 · Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Dan Bonsanti is a music educator and arranger working out of the Miami area for several decades now. Since 2015 he started a big band project called The 14 Jazz Orchestra, so named for the number of musicians in the band for performances. “Cartoon Bebop” is the band’s third album, and although the album title might imply some silliness, and the band does seem to have a lot of fun, but this album is mostly really solid contemporary big band arrangements and musicianship. Usually the band relies solely on local Miami players, but due to Covid, Dan had to reach out to musicians all around the country to complete this online endeavor. Although the parts were recorded separately using remote methods, you would not be able to tell unless someone told you. All of the performances are as lively and kinetic as you would get if all the players were assembled in one room.

The opening title track gets its name from the fact that the main theme borrows from the well known Bullwinkle and Rocky cartoon theme. Oddly enough, it ends up sounding like late 70s Weather Report, which is furthered by the fact that Peter Erskine from WR supplies the drum beat and Dan used to work with Jaco in big band settings. “Got a Match” is blazing fast bebop and features a furious sax solo from Ed Calle, who throws in a few Yardbird clichés, but often recalls Randy Brecker. Misturada and Dayride have Latin flavors that fit this band well and it would have been nice if Cisco Dimas’ trumpet solo could have gone on a little longer. “Driftin”, by Herbie Hancock, sports an arrangement that is a dead ringer for Quincy Jones, and “A Day Tripper’s Blues Buffet contorts the well known Beatles melody into a Texas blues shuffle with Lindsey Blair filling in for Stevie Ray Vaughn or Billy Gibbons.

Not everything on here is high energy, Bonsanti also includes a few ballads and waltzes to show off his use of tone colors that tend toward light, transparent textures, not heavy big band bombast. Of the mellower tracks, Chick Corea’s “Duende” carries dark noir sound colors and Wayme Shorter’s “Infant Eye’s” strikes an air of mystery with its exotic guitar melody. Its very impressive that Bonsanti and crew pulled off such a warm and energetic performance while recording by remote.


Live album · 2021 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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This album "Vale Tudo" (in Portuguese, anything is alright), released on January 16 2021, was created / produced by Yuji MUTO & Nana OMORI, the third free / improvised jazz duo project of Yuji. The material for this creation has been recorded live on August 22 2020 at Jazz Club Intersat. Yuji's recorded and released other two albums in collaboration with great drummers like Mieko SAKAI or Mako KIMATA, and we have been looking forward to his forthcoming opus cooperated by a pianist of multiplicity Nana. Yes they do not betray our expectations.

Just curious how Nana synchronizes Yuji's kaleidoscopic guitar plays, and we can notice two musical cogwheels can engage with each other in a complex and perfect manner. Already we know well Yuji plays the guitar diversely (jazz, rock, metal ... and so on) but Nana's piano sound launching should not be defeated at all. Take a listen to the first track "Introduction" and we can get immersed in his smooth, sliding guitar plays, followed by Nana's sensitive but vivid piano performances. The power of their combination expands dozens of times actually. "Bloodshed On The Desert" is another revolution of sound, lyrically combined with two talented activities just like a fireworks display. Via the three Improvisations we can enjoy their natural appearances in the air. Wondering why they can work together quite smoothly and precisely. And another highlight: In "Desert Yellow" Nana's heavy desert piano oscillations are completely chasing Yuji's metallic dissonant guitar paranoia. On the contrary, the last "Someday My Prince Will Come" is soft and quiet, as if they would appreciate the prince, namely the upcoming era we will be safe and sound.

Sounds exactly like the two virtuosi say 2021 will not be bad. Believe them, and make a toast for the new year with such a tremendous creation.

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CARLOS SANTANA Love Devotion Surrender (with John McLaughlin)

Album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.78 | 20 ratings
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Love Devotion and Surrender” is an odd one in the Carlos Santana discography. Released in 1973 when jazz fusion had hit a popularity peak and had enticed rockers like Carlos and Jeff Beck to take part in the genre, this will be one of a few full fusion albums that Carlos will release during this time. Santana is joined on here by the flamboyant John McLaughlin as they pay tribute to both John Coltrane and Sri Chimnoy. The spiritual jazz of Coltrane and Pharoh Sanders is a big influence on here, but so is the macho rockin jazz fusion of the day, making for a sometimes clumsy hybrid.

The album opens with Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, which is given a huge electric mystical 70s hippie sound that is attractive at first, but as McLaughlin and Santana flail at each other with ill-advised lick trading exercises, the track becomes more of an athletic workout than something more musical. Fortunately this is the only song on which they ‘battle’ each other in this fashion. “Naima” is played acoustically and in very good taste, but their performance doesn’t offer anything new to this often recorded ballad. Side one closes out with “The Life Divine”, on which the two guitarists get to stretch out without the annoying frantic lick trading of the opening cut. Many great drummers are credited on this album, but there is no doubt that it is Billy Cobham on “Life Divine”, his distinctive drum roll makes it obvious.

Side two is taken up mostly with “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord”, possibly the best track on the album and one in which the two guitarists are allowed to stretch out unfettered and finally organist Larry Young is allowed to take a ride. Larry eschews the more rockin style of his band mates and turns in the most interesting solo on the album. Unfortunately, the last part of his solo is almost buried by McLaughlin’s insistent rhythm playing. The album closes with another short ballad featuring McLaughlin’s rather pedestrian piano playing.

The opening of this album promises good things to come with its big open psychedelic sound and spirited energy, but as things develop, many of the solos are not that interesting as they lean heavily on repeating rock riffs delivered with the subtlety of a sledge hammer. All of the performers could have done well to pay attention to Larry Young’s approach as he swells in and out of the mix adding tamboura like colors that blend well with the electric guitars and the multitude of percussion. Very much a product of its time, “Love, Devotion and Surrender” is for those who like the excesses that marked what was both good and bad musically in the 70s.


Album · 1997 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard

Recorded in 1993, mixed in 1994, but not released until 1997, Kenny Wheeler's All the More is nothing short of a quartet masterpiece. Sadly, even many from Kenny's worldwide following have not heard this album, as it only appeared on an obscure Italian label, Soul Note. Not only that, but it was competing in the marketplace with the much higher-profile ECM album, Angel Song, with which it shares a common composition, "Nonetheless". The two albums will not be compared as they are very different, but I really wish All the More had been better marketed and distributed, as it is truly one of Wheeler's best albums over a long and checkered career.

This album's instrumentation (trumpet/piano/bass/drums) should remind many of another well-known Wheeler album. Backed by Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette, 1976's Gnu High first brought Wheeler to international attention in his mid-40's. All the More is a much longer and more fiery album than Gnu High, and Wheeler plays far more trumpet than flugelhorn. Pianist John Taylor and drummer Joe LaBarbera have backed many different performers over the years, but have never sounded as impassioned as they do on this album. I was not familiar with bassist Furio di Castri until hearing this performance, but he more than holds his own and makes a major contribution throughout. The ever-generous Wheeler makes sure everybody receives extensive time in the solo spotlight. There's even room for a Bill Evans tribute, LaBarbera's composition "Kind of Bill".

The multi-faceted work of Kenny Wheeler includes free jazz, avant-garde jazz, and a huge pile of compositions for both big band and much smaller ensembles. His biggest sellers are sometimes dismissed with pejoratives such as "pensively lyrical" or "ethereally haunted". While it's possible to understand where these critics are coming from, none of these adjectives apply to All the More, which is not only one of his best, but also one of the most significant (in spite of its obscurity) jazz albums of the late 1990's. The fact it didn't have the distribution of an ECM album makes it harder to find, but the search will be more than repaid to fans of the players involved. Let it also be known that this album shares a composition ("Mark Time") with Wheeler's other masterpiece, 1984's Double Double You.

TOMASZ STAŃKO Tomasz Stańko Quintet : Dark Eyes

Album · 2009 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 4.46 | 4 ratings
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Steve Wyzard

Inevitably, this album will be compared to Stanko's three preceding albums for ECM, Soul of Things (2002), Suspended Night (2004), and Lontano (2006). The Polish quartet has been replaced with a Scandinavian quintet, and while the Stanko trumpet sound remains the same and there are some similar tonal textures, Dark Eyes is also something very different. Most significantly, the addition of electric guitar and electric bass produce a fuller, more modern, even urban soundscape. Where some will recognize a natural progression from the experimental Lontano, surely others will lament the loss of the classic quartet atmosphere. Dark Eyes is a shorter album (61:44) than the quartet albums, and with a variety of moods takes some time to come to grips with. This is definitely not an avant-garde side-street, but it's also not an accessible "start here" recording.

The album begins with the pace-setting, scratchy-toned "So Nice". It's unusual, after the three piano/bass/drums albums, to hear a guitar backing Stanko. Dark Eyes was my introduction to guitarist Jakob Bro, and he plays moodily and unobtrusively throughout. The thunderous drumming of Olavi Louhivuori and the rumbling bass of Anders Christensen are the highlights of "Terminal 7". Many of the songs begin hesitantly, such as "Amsterdam Avenue", "Samba Nova", and "Grand Central", which stops completely before resuming. Pianist Alexi Tuomarila takes his best solos on these three. The album closes with a call-back to 1976's Balladyna album, "Last Song", and the poignant "Etude Baletova No.3".

Special mention must be made of the following stand-outs: "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch" is this album's instant classic, beginning as a dirge before Stanko launches into his wildest solo on the album. Over tolling piano chords and splashing cymbals, Stanko wails and Bro plays an airy solo on "Dirge for Europe". The ethereal "May Sun" does without Stanko entirely: a simple piece for guitar and piano, reminiscent of a Chick Corea "Children's Song".

While risks are taken, Dark Eyes is an overwhelmingly subdued album. The melancholy ECM sound is ever-present and will repay repeated listening. The first two quartet albums notwithstanding, this album sits very securely among the best of the now complete Stanko oeuvre. And lest any doubt be raised, the greatest trumpet with electric guitar albums remain Miles Davis's In a Silent Way (John McLaughlin), and Enrico Rava's The Plot (John Abercrombie).


Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Philadelphia's Sounds of Liberation created an excellent, yet obscure, jazz/fusion LP. The year was 1972 and the doors of creativity that were kicked open in the late 1960's had not yet been closed by the increasingly corporate music industry. The music scene was still fertile and the Sounds of Liberation were keen on capitalizing on the opportunity to create something unique. New Horizons is an intoxicating mixture of jazz rock/fusion, free jazz, and African music. All of this is wrapped in a slightly psychedelic aura. The opening track, "Happy Tuesday," even has a Krautrock vibe to it. The 19-minute song features a driving, repeating rhythm accented with African percussion instruments, while the rest of the band jams along. A wonderful trip! The rest of the album does not disappoint, continuing on a similar sonic path. The performances are excellent and the recording and production is decent for an independent release of that time. A highly recommended lost fusion classic!


Album · 2004 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Rodrigo Amado was one of the key figures in new Portuguese adventurous jazz during first decade of the new Millennium. On the wave of his homeland avant-garde jazz scene's popularity explosion, Amado's lead projects won respectful reputation around Europe and partially in the States. Still, differently from series of recordings under his own name, Rodrigo's earlier project Lisbon Improvisation Players stays in the shade, and it's a shame since Player's music is right on the level of any of Amado's later bands, and in moments even overtakes many of them.

For "Motion" Rodrigo forms Portuguese-American quartet where he plays tenor and baritone in a company with American soprano/tenor Steve Adams with support from Portuguese drummer Acacio Salero and American double bassist Ken Filliano.

All of the album's material is pure improvisation, but same way as with many other Amado's works, it sounds well organized, full of tunes and generally quite accessible. Based on so-called "improvisational composition" techniques, Amado adds a lot of tuneful snippets to his music and even if each of the four quartet's members are soloist here nothing sounds too chaotic or extremely "out". Even more - the opener "Perpetual Explorers", is an improvisational composition of rare beauty containing lots of lyrical tones, fragile grace and in all sounds quite close to modern academic composed music. "Motion" coming after has more muscle and is more free-jazz rooted still having all that melodic charm.

If only the whole album was like these two songs it could be crowned as modern creative jazz masterpiece. Still, the album's central part loses this highest level of sharpness a bit still staying an excellent example of truly reflective high-class musician's collaboration.

Lasting near an hour, this album doesn't leave a feeling it's too long or too complex what is quite a common case with improvisational music. The main reason is Rodrigo's ability to make even quite quirky music to sound attractive and accessible (this ability with no doubt is a main reason of the success of many of his other albums as well).

More relaxed, more experimental and surprisingly often more beautiful music than one can find on other better known and more popular Rodrigo Amado albums, it can become a great surprise for fans of Amado's later works and with no doubt is a "must have" release for everyone with interest to Portuguese creative jazz.

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