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Album · 2019 · Fusion
Cover art 4.95 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard

Don't let the word "much" throw you. This is not a long, meandering album. Rather it's an unparalleled exercise in how much music four gifted musicians can pack into a visceral 61:35. A huge departure from his relatively restrained work on ECM, not only is Circuits Chris Potter's best album yet, but it's also a strong contender for one of the best of the last decade.

This 21st century fusion masterpiece open with a brief "Invocation", a multi-tracked chorale with layers of saxes and clarinets. The temperature rises with the massive thrust of "Hold it", where James Francies's keyboards remind one of the mid-1970s performances of Hancock/Zawinul/Duke. "The Nerve" is this album's "Eastern"-flavored number, beginning with a loop-pedal of multi-tracked flutes before settling into a groove. "Koutome" features a bass clarinet intro and the bubbling/bustling drums and percussion of Eric Harland before a segue into the chaotic "Circuits". More tape-loops, a mind-bending synth solo, and sax lines of Monkian-complexity almost beg for transcription: I dare you!

The non-pastoral "Green Pastures" is probably this album's most accessible composition. After a synth bass/bass clarinet opening, the Michael Brecker comparison Potter is often saddled with applies here. "Queens of Brooklyn" provides a brief respite from the intensity, with mellow soprano sax over piano chords, before dissolving into a brooding sax/clarinet chorus backed by guitar (played by Potter). Then strap yourself in for the ridiculously speedy tempi of "Exclamation" and the rhythmic, keyboard-heavy "Pressed for Time". Potter and Harland seemingly never stop soloing, while Francies contributes a Fender Rhodes showpiece. Then sit back and wipe your brow when it's all over. Let it also be said that Linley Marthe contributes phenomenal electric bass to "The Nerve", "Koutome", "Circuits", and "Exclamation".

I'm not sure if Potter painstakingly writes out all his lines/arrangements beforehand, but whether or not he does, it's obvious a lot of time, work and thought went into this recording. Circuits (appearing on the Edition label) is one of those albums you can listen to for the rest of your life and still not hear everything. Some will say, "there's too much going on" or "this is just showing off", as this is a far more extroverted album than much of Potter's previous work. Yet Potter and Harland remain leaders in the jazz field on their respective instruments, while both Francies and Marthe are names to be reckoned with based on this album. Until hearing Circuits, I might have proclaimed Dave Holland's Prism album (2013, also featuring Eric Harland) to be the clearest candidate for Jazz Album of the 2010's Decade. Now, I'm not so sure.


Album · 2020 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Charismatic Danish double bassist Jasper Høiby, known fto millions as the British trio Phronesis' frontman, comes with his second solo album. Recorded in 2019 as a bass-sax-drums trio, it has been announced as the first release in a four-piece series, an "environmental" one. Released in March 2020, it's subject sounds quite outdated in the light of corona virus pandemic collapse in the big part of the world though.

Tightly composed,"Planet B" opens in a manner of a classic neo-prog rock album from the early 80s - with speaking words. As label's site says: "Planet B is a conversation about who we are as a people today, how we exist in relation to this earth and to each other, and where we want to go from here. Let us be inspired together and explore what a re-imagining of this planet can be.”

Nothing is wrong with taking on serious social and existential themes as a basis for jazz music, and adding some text is great if it helps to reach the target. Amiri Baraka's collaborations with early free jazzers is well known till now, as well as some more modern projects (incl. let say Anthony Joseph,etc). Poetry works with jazz in some cases quite well. Just speaking texts are probably more risky business since it often gives an anchoring effect on originally free jazz music nature. "Planet B" is such an example - returning voice with some speaking messages sounds a bit pathetic and moralizing over the free and creative sound.

Coming back to the album's music, it is more chamber than Phronesis works or even Høiby's first solo album. Two young musicians on board - British saxophonist Josh Arcoleo and French drummer Marc Michel - fulfill expectations of such an acoustic trio in full. Sound is warm and deep and energetic, and there are plenty of tuneful moments.

The trio sounds best when all three go towards more free improvisation (still never crossing the conceptual frame), the return to speaking voice destroys the album's atmosphere and leaves a mixed feeling though.

With full respect to the album's idea, I still have a feeling a solely musical edition (without words) would have sounded more integral and impressive.

MARKUS REUTER Markus Reuter, Fabio Trentini, Asaf Sirkis ‎: Truce

Album · 2020 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Although he is also a composer and instrument inventor, in the rock world Markus Reuter is mostly known for his Robert Fripp influenced guitar work in King Crimson related projects such as Stick Men and The Crimson Projek(Ct). On his new album, “Truce” Markus sets out on his own with Asaf Sirkis on drums and Fabio Trentini on bass for some fearless free form avnt psych-rock improvs. The Fripp/Crimson influence is still there, but you can also hear some of the same guitarists that influenced Robert, such as Pete Cosey, Terje Rypdal and Sonny Sharrock. Asaf and Fabio are an excellent rhythm section, and its often Trentini’s hard driving Bill Laswell influenced dubbish melodic bass lines that keep these jams together.

The opening track, titled the same as the album, is the top number with its energetic beat and clearly stated guitar onslaught. On this one Markus makes his case for being one of the top soloists in today’s crowded guitar pyro-technique field. From here the band plows into a couple of slow jams and then on to some somewhat scattered wanderings here and there. On “Let Me Touch”, Fabio tries to get the band back in the groove with a limber Jaco style bass line, but the guitar responds with a less distinct and heavily processed sound. There are good moments all the way to the end, but the tight focus of the opener never really returns.

The make or break for “Truce” is how much you enjoy hearing three very talented rock fusion musicians totally winging it without any pre-determined compositions. Its not easy pulling off a session like this and these three do about as well as anyone could hope to.

CHARLES LLOYD 8 : Kindred Spirits (Live From The Lobero)

Live album · 2020 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sax player Charles Lloyd, one of the few still active jazzmen from Coltrane era, made his name in mid 60s playing soulful hard bop and spiritual jazz, often beside rock musicians in arenas, not tiny jazz clubs.

In the eighties, he returned back on scene with slightly modified post-bop, adopted to more chamber-like ECM listeners. Not really grooveless as many European ECM recordings, his music was accessible, tuneful and enough safe to fit comfortably in label's catalog. In new Millennium, Lloyd moved to Blue Note again with some usual and some unorthodox recordings(as 2018's Vanished Gardens with Lucinda Williams). '8: Kindred Spirits ',recorded during his 80th birthday celebration gig on March 15, 2018 at his hometown venue, Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre,and released in early 2020,comes as a pleasant surprise.

Recorded with his slightly modified regular band from some last years (guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland), this album contains strong songs from different periods,but more important - for the first time for many years (if not decades)it leaves safely comfortable (some can say -'sleepy') zone of Lloyd releases from few last decades and music here really burns.

Depending on edition (the regular one contains just four songs plus DVD), the listener receives some well played, muscular and tuneful music, played with enthusiasm, spiritually and a touch of adventure. The opener,'Dream Weaver,'comes from Lloyd's glory day in mid sixties (most probably it is his biggest hit ever). Stretched till twenty-plus minutes, it has enough space for some extended improvisations still staying warm and framed at the end of the day. 'Requiem', the ballad originally released in 1992 on Lloyd's one of ECM album, sounds bluesy and 'organic' against more sterile original.

'La Llorona', a Latin trad tune, is elegant and only very slightly melancholic here.The closer,'Part 5: Ruminations,' is second longest album's composition, and besides of strong tune it has a lot of place for soloists improvs (some of which are quite free). Besides of Lloyd's regular pianist Gerald Clayton,in big part responsible for band's sound for years, there's a guitarist Julian Lage who makes this album so special. Lot of excellent guitars soloing refresh the sound a lot and makes all music sound very gracious.

Other editions can contain three vinyls+DVD and deluxe editions with full concert documented (12 songs). Strong choice of material and lively, inspired musicianship makes '8: Kindred Spirits' one of the better Lloyd release for some years,if not decades.

NIKOLOV-IVANOVIĆ UNDECTET Frame and Curiosity (feat. Magic Malik)

Album · 2019 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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“Frame and Curiosity” is the second album by the Nikolov-Ivanovic Undectet, and it finds them following a similar formula as their first one, modern big band arrangements guided by Balkan rhythms and melodies, although to many, the Balkan influences might not seem so obvious at first. Vladimir Nikolov handles the arrangements and piano, while Srdjan Ivanovic guides the band from the drum set. The two also wrote all of the original material. The group is fleshed out with a wide array of instruments including three saxophones, a horn quartet and accordion, plus special guest Magic Malik on flute. Magic makes for an excellent addition as he provides some of the most creative solos and adds a bright sound color to the arrangements. Although some jazz flautists can sound a bit shrill at times, Malik gets a strong deep sound from his flute that can hold its own against busy horn charts.

The three tracks that open the album are possibly the strongest, and although the press kit review from Jazz Times sites Gil Evans and Maria Schneider, I’m hearing a lot of classic Don Ellis. The odd-metered East European rhythms topped with complex and busy horn workouts recall Don’s ground breaking concert and recording at Monterrey. Maybe no one remembers Ellis anymore … sad. The rest of the album features some impressionistic ballads, a rock influenced track called “Anonymous”, a slight Latin flavor on “Carefree” and one more ambitious big band excursion titled “Sade Sati”. Jazz’s dance floor era passed long ago, but big bands are back more than ever as creative arrangers seek new sounds and tone colors. Fans of the modern big band sound should find much to like on “Frame and Curiosity”.

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HOZAN YAMAMOTO Beautiful Bamboo-Flute

Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This 1971 album from one of Japan’s most famous flautists is at once ‘cool’ and almost ‘spacey’ while also coming across as ‘warm’. Production-wise, there’s a lot of reverb in the mix but it’s not drowning out the instruments either.

The pieces often sit neatly in a light fusion/funk place that’s mostly driven by the rhythm section of Nobuo Hara’s Sharps & Flats, but there’s probably also enough blues and jazz to hopefully satisfy a range of listeners – especially of progressive big band, I reckon.

In some ways, “Beautiful Bamboo-Flute” puts me in the mind of a more laid-back Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, with maybe more focus on Latin sub-genres where you’ll get more hints of say, Bossa Nova than Hard Bop.

There are also plenty of traditional, folk elements to the album too, not just via Yamamoto’s playing but in the source material. ‘Nanbu Ushioi-Uta’ for instance, is not wholly haunting in its updated arrangement, at least not compared to ‘Itsuki no Komori-Uta’, which verges on menacing. These tracks especially will probably bring to mind what a lot of people might imagine when Japanese flute is mentioned.

The latter half of the album is where the arrangements open up to a little more soloing but again, this isn’t a bop album – which I’m not saying is a bad thing at all.

I think if you’re a fan of any of the folks I’ve mentioned above, or perhaps even Osamu Kitajima, then you’ll definitely like this release, even though it has a little less guitar overall than Kitajima albums.

GEORGE RUSSELL George Russell Sextet Featuring Don Ellis & Eric Dolphy ‎: 1 2 3 4 5 6extet

Boxset / Compilation · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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“George Russell Sextet” is a compilation album that pulls from three of Russell’s albums from the early 60s, “Ezz-thetics”, “Stratus Seeker” and “the Outer View”. Much of what goes on in today’s jazz world can be traced back to George Russell and his sidemen such as Eric Dolphy, Don Ellis, Dave Baker and Steve Swallow. Listening to these tracks you can hear today’s abstract approach that walks a thin line between post bop and the avant-garde. Much like today’s players, sometimes Russell and his crew are in the pocket, and other times quite free. Likewise, they have room to play both inside and outside the chord changes. This is creative music that avoids clichés or expectations.

The album cover promises the appearance of Don Ellis and Eric Dolphy, which is only partially true. While Ellis does appear on every track, Eric is only on three, but the other tracks feature brilliant saxophone work from under-rated horn men such as John Pearce and Paul Plummer. Possibly just as important, Steve Swallow is the bassist on every track and he turns in his usual powerful performance. Hearing the young Ellis is interesting as his playing changed a bit over the years. In his youth, his playing was very bright and extroverted, and displayed a very noticeable Dizzy Gillespie influence.

This is a great selection of tracks that flow together very well for a compilation album. The music ranges from a very out there rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave”, to a funky blues original by Russell called “Blues in Orbit”. Elsewhere on here, Dolphy turns in the most intense reading of “Round Midnight” ever, and altoist John Pearce breaks a few land speed records on “The Stratus Seekers”. As mentioned earlier, much of what goes on in today’s scene can be traced back to these albums. If you are not familiar with Russell, this compilation is a great place to start.

GINGER BAKER Ginger Baker Trio ‎: Going Back Home

Album · 1994 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.11 | 3 ratings
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Imagine British rock supergroup Cream with jazz bassist Charlie Haden instead of Jack Bruce and Americana-jazz guitarist Bill Frisell instead of Eric Clapton. Here they are - original Cream drummer-led Ginger Baker Trio. They sound actually as it looks on paper - quite odd.

Frisell fans will recognize his guitar sound from very first seconds, and it stays a signature sound for all of the album. Haden, most of the time, stays on safe support, but Baker's ambition to be a leader is obvious, not always for good. His playing recalls an elephant, dancing in a crystal glass room, elegance (with big help of strangely sounding drum set, probably a rock band's one), and this thunder like drums are placed on the front of the sound mix.

Two standards (incl.Monk's Straight, No Chaser) sound unusual, but hardly all that attractive. Other songs are members' originals, some sound more like rock songs (and they are probably among the better songs). Most of the time I've been thinking that this album's edition in "minus one" format (without the drummer, of course) would sound really more attractive (if a bit too sleepy, as many similar Frisell works). In general, all the music sounds as if it has been recorded separately by each musician at home and then mixed as one in the studio, not a good feeling for jazz of any form.

Not really unlistenable, this album has its attraction in the weird combination of musicians, but too often it doesn't work properly.

CHARLIE PARKER The Magnificent Charlie Parker (aka The Genius Of Charlie Parker #8: Swedish Schnapps)

Album · 1955 · Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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God bless Record Store Day, not only does it help support one of civilization’s finest institutions, ie your local record store, but it has also been encouraging labels to re-release classic vinyl albums that many of us thought would be forever unattainable. If you had told me a few years ago that I would soon be able to buy pristine copies of Charlie Parker LPs, I would have thought you plumb crazy, but then, here we are with another outstanding Record Store Day release in the form of “The Magnificent Charlie Parker”. This album was originally released in the mid-50s on the Clef album and it contains much of Clef’s Parker singles from 1951 when Bird was playing at his best. It’s a wonderful collection of singles all arranged in logical succession with no weird volume or sound quality leaps as you go track to track. Those who are familiar with some Parker CD collections will know what I mean by incongruent track succession.

Side one opens with four tracks that feature a young Miles on trumpet, as well as Max Roach on drums. Miles’ playing at that time was very clean and precise, revealing the influence of Clifford Brown, as well as Miles’ classical background. All of these tracks are great, with “She Rote” being the ultimate in bebop styled abstraction and modernity. The last two cuts on this side are exotica pop numbers with a vocal choir and small orchestra arrangement. by Gil Evans. Side two features Red Rodney on trumpet, possibly Parker’s most cohesive and inspiring sideman outside of Dizzy Gillespie. This group also features a young John Lewis on piano before he became known as a purveyor of 3rd stream chamber jazz.

Every track on here is excellent and its nice that the song choices lean away from show tunes and more towards bebop originals that really bring out the witty urban flavor of one of jazz’s most creative eras. I think there are only about 3000 copies of this available, so grab it while you can.

GEORGE RUSSELL Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature

Live album · 1971 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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George Russell's Electronic Souls Loved by Nature is one of the severely underrated jazz releases from the late 1960's/early 1970's. I, personally, would put this up there with Miles Davis' Bitches Brew as far as its inventiveness and uniqueness for the time. The recording is actually from April of 1969 (not released until 1971), which predates the Bitches Brew sessions by about 3 months! This is a very European sounding release, due to the musicians involved in it hailing from Norway, most notably the young Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal. The use of tape noises and sound collages with a live band, and recorded in a live setting was innovative for 1969. The musicians performed the piece impeccably and with conviction. There are two, side long tracks that combine cool, repetitive jazz grooves, free jazz, and touches of jazz rock, mostly due to Rypdal's occasional Hendrix-inspired shredding. It has a kind of psychedelic vibe, but in that dark, Norwegian style in contrast to Bitches Brew's very American sound. This one should really be recognized for what is - a groundbreaking jazz classic.

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