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jazz music reviews (new releases)

MICHAEL O'NEILL The Michael O'Neill Quartet : And Then It Rained

Album · 2020 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“And then it Rained” is saxophonist Michael O’Neill’s fifth album, but it is his first to not feature a vocalist, nor any standards. “Rained” is an all instrumental outing for his quartet, and every tune is an O’Neill original. Michael is a San Francisco Bay Area veteran and has been active in local clubs and restaurants for close to two decades. On this first CD of all originals, Mike performs on alto, tenor and soprano saxophone, as well as clarinet. O’Neill’s playing can be very clean, buoyant and precise, sometimes recalling Paul Desmond or Cannonball Adderly. He is also apt to slyly throw in some well known Charlie Parker clichés and probably gained influence from his one time teacher, Joe Henderson. Michael Bluestein almost steals the spotlight on piano with well constructed and intense solos that show influence from McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Latin jazz and classical romanticism. Its hard to believe this guy is actually the keyboardist for Foreigner. Apparently several months out of the year he is ‘hot blooded’, and you can ‘check it and see’. Dan Feiszli is a melodic bassist who takes the forefront occasionally and drummer Jason Lewis provides good pocket and groove, as well as an ability to free things up if the band heads that way.

Some recommended tracks include up tempo Latin numbers such as “One for Kenny” and “Maverick’s Samba”. Bill Evans styled impressionism is featured on “Early Spring”, while title track “And then it Rained” features a cool modal groove jam. Free flowing post bop rides like “Four Cornered Circle” and “Suite Iris” allow Jason to get his ‘Elvin Jones’ on.

TERJE RYPDAL Conspiracy

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Steve Wyzard
COMEBACK OR FINAL THOUGHTS?

For those of us who can never get enough of albums like What Comes After, Odyssey, and Chaser, this album came as a HUGE surprise. For the past 20 years, Terje Rypdal has entirely devoted himself to classical composition and experimental collaborations, as opposed to the fusion performances that saddled him with the sobriquet, "the Jimi Hendrix of Norway". Without warning, we are suddenly graced with a retro/throwback album called Conspiracy.

With Stale Storlokken on keyboards, Endre Hareide Hallre on basses, and Pal Thowsen on drums/percussion, Rypdal's worldwide fan-base can be forgiven for thinking this is an outtakes album from the late-1970s or early-1980s. All of the classic trademarks are here: the soaring, ascending, infinitely-sustained guitar tones, dreamy pre-digital organ textures, busy bass/drums, thunderous dirges, and a general howling, wind-driven sub-Arctic atmosphere.

Composed entirely by Rypdal, he never dominates the material and everybody receives a chance to show their stuff. Three tracks in particular deserve comment. "By His Lonesome" is an ethereal backdrop for a Hallre bass solo: Rypdal doesn't even enter until almost the 2-minute mark. "Baby Beautiful" (the longest track at 8:01) opens with tinkling tuned percussion before Thowsen (who longtime ECM listeners will remember from Arild Andersen's quartet in the 1970s) sets up a rhythmic pattern for the solos to follow. The album closer "Dawn" begins with a very low rumble, as if a huge double bass section is playing in the distance, before dissolving into guitar effects and then vanishing.

Recorded in Oslo in February 2019, the immediate initial reaction to Conspiracy regards its length: 35:04. We've come a long way from the mid-1990s where everybody felt it was obligatory to issue 65-minute albums. Now that the LP has returned to the mainstream, shorter albums are once again back in fashion, but at what cost? Rypdal is now in his 70s: the cynical are likely to dismiss this as just a cash-grab to help with inevitable healthcare costs. Some would suggest this is an exercise in nostalgia, perhaps an aural last-will-and-testament. When there is such a deep, accessible back-catalog (even tribute albums), one might be tempted to say, "Not bad, just not much." Conspiracy neither greatly adds to nor subtracts from Rypdal's recorded legacy, but is rather an excellent quick reminder of just what he did so uniquely well.

IMMANUEL WILKINS Omega

Album · 2020 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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“Omega” is the first album by saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, but he is hardly a new comer to the jazz scene. Since his arrival in NYC in 2015 he has been building a solid reputation as an educator and as a sideman with artists as diverse as Jason Moran, Branford Marsalis, the Count Basie Orchestra and Bob Dylan. He and his chosen band have been working together for four years and it shows through in their strong communication and interplay. At first listen, “Omega” carries the hallmarks of modern jazz with its abstract and energetic mix of post bop, fusion and free jazz, but there is something new and different present in Wilkins’ music, and if you are not familiar with African American church music you might miss it. Yes, Wilkins’ music is often abstract and complex, but there is also a strong emotional element present as well. The cries and the longings of gospel music are here, but not in any cliché way. Immanuel and his band may present an emotional melody, but the way they work with it and develop it is pure modern jazz.

Wilkins often has a dry direct sax tone similar to Jackie MacLean and Steve Coleman, but he can also build up to an expressive melodic cry that recalls Albert Alyer and latter day Coltrane. The way in which Immanuel can build a solo off of a single melodic base may remind some of Kenny Garret as well. Pianist Micah Thomas has some Herbie Hancock in him, but he can also thunder in the big two handed tradition that has passed from Art Tatum to Matthew Shipp. Drummer Kweku Sumbry uses the entire kit in his maelstrom assaults in that style preferred by today’s NYC based drummers, and bassist Daryl Jones can be quite melodic, even doubling Wilkins on some of the songs melodies. The hallmark of this band is the way in which they can work together as an ensemble, trading and combining ideas in ways that break down the cliché roles of soloist and accompanist. The wide range of this band is also remarkable as they move from intense free modern bop to lyrical ballads.

The main difference in Immanuel’s music is in its powerful emotional content. There is so much great music these days, but so much of it is intellectual and dry and seems to lack heart. Even Wilkins’ song titles are significant as they reference poignant history such as Ferguson and Mary Turner, as well as his attempts to look inside with titles like “Grace and Mercy” and “Guarded Heart”. If you are tired of clever smirky play on words as song titles, you’ll find none of that here, same goes for the music. Immanuel and his band play like they mean it. Its rare for my reviews to indulge in superlatives, but this album deserves it. “Omega” is one of the best debuts I have ever heard and is also one of the best jazz albums for this year. Wilkins has managed to present a very original and personal vision, and that is not easy to do. Also, I don’t mind telling you that the ending of “Gaurded Heart” had me in tears, that doesn’t happen often with me and modern jazz music.

PAT METHENY From This Place

Album · 2020 · Fusion
Cover art 4.91 | 2 ratings
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darkshade
Pat is back! With a new lineup, bringing over long-time bandmate at this point, Antonio Sanchez, on drums. On bass is Linda May Han Oh, and on piano is Gwilym Simcock. The band is backed up by an orchestra. This is arguably one of his best albums over a 50 year career, which is quite a feat this late in the game. I haven't felt this great about a Pat Metheny album since The Way Up, released almost 15 years prior to this album. There's been some good stuff released in between, but nothing that has been as enjoyable as anything from 2005 and earlier... until From This Place.

From the massive prog-jazz opening track America Undefined, to the final heartfelt Love May Take Awhile, this album is a journey, and an emotional roller coaster, as Pat's best albums usually are. I enjoy every track here. The opener is very intense, with even some kind of rock out section in the last part, very exciting way to open things up. Same River is very classic Pat Metheny, Pathmaker is possibly the most fun tune on this album, and the harmonica player from The Way Up appears on The Past Is Us, a great tune. The emotional title song touches on the political climate of the late 2010s, but I think the final two pieces, Sixty-Six, written for Pat's age at the time, and the aforementioned Love May Take Awhile, are two of the most powerful pieces of music Pat has put out yet. The orchestral strings really shine on these last two.

I am reminded of Lyle Mays throughout this album, who passed away about a week before this album was released. The tune Sixty-Six takes on a whole other meaning for that is the age Lyle was at his passing, and the music is reminiscent of the Pat Metheny Group classic, "Last Train Home" makes it seem like a tribute to the life of Lyle Mays. The piano work of Gwilym Simcock is to be commended as he really brings out the spirit of Lyle throughout the music of From This Place. The orchestra does this as well, providing the synth-heavy background ambience Lyle would often provide in the PMG along with is piano playing, with an orchestra instead.

Overall, this album is like a marriage of Secret Story and The Way Up, while also bringing back some of the mid-Western sound from the 70s bands, with a pinch of the 80s PMG sound for good measure. All the while pushing things forward, there are many surprises throughout, some things I've never heard Pat do before. As far as his guitar playing, of course it's fantastic as usual, but this time he sounds more inspired than usual as of late, and his classic tone is back. Pat has never sounded so good. His clean guitar tone here is well balanced and warm, unlike his previous few albums where his tone was dry, far-away sounding, and cold.

Highly recommended for anyone who is even slightly into Pat's music. Great album from the modern master of Jazz.

JOHN DAVERSA Cuarentena : With Family at Home

Album · 2020 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
Its not unusual for a John Daversa album to carry a theme outside of the music itself, so it is with his new album, “Cuarantena: With Family at Home”, on which he explores the importance of familial relationships in a time of quarantine through a collection of boleros, a musical form that was often a part of his family gatherings when he was young. Many of these compositions by Daversa are homages to various family members, and also many other of the compositions were written by other family members. Interspersed between the tracks, the various members of Daversa’s quintet discuss how family and music interact in their own lives. Speaking of the assembled quintet for the recording, this is an all-star ensemble with top names at every position; Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Carlo De Rosa on bass, Dafnis Prieto on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion.

As mentioned already, every one of these songs is a bolero, but do not expect sameness, instead this album is laden with creative eclecticism. Boleros tend to be rhythmically laid back and very melodic, and you do get a lot of that on here, but there are variations too. “#45” features some high speed bebop unisons, “#22” contains fiery solo trade offs, “Puppitas” has a far out arrangement that borders on the avant-garde, and “#19”builds into an aggressive samba like energy. Still, the hallmark of “Cuarantena” are the more laid back boleros that fascinate with their open spaces and relaxed timing. The open spaces can almost recall a classic ECM disc, only with a Latin flavor and no icy reverb. When Daversa’s lonely trumpet plays over a sparse accompaniment I’m also reminded of Miles’ classic “Quiet Nights” album. All members of the band are careful not to overplay and the tracks are made more interesting because different members of the band will drop out of the mix for a while instead of all five going at it all the time. Overall, a most valuable player award could go to Rubalcaba whose wide ranging skills can add variety through his knowledge of post bop, Latin jazz and classical.

This is a beautiful album, very thoughtful and sensitive. Its great to hear musicians with mind blowing chops set their pyrotechnics aside for a while to just play music that anyone can relate to, not just fans of jazz or Latin music.

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HERBIE MANN Stone Flute

Album · 1970 · Fusion
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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Along with Miles Davis and Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann was one of the most eclectic jazz artists of his time, with albums ranging from pop to avant-garde, any single album can be in a totally unique style that is unlike any of his other albums. 1970’s “Stone Flute” is one such album, as it finds Herbie experimenting with drifting ambience, psychedelic sound and a sense of time suspended. The music on here is very similar to sound experiments that Miles Davis was performing as he was making the tracks that would show up a few years later on “Big Fun” and “Get Up With It”. If Mann didn’t hear any of those sessions, I’m sure he heard the somewhat similar “In a Silent Way”, certainly both artists were trying out similar ideas and approaches as they sought to produce music that hung in the air with a sense of infinite space.

Herbie has a backing band on here, but they are mostly in the background as side one slowly unfolds with Mann’s flute, sometimes double tracked., dominates the proceedings. A time warped version of the Beatles “Flying” is a highlight on this side of the album. Side two opens with the more busy and dissonant free fusion of “Miss Free Spirit”. This track also features the only solo from vibraphonist Roy Ayers who unleashes a torrent of scattered scales. Side two closes with two abstract ballads that put Herbie front and center again. There is no keyboard player listed on the credits, but the sound of held chords on a Lowery organ show up often. There is also a string quartet who are often arranged deep into the mix adding more vague sounds mixing with the other background instruments. If you enjoy Miles spaced out tracks like “He Loved Him Madly” or side four of “Agharta”, you will probably like “Stone Flute” too. This album was very much ahead of its time as it pre-dates more recent efforts by artists like Brian Eno, Bill Laswell and much of today’s nu jazz scene.

JACKIE MCLEAN Consequence

Album · 1979 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.17 | 3 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
HARD BOP DEFINED!

Jackie McLean's Consequence album was originally released as part of Blue Note's infamous LT-series 14 years after it was first recorded (December 1965). The liner notes suggest that McLean's more avant-garde albums (Let Freedom Ring/One Step Beyond/Destination Out) rendered sessions such as those that make up Consequence "too straight ahead" in comparison. Yet listening to it today, one can only wonder "what's not to like?" about this intensely visceral recording. Consequence is unequivocally one of McLean's most definitive achievements, to the point where if someone asked me, "Just what is hard bop anyway?", I would simply point them to this record.

What's so memorable about this album? From the start I must insist that all of trumpeter Lee Morgan's fans hear his performance on this record immediately. His blistering first solo on "Bluesanova", his shrieking second solo on the same track, and his solo on "Slumber" are all truly awe-inspiring. Harold Mabern's slam-bang piano work on this album can only be described as "Tyner-esque". Drummer Billy Higgins destroys absolutely everything in sight, and bassist Herbie Lewis deserves to be a little higher in the mix. For ensemble playing, watch out for the furious title track, the trade-offs on "Tolypso", and Morgan and McLean playing the heads together throughout the album, but especially on "Vernestune". Altoist McLean plays his wildest solo on the aforementioned "Vernestune", and don't miss the fiery playing behind the slower tempo of "My Old Flame".

When I first heard this album, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. While not to be compared to a Coltrane-like intensity, the "oomph" that gives hard bop its name can be heard on every track. Consequence never fails to amaze and lift one's spirits, like all the best albums of this genre. And while "definitive" shouldn't be confused with "greatest", there's no better word to describe the epitomizing performances on this sadly underrated album.

MARKUS REUTER Markus Reuter, Mannheimer Schlagwerk ‎: Sun Trance (World Premiere Performance)

Live album · 2017 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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js
Its funny how synchronistic events can be sometimes. I was halfway through reading Mark Prendergast’s informative book on minimalism and ambient music, “The Ambient Century”, when this excellent CD of contemporary minimal music arrived in the mail, Markus Reuter’s “Sun Trance”. For those not yet aware of Markus, he is an imaginative electric guitarist and sound sculptor known mostly for his work with ex-King Crimson alumni in The Stick Men, where he displays his affinity for innovative guitarists such as Robert Fripp, Terje Rypdal and Sonny Sharrock. “Sun Trance” is very much in the minimalist tradition with its repeating motifs and slowly unfolding structure, but thanks to some inventive compositional techniques and inspired playing this CD rises above the sameness that can sometimes mar more generic offerings in the minimal approach.

Reuter composed this piece for the Mannheimer Schlagwerk, an eleven person ensemble that uses a variety of tuned and non-tuned percussion, electronic instruments and a bass clarinet to produce interweaving melodies that Markus eventually begins to solo over. Fripp fans will recognize Reuter’s solo guitar sound as it bears a strong resemblance to Robert’s beautifully sustained tone on “The Heavenly Music Corporation”. The trick to good minimal and ambient music is not letting the use of repetition and slow movement become trite or boring. One clever technique that Markus uses is to occasionally supply complete breaks in the music so that the ensemble can return with a different set of melodic figures. Another helpful element is the drum beat, a very down tempo dub influenced part that is played with enough syncopation and shifting accents that it totally disguises the time signature and keeps things from being too predictable.

JOE FARRELL Moon Germs

Album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.80 | 6 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
FUSION MASTERPIECE

It's sad that since his untimely death in 1986, Joe Farrell has been mostly forgotten. Sure, the albums he did with Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, and even Andrew Hill still have their adherents, but albums like Moon Germs remind us he deserves to be remembered as far more than just a side-man. And while this is a CTI album from 1973, don't worry: there's not an overbearing orchestra in sight.

The four tracks on Moon Germs (Farrell's "Great Gorge" and "Moon Germs", Chick Corea's "Times Lie" and Stanley Clarke's "Bass Folk Song") all follow a similar pattern: begin leisurely before launching into ridiculous speeds, Farrell takes the first solo, Herbie Hancock (electric piano - less than a year away from Head Hunters) takes the second solo, a very young Stanley Clarke (electric bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) add their irrepressible best, before everyone returns to the beginning. Farrell, known for his Rollins-ish tone on the tenor, plays only soprano sax on this album, with the exception of "Bass Folk Song" which is his flute showcase. Like soloing, especially from these guys? On this album, solos go far beyond the usual 10-30 seconds each.

The word "masterpiece" gets thrown around all too often, but Moon Germs truly deserves it. While released in close proximity to many other fusion classics that are still revered today, this album can stand head-and-shoulders next to any of them. Highly recommended to fans of all the players involved, but most especially to Herbie Hancock fans. If you enjoy his Crossings/Sextant period, you MUST hear his performances on this album!

HORIZONS JAZZ ORCHESTRA The Brite Side

Album · 2019 · Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Horizons Jazz Orchestra is a South Florida all-star big band that grew out of the remains of Lee Harris and Dennis Noday’s Superband. The last Superband album was supposed to be a tribute to Harris, their lead arranger and composer, but Lee passed away before the album could be finished and many of the band’s performers moved on to other projects. Trombonist Michael Balogh decided to finish the project by inviting some of his favorite musicians to join the remaining members of Superband thereby creating a new ensemble, Horizons Jazz Orchestra, and “The Brite Side” is their debut album. As mentioned earlier, this album is a tribute to Lee Harris and every track but one is either a Harris original composition or arrangement.

Horizons plays bright upbeat big band music with a 60s-70s pop leaning that may remind some of Quincy Jones, Maynard Ferguson and Thad Jones. Many of the band members have ties to the Stan Kenton Orchestra, so there is that influence as well. Several tracks have that Four Brothers/Woody Herman smooth sax section ensemble work which comes as no surprise since section leader Billy Ross played in the Herman band as well as with many top names in pop and RnB. Lots of instantly recognizable jazz favorites are performed here along side Harris’ originals which are easy to pick up on at first listen. The ensemble work is flawless and the solos are short and to the point, this is big band music that can easily be enjoyed by non-jazz fans and big band aficionados alike.

Some top cuts include the high energy of “After You’ve Gone, Finally” and “Fourth Dimension” which feature that smooth Woody Herman sax ensemble sound. Title track “The Brite Side” sounds like a movie soundtrack performed with a lengthy multi-sectioned 70s progressive rock arrangement and “the Sound” features a noir ballad vehicle for the tenor saxophone soloing of Billy Ross. “A Train Bossa” shows how well “Take the A Train” takes to a bossa nova rhythm and “Red Apple Sweet” is a soul jazz workout for the Hammond B3 playing of Gary Mayone.

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