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5 reviews/ratings
THE MUFFINS - Manna/Mirage Fusion | review permalink
KEITH TIPPETT - You Are Here... I Am There Avant-Garde Jazz | review permalink
PHLOX - Vali Fusion | review permalink
MATCHING MOLE - Matching Mole's Little Red Record Fusion | review permalink
SOFT MACHINE - Fourth Fusion | review permalink

Jazz Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Fusion 4 4.13
2 Avant-Garde Jazz 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

MATCHING MOLE Matching Mole's Little Red Record

Album · 1972 · Fusion
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"We are determined to liberate Taiwan!"

Soon after their eponymous debut, Matching Mole hit the road and toured western Europe, appearing on various TV shows and festivals. It was at that time that David Sinclair left the band to play with Hatfield and the North and later on Caravan's For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night. He was replaced with Dave MacRae, a jazz keyboardist from New Zealand, who was already credited as a guest on Matching Mole's debut album. In July of 1972, about half a year after their first work, the band entered the doors of London's CBS Studios to record Matching Mole's Little Red Record. The release was produced by Robert Fripp of King Crimson. In addition, the band invited Brian Eno, the pioneer synthesist, to guest on their album.

The title of the release is an allusion to Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, known as the Maoist bible of the cultural revolution period. The cover art portrays the band members on what looks like a Chinese communist propaganda poster. The inspiration for the cover painting came from a Chinese postcard with a caption that read "We are determined to liberate Taiwan!" Despite a lot of controversy, the group, in fact, had nothing to do with idea for the album art, as the drawing was designed by CBS' graphic designers. Robert Wyatt even admitted that he did not particularly like the design. Wyatt's lyrics on Little Red Record have also been an object of heated discussion. The artist declares that the fight for the righteous socialist world should also be expressed in music and confesses that his beliefs are closer to the Chinese communist world rather than the degenerated capitalist west.

Musically, Little Red Record is a quintessential Canterbury scene album. Matching Mole's style is notably different from their debut album. The group got rid of the song-oriented ballads almost entirely and introduced an even higher amount of jazz-fueled improvisation to their music. However, showcasing the group's members' musical skill does not seem to be the aim of the numerous improvisational passages that appear so frequently on Little Red Record. The heavy repeating passages, which often do provide a base for instrumental solos, create musical tension, which makes the music on this record incredibly moody and full of distinctive mysticism. The typical tongue-in-cheek, Canterbury-styled arrangements are common. This becomes evident with pre-recorded voices and sounds of various conversations played over the band's music, giving the album an eccentric appearance.

The high amount of jazz influences on Little Red Record compared to Matching Mole might partly be caused by the new keyboard player, Dave MacRae. His extensive use of Fender Rhodes electric piano adds a very fusion-esque element to the band's sound, at times similar to the one of Soft Machine. Similarly to Dave Sinclair, MacRae is extremely proficient in many diverse musical situations ranging from as far as subtle drone touches to accurate rhythm keyboard play to rapid, pronounced solo parts. Robert Wyatt's drumming is very dense. He finds himself comfortable playing heavy, varied rhythms in odd time signatures. His characteristic vocals also appear, but more often in a spoken word scenario. Although it may not seem like it at first, Bill McCormick's basslines play a crucial role in Matching Mole's sound, building a strong musical foundation for other members. David Sinclair's fuzz organ solos are replaced with those on Phil Miller's guitar, which he plays with an astonishingly precise touch. Brian Eno with his VCS3 synthesizer is responsible for ambient, electronic passages, creating striking, mystic soundscapes.

The album opens with "Starting in the Middle of the Day, We Can Drink Our Politics Away", which features a male choir supported by a repeating piano passage. The lush, surrounding organ sound builds up tension, which is discharged with a loud, rapid jazz jam on "Marchides". The next track, "Nah True's Hole" is based around a repeating pattern with a conversation in the background. In fact, the female voice belongs to Julie Christie, a famous English actress, who is credited as Flora Fidgit. The things she says are erotically-charged and work particularly well with the passage in the background. On "Righteous Rhumba", Robert Wyatt's lyrics talk about the utopian socialist vision and his repellence towards the capitalist world. "Brandy as in Benj" is a jazz-based piece, aimed at displaying the instrumental skill of Matching Mole's members. "Gloria Gloom" starts out with Brain Eno's lengthy synthesizer texture and resolves into Robert Wyatt's politically-charged song. Towards the end, Eno's input comes back, closing the song in a dark, agitating manner. "God Song", the only acoustic piece, sounds a bit like song-oriented tracks from Wyatt's solo releases. "Flora Fidgit" is another jazz jam, in ways similar to what Soft Machine were doing at the time. The album is closed with "Smoke Signal". The track features tense ambient soundscapes with Robert Wyatt's drum solo. Towards the end, one is capable of hearing soft melodies, sounding as if trying to break through, which eventually fade way.

Matching Mole's iconic Little Red Record could best be described as an eccentric political jazz statement with great musicianship. The controversy the band caused with its appearance and title may partly be responsible for its success. The concept and performance is very interesting and original. This is a legendary Canterbury scene album and is without a doubt a must-listen! Recommended!

THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage

Album · 1978 · Fusion
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The Muffins were formed in 1973, in Washington D. C., soon after a keyboardist and saxophonist Dave Newhouse, a guitarist Michael Zentner, and a bassist Billy Swann found a common unorthodox and anti-commercial approach to music. The group, however, remained nameless until a few months later when they named themselves The Muffins, allegedly after one friend of theirs shouted, "The muffins are here!" while bringing them blueberry muffins and more importantly giving an idea for the name of the band. One year after their formation, they were joined by Thomas Scott, a saxophonist with a big-band background. In 1975, Stuart Abramowitz on drums joined, only to leave one year later with Michael Zentner. While playing a concert in 1976, they stumbled upon a drummer Paul Sears, who stayed in the band. The Muffins founded their own independent recording label, Random Radar Records, under which they released their debut album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978.

With influences of acts such as Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, National Health, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention, and even Caravan, The Muffins have shaped their own, distinctive Canterbury scene-inspired style. Although the United States has always been far from being the heartland of the subgenre and recognized it relatively late, the group's music sounds incredibly natural and authentic. Characterized by strong emphasis put on improvisation, The Muffins go far beyond being just another Canterbury-tinged jam band. The extensive use of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, recorders, and oboes, rather than brass winds, gives the band a varied, unique, almost chamber-like sound, at times reminiscent of Henry Cow's Legend. Keyboard instruments also play a prominent role with smooth, dreamy Fender Rhodes electric piano, reminiscent of Dave Stewart and Tim Hodgkinson-inspired Farfisa organ. Free jazz passages, very much in the vein of Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, are also common, enriching the album with even more of a diverse, varied style. In short: Manna/Mirage is a perfectly balanced mélange between classy avant-garde progressive rock and jazz-influenced Canterbury sound.

The album opens with "Monkey with the Golden Eyes". A calm repeating passage on electric piano is supported by a great interplay of flute and clarinet. Gradually, more instruments are added - xylophone, drums, organ, resulting in an almost ambient texture. In the beginning, "Hobart Got Burned" features just a little part of the previous track until it loses itself in chaotic, quirky, free-form mayhem. At one point, all of the instruments participating in the madness meet and, as if finally entering the same alley, present a theme which would not be out of place on an album by Hatfield and the North. Side One closes with the 15-minute "Amelia Earhart". The piece starts out with mystic, meditative sounds of a wide plethora of percussion instruments, which dissolve into a merry Caravan-like melody. Later, the listener encounters a brief free passage and various different segments of the piece, perfectly displaying the flawless work of every instrument in different musical circumstances. Side Two is fully occupied by a nearly 23-minute suite "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang". The track begins with an interaction of woodwind instruments supplemented by accompaniment on Fender Rhodes. Then, a more energetic, louder motif dominated by saxophones kicks in. What follows is really inexplicable. Let me just say that the piece is dripping with complex arrangements, contrasted segments, dynamically, rhythmically, and instrumentally varied parts, numerous different themes, lengthy improvisational passages, and proficient instrumental work. The Muffins seem to have a well-thought plan for every second of the suite and make use of their recording time perfectly.

Manna/Mirage is an absolutely exceptional record in the history of the Canterbury scene. While in 1978, its sound might have radically drifted towards jazz fusion, this one American band, that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, skillfully carries on traditions set by bands such as Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Hatfield and the North. The release is incredibly consistent, mature, and most of all deeply fascinating. A true gem of the Canterbury scene. Highly recommended!


Album · 1971 · Fusion
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In October of 1970, Soft Machine started recording their fourth studio album. Their previous, two-disc release, Third , contained four long epics, each with its distinctive flavor. Robert Wyatt's piece, 'Moon In June', which was the only vocal track on the album, clearly showing his own musical vision, quite different from one of his band-mates. In fact, on his first solo album, The End of an Ear, Wyatt described himself as an "Out of work pop singer currently on drums with Soft Machine". The jazz-fusion oriented path Soft Machine had taken undoubtedly did not please his musical sensibilities. For their upcoming album, the group invited a double-bass player, Roy Babbington, who had previously played with Keith Tippet. A horn section, different from the one on Third, was also added, consisting of Alan Skidmore on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Hastings on alto flute and bass clarinet, Nick Evans on trombone, and Mark Charig on cornet. Fourth was released in early 1971 and was followed by Robert Wyatt's departure from the band.

Soft Machine's style on Fourth may appear as radical compared their first two works from 1968 and 1969, but is in fact merely a natural development they made from Third. The recruitment of a double-bass player, however, is a breakthrough and a turning point in the band's career. This might be interpreted as a definitive cut-off from rock. Yes, they probably still could rock out, but they were by no means a rock band anymore. The group creates a unique blend of elements of Miles Davis' mid-late sixties post-bop, free jazz of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus, and ambient music, that could be connected with pioneering bands such as Popol Vuh. Fourth also has a one-of-a-kind, inexplicable flavor that indicates that Soft Machine is a European outfit and differentiates them from contemporary groups from the United States. Similarly to Third, Fourth is largely focused on improvisation, therefore showcasing the instrumentalism of the musicians.

The newly-recruited horn section helps the band in reaching a certain amount of versatility in their sound. Although Elton Dean's alto saxophone and saxello is still dominant in the band's soundscapes, they are now enriched with sounds of a flute, a trombone, a cornet, and a tenor sax. Most often, these instruments play together, creating an interesting 'metal wall' of horn sounds, but solo parts on each of them are not uncommon. Mike Ratledge's keyboard rig is extended with a Hohner pianet, which the virtuoso finds particularly useful on parts, where strong rhythmical background is needed. His signature fuzzed-out Lowrey organ sound, which is one of the few common elements between Soft Machines debut and Fourth, plays an important role on his break-neck speed solos. With a double-bass player onboard, Hugh Hopper's contribution might seem limited, but the bassist's unique style and bass timbre is still crucial to Machine's sound. Robert Wyatt, who quite rightfully might not have been happy with a direction his band took, proves how much of a versatile drummer he was with his accurate and precise drumming.

Side one of Fourth is occupied by three tracks. The work starts with Ratledge's composition 'Teeth'. It starts out with a complex theme, which smoothly dissolves into a jam (which at parts reminds me of 'Hope For Happiness' from Soft Machine's debut). Then, we are approached by Hopper's piece 'Kings and Queens', which despite following a simple structure is one of the most memorable tracks from the album with a slightly gloomy, melancholic feel. Side one is closed with 'Fletcher's Blemish', a loud, atonal, horn-driven jam that lies just on the border of being classified as free-jazz and fusion. Side two comprises Hugh Hopper's four-part suite 'Virtually'. Part 1 is kept in a traditional jazz feel and is based on improvisation. Part 2 builds up tension, which leads to an atonal jam with Elton Dean's saxophone in the foreground. Part 3 opens with dissonant noises achieved by manipulating instruments with studio equipment on dreamy electronic ambient basis. Part 4 is basically an extension of Part 3 with smooth passages fading until the end of the album.

Fourth marks the end of Soft Machine's Canterbury scene years and begins what is known as group's 'classic' era as a jazz-fusion act. The music on the album might not be very compelling, at least in my book, but is a much-needed listen and is crucial to the development English jazz to come. A lot of the times, one will find their thoughts drifting far away from the music, which might be a testimony of its' well, soporific aspect. The album is more than decent in its own right, but is rather stodgy, insignificant, and unmemorable at the same time. No wonder why Robert Wyatt left Soft Machine. However, it is recommended to listen to the album and forge your own opinion.


Live album · 2013 · Fusion
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Phlox was formed in Tallin, the capital city of Estonia, in 1999 by a guitarist Kristo Roots, percussionist Raivo Prooso, drummer Rainer Kapmann, and bassist Priit Holtsmann. Despite numerous personnel changes, since its very early days, the band's sound has been shaped by the Canterbury scene bands such as Hatfield and the North, National Health, Gilgamesh, and even Soft Machine. After four official albums, in 2013, Phlox released the live-cut Vali which as of June 2016 is their most recent album. Vali was recorded and broadcasted live for Areaal, Estonian Classical Radio, in April 2012.

There is undoubtedly something that saves Phlox from sounding like just another Canterbury-style jazz-rock outfit. And yet, there is no other way to describe the band's music. Take the best instrumental elements of the music of Hatfield and the North, mix them with the improvisational qualities of post-Wyatt era Soft Machine and soft, mellow smoothness of National Health's music. The dish that is already tasty is seasoned with straight-up jazz-rock influences of Nucleus and Mahavishnu Orchestra. And voilà , you're being served modern Canterbury sound of the highest order! The music of Phlox is largely improvisation-based, Vali is dripping with lengthy saxophone jams and synthesizer solos. In addition, the band has a great dynamic range. They can go from a delicate, dreamy parts on Fender Rhodes electric piano to heavy, noisy, and wild workouts in a great taste. At times gentle, mellow and calming, at times unsettling, loud, and disturbing - Phlox has got a very wide variety of flavors in store for the listener.

The keyboardist Pearu Helenurm could very well be regarded as the engine of the band, allowing it to go to the Canterbury scene-oriented territories. His virtuosic style shows evident inspiration of keyboardist such as Dave Stewart, Alan Gowen, and Mike Ratledge. His extensive use of electric piano is intermingled with a synthesizer, usually used as a solo instrument. Kalle Klein, a virtuoso saxophonist, handles alto and soprano saxophones with great ease. His playing may remind one of that of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, especially on the dissonant, free-form parts. Ravio Prooso with his "thumpy" bass guitar tone provides great grooves for the rest of the band to work on. Madis Zilmer's is characterized by heavy and dynamic rhythms. The band's guitarist, Kristo Roots, rarely finds himself playing rapid Phil Miller-like guitar solos, his guitar most often plays a role of a rhythm instrument, which lays down a theme for the rest of the band to work on. Allan Prooso enriches the group's sound with percussion instruments such as wood blocks or a triangle. All in all, Phlox without a doubt consists of skillful musicians with great amounts of technical know-how.

Vali opens with "80 000 ljööd Maa All", a heavy Canterbury-inspired jazzy jam, which at one point or another displays work of every instrument. Next up, "Almus" begins with an almost pop-like intro on Fender Rhodes, which dissolves into improvisation with a loud distorted guitar, synthesizers, and a high-pitched saxophone. "Küttearve Päikeselt" is another one that opens with a mellow passage on electric piano, this time put through a tremolo effect. Then, drums and saxophones kick in and the track loses itself in improvisational madness and a great interplay of Roots' guitar and Klein's saxophone. Later on in the piece, Pearu Helenurm gets a brief synthesizer solo. "Hülge Hing" is the first track to feature a grand piano - a much-welcome variation. "Paigalelend" opens with a dry guitar riff, which returns in between jams throughout the tune. "Hunt (5 Minutes to Armageddon Version)" starts with a somewhat mellow feel, which slowly descends into heavy, noisy, jazz-fueled mayhem. The last track on Vali, "Kurehirm (Doom Night Ornithology Special)" begins with a quiet interaction between percussion (which sounds a bit like frogs in a swamp), Rhodes, and a saxophone. Being the lengthiest piece on the album, saxophone gets some naked solo parts without any other band members accompanying.

Vali is by far the only live release from the Estonian outfit Phlox, showcasing their energetic, inspired, and vigorous sound. It raises a smile to see a contemporary band play fresh, interesting jazz-rock to a high degree inspired by Canterbury scene bands such as Hatfield and the North, National Health or Gilgamesh. Highly recommended to fans of the Canterbury scene!

KEITH TIPPETT You Are Here... I Am There

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
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”The jazz scene in Britain was never that exciting. It was always such hard work.” -Pete Sinfield [BBC Prog Rock Britannia, 2009]

Simultaneously with the explosion of “new” post-psychedelic rock music in the United Kingdom in the late sixties, the country’s youth was also breeding a distinctive jazz scene. One of the key figures in the movement was Keith Tippett, born in 1947. As a teenager, he studied piano and church organ, playing with various local bands in Bristol. At the age of 20, Tippett moved to London, wanting to find fulfillment as a jazz musician. Soon, he founded The Keith Tippett Group, a sextet consisting of Elton Dean on saxophone, Mark Charig on cornet, Nick Evans on trombone (all three musicians also contributed with Soft Machine at the time), as well as Alan Jackson on drums and Jeff Clyne upright bass. In January 1970, the band recorded what came to be, You Are Here… I Am There, Keith Tippett’s debut as a bandleader. The album was released on the Polydor label. As a side note, it was at that time that the pianist guested on King Crimson’s second album, In the Wake of Poseidon.

The overall atmosphere and aura of You Are Here… I Am There points at the influences of American jazz musicians such as John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Charles Mingus. The record shows a strong tendency, however, towards a distinctive sound that was, at the time, new, embraced by musicians such as Jan Garbarek and Ian Carr. Above all, Tippett’s compositional style bears traces of the artist’s classical training, unveiled by his harmonic and dynamic awareness and careful balance between improvisation and composition. At the same time, in a reasonable dose, the sextet also captures the kind of spiritual aspect of American jazz, particularly powerfully displayed by Albert Ayler, John and Alice Coltrane, and Sun Ra.

A calm, meditative solo passage carefully bowed by Jeff Clyne on upright bass opens the first piece on the album. “This Evening Was Like Last Year (To Sarah)” acts as a thoroughly absorbing foreplay. The crystal-like piano joins the instrument, working towards an uncertain atmosphere. The effective interaction is disturbed by the joining horn section. Very sleepy, yet pronounced notes of a saxophone, cornet, and trombone help the piano grow powerful with the band following the mode it sets. Suddenly, the whole band is given an adrenaline rush, the music becoming louder and more intricate. The dream-like texture of the opening is proficiently combined with wholesome horns. When the drums enter the equation, completing the whole line-up, the composition appears to have finally found its path, becoming less fluid. After reaching the climax, all of the instruments retreat, leaving the piano alone to open “I Wish There Was a Nowhere.” Very quickly, however, bass and drums join, settling on a repetitive groove, a base for what will turn out to be a lengthy jam, for Elton Dean on saxophone. Kurt Vonnegut’s description of Angela Hoenikker’s clarinet playing from his novel Cat’s Cradle would well render Dean’s solo which seems to go ”from liquid lyricism to rasping lechery to the shrill skittishness of a frightened child, to a heroin nightmare.” Soon, the groove fades away with Mark Charig’s cornet taking the lead. The mood becomes very mellow, recalling some of the most beautiful cool jazz ballads of Miles Davis. Unnoticeably slowly, the piece reclaims its weight, with all the musicians exploring countless improvisational regions. After a long piano solo, all of the instruments meet, leading to a beautiful ending of the track, adding a few whimsicalities on the way.

On side two, “Thank You For The Smile (For Wendy And Roger)” is based on a progression that seems a little… contrasted, different. The purpose becomes apparent after a very brief jam, where the wind instruments make a direct quotation of the theme from The Beatles’ hit “Hey Jude.” The listener comfortably lays back thinking ”Oh, okay, so this is the nature of the track, that’s where they are taking me.” Such a tongue-in-cheek interjection is very welcome, adding a bit of spice to the progress of the work as a whole. “Three Minutes From An Afternoon In July (To Nick)” opens with a Peter Brötzmann-esque sax, setting the stage for Nick Evans’ trombone melodies. The bells played by Giorgio Gomelsky, an iconic film maker, impresario, music manager, songwriter and record producer, add a little mysticism. Towards the end, Evans gets an a capella solo, before the dark “aftermath” from the whole band. “Battery Point (To John And Pete)”, a relatively short affair, starts with a carefully designed interplay between the horns, before a quieter passage with added upright bass, on which Jeff Clyne showcases his abilities without the support of the group. “Violence” reminisces bebop in its rapid pace, but utilizes harmonic solutions untypical of the movement. Every musician gets to display their improvisational skill on top of this rhythm. Just like every other instrument before, Alan Jackson is given some time for a drum solo, very energetic and accurate. “Stately Dance for Miss Primm” makes a bit of a difference in comparison to the material of side two with its funky pulse. Listeners should take note of the amazingly-thought wind instrument arrangements in the main theme. Elton Dean plays another wonderful, emotional solo, followed by Nick Evans’ take on improvisation. After the return of the main motif, the piece slowly descends into silence and that’s when we can hear a snippet of Tippett using something different than an acoustic piano. To my ears it sounds like an electric piano of a sort. An interesting mystery indeed.

Keith Tippett’s solo debut, You Are Here… I Am There showcases his distinguished compositional style in addition to exploration of numerous improvisational fields by him and his band mates. The material The Keith Tippet Group have got to offer on this release should be of interest to fans of jazz of musicians such as Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, and the already-named John Coltrane. However, those, who appreciate the jazzy side of progressive music with bands such as Soft Machine and Nucleus, should definitely get their hands on You Are Here… I Am There. A beautifully-tangled masterpiece!

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  • Posted more than 2 years ago in What are You Listening II
    This is amazing. I am really loving Art Ensemble of Chicago recently.


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