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4 reviews/ratings
RETURN TO FOREVER - The Mothership Returns Fusion | review permalink
BÉLA FLECK - #Rock?et > Sci?ence? World Fusion | review permalink
PAT METHENY - Pat Metheny Group : We Live Here Fusion | review permalink
STANLEY CLARKE - S.M.V.:Thunder (with Miller and Wooten) Funk Jazz | review permalink

Jazz Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Fusion 2 4.25
2 World Fusion 1 4.00
3 Funk Jazz 1 3.00

Latest Albums Reviews

RETURN TO FOREVER The Mothership Returns

Live album · 2012 · Fusion
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At long last, the mothership returns! Return to Forever are back with their fifth live record to date, and what a record it is! The band may be getting older, but by no means has their talent diminished at all.

This lineup of the band, which was dubbed Return to Forever IV for the tour, has a few changes from the classic lineup: Frank Gambale takes over guitar duties from Al Di Meola, and Jean-Luc Ponty adds his violin expertise to the outfit. The usual suspects - Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White - are of course all present as well.

The first thing I noticed listening to this album was the sound quality, which is incredibly rich and full for a live recording. While the sound here is practically studio quality, the rawness of the live performance is still captured. As a result, this is one of the better sounding live albums out there.

As far as material goes, this double live album contains a mix of Return to Forever's hard-hitting, cosmic fusion and their acoustic work. The music here predominantly consists of songs from the group's classic works Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy and Romantic Warrior. It's fair to say that the material has stood the test of time, with Chick Corea's compositions, most notably, remaining relevant with their complex, well thought-out structures that still leave plenty of room for improvisation.

Speaking of improvisation, you'll be hearing a lot of it; practically every song here features an extended solo from each of the lead musicians. It's not uncommon for one song to have upwards of ten minutes worth of solos on it. These are some of the best fusion players in the world, however, and know how to keep a solo engaging. Some of the performances here are really mind-blowing!

If you're familiar with Return to Forever, you know that these guys are experts on their instruments. Chick Corea, like usual, awes the crowd with his quintessential work on the Fender Rhodes and other keyboard instruments. Stanley Clarke is at the top of his game here as well, showing off his signature percussive electric and upright bass work. As for Lenny White, he really rocks the kit and offers some of the best rhythmic support that fusion has to offer. While Frank Gambale lacks some of the latin flair and the acoustic stylings of Al Di Meola, his renowned electric playing is great and proves that he is a capable soloist and comper and overall an adequate substitute. Finally, Jean-Luc Ponty likewise proves to be an excellent addition to the band's lineup with great violin playing.

My only complaint as far as the music on this album is concerned is that Frank Gambale and Jean-Luc Ponty's duties are far too similar, meaning that they are often playing the exact same lines. While I understand and appreciate that fast, unison lines are a staple of Return to Forever, it still would have been nice to hear some harmonies or other variances.

If you like jazz fusion or Return to Forever's music, even just a little bit, you'll want to hear this album. The sound quality is exceptional. The musicians are exceptional. Every single track is exceptional (both in composition and performance). I don't know what else to say other than that this may very well be fusion's finest live outing in the past several years.

(Originally published on progarchives.com)

BÉLA FLECK #Rock?et > Sci?ence?

Album · 2011 · World Fusion
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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones returned in 2011 with Rocket Science, one of their best and most consistent albums in several years. Rocket Science contains the signature experimentation, instrumental prowess, and cocktail of styles that have made the Flecktones successful in the past and is a nice addition to the band's discography.

This album features the talents of Bela Fleck on banjo, Victor Wooten on bass, and Future Man on drumitar and other percussion instruments. While sax man Jeff Coffin is no longer part of the lineup due to commitments with the Dave Matthews Band, founding member Howard Levy steps back into the spotlight with his harmonica and piano playing. Despite not being on a Flecktones studio album in almost twenty years, Levy seems to be right at home and his presence appears to have revitalized the band.

Versatility has always been a key feature of the Flecktones' music in the past, and this material is no exception. The music on this album touches on and explores all kinds of genres, from bluegrass to jazz to funk to rock to classical to pretty much anything else you can imagine, making for some very unique and progressive music. While for the most part the Flecktones seamlessly incorporate these styles into their compositions, there are a few moments when it feels forced and perhaps slightly out of place.

The group also enjoys playing around with rhythm and meter on this release. From the odd-metered Grammy-winning track "Life in Eleven" (which is, as the name implies, in 11/8) to the rhythmic shifts in the Hungarian minor piece "Sweet Pomegranates", the Flecktones always keep things interesting.

Virtuoso is not a word I throw around lightly, but when dealing with each of the members of the Flecktones it's an accurate description. Along with being able to keep up with the aforementioned versatility and rhythmic challenges, these guys are fierce improvisers. Special mention goes to bassist Victor Wooten, who never fails to captivate with his great bass work and tone. My only gripe in this department is that Levy's harmonica playing can be quite abrasive at times.

The Flecktones have always struck me as an incredibly creative group, and this album proves that even after twenty years these guys still have it. Rocket Science is not perfect, but it's a great album with solid songwriting that is backed up by world-class musicians. If you have yet to check these guys out and are an open-minded listener, I highly recommend giving them a try... And this album is a good place to start!

(Originally published on progarchives.com)

STANLEY CLARKE S.M.V.:Thunder (with Miller and Wooten)

Album · 2008 · Funk Jazz
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Stanley Clarke. Marcus Miller. Victor Wooten.

If you know anything about jazz fusion, funk, or the electric bass, these men need no introduction. These three bassists - some of the best players alive - are responsible for revolutionizing the electric bass and demonstrating what the instrument is really capable of. So what happens if you stick all three of them into the same band? Let's find out.

After a brief symphonic intro in the opening track "Maestros De Frecuencias Bajas", your ears are greeted by a pounding, funky electric bass line and you know just what you're getting into. I would admittedly not consider most of the music on this album jazz fusion; it falls more into the realm of jazz-funk.

This record has a nice mix of original material as well as old favourites that are given the three-bass treatment. The title track, "Thunder", is probably the highlight of the album with its flashy playing and perfect interplay of basses. While most of the compositions here are strong, with so much emphasis on bass lines there seems to be a lack of strong, quality melodies. In addition, although the band seems to be trying to mix things up occasionally, the album could really benefit from even more diversity.

You wouldn't think that having three bassists in a band would sound natural, but these guys weave together flawlessly. By playing in different registers and taking on distinct roles, each bass part sounds crisp and the sound very rarely gets muddled up - something you might expect to happen when you throw so many low-range instruments into the mix. Each of the bassists takes turns alternating between traditional bass lines, lead playing, and soloing, and all three guys are exceptional at every role.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this album is entirely about bass, though; sure, it's the focus of the majority of the record, but it's not all that's here. There are a slew of guest and session musicians who contribute their expertise to this album as well, including fusion hero Chick Corea (who offers a great piano solo on "Mongoose Walk") and George Duke. Marcus Miller himself adds a plethora of instruments to this release, including bass clarinet, saxophone, and the much-loved minimoog.

If you're like me and love the electric bass, S.M.V.'s Thunder is a release you don't want to miss. If bass and jazz-funk is not something you're all that into, however, this record isn't going to do too much to change your mind despite the lineup and great concept. It has a few shortcomings, no doubt, but overall Thunder is a solid debut release.

(Originally published on progarchives.com)

PAT METHENY Pat Metheny Group : We Live Here

Album · 1994 · Fusion
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The Pat Metheny Group, co-led by guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Lyle Mays, released We Live Here in 1995. This instrumental jazz fusion album contains plenty of interesting music and remains a good release despite the handful of faults it has.

Virtually all of the music on this record is highly accessible and will appeal to casual fans of Metheny who enjoy the more mainstream side of his catalogue but may have difficulty digesting the music that is a bit more "out there". Just because the music is accessible doesn't mean it's bad, though; almost every track has a lot to offer and is rich with good ideas, even if there are times when the music gets a bit too smooth for my liking. Metheny and Mays' songwriting skills, as usual, do not disappoint, and the album is packed with lengthy, musical melodies and interesting harmonic structures. This time around the Pat Metheny Group have also added a healthy dose of world music influence to their usual blend of jazz fusion.

Given the wealth of talent in the Pat Metheny Group's lineup it's no surprise that the playing on this album is exceptional. As expected, Metheny's guitar and May's keys form the core of the band's sound and provide some of the album's best solos. The fantastic piano solo and guitar synth solo on the track "To the End of the World" are highlights and really showcase the musicians' improvising abilities. While the other members of the band definitely don't get as much time in the spotlight, their contributions are invaluable to the atmosphere of the songs. Some added percussion, backing vocals, and the occasional trumpet part add a wealth of texture to the music.

While most of the instruments here have great parts, there is one exception: the drums. The intricate and responsive drumming expected of Paul Wertico is nowhere to be found on this release, instead replaced by a series of static and fairly basic drum loops. This was a very poor choice and in many ways it kills the music, making the songs sound like cheap muzak when in reality the compositions have a great deal of integrity.

Although this album never quite reaches greatness it will still please most listeners with its well-written melodies and a host of great solos. Despite the banal drum loops and the occasional section that is a bit too smooth, We Live Here does come through as a good album. While this record is recommended for fans of the Pat Metheny Group - and crossover jazz in general - some of the band's other, more ambitious albums may prove more rewarding.

(Originally published on progarchives.com)

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