Jazz Music Reviews from js

GRANT GREEN Green is Beautiful

Album · 1970 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 3 ratings
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Green is Beautiful” is a transitional album for Grant Green as it finds him moving more from the hard bop of his early career and more towards a funk/RnB sound. Like a lot of soul jazz LPs form this era. ‘Beautiful’ is kind of hit and miss with about one half good RnB jazz grooves, and about one half pop ditties that are forgettable. Side one opens with a cover of James Brown’s “Aint it Funky Now”, and it’s a solid cooker with great solos from the whole crew, including saxophonist Claude Bartee, who might remind some of Eddie Harris. This side closes out with the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. This song was popular with soul jazz musicians, but it never works well. Although it’s a good song in its original format, the different changes in the arrangement don’t lend itself very well to jazz or RnB solos.

Side two opens with another JB’s style groove, “The Windjammer”, which is followed by a very lackluster “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”. I’m not sure whose idea it was to include this very cheesy pop song, but it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. It’s a bad song to begin with and there is no way to save it, or make it better. The album closes with the best track, “Dracula”, another funk number and one of the few tracks with a very strong melody. If you keep the three best tracks on “Green is Beautiful”, you have a decent funk jazz album, albeit one that mostly sounds like a jam session. It doesn’t hurt that Green in his crew know how to turn in hot solos over an infectious groove.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Blue Note Re:Imagined

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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“Blue Note Re:imagined” is a two CD collection of tracks on which current UK jazz, hip-hop and RnB artists use classic Blue Note songs as inspirations for new creations. Taking a jazz song that was originally written in swing time and then slapping a contemporary backbeat on it does not always go well, so its fortunate that many of these artists often create creations that bear little resemblance to the original. Looking at this collection as a whole, if you are expecting some hip contemporary jazz leaning pop, then you will be happy with this, but if you expecting every track to be a heavy modern jazz statement, you may find yourself wanting, but all the same, there is some good contemporary, or ‘nu’, jazz to be found.

The best jazz cuts on here come from the artists who have the strongest reps, including Shabaka Hutchings, Alfa Mist, Blue Lab Beats, Nubya Garcia and Ishmael Ensemble. Of the pop tracks, Fieh’s “Armageddon” is a standout with its interesting chord progressions. Of the tracks that don’t work as well, Ezra Collective tries to place a hip-hop beat on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and it totally undermines the mystical flow of the original. There is a saving grace on this one though via an amazing keyboard solo from Joe Amon-Jones. On the other hand, Nubya Garcia’s hip-hop reworking of “A Shade of Jade” is almost an improvement over the hard bop original. A surprise success is an odd wordless vocal rendition of “Maiden Voyage” by Mr Jukes that works really well despite what that idea would sound like on paper. I ended up making my own CD off of this two CD album by recording just the best tracks and leaving off the others, with a little editing like that you can end up with a very good collection of today’s UK nu jazz sound.

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.

JOHN DAVERSA Cuarentena : With Family at Home

Album · 2020 · Latin Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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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.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Trio Introducing Freddy Gambrell

Album · 1958 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Freddie Gambrell is another pianist you can file under the tag, ‘one of the best piano players you never heard of.’. The reason you probably never heard of him is that he only recorded three albums, and the best of those three, “Chico Hamilton Presents Freddie Gambrell”, shows up in the Chico Hamilton discography, not Gambrell‘s. The best way I can introduce Freddie is to describe how I found his playing. I was listening to a 5 CD collection of Chico Hamilton music from the late 50s on random shuffle when I noticed this rather odd and attention grabbing pianist would show up occasionally. His playing was rooted in hard bop, but there were these weird surprises and unexpected jumps in his solos. All of this was reminding me of Herbie Nichols or Jaki Byard, but this guy was obviously neither of them. I didn’t even think that Chico ever worked with a pianist, but upon checking the CD package I see there is this one album with pianist Freddie Gambrell, someone I was not familiar with at all, so I wanted to find out more.

Apparently after recording this one album with Chico in 1958, Freddie released two more in 1959, with neither making much of an impact and although he worked regularly in San Francisco for the rest of his life, both as a pianist and big band leader, you can not find much more information about him than that. So really, the best of Freddie’s lasting legacy is just this one album with Hamilton. The style on here is west coast hard bop, in other words somewhat laid back. Chico and bassist Ben Tucker provide a rhythmic pocket for Gambrell but not much else. There is little interplay between the players and no bass or drum solos either, this is very much a Gambrell solo act. Freddie’s playing is rooted in the pre-Bill Evans school of Art Tatum and Erroll Garner, with a lot of blues thrown in as well. Then there are his unique excursions that can go anywhere unpredictably, this is what grabbed my attention about this guy in the first place, and its what continues to get my attention anytime I give him a listen. If you like any of the other pianists I referenced in this review, or other slightly off-kilter players like Monk or Ellington, then give Gambrell a try. This is one jazz musician who should be better known.

WYNTON MARSALIS Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra : The Ever Fonky Lowdown

Album · 2020 · Third Stream
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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After an incredibly long and productive buildup, it looks like Wynton Marsalis has hit the apex of his career with “The Ever Fonky Low Down”, a tour de force of spoken word, music and dance that speaks volumes against the negative forces that have been on the rise in recent times. The album itself is excellent, but I do hope someday he makes the filmed performance of this more available because with dancers, a large music ensemble and a charismatic narrator in Wendall Pierce, much of the appeal of this opus is visual. The real star of the show here is the lengthy text read by Pierce as the hustling character, Mr Game (“Sell you a loan that will take your home“). Mr Game is part insincere wealthy preacher, corrupt politician and conniving criminal hustler all rolled into one as he attempts to brainwash his audience. The words were all written by Wynton, who is apparently just as talented at libretto as he is with music as he displays the background for the cynical logic that threatens our world today. I won’t try to give out too many details about Mr Game’s rap as he tries to deride ‘they’ and buildup ‘his people’, but you will hear similarities to Hitler’s speech about the Polish people, Trump’s exaggerated and fabricated claims about illegal immigrants and the twisted logic of those who try to justify, or deny, the evils of slavery, genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’. But its not just about the Mr Games of the world, instead, Wynton is challenging us to look deeper at how we react to Mr Game and his opponents. Do we let them manipulate and divide us, or are we able to think for ourselves and keep our moral compass on track.

The rhythms on here are pure New Orleans in many flavors such as RnB, Dixieland, odd metered modern jazz, post bop modal grooves, street marches and more. On top of this rhythmic foundation Wynton interjects his orchestrations that show similarities to Ellington, Mingus, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Sun Ra. There are plenty of hot solos from the all-star band and lots of free form interaction during the longer jams. It's very telling that the music is based in New Orleans, that fertile birthplace of creativity from which a subjugated people ended up spreading their culture and changing much of the world. As mentioned before, this is a very visual production and its great watching the three male dancers improvise and move in synchronicity with methods taken from jazz ballet and New Orleans street dancing. Also enjoyable is Wendall Pierce’s very charismatic performance, especially when his eyes flash like the devil when Mr Game moves in for the ‘closer‘. Wynton's hand picked musicians bring much personality to the proceedings as well, particularly the three female singers and blues/country guitarist and vocalist Doug Wamble, whose southern drawl can sound charming and also ironically troubling.

What makes ‘Fonky Lowdown’ so powerful is that Marsalis has very thoroughly laid out what dangers lay in wait in today’s world. In a recent interview Wynton pointed out, “This is no time to be sleep walking”. I was already aware of much of what Marsalis relates here, but I have never heard it all illustrated in such a cohesive manner, once again, in Wynton’s own words, “showing us a blueprint on how to rise above populist propaganda”. Don’t expect easy answers or liberal platitudes on how to make things better. Also don't expect cliche shaming and a roll call of past grievances. Instead, Marsalis is shooting for bigger game as he displays the thinking that allows those that should know better to stand by while the 'Mr Games' of the world go about their business. 'Fonky Lowdown' is a call for everyone to pay attention and be ready to act if needed.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Between Nothingness & Eternity

Live album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.49 | 21 ratings
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Although most Mahahvishnu Orchestra fans tend to go for their first two studio albums, its the third album, the live “Between Nothingness and Eternity”, that best captures what this band was best at, high energy hard rock. Whereas other fusion pioneers of the day were mixing and matching various genres and cultures, Maha went straight for the rock jugular, mixing a Deep Purple/Hendrix Experience adrenaline fueled rhythm overdrive with solos that fused bebop agility with rock n roll sledge hammer tonality. There was nothing particularly subtle about this group, and that’s why many jazz fans were not interested, but many rock fans embraced them as a band that set a higher standard for ultimate shredding. “Eternity‘s” recording quality is far from perfect, there is distortion and uneven sound balances, the performance is somewhat sloppy, but that intense explosive energy that was this band’s salient feature comes through more on this live outing than it does on their previous studio albums. Consider “Eternity” to be the first ‘punk jazz’ album if you will.

There are lots of cool musical highlights to be found on here. Side one opens with McLaughlin’s signature sweeping tamboura like guitar arpeggios that promise a special performance to come. A few minutes into this side Cobham launches into a high speed double time beat that foreshadows the hardcore thrash scene that will happen in the 80s. This side closes with “Sister Andrea”, which features one of the funkiest Fender Rhodes riffs ever. The best highlight on side two comes when the rest of the band backs off and allows Cobham and McLaughlin to take off on a high speed conversation that matches the old Mitchell/Hendrix jams for a display of two guys who really enjoy each other’s musical company. That interchange also shows how Maha was essentially a McLaughlin and Cobaham band. Bassist Rick Laird does well, but he is essentially a jazz musician. Violinist Jerry Goodman digs into the funk numbers, but seems over his head when Cobham turns up the tempo. Keyboardist Jan Hammer deals with the music by more or less imitating McLaughlin.

John’s original idea for the band was supposed to be himself, Cobham, Larry Young on keyboards, Jean Luc Ponty on violin and Tony Levin on bass. That would have been the better band as both Young and Ponty would have brought more original ideas that could have stood on their own and countered McLaughlin’s intensity.

MAGIC MALIK Magic Malik Fanfare XP, Vol. 2

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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You may have noticed the recent drop off in new albums since the world wide pandemic put a serious dent in things. As many people seek the refuge of self quarantine, artists have been forced to dig through their recording archives and release things that may not have been put out under better circumstances. We can consider our selves very fortunate that Magic Malik was able to release “Fanfare XP Vol 2” while things cleared up in Europe for a while, because at this point, this album looks to be one of the best this year so far.

For many jazz woodwind players, the flute is a secondary instrument, something to play when they aren’t playing saxophone, but for Malik, it is his main axe, and it shows. Malik gets a big beefy sound out of the flute, no small feat as it can lean towards shrill thinness very easily. “Vol 2”, like many of his albums, features a fairly large ensemble with big sounding horns like the trombone to compete with, but Malik’s muscular flute tone is always able to elbow its way into the mix. Making yourself heard is not always easy in a Malik composition as he often has more than one solo going at a time, plus most tracks feature busy ensemble arrangements that compete with the soloists for air time.

You could roughly categorize the music on “Vol 2” as ‘nu jazz’, due to its use of modern beats and tasteful electronics, but unlike other trendy nu jazz offerings that tend to be lite and fluffy, Malik’s compositions are big on substance and innovation. Its that balance of attractive modernity and deep complex musical arrangements that promote concentrated listening that make “Vol 2” such a success. It’s not boorishly heavy, but it is definitely way more than hip background. If you want to hear something new in jazz that will still sound great 50 years from now, “Fanfare XP Vol 2” is your ticket.

ROBERT FRIPP (No Pussyfooting) (with Eno)

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 3.69 | 6 ratings
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Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s “No Pussyfooting” will probably be regarded as a ground breaking recording in the long run of music history, but it was barely noticed when it came out in the mid-70s. In fact, I would imagine that many who bought this back then were pretty disappointed in what they had just purchased. Both artists at the time were enjoying successful art rock careers and I am sure many were looking for a cross between Fripp’s King Crimson and Eno’s Roxy Music, only to find that their collaborative effort sounded nothing like either of those bands. This album is not the first ambient album, but it is one of the first to be marketed toward a rock/pop audience, and as such it broke all sorts of new ground that both artists would go on to enjoy as ambient music continued to be a big part of their careers, as well as the careers of the thousands of artists that they inspired. Ever since the mid-90s electronica boom, ambient music has become a very popular genre, and you can trace the roots of that popularity right back to Fripp and Eno.

Side one opens with an F# drone that Fripp solos over in a raga like style in the Dorian minor mode. His solos are given infinite sustain via Eno’s tape loop methods. Once again, Eno was not the first person to use tape loops like this, but possibly the first to use them in this sort of Hendrix meets Shankar psychedelic sound that would eventually attract the more experimental side of the rock world. Side two uses a busier backdrop via Eno’s VCS3 synthesizer as Fripp solos in E Ionian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes before finally fading out. Fortunately Robert is a very talented soloist who has no problem constructing an interesting narrative over a drone like background, otherwise, this album could have been a real snooze-fest.

Given the long history of ambient music at this point, this album does not sound particularly unusual anymore, but back in the day many of us were watching the record spin around for the first time and wondering when was the drum beat going to kick in, ha. It never kicks in. Welcome to your brave new ambient future.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN Extrapolation

Album · 1969 · Post Bop
Cover art 3.76 | 19 ratings
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John McLaughlin, much like his contemporary and sometimes band mate, Chick Corea, started his career with a very distinctive style, only to abandon that approach and tone things down for the rest of his career. Interesting to note that both were influenced by guru types when they changed their way of playing. “Extrapolation” is McLughlin’s first album as a leader and features a young guitarist willing to take crazy chances while plying with a fierce intensity that never totally returns on subsequent albums. Don’t get me wrong, John had many more great performances and recordings throughout the rest of his career, but he never again played with the freedom and abandon he does here. This McLaughlin has a rough approach that is both avant-garde and rootsy at the same time, especially compared to the po0lished sheen of many of his later albums.

The music on “Extrapolation” is all McLaughlin originals that combine bop, blues, free jazz, RnB and Indian music. Besides John, the next star of the show here is the versatile and energetic drumming of Tony Oxley, who is right at home playing anything from bluesy grooves to all out free onslaughts. John Surman’s gnarly baritone fit’s the gritty music perfectly as he adds his solos that combine RnB riffing with soaring free jazz. Brian Odges is an anchor on bass, and his well recorded input adds strength to the mix. Many of the tunes are very short and eclectic ranging from ballads to avant-garde bebop, but the best tracks are the longer ones where the band is given time to build their intensity. Listen to John’s intense note bends influenced by Indian music. Along with dropping the freer tonality, McLaughlin never recorded as much in that style again. Indian note bends have always been a part of his playing, but on this first album he merges this with a soulful blues flavor that adds so much bite to his solos. Some of John’s subsequent work with Miles Davis also features his earlier approach to the guitar.

MAX ROACH Deeds, Not Words (aka Conversation)

Album · 1958 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.41 | 4 ratings
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If you are looking for a midway point on that line that runs from ‘out there’ bebop to free jazz, Max Roach’s “Deeds not Words” would be a good place to start. Max is one of those young guys in the 1940s who helped invent the new radical style that became known as bebop. As time moved on, Max always stayed involved in what was happening, making him the perfect musician in the late 50s to craft a sound that bridged that short gap from Yardbird to Ornette. His crew on here share a similar vision, particularly trumpeter Booker Little, who eschewed the bluesier sounds of Miles and Lee Morgan for a busy and angular bop approach much like his frequent band mate, Eric Dolphy. Although the hectic energy on here is east coast, Max’s use of a three horn front line to build complex arrangements and intertwining contrapuntal lines is more like the west coast innovators of the day. Along with Booker, the front line includes George Coleman on tenor and Ray Draper on tuba.

Most of the tracks on here fall in the up tempo range, plus there is one ballad, and one odd sort of Latin groove titled “Filide“. “Filide” is a Draper original and it features the tuba prominently. Tuba can not be an easy instrument to solo on and Ray does about as good as anyone could hope to. The ballad, title track “Deeds not Words”, gives Little a great vehicle to show off how much he can do with and to a melody. Its interesting to note that Max’s drumming foreshadows the way drummers play today. Instead of just keeping time on the ride cymbal, Max is all over the kit and quite free in his approach as he maintains a constant interchange with the soloists. Although the original version of this album probably carries a hefty tag, the vinyl re-issue titled “Converstion” can be found at a very reasonable price.

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.

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.

FREDDIE HUBBARD Keep Your Soul Together

Album · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 3.48 | 3 ratings
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Following leads set by Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis, jazz fusion with a bit (or a lot) of psychedelic production became a trend for a short while with varying degrees of success and/or failure for different artists. Freddie Hubbard’s 1973 release, “Keep Your Soul Together” is not exactly a particularly ‘trippy’ outing, but still there is a subtle touch of that ‘cosmic’ space that was hip at that time. Like Freddie’s career itself, this album is very eclectic ranging from laid back pop to frantic free form flights, all tied together with some spacious reverb and tasteful use of electronic effects.

Side one opens with “Brigitte”, a medium groove laid back ballad that might have you thinking this album is one of Freddie’s more commercial outings, but things pick up more steam after this opener. Side one closes with a lengthy workout on the album’s title track which is soul jazz topped with heated fusion solos and driven with interesting rhythm change-ups and horn arrangements. Side two continues the energy buildup with “Spirits of Trane”, a high speed post bop track played with a free jazz abandon. The album closes with, “Destiny’s Children”, which is classic Miles’ styled angry funk rock with the required screaming horn solo. Is it possible that this one is a slightly sarcastic shot at the dark prince.

With only four tracks for the whole album, one can easily surmise that there is plenty of solo room for the players as each number gets stretched out. All the soloists are good, but none can match Freddie who is in top form throughout and shows why he was/is the best trumpet player of his generation. This isn’t one of Hubbard’s best albums, it lacks a certain consistency in vision, but there is enough good 70s style jams on here to make it worth checking out.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS No Energy Crisis

Boxset / Compilation · 1974 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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ABC Records compilation, “No Energy Crisis” , features one of the most unattractive and banal album covers ever, yet houses some of the hottest avant-garde jazz from that era. In fact, this may very well be the best compilation of early avant-garde jazz ever as it contains an all-star roster that leaves very few of the big names out. It also helps that almost every track is an absolute smoker as the players enthusiastically dig into the ‘new sound’ of the early days of free jazz. Free jazz is the tie that binds much of these artists together, but there is plenty of variety on here too. John Klemmer plays loose and noisy jazz rock, Gato Barbieri performs wild and chaotic Brazilian grooves, while Marion Brown backs his saxophone explorations with an African percussion ensemble. Side two of this four record set features some imaginative ensemble arrangements by Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler. At least four tracks on “No Energy Crisis” did not appear on any previous recordings, which furthers its value to the jazz vinyl collector.

Like most compilations, “No Energy Crisis” never made it to CD, or even vinyl re-issue, but it still shows up at used record resources for fairly reasonable prices. If you want to hear eleven of the biggest names in early avant-garde jazz history playing at their best, its all right here.

DIZZY GILLESPIE The Small Groups 1945-1946 Original Recordings

Boxset / Compilation · 1970 · Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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If you are looking for that unmistakable sound of early bebop on vinyl and don’t want to spend a bundle, then you might want to keep an eye out for, “Dizzy Gillespie: The Small Groups {1945 - 1946}”, on the Phoenix label. This is an excellent compilation that came out in the 70s and shows up in used stores and the internet for very reasonable prices. The music on here comes from five different recording sessions, every track features Dizzy, while other tracks feature varying bebop greats such as Charlie Parker, Al Haig, Sonny Stitt, Curly Russell and more.

Side one opens with a band that is more in a pre-bop swing style, but when we hit track five, Sonny Stitt and Al Haig have stepped in to push things in a more modern direction. The big revelation all through this side is Chuck Wayne’s jaggedy swinging guitar lines. Alice Roberts guests to sing a bluesy “A Handfulla of Gimmie”, and “Blue ‘N’ Boogie” features a young Dexter Gordon on tenor sax. Side two features Charlie Parker and starts off with a band that is competent, but not quite up to what Bird n Diz are capable of. For the second half of this side, Al Haig takes the piano chair and Curly Russell picks up the bass and now we are in abstract cubist bebop heaven. The recorded sound on “Salt Peanuts” is perfect for this era, unfortunately, the next three tracks fall off a bit in the high end department, but are still enjoyable and musically superb, the best tracks on the record.

JOEY DEFRANCESCO In The Key Of The Universe

Album · 2019 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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With a title like "In the Key of the Universe", and promotional advertising that plays up Pharoh Sanders' contributions on saxophone, it would be easy to think that Joey DeFrancesco is trying to cash in on the current 'spiritual jazz' revival on his new album. Its true that there are some tunes on here that reference Sanders' past as the originator of the spiritual modal jazz style, but none of this is gratuitous or insincere, and there is also such a wide variety of music on here that the modal jams are just a part of what goes down. Also, Sanders only appears on a couple tracks, elsewhere on here the very capable Troy Roberts supplies the tenor, alto and soprano sax work. In short, 'In the Key' is one of Joey's better albums and is rife with inspired solos and top notch song writing.

DeFrancesco's rapid fire solos take the Coltrane idea of 'sheets of sound' to new levels on the Hammond B3. This is used to good effect on the energetic post bop of "Awake and Blissed", and then given a double dose on the bebop barn burner, "It Swung Wide Open". The next couple tracks feature Pharoh, who still sounds as great as ever, as he takes a somewhat laid back and mature approach to classic material such as "The Creator has a Master Plan". Some other highlights include a couple of mystical samba lounge outings and a few hard groove blues numbers.

On the two closing tracks, Joey caps things off with something we don't hear often enough, really interesting melodies set to non-cliche chord changes. Both of these songs would make for great vehicles for others to try out their creativity on. The production is a little heavy on the reverb, which sounds fine on the groove numbers, but a bit heavy handed on the uptempo ones.

GIL EVANS The Gil Evans Orchestra Play the Music of Jimi Hendrix

Album · 1974 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.14 | 5 ratings
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When The “Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix” came out in the early 70s, it was a big deal, and for good reason too. Attempts to merge heavy rock and orchestral music were still a new thing then and many attempts at such a merger were often a clumsy mess. Gil was given much well deserved praise in that he quite successfully took the music of Jimi Hendrix and gave it a big band treatment that somehow managed to capture the best of both the rock and big band jazz worlds. Flash forward several decades to today and this album still holds up, but since it became a blueprint for others to follow, its rockin big band sounds are hardly unusual anymore. Late night entertainment shows such as Saturday Night Live and David Letterman have been featuring big bands playing classic rock and RnB tunes for some time now and several tracks on the ‘Evans Plays Hendrix’ album sound like they would fit in well during a commercial break while Paul Shaffer or G.E. Smith is trying to keep the audience hyped.

Opening track, “Angel”, is probably the one closest to a late night break rave up, especially since it features the sax melody and solo of David Sanborn, the owner of one of the most imitated horn sounds on late night TV. “Cross Town Traffic” and “Foxey Lady” are the other two that also fall more in this direction. “Castles Made of Sand” is the first track to really head in an interesting and alternative direction as Evans introduces counter melodies that hang like dissonant clouds and totally transform the song. “Up from the Skies” is essentially a jazz song to begin with, which might explain why it works so well as Evans once again produces an appealing murkiness that takes the track towards exotic Sun Ra territory. “1983 - A Merman I Should Turn to Be” is also given an interesting facelift as it becomes a spaghetti western movie theme. The least successful track is “Voodoo Chile”, whose melody is played by Howard Johnson who sounds like he is humming through his horn producing a non-appealing kazoo type sound.

This is a Gil Evans album, so the performances and orchestrations are outstanding, its just that this album probably would have aged better if he had gone more in the experimental direction, and less in the rockin direction.

PIGBAG Dr Heckle And Mr Jive

Album · 1982 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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If you have been keeping up with current sounds from England, then possibly you are familiar with today’s youthful streetwise high energy music that features a charged up punky approach to Afrobeat, often with some hip hop, spiritual jazz and other urban flavors thrown into the mix as well. Likewise, if you have followed UK’s popular music for many decades then possibly your initial introduction to today’s sound might have carried some reminders from the past, if so, then its possible you are recalling a short lived early 80s outfit known as Pigbag. Its hard to believe that Pigbag happened almost 40 years ago, but back then they turned a lot of heads with their hyperactive and free wheeling approach to current African dance music. There are some big differences between today’s scene and Pigbag. The scene today is driven by those of African descent who are bound together in political and cultural struggle and their music reflects that. Pigbag, on the other hand, was predominantly (if not entirely) Caucasian and not particularly political. Another difference is that today's players are more sophisticated and technically developed than Pigbag. At this point it should be pointed out that the originator of street level politically charged African dance music is of course Fela Kuti and his Afrobeat bands. Pigbag was merely an approximation of what Fela was all about.

The band was started by Chris Hamlin and Roger Freeman, but when Chris Lee and James Johnston joined, the ability to move beyond just jamming with friends to more professional level aspirations became possible. In the early 80s they were the right thing at the right time. The English youth had burned out on punk rock and a more biracial music scene was building around the 2-tone ska movement. It was during this initial heady success that Pigbag released their first long player, “Dr Heckle and Mr Jive”. Within these grooves you can hear their recipe for success as they play hyper African dance beats topped with electronic sounds and screeching horns. Pigbag was not a particularly technical band, their rhythms were solid and the horn charts were tight, but no one in the band could really build a solo, no big deal, this was dance music, not jazz. To this day this is still a fun album, not great for deep listening, but perfect for a party, and given what is happening today, it still sounds somewhat contemporary.

BIG BEAT Sounds Good. Feels Good

Album · 2019 · Big Band
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Big Beat is a new big band originating from William Patterson University in New Jersey that also doubles as a hot horn driven RnB outfit with Allison McKenzie on vocals, plus when they break it down to the rhythm section, they are also an intense fusion combo that is not afraid to take things on an ‘outside’ trip. There is a lot of versatility at work here as each song on “Sounds Good Feels Good” displays a different side of the group. Although this is very much a modern ensemble, there is a healthy 70s style looseness to the group, as well as a similar open-minded approach to eclectic material.. It’s no surprise then that their playing often recalls other 70s big band leaders such as Thad Jones, Don Ellis and Gil Evans who embraced, fusion, RnB and experimentalism in wide open anything goes arrangements.

Allison McKenzie sings lead on seven of the nine tracks and she has the sort of range and versatility that should make her well known with or without her fellow band members. Her style easily shifts from jazz to RnB, making her the perfect vocal front person for this versatile group. Her solo voice is good enough, but occasionally she double tracks her voice into some very interesting harmonies and vocal arrangements. The two instrumental numbers give the band a chance to get crazy. On “Just Too Much”, Will Dougherty’s electric piano solo pushes drummer Joe Spinelli into some free form mayhem, and on “A Penny for Your Thoughts”, the band peaks with an aggressive hard rock drive topped with an equally intense electric trombone solo.

Four of the vocal numbers are McKenzie originals, and they hold up well against some classic covers composed by Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and the Jackson 5. This band is just getting started, and if they can keep this together the future looks very bright as they hit a good balance between bring the party energy and complicated and challenging arrangements. I would imagine that this is a band best enjoyed in a live situation.

HENDRIK MEURKENS Cobb's Pocket

Album · 2019 · Hard Bop
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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For those not hip to pro musician lingo, the word pocket refers to keeping a steady groove, and if a drummer has ‘pocket’, then the rest of the band can solo with confidence knowing their man is not going to drop the beat or lose the momentum. One of the kings of pocket for several decades now has been Jimmy Cobb, the drummer for Miles Davis’ famous groove fest known as “Kind of Blue”, as well as countless other well known jazz recordings on up to the present. It should come as no surprise then that when Hendrik Meurkens wanted to record his new album of hard bop and soul jazz numbers he reached out to his old friend Jimmy to man the drum chair one more time, hence his new CD title, “Cobb’s Pocket”. Joining Hendrik and Cobb on here are two other veterans who have jammed often with Meurkens in the past, Mike LeDonne on B3 and Peter Bernstein on guitar.

Hendrik is somewhat of an odd one in the jazz world in that he is a virtuoso harmonica player. He started out on vibraphone, which he still teaches, but switched to harmonica early on and remains one of the few jazz performers on the instrument. Don’t expect too much of the bluesy and country sounding clichés we often associate with the harmonica, instead, Meurken’s playing is infused with rapid bebop runs that recall saxophonists like Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy. Some of the wide interval leaps he takes almost sound like vibraphone licks, possibly he pictures the vibe keyboard while choosing his notes. LeDonne and Bernstein fill out the sound with a mix of blues and bop sourced soulful solos.

Three of the tunes are Henrik originals. Meurken’s tunes remind me of 60s Quincy Jones in that they would make for great TV theme songs. Other tunes include a Latin flavored Mancini “Slow Hot Wind” and Sam Jones’ hard driving “Unit Seven”. Possibly the top track is the high speed title tune, “Cobb’s Pocket”.

STEVIE WONDER Innervisions

Album · 1973 · RnB
Cover art 4.60 | 16 ratings
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Stevie Wonder was on a roll in the 70s, knocking out one great album after another that placed at the top of the game in RnB, pop and singer/songwriter productions. With so many good albums to choose from, picking the best would be hard, but you couldn’t be too far off if your choice was 1973’s “Innervisions”. Here we have a near perfect Wonder album, with each song being a polished gem that bears the obvious fruits of endless care and toil. When you listen to all the ornate instrumental details, you can hear the immense amount of labor that went into this project, but just let the songs sing and you will be immersed in emotional narratives that cover the spectrum from mournful to celebratory.

“Innervisions” is an eclectic album that ranges from the hard funk of “Living for the City”, to the art balladry of “Visions” and “All in Love is Fair”, to the jazzy abstractions of “Too High”. The music is inventive and became very influential over the years, but likewise, the lyrics are heartfelt and can hit hard in their insights and unflinching truth as Stevie address personal turmoil in relationships, as well as the irrational hatred and fear of his fellow man. Wonder performs almost every instrument on here himself, with some limited help from guests on a few tracks, but the result does not sound stifled as some home recording projects can sound, instead, Stevie by himself sounds like one hell of a hot jam session, no easy task.

RAY OBIEDO Carousel

Album · 2019 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Even if you don’t recognize his name, if you are a fan of contemporary jazz and RnB you have probably heard the guitar playing of Ray Obiedo many times by now. Ray is a busy session guy who has recorded with just about everyone in his field, including heavy weights like Herbie Hancock, Sheila E and George Duke. Ray also releases his own albums, and many of those are favored by the jazz radio crowd, so there is a good chance when you are hearing jazz as background, that might be Ray as well. “Carousel” is Obiedo’s latest CD and it finds him serving up an eclectic mix of RnB, Brazilian, Cuban, smooth jazz and more.

Ray invited 32 musicians to work with him on “Carousel”, with many coming from his hometown area of Northern California where they work with local stalwarts such as Tower of Power and Santana. Some of the better known guests include Bob Mintzer, Toots Thieleman, Peter Garibaldi and Andy Narell. As mentioned earlier, every track carries a distinctive rhythm and flavor as Ray attempts to cover all the bases. Two of the more energetic songs come early on with the RnB of “Jinx” and the Latin drive of “Sharp Aztec”. Bob Mintzer’s funky sax solo on “Modern World” is also a winner. Possibly the top track though is a mystical cover of Mancini’s, “Lujon”. First of all, it is a Mancini composition, and secondly, the ambient drift and arrangement on this track has a more modern sound. A couple other songs seem geared towards the radio in a smooth jazz context. Throughout “Carousel”, Obiedo plays soulful licks and solos that recall George Benson and Wes Montgomery, two other guitarists who were adept at combining hard bop grit with pop sheen.

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND At Fillmore East

Live album · 1971 · Blues
Cover art 4.25 | 9 ratings
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Those who know the Allman Brothers Band well know that there are two distinctly different versions of the band, the first version with Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, and the second version after Duane and Berry had both died in separate motorcycle accidents. The second version of the band was/is a talented rock band, but no match for the first version of the band. The original Allmans led by brother Duane were an absolute force of nature, one of the most creative and talented groups of their generation. The fact that the early Allmans were called a rock band probably had more to do with their hippy garb and their gigs with other rockers, but listen to the music, there is actually very little rock to be found, instead you will hear plenty of blues in swing time, some jazz fusion, southern RnB, and a touch of country too. Whereas many others in their peer group were following the blues rock of Cream and Hendrix, the Allmans were charting their own hybrid combinations that did not sound like anyone else. Their first two studio albums got some attention, but it wasn’t until they released the incendiary “At Fillmore East” that people began to recognize what this group was capable of. This only makes sense because the Allmans were first and foremost a very live act. These guys knew how to jam and improvise in ways that other groups could only imagine. The Brother’s improvs were not always your typical two chord hippy jam, they often went off on tangents that showed diverse influences from Indian ragas, soul jazz, rock fused bluegrass and creative creations of their own that are hard to define or label.

Side one of “At Fillmore East” opens with a trio of blues numbers, on “Stormy Monday” they show their interest in soul jazz when the band goes into a double time swing while Gregg Allman knocks out a B3 solo in the style of Jimmy McGriff and Jack McDuff. On side two’s “You Don’t Love Me”, the band hits their trademark locomotive groove and now we are on our way. Side three is the jazz side with the lengthy Santana sounding, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, taking up much of the side. Side four closes out the album with the hard charging groove of “Whipping Post”, an all-time Allman Brothers favorite. Each of these lengthy jams usually contain side variations and excursions into styles that I can’t describe because they don’t fit any known genre. The whole band was extremely talented, but Duane Allman was one of the most creative guitarists of his generation, possibly topped only by Jimi Hendrix, his fellow super nova who burned so bright for a couple of years and then suddenly left us. If you want to hear the Allman Brothers at their very best, "At Fillmore East" is the one,

WYNTON MARSALIS JLCO with Wynton Marsalis and St. Louis Symphony : Swing Symphony

Album · 2019 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Certainly Wynton Marsalis has worn many different hats in his career as a musician, but possibly his strongest talent is as a classic 3rd stream composer, and his latest effort “Swing Symphony”, does much to bear this out. Much like Stravinsky and Ravel, Marsalis is a ‘natural composer’, that is to say, no matter how complex or complicated his music may get, it always seems to roll along as naturally as someone walking down the street whistling a favorite melody. This is an ambitious piece that strives to present the history of jazz in a concert hall setting, but don’t expect a dry history lesson, do expect some swingin music and plenty of hot solos backed by driving rhythmic accompaniment.

Much of “Swing Symphony” recalls that time period when jazz first met classical under the guidance of composers like Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud and others. In that respect this piece could be seen as ‘future retro’ in that it captures the modern tone of a certain era that manages to remain modern in appearance for all history, for instance, the always futuristic style known as art deco. In many ways, the more experimental music of the 20s and 30s is the art deco of the musical world. Wynton’s symphony does not stay in the 30s, but even as the presented musical styles move up to the late 20th century, its that early mix of classical and jazz that marks the overall tone of this piece.

Avoiding a laborious retelling of all the events in “Swing Symphony”, it is interesting to note some of the highlights. Before the symphony gets into jazz’s roots as ragtime, there is a brief opening section that recalls Ellington’s version of African music. Yes, it all starts with Africa, and I never doubted Wynton would start anywhere else. After this, the ragtime arrangements kick in and then there is a trumpet break, who is this, Buddy Bolden or Louie Armstrong or possibly a little bit of both. In the third movement of the symphony we find ourselves in the swing era and Wynton does a great job of capturing the sound of the Ellington saxophone section.

The fourth movement opens like a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie as we move from bebop to Afro-Cuban. A particularly melancholic saxophone melody closes out this movement and it is quite possibly a reference to the tragic downfall of one of jazz’s most prominent geniuses, Charlie Parker. As we move through the last three movements the music becomes more abstract and dissonant, often recalling Edgar Varese, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Gil Evans. Movement five features a modal hard bop jam in the style of Coltrane and Miles, and in movement six we get some rather brutish and clumsy rhythms, possibly a satirical jab at fusion. Movement seven brings back an African groove, this time existing halfway between the worlds of the Duke and Sun Ra with a dash of Stravinsky and the symphony closes out with a floating abstract return to swing.

“Swing Symphony” is one of those pieces that should gain strength through the ages and hopefully it will find its deserved place in the concert hall 3rd stream repertoire. Its easy to imagine a future symphonic program that might include Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto”, Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige’, and Marsalis’ swingin symphony.

ISAAC HAYES The Isaac Hayes Movement (aka Superstarshine Vol. 31)

Album · 1970 · RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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“The Isaac Hayes Movement” is Isaac’s third studio album and is also the immediate predecessor to his highly acclaimed soundtrack masterpiece, “Shaft”. A lot of the diverse elements that would make “Shaft” such a powerful statement are all here, just not as fully developed yet. There are four songs on “Movement”, and each one has its own distinctive flavor. Album opener “I Stand Accused” is one of those long confessional soul ballads that opens with a detailed spoken soliloquy, a technique used by Hayes before, and also favored by artists like Barry White, James Brown and Betty Wright. In this very convincing spoken word segment, Isaac confesses to his best friend’s girlfriend that he is madly in love with her. Its all here; passion, complication, human frailty and no doubt an inevitable heartache and broken friendships. Side one ends with more modern psychological drama in the form of “One Big Unhappy Family”, a story of a ‘good’ family by all appearances who do their best to hide their emotionally bankrupt lives. This one carries its message with sublime chord progressions and subtle orchestrations, all Hayes trademarks.

Side two opens with more heartache in the form of Burt Bacharach’s “I Just don’t Know what to do with Myself”, like most Bacharach creations, this one is top notch both musically and lyrically. All three of these opening songs are great, but the real masterpiece comes with Isaac’s sprawling arrangement of George Harrison’s “Something”. Its on this track that Hayes’ shows the diversity that will go on to make “Shaft” such a success. During the 12 minute multi-movement “Something” opus, Isaac combines, psychedelic pop, classical orchestral arrangements, soul balladry, big band rave ups, progressive rock, free form jazz rock freak outs and more. It’s a very early 70s sort of creative creation as it slowly builds and finally culminates in a raging electric violin solo by John Blair. If you are looking for Isaac Hayes at his most creative, “Something” has got it.

MARIUS GUNDERSEN Brazilian Guitar Music by Marco Pereira

Album · 2019 · Third Stream
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Something wonderful happened in the world of music starting sometime in the 1920s and continuing to today and that is the merging of jazz and European classical traditions to create new modern hybrids. Its hard to think of a composer past the 1920s that wasn’t influenced by jazz’s sophisticated syncopated rhythms, and certainly jazz musicians had no chance to escape the classical influence as more than likely most of their advanced lessons centered around Chopin, Bach and the rest. In today’s musical universe, other musical components can enter the picture as well, such as Indian ragas, Indonesian Gamelan and Latin American traditions. Its within that merger of classical, jazz and Brazilian practices that we find the new album by Marius Noss Gundersen, “Brazilian Guitar Music by Marco Pereira”.

The title says it all, Gundersen’s new album is a collection of compositions for classical acoustic guitar written by Marco Periera, who’s classical compositions are inspired by Brazilian song forms. In the album liner notes Periera expresses his gratitude to Marius for producing the first album entirely devoted to Marco’s music. Marco also includes very helpful notes for every track on the album, which is nice because very few of us are going to be familiar with all of the Brazilian traditions he is referencing, so its good to have some program notes as a guide if you want to learn more.

The compositions are excellent, deep enough for close and repeated listening, but also pleasant enough to be attractive to people who might not know a thing about Latin jazz or contemporary classical music. Marius’ guitar playing is impressive as he tends to bring out the delicate side of this rather difficult instrument. Listening to how well he can control volume as an aid to expression proves that he is definitely in that upper echelon of guitarists. Fast passages sound unrushed and handled with ease, this CD is a treasure chest for fans of nimble finger picking in any style. So many good tracks on here, but some standouts include, “Estrela da Manha” with its mystical mixolydian chord changes, “Bate-Coxa” has an almost Carribean sounding celebratory style, and album closer, Baiao Cansada” with its modernistic Lydian melodies.

ERIC DOLPHY Musical Prophet : The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

Boxset / Compilation · 2018 · Post Bop
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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In early July 1963 Eric Dolphy went into the studio and recorded several new tunes as well as a couple of covers. He worked with a variety of ensembles ranging from mini big band to smaller combos, as well as several duets with bassist Richard Davis. Several tracks were selected from that session and released on the album that came to be known as “Conversations”. Several years after Eric’s death, more of the session was released under the title “Iron Man”. Recently the good folks at Resonance collected all these recordings together, plus some other odds and ends and a few alternate takes and released the whole thing as “Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet”, and needless to say, this sucker is bursting with goodness.

Its nice to have all these recordings in one place now because the previous albums were sometimes frustrating in what was kept and what was left out, now its all here in one package. The variety on this CD is admirable. For those who like Eric’s bebop side there’s “Jitterbug Waltz” and “Iron Man”. Dolphy displays his ultra modern compositional style with “Mandrake” and “Burning Spear” and his duets with Richard Davis show a deep meditative side that results in chamber music of concert hall quality. There is one track taken from a different recording session, and that is “A Personal Statement”, an avant-garde tone poem that features vocalist David Schwartz vocalizing lyrics about Jim Crow laws in the US south.

For Eric Dolphy fans and those interested in the more experimental side of 60s jazz, this collection is essential. Of most interest to many of us is how advanced many of Eric’s compositions were. Listening to how he shifts time signatures and tempos while playing both inside and outside of the chord changes we hear much of what is happening in jazz today. Eric was not really a ‘free player’, and he was also far from conventional, instead, Dolphy had unique takes on composition and tonality that were decades ahead of his time.

ERIC DOLPHY The Eric Dolphy Memorial Album (aka Conversations aka 1928-1964 aka Memorial aka Music Matador aka Jitterbug Waltz)

Album · 1963 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Although its been known by many names over the years, the album that Eric Dolphy released in 1963 is mostly known by the title, “Conversations”, so that is the title we will use for this review. “Conversations” is a sort of pivotal album for Eric, coming after the expansive neo-bop of “Far Cry” and right before the avant-garde art jazz of 64’s “Out to Lunch”. “Conversations” does not possess the unity of those two, but instead is rather eclectic as it features both Dolphy’s bop side, as well as his more artsy ‘long haired’ leanings.

The album opens with the classic “Jitterbug Waltz”, played somewhat faithfully but with some decidedly ‘outside’ flourishes. Eric plays flute on here and turns in a dazzling solo. Woody Shaw also turns in a hot ride that toys endlessly with the original melody. Side one of the original LP closes out with “Musical Matador”, a rambling Caribbean number that features a rather large ensemble in joyous near cacophony. Side two features a lengthy duet with bassist Richard Davis that is neither free jazz, concert hall chamber music or relaxed post bop conversation, but contains elements of all of those. The album closes with Eric playing solo alto sax on a virtuoso and passionate rendition of “Love Me”.

The salient feature to “Conversations” is the second side on which Dolphy’s playing is isolated without a backing ensemble. It is on these tracks that his melodic skills are given free reign and the inventiveness of his playing achieves greater clarity.

ERIC DOLPHY Iron Man

Album · 1968 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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Although it was not released until 1968, the tracks for Eric Dolphy’s “Iron Man” were recorded in 1963 at the same sessions that produced the album “Conversations”. This all went down about one year before Dolphy released his art jazz masterpiece, “Out to Lunch”, so needless to say, the material on “Iron Man” is outstanding and a must have for any Dolphy fan. Although Eric and Sun Ra are both well known leaders in the world of avant-garde jazz, you do not normally hear much similarities in their music, except on this CD on which Dolphy is working with a mini big band ensemble that often carries a very Ra like sound in its arrangements and orchestrations.

“Iron Man” opens with two high energy bebop numbers that show Dolphy taking the musical innovations of Charlie Parker just one step further. Both of these tracks are sheer joy and feature great solos from Eric, Woody Shaw and Bobby Hutcherson. The large horn ensemble on these two returns on “Burning Spear”, for an ambitious arrangement that sounds like some of today’s cutting edge jazz. Two other tracks feature Dolphy in ballad duets with bassist Richard Davis. These two songs are played a bit more straight ahead, but with no lack of melodic invention and creativity.

Some versions of “Iron Man” carry a bonus track called “A Personal Statement”. This one features Eric in duet with an opera singer and a small combo performing a bizarre waltz and some other strange stuff that would be hard to describe. This track displays Dolphy’s interest in the avant-garde concert hall music of his time. There is a piano player on this one that carries a strong Sun Ra influence, and surprise surprise, its Bob James, who would later go on to become one of the most successful money making pop jazz artists ever.

BRANFORD MARSALIS Branford Marsalis Quartet : The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul

Album · 2019 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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For those who like their jazz on the more heated side of things, Branford Marsalis’ “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul” should fit the bill. Its been said by more than a few that Branford’s studio recordings are no match for the fire of his live performances, and that may still be true, but this new one is probably the one studio recording that gets the closest to his live intensity, and likewise, this is also one of the better recordings in Branford’s lengthy career. Not everything on “Secret” is high energy, there is a variety of styles at work here, but it’s the ones on which Marsalis cuts loose that really mark this album as something special.

Opener “Dance of the Evil Toys” sets a modernist tone with its blend of a loping African rhythm, Stravinsky like snaky melody and harsh piano smashes. They throw a change up by introducing the ballad, “Conversation Among the Ruins”, as the second number, but it is a remarkable composition, something worthy of inclusion in future standard collections. The rest of the album is made up of a variety of 21st century post bop meets 60s free jazz with Branford and pianist Joey Calderazzo knocking out one high intensity solo after another. This all culminates with album closer, Keith Jarret’s “The Windup”, whose wacked out punky be-bop melody and arrangement sounds like something from today’s NYC scene, not the 70s when Keith wrote it. If there is one track that doesn’t quite fit, it’s the laid back Latin groove of “Cianna”, whose somewhat restrained solos don’t fit the energy and creativity of the rest of the album. Maybe that one is supposed to be the radio friendly song.

DAVE HOLLAND Uncharted Territories

Album · 2018 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Possibly “Uncharted Territories”, and its emphasis on free improvisation, is a bit of a nostalgia trip for Dave Holland. Back in the late 60s, Holland had performed with saxophonist Evan Parker in John Steven’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and although Holland would go on to leave the ‘free scene’, Parker made a career of it. Some time in recent years, Holland contacted Parker about the two of them recording some free duets like back in the day. As Dave reflected on this proposed endeavor, possibly he was drawn to another avant-garde memory, the group Circle he performed in with Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton, because when Holland decided to add Craig Taborn and Ches Smith to he and Evan’s recording date, he re-created an ensemble quite similar to the original Circle.

The tracks on “Uncharted Territories” are almost entirely spontaneous improvisations, with just a few tracks featuring some pre-conceived composition. To keep things interesting, the musicians vary the lineups for the sessions into various ensembles of 2,3, or 4 people. The tracks are usually fairly short by free improv standards and feature a wide variety of music. This is a very versatile and talented foursome, so the music can vary from interesting sound sculptures to quiet chamber passages to be-bop gone berserk and all out free jazz explosions. The integrity of the musicians involved shines through as they very carefully interact with each other.

This is a very good modern free jazz album, yet somehow disappointing too. Especially with a modernist like Taborn on board, one might expect something a little different from a classic free session. Electronics are listed in Craig’s instrument arsenal and yet they barely make an appearance. Judging by the musicians and instruments listed, it would be easy to expect some modern sound exploration and compositional constructs, and that does happen occasionally, but as mentioned earlier, this recording may be a lot about Holland’s attempt to re-visit his past.

BILL LASWELL Hear No Evil

Album · 1988 · World Fusion
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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“Hear No Evil” comes fairly early in Bill Laswell’s career as it is only his second solo album apart from his band, Material. Of course Bill would go on to release about another 50 million albums, but that’s a subject for another review, at this point in his career he was still taking some time with his albums. Back in the day “Hear No Evil” seemed somewhat profound in its somber ambient atmosphere and cultural mixtures, and its still a good album, but as the years have passed, it doesn’t have quite the same impact as it once did. For one thing, albums that feature cultural hodge-podges are much more common now, as well as records that feature ambience with a rhythmic groove.

At his very best, Bill Laswell can produce an almost religious sobering atmosphere filled with vague longing that is a skill at which he alone excels at. “Hear No Evil” is probably one of the first albums in which Bill displayed this talent, and on here he looks to southern US delta blues for the inspiration for his mournful and lonely melodies. Both Bill and guitarist Nicky Skopelitis play a lot of laid back slide work on here, which they then mix with Asiatic influences. Three percussionists, including Zakir Hussain, provide the percussion, but they are somewhat hemmed in by fairly standard Western time signatures. Indian fusion violinist, Shankar provides excellent solos that match with Bill’s background perfectly. Along with the somewhat straight rhythmic grounding, the other main fault with this album is the almost pop structure of the songs, which can push things in a new age direction.

There is one track that doesn’t quite fit, and that’s the clumsy funk of “Assassin”, take it out and you have a better album. The best tracks are the last two, and on the finale, “Kingdom Come”, the percussionists finally get a chance to go off. This album’s appeal can change with your mood, need some music for reflection, put this on, sometimes it almost seems to have the same impact it had back in the late 80s.

TONY MONACO The Definition Of Insanity

Album · 2019 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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If there is one musical genre I would not have expected to make a comeback, soul jazz would be that one, and that goes double for Hammond B3 soul jazz. Much like cool jazz and bebop, soul jazz seemed terminally connected to the era that spawned it, and the B3 itself became terribly un-hip during the 80s and seemed destined to stay that way. You can thank both England’s acid jazz scene and changing tastes in US commercial jazz radio for opening the door for funky bluesy B3 jazz to return, but not necessarily in a nostalgic way, this music has managed to adjust and sound relevant and hip again. One deserving recipient of this revival is B3organist Tony Monaco who has just favored us with his 11th album as a leader, “The Definition of Insanity”. This is one helluva fun album, and if that sounds too glib or shallow I’m sorry, but I have been listening to this one a lot lately and it never fails to pick me up, it’s a kick and a half.

“The Definition of Insanity” is an extremely eclectic album, yet it all works. Tony usually includes some originals on his albums, but this time he decided to go mostly with covers and just one original, and that’s where much of the eclecticism comes from as Tony takes on tunes from Phish, Lee Morgan, The Grateful Dead, Floyd Cramer and even includes a classic Italian ballad. Tony cites organists Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes and Larry Goldings as influences, and all that comes through in his flashy blues drenched solos. Along with plenty of classic soul jazz, this album also covers, Latin, Middle-Eastern grooves, country and a couple vocal ballads too.

Some highlights on here include the driving energy of Phish’s “Cars Trucks Buses”, the contemporary groove of Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down” and the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin” which makes for an excellent soul jazz number. On Floyd Cramer’s country classic, “Last Date”, Tony manages to make the B3 imitate a steel guitar. A couple ballads feature Tony’s vocals which may remind some of Willie Nelson, and that is a good thing. There is a lively energy to this entire outing, during my initial listens I just assumed this was a live date, it certainly sounds like one. As I said earlier, this is a ‘fun’ album, and I definitely need something like this in my collection sometimes.

THE BLACKBYRDS Flying Start

Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
Cover art 3.91 | 3 ratings
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Donald Byrd was not only one of the top jazz trumpeteers of the 60s and beyond, but also a music professor at Howard University and one of those talented individuals who could foresee upcoming musical trends and capitalize on them. Sometime in the early 70s, Donald recruited some of the top local talent for his university jazz ensemble and then figured if he could get these guys in a recording studio and on the road he could have a top notch jazz/RnB group on his hands, and so it came to pass that the Blackbyrds came to be. “Flying Start” was actually the Blackbyrd’s second album, but possibly the first one where they developed their own identity outside of Byrd’s well known persona and finds them working within their familiar territory of funk jazz and proto-disco RnB. The Blackbyrd’s early albums are their best, and “Flying Start” is no exception as it features super hot funky grooves and plenty of top notch jazz solos from the band members, plus horn work from some famous guests including Ernie Watts and George Bohanon.

Almost every track on here is good with some standouts including the supercharged disco funk of “I Need You”, possibly one of the best songs in its genre before disco became watered down and lost its funk roots. “Future Children, Future Hopes” and “Spaced Out” are instrumentals with extensive solos on the then newish Arp Odyssey. The Donald Byrd composed “The Baby” features sophisticated flute arrangements that show what he learned from his time working with Quincy Jones. Possibly the only weak track is the pop love song, “April Showers”, but even it can be endearing in its naïve saccharine sweetness. Any fan of 70s funk jazz, rare groove and the roots of acid jazz should own this one.

VASIL HADŽIMANOV Vasil Hadžimanov Band : Lines in Sand

Album · 2019 · World Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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How does one put out an interesting fusion record these days? Once the new kid on the block, fusion has been around for almost 60 years now, what can someone do that’s new in the fast approaching third decade of the new century. A good place to start would be to check out, “Lines In Sand”, the new CD by Balkan keyboardist Vasil Hadzimanov. Here we find music that combines influences from the Balkans and Middle East with American jazz, funk and RnB plus plenty of modern day sounds and rhythms via the youthful world of electronica and European nu jazz and you end up with a creation that opens new doors and presents fusions of fusion that you haven’t heard before.

Vasil Hadzimanov has been performing and composing professionally for almost 25 years now, and his group featured on here has been together since 2001. The fact that these guys have known each other for some time shows in their intuitive interactions. For being a fusion record, “Lines in Sand” is gratefully short on long winded solos. There are plenty of barn burning rides for Vasil and his band mates when needed, but often they eschew the solos for a more team oriented approach to improvisation. In that respect they recall classic Weather Report at their best. Of the solo spots themselves, honorable mention must go to guest saxophonist Rastko Obradovic and his Coltrane like excursions.

It’s the variety and the creativity within that variety that makes “Lines in Sand” work. Here is a band that can go from swinging acoustic post bop to Balkan techno within one song and make it sound as organic and natural as a hearty bowl of super crunch granola.

DON CHERRY Complete Communion

Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 4.39 | 9 ratings
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Recorded in 1966, “Complete Communion” was Don Cherry’s first album as sole leader. Having already spent time as co-leader with the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, Cherry was more than ripe for his turn to lead things. On board with him is Gato Barbieri, who had met Don in Rome and was interested in trying out this ‘new thing’ called free jazz. Rounding out the band is Henry Grimes on bass and Edward Blackwell on drums. Right off the bat this album bears a strong resemblance to Cherry’s early 60s work with Ornette, which is no big surprise since Blackwell is on drums. Eddie’s drumming with Ornette and Don had helped define the group since he joined them in 1960, and likewise his unique skills also help define this outing giving it some Ornette quartet similarity. Yes, there are those similarities in basic style, but “Complete Communion” is hardly a facsimile as both Cherry and Gato spin their unique take on what can happen within this 60s free bop framework.

The whole album was recorded in one take with every tune butted up against each other without break. In fact its not often exactly clear where one song starts and the other ends, which is a good thing. This one take approach makes for a very imaginative arrangement and it is one of this album’s big pluses. The various tunes that come and go owe a large debt to the work of Bird and Diz, which is also a very good thing. Once the players dig into their solos, they often have a four way conversation going, but also there are times where any one of the performers might step to the forefront, particularly Don and Gato. While Cherry is mostly melodic on here, Gato often goes for an Archie Shepp style barrage of notes and above the normal range high pitched excursions. Despite how well he handles all of this, Gato did not stay in the avant-garde scene for long, which is another feature that makes this album unique.

This is an excellent album that, much like what Miles was playing live at this time, rides that border between free jazz and really out there post bop. Fans of Don’s early work with Ornette will dig hearing another possibility of where that music could end up. It also helps that the recording quality on ‘Communion’ is very good. Some are critical of this album claiming that Cherry will find his true voice as a leader when he starts working with African and Asian influences, but taken on its own merit, this album is one far out be-bop trip.

LES MCCANN On Time

Album · 1962 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Appearing in 1962, the album “On Time” comes fairly early in Les McCann’s career. Les and his crack rhythm section of drummer Ron Jefferson and bassist Leroy Vinnegar had already recorded a couple of successful albums that had established them as leaders in the new combination of jazz, gospel and blues that was being called ‘soul jazz’. This trio didn’t really need any help, but I suppose in an attempt to push things a little further, ace guitarist Joe Pass was asked to join the band and make it a quartet for the recording of “On Time”. Joe is usually known for his ability to navigate fast moving be-bop changes and similar technically demanding fare, but on this McCann opus, he settles into the band’s blues groove and makes an already exciting group just a bit better. So successful was Pass’ merger with the band that he would go on to record with them again after this album.

“On Time’ opens with the hard driving up tempo of the album’s title cut which establishes this bands musical forte, which has more to do with the funky soul of gospel and blues than jazz per se. Les does not play fleet bop lines, but instead plays those riffs that are well known to the church pianist. From here the album continues with mostly mid-tempo blues. “This for Doug” offers a little change up in that it is that rare blues tune in waltz time. Side two continues the party in fine form, the standard “It Could Happen to You” opens as a slow tempo ballad before the band picks up the beat half way through. The album closes with a surprise when they turn Miles’ well known relaxed cool classic “So What”, into a fast paced be-bop barn burner. If you like this sort of early 60s blues-jazz hybrid, “On Time” will not disappoint. This quartet has talent to burn as they put out an album that smokes from start to finish.

JOHN DAVERSA John Daversa Big Band : American Dreamers (Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom)

Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Down through history there always seems to be a certain politician who is so void of positive ideas and real solutions that he desperately blames the ‘immigrants’ for his nation’s problems and seeks to increase his popularity with this morally corrupt message. This worked well for Hitler, and despite what a tragedy he turned out to be, it still seems to work for some. The problem being that there is always enough of the population who is either under educated enough, or xenophobic enough to fall for such nonsense. Satirical cartoon show “The Simpsons” presented a biting send up of such posturing when they aired an episode in the mid 90s in which their corrupt mayor chose to wiggle out of a tight spot regarding taxes by ‘blaming the immigrants’. So it comes to pass just a few decades later in a prime example of reality imitating TV, the voters of the US elected a politician who used this same tired and predictable rhetoric to actually win the presidency.

Dreamers are children who were brought to the US, under no power of their own, as non-citizens and who have since been working hard to prove themselves as capable US citizens. Many lawmakers support these Dreamers and have been trying to provide a path for their eventual citizenship. Unfortunately, many of these dreams have been dashed lately by a new administration that rose to power by provoking irrational fears about these Dreamers and are busy trying close their path to citizenship. John Daversa’s “American Dreamers” is a new CD that gives these young people a voice and allows them to tell their stories in their own words and also allows them to participate in Daversa’s power packed big band.

If you have ever worked as a teacher, you will recognize the voices in these stories, these are the voices of your students, and believe me, that makes all of this hit you like a ton of bricks. In my many years as a music teacher in the US, I would estimate over half the students I have worked with have been immigrants. To hear the ambitious and unpretentious young people on this CD describe how their dreams may be crushed is beyond heart-breaking, and really kind of burns me up inside. Hopefully this CD will help people realize what a horrible tragedy is taking place here.

“American Dreamers” is a great listen just to hear the young musician’s stories, but you also get John Daversa’s big band playing wild arrangements that can recall ‘out-there’ band arrangers such as Don Ellis, Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra. Most of the tracks are covers that have been completely re-arranged into fresh new pieces. James Brown’s “Living in America” has crazy horn syncopations that sound like the JBs gone berserk. “Stars and Stripes” is given a fast changing de-constructionist arrangement that may remind some of Anthony Braxton’s humorous marching band send-ups. Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song” is given screaming horns and a fierce rap from a young man from Senegal named Caliph. The music on its own would make “American Dreamers” one of the best modern big band albums of this year, but when you add in the importance of the message being presented here, you have a jazz record that has transcended mere art and become a powerful social statement that will hopefully help people understand what is truly going on here.

SOFT MACHINE Hidden Details

Album · 2018 · Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Its nice to see the longest running act in the world of jazz-rock fusion is still at it, but its even nicer hearing them operating at a creative peak more similar to their early years. I don’t know if this is a live in the studio performance, but it sounds like one. The songs naturally segue way into each other, and there is no evidence of over dubs as every performer is quite clearly in the moment and interacting with their band mates. At this point in their career, Soft Machine are able to cover all the different phases of their past, particularly their jazzy horn driven music of the early 70s, and their more muscular guitar driven jazz-rock of the mid-70s. What’s particularly notable about the current lineup is that they often break things down so that only one or two people are carefully interacting and taking their time building unique sounds and melodies. These frequent changes in ensemble makeup and texture help make “Hidden Details” the interesting listen that it is.

As mentioned earlier, the many styles of Soft Machine are on display here. There are a couple of lengthy funky rock numbers for those who seek the guitar shredding of Chris Etheridge. Theo Travis shines on flute on some up tempo jazz, and on “Life on Bridges”, the whole band goes off on a noisy free improv. “Heart Off Guard” and “Broken Hill” contain moments of pure pastoral melody, and elsewhere they re-visit Soft Machine’s classic minimalist tributes to Terry Riley. There are a couple tracks from previous Soft albums, but this band clearly puts their own stamp on those cuts. The album closes on a good note with the floating looped sounds of Travis' flute. “Hidden Details” is one of the better Soft Machine albums to come out in a while, In particular, Theo Travis on woodwinds and keyboards seems to be in touch with those elements that constituted some of this band’s best music.

THE BAR-KAYS Coldblooded

Album · 1974 · Funk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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If you are not a fan of 70s funk music, or from Memphis, then you may not have heard of The Bar-Kays, but they are one of the longest running acts in the history of RnB/rock. Off the top of my head, the only bands that I can think of that have been around longer are The Isley Brothers and The Rolling Stones. “Cold Blooded” was The Bar-Kays recorded offering in 1974, and it featured them playing the pure funk of the times, as the disco thump that would alter the beat was still a few years away. The Bar-Kays had scored some hits in the late 60s as a Staxx sponsored RnB act, but their transition to rock, and later funk, did not bring any hits right away. They would eventually modernize and become a hit factory in the late 70s, but on “Cold Blooded’, they are still a few years away from all that.

“Cold Blooded” opens with the title track of the same name, and its probably the best cut on the album. Featuring a rampaging African-Latin rhythm section and building horn lines, this one sounds a lot like Mandrill or Osibissa in the early 70s. After this, The Bar-Kays settle into some solid funk tunes that often bare some similarities to 60s Sly and the Family Stone, and 70s Isley Brothers. The Bar-Kays are from the south, and it shows. Their tempos tend to be relaxed, their lyrics lack the irony of the p-funk mob, and their gospel influence is undeniable. Lyrical themes on the album are typical for the times and range from testaments to peace and love, warnings about the ways of the world, and musings on relationships gone bad. There are no insincere corny love songs on here, nor even a trace of disco vapidness. Overall “Cold-Blooded” is a good, but not remarkable, album in its genre. Any fan of classic 70s funk should probably check this out.

SADAO WATANABE Round Trip

Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.55 | 3 ratings
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“Round Trip” is an album that is quite a bit different from the music Sadao Watanabe is usually known for. Although not exactly a household name in the West, Sadao has been one of the top jazz saxophonists of the last six decades, putting out many albums as a leader while working as a sideman with almost every top name in the business. Watanabe is usually known for his sweet Charlie Parker influenced tone on the alto sax which he has used to cut many top notch post bop albums, as well as more commercial type fare too. “Round Trip” is a whole nother trip altogether, on here Sadao plays the soprano sax with a biting and harsh sound as he and his band mates play high octane avant-garde fusion. The band mates, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous had all been playing similar over the top free fusion at this time, with DeJohnette and Corea fresh from some insane gigs with Miles at the Fillmore.

The album opens with the title track, which is an out and out free jazz barn burner with unbelievably high speed drumming from Jack, plus Sadao’s piercing soprano that seems to be mimicking traditional Asian reed instruments. This track covers most of side one and also features a top notch solo from Corea, who at this time was still playing at his youthfully intense best. His solos during this time revealed an interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, as well as the avant-garde, with the end result sounding like a cross between Eddie Palmieri and Cecil Taylor. In a short time after this recording, he will loose some of his early fire. The only drawback to this track is some occasional hyper attacks from someone on a vibraslap, not really sure who is responsible for this bothersome sound.

Side two opens with Jack pounding out an energetic fractured jazz rock beat while the rest join in for a very 70s jam. Whereas as side side one was atonal, on this new track the band settles into a D Mixolydian modal jam, a scale with a Celtic/Indian sound that was very popular with the hippie generation. Sadao continues with his odd soprano sound that now sometimes seems to mimic a bagpipe. Chick’s piano solo takes the music way outside the modal scale for some crazy adventures and Jack follows him every step of the way before Sadao leads the way back to the original groove. The final track, “Sao Paulo”, is some sort of Brazilian jazz gone berserk. Ulpio Minucci joins the band on piano for this one and he and Chick pound out intense interlocking rhythmic patterns while Sadao joins Jack in the percussion section.

This is an okay avant-garde jazz record circa 1970, you can find worse, but you can also find better. As far as Jack and Chick playing music like this, I would check out Miles live at the Fillmore. For Miroslav, check out his first album, or the first Weather Report album. If you are looking for a first Sadao Watanabe album, I would not go with this, find one where he is playing alto sax, his playing on that instrument is sublime. As for those who appreciate the experimental excesses of the late 60s to early 70s, "Round Trip" has enough good moments to overcome the lesser moments. In accordance with the time period, they get fairly crazy on here at times, and often in a good way.

SUN RA Astro Black

Album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz
Cover art 3.96 | 4 ratings
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Sun Ra’s “Astro Black” came out in the early 70s when Ra was still heavily immersed in electronic sounds, and still a few years away from his re-interest in performing big band charts. This is the version of Sun Ra that appeals to those who discovered his music via psychedelic rock and fusion. There isn’t a lot of ‘jazz’ per se on “Astro Black”, but there are plenty of imaginative dronish jams with signature Sun Ra sounds and approaches. There is no acoustic piano in site on this one, as Ra devotes himself to synthesizer, organ and electric piano, and conjures up plenty of exotic sounds with this set up. There is an odd sound mix on here that heavily favors Ra and bassist Ronnie Boykins, but in many ways this makes perfect sense in that its Boykins’ repeating bass lines and Ra’s persistent electronics that frame these songs. The horn players and percussionists are free to come and go, while Ra and Boykins provide a constant backdrop. All the tracks on here are good, but possibly the best is “Hidden Spheres”, which opens with a very well recorded African percussion ensemble laying down a heated groove before the rest of the band joins in.

“Astro Black” makes for a good addition to any Sun Ra collection. Its not one of his best, but far not near his worst. The way in which the bass is used to anchor every track makes this one unique in the Sun Ra discog. Those casual fans who prefer the electronic Sun Ra will want to get this too, there are plenty of other worldly sounds on here.

QUINCY JONES Smackwater Jack

Album · 1971 · RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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In the late 50s Quincy Jones was a big hit as one of the new leaders in jazz big band, as well as a very influential orchestral arranger in any style of music. The 60s saw Quincy move more into soundtrack work. As the early 70s rolled up, Jones was still scoring soundtracks, but he also began to release his own albums again, but they were no longer purely big band affairs anymore. Jones is a one hundred percent jazz musician for sure, but he also excels at ambitious art pop and RnB. On “Smackwater Jack”, Quincy rolled all those influences together and produced an album with a mix of 70s and 60s sensibilities. Seventies because of the multi-sectioned art pop arrangements that mirror the progressive rock and RnB of that era and the very modern funk and RnB beats that drive the solo sections. The album mirrors the 60s in its glitzy big band arrangements and Quincy’s ongoing sense of 60s suburban kitsch hipness of the Johnny Carson/Playboy/Vegas/ era.

“Smackwater Jack” is basically a big band album disguised as a pop album. This formula will work well for Jones a few years later when he starts doing the same thing for Michael Jackson. The big band on “Jack” is all-star affair, some of the soloists include, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Milt Jackson, Toots Thielman, Jim Hall and Eric Gayle. You can expect plenty of top notch and inspired solos on all these tracks. Unfortunately Quincy sings on two songs, and he’s not a great singer. Also, the theme from the first Bill Cosby show features Bill himself with some ‘amusing’ vocalizing that probably seemed funnier in the past. Other songs on the album also center around TV themes, plus there are few covers of pop and RnB hits too. One album highlight is the lengthy arrangement of “Whats Going On” that features Valerie Simpson on vocals. Because of its unique combination of rough street smart rhythms and glitzy big band pop kitsch, “Smackwater Jack” rates high with crate diggers and exotica collectors, but it also contains plenty of high quality energetic big band RnB/jazz.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Various ‎– The Progressives

Boxset / Compilation · 1973 · Fusion
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Often label samplers have a few interesting songs and then the rest is just filler. This is not the case with this Columbia double LP from the early 70s. Almost every song on here is a complete gem full of high energy performances and very unique compositions. In the early 70s many talented performers and composers with backgrounds in rock and jazz began to merge these two idioms with the exploratory nature of 20th century concert hall music. The end result, as this record shows, was an infinite variety of sounds, structures and improvisations.

On Weather Report's "Unknown Soldier", Gregorian vocals alternate with Stravinsky meets Herbie Hancock horn and reed lines till they are interrupted by ominous warning sirens ala Edgar Varese. The whole song is driven by an understated but restless free jazz double time rhythm and has a middle section that allows Wayne Shorter to really go off.

"Sundance" by Keith Jarrett is a particularly fun and energetic piece by this often dour and introspective pianist. On this cut he gives us rock influenced free jazz somewhat similar to Miles at the Fillmore. The amazing rhythm section of Paul Motion and Charlie Haden, as well as the energetic guitar work of Sam Brown help add to the kinetic and almost chaotic atmosphere. "Jump Monk" features Charles Mingus leading a free wheeling avant big band through a great Ellington influenced old school noir jazz tune that is totally infectious in it's good time grooves.

Some of the album's rock highlights include "Knots" by Gentle Giant, an amazing piece that mixes pre-classical and 20th century composition with heavy progressive rock and avant - garde jazz. The song has a tight structure that doesn't waste a note in it's deliberate unfolding. On "Marchides", Matching Mole displays their odd take on jazz rock with a middle section that consists of a repeating whole tone pattern on electric piano topped by a bass solo.

Other top tracks include Ornette Coleman playing beautifully stark melodies backed by his own orchestrations, Don Ellis playing big band party funk in odd meters and Wendy Carlos' neo-classical composition played entirely on the Moog.

The only song that doesn't measure up on "The Progressives" is "Haida" by Paul Horn. It sounds like he is in a cove full of Dolphins and playing new age flute melodies while the Dolphins squeak and squawk and plead with him to leave them alone.

DAVID "FATHEAD" NEWMAN Captain Buckles

Album · 1971 · Soul Jazz
Cover art 4.02 | 2 ratings
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In the early 70s, soul jazz artists began picking up on the new funk styles of James Brown and Sly Stone, subsequently their music started moving closer to what was happening in the fusion scene. At this point in jazz history, the difference between soul jazz and fusion is not that great. Likewise, both genres were also picking up on the increased interest in musical styles from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1971, soul jazz stalwart, David Newman, gave his reputation a boost when he took on some of the new modern influences of the times and released “Captain Buckles”, which featured hard driving funk as well as some Latin and Calypso rhythms too. More of an RnB artist than a jazz artist, still, Newman’s intense sax solos are held in high esteem by any jazz fan.

Side one of “Captain Buckles” opens with the energetic funk of the title cut, which is powered by drummer Bernard Purdie, possibly one of the most imitated and sampled drummers from the 70s, and he is also one of the main reasons why this album is so good. The rest of this side is taken with the aforementioned Calypso and Latin numbers, plus an obligatory reading of the Beatles’ “Something”. Even in the early 70s, soul jazz artists were still apt to include one possible radio hit on their album. Side two opens with the raging hard bop of “The Clincher”, which includes one of Newman’s best solos on the album. David follows that with a ballad reading of “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was”, which is a much better slow jam than the previous Beatles clunker. The ultra-funky “Negus” closes the album and features guitarist Eric Gales’ best solo. Overall “Captain Buckles” is one of David Newman’s better albums, and is mostly devoid of the sort of corniness that sometimes mars soul jazz albums.

CHRISTIAN SCOTT (CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH) The Emancipation Procrastination

Album · 2018 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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Duke Ellington’s musical allegory “A Drum is a Woman”, was a clever story that foretold jazz’s future as a musical style that would adapt to every culture on the globe, and even go to outer space, but no matter how far jazz may wander and change, its strength and substance comes from returning to the music of Africa. Drawing upon the rhythms of Africa, as well as African tendencies in hip-hop and Detroit techno, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah continues to add new vitality to the world of jazz fusion with his latest album, “The Emancipation Procrastination“. Scott’s been on his hybrid style for a while now, so if you are familiar with his last couple albums, then you may know what to expect here, well composed melodies over abstract beats that combine Africa, hip-hop, drumnbass and techno all orchestrated with subtle and tasteful electronics and effects.

Along with Scott, another star soloist on here is flautist Elena Pinderhughes. Most of us probably don’t usually think of strength when describing a flute player, but Elena’s playing carries more strength than we would normally associate with the flute. Her solos and orchestrations are a big plus on “Ruler Rebel (re-mix)”, “Ashes of Our Forever” and “The Cypher”. Other notable sidemen include Braxton Cook on saxophone and Lawrence Fields on keyboards. A host of others help out on bass, guitar, drums, percussion and electronics. Much of the music on, “Emancipation” stays in the aforementioned styles that Scott has become known for, but towards the end of this album comes two lengthy tracks that get into more of a sweaty energetic freeform fusion work out. These two closing numbers make for a nice contrast given the length of the entire CD.

ABDULLAH IBRAHIM (DOLLAR BRAND) The Journey

Album · 1977 · African Fusion
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Recorded and released in 1977, “The Journey” is a different sort of album for Abdullah Ibrahim, who was still going by the name of Dollar Brand at this time. Ibrahim is usually known for his hypnotic African grooves, and you get a good bit of that on “The Journey”, but you also get a lengthy, less typical for him, free jazz excursion featuring some stars from NYC’s pioneering free jazz movement. Ibrahim had just moved to NYC from South Africa before he recorded this, and apparently he was immediately embraced by the avant-garde vanguard, including such renowned musicians such as Don Cherry and Hamiet Bluiett.

Side one opens with an energetic South African calypso that is relatively short and to the point. Abdullah leaves the piano alone for this one and instead gives us a fiery soprano saxophone solo. The lengthy “Jabulani” takes up the rest of this side and features the large ensemble in free jazz mode as they pass the solos around so that eventually everyone gets a free ride. This is that original form of free jazz that sounds like bebop gone berserk, so much more rhythmic and lively than often what passes for free jazz today. Side two is made up of the 20 minute plus “Hajj”, which is an absolute groove monster based around North African rhythms and melodies. Talib Rhynie’s ‘snake charmer’ oboe melodies are a real plus on this one, as is Bluiett’s clarinet solo as most of the musicians all get a turn to play with the oriental mode that comprises the main theme. Abdullah plays piano on this one as he provides a repeating rhythmic figure that is the backbone of the piece.

“The Journey”, with its free jazz excursion, is a somewhat different album for Ibrahim, but really all of this eclectic music comes together and makes total sense, thanks to the talent of the assembled crew here that is equally at home with in the groove playing, as well as going completely outside.

ME'SHELL NDEGÉOCELLO Ventriloquism

Album · 2018 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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At first glance its fairly obvious that Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album “Ventriloquism”, is a set of cover tunes, but these versions are far more than mere copies, instead, Meshell and her quartet transform each of these songs into something much more than what they were originally. The 80s are often maligned as a musically plastic decade, and there is some truth to that, but listening to how Meshell has taken a handful of mostly lackluster 80s corporate pop tunes and turned them into something deep reveals that there is some gold hidden within this seemingly musical muck. This is an excellent album anyway you look at it, but when you consider what this material sounded like before Ndegeocello transformed everything, it makes “Ventriloquism” into something truly inspired. These pop/RnB songs were the soundtrack of Meshell’s youth, which helps explain why these are the songs she would choose to work with in the first place.

Apparently Meshell’s band spent some time listening to Neil Young’s lonesome and world weary “Harvest” while recording this, and that lowdown country flavor comes through as many of the tracks open with simple finger picking folk/blues guitar, the complete opposite sound that these songs had back in the 80s. Once the tracks get rolling though, guitarist Chris Bruce and keyboardist Jebin Bruni start weaving layers of soft psychedelic sounds that give these songs a pleasant hallucinatory drift. The salient feature are the tempos, all of them quite slow in a very mesmerizing way. Kudos to Meshell that she didn’t break this mood with any ‘uptempo’ numbers, as such a move would have surely hurt the thorough integrity of this art pop masterpiece. Listening to the persistent down-tempo mood of this album may remind some of Roxy Music’s “Flesh and Blood”, on which they also took hot blooded hits like “In the Midnight Hour” and “Eight Miles High”, and turned them into sensual drifting dreams.

So many interesting transformations take place on “Ventriloquism”, but possibly the most surprising is George Clinton’s techno funk hit “Atomic Dog”, which somehow becomes a blissed out psychedelic folk number that early 70s Pink Floyd would have been proud of.

SLY5THAVE The Invisible Man : An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre

Album · 2017 · RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I have to admit that the idea of an ‘orchestral tribute to Dr Dre’ first hit me as some kind of joke along the lines of The Monkees play heavy metal, or Mozart goes reggae mon. It was hard to imagine the sparse hip-hop arrangements of Dr Dre in an orchestrated format, but Sly5thAve’s new album, “The Invisible Man, an Orchestrated Tribute to Dr Dre”, has certainly proved me wrong. In a year laden with highly creative artsy RnB albums, “The Invisible Man” has been able to stand out as one of the best for 2017. The combination of Dr Dre’s laid back grooves and Sly’s hip, slightly retro, orchestrations are an irresistible combination that may have you playing this one over and over.

Sly5thAve is actually Sylvester Uzoma Onyejaka II, a versatile saxophonist who also produces and doubles on a variety of instruments. His talents have brought him work with many including Prince, Maceo Parker, all of the Marsalis Brothers and many other top RnB, pop and jazz musicians. “The Invisible Man” is just Sly’s second full length album, but it sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran. Right off the bat these orchestrated soulful tracks may have you thinking Isaac Hayes and Quincy Jones, and there is some of that sound here, but even closer is the arranger that Dr Dre was fond of sampling from, David Axelrod. Sly’s use of pulsing steady rhythms often recall Axelrod’s sometimes processional sounding arrangements that could almost border on regal and militaristic in an almost campy sort of way. In that respect, another similar famous arranger comes to mind, and that’s George Martin, the exotica composer who also did arrangements for the Beatles, particularly the ‘Sgt Peppers’ album. Still, with the Dr Dre’s iconic beats and attitude going on, Sly’s orchestral creation stands in a world all its own.

The hip-hop world was all over this record when it came out, but the jazz world didn’t seem to take much notice, which is unfortunate because there is plenty here for a fan of contemporary jazz to like. Many of these tracks feature jazz solos by a variety of top notch musicians, for instance the burning guitar solo by Patrick Bailey on the hard driving “Curtis”, or Sly‘s Eddie Harris like electric sax ride on “The Jam Part III“. Although this album lists 23 total tracks, many of the tracks blend together to make just one song, such as the ultra funky string of tracks that start with “No Diggity”. For those who may be rapaphobic or raptose intolerant, although this is a Dr Dre tribute, there is no rapping on here. Meanwhile. others may want to use these tracks to back up some original free verse.

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