Issue # 94 REVIEWS

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Moraine - MANIFEST DENSITY: Most of the material I get in for review is basically "unsolicited"... I mean, it's from promoters I already know, & they know what "works" to get a review from me, but it's still (usually) unannounced.  The Moraine CD, though, was one I first saw an announcement on FACEBOOK about & asked the label owner to send to me right away... to say that there was a "sense of anticipation" about this album coming is really lowballing it!  Expect you're wondering why... well, let me be short... it has guitarist extraordinaire Dennis Rea on it, & I've sought out essentially any music he's a part of ever since I first met him & listened to him play up Seattle way.  It's quite a cast that joins him, too... Alicia Allen's violin, cello by Ruth Davidson, drums by Jay Jaskot & bass/baliset from Kevin Millard... "Manifest Density" take the listener back (at least in my case, since I'm so ancient) to a far more creative (musical) era than can be ascribed to today's self-described (& often overblown) "avant-garde".  Hell, the titles alone evidence the creative (& perhaps jaded) minds behind these creations... "Save the Yuppie Breeding Grounds" indeed... ha! ha!  On my absolute favorite cut, "Uncle Tang's Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", a Rea original, you will feel like you're trapped in the middle of a Zappian (did I just coin a word) nightmare, scored by Dennis as the musical genius he truly is.  Once it starts (as in Uncle Frank's tune), "the torture never stops"... a SUPERB piece of music.  The next track is no slouch, either... Alicia Allen's violin weaves through the corridors of your mind on "Disillusioned Avatar" with no mercy, & when Rea chimes in with his "stepping" guitar lines, you'll know the pain an Avatar may go through!  In the overall, this is an album destined to be declared an instant classic by listeners & reviewers worldwide!  I give it my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, & declare it the "PICK" of this year for "most creative and inspiring musical experience"!  Get more information at  (there are a couple of neat vids there, too)!  & be sure & tell Dennis that Zzaj sent ya'... Rotcod Zzaj

Bob Shimizu and Signal Strength - CUCHILLERO: Whether Babelfish translations are "on" or not, this is an apt title for Bob's great guitar work, along with the Signal Strength group... the word translates to "cutler", & when I do an MS WORD check for "cutlery", it yields the following result: "Knives with cutting edge" (Ed:  note from Bob tells me that the real meaning of Cuchillero in Spanish is "knife fighter"... stupid translators, anyway, yah?  ha! ha!)... the tuneage here is definitely "razor sharp", though it is a bit sneaky, too (as you might think of if imagining that guy with a knife in a dark alley somewhere)!  What do I mean?  Well, the opener, "Joy For Leroy", will have you thinkin' "cool, modern, almost danceable - with tinges of Horace (as in Silver)", but as it moves on into "Contusion Waltz", your impression (in great part because of the superb piano work) will be "how percussive"!  I listened through this one (both with 'phones & in the car player) about 10 times before sitting down to write the review, because the group has a very unique handle on composition (these are all originals from Bob) that keeps you on edge as you try & anticipate what they're going to play next... not that it's "out there"; in fact, as they start a tune, you'll think to yourself - "ah, I see", then 8 bars or so later, they've totally put their own "flavoring" on the mix.  Hands-down winner, for me, though was the title track... "Cuchillero" (especially on the album) has some excellent sounds goin' on down under the keyboards & guitar... this is one genuine & heartfelt jazz experience!  There were sections where I wanted (really in a bad way) to say... "smooth jazz", but in every instance, they turned that right back around with their high talent & soulful joy for playing.  This one comes MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by me... I've no doubt you'll be hearing a LOT more from "Signal Strength"... remember where you first heard that prediction... great music with creativity at the forefront!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Chris Pasin - DETOUR AHEAD: Here's an excellent trumpet-led quintet (Chris) coming up for release in September.... after several listens, I can tell you that if you dig on brass with class, you'll have to have this great CD!  There are (for this listener, anyway) always keywords when I first listen to an artist, & with Pasin's compositions (6 out of the 8 tracks), that word is punch... he's able to knock you out with his superb timing and talent, but never takes anything away from the other players (Steve Slagle on sax, Benny Green's piano, Rufus Reid on bass & drums from Dannie Richmond), & the band is totally ON it from the opening bar to the very end.  I particularly enjoyed Chris's original pieces, but a real standout was "Light At The End Of The Tunnel", a true "equal time" song... each player gets a space to shine the light of their impressive talent... some excellent rhythm shifts will have you tappin' toes (if you're my age), or gettin' right out ON that floor... this song is my favorite this year (& that's saying something... it really stands out for it's energy quotient & Pasin's relentless lead lines)!  One minor criticism - it would be nice to have some track samples up somewhere to link in - but I'm sure they will be out there soon.  The liner notes say Chris has been playing since he was nine years old, & it's readily apparent that he hasn't stopped his pursuit of quality blow (no, I did NOT mean that in the way it sounded) since then... I'm really impressed, & believe you will be hearing many more releases from this bright light on the jazz scene!  "Detour Ahead" gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from my ears!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Textile Orchestra - FOR THE BOSS: You will need to have your head in the "right place" when you listen to this sonic adventure - in other words, between the headphones... listening to it in any other fashion would rob you of the psychotic experience that's intended... ha! ha!  Orientation is very percussive, not a lot of focus on fancy instrumental... more like extracting the "instru" from that word... definitely intended to stir up mem'ries from silkscreen nitemares you wish you'd never had.  The CD is only for those listeners who have adventure in their blood, however... if you're a MOR ("middle of the road") listener, or a "smoove jazz" freek, this won't be your cup of tea.  Contrary to many reviewers, I find music like this to be very satisfying, because it's NOT "regular"... there are some very subtle "voices" down under this that make it sound like spoken-word, but not quite... just the kind of approach I prefer for words with music, as it forces the listener to "focus" (or, as mentioned above, for those who don't really want to hear what's being created - "unfocus").  The techniques used here remind me in some ways of sessions I used to have (both in-studio & on-stage) with players like LaDonna Smith, Davey Williams & Ernesto Diaz-Infante... dense, thick sound palettes to be manipulated in most disturbing ways.  You can listen to samples of both long tracks (20 & 24 minutes, respectively) at AMAZON.  Excellent recording quality, too!  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for folks who want to hear something different!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Ellen Johnson - THESE DAYS: Female jazz singers are often "lumped" in a category (for reviewers, anyway) that says "later"... I don't know why that is, but know it often happens.  A part of that could be the simple fact that there are many... well, in Ellen's case, letting the dozen tunes on her newly released CD "just slide" would be a mistake for anyone enthralled with true artistry.  We reviewed another CD she produced ("A Mother's Heart) in issue #91, & were very impressed with her skills there, too.  It is, of course, her voice that makes the difference & catapults the music on "These Days" to the top of the stack... what you hear is fresh & soulful, without pretense or gimmickry - excellent expression on every note!  One of the most powerful tracks for this listener was "Inspiration"... simply beautiful, with great guitar by Larry Koonse & bass that stands right behind her penetrating vocal performance from Darek Oles!  Oles bass lead-in on "You Don't Know What Love Is" is perfect for Ellen's silky & intimate style when she starts singing... another performance that will stay in your ears for months & years to come!  In the overall, there is a real "slinky" quality to Johnson's voice that is so inviting you won't be able to move on to anything else until you've listened to the whole tune... & then the next track... & the next... & so on & so on. "These Days" is a definite jazz winner for all, players & listeners, & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from this little corner of the jazz world!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Lapis - A PATH TOWARD SOLACE: Here's another FB-generated CD in for review... Barry Seroff (flutes) & Stefan Paolini (keyboards) give your ears a treat with their debut duet effort!  Definitely jazz, but with a clear bent towards improvisation, it clearly will provide solace for those who love music that comes from the soul, rather than from rigid charts.  Both of these gents are classically trained players, but they certainly don't let that get in the way of laying down (sometimes) intense and (other times) gentle music that will take you on a wild ride!  What penetrates all the way through to your consciousness is the sheer joy they have in playing together... when folks try to improvise, but don't have that level of synergy, it often sounds - well, like they are just trying... on "Solace", they show (without doubt) that their skill at on-the-fly composition stands out well above others, & get their glee across to you.  That, in fact, is the keyword that comes across as I listen & write my thoughts about this duo... gleeful!  I imagine that the idea is that in order to reach "solace", one must first achieve a state where joy is a part of one's existence... they have achieved that with flying colors!  Though there are some calm moments, there are also (more) instances of high-flight talent just shining through... I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, particularly for those listeners who want to hear original and uncompromising new music.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Saltman-Knowles - RETURN OF THE COMPOSER: This group features some vibrant vocals by Lori Williams-Chisolm on the opener, "Homeland"... a bit strange for a Washington, DC, group, as it has very heavy Latin influences... William Knowles piano & Mark Z Saltman's double bass are the other headliners, though the group also has three other players... Jimmy "Junebug" Jackson's drums, trumpet from Alvin Trask & alto sax by Rob Landham.  Everything here is full of life-giving energy, & it's clear that they all enjoy playing together... nothing tired or clichéd... I particularly enjoyed "Creepin' Up" - as you might gather from the title, it's (what I call) slinky... great bass line from Saltman, & all the other instruments are right on time... this is the kind of tune that will "stick" in your head for years to come.  Another great one (my second favorite) was "Study In Purple" - in great part because of their use of Lori's superb vocal as an instrument... very memorable.  Their "theme" is that there needs to be a return to music that's well-composed, not just the average riffin' that some many bands put up in front of your ears as "great stuff"... while I be the last to argue against the spirit of free improvisation (since I'm a practitioner of free-style), it's also easy to hear the difference between a well-composed tune & something that's just chock full of lines we've all heard before.  I believe this CD will rise high on the charts, & (because of the excellent compositions) stay there for a long time to come... it's certainly at the top of my "good jazz" playlist!  I give them a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - & have no doubt you'll agree when you spin it.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Russell Leach - ANCIENT VOICES: This CD is in from our long-time music-producing pal Don Campau, featuring some excellent percussion, thumb piano (I just love his thumb piano on "Loon Song") & vocal manipulations by Santa Rosa musician Russell.  I (actually) would have liked a bit more "time" on the CD... it's only about 26 minutes long; but that's a minor criticism, because the energy is there for what he's trying to convey, & that's really all that counts.  The recording quality is excellent & you can hear every little percussion/vocal element clearly... it's definitely the kind of music that demands repeated listens... you'll hear something new each time you spin it.  The longest track is only 3:17, many are only seconds long... that might seem to be too short, but you'll find that it holds your ear better that way... in fact, as I alluded to earlier, it really leaves you wanting even more.  There was a tape produced (way, WAY back "in the day") up here in the Great Northwest whose title I can't remember right now, but it did some similar things with repetitive phrases (like "Donna Summer On The Radio" repeated over&over again for nearly 5 minutes)... Leach actually does this more effectively, perhaps because of the shortness of the pieces.  Suffice it to say that I'm highly impressed with his CD, & hope to hear much more of this kind of percussive entertainment from him... this one gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, particularly for those who dig on "different", yet "pleasant".  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Brenda Earle - SONGS FOR A NEW DAY: When female vocalists are also players (in Brenda's case, that means piano & Rhodes), there seems to be an entirely different dynamic going on... much more highly-charged, unless the performer can't coordinate both acts.  In Ms. Earle's case, it's clear that she's got it totally down.  Her piano lines are crisp & well enunciated, & her vocals are so highly charged that I think I can honestly say that I haven't heard a better player/vocalist this year!  Unfortunately, due to the use of the Flash player (MAN, I wish CD BABY would quit that), I'm unable to find any .mp3 streams, but you can hear most of the tracks at Brenda's MYSPACE PAGE. One of the most mellow compositions I've heard in many years is her original, "A Few Lines"... my favorite, in great part (I suppose) because she shows her absolute skill on the Rhodes (those who have listened to my own keyboards will know that I'm just in love with that keyboard); but it's also because she genuinely know how to tell the whole story!  A close second is the title track, "Song For A New Day"... her vocal just soars here, & she had me wrapped in her spell in only the first couple of bars... Joel Frahm's sax adds a lot of body to the tune, too.  I'm more than just impressed & can say without qualification that you'll be hearing a LOT MORE from Brenda... she gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for solid jazz that will endure!  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

The Aggregation - GROOVE'S MOOD: Under the direction of Eddie Allen, this humongous group (far too large to itemize here) will have you clickin' yer' tap shoes & snappin' yer' fingers, no doubt (whoops, really dating myself there, eh?  Might as well mention "saddle shoes", yah?... ha! ha!).  CD is the debut release, & it's full of all the energy you might expect, most assuredly... that's especially true on Allen compositions like the opener & title track, "Groove's Mood", one of the snappiest jazz tunes I've heard in quite some time... every instrument is "on time", & there are some really cool lead sections (most notably Howard Johnson's piano solos - guess since keyboard is my instrument, I would favor the keyboard player)... there are some excellent horn sections as well.  I also really dug on "Soulful Mister Timmons", an all-around feel-good session authored by James Williams... if this one doesn't have you "talkin' th' talk" & "walkin' th' walk", you ain't (in any way, shape or form) "jazzified" yet!  For something a bit more "old school", you'll really enjoy "The Aggregation's" rendition of Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive"... all the sensations you might feel on such a trip come shining through in a big jam-packed way.  The release isn't until around 6 October 2009, so you'll want to get your copy now.  It's a high-talent debut that those into big-band fun will be especially proud to have in their collection... I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Faith Gibson - BIG MOON: Faith's jazz vocal style is definitely cool... 13 songs plus a bonus track make for just over 55 minutes of very pleasant music, & several cuts you'll fall in love with, no doubt in my mind.  The cast of players is far too large to list here, but the band behind her is absolutely "in the jazz zone", & clearly understand that the performance is in support of her groovin' & intimate expressions!  Excellent recording quality throughout, a CD you'll be coming back to more than once. Faith makes her ownership of these romantic ballads come across without straining in any particular direction; that's especially true on those she penned herself, such as "What Women Want" & "Be a Man, Baby"... in fact, the latter is my favorite track - it has just the right energy quotient & her sense of humor shines right on through - a truly cute tune with little lyrical nuances that will have you ROFL, to be sure!  Those who are in love with the blues will find "Too Darn Blue" very attractive as well - she digs right down to the soul for this one.  I like this album a lot, & give it an easy HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners who want talent without all the baggage!  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Gabriel Espinosa - FROM YUCATAN TO RIO: What a nice change of pace... as you might imagine from the CD title, this is Brazilian jazz to the core... a Zoho release (an excellent company, btw) just jam-packed full of great jazz energy.  Gabriel's bass is superb & he actually does some of the background vocal work as well.  Albums advertised as "Latin jazz" sometimes miss the mark, & come across without any true level of soul, but Espinosa's arrangements make this some of the most vibrant Latin-oriented music you've heard in quite awhile.  His opening track ("Agua de Beber") features Darmon Meader's excellent spirit-filled vocals & introduce you to his total skill at making your ears perk up for the duration.  It is his original composition "Morning Breeze" that gets my vote for favorite... every player is right in the swing of the thing, & this tune is the one that will inspire you to see visions of what the Latino soul is really all about.  If you want music that jumps & will make you get up & dance, you'll love the closer, "Huracan"... my only complaint is that at 3:27, it wasn't quite long enough to really sink my ears into.  "LP 07" is another favorite, with some sweet guitar lines & wonderfully expressive sax from George Robert.  All-in-all, this is one of the best albums I've listened to for review in 2009 - it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Hank Jones & Frank Wess - HANK & FRANK II: If it's big-bodied jazz from the masters your ears are hankering for, you'll have to have this bright little CD in your collection.  Jones' piano shows his classic jazz roots & Mr. Wess's tenor sax & flute are incomparable... to say the "play well together" would be a nearly criminal understatement... it's not just tight, it's also thoroughly "pro"!  They are joined by Mickey Roker on drums, Marion Cowings on vocals, guitar from Ilya Lushtak & bass by John Webber in a pure celebration of the straight-ahead jazz that formed the basis for nearly everything we hear today in jazz.  That might make you think of tired ol' jazz that some folks have said is nearing death, but I'll tell you right now - get that out of your head... this is the stuff!  There's a really relaxed approach to each of the cuts, just th' kind of feeling you might imagine in all those old late night "blue smoky rooms" you read about in the 1930's detective novels... you know, the kind of sessions that allowed folks back in those days to imagine what life with only music would be like!  When Marion Cowings' energetic vocal kicks in on "If I Were a Bell", you'll have to dig back through th' closet & get Grandpa's shiny tap shoes out... one word describes his performances - quality!  It's a Charlie Parker track that captures my ears for favorite, though, "Chasing the Bird"... Frank's tenor just kicks on down, & Hank's piano is the best I've ever heard from him on this one!  If you're a collector, this fits that bill... HANK & FRANK II leaves us looking for # III, & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me!  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

The Jack Gold-Molina Trio - COLORED HOUSES: I've been reviewing Jack's splendid improvised/jazz musics since (at least) issue #64 (just use our little "search" thing & look for "gold", or "reign")... most of those reviews were of music produced by his "Acoustic Reign project", though there may have been others along the way.  His drum work on this album is just as penetrating and earth-shaking as on those reviewed earlier, & he's joined by two stalwarts of the Great Northwest jazz scene, Michael Monhart on sax & Michael Bisio on bass... (both of whom have been reviewed extensively here as well, of course).  I've had the good fortune to watch most of the players in this trio in live performance settings (especially Bisio, who was part of several of the Olympia Experimental Music Festival gigs) - this CD sounds/feels to the listener as though the band were right there in your living room... yes, the recording is that good.  Energy quotient is on a level with supernova, & once they got past the 10 minute mark on the second cut (my favorite on the album, by the way), "Water Lilies", it goes into hyper-drive... truly impressive & genuinely in the "out zone"... obviously, this kind of music isn't for those mired down in "traditional" music... this is exploratory, creative & uncompromising in pursuit of the full release that comes from transcending the "norms" that (some) folks like to impose.  There are surely no limits here, but there need not be, because each of these players understand what improvisation is really all about - the joy that comes from communicating (with each other & with the listener) through music.  Not only do they get a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, but this CD gets the "PICK" of this issue for "best trio improv in a helluva' long time".  Get more information by writing to   Rotcod Zzaj

Tone Bent - SAY WHAT YOU WILL: Every once-in-a-while it's important to listen to "something else", & tho' the group name might make you think this was right in the "outer zone", it's actually a folk duo, with Bill Horvitz doing vocals, guitars & banjo & Robin Eschner on vocals & guitar.  "Folk" may not be exactly the right moniker, but they surely know how to spin tales that tweak the listeners heartstrings... a very human kind of music!  Unfortunately, the only tunes I could find are all ganged together in THIS FLASH player (surely wish folks would quit doing that - need the .mp3's available for streaming/linking)... I didn't see anything on YOUTUBE, either, tho' it's possible I missed it.  It would be very fitting to watch them, because their playing/singing is highly energetic & full of life, especially on tracks like "Catman" & "Better Like That"... my favorite on the CD, though, was "Rubies on the Boulevard", a penetrating lyrical experience with a very interesting electric guitar piece behind Robin's vocal - Bill takes it almost to the level of a rock piece, but not too far.  These folks show an excellent skill in writing, and unlike many of their compatriots in the genre, they have high talent on the playing side as well.  I give this one a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for anyone who loves well-played music with well-crafted stories that inspire.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Anne Phillips - BORN TO BE BLUE: With the stacks of CD's I get in for review (especially before I got my external storage drive), I occasionally miss one... my sincere apologies to Anne, as well as to myself.  If you love jazz vocal performance that drips that good old fashioned blues, you won't forgive yourself if you pass this album by.  We reviewed her in issue #85, & were mightily impressed with her ability to sing just about any kind of jazz there is, but this 1959 release (remastered, of course) focuses on the kind of blues I cut my teeth on.  You can drop all the names you can think of (Peggy Lee comes to mind, of course), but you won't come close to the mastery Anne displays here.... especially on tunes like "A Stranger In Town".  The original release just missed going to the top, as the R&R era was just beginning... our loss, to be sure, but even if you're not familiar with this laid-back '50's-style of singing, you'll fall in love with her rendition (my favorite on the CD) of "You Don't Know What Love Is".  If you haven't heard Ms. Phillips before, this is the perfect introduction to her lush & lovely performance style.  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any listener who wants true quality that will endure!  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Tony Grasso Saxophone? Quartet! - THE CAMBODIAN SUITE: My (alto sax & bass clarinet) playing friend Dan Blunck brought these (personally) to me for review... "Cambodian Suite" is the latest release in a sort of series.  The ? after Saxophone is because Tony plays trumpet... he also does some excellent spoken-word on select tracks... very different for this kind of grouping, but it worked - like a charm!  I imagine my own spoken-word orientation jaundiced my opinion a bit, but Grasso pops in at the oddest moment with these snatches that bring back memories of folks like Beefheart, as well as some of the storytellers I met way back in the '70's in Thailand.  The "meat" of the album, though, is the superb reed and brass work that comes from Tony, Dan, Brian Kent & David Johnson... it's difficult (in my estimation) to do all horn music that keeps the energy moving without every tune sounding the same.  No fear of that with these folks... each track is ultimately unique & (musically) stated solidly. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any .mp3 downloads (seems as though many artists are going strictly with FLASH player), but you can get the tunes at his DIGISTATION page; suffice it to say that you will love what you hear - I did!  Though they're billed as "avant-garde", the music isn't on the farthest edge of out, so you'll find plenty of tuneage you can munch on for years to come.  Though this is my first listen, Tony's quartet had me hooked by the second tune - they get a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from my ears, & if you love brass & reeds, you'll agree.  Get more information on the group at    Rotcod Zzaj

Scotty Barnhart - SAY IT PLAIN: & nothing says it more plainly than Scotty's trumpet on this grand little CD... it was a May 2009 release, and (for some unknown reason) took us a bit of time to get 'round to... make sure you don't wait on it, though - it's some splendid debut work by Barnhart (who played as featured trumpet soloist for The Count Basie Orchestra for 17 years).  The tracks are an even split between all-original compositions & standards... 12 in all, & every one of them is chock full of heavy jazz energy!  One of my favorites was "Say It Plain", the title track... masterful writing & packed with power... if this one don't get yer' "groove" on, nothin' will!  He's assembled some powerful names to compliment his playing - Clark Terry, Ellis & Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts, Jamie Davis & on & on... it's just like a big party with all the heavy players there - sweet!  There's some tasty stride bass work on another Barnhart original, "Burning Sands", & after the intro, the tune zooms on into orbit... great changes and superb display of talent from every one of the players... in fact, this one is my favorite on the CD.  When Wynton joins Scotty on Dizzy's "Con Alma", you'll know that you're listening to a CD that you'll never let this CD get "lost" by loaning it to a friend - it's a definite KEEPER, & I'd advise you to make 2 or 3 backup copies, so you know you'll always have a copy!  Barnhart is a colossal player, & his CD gets a BIG thumbs-up & a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  It's also my "PICK" of the year for "best trumpet jazz".  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Samuel Blaser Quartet - PIECES OF OLD SKY: The opener and title track, "Pieces Of Old Sky", threw me for a loop, since the liners indicated it was music "between hard bop and free jazz"... as you listen to this 17:04 epic, you'll know that it's more inclined in the direction of "free"... there's a great little vid at YOUTUBE, and I'm definitely recommending that you check that out.  Thomas Morgan's double bass sets the mood, but even when Samuel slides in, the pace stays at a moderate level, with crisp drums/cymbals from Tyshawn Sorey & great guitar from Todd Neufeld... lots of room for listeners to "fill in the holes" with their own interpretations of what "pieces" are in their sky... a wonderful piece of music.  If you want something with a slightly more energetic pace, you'll really dig "Red Hook" - it's my favorite cut on the CD... superb arrangements and changes that will have you on the edge of your seat for the entire 8 minutes the track lasts!  I'm used to trombone players that sort of "take over" the music, but Blaser is a master at making sure that everyone gets in the mix - and that makes the jazz come ever more alive for me... great balance between the players here.  What's most impressive about the musical experience this great quartet creates for you is that it's "out", but very accessible... when they move into the ether zone, their changes are gentle enough for you to stay with, and each of the players seem to be very sensitive to the idea that launching off (too quickly) into massive sound attacks isn't the sum total of what "free" means... don't get me wrong - they get there, but they know you're listening & they make every last one of their transitions something pleasurable for your ears.  I am very highly impressed & give this CD a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

River Cow Orchestra - BOVINITY INFINITY: As many regular readers of this 'zine know, I've been reviewing works from our friend CRGIII for some many, MANY years now.  This group, RCO from MO clearly "tastes like jazz", "feels like jazz" & "is jazz"!  What I appreciate most about the music on "BI" is that it's different, in fact, it's definitely different - a great vid demonstrates just how jazzy-kewl the group gets - at YOUTUBE, you'll find "Investment Bankers".  Just think of the attitude that our own hero Frank Zappa expressed in so many of his compositions, and then combine it with excellent recording, boppin' backbeat & vocals from a couple of the 8 or 9 players on the album, & you'll have a pretty good idea of where this music will take your head!  You can hear streams at their MYSPACE site... & as you listen, you can read the notes, which will tell you (as I suspected) that this is all improvised - which makes it "infinitely" better for this reviewer... This jazz isn't stock schlock, & can't in anyway be confused with the dreaded "smooth" category, but it's right up my alley, 'coz it will get you all excited unless you're deader than an old titches' wit already.  I sincerely believe this is the best creative venture I've ever heard from a midwestern group of cows & give it my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best creative jazz"!  Get more information at  Rotcod Zzaj

Dave Rivello Ensemble - FACING THE MIRROR: If you like "big band" sound, you'll find yourself quite nicely enchanted by the music that Dave offers up for your ears on this invigorating 8-song CD of all original compositions/arrangements.  He's been encouraged along the way by Bob Brookmeyer, who also wrote the liner notes for the album.  The "keyword" for the music here is "strong"... every track is presented boldly and without hesitation... 12 players total, with all the elements you would expect (reeds, brass, keyboards, wind, drums & percussion) energizing Dave's pieces into a grand jazz experience that is quite rewarding and full of life.  One of the reasons I enjoyed this so much is because of the way Rivello weaves Red Wierenga's piano into the tracks... I don't remember hearing Red's work before, but on "Dancing in Circles", his lines are subtle all the way through, in a sort of "conversation" with the bass player... when he moves to solo mode (about 5:35 or so), he clearly enunciates the high-steppin' flavor of the tune & will have your brain cells trippin' all over each other to get out on the (mental) dance floor.  Under Dave's leadership, the listener gets the distinct impression that they're listening to jazz that is both professional and timeless, especially on songs like "(Of) Time and Time Past", my favorite tune on the album.  This gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an "advance warning" to keep your ears open for Dave's future releases... he'll be on the scene in a big way, I predict.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Eric Vloeimans' Fugimundi - LIVE AT YOSHI'S: Eric's splendid trumpet work is showcased & complimented strongly by piano from Harmen Fraanje and guitar by Anton Goudsmit, all players I'd never heard from before.  The all original compositions are strangely "non-jazz" (in a certain sense), though jazz fans will (all) find something they like... it took 3 listens just for me to "get" what they were trying to say, but by the 4th round in the car player, they had me hooked.  There are certainly elements of classical woven into the pieces, though in the end-run, you can't label it as classical... nor can you label it as jazz, but it certainly has elements of such.  What you find after a couple of listens is that the trio has their own very unique sound, and stay true to their vision of what music is... and that's what makes it so attractive to me, and will to many of you out there.  Their signature style is especially evident on pieces like "ernesto"... the bullfighting dance theme comes through clearly, but never descends into anything you could toss off as "just another flamenco".  Harmen's piano intro on "phillip", when combined with the exquisitely relaxed but poignant trumpet work from Eric made this one my favorite tune... & when Goudsmit's guitar slides ever so gently in, it was sealed into my memory for all time.  In a world where music/jazz is relegated to "smooth", "be-bop" and other "brands", this live performance stands out as something you will treasure for years to come.  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Get more information at the label site.   Rotcod Zzaj

Jentsch Group Large feat. Mike Kaupa - CYCLES SUITE: Our first listening experience with Chris's music was in issue #79, and we were fully engaged by what he had to offer there... this CD takes what we heard there and expands it to the 'nth degree, no doubt.  It is hard to attach any "label" to the music, because they span across (essentially) all genres... definitely some heavy jazz sections, snatches of contemporary R&R, even a bit of classical... to get a taste (.mp3 clip), go HERE.  Guest trumpeter Mike Kaupa adds an entirely new dimension to Jentsch's music, especially on tunes like "Movement IV: Old Folks Song", which opens with a very improvisational sketch, then melds into an absolutely solid expression of what life feels like in "the Last Lane"... it's full of emotional impressions that reach right down to the deepest parts of the listeners' soul.  My favorite on the album, though, was "Movement V: Route 666"... clocking in at 18:31, it features some very penetrating guitar solo sections, yet ensures that all the players are out in front at one point or another... excellent horns, superb recording & a very modern feel... you haven't heard "modern big band" until you listen to this track - just splendid!  Jentsch is a composer/player you need to keep your ears on, as I anticipate he will be a BIG factor on jazz charts for some years to come.  I give this outing a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj








Guideline for artists SUBMITTING to us:  We do NOT generally review .mp3 files/sites.  Being an active artist myself, though, I understand the need for the use of Internet sites as a "staging ground" for reviews!  You are encouraged to email us your .mp3 links... we will visit the site/link, & if we like your energies, we will contact YOU!  (We will NOT respond to followup inquiries about .mp3 files, though!!!  p.s.  If you EVER e-mail me .mp3 files, you will be BLACKLISTED on this site!!!)




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