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August 2006

Glenn Astarita By

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John Wolf Brennan

Pictures In A Gallery

Leo Records

2006

Pianist John Wolf Brennan recorded the mostly brief works on this album on location in Swiss and Russian museums. Composing on-the-fly, he took inspiration from hanging artworks by Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and other masters. As a pianist, he creates an attractive hybrid that crosses avant-garde and modern jazz piano styles, and is rich in polyrhythmic breakout passages. Improvisation is at the forefront throughout, but Brennan wears other hats too. His colorful avant-classicism, with its lushly romantic themes and contrapuntal manoeuvers, is notable. His prepared piano work, where he gently plucks and strums the strings, often inserting unexpected chord clusters, is another point of interest. "Paraph®se is a take on minimalist composer Steve Reich's "Violin Phase. During this enchanting number Brennan executes a warm, melodic ostinato on melodica, complementing his wistful piano lines. Overall, Brennan's visceral imaginative powers conjure up a vivid and engrossing panorama.

Billy Sheehan

Prime Cuts

Magna Carta

2006

The independent-minded, progressive-rock label Magna Carta continues its "best of" compilation series with selections featuring e-bass god Billy Sheehan's work in a variety of settings. Sheehan shares the spotlight with drummer Terry Bozzio, guitarist Steve Morse, keyboard whiz Jordan Rudess and other notables affiliated with the label. On tracks culled from the power-organ trio Niacin, Sheehan sports a super-heavy, fuzz-toned bass sound, bringing images of splitting steel girders to mind. On other tracks, he demonstrates his fluidity and forcefulness. One of the irrefutable highlights is a 1994 solo bass excursion, performed at a venue in Buffalo, N.Y. As the liner notes point out, this is a bootleg track recorded by someone in the audience using a hand-held mic. Sheehan's monstrous technique shines forth luminously on these, and other, contrasting works, set on different positions on the ultra-nouveau progressive-rock spectrum.

Tomcraft

Hyper Sexy Conscious

Kosmo

2006

The third solo album from German DJ Tomcraft, Hyper Sexy Conscious merges house music with snappy funk beats and layered studio effects. It's good fun, and Tomcraft generates an upbeat party atmosphere, featuring vocal spots by Dacia Bridges and Tai Jason. With multipart soundscapes, he skirts the opaque fringes of electronica, dance music, techno and related styles. He doesn't overuse the studio, he simply uses it to create a strong mix—weaving Motown, British electro-pop and swishing walls of sound to build a straightforward, dance-groove pulse. Not over-baked, but nicely well done.

Scott Whitfield Quintet with Special Guest Bob Florence

Live At Charlie O's

Summit Records

2006

Trombonist/vocalist Scott Whitfield's rep as a diehard swing-meister shows itself to be well deserved on this live album. Teeming with briskly flowing swing vamps, the quintet sticks to an amiable game-plan. Whitfield's blustery soloing firms up the groove quotient, and sits well with his lighthearted vocal swagger and understated scat workouts. It's an energetic gala, consisting of steamy ballads, samba-rooted Brazilian jazz, and modern mainstream jazz. The distinguished pianist Bob Florence sits in with the band on four tracks, and all the soloists enjoy plenty of room throughout. Whitfield's legion of admirers won't be disappointed with this upbeat and passion-packed recording.

Panoramic

Panoramic

Rhythmic Union

2006

Steelpan maestro Liam Teague sets the pace for the Panoramic sextet's fusion of Caribbean currents, Afro-Cuban cadences and East Indian modalities. Needless to say, the band lives by its moniker, and cross-cultural music serves as a baseline for jazzy improvisational episodes and buoyantly melodic choruses. With sustained jubilance, the group conveys urgency, hard-hitting group interplay—and moments of tranquility. A pleasant surprise, from an ensemble that seamlessly morphs between solid rock chops and harmonically rich music.

Rainbow

Live In Munich 1977

Eagle Rock

2006

Rock guitar hero Ritchie Blackmore's post-Deep Purple, heavy-metal group is caught during a 1977 performance at Munich's Olympiahalle. The two-disc set highlights Ronnie James Dio's wailing vocals and drummer Cozy Powell's pulsating backbeats. It also includes a fast-forward/wind-down type extended solo on the lengthy "Still I'm Sad. As you'd expect, Blackmore seizes the reins with bone-shattering, crunch chord licks. In some spots, the musicians flaunt their chops by stretching out in classic, '70s progressive-rock style. During its heyday, Rainbow sold truckloads of albums, and this hyper-energetic blast from the past reminds us why.

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