February 2004

Glenn Astarita By

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Windham Hill Chill 2

Various Artists

Windham Hill

This 2-CD package is divided into ambient and acoustic settings featuring the second installment and compilation of the New Age label's roster of stars, including tracks by four new artists. You'll hear the late acoustic guitar virtuoso Michael Hedges, synth ace Patrick O' Hearn, Yanni and many others throughout 28 tracks. At times, meditative or for some, therapeutic—this production pretty much symbolizes the record label's characterization. Nonetheless, we can't argue with the label's inferences to the predominant chill factor inherent throughout the entire mix.

Those Times

Michael Musillami

Playscape Recordings

Guitarist Michael Musillami treads mainstream waters here on his latest effort. Then again, the artist cannot be pigeonholed, thanks to a slew of adventurous releases to his credit. Featuring pianist Ted Rosenthal, drummer George Schuller and bassist Dave Shapiro, the overall game plan resides within a nicely integrated blend. The guitarist contributes one original while modifying Horace Silver's "Peace" and Bill Evans' "Comrade Conrad" into a personalized approach. The band swings hard as a recognizable luster graces the musicians' straight-up methodology. Another fine showing by this superb artisan!

Lamentations - Live at Shepard's Bush Empire 2003


OPETH Website

The Swedish prog-metal band divides this set into two disparate segments: Music from its fine and softly melodic 2003 release, Damnation and familiar tunes culled from previous "metal" based recordings. Guitarist/vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt is the front man here, as he gently prods the audience while displaying a humble tone during his banter in between songs. And while many ensembles of this ilk engage in nonsensical antics, this lot displays a touch of class, topped off by strong musicianship and a tightly focused agenda. Selfishly speaking, this writer is a bit partial to the whispery themes showcased during the first half of the program, featuring the entire Damnation CD. The quartet displays an earnest sense of direction, sans any grandiose implications.

Five Suns


Cuneiform Records

The press announcement pronounces similarities to prog-rock icons such as Magma, King Crimson, and minimalist composer Terry Riley. A good analogy at that! Therefore, this British keys-bass-drums trio lays it all down with swarming sheets of sound. Keyboardist Daniel O' Sullivan uses a Fender Rhodes, mellotron and analogue synths to good effect here. A good portion of the band's call to arms is rooted within elements of top-heavy expressionism. At the end of the day, the group transmits a protocol rooted within the '70s progressive rock scene.


Tony Malaby

Songlines Saxophonist Tony Malaby's second release as a leader features drummers Michael Sarin and Tom Rainey performing side by side, along with bassist Drew Gress. This New York City based crew, led by the excellent saxophonist embarks upon a rip-roaring modern jazz program. Nevertheless, it's the dual drumming attack that provides the mark of authenticity to this soul-stirring set. Rainey and Sarin perform masterfully here! At times, the drumming is akin to a domino effect as they extend rhythms without losing the flow. Malaby leads the charge with his meaty tenor and soprano sax lines. His adroit expressionism and forcefully shaped lyricism provides the axis for the drummers' zestfully articulated polyrhythms.

Radio Fractal/Beat Music - Donaueschingen 2002

Wolfgang Mitterer


Maybe it's those rich, and sugary Viennese desserts that help propel the Austrian avant-garde scene into hyper-momentum situations? Commissioned by German radio for the Donaueschingen festival of new music, electronics maverick Wolfgang Mitterer leads this septet thru a wildly engaging journey. Call it avant-garde, electro-space music, melded with jazz improv or simply let the music stand upon its own classification, which is a dubious task. Veteran jazz saxophonist Max Nagle, turntablist deb 13 and others weave their magic throughout this most interesting program. The band abides by a credo founded upon abstracts, funkified beats, and shock therapy type motivations. Yet the kicker is.. the music is vastly entertaining! At times, it might ring like a science project, although where others may fail miserably, these gents pull it off in a majestic way.

Take It From The Top

Bob James Trio

KOCH Records

Since the '70s pianist Bob James has authored much of what eventually became smooth jazz. But he's also performed and recorded with the late trumpeter Chet Baker amid numerous projects of various colors. With this outing, James opts for the piano trio format, as his selection of material consists of works by piano greats such Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, and others. James' decision to use bassist James Genus and drummer Billy Kilson elevates this production to lofty heights. Simply stated, this terrific modern jazz rhythm section adds snap, crackle, and bop, to the pianist's eloquently crafted chord voicings.

Three Romances

University of Miami Concert Jazz Band

Summit Records - Education

The University of Miami is well known for its jazz curriculum. With this outing, the Concert Jazz Band performs Horace Silver's "Gregory Is Here," but the important aspect resides within the band's premier performance of Maria Schneider's "Three Romances" composition." No doubt, these college students sound like venerable pros as they interleave sublime tenderness with garrulous soloing to complement the nicely layered arrangements.

The People's Music

Jon Rose

ReR Megacorp

Jon Rose invents electronics, produces interactive concert performances, and possesses more violins (and violin-based contraptions) than Heinz has sauces. For the most part, he's an incredibly inventive improviser. On this project, he directs a string orchestra and percussionists with nods to indigenous Chinese music amid contemporary classical overtures. Oh, and there are moments of wit and vigor during a few of these intertwining movements. As noted in the liners, the music was recorded in a somewhat inaccessible area of his native Australia. Welcome to the slightly anarchic world of Jon Rose!

American Song

Andy Bey

Savoy Jazz

He's a great jazz vocalist who gained some notoriety with Horace Silver back in the '70s and onward. Andy Bey's richly reverberant baritone vocal chops and distinctive mode of delivery, often elevates his presence to an infinitely higher plane. The artist's lush balladry and energized swing sensibilities are set upon American standards such as Ellington's "Satin Doll" and Kurt Weill's "Speak Low," among others. Ultimately, Bey's latest venture is quite addicting.


Flute Bass-ics

Chip Shelton featuring Ron Carter

Summit Records

Flutist Chip Shelton garners steady support from bass great Ron Carter, pianist Stephen Scott, drummer Lewis Nash and percussionist Steven Kroon, on this genial endeavor. The leader of this session clearly reaps the dividends of name recognition here. On this mainstream effort, Shelton shines as a fluent soloist. He lucidly overlays flute parts on the somewhat mystical finale, titled "Valse for Mom."

Drive By

The Necks


This Australian bass-drums-keys trio proves that less is more. They're sort of a jazz-fusion/progressive rock band via a minimalist approach. The group always centers their cyclical grooves atop sustainable melodies that gradually alter over the course of several minutes.

Still Lovin' You

Robert Bradley and Blackwater Surprise

Vanguard Records

With his latest, singer Robert Bradley stirs up a soul-rock brew, topped off by heartfelt lyricism and his ensemble's rock-based interplay. His excellent 2002 date New Ground found the band exuding a huge wall of sound in concert with catchy hooks and climactic opuses. Now, Bradley digs a bit deeper where his somewhat chalky vocal attributes, come across nicely, though a portion of these selections tend to sound a bit humdrum and relatively uneventful.

Super Star Triok

Moroni Moriconi Bagnoli

ABEAT Records

No, it's not an Italian law firm, but a powerful jazz-based, keys, bass, and drums trio. Italy's Abeat Records is a relatively new modern jazz label that boasts an impressive catalogue. Dado Moroni shrewdly alternates between Fender Rhodes piano, B-3 organ, and VOX keyboard to ride atop his peppery rhythm section. Overall, the musicians enliven most semblances of a mainstream jazz trio, thanks to rapidly executed motifs, high-spirited soloing escapades, and other niceties. It's red hot!


Sonic Mechatronik Arkestra

Moserobie Music

This Scandinavian septet owns a '70s jazz-fusion style packed with a conspicuous groove slant amid some freeform tendencies. Mathias Landæus uses a Fender Rhodes, sampler and Korg keyboard to great effect. The horn section operates via a loose demeanor along with a few studio based electronic treatments. For example, the band incorporates catchy melodies into its repertoire on the sinewy and slow-drag funk piece titled "Third Eye."

Play Free or Die

Charlie Kohlhase Quintet

Boxholder Records

Known for his ongoing work with New England's Either/Orchestra, saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase is an astute improviser who skirts the fringes of the outside realm of matters on this superfine 2-CD set. Featuring trumpeter John Carlson and drummer Eric Rosenthal, this three-horn supported quintet generates a rather large sound. In addition, it doesn't take long to discern that the musicians are truly motivated and having a blast, while performing at a college music hall.

Trinkle Trio

Paolo Sorge

AUAND - distributed by JAZZOS

Guitarist Paolo Sorge uses electronics in spots for this creative guitar-tuba-drums outing consisting of Thelonious Monk compositions and two originals by the leader. At times, the trio breaks these Monk works into tiny components, only to reengineer various motifs into spacious forays. Essentially, it's nice to hear modern jazz musicians inject their personal stamp into Monk's songbook. Sorge, tubaist Michel Godard and drummer Francesco Cusa should be applauded for their loosely visualized concepts and tight-knit coordination.

The Circle of Willis

Bill Barrett - Scot Ray - Wayne Peet

Bill Barrett (Anatomy Records)

Armed with chromatic harmonicas, Bill Barrett can bang out the blues, play avant-garde jazz, funk and just about anything else. Trombonist Scot Ray and keyboardist Wayne Peet round out this delightful trio setting. It's asymmetrical parts jazz, folk, blues, but the key here resides within the group's ability to carve out a unique sound and style. This recording's magnetic qualities are rooted within memorable melodies, affecting improvisations, and a folksy deportment.

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