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Jazz - Released September 8, 2017 | Heads Up

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During the 80s, Mike Stern was a five star jazz fusion expert. Knighted by Miles Davis—who took him along between 1981 and 1985—he also worked with Billy Cobham and Jaco Pastorius. The guitarist from Boston unleashed an impressive virtuosity and a rather violent playing that contrasted with the one from his peers. His career was punctuated with highs and lows and several struggles with drugs and alcohol… During the summer of 2016, Stern fell hard while at home and broke his two arms. The nerve endings of his right hand had even been damaged! But after a few passages under the knife, he was able to take his Telecaster back and learn to use it brilliantly again. This aptly named Trip is therefore the disc about a voyage towards resurrection. It’s an album that proves above all that his playing, his signature, his phrases are definitely there, still intact! Helped by a dream cast that notably includes bass players Victor Wooten, Edmond Gilmore and Teymur Phell; drummers Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, Will Calhoun and Dave Weckl; trumpet players Randy Brecker and Wallace Roney; keyboard player Jim Beard and saxophonist Bill Evans, Mike Stern pens an album which rivals those from his golden age, sometimes looking towards the Miles he knew, during the period of The Man With The Horn/Star People. Mostly, Trip shows him in various contexts, able of impressive guitaristic pyrotechnics as well as more introspective and tempered moments. Welcome back! © CM/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released September 8, 2017 | Heads Up

During the 80s, Mike Stern was a five star jazz fusion expert. Knighted by Miles Davis—who took him along between 1981 and 1985—he also worked with Billy Cobham and Jaco Pastorius. The guitarist from Boston unleashed an impressive virtuosity and a rather violent playing that contrasted with the one from his peers. His career was punctuated with highs and lows and several struggles with drugs and alcohol… During the summer of 2016, Stern fell hard while at home and broke his two arms. The nerve endings of his right hand had even been damaged! But after a few passages under the knife, he was able to take his Telecaster back and learn to use it brilliantly again. This aptly named Trip is therefore the disc about a voyage towards resurrection. It’s an album that proves above all that his playing, his signature, his phrases are definitely there, still intact! Helped by a dream cast that notably includes bass players Victor Wooten, Edmond Gilmore and Teymur Phell; drummers Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, Will Calhoun and Dave Weckl; trumpet players Randy Brecker and Wallace Roney; keyboard player Jim Beard and saxophonist Bill Evans, Mike Stern pens an album which rivals those from his golden age, sometimes looking towards the Miles he knew, during the period of The Man With The Horn/Star People. Mostly, Trip shows him in various contexts, able of impressive guitaristic pyrotechnics as well as more introspective and tempered moments. Welcome back! © CM/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released September 30, 2016 | Heads Up

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Jazz - Released September 30, 2016 | Heads Up

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Jazz - Released September 9, 2016 | Heads Up

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Jazz - Released September 25, 2015 | Heads Up

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Mindi Abair's 2014 Grammy-nominated studio album Wild Heart was star-studded and chock-full of imaginative charts, but they were so fixed, precious little room remained for players to stretch out. Abair remedies that on Live in Seattle, backed by the Boneshakers -- guitarist Randy Jacobs and vocalist Sweet Pea Atkinson -- and members of her own band. She is a celebrated contemporary jazz artist, but she's done many other things as well. On Live in Seattle, she channels her rock, funk, and blueswoman personas with her jazz chops at the fore. With Jacobs and Atkinson bringing blues-rock and hard soul edges from Detroit, what else could she do? "Wild Heart" commences with Jacobs' roiling, back-to-the-roots guitar vamping at the fore. Abair answers by matching the intensity with a funk vamp as the rhythm section lays down an elastic pocket. "I Can't Lose" reveals that her thin, grainy voice does have power (something lacking on Wild Heart); it climbs out on the ledge to express emotion on top of the band's swampy magic. Instrumentally, her alto solo careens into Jacobs' Hendrix-ian wah-wah guitar and the wallop of the rhythm section. She's a terrific accompanist, too, as evidenced by Jacobs' swaggering, Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque electric blues in "Ball and Chain," as Atkinson lends soulful depth in the backing vocal. "Make It Happen," a breakbeat-drenched souled-out funk stepper, is a previously unreleased jam Abair wrote with Booker T. Jones. Her raw, squawking alto and Jacobs' fat, rhythmic comping are a killer combination. For contemporary jazz fans, there's an uptempo version of the lyrical "Bloom" (from 2006's Life Less Ordinary). Her soloing here offers reveals the depth of her experience, both musical and emotional. Likewise, her vocal duet with Atkinson on the lovely "I'll Be Your Home" weds both Motown and Stax traditions seamlessly. An over the top, rockist instrumental version of George Gershwin's "Summertime" follows; it's rangy and wild. The exchanges between Abair's wailing, Jacobs' massive riffing, Third Richardson's breakbeat drums, Derek Frank's whomping basslines, and Rodney Lee's fluid, spiky keyboards offer abundant lyricism and kinetic force. Abair is no stranger to James Brown's tunes -- she brings Atkinson out to close with "Cold Sweat." The band's attack is more blues than funk, but Atkinson's alternately silky and grainy soul delivery turns this nugget inside-out. Live in Seattle was a gutsy move following the commercial success of Wild Heart, but it was the right one. On earlier records and in her session work, Abair's musical wild side could only be heard in brief flashes. But with the perfect balance of players, and freed from the constraints of a studio, she is at her unfettered best. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 25, 2015 | Heads Up

Mindi Abair's 2014 Grammy-nominated studio album Wild Heart was star-studded and chock-full of imaginative charts, but they were so fixed, precious little room remained for players to stretch out. Abair remedies that on Live in Seattle, backed by the Boneshakers -- guitarist Randy Jacobs and vocalist Sweet Pea Atkinson -- and members of her own band. She is a celebrated contemporary jazz artist, but she's done many other things as well. On Live in Seattle, she channels her rock, funk, and blueswoman personas with her jazz chops at the fore. With Jacobs and Atkinson bringing blues-rock and hard soul edges from Detroit, what else could she do? "Wild Heart" commences with Jacobs' roiling, back-to-the-roots guitar vamping at the fore. Abair answers by matching the intensity with a funk vamp as the rhythm section lays down an elastic pocket. "I Can't Lose" reveals that her thin, grainy voice does have power (something lacking on Wild Heart); it climbs out on the ledge to express emotion on top of the band's swampy magic. Instrumentally, her alto solo careens into Jacobs' Hendrix-ian wah-wah guitar and the wallop of the rhythm section. She's a terrific accompanist, too, as evidenced by Jacobs' swaggering, Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque electric blues in "Ball and Chain," as Atkinson lends soulful depth in the backing vocal. "Make It Happen," a breakbeat-drenched souled-out funk stepper, is a previously unreleased jam Abair wrote with Booker T. Jones. Her raw, squawking alto and Jacobs' fat, rhythmic comping are a killer combination. For contemporary jazz fans, there's an uptempo version of the lyrical "Bloom" (from 2006's Life Less Ordinary). Her soloing here offers reveals the depth of her experience, both musical and emotional. Likewise, her vocal duet with Atkinson on the lovely "I'll Be Your Home" weds both Motown and Stax traditions seamlessly. An over the top, rockist instrumental version of George Gershwin's "Summertime" follows; it's rangy and wild. The exchanges between Abair's wailing, Jacobs' massive riffing, Third Richardson's breakbeat drums, Derek Frank's whomping basslines, and Rodney Lee's fluid, spiky keyboards offer abundant lyricism and kinetic force. Abair is no stranger to James Brown's tunes -- she brings Atkinson out to close with "Cold Sweat." The band's attack is more blues than funk, but Atkinson's alternately silky and grainy soul delivery turns this nugget inside-out. Live in Seattle was a gutsy move following the commercial success of Wild Heart, but it was the right one. On earlier records and in her session work, Abair's musical wild side could only be heard in brief flashes. But with the perfect balance of players, and freed from the constraints of a studio, she is at her unfettered best. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 9, 2015 | Heads Up

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Jazz - Released October 23, 2015 | Heads Up

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Step It Up, the fourth offering from the revamped Jeff Lorber Fusion, picks up almost exactly where 2014's Grammy-nominated Hacienda left off -- with a couple of twists. Keyboardist Lorber and bassist Jimmy Haslip co-produced the 57-minute, 11-track set of originals. The pair got help from their regular stable of sessionmen including guitarists Paul Jackson, Jr. and Michael Thompson, saxophonist Gary Meek, percussionist Lenny Castro, and a slew of drummers including Vinnie Colaiuta. There are also a couple of star guest appearances from Haslip's former Yellowjackets bandmates, tenorman Bob Mintzer and guitarist Robben Ford. The horn charts were expertly scripted by David Mann. Musically, this material harkens back to the mid-'70s; knotty funk, modal jazz, and the melodic invention of R&B are carefully balanced in a breezy, thoughtful, and spine-tingling presentation. "Mustang," one of two pre-release singles, comes right out of Grover Washington, Jr.'s Feels So Good/Mr. Magic period, with a very similar keyboard vamp and contrasting harmonic interludes in the bridge. Colaiuta's kit and Castro's congas create a hypnotic center around the melody before Mintzer's meaty tenor break turns left of center. "Arecibo," the first of two tracks to feature Ford on lead guitar, is feel- good jazz-funk. The interplay between keyboard tones, melodies, and chunky rhythmic vamps contrast beautifully with the guitarist's deep blues fills and solo. Ford and Mintzer also feature on "Soul Party," the other single. Mann's horn chart has a wider color palette thanks to Haslip's bassline presence. The tenor, Lorber, and the guitarist dialogue in a series of finger-popping cadences, taut funk breaks, and fleet solo moments. Everything in the mix comes back to swinging, meaty, in-the-pocket R&B. As smooth as Galaxy and substantial as Hacienda, this set offers the best of both albums but goes further in its imaginative lyricism and charts. The groove quotient on Step It Up is exceptionally high, refracted through the prism of focused, precise compositions. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 9, 2015 | Heads Up

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Jazz - Released October 23, 2015 | Heads Up

Step It Up, the fourth offering from the revamped Jeff Lorber Fusion, picks up almost exactly where 2014's Grammy-nominated Hacienda left off -- with a couple of twists. Keyboardist Lorber and bassist Jimmy Haslip co-produced the 57-minute, 11-track set of originals. The pair got help from their regular stable of sessionmen including guitarists Paul Jackson, Jr. and Michael Thompson, saxophonist Gary Meek, percussionist Lenny Castro, and a slew of drummers including Vinnie Colaiuta. There are also a couple of star guest appearances from Haslip's former Yellowjackets bandmates, tenorman Bob Mintzer and guitarist Robben Ford. The horn charts were expertly scripted by David Mann. Musically, this material harkens back to the mid-'70s; knotty funk, modal jazz, and the melodic invention of R&B are carefully balanced in a breezy, thoughtful, and spine-tingling presentation. "Mustang," one of two pre-release singles, comes right out of Grover Washington, Jr.'s Feels So Good/Mr. Magic period, with a very similar keyboard vamp and contrasting harmonic interludes in the bridge. Colaiuta's kit and Castro's congas create a hypnotic center around the melody before Mintzer's meaty tenor break turns left of center. "Arecibo," the first of two tracks to feature Ford on lead guitar, is feel- good jazz-funk. The interplay between keyboard tones, melodies, and chunky rhythmic vamps contrast beautifully with the guitarist's deep blues fills and solo. Ford and Mintzer also feature on "Soul Party," the other single. Mann's horn chart has a wider color palette thanks to Haslip's bassline presence. The tenor, Lorber, and the guitarist dialogue in a series of finger-popping cadences, taut funk breaks, and fleet solo moments. Everything in the mix comes back to swinging, meaty, in-the-pocket R&B. As smooth as Galaxy and substantial as Hacienda, this set offers the best of both albums but goes further in its imaginative lyricism and charts. The groove quotient on Step It Up is exceptionally high, refracted through the prism of focused, precise compositions. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 28, 2012 | Heads Up

Booklet
For over 20 years, the collaborative ensemble Fourplay has grown ever more cohesive in its approach to modern jazz. When the three founding members added guitarist Chuck Loeb to the lineup for 2010's Let's Touch the Sky, the group attained perfect dialogic balance. Fourplay had made fine records before, but the guitar chair always felt either under- or overutilized. Though the long established leader, Loeb's writing, arranging, and playing are more ensemble-oriented than either of his two predecessors, Lee Ritenour or Larry Carlton. On Esprit de Four, Fourplay display themselves as among the most intuitive, forward-thinking, and focused groups in modern jazz -- yet remain very accessible. While their aesthetic has been and remains contemporary, they employ classic approaches to composition, melodic improvisation, rhythm, and harmony. Loeb's "December's Dream" kicks things off. It's an airy composition that weaves together folk, pop, jazz, and even Americana. The shimmering cymbal work of Harvey Mason highlights the interplay between Bob James and Loeb, while Nathan East's bassline instills the melody with an irresistible groove. On "Sonnymoon," his bassline is deeply funky, preceding a fine exchange between the rich colors in Loeb's chords and the warm texture of James' electric piano, all given weight by Mason's trademark breaks. The latter's title tune presents a Brazilian groove illustrated by Loeb's acoustic guitar atop unobtrusive background synth and organic percussion. James supports with fills and subtle timbral voicings. Vocals have been prevalent on past Fourplay records, but here they are upfront only on the bluesy nocturnal soul of East's "All I Wanna Do," and the closer, a vocal version of James' "Put Our Hearts Together," sung beautifully by Seiko Matsuda. The rest are used as wordless textures, like another instrument in the mix. The tune, originally an instrumental, was written by James for a concert in Japan right after the earthquake and tsunami. His daughter Hilary heard it and asked to write lyrics for an abbreviated version. Both are present here. The instrumental commences as a haunting, pop-classical piece that gives way to a weave of lyric conversation that eventually becomes a swinging post-bop jam with an excellent solo by James. Esprit de Four is a shining example of jazz as a collaborative endeavor; these well-established soloists play as equals in a band that communicates on a level that most groups only dream of. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 19, 2012 | Heads Up

Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Sélection JAZZ NEWS
Esperanza Spalding's fourth album, Radio Music Society (a companion piece to Chamber Music Society in name only) is one of enormous ambition -- polished production, sophisticated, busy charts, and classy songwriting -- that consciously juxtaposes neo-soul and adult-oriented jazz-tinged pop. It employs a stellar cast, largely of jazz musicians, to pull it off. She produced the set, with help from Q-Tip on a couple of numbers, and wrote all but two songs here: a cover of "I Can't Help It" (a Michael Jackson cover written by Stevie Wonder) and Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species." There are truckloads of players, including three different all-star drummers in Terri Lyne Carrington, Jack DeJohnette, and Billy Hart, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Lionel Loueke on "Black Gold" (which also contains his vocals and an appearance by the Savannah Children's Choir). Though Ms. Spalding takes most lead vocals, there are also duet appearances from Lalah Hathaway and Algebra Blessett. Backing vocalists include Gretchen Parlato (who also anchors a chorus on several tunes) and Leni Stern. The American Music Program horn section appears on three cuts. The highlights here include "Crowned & Kissed" (a Q-Tip co-production) with its rubbery bassline, contrapuntal horns, Leo Genovese's artful pianism, and Carrington's impeccable sense of swing that bridges funk, neo-soul, jazz, and hip-hop. "Radio Song" contains layered interpolated rhythms (again courtesy of Carrington), sparkling Rhodes piano, syncopated horns and backing chorus, Spalding's alto croon, and a taut, popping bassline. Lovano's saxophone adds a truly elegant and graceful dimension to "I Can't Help It." The charts on Shorter's tune (with lyrics by Spalding) illuminate what may have been the composer's intent all along -- and nod at Pastorius-era Weather Report simultaneously. DeJohnette's funky subtlety drives the knotty fingerpop of "Let Her," and Hart's trademark, shimmering cymbal work on "Hold on Me" complements Spalding's sultry vocal in retro bluesy pop -- it's one of only a couple of places on the record where she plays acoustic bass. While Radio Music Society may play better to younger pop audiences than more die-hard jazzheads, this program is so diverse and well executed -- despite a little overreaching -- it's anybody's guess. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2012 | Heads Up

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Jazz - Released April 28, 2009 | Heads Up

Marion Meadows has the talent and the chops to record a truly great album of improvisatory jazz, be it fusion, post-bop, hard bop, cool jazz, or soul-jazz. The soprano saxophonist did, after all, receive his education in jazz from heavyweights like Eddie Daniels, Norman Connors, and the late Joe Henderson. But regrettably, Meadows has spent most of his career catering to smooth jazz stations and offering lightweight background music. Secrets, like so many formulaic smooth sax albums, has a strong Grover Washington, Jr. influence but generally lacks Washington's grit, edginess, or sense of adventure. There have been numerous Washington disciples in smooth jazz (from Najee to Dave Koz to Kenny G to the late George Howard), and most of them have played it much, much safer than their idol -- which is what Meadows does most of the time on Secrets. Overall, this 2009 release is a decidedly conservative affair from Meadows, who plays mostly soprano sax but gets in some tenor sax and clarinet as well. But Secrets does have its moments. This CD contains a memorable version of Pat Metheny's Brazilian-influenced "Here to Stay," and "The Shade Tree" (which is one of Secrets' vocal offerings) has an appealing, Michael Franks-ish quality. Also enjoyable is the Latin-tinged "Sand Dancers." So even though Secrets favors a by-the-book approach most of the time, Meadows occasionally lets loose and gambles with inspiration. One wishes, however, that he did it a lot more often. Secrets will probably be well received by the smooth jazz program directors that Meadows is going after, but he is capable of so much more. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released May 12, 2009 | Heads Up

After the 2008 Return to Forever reunion, Chick Corea formed an electric band with John McLaughlin, and Stanley Clarke put together this well heeled acoustic trio with Lenny White and Hiromi Uehara. The result was spectacular on both ends, but here Clarke and friends really get to the heart of contemporary jazz with a program of standards, originals from the bandmembers, and a focus on Clarke with his full, upright bass that had not heretofore been so pronounced since his early days. The trio sounds great and play to their strengths no matter what modern style they tackle. Uehara is very much into this music emotionally, and White does his usual yeoman job of creating taut rhythmic structures without getting in the way or grandstanding. Clarke's fingerpopping electric bass guitar work is put aside for a slight vibrato style that sets him apart, and keeps his estimable virtuoso reputation intact. Clarke and Uehara contribute compositions that exude not even a hint of nostalgia for the old, good days of jazz-rock fusion, but instead are seated firmly in new, soulful, contemporary ideas that flow and are not all that concerned with pyrotechnics. Their tribute to President Barack Obama on "Paradigm Shift (Election Day 2008)" musically reflects a long campaign with a quirky, bouncy, ultra rhythmic prologue leading to a modal, peaceful, and satisfying outcome. "3 Wrong Notes" strikes an accord with Chick Corea like cool turnarounds in a straight bop framework. "Global Tweak" streams Clarke's bass and Uehara's piano into laid-back sounds merging into playful highway cruising. Where lessons learned via Thelonious Monk crop up during the spiky, impish "Brain Training" and Joe Henderson's "Isotope," they settle into a comfort zone, especially the pianist, who continues to surprise with her mainstream jazz literacy on the straitlaced, no-frills version of "Solar." They are perfectly capable of effectively melding their cultures on the beautifully rendered "Sakura Sakura," mixing and matching traditional Japanese folk music and art with low-key drama in a progressive 6/8 mode. The key to this music is not only their collective ability to set up a theme and develop it on every selection, but to completely avoid clichés and identifiers that pigeonhole their personalized sounds. A collective and democratic group in every sense, they also go beyond what most seasoned piano-bass-drums trios accomplish playing standards, instead inventing their own language with fresh, original new music no matter the source. They do pull out old chestnuts like the aforementioned standards, but when you hear Clarke's lead lines and extrapolations during "Take the Coltrane" or his updated "Bass Folk Song No. 5 & 6," you understand these are musicians not resting on laurels or past glories. When high caliber players -- in the truest sense -- convene and transcend the styles they were associated with in the past, that is the basis for making great music. In this regard, Clarke, Uehara, and White have collectively succeeded on all creative levels, and deserve every ounce of your attention on this recording that is extraordinary from start to finish. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released February 24, 2009 | Heads Up

"Their secret, in swinging tunes like 'Sway On' and 'Vision Accomplished' and funky numbers like 'Step on It' and 'Soul Intent,' is to stay true to their vision of muscular contemporary jazz unburdened by thoughts of radio airplay." © TiVo
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Blues - Released September 29, 2008 | Heads Up

The list of special guests who appear on Taj Mahal's Maestro is hardly what one would expect from a veteran bluesman. Among the special guests are Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Ben Harper, and African pop vocalist Angélique Kidjo -- not exactly a conventional blues lineup. But then, Mahal is hardly a conventional blues artist. He has been providing eclectic, far-reaching albums for a long time, and that spirit of adventure is alive and well on this 2008 release (which marks his 40th year as a recording artist -- Mahal provided his first album in 1968). No one expects Mahal's albums to be the work of a blues purist; in fact, Mahal (who plays guitar, harmonica, banjo, and ukulele on Maestro) is the opposite of a blues purist. While Maestro has its share of electric blues, the veteran singer also gets into everything from soul ("Further on Down the Road") and early R&B (Fats Domino's "Hello Josephine") to reggae ("Black Man, Brown Man," "Never Let You Go") and African pop ("Zanzibar"). The latter features Kidjo on lead vocals and Toumani Diabaté on the kora (a traditional African instrument), while Los Lobos appear on "Never Let You Go" and the humorous "TV Mama" (which is among the disc's straight-ahead blues offerings). Mahal, true to form, is all over the place stylistically on this 57-minute CD -- and yet, Maestro never sounds the least bit unfocused. Being eclectic comes naturally to Mahal, who sees to it that Maestro is a consistently engaging celebration of his 40th year as a recording artist. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 24, 2008 | Heads Up

Joe Zawinul's final edition of his Zawinul Syndicate band was a terrific ensemble that was perfect for any jazz festival. The multi-ethnic content, driving funky pulse, and Zawinul's colorful keyboard foundation kept listeners on their toes and rapt with attention. Using percussion and guitar with no other solo instruments, Zawinul was fully able to carry the proceedings with support from very talented performers who always complemented the music, but never got in the way, or dared to. This live double-CD set perfectly exemplifies Zawinul's personalized direction before he suddenly passed away, and exudes all of the energy the group produced in concert. For Weather Report fans, there are many direct or implied signposts that remind us why that band was so unique under the Austrian-born keyboardist's direction. But at the core is Zawinul's expanded sound, based in technological advances, conjuring up any number of folk based motifs from around the globe. "Orient Express" and "Madagascar" start the voyage in good form, reminiscent of Weather Report's "Black Market" phase, as electric bass guitarist Linley Marthe channels Jaco Pastorius as Mediterranean music is contemporized with an American backbeat. Late period Miles Davis simplicity is employed during "Scarlet Woman," perhaps a cousin of "Back Seat Betty" in its slow and mysterious but eventually composed strut. The mbira or thumb piano is played by Paco Serv alongside Zawinul's vocoder and synths on the sparse "Zanza II," and "Cafe Andalusia" concludes the first CD in a straight rock-funk beat with wordless vocals from the impressive Sabine Kabongo driving an unstoppable forward motion and kinetic energy. Seems like the band can't wait to dive into "Fast City/Two Lines," a speedy bullet train combo tune, fueled by the stinging Santana-like guitar of Alegre Correa, inspiring fine solos from Marthe and drummer Serv. -"Clario" is all Correa's, a spotlight on Brazilian Jobim-styled sounds, induced by his toned down guitar, ramped up scats, and yells. The Weather Report touch returns in "Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz," a seamless transition between free time and 3/4 where Zawinul's understated synth and Correa's berimbau identify the universal global village as welcome to all. Wayne Shorter joins the group for a thinly veiled version of the Miles Davis groundbreaker "In a Silent Way," reuniting the old mates in a body of improvisation featuring small, clipped notes and phrases on soprano sax, returning after a respite to briefly state the riff on which a thousand stately, elegant and wistful counter harmonies were built upon. When the Zawinul Syndicate performed, they left nothing on the stage, extracting every ounce of their souls for all to hear. The leader demanded this commitment, and when you listen closely to his layers of pure sound and merging cultures altogether wrapped up, one wishes he could have had a prominent position in the United Nations. Our world was a better place with Joe Zawinul in it. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 25, 2008 | Heads Up

Where once they were three -- Dave Samuels on vibes, Paquito D'Rivera on saxophone, and Andy Narell on steel drums -- Caribbean Jazz Project has morphed over the past decade-plus into a big band of close to 20 members, 13 of them horn players. Samuels, who contributes marimba as well as vibes, remains at the helm, and it's clearly his vehicle -- he also wrote five of the nine tracks on this set. The band cooks, no question about it, and Samuels' Latin-leaning arrangements are smart and steamy. But new material is in short supply, and the album ultimately has a sense of déjà vu about it. Nearly all of the material, including covers of Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing," Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," and John Coltrane's "Naima," has appeared on previous CJP recordings, and even if Samuels felt a burning need to return to these songs to recast them as big-band numbers, he might have tried reworking them while he was at it -- outside of the sheer volume of players involved, there's simply not much going on here that adds a new dimension to the Caribbean Jazz Project story. That said, the quality of musicianship throughout the album is superb, and those unfamiliar with the previous releases will undoubtedly find it exhilarating. But those who've experienced the previous recordings and seek newness won't find it here. © Jeff Tamarkin /TiVo