Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Beat Funktion, Mandy's Secret

by Jeff Becker

I am on a bit of Swedish tear it seems, with two reviews in one week from Swedish groups, entirely different from each other, yet uniquely on a chosen path.  Beat Funktion has transcended the confines of the region and burst onto the North American scene with vigor and resolve to dominate the funk/jazz scene.  Spending a collective of 52 weeks on the jazz charts with 3 releases in 2 years: Moon Town, Voodooland and Mandy's Secret, is certainly nothing to take lightly or shake as stick at.  So let's get down to the music.  It's pure, its retro, at times cinematic, it offers a refreshingly danceable quality not found in a lot of jazz overall, this could be what some call the magic to the recipe, except we cannot discount the musicianship is top-notch and the writing is superb, which to me is the unique and secret ingredient.

Overall, the music is instrumental with big production values, and soaring horn lines that offer complex rhythms and well-conceived writing ideas.  It is easy going, but deceivingly complex and rich in nature. Highlight cuts for me are: "I Am Summer," "Snap To It, " "On The Tiles," and "Rundfunk."

Each cut seemingly was a journey onto itself.  The title cut "Mandy's Secret" has the most filmic vibe of the outing, with a female voice narrating the storyline.  The companion "official video" offered up on youtube, drew me into the intrigue quite nicely.

This is a win folks, don't delay - pick up a copy today via iTunes, skip the designer coffee and support this group on the rise.

GuitCussion - Blue Congo

by Jeff Becker

Best described as fusion or maybe free jazz, with heavy metal propensities prowling in the background, that present themselves in quick running lines that delve into the shred zone.

Swedish group GuitCussion offers an intriguing sound. Consisting of two guitarists and two drummers, the group states it is their goal to create a powerful form of free music in a non-idiomatic fashion. GuitCussion creates interesting atmospheres and textures on Blue Congo, and can bring the fire when needed.
Blue Congo is trove of riches, with over 70 minutes of music, there is so much for the listener to indulge themselves with. A successful outing with many highlights to offer.

Personnel: Henrik Wartel - Drums; Stefan Thorpenberg - Electric Guitars;  Per Anders Skytt - Drums; Gunnar Backman - Fretless and Fretted 25 string Virtual Guitar, Live Loops.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Peter Liu, Bamboo Groove

by Jeff Becker

Peter Liu though new on the vocal jazz scene, has a unique sensibility to swing.  Backed by veteran pianist Peter Hum, bassist Normand Glaude, drummer Tim Shia and a new name to me Scott Poll on clarinet, create a convincing canvas for Liu to colorize.  Liu weaves his way through a songbook of well-known standards with enticing arrangements that give a certain sparkle to each cut.  A very special cut on the album is “Shanghai Tan” fashioned in a jazz swing feel – but sung in Chinese and “Gan Lan Shu” a beautifully introspective and spacious ballad with dramatic sweeps and fills handled by the backing musicians with sincere technique.  Liu has an easy going effervescence to his vocal style; it’s honest and organic in nature, a very pleasing listen throughout.  Of the 13 tracks adorning Bamboo Groove, it was “I Fall in Love Too Easily” that resonated for me, an almost Cincotti swagger emerges from this track.  Liu is onto something quite special with his international flair.  I truly enjoyed each track – the Chinese infused cuts and the overall nostalgia of his sound.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rodrigo Amado, Wire Quartet

by Icrom Bigrad

Filled with romping excitement, Rodrigo Amado and Wire Quartet are positively exhilarating and will not disappoint, supported by a wonderful line up that features members of the Red Trio and the rewarding, Manuel Mota.  Wire Quartet consists of three extended pieces. "Abandon Yourself" which opens the album with slow building introduction where each member moves gently with well place focused notes. The piece moves into its second structure when Amado and Mota both let loose and Faustino and Ferrandini follow making this section of the piece the most chaotic while beautiful at the same time.  The mood settles in the latter stages as each musician has their own moment to rise above. The compositional strength is strong, yet Amado allows the members the freedom to craft the passages within the outlying structure.

On “Surrender” a bluesy artistic vibe, yet still encompassing sense of moving far beyond, with an abundance free movement with Mota's guitar screaming like Branca, Bailey or Thurston Moore rolled into one. Ferrandini’s atmospheric brush-work adds a nice polish to the track. While on the closing number, "To the Music," Amado opens wide with pounding tones and patterns that are reminiscent of Ayler or Braxton. Mota's guitar wails but never overpowers the piece.

Wire Quartet is a significant addition to the jazz rock moniker; it is fierce, searing and rasping like any other Amado record. Similar to Amado's work with Luis Lopes, but with the profusion that a quartet offers to the sound, adding a level of muscularity to Rodrigo Amado's compositions, this is hard to believe, as his brilliance was already in abundance. 

Players:  Rodrigo Amado (sax), Gabriel Ferrandini (drums), HernĂ¢ni Faustino (bass), Manuel Mota (guitar).

Label:  Clean Feed; 2014

Mason Razavi, Quartet Plus

by Jeff Becker

Mason Razavi is a jazz guitarist, composer, educator, and band-leader based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Razavi started out as a self-taught rock guitarist, but after hearing an Andres Segovia recording at the age of 22, he changed directions dramatically and focused on the classical literature and the nylon-strung guitar. After several years of immersion in the classical world, Razavi returned to a more balanced diet of classical, jazz and rock, and the electric guitar. Today Razavi views himself as a jazz guitarist/composer with a diverse background.

Razavi’s experiences range from rock bands, accompanying concert choirs, backing up jazz singers, and even as a solo classical guitarist. Razavi has performed at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, Paradise Rock Club, and on stage at the San Jose Repertory Theater as well as countless gigs as a sideman and leader of his own groups. He holds a M.A. in Jazz Studies from San Jose State University and a B.M. from Berklee College of Music, where he studied jazz composition and majored in Contemporary Writing and Production.

Razavi’s debut CD/DVD People, Places, and Monsters is an astoundingly creative project that features Razavi’s original music for the solo nylon-strung guitar set to original animation. Razavi’s current project, Quartet Plus, is a collection of Razavi’s originals orchestrated by both a quartet and a nonet. Razavi’s compositions are rich with the sounds of the jazz tradition, but he also cleverly expands upon the tradition with modern colors, rhythmic setting and innovative textures. Four of the eight tracks on the album are performed by a quartet with the remaining tracks featuring the quartet plus a 5-horn section.

“Highrise” finds Razavi’s warm steel-strung guitar taking the forefront over a hip straight-eight groove that methodically develops into a flowing singable melody with well-placed hits and chordal movement. Razavi’s builds his solo just as he does his composed melodies, with thought to thematic development and storytelling. The groove continues to get hipper and funkier as Razavi builds in energy and register to finish his solo statement. Roth-Newell takes a fine solo on the keyboard with a Rhodes like sound; again the ensemble builds behind the soloist, making a clear musical statement and an enjoyable listen.

Perhaps Razavi’s strong point on this outing is his ballad writing and soloing, “Prayer for Newtown” has a gorgeously tender melody and is orchestrated beautifully. The way Razavi’s nylon-strung guitar is paired with the bass clarinet and arco bass during various sections is very affective in creating a haunting soundscape for Ravazi’s tender guitar lines.

Quartet Plus is a wonderful project that will appeal to listener, composer and player alike, Razavi has kept the project on the mellow side, but by no means is it a sleep inducer, each selection develops with deep counterpoint and shifting sections and feel. Overall, it is a very well balanced release in colors, feels and most of all cohesiveness. Worth the listen, worth adding to your collection.

Track Listing: Moonlit Message; Highrise; From Thoughts To Words; Urban Jungle Blues; Prayer For Newtown; Luck Has Nothing To Do With It; Song For Another Day; Mad Dance.

Personnel: Mason Razavi: electric and nylon string guitars; Bennett Roth-Newell: piano and keyboards; Dan Robbins: bass; Cody Rhodes: drums; Justin Smith: trumpet and flugelhorn; Ben Torres: alto sax, flute, and clarinet; Oscar Pangilinan: tenor sax and clarinet; Kevin Bryson: trombone; Cory Wright: baritone sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet.

Record Label: First Orbit Sounds

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mark Meadows, Something Good

by Jeff Becker

Meadows is joined on his sophomore recording Somethin' Good, with Brent Birckhead on alto sax, Eric Kennedy on drums, Eric Wheeler on bass, Paul Bollenback on guitar, Warren Wolf on vibes and guest vocalists Lena Seikaly and Christine Dashiell on a couple of tracks.   In addition to playing piano, Meadows also sings on four of the tracks, with a John Legend easy going vibe to his vocal style.  Meadows has a witty writing style, his compositions are fresh and enjoy a strong foundation in the tradition of jazz coupled with a reach into to contemporary sounds and inspiration. Meadows' lyrics are positive and are every bit as enjoyable as the music and playing, which makes this offering even more appealing. Seikaly and Dashiell's voices are used to sing non-lyric melodies and function as enhancement to the overall ensemble sound.

On four cover tunes Meadows shows his arranging skills, which include Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High," "Come Together" by Lennon-McCartney, and a solo piano rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." All four selections have been well-traversed over the years and many have used them as improvisational vehicles, but Meadows keeps it fresh by adding some truly creative touches without deconstructing the tunes into unrecognizable renditions. 

"Rock With You" is given a 5/4 groove intro that effortlessly segues to 4/4 feel for the verse.  Meadows displays confident singing and well-placed vocal harmonies by the chorus which adds just the right interest.  A return to a 5/4 feel with an interlude before Bollenback's solo, then is layered over a nice 6/8 feel. When reading this concept on paper one might think this will sound distracting, but Meadows seamlessly connects the details into a flawless flow. 

These two examples are only that; examples of the exemplary work and ideas of a composer, arranger and performer who reside in one very talented Mark Meadows.  His arranging skills are inventive, interesting and well beyond his young years.  His vocal style is a modern sound with an almost crossover appeal. The sound of jazz is growing daily, and the younger generation is trumpeting their sound, Meadows is at the forefront of that creative wave, definitely one to watch. 

Track Listing: Come Together; Just Imagine; Rock With You; Somethin’ Good; Once Upon a Purple Night; Less Catchy; Way Up Here; For You; Groovin’ High; Get Lost; Lush Life. 

Personnel: Mark Meadows: piano, voice; Paul Bollenback: guitar; Warren Wolf: vibes; Brent Birckhead: alto sax; Christine Dashiell: vocals (8,9); Lena Seikaly: vocals (2); Eric Kennedy: drums; Eric Wheeler: bass.
Record Label: Self Produced