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Curtis Counce Group ‘Landslide’

Bassist Curtis Counce formed his working quartet in 1956, and over 15 months they cut roughly four LPs of material for producer Lester Koenig’s Contemporary label. ‘Landslide’ was the first to be released in 1957 (also issued in mono as The Curtis Counce Group C-3526). All of the Curtis Counce quintet’s albums are worth hearing, but I’m particularly drawn to this one and the follow-up ‘You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce!’ ‘Landslide’ has several notable performances. The title track by Harold Land is a burner with an extra gold star going to Jack Sheldon—his trumpet work across the album is uniformly terrific but on this track in particular it’s STELLAR. (Side note—Sheldon is the voice of School House Rock’s “Bill on Capitol Hill” and “Conjunction Junction” for those with fond memories of 1970s morning television). The other album highlight is the quintet’s take on Kenny Clarke/Gerald Wiggins’ “Sonar” which to my ears is the album highlight. The quintet blends “west coast” cool jazz and hard bop brilliantly, and while each player brings their “A” game, please direct your ears towards Frank Butler’s superb drum work. Butler is *SO* dialed in to every moment, leading or supporting with a nearly telepathic ease. He’s not an especially flashy player, so when he steps up with a fill or roll to accentuate a moment, or when he puts a bit of extra muscle into his bass pedal work, it changes the vibe of the entire group dynamic and the feel of song. Remarkable. Finally, high marks for how well engineer Roy DuNann captured this session—every instrument is clear and perfectly balanced. Great listen! Curtis Counce (bass), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Harold Land (tenor sax), Carl Perkins (piano), & Frank Butler (drums

J-Jazz Vol 2: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1983

Best jazz release of 2019! Yes, it’s only September, and there’s wonderful and interesting stuff to come like an unreleased Coltrane session and a deluxe box from Tubby Hayes. Earlier this year we had stellar records from modern talents like Nérija and Theon Cross. However, J-Jazz Volume 2 is THE ONE to beat and the bar is high. Since Volume 1 was my favorite release of 2018, my anticipation has been high. So, how does Volume 2 measure up? It’s even better, but hyperbole isn’t particularly useful. Here’s a bit of J-Jazz context: There is a small, dedicated, crew of subject matter experts about the amazing 1960s-1980s Japanese jazz scene who pooled their knowledge and talents to create two volumes of some of the finest jazz you never knew existed. They’ve curated some of the most musically interesting, rare tracks from the era and presented them in a beautiful package boasting excellent sound, fascinating/detailed liner notes and thoughtful sequencing. Interested? Well here’s the great news: it’s available across every streaming/digital platform, CD and vinyl…take your pick (oh, and @bandcamp FTW…vinyl + lossless digital=❤️). Multiple jazz sub-genres represent here: modal, hard-bop, spiritual, jazz-funk and fusion. Each track is its own highlight, and there’s no greater praise for a “various artists” collection. There is just so much great jazz here I have difficulty calling out any one particular track as being “the best”…the choices are all A+. This outstanding job in curation is what makes this collection so fantastic. I’m personally and professionally fascinated by algorithms for music discovery—when they work and bring to light music that might otherwise go unheard, their value is clear. But no algorithm in the world could have done what Mike Peden and Tony Higgins have achieved here. Their passion for and knowledge of J-Jazz has uniquely positioned them to create a collection that is *SO* satisfying in every way—from music to sequencing—that even hundreds of the brightest engineers at the biggest streaming companies in the world armed with limitless Red Bull and processing power couldn’t ever hope to come close. Essential

Wayne Shorter ‘The All Seeing Eye’

Without question the boldest album Shorter had made in the 18 months since leading his first album for Blue Note in April 1964. His tenure @bluenoterecords had started years before, participating in legendary sessions with Donald Byrd (‘Free Form’), Lee Morgan (’Search For The New Land’), Freddie Hubbard (‘Ready For Freddie’) and several Jazz Messenger sets with Art Blakey. His skills and reputation as both player and composer grew rapidly during that time, kicking into overdrive as he grew into his leadership role which occurred only months before assuming the role of tenor sax man and compositional linchpin in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. So by Fall 1965 having led a number of now-classic albums like ’Speak No Evil’, ‘Juju’, ’Night Dreamer’ and ‘Et Cetera’, his aspirations for ‘The All Seeing Eye’ were bigger, his compositions bolder and his approach grander. This was a “concept album” about life, the universe and everything; brimming with edgy hard bop, chaotic modal grooves, and explorations that often tap into the dark side of The Force. The true stars of the session are Shorter’s compositions: their framework provides ample freedom for exploration yet enough structure to keep things from collapsing into into freeform cacophony. Shorter’s well-chosen band makes the most of this: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Alan Shorter (flugelhorn) Grachan Moncur III (trombone) James Spaulding (alto sax) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Joe Chambers (drums)…the largest line-up he’d led so far. These players sound truly liberated and inspired. The results aren’t for everyone (the three star review at Amazon has probably scared away more than a few folks unfortunately), but if you’ve got the patience and open-mindedness to take joy in the abstract enigmas of tracks like “Chaos” and the title track, this record may become a favorite sooner than you’d think. I find this a riveting listen @wayne.shorter @herbiehancock

Horace Tapscott ‘The Call’

Knockout. This record is relentlessly kicking my ass. It’s a futuristic big band romp in modal/spiritual territories with a swing *SO* mighty, you’d best be sitting down when listening, lest you be knocked flat by its gargantuan wallop. “The Call” takes flight immediately, launching skywards with gusto. It’s an intergalactic big band epic that—at times—reminds me of Hoyt Curtin’s theme music from The Jetsons. On acid. Powered by urgent drums and backed by brass amassed in a sonic wall of power, pianist Linda Hill’s solos elegantly, gracefully, playfully and awesomely. This segues into a serpentine, intertwining alto clarinet/bass led section with tricky interplay, but the pocket never collapses—the groove here is unshakeable. Moving on to “Quagmire Manor at Five A.M.”, a lovely, soothing, albeit brief vocal/piano groove lulls you into a false sense of complacency as your moment of zen quickly gives way to a frantic, double time rhythm section workout while Hill’s piano tears it up, leading into a passionate tenor solo that’s teeters on the edge of “out” but never falls off, another massed horn section, brief bass solo, then back to the vocal head. Phew! Fortunately you get a moment to catch your breath and refill the coffee because it’s time to flip the record! Side B opens with “Nakatini Suite”. If you think you’re familiar with it from Lee Morgan’s “Leeway” album, or perhaps from Coltrane’s “The Believer”, take your familiarity, crumple it up and give it to the cat to play with. Tapscott’s Pan African People’s Arkestra take the first few bars to construct it as a demented waltz for people with two left feet, and then take the next nine minutes to explore its melodic potential. Gorgeous. The album closes with “Peyote Song No. III”, a large scale modal exploration a la mid 60s Impulse-era Coltrane. Deep, introspective, searching and beautiful playing abounds. So yeah…I’m completely smitten by this record. Originals from 1978 on Nimbus West are difficult to find but the recent @outernationalsounds reissue is widely available, inexpensive and sounds good