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Terumasa Hino ‘Into Eternity’

Terumasa Hino’s ‘Into Eternity’ is an epic, visionary double LP that covers a lot of ground in the J-Jazz space. Dig the manic modal mood of “Mr. Happiness”…the fabulous flute workout during “Song of Bumiji”…the soaring, uplifting spiritual jazz realms of “Horizon” and “Eastern Egg”…the stark, forlorn musings that unfold during the closing ballad “Midnight”. These alone would make this a pretty great record but there are two additional centerpieces on this Japan-only release: There is the weird, wired, borderline-frenetic, quasi-fusion workout of “Cycle Circle”, which over the course of fourteen minutes veers between a 3500 calorie spin class and an LSD trip. Then there’s the highlight, “Ode to Workman”. This would be the third appearance of this track on a Hino record and the longest, clocking in at over twenty minutes. The piece made its debut on Hino’s 1971 LP ‘A Part’ which featured Reggie Workman on bass (that track also graces the excellent J-Jazz Vol 1 compilation from last year, as a vinyl bonus track), then again later that year on his live ‘Hino at Berlin Jazz Festival ‘71’ LP. The reading on this record is a masterclass in “the build”. Once you get past the mood setting (read: mucking about) in the opening few minutes, they settle into the familiar “Ode” groove after about four minutes. On this track, the core quintet is augmented by the addition of guests Isao Suzuki (bass) and Yuhji Inamaru (congas) who meld with the existing bass/drum combo to create a four-headed, eight-armed, rhythmic multi-beast. The dual-bass interplay here while Masuda goes APESHIT on piano is just ridiculous. All in all, an incredible J-Jazz album that’s a must for fans. The more I listen, the more I like which is about as strong an endorsement one can give. Lineup: Terumasa Hino-trumpet/flugelhorn, Hideo Miyata-saxes/flute, Mikio Masuda-piano, Tsutomu Okada-bass, Motohiko Hino-drums. This is a 1977 reissue CBS/Sony ‎– 38AP 670~1. For a Japan-only release, this seems to turn up with surprising regularity in the US, both on LP and an excellent CD remaster on the Mastersound series @terumasahino_official

Bertil Strandberg Kvintett ‘Cirrus’

Killer!! Another hard-to-find European jazz obscurity miraculously sees the light of day, and I’m starting to run out of superlatives for these reissues! Falling into the category of “notable because it’s rare *AND* because it’s excellent” the Kvintett on this LP is a hard swinging, post-bop group led by trombonist/percussionist Bertil Strandberg, who also wrote the title track. His brother Göran (piano) composed the rest of the tracks on the album. Both are top notch players, though bonus points are awarded to Göran for his inventive solos, creative improv, and terrific technique. Whether stepping up to lay down some fleet-fingered but thoughtful lines up front, or propelling the proceedings with powerful block chords, Göran’s presence has a “rightness” in his timing and the mix…he steals the show more than a couple of times. Not to be overlooked are the rhythmic anchor of Ove Gustafsson (bass/guitar) and Bjarne Boman (drums) as well as US ex-pat Ed Epstein (tenor sax). This Swedish jazz rarity was recorded in ‘73—against all odds in the wake of a massive snowstorm—and against all logistical and licensing odds (much worse than a blizzard) @frederiksbergrecords (in a real labor of love) has spent the last couple of years creating this first-ever digital/vinyl reissue. It’s a fantastic package—40 minutes of spectacular, moody, modal jazz that’s expertly played, the reissue sound is stellar, the packaging/liner notes are excellent and the @bandcamp price of $24(US) is a steal. I also want to point out the one outlier track which I may like best of all. The closing track “Elegi” is really unique with gorgeous, intricate finger-picking acoustic guitar weaving between a contrapuntal bass/piano piece that sets up a trombone solo for the ages—powerful, emotional and memorable. Don’t sleep on this one—prior vinyl reissues on this label like For Friends and Relatives” by the Christian Schwindt Quintet and “To You” by the Carsten Meinert Kvartet (both excellent) have gotten elusive

Sam Rivers ‘Involution’

Birthday boy Sam Rivers would have turned 95 years young today. Many know him for his brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis embryonic Second Great Quintet where he replaced George Coleman. Rivers would last only briefly (appearing on ‘Miles in Tokyo’) before being replaced by Wayne Shorter. Rivers then stepped out as leader and sideman for Blue Note, Impulse!, Black Saint, RCA, Horo and his own Rivbea label. Rivbea was a portmanteau of his name and his wife Bea, and also the name of their loft where numerous free jazz sessions were held in NYC during the 70s. This two-fer contains a pair of Blue Note sessions from the 60s: one is a quartet under pianist Andrew Hill’s leadership (later released on CD as ‘Change’) featuring Walter Booker (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums) recorded 7 March 1966; the other a sextet under Rivers’ leadership (later issued as ‘Dimensions and Extensions’) recorded 17 Mar 1967 featuring Donald Byrd (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), James Spaulding (alto sax/flute), Cecil McBee (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). Both share a lot of musical DNA—an elusive tonal center, playing that stretches harmonic boundaries and timekeeping that’s not exactly built for clapping along. The compositions are complex and challenging—there’s a lot of “out” playing here as the knotty heads of each tune serve as a launchpad to some seriously ambitious and adventurous group improvisation. Dig deep—there’s swing and beauty though both can be elusive, and don’t believe anyone who says “it’s out there, but still really accessible!”. It’s not…certainly not in the way that Rivers’ earlier Blue Note records like ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’ or ‘Contours’ can sound like hard/post bop records with occasional sharp elbows. ‘Involution’ isn’t for beginners. Or those who are learning to waltz. This is challenging but ultimately really rewarding music. As I’ve previously noted, this beige-cover Blue Note Classics series is uniformly excellent—great pressings, informative liner notes and material that’s otherwise difficult to find. They are also often reasonably priced and pretty easy to find in the wild. Recommended

Lee Morgan ‘The Procrastinator’

Seductive. If it’s not in your library, it should be. Tied with ’Search For the New Land’ as my favorite Lee Morgan album, this session has star power galore: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). Carter, Hancock & Shorter were recording ’Nefertiti’ with @milesdavis when Morgan “borrowed” them for this session, so the freebop sensibility of the Second Great Quintet blends seamlessly with Morgan’s advanced hard bop proclivities. Add a generous dose of Hutcherson’s shimmering, percussive vibes and the result is an immersive atmosphere that draws you in from the opening notes of the title track to the final notes of “Soft Touch”. In between, you’ll find a variety of excellence, from the verbosity of “Start Stop” (that Morgan solo is 🔥🔥🔥) to the album highlight “Dear Sir”, a ballad that quests with the spirit of the Second Great Quintet. This album has a long, convoluted history which I’ve detailed in the comments, but for the time being digital ubiquity is at hand, so head over to your favorite streaming platform and immerse yourself in one of Lee Morgan’s finest records. This is a tremendous session @icalledhimmorgan @herbiehancock @wayne.shorter @roncarterbass @musicmattersjazz

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