Review: It Remains To Be Seen from Afro Elements

I hadn’t heard Afro Elements, but while digging around the web, I came across a link to their site from Down To The Bone’s website. Later, after I mentioned in a post on my blog that the album art on It Remains To Be Seen was a replica of Jeff Lorber’s Wizard Island, Simon from the group dropped me a note. In all honesty, even though I never listened to a track from these guys,I was looking forward to reviewing this release – just based on the balls needed to co-op the album art from one of the all-time great contemporary jazz releases.

Essentially, Afro Elements is Simon Bramley on bass, Phil Nelson on drums and Neil Burditt on keyboards. According to their bio, this core group of three, when not in the studio, expands to eight members for live appearances, as well as playing with and contributing to the likes of Mr Gone and Down To The Bone. If you’re a fan of Incognito and Down To The Bone, you’ll definitely get into these guys; very nu-jazz, great retro keyboards (permission granted for the cover art!), tight horns and an abundance of percussion. The music is very contemporary, leaning more towards jazz-soul-funk, than the electronica camp where a lot of the nu-jazz groups hangout. I would highly recommend picking this release up – this is very good stuff! Standout tracks include “Four Letter Word” and “Stop You’re Killing Me.”

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Review: Tom Scott – Cannon Re-Loaded

Always a fan of Tom Scott’s, I’ve been waiting for this release for a while. Although when his name is mentioned, most contemporary jazz fans think of Tom Scott’s releases such as LA Express, New York Connection, Apple Juice, or any number of the outstanding recordings he did while on GRP. But there were two, now with this release, three recordings where that unmistakable saxophone voice can be heard in a more traditional (notice I didn’t say straight-ahead) setting; 1992’s Born Again, BeBop United from 1996 and now, Cannon Re-Loaded. Joining Scott on this collection of tunes associated with the late great Cannonball Adderley are Terence Blanchard, George Duke, Marcus Miller, Steve Gadd, and Nancy Wilson. This is a pretty straightforward tribute. The players all sound very relaxed and the arrangements are excellent. It’s encouraging to see Tom Scott on the new release list and I give kudos to Concord for ‘carrying the torch’ while the ‘majors’ have burned their houses down to the ground. One last note, it’s nice to hear Terence Blanchard in a more contemporary setting. Here’s hoping he steps into the genre a bit more.

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Review: Neil Larsen – Orbit

Neil Larsen is definitely not a household name when it comes to contemporary jazz unless you’re hardcore, know your history, and have been listening to the music long before the “Wave” signified something other than what you surfed on. An extraordinary keyboardist, who’s spent a great deal of his career making other musicians sound better, this is only Larsen’s fifth release under his own name. In 1978 and 1979 he released Jungle Fever and High Gear for the A&M-Horizon label. He was not to be heard from, as a solo artist again until 1987 and 1989 when, for MCA, he released Through Any Window and Smooth Talk. For those of you old enough to remember, at one time, CBS Sports used Larsen’s “Windsong” from Jungle Fever as a theme song. One constant, over all these years, has been Larsen’s stellar organ playing, which is his predominant voice on all five of his solo recordings and, once again, featured on Orbit. Orbit is a mix of some new and some old. Neil revisits some earlier compositions, such as “Jungle Fever,” “Sudden Samba,” and “Red Desert,” albeit with new, sparser arrangements and instrumentation. Helping out on this recording are a number of old friends, Robben Ford, Jimmy Haslip, Gary Meek, Tom Brechtlein, and Lee Thornburg. This is one of the first releases from a new label started by recording and mastering legend, Bernie Grundman, the sound is excellent; I hope Grundman finds enough success to be able to get Larsen back in the studio for a follow up recording.

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Review: Ray Lyon – Figures of the True

music from Ray LyonWhen I started listening to contemporary jazz in the late 80s, the music I enjoyed most was that created by those who had something more to share than a five-minute pop-jazz composition. Since most of the music I get these days fits into what has become smooth jazz, I was ecstatic to receive two discs that reminded me of why I started listening to this music in the first place. Composer/keyboardist Ray Lyon has released a couple of recordings in the last few years – his latest is Beginning To See. It’s worth checking out. However, his Figures of the True really hypnotized me. It got my attention with the first song, “Valley of Vision” which has a hook that caught my ear while I was cooking dinner for my family. The kids also loved the music that I had playing – even my wife, Mrs. Adult Contemporary, wanted to know who it was. I started paying closer attention. The catchy opener was just an appetizer. With the following song, “The Yearning Sky,” Lyon gets to the main course. He’s got stories to tell and he tells them very well. He uses synthesizers to full effect, creating the right soundscape for each composition. It’s not all keyboards – the music is elevated further by a variety of artists on drums, bass, percussion, guitar, saxophone, and even his wife on french horn. Even though Lyon’s sound is different, his ability to tell tales without words reminds me of the best Metheny/Mays compositions.

Lyon’s inspiration comes from The Bible and each of these songs features a scripture that the track can be a soundtrack for. However, as he notes, if faith isn’t your cup of tea, “just put the CD in your stereo and enjoy the music. Sometimes, music is just…music! No explanations are necessary.”
Reading a passage while listening would certainly add something to the experience but I didn’t need any extra help to get into Figures of the True. Each of these pieces have their own rich, colorful sound. You can’t help but be pulled in.

On the Web: Ray Lyon | Balsam Pillow

Reviews: Paradise Swamp from Catherine Delgadillo; Transformation from Tal Wilkenfeld

I recently downloaded two new releases, both by ax–wielding women, Catherine Delgadillo, a guitarist, and bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, who started out on guitar before switching instruments. Both of these young women show promise, poise and maturity on these, their debut releases.

Delgadillo’s Paradise Swamp is a fusion offering that treads very heavily in progressive instrumental rock territory. She possesses a sound that owes a bit of gratitude to both Frank Gambale and Alan Holdsworth; nice and raw, edgy and melodic – she’s a shredder but it never gets monotonous. She has a lot of good ideas, as evidenced by her compositions, which are very interesting and well developed. Paradise Swamp has a big sound, which had me continuously cranking up the volume on my iPod, thanks in no small part to her husband, Kevin, on drums. Besides electric and acoustic guitar, Catherine also handles the keyboards as well. The other musicians are Bill Hare and Mark Hokenson who split duties on bass. Stand out tracks are “Paradise Swamp” and “Catch Me.”
**Note – in the late eighties, there was a monster of a progressive fusion band out of Buffalo, NY named Gamalon, which released five recordings; Catherine Delgadillo conjures up memories of this incredible, but under recognized band.

While Delgadillo plays on the rock side of the pool (or is it swamp?), Tal Wilkenfeld jumps in the jazz waters headfirst. From the first few bars of Transformation, it’s apparent where this woman is headed – and she never looks back. This is a debut full of heady, well-composed jazz fusion with a healthy dose of straight ahead styling, courtesy of Geoff Keezer on keys and Seamus Blake on tenor sax. Wilkenfeld’s compositions, arrangements and overall production sensibilities remind me of gems I’ve heard from the likes of John Patitucci, John Scofield, the Yellowjackets and the late Michael Brecker – not such bad company to keep. This Australian’s talents have attracted the attention of Jeff Beck, where she is a member of his touring band, and Chick Corea, whom she toured her home country with in a band along with Frank Gambale and Antonio Sanchez. The other musicians on Transformation are Keith Carlock on drums and the highly accomplished, yet underrated Wayne Krantz on guitar. Both of these recordings were a pleasant discovery and I hope we will be hearing more from these ax–wielding ladies in the not too distant future.

On the Web:
Catherine Delgadillo | Catherine on MySpace

Tal Wilkenfeld Official Site | Tal on MySpace

Buy the Paradise Swamp CD from Amazon.com!
Buy the Paradise Swamp download from iTunes!

Buy the Transformation CD from Amazon.com!
Buy the Transformation download from iTunes!