2004 Rundown

Mika Pohjola Scandinavian Yuletide Voices
Yuletide Voices

Finnish jazz pianist Mika Pohjola generally abides by a credo of excellence! As this lovely affair has become a pre and post holiday favorite here at the home-front. Backed by a tentet, including male and female vocalists, this inspirational and wondrously recorded album boasts heady arrangements and sparkling contrasts. There are female choral incantations, bittersweet strings and more. In addition, a distinct sense of warmth permeates throughout this most joyous listening experience, where vocalists sing in their native Scandinavian tongue and in English. A few time-honored Christmas classics are intermixed among the Scandinavian works. Ultimately, this album instills good cheer whereas, everyday is a holiday.

Greg Burk Quartet Carpe Momentum
Soul Note

Pianist Greg Burk is a high achiever. With his second release for this somewhat historic Italian record label, Burk continues to spawn exciting modern jazz. Featuring fellow New Englander, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi the quartet shoots for the stars via a rip-roaring attack. They merge tricky time signatures with potent free-bop exercises and bone-crunching improvisational dialogues. Thrills a minute here, and other than Burk’s various sideman centric duties, this writer for his own selfish reasons wishes Burk recorded more often as a leader!

Two Time Polka The Very Best Of
Toucan Cove

This Irish sextet merrily combines a slice of Americana with the inherent folksiness of their native land. With strings, accordion, vocals and a rhythm section, the group broadcasts a sociable musical disposition supplanted by cheery themes, slick picking guitars, washboard rhythms and more. Nothing too cerebral yet indubitably entertaining...

Fred Frith Cheap at Half the Price
ReR Megacorp

The 1983 issued classic by "Henry Cow" guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, Fred Frith has been remixed and remastered for this re-release. And the sound is remarkable, especially when considering that Frith recorded these sides on a 4-track tape recorder. Of course Frith has led a remarkably creative solo career since his days with "Henry Cow," but this recording shows more of the artist’s avant-pop musical demeanor. Frith performs on vibes, guitar, a Casio keyboard while enlisting bassist Bill Laswell and a few others. Here, Frith twists catchy tunes into oddball harmonies, spiced up with psychedelics amid stabs at camp and humor with a Zappa-like edge. Brainy pop music some might ask? Perhaps, but this reissue simply shows Frith’s multifarious persona. Whether he’s delving into progressive rock, avant chamber or free-form improvisation, listening to the artiste’s recorded legacy is sometimes akin to uncovering buried treasure.

Wayne Shorter Footprints: The Life And Music Of Wayne Shorter
Columbia Legacy

This 2-CD package provides a comprehensive yet concise snapshot of the great saxophonist’s compositional and technical skills. Of course, Shorter’s unique musical voice is now legendary. And with classics such as "Speak No Evil" and "Nefertiti," Shorter’s style is clearly embedded within the pace, phrasing and melodies of his writing style. Besides some choice "Weather Report" racks and works culled from his electronics tinted outings, this production offers a divergent viewpoint, all laid out in chronological order. Also included is Steely Dan’s hybrid jazz-pop radio hit, "AJA." With this ‘70s mega-hit, how can we forget Shorter’s poignant and gradually climactic soprano sax solo atop Steve Gadd’s polyrhythmic drum rolls. Overall, it’s a rather judiciously architected best-of, type program.

Keith Emerson & The Nice Live Glasgow 2002 - Vivacitas
Sanctuary Records

Famed progressive-rock keyboardist Keith Emerson reunited with his onetime band-mates along with guest artists to record this delightful and somewhat nostalgic 2-CD live program. "The Nice" predated "Emerson, Lake & Palmer," and here, the band glides through a rendition of ELP classics such as "Tarkus" and other niceties. Emerson’s jazz influences surface more so, with this band, then ELP. The latter featuring more of an orchestral sound and spiced up with knotty time signatures, all within a progressive rock mode of operations. This production contains a 3rd interview disc. Nonetheless, Emerson spurts out a few quotes emanating from well-known jazz and rock standards/hits. Sure enough, the band is in good form as it’s all clearly subsidized by a high fun-factor.

Many AxesToo Many Axes

With this program, Susan Rawcliffe, Brad Dutz and Scott Wilkinson use "exotic" instruments to perpetuate a world music vibe. You’ll notice asymmetrical inclusions of exotica, and nods to the avant-garde scheme of things. Instruments such as a waterflute, a spring drum, chimes and other unlikely tools of the trade, provide an organic foundation for the musicians contrasting themes and sumptuous tonalities. They delve into sound-shaping activities amid primal rhythms and plaintive cries. Chalk this one up as one of the more captivating, experimental outings of 2004.

Mark ShermanThe Motive Series
Mark Sherman

Vibist Mark Sherman states his cause by generally composing for "one motive or rhythmic idea." After the band opens with "Nature Boy," the rest of this production features the artist’s originals sans two standards. Tenor sax titan Michael Brecker lends his wares for two tracks but the core band is built upon a quartet, where Sherman and pianist Allen Farnham delve into various harmonic forays. Sherman possesses a light touch to complement the rhythm section’s brisk grooves and syncopated beats. Sherman’s methodology is an interesting one at that. He extends melodies, but does so via his penchant for also reworking themes into various modalities, traced with a feathery approach. Either way, Sherman’s impressive technique and strong compositions impart a tantalizing mix of modern-mainstream jazz coupled with a full-throttle like mode of attack.

Septeto Rodriguez Baila! Gitano Baila!

Percussionist Roberto Luis Rodriguez transmits an artful blend of Afro-Cuban jazz and Jewish Klezmer music with his second solo release for John Zorn’s Tzadik record label. To my knowledge, no one other than Rodriguez has so successfully explored this hodgepodge of styles. But he makes it sound ever so natural. Sure, you can dance the night away or just sit back and experience the band’s injections of pathos and garrulous outbursts along the way. The leader’s compositions are built upon strings, keys, percussion and horns all stacking up to a brilliantly conceived and executed program.

Chris Botti When I Fall In Love
Columbia Records

Trumpeter Chris Botti is known for his commercially viable, smooth jazz recordings. Yet he’s also delved into progressive-rock environs performing with folks such as famed drummer Bill Bruford and others. With this release, he succeeds at accomplishing his goals: To record a jazz-based romance album. Botti is backed by the London Session Orchestra along with heralded session aces such as drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboardist/arranger Gil Goldstein and others of note. The trumpeter bestows a crystalline tone, brimming with profoundly stated choruses during the preponderance of these amorously delivered jazz and pop standards.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
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