2004 Rundown

Lisa Sokolov - Presence
Rainart Productions

On this release, vocalist/keyboardist Lisa Sokolov and her supporting trio including frequent collaborator, drummer Gerry Hemingway communicate gobs of charisma and artistically powerful musical portraitures. Ms Sokolov’s endearing vocal constructions reside in a peerless class, partly due to her ingenious stylizations of pieces by the likes of Cole Porter, Laura Nyro, and original works. It’s sort of like a near flawless melding of expressionistic avant-garde stylizations, and Broadway melodramatics with a sleek, jazz foundation. In addition, Ms Sokolov navigates octaves with the utmost authority and control. One of the top jazz related picks of 2004

Don Byron - Ivey-Divey
Blue Note Records

Clarinetist Don Byron’s latest is an undeniably, energetic set featuring pianist Jason Moran and jazz icon, drummer Jack DeJohnette. The clarinetist covers Miles Davis, Gershwin, and originals here, as the music boasts quite a few linearly arranged movements amid a changeable ebb and flow. Perhaps not one of Byron’s more prominent artistic statements, yet an agreeable gala consisting of bubbly grooves, firmed up by trumpeter Ralph Alessi and bassist Lonnie Plaxico on selected tracks.

Jordan Rudess - Rhythm Of Time
Magna Carta

"Dream Theater," keyboardist Jordan Rudess and a slew of progressive-rock guitar gods navigate tricky time signatures on this high-flying production. At times, it’s difficult to discern whether it’s Rudess performing his synth lines or guitarists such as Greg Howe and Joe Satriani’s, high-tech into the ozone type leads. Essentially, Rudess is a speed demon on the keys. Occasionally, he interjects slick jazz grooves into the mix, but the thrust of this generally, soaring affair is rooted within his polytonal chord progressions, and layered orchestrations. And as we might expect, drummer Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs) handles the difficult pulses with chutzpah along with a whiz-bang approach to dynamics.

Rudresh Mahanthappa - Mother Tongue
PI Recordings

Rudresh Mahanthappa has already crafted a unique compositional demeanor to complement his often, sizzling performances on alto sax. With an Indian linguistic and subculture motif setting the foundation for this album, the artist and his quartet, opt for the proverbial jugular during this rather intense, exposition. Pianist Vijay Iyer and the leader obviously see eye to eye during the majority of these quickly developed and largely, odd-metered works. They execute complex unions choruses while frequently enhancing the rhythmic element on many of these passages, underscored with snappy movements and cascading passages. No doubt, Mahanthappa clearly signals in a nouveau approach. He’s an artist who seems unbounded by conventional, jazz-based applications, as his signature voice abides by a fast-track methodology.

Far Corner
Cuneiform Records

Emanating out of Wisconsin, this quartet radiates its muse via the respective instrumentalists’ classical and rock backgrounds. Think of modern rock units such as the Belgian outfit "Univers Zero," along with some "King Crimson," style, heavy-handed licks. Overall, the group succeeds at carving out a well-balanced, hybrid mix of classically drenched progressive rock, featuring electric cellos, synths, e-basses, and percussion. Divergent tonal contrasts combined with precision oriented time changes and piercing solo spots translate into an entertaining program, brimming with a no-nonsense like game plan.

Giant Steps In Fusion Guitars (Various) - A Guitars Supreme
Tone Center

This sharply produced set, features the crème de la crèmes of jazz-fusion, progressive-rock and jazz guitarists, each spinning a personal slant on selected classics by saxophonist John Coltrane. For example, listen to Greg Howe’s foot stomping, Hendrix-like choruses on "Giant Steps." Then there’s Mike Stern’s bittersweet, yet forceful rendition of "My Favorite Things." Bassist Alphonso Johnson, jazz organist Larry Goldings, and other notables, lay down the variable grooves. While other guitar heroes such as Larry Coryell, Frank Gambale, Robben Ford, dish out superfine and deeply personal takes of Trane tunes reengineered into jazz-fusion frameworks. It’s all nicely done and gives a little extra credence to the force of the sometimes maligned, "fusion" genre.

Hilmar Jensson (with Trevor Dunn, Andrew D’ Angelo, Herb Robertson, & Jim Black) - Ditty Blei

Guitarist Hilmar Jensson and his estimable band-mates instill ragged, hardcore rock motifs into free-flowing, and semi-structured pieces where all the instrumentalists enjoy a level playing field. Jensson performs and records with drummer Jim Black ’s Alas No Axis band, as that ensemble’s demeanor carries forth here, via a few augmentations in scope. Ultimately, this album is a wildly electric, modern jazz-based jaunt, bursting forth with power, nuance and affecting improvisational dialogues from the respective soloists. Jensson is a shrewd operator and witty composer. Black’s off-kilter and hard-hitting, polyrhythmical maneuvers offer a supple foundation to these pieces where highlights proliferate throughout! (This is a DSD Hybrid Multi-Channel Recording)

Tunnels - Live The Art Of Living Dangerously
BuckyBall Music

"Tunnels" is a progressive-rock band that was formed upon the "Brand-X" legacy with its lineage tracing back to the ‘70s when "Genesis" drummer and future pop star, Phil Collins was with the band. These performances capture e-bassist Percy Jones, midi vibist Marc Wagnon, and drummer Frank Katz in performances at venues scattered throughout the United States. While special guests such as jazz violinist Mark Feldman and ex-"Brand-X," guitarist John Goodsall join the trio on various tracks. Nonetheless, these pieces are primarily centered on jam style grooves and zealously conveyed improvisations. The band’s upbeat and at times, riveting modus operandi is centered upon the energy or aura, that often emanates from the "live concert" vibe. They were obviously pumped up for the occasion.

Tony Grey - Moving
Tony Grey Music

Count e-bassist Tony Grey among the notable newcomers of electric bass players, who combine chops with vision. On this effort, he garners support from well-known jazz-fusion gods such as drummer Kenwood Dennard and guitarist David Fiuczynski. Many of these works are executed via trio, quartet, or quintet lineups. You'll hear snappy drumbeats, slick picking guitar and bass lines, among other attributes. At times, Grey seemed to have had "Weather Report," in mind during the construction of these altogether, peppery tone poems. Either way, Grey demonstrates the potential required to become a major force within jazz-fusion circles.

Tango Orkestret - Hora Cero
Stunt Records

It’s all about "Tango," as this Scandinavian sextet is framed upon mallet instruments/violin/soprano sax/guitar/drums and bass. The ensemble executes pieces culled from legendary tango master, Astor Piazzolla’s songbook. Nothing strikingly novel or genre busting, but it’s a delicately arranged hybrid of jazz and tango capped off by a sympathetic audio sound, resulting in a crystalline production. To that end the music is daintily orchestrated as it all equates to a pleasant and sometimes probing listening experience, dappled with an air of romance.

Marc Pompe featuring the Joey DeFrancesco Trio - You Must Believe In Swing
Cadence Jazz Records

Vocalist Marc Pompe is primarily known within his hometown Chicago and hasn’t recorded a whole lot. Regardless, if you dig Jon Hendricks or Mark Murphy, then Pompe’s hip and thoroughly swinging persona should bring a sparkle to your mind’s eye. With backing by Hammond B-3 ace, Joey DeFrancesco and his revved up trio, Pompe handles a portion of the American songbook with magnetism and assurance. As DeFrancesco, along with guitarist Henry Johnson and guest soloists dish out some irrefutably groovin’ solos during the preponderance of these nicely enacted studio dates.

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