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Flux Music Essentials

Greeting’s jazz connoisseurs, I’m back with yet another intriguing palette of creative music from some of today’s most unique, adventurous and inspiring voices known and unknown artists alike in the world of jazz.

Stefon Harris - African Tarantella

Stefon Harris -//- African Tarantella – [BLUE NOTE, 2006]

Prior to buying this album, I was fortunate enough to hear Stefon Harris and his mallet play the music live. It was one of the best live jazz performances that I have heard lately, and the album is as good or better!

Several things stand out. First is Harris’ obvious virtuosity. I have seen Milt Jackson live and Harris doesn’t take a back seat. He plays the vibes and marimba simultaneously, and at amazing tempo. He isn’t just a virtuoso though, but a very creative arranger and improviser.

The instrumentation is very interesting: viola and cello, trombone, flute, clarinet, drums, bass and piano. This gives the album a wonderful tonal palette. The musicians are wonderful too; Terreon Gully on drums may be the best drummer that I have heard live, and I’ve been lucky enough to hear Buddy Rich, Jeff Hamilton and some of the other top drummers in jazz. Also outstanding is pianist Xavier Davis and trombonist Steve Turre.

My favorite tracks are adaptations of Duke Ellington creations: three numbers from the New Orleans Suite and two from the Queen’s Suite. I am less enamored of Harris’ compositions.

Harris is terrific as an improviser, arranger and performer. He, along with some other young jazz titans, give me comfort that jazz is still alive and vital for years to come. —Rick Loves Jazz | Amazon.com

Steps Ahead - Modern Times

Steps Ahead -//- Modern Times – [Elektra Musician, 1990]

For the most part “Modern Times” represents a shift to a more structured set of songs from the improvisational style of the group’s U.S. debut album. The presence of keyboardist Warren Bernhardt adds an extra dimension. This is a great electronic jazz CD, with plenty of spunk and good music. The horn and synth motifs and rhythms have little of the blandness sometimes heard in modern jazz CDs. They occasionally get repetitive, but there is always something else that kicks in to keep things interesting. As a vibraphone lover I enjoy the work of Mike Mainieri, and there are plenty of good vibrations elsewhere. For example, on “Radioactive” and “Old Town,” the percussion is synthesized into sharp wooden sounds, which along with the other instruments create those often intricate, pulsating fountains of rhythm that epitomize the best of electronic jazz.

The group really excels in those songs and elsewhere in overlaying the instruments and rhythms. There is, of course, still some good improvisation from the horns, the piano, and the vibraphones. “Self Portrait” and “Now You Know” are gems that will satisfy listeners who enjoy the pretty side of things. Along with the group’s U.S. debut, this is one of my favorite modern jazz CDs. —Jinkyu | Amazon.com

Cassandra Wilson - Blue Light Til Dawn

Cassandra Wilson -][- Blue Light Til Dawn – [Blue Note Records, 1993]

After reviewing “Travelling Miles” from 1999, I decided to delve back to 1993 to see the basis for the former and to identify the progression in style and product from earlier Ms Wilson.Again I found this to be an adult CD requiring a serious attempt at listening to be fully rewarded, again the result is a unique, ambitious and soulful interpretation of some contemporary blues and soulful songs with the trademark Wilson touch. For those serious enough to step outside the square,this is for you..and in spades as well!!!

The talent is again that *voice* and the interpretative touches she puts onto songs by Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Robert Johnson,as well as others,including her own compositions Redbone and Blue Light Til Dawn. She is a maverick of the most interesting kind. I could see the street lights flickering, the cats squealing the sirens sounding, the rubbish cans rattling, as I staggered home in the pre dawn hours..and that husky smoke laden delivery in my mind.Come On In My Kitchen and Hellhound on My Trail are provocative..if you don’t get a kick at listening to these..check your pulse …you may be dead!!!!

I think her interpretation of I Can’t Stand the Rain is excellent.This song lends itself to a Wilson interpretation,more interesting than the commercially exploited version of Eruption in the disco laden 70s and the interesting treatment given to it by Ronnie Wood on one of his albums years later.

As with the Miles Davis tribute, I found the musicianship excellent, with Ms Wilson showing her up front approach to a sparse and percussive accompaniment.This truly is an excellent album,that requires to be given a number of listens before the true talent can be appreciated.This will grow on you,and be played periodically from your collection, when the other commercially and talent limited divas have disappeared. Turn off the lights, late at night and listen…you will be drifting between midnight and dawn..a classic sound from the evolving and maturing Ms Wilson.4 1/2 to 5 stars,a worthy addition to your collection. —Lance G. Rigley | Amazon.com

Joe Sample - Old Faces Old Places

Joe Sample -\\- Old Faces Old Places – [Warner Bros. 1996]

When it comes to music, especially when it comes to Mr. Sample, this album is what I set as the standard. There is excellence in ever facet of this album. “Old Places Old Faces” creates a mood that cannot be avoided. It is filled with spirit that other artists couldn’t touch, and that Sample probably couldn’t touch before 1995. It is an album filled with pain, love, beauty, revelation, and most importantly, growth. The listener can hear Sample reflect as he lays his hands on the keys. The compositions here are the most expressive that Sample has written in some time.

One can tell that this album wasn’t released to make money, get airplay, or propel a concert tour. This album was made to work out issues and share his feelings. It’s this kind of emotion that the listener need to take part of, and to look back on this album time and time again. This is, in this writer’s opinion, Joe Sample’s best work. —Anthony M. Dean | Amazon.com