Posts Tagged ‘Herbie Hancock’

Cameron Undy’s new Twentieth Century Dog album, Bone, has left this reviewer speechless. Which is quite a feat in itself.

The only honest review I could give is “Go listen.” But my pen, once unsheathed, needs to talk, so talk it shall.

Listening to the remarkable improvisations that make up the ten tracks on Bone, I see not a group of separate musicians but a single organism – a big body with waving arms and heads – a Dog of Seven Heads. Surely this music cannot come from separate consciousnesses, even of those consciousnesses are as hyper-conscious as Simon Barker and Jamie Cameron and Ben Kidson on drums and percussion, Jeremy Rose on reeds, Greg Coffin on keys, Ben Hauptmann on guitar, and leader, composer, producer Cameron Undy on barking, growling bass.

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The presser says these pieces are made up out of long buried ideas “dug up, buried in the yard, dug up again” over the ten years that Undy focused his energies on his iconic jazz room, Surry Hills’ Venue 505. These ideas shape the grooves and basic motifs of the improvisations, and also form ensemble sections that rise out of the music and then are gone as soon as they came.

The Dog is big on rhythm too – with two drummers and a percussionist, as well as having a bass-player as leader, it is inevitable that there will be grooves of all flavours, and rhythm games running through the music like pulsing veins. Funk, Afro-beat, jazz: all booty-shaking but mind-bending at the same time.

‘Tail of the Dragon’s’ melodic pass-the-parcel leads to some big-fun messing with time, its play extending into the band comping behind Coffin’s solo, then behind, in and around Rose’s solo. ‘Dog Day’ is taut funk which Ben Hauptmann nips and tugs at until it is reshaped in his image. ‘Bone’ conjure’s the same skull-grinning space-griots as Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band. bone1

‘Broken Creak’ applies Broken-beat to some serious funk: the drummers slip in and out of sync with each other, like a musical moiré-pattern moving in and out of focus. Undy’s bass solo here is muscular and propulsive while Coffin’s soul-gospel piano passage moves against the lagging drums like a sermon that will not be denied.

Bone was recorded live at Venue 505 over two days in late 2016. The live recording brings so much out in the band (have I said before there is a strong argument at all jazz should be recorded live?), giving the album an in-the-moment electricity that charges the air.

It is not all funk and zap though; the three short interlude pieces – ‘Anagram’, ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Constellation’ – are welcome breathers from the tropical storm of Bone. Rose’s bass clarinet on the latter is particularly affecting, singing a folk-like song of universal longing.

Final track, the long workout ‘Bust Down_Parallelism’, captures everything that is good and real about Bone and Twentieth Century Dog. An almost endlessly inventive Hauptmann solo rises to a boil that bursts like a summer storm, washing away to a half-dark duskscape, only to rise through a percussion conversation into Jeremy Rose’s strutting tenor solo. Composition/improvisation. Magic While U Wait. It’s what the Dog does so well.

Ok, I will shut up now. Go listen to Bone.

 

Bone is available from Earshift Music – http://earshift

 

Published on http://jazz.org.au/ January 2017

The twin pillars of 1970s jazz-fusion keyboards were Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.

They had both been through the fire of Miles Davis’s greatest bands – Hancock most notably in the envelope-pushing Quintet of the 1960s and Corea in Miles’ envelope-puncturing electric groups of the early 70s. Unlike their contemporary, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, both had taken to electronic keyboards naturally and immediately.

Yet there was always a side to both of them that loved the big-bellied roar and the percussive stab of the acoustic piano. In 1978 they toured as a duo, facing each other across two huge concert grands like a pair of whale-riding Western duellists. The resulting album An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea was a best-selling jazz release.

The pair were out here on a tour that centred around their performance as the openers of the 2015 Melbourne Jazz Festival, but luckily also took in other capitals. Luckily one of them was Sydney.

Their Sydney show transformed the Opera House Concert Hall into a chamber of alchemy and maze-like wonders. Hancock stated that they would start with ‘nothing’ and make… ‘something’. A few short searching chords and lines and they were into it, flying like twin wizards, playing their pianos as a game, sometimes glass bead, sometimes canvas ring sparring, but always with a cosmic grin and wink.

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The music grew to a depth of density very early and retained that mesh of notes and rhythms throughout the concert. Both Hancock and Corea have highly individualised approaches to harmony, and – especially in the case of Corea – rhythmic syncopation. And yet it was a wonder – among the many wonders of the night – that they rarely crowded or pushed the other into a corner. Yes, it was dense and tightly woven, but never too tight, never cloying or knottily constricted.

Their take on Hancock’s lovely 1965 piece ‘Dolphin Dance’ was so impressionistic in parts as to be unrecognisable, as were most pieces they played – but play was the thing here: the two are among a handful of the world’s greatest improvisers, so as soon as they could play with the music, they did!

During some of Corea’s romantic tunes the two stretched the harmony to new areas of dissonance that recalled the 20th Century classical shaman Bela Bartók. Yet, on Hancock’s funky groovy ‘Cantaloupe Island’ they pulled back to the blues, the fruits and the roots.

Sitting next to the two big wooden concert grands were two synth keyboards. Apart from a little ‘colour’ here and there these were reserved for a light-hearted duet of electronic beats and bleeps which Hancock seemed to relish, but which broke the spell.

The closer of the show had the two disassembling Corea’s evergreen, ‘Spain’ with the audience involved in singing a huge E major chord (muso concerts always have great crowd singing) when conducted by Corea. We also got to scat with Herbie – answering his increasingly abstracted lines.

These things gave a little sweet relief from the relentless genius of the piano improvisations. Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock gave us a ride that was uncompromising in its artistry – a few I spoke with afterwards found it too dense, too unrelenting.

I must say I am still processing the experience, and that tells me it is a good thing. Jazz needs to jolt, art needs to jolt.

At an age when many jazz musicians’ faculties have become blunt or stunted – or, worse, touchingly predictable – Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock remain seekers and hungry explorers. One of them alone is a thrill, but taken together – with each pushing, challenging and turning on the other – they are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone who digs the art of the improviser.

Published June 2015 on megaphoneoz.com

The inner sleeve art of bassist Patrick ‘PW’ Farrell’s debut album, The Life Electric, depicts the man – face obscured by a hip-hop cap – towering over the remains of a smashed and very dead acoustic guitar. He is holding his electric 5-string like the weapon that did the deed.

It is a powerful image and a fitting one for an album that almost entirely eschews the woody acoustic (sound) world for the electric (and electronic) one. Apart from a little trumpet, sax, guitar and vocal spread thinly across the tracks (and ‘real’ drums on only two out of the ten here) all this music is performed and programmed by Farrell.

The purists will yelp (which is never a bad thing) but in The Life Electric, Farrell has created one of the better albums of the year – at least to these ears. Charges of electronic ‘coldness’ and lack of human interaction and warmth will be leveled, but it never bothered Herbie or Miles, so it shouldn’t concern us.

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In fact the whole sheen of the album brings to mind some of Miles Davis’ 80s work, such as You’re Under Arrest and Star People – albums which have recently been re-evaluated as the masterworks they are. Farrell adds a very contemporary spin of samples and chattering computer beats to the mix, all of it done with as much taste as the best constructed Matt McMahon (or Steve Hunter) solo.

But whereas fellow electric bassist Hunter – most recently on his live album Cosmos – moves through the music interacting with his band organically, Farrell gives his bass no less room to move, but istead plays inside a taut web of programmed beats and accents.

A startling instrumental technician – check the three unaccompanied pieces: ‘Irish Sons’, ‘Barcaldine’ and ‘I Have Wandered’ – Farrell will happily sit under on a hip-hop groove such as the title track, ‘The Life Electric’ or a lazily snapping lope such as ‘Inspiration’ (tenor player Daniel Rorke reading the mood perfectly in his solo).Farrell 2

Instruments outside the sealed programmed tracks, such as Carl Morgan’s crisp-toned guitar solo on ‘Jester In The Rain’, never jolt against the computer sounds – it is all woven with great care and skill into a seamless and fine-grained fabric.

When an element is meant to jolt, it does in a surprising and artful way – such as the sample of a Ronald Reagan speech on ‘Liberty’.

In his liner notes to Jaco Pastorius’s 1976 debut album, Herbie Hancock (a man who should know) wrote “Of course, it’s not the technique that makes the music; it’s the sensitivity of the musician and his ability to be able to fuse his life with the rhythm of the times. This is the essence of music.”

The Life Electric is of its time but is also of the tradition of jazz. PW Farrell has caught the balance of both deftly – not an easy thing to do: too many have failed by tipping too far one way or another.

His music deserves a listen.

 

 

Published July 2104 on australianjazz.net

Outside of hardcore jazz, albums built around a particular instrument are rare. If they do exist, they are either impenetrably virtuosic, one-trick ponies or for shred-heads only. Which kind of makes them a failure as music, in a way, if the value of music is to move you and me and my uncle Bernard.

When an album is built around the drums, the potential for failure increases. It is a brave artist – one with a true and deep belief in their ability to move their listeners, above and below the waist – who would attempt to carry it off.

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In the case of New Zealand drum polymath, Myele Manzanza it helps to be the son of Congolese master percussionist, Sam Manzanza. It also help that Myele Manzanza concieves of the drums as a “talking” instrument, one with a language which can speak to people. “Growing up, music and rhythm was all around me and I understood it from a very early age. Through my father I learnt the language of the drum probably at the same time as I learnt to talk!”

Long a core member of New Zealand’s acclaimed modern jazz-soul group, Electric Wire Hustle, Manzanza has stepped forward with his debut solo album, One.

And as if to lay out the fact that this is no po-faced instrumental professional’s showreel, One starts with the wickedly funny ‘Neighbour’s Intro’ – a jittering polyrhythmic drum solo sandwiched between two phone messages from politely irate neighbours calling to complain about Manzanza’s nocturnal drum practicing.

While we are smirking he smacks us with the roller coaster ride of ‘Big Space’, a 7/4 latin groove that carves its way through a dense, muli-coloured mesh of electro, shooting out the other end with a lovely wordless vocal from Bella Kalolo – reminiscent of 50s sci-fi movie soundtracks, but definitely cruising the Space of Now.Print

Kalolo features – with lyric this time – on the smooth-as-skin ‘Absent’ next: a cool soul groove built across an angular skeleton. The groove here is typical of Manzanza’s thing – irresistible drum rhythms which are built from highly original architectures: quite beautiful from whichever angle you look at them.

An example is ‘Delay’ which has Manzanza playing with the shapes thrown back at him by reverb echo delay – on the surface quite a simple backbeat but the ripples beneath the waters lend it a shimmering sparkle.

The lovely ‘Elvin’s Brew’ features keys player (and major collaborator) Mark de Clive Lowe. Perhaps namechecking jazz drum colossus Elvin Jones (and Miles Davis‘ Bitches Brew) the track is built on a dreamlike cloud of billowing tom-toms under acoustic keys and electro blips-and-snaps.

Other guests include Myele’s father, Sam Manzanza, NZ’s Ladi 6, Bella Kalolo, Mara TK and Rachel Fraser. International guests include Charlie K from ex-Philadelphia Hip Hop group ‘Writtenhouse’, Canadian vocalist Amenta and James Wylie’s Boston based woodwind section.

The lovely woodwinds form a spectral backwash to the completely transporting ‘City of Atlantis’, their timbre reminiscent of Herbie Hancock‘s psych-funk albums of the 70s such as Speak Like A Child. There are so many flavours here from a similar time and headspace – Stevie Wonder synth squiggles, Weather Report ‘world’ beatz (dig the pan-African percussion of ‘7 Bar Thing’), George Duke Rhodes phat phunk.

The old and the new, the acoustic and the digital, soul and jazz, rap and song – all these strands are bound together by the tight yet embracing sinew of Myele Manzanza’s omniscient drums.

He says of One: “Creating this album has been a real process. Each track has it’s own story and developed in it’s own interesting and sometimes unexpected way. This is my first experience in creating my own solo full length body of work and the guest artists were great in helping me to realise my vi­sion. It was also really exciting to work with a woodwind sec­tion in Boston with James Wylie, and see a little fragment of harmony I was messing around with turn into the blooming orchestral parts of ‘City of Atlantis’ and ‘7 Bar Thing’.”

Blooming. One has a feeling of flowering and blooming, a joyful and summery efflorescence that could not come from a mere virtuoso. It need to come from a Musician – there is a difference.

And if you don’t know the difference, check out Myele Manzanza’s One and you will.

Myele Manzanza’s website is here.

Published September 2013 on theorangepress.net

New Zealand pianist and composer Steve Barry has been living and performing in Sydney since 2009. Well known as a sideman for touring artists such as John Hollenbeck, Theo Bleckmann, George Coleman Jr. and Chris McNulty, he is also the regular go-to-guy for local artists such as The Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, Dale Barlow, Simon Barker and James Muller.

On the strength of his eponymous debut album, Steve Barry, I get the feeling we will have to do as we did with the Finn brothers and Rusty Crowe (and any other frighteningly talented Kiwi) and willingly refer to him as the Australian pianist and composer Steve Barry. The album really is that good.

In a world of astounding soloists (yes, those 14 year old YouTube Yardbirds) what seems to set the finest jazz apart is the communication and empathy between interacting players. This communication is so expected today that it is pretty much a cliché – that is, until one asks, How often do I hear true, ego-less empathy in jazz ensembles; that virtually telepathic group-mind of a Bill Evans Trio or Miles First or Second Quintet? (Not such a cliché after all, is it?)

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From Steve Barry’s album opener, ‘B.W.’ we know we are in for a treat. The trio of Barry, Alex Boneham and the always elevating Tim Firth truly have that spooky rapport, that twined-consciousness that leads to great things. As much as ‘B.W.’ cooks and roils, the ballad ‘Vintage’ allows that superlative communication to flow across a piece that reminds us of the true meaning of ‘nostalgia’ – ‘homecoming ache’ in the Greek.

Guitarist Carl Morgan joins the trio for the cooking ‘Changes’ and the bopping ‘Unconscious-Lee’ – an angular Monk-trip, a wigged-out cousin to Lee Konitz’s ‘Subconscious-Lee’. Morgan shines on this track, snaky and biting.Steve barry cover

Morgan returns for the driving 6/8 ‘Sparse’ – one of the many tunes here where Barry’s playing brought to mind Keith Jarrett. The sparkle, the fingers-joy over the top of truly effortless technique, the swoon (no, Steve Barry doesn’t spin around in that Keith J trance when he plays) – all served to bring Jarrett to mind.

But of course, Steve Barry is more than an imitator of anyone – he has his own voice, in performance and in composition (check out the utterly transporting Esbjörn Svensson-via-Bartók ‘Clusters’) and in Boneham and Firth he has a magic band. It is hard to conceive that Steve Barry is his first album as a leader. I eagerly await the next twenty or so.

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Prior to posting this review I asked Steve Barry a few short questions. Here are his responses:

1. You have been on the scene for a few years now. What was the spark that led to this album?


Musically it wasn’t so much a spark as a graudal developmental process. I’d been working on the music for a while and had reached the point where I thought the album would be an honest artistic statement. Having said that the instigator was really facing a few months overseas in the middle of the year and being largely away from a piano, as well as Alex living in Italy for most of the year. On top of that Tim and his wife are about to have a baby, so if it hadn’t been then it might not have been for a while!

2. Even though your playing has a nicely original voice, I can hear Keith Jarrett in there as well as others. Who’s playing shaped yours?


Sure, Keith has been a huge influence. I love his seemingly inexhaustible knack for melody (especially with the standards trio) and his solo cadenzas/concerts are just incredible. Herbie Hancock is huge for me to, especially with Miles in the 60s. Lately I’ve been listening to a wide range of stuff, from modern jazz guys like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Aaron Parks, back to things like Shostakovich‘s Preludes and traditional African pygmy music. I’ve also been geting more inspired by works of fiction, I just finished a great book by Jonathan Franzen called “Freedom”, which looks at the implications of the word in modern families and society. Check it out!

3. They are great players, but what did you see in Alex Boneham and Tim Firth that would fit your music so well?


Alex and I met at the Sydney Con when I moved over in 2009 and have been playing together a lot since then. He has a huge sound and is a really strong creative presence both on and off the bandstand. He also has an infectious perpetual excitement about life and learning, which is really inspiring (and he makes great coffee). He’s happily taken though sorry ladies… Tim and I started playing together a few years ago and he’s just what I like about a drummer – he’s always listening and interacting and also supporting whatever is going on. He’s also got a huge amount of flexibility and is always ready to take the music to different places. And he has monstrous chops! It also helps that he’s a lovely dude, a great poker player and enjoys a nice scotch.

We’ve been playing together as a band for about 2 years now, and there’s a really strong, almost intuitive musical connection happening. I’m also happy to call them very close mates.

4. You use Carl Morgan on three of the 10 tracks on the album. Why guitar instead of, say, a tenor horn?


Carl and I started playing together when he moved up from Canberra a few years ago – we lived together for about 2 years and did a lot of playing/drinking of beer/talking about music during that time. Carl is totally passionate and focussed about creating music and is always striving to explore new ways of playing and composing. I wanted him on the album because I love his playing and I like the timbre of piano and guitar together. The tunes were also arranged so we could could get a lot of interaction in (and hopefully I could steal some of his licks).

5. What are your thoughts on Jazz in Australia right now?


It’s really strong – I think we have a pretty special thing happening. Australia is a great environment and culture for creating and exploring new music – we have access to a huge range of sources, and in Sydney at least there are more performance venues springing up all the time. We don’t have anywhere near as strong historical tie to jazz as the Americans do, which I think has both pros and cons – the pressure to “pay our dues” isn’t as strong as there’s a real focus on original music and ways to create it. Having said that I think there are a few ideas we could take from the Americans – for example there’s a powerfully competitive spirit in NY that continuously pushes all the musicians there forward. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but in general I feel we could have more outgoing faith in presenting what we do and what we’re about.

6. And finally, what are your thoughts on music in general today?

That’s a big question! I think it’s really healthy. There’s always going to be your Lady Gagas/One Directions/Justin Biebers but there’s a lot of incredible music happening out there if you’re interested in finding it. Sure, it would be nice if a few more people came to jazz gigs, but I have a great lifestyle and get paid (mostly good money compared to the rest of the world) for doing what I love. Can’t complain about that!

 

Steve Barry’s website is here

Published December 2102 on australianjazz.net 

The innovators in any genre are always remembered kindly by history. But the popularisers of any artform are also as important, if in some ways not more so. Jazz icon Dave Brubeck, who died yesterday aged 91 was both.

Like Stravinsky, Miles Davis or Thom Yorke, pianist and composer Brubeck managed to stay true to his artistic vision while enormously expanding the audience for his chosen music. His most popular album, 1959’s Time Out (the first million selling jazz record) was largely an experiment in playing jazz over odd rhythmic meters or time signatures. Nothing on the record is in the usual 4/4 – and the biggest hit of his career, ‘Take Five’ is played over a five beat pulse. ‘Take Five’ (actually composed by Brubeck’s long time foil, the über-chilled altoist Paul Desmond) seemed to epitomise the ‘cool’ of the time – not as weirded out and dissolute as the beatniks but still not as straight laced as 1959 America wanted you to be. To this day it has lost none of its freshness and eternal hippery.

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Brubeck’s compositions were always heartfelt, soulful and innovative – among them ‘The Duke’ (covered by Miles Davis on his groundbreaking 1957 album with Gil EvansMiles Ahead) and ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ (covered by everyone, everywhere) – and contained harmonies and ideas as much from European classical music as from American jazz (he had studied under the French composer Darius Milhaud). His exclusion from the pantheon of jazz greats for many years was as much due to the inverse racism which existed/exists in American jazz as it was to his genial, sunny, un(bad)newsworthy character.

Dave Brubeck’s energy was known to have put pianos out of tune in clubs across the US. He never really learned how to sight-read music properly and was often accused of not being able to “swing” (usually by music critics whose own prose swung like a housebrick). Like Herbie Hancock, he was always interested in the music of the times – in the mid 1970s he mounted a world tour with his sons, Darius, Chris and Danny as The Two Generations of Brubeck, mixing in jazz-rock fusion elements and night after night wearing out the young’uns with the relentless drive of his playing.

US sax giant Dave Liebman put it well when he said, in a tribute: “Dave had the misfortune in jazz to become popular … how dare you?” For those that care about such things, walk on. For the rest of us, it will do to put ‘Take Five’ on the stereo, raise a glass of something cool and chic and whisper a thank you starward to Dave Brubeck who managed to alchemise something timeless and universal out of the thin air of jazz.

Published December 2012 on theorangepress.net

Galaxstare. The name Sydney tenor savant Richard Maegraith rechristened his rather prosaically named Richard Maegraith Band for their second album, is a word to conjure with.

Galaxstare. Is it the feeling of staring outwards towards the galaxy, seeking answers, in awe of its wonders? Or is it the stare of the galaxy back towards us; the eye in the sky, its vast omni-vision casting its diamond gaze over our little lives? As a spiritually-attuned man and musician – his Facebook page declares “I’m a student of everything… and I play the saxophone” – Maegraith perhaps is suggesting both.

Galaxstare the band suggests this wide cosmic vista in their playing and sound. Maegraith’s compositions seem to come from a place wider than Jazz and the band’s acoustic/electric sound gives a wider timbre than Jazz to realise them.

Not that there is anything wrong with Jazz timbre: the opener at Galaxstare’s 2 October gig at Sydney’s Venue 505, the piano-bass-drums Chris Poulsen Trio, proved that. Great driving piano jazz – but with the funky colours Herbie Hancock raises up whenever he plays acoustic piano – Poulsen’s witty and swinging heads won us all over. His bass player, Jeremy O’Connor stood out – are you allowed to have this much fun with jazz?

Then Galaxstare – with Matilda Abraham filling in for the group’s vocalist, Kristen Berardi – took to the stage and played us four tunes in a row, without pause. As on their album, A Time, Times and Half a Time, three tunes – ‘Love Feast’, ‘New One’ and ‘The Comforter’ (with an extended and involved Rhodes solo from Gary Daley) were fused together into a seamless flow. ‘The Comforter’ then grew into a new tune – Maegraith’s tribute and celebration of Indigenous Australians – ‘The Ones Who Were Here First’. The new piece was meditative and roiling by turns with Maegraith featuring the black-on-black tones of his bass clarinet. I heard ochre, deep desert wind and crackling dry branches – as with much of Galaxstare’s music, the piece was entirely transporting.

After the deep meditations of the opening quartet of tunes, Galaxstare snapped us out of it with the funk of ‘Romans VII’. And I realised that the band has toughened up their sound considerably. Karl Dunnicliff’s electric bass and Tim Firth’s drums – for all their hair-trigger dynamics and inventiveness (and Tim Firth constantly amazes) there is some serious rock crunch in the grooves, with backbeats that pay the rent. The funk under Maegraith’s tenor solo was electric, snapping and crackling.

A mention here must go to vocalist Matilda Abraham who filled in “at the last moment” – her canny negotiations of the rhythmic quirks and intervallic leaps of Maegraith’s melodies was admirable. Dig the relentless 16th offbeats of ‘Romans VII’ – whew. Her scatting on the bright and funky closer, ‘The Journey’ was inspired and lit up the room.

The most staggering piece of the night was ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’, the title track of the band’s latest album. A tribute to Japanese friends of Maegraith’s who survived the terrible Japanese tsunami, it is a deep deep meditation on existence, the galaxy-sized power of nature, and the depth of sorrow. That Galaxstare are capable of creating this huge, deep, wide, bottomless universe of music in a room on Cleveland Street using only bass clarinet, voice, accordian, bass and drums is astounding and humbling.

Richard Maegraith’s music draws from many musics. It is nominally Jazz but, like Miles Davis and Weather Report, and today’s Christian Scott, it kneads in many other flavours. Maybe Maegraith’s music has greater depth because he moves in a world away from only Jazz and jazz musicians – he is a deeply committed Christian and a family man with three boys.

All I know is that the thought “Why is this room not full to the brim? Why doesn’t the world better know about this music?” came into my mind – as it does with saddening regularity these days. Of course I know the reasons why, but in the case of Galaxstare, the question needs to be answered. If this review can motivate you to buy their albums and/or go see their next gig then my words will have been worth it.

 

Galaxstare’s website is http://galaxstare.com/

 

Published October 2102 on jazz-planet.com