Soft Machine were one of first and one of the greatest jazz/rock bands of all time. Their importance and influence was especially great in Europe, where they influenced several generations of bands, and their influences can still be heard to this day in bands like Jaga Jazzist and beyond. Grides presents the most famous version of the band (Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt) recorded live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on October 25, 1970, in a high-quality, previously unreleased recording, just a few months after the release of Third and at the peak of their popularity.
Saxophonist Phillip Johnston founded The Microscopic Septet in 1980 when the group briefly counted John Zorn as one of its members. They recorded four albums and were a regular presence in New York's downtown scene before disbanding in 1992. In 2006 Cuneiform Records re-released the four albums leading to the reformation of the group and presently, to their new release Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues.
In the 80s, the band engendered a cagey slant on mainstream swing and then morphed into the risk-taking New York downtown scene, eventually garnering widespread attention and sell-out crowds at the Knitting Factory and other hip venues. They regrouped in 2006, carrying the torch for what has become a singular sound, ingrained in classic jazz stylizations, bop, funk, and the free-jazz domain. Known for its quirky deviations, razor-sharp horns arrangements and melodic hooks, the septet's spunkiness and tightknit overtures align with the stars on Manhattan Moonrise.
Very few jazz composers have experienced the extremes of acceptance and rejection that were Thelonious Monk's lot. Ignored and rejected early in his career – in part for the oblique weirdness of his piano style, in part for the difficulty and angularity of his compositions, and in part because he was quite clearly mentally ill – he did at least live to see his music given the appreciation it deserved, and his work has only grown in esteem since his death in 1982. Today, his pieces are among the most frequently performed and recorded of any jazz composer; as popularity among musicians goes, his music is on the same level as that of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.
The Microscopic Septet had been disbanded for quite a few years by the time a pair of twin CD reissue compilations appeared on the Cuneiform label in 2006, prompting a brief reunion of the group to support sales. The musicians had so much fun that they decided to get together again to record a few of the many compositions that the band played during its existence, reuniting pianist Joel Forrester, soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston, alto saxophonist Don Davis, baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson, bassist David Hofstra, and drummer Richard Dworkin, with the one new addition being tenor saxophonist Mike Hashim.
A nearly brassless little big band and a guitarless R&B group all at the same time, the Microscopic Septet was to the 1980s New York Downtown scene something of what the Art Ensemble of Chicago was to its own home town. Both bands were steeped in and respectful of the jazz tradition, but both deconstructed, recalibrated, juggled and played around with its component parts to create affectionate, often witty new amalgams of the old—and intimations of the future. The two-disc Seven Men In Neckties collects the Micros' immortal, mind-expanding but long unavailable, first two albums—Take The Z Train (Press Records, 1983) and the live Let's Flip! (Osmosis Records, 1985)—along with previously unissued, contemporaneous material.
Vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Robert Wyatt's career extends from the beginnings of the psychedelic era to the present day. This album started its life as simply a collection of the two BBC Top Gear sessions that Robert recorded in 1972 and 1974. But as we worked on it, Robert became more and more involved in it, until it ended up in its final form. In addition to the Top Gear recordings, there is a previously unheard and little known 1973 soundtrack for a short experimental film, two recent works with old collaborator Hugh Hopper and finally a 2003 home demo of a new song that did not end up on Robert's new release "Cuckooland". "Throughout a career as singular and honest as his expressive voice, Robert Wyatt has remained a true progressive."
Three hyper-progressive improvisational jazz and cross-genre artists push the envelope again on their 2nd album for Cuneiform Records. The musicians' busy schedules via numerous and largely prolific solo and group-based projects have rocketed their respective artistries into the limelight, especially ECM recording artist Michael Formanek (bass) who for the past several decades has become a household name within these circles. Nonetheless, it's an adventurous exploration, led by guitarist Mary Halvorson's signature phraseology, comprised of extended lines that vaporize into the cosmos amid her diminutive note-bending jaunts and so on. Here, drummer Tomas Fujiwara generates a buoyant underpinning with colorful accents in parallel with Formanek's fluid and powerful support.
One can always count on Ed Palermo and his Big Band to pop up every couple of years with another sizzling set of Frank Zappa inspired jazz, and he's done that yet again here in early 2016 with his latest Cuneiform Records release One Child Left Behind. Featuring 17 tracks, 9 of which are Zappa recreations, along with some Palermo originals and other covers, One Child Left Behind is a dazzling display of musical artistry from this large outfit, which for the album consists of seventeen musicians.