Piero Umiliani’s Fischiando In Beat (Schema Records, Italy) is, admittedly, one of those guilty pleasures I don’t necessarily crow about (sorta like my six Britney Spears CDs). It’s an orchestral flourish of such stimulating background music that it’s like a soundtrack for a bad sitcom that doesn’t exist. Yet it’s absolutely fascinating. Originally released in 1969 Italy, you’re transported to a cocktail party in Rome where the women wear mini-dresses and the men wear polka-dot shirts, Beatle boots and collarless Nehru suits with their bell-bottomed dress jeans. “Ti Place New York,” “Tokyo Blues” and “Highway To Rio” are nods to the States, Japan and Brazil. “Marranzano Boogie” sounds like one of those late-night TV commercials for mafia music. Umiliani, who can get as esoteric as the next composer (check out his computer-programmed Synthi Time), is just having fun here with the much-maligned subgenre of “easy-listening.” Yet let 47 years pass and what was once considered Euro lounge music, is now total kitsch tickling your sweet spot, unlike anything else you’re bound to hear in 2016.

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The Pablo Held Trio is a jazz band but on Recondita Armonia (Pirouet Records, Germany), pianist Held, 28, bassist Robert Landformann and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel tackle classical refrains from Tosca, Stravinsky, Bartok, Scribian, Rachmaninoff and three others. It’s a sharp left turn for the trio who was last heard on their semi-brilliant 2014 The Trio Meets John Scofield where the American guitarist teamed up with the forward-thinking trio. The title of this new CD means “hidden harmony” and comes from the Puccini opera Tosca. Soft, sweet, all eight tracks are dreamy ballads that are as quiet and unassuming as they are intricate like the fine web of a spider. Held is a hell of a pianist. You’d think he had 30 fingers not just 10. Recondita Armonia is, yes, unlike anything else you’re bound to hear in 2016.

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Dreamland Mechanism (MoonJune Records, Brooklyn) by Uruguayan composer Beledo is instrumental ROCK of the highest order. Beledo, based in New York City since the early ‘90s, composed, arranged, co-produced and played electric and acoustic guitar, violin, Fender Rhodes, Mini Moog, piano, accordion and fretless bass. Backed by more bass, more guitar, drums and a wild amount of extra percussion, it’s a free-for-all jamband equipped to flesh out Beledo’s world, fusion and prog tendencies. Recorded in Jakarta, Indonesia and Woodstock, NY, these 10 crazily disparate tracks will dizzyingly keep you in awe for repeated listenings to come. One can’t get tired of this as you will, indeed, hear new things with each successive listen. MoonJune Records, who took its name from Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt’s 1970 The Moon In June, bills itself as “Progressive Music Exploring the Boundaries of Jazz, Rock, Avant Garde & the Unknown.”

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The Symphonic Jazz Orchestra (SJO) is Looking Forward Looking Back on their Mack Avenue Records debut. The term “symphonic jazz” was coined by bandleader Paul Whiteman in 1924 when he first commissioned a work by the then little-known composer George Gershwin. That work, “Rhapsody In Blue,” has gone on to be one of Gershwin’s most beloved compositions and is recreated here in its original arrangement. Subsequent arrangements deleted the long piano solo after it became so incredibly popular. The 67-member SJO has commissioned such works for the last 14 years, spearheaded by George Duke [1946-2013] who wrote the four-movement “Dark Wood: Bass Concerto For McBride” in 2011 when it was premiered live. It opens this powerful jazz/classical fusion of an album. Christian McBride (the Ron Carter of his generation) can be heard here on upright bass, electric bass and fretless electric bass. The third and final work is “Symphonic Captain’s Journey,” written by guitarist Lee Ritenour and featuring pianist Dave Grusin. Its two movements, “Calm” and “Storm” are exactly that. Play it loud.

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