Olli Hirvonen - Displace

Label: Ropeadope Records, 2019

Personnel - Olli Hirvonen: guitar; Luke Marantz: piano; Marty Kenney: bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drums.


Up-and-coming Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen is conquering his own space in the modern fusion sphere. Based in Brooklyn, he has been a valuable sideman in Brian Krock’s successful projects, Big Heart Machine and Liddle. This year, he is releasing Displace, his third album as a leader and his debut on Ropeadope Records. With rich ideas sprouting from his unreserved musical mind, he brilliantly consolidates distinct genres into his original compositions, played with partners he knows well. Indeed, pianist Luke Marantz, bassist Marty Kenney, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell had all contributed to the guitarist’s previous recording, New Helsinki (Edition Records, 2017).

The assorted repertoire is attractive and “No Light”, the CD's opener, shows right away what the group is capable of. Thunderous piano convulsions announce a swaggering entrance in the post-rock and prog-rock realms. Hirvonen employs crystalline harmonics with the finest of tastes and then discourses with incontestable jazz authority, notwithstanding the fact of being pinched by an ingrained rock stimulus. The stellar comping offered by Marantz can be fully savored before he throws in tantalizing improvised lines with clarity and agility.

Following this big impression, the title cut is a prog-rock stunner in seven, exhibiting two different layers of chords for a polyrhythmic effect. Sagacity is found in Ellman-Bell’s beat displacements, and the intricate distorted melodicism makes you constantly immersed in the music. During his improvisation, Hirvonen brews metal licks with tension and drama, while Marantz starts in a prudent way, building up muscle as his speech develops. The final quarter brings an effusive drumming flux with gorgeous accents, patterns, and fills to center stage, with slabs of noise enshrouding them.

The immutable “Size Constancy” and “Tactile” make sympathetic observations. The former, an art rock-meets-bluesy jazz song ruled by a 6/8 tempo, is prone to unisons and ostinatos, whereas the latter, inspired by Dave Holland’s writing, delves into a perfectly danceable funk rock delivered with an electronic vibe and armed with a piping hot, Zappa-inspired guitar solo.

Faction” lodges complex unison melodies, which navigate jazzy harmonies before guitar and piano start a passionate dialogue. Individual statements are also of note.

On practically every tune, the band knows how to chill out through quieter passages, preventing the atmospheres from getting too dense. Yet, the closing piece, “Unravel”, offers something different, boasting an indie country-pop airiness from tip to toe and having the skilled acoustic fingerpicking disseminating luminous rays of hope.

Hirvonen conceives a gripping and somewhat intriguing record that it is just so fun to listen to. If you haven’t heard his name before, you certainly will soon.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - No Light ► 02 - Displace ► 07 - Unravel

Ken Aihara - Multiverse

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Ken Aihara: piano, keyboards; Bob Lanzetti: electric guitar; Evan Marien: electric bass; Marko Djordjevic: drums.


New York-based Japanese keyboardist Ken Aihara doesn’t hide his deep affection for jazz-rock fusion, taking us in a multi-dimensional journey with Multiverse, a work inspired by role-playing games. Over the course of this symphonic combustion of jazz, rock, and classical elements, he plays alongside Snarky Puppy’s guitar man Bob Lanzetti, bassist Evan Marien, and drummer Marko Djordjevic.

Initially surrounding us with mysterious clouds of synth, the 11/8-metered “Ice Mountain” displays punchy, groovy bass lines delineating its elliptical trajectories. Every variations and texture reminding us of the universes of Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Return To Forever. In the heels of Aihara’s polyrhythmic jazzy solo, Lanzetti sets off for a synth guitar expedition full of mystery, and the song ends shortly afterward, in a sort of indefinite suspension with the drummer in a busy circumstance.

Whale” releases strong emotional currents through its passages. The bandleader excels here, whether coordinating fast ostinatos and nimble chords with impressive self-sufficiency or exploring freely with in/out focus. This is intense music with a powerful magnetic appeal and stunning effectiveness.

Inspired by time-space correlation as well as past and future, the progressive 5/8 “Spatio-Temporal Wanderer” blends analog and digital sounds and features blazing improvisations from Lanzetti and Aihara. Given a more spacious background, Marien finishes the improvisational section with a discourse that goes from succinct and compact to long-winded and widespread.

The bandleader opened up about his intentions to make “Theia Impact” the catchier rock fusion song on the album. And he achieved that feat! With a triumphant riff shining on top of cutting-edge rock chords, this is so much fun for the ears. Alternating tasteful dynamics, the tune is also buoyed up by adventurous eruptions from guitar and keyboard.

The conclusion arrives with “Ridge Black”, a rhythmically defiant composition that vouches for dancing as a natural reaction to what it proposes. If Djordjevic’s choppy drumming is highlighted throughout, Aihara’s piano whirls faster than a speeding bullet.

As a talented musician and deft composer, Ken Aihara will easily conquer fusion audiences. His Multiverse provides an exciting experience as it illustrates complex parallel realities through imaginative sonic scenarios.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Whale ► 04 - Theia Impact ► 05 - Ridge Black

Yotam Silberstein - Future Memories

Label: Jazz&People, 2019

Personnel – Yotam Silberstein: guitar, vocals; Glenn Zaleski: piano, Fender Rhodes; Vitor Gonçalves: accordion, piano, keys, percussion; John Patitucci: acoustic and electric bass; Daniel Dor: drums; Andre Mehmari: synthesizers.


Few artists are capable to blend post-bop and Latin jazz with such a class as the Tel Aviv-born guitarist Yotam Silberstein. He possesses the indispensable technique, rhythm, and lyricism to succeed in the challenging fusion genre, and Future Memories, his sixth album as a leader, is a multi-cultural voyage into his forthright musical universe. The influences come from many directions, yet there’s an emphasis on Brazilian music here, displayed in a couple of tunes by mandolin master Hamilton de Holanda and an erudite rendition of “Choro Negro” by samba/choro icon Paulinho da Viola.

Holanda’s “Capricho de Donga” is filled with rhythmic nuances, featuring extraordinary bassist John Patitucci in a pulsating solo with tons of melody, whereas the flamenco-ish vibe of “Capricho de Espanha” let us indulge not only in the brisk melodicism of the guitarist, but also in the kaleidoscopic exuberance of pianist Glenn Zaleski, an assiduous presence in the New York scene. There is also this Ravel-like sumptuosity marking the improvisational section, which is pleasantly relaxing.

Another Brazilian-influenced piece is Silberstein’s “Impedimento”, where the rapturous atmosphere of choro gains amazing propulsion with the electric bass flow and the rippling percussive groove of drummer Daniel Dor. The Brazilian accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, who doubles on piano on some other tunes, is seen in perfect union with the bandleader and both improvise on this tune. The engaging phrasing of the guitarist shows both the strong affinity with the jazz tradition and his close relationship with South American music. The fusion feast ends in rock-ish mode, though.

Matcha” is definitely a highlight, showing how strong is the writing of Silberstein. The group, aside from intensifying the rhythm with manifest accentuations, keeps grooving under an odd tempo. There are undercurrents in the music that meet conveniently at a certain point, comparable to a big river that collects the water flow from smaller streams. Both the guitar and piano solos are worthy of attention, with Zaleski following the bandleader in his improvisational spirit, but interpolating his single-note phrases with pungent chords in the lower register. The ambiance nearly touches a dreamy state before Dor’s snare and tom-tom work come to prominence. Although revealing a complex execution, this piece sounds good to the ear.

Future Memories” and “Wind on the Lake” are musing songs in six and three, respectively. Whereas the latter takes the form of a folk song at an early stage through the usage of acoustic guitar, the former boasts an ethereal air brought either by Silberstein’s modulated vocalizations or the silky harmonic tapestry weaved by Gonçalves’ accordion and Andre Mehmari’s synth waves.

The imaginative arrangements always find space for personal points of view, and Future Memories reinforces music as a culturally boundless celebration.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Future Memories ► 02 - Matcha ► 04 - Impedimento

Troy Roberts - Nu Jive Perspective

Label: Inner Circle Music, 2018

Personnel – Troy Roberts: saxophone; Tim Jago: guitar; Silvano Monasterios: keys; Eric England: bass; Dave Chiverton: drums.


New York-based Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts, a two-time Grammy-nominated artist/composer, releases a rhythmically provocative album, his eighth as a leader, in the company of an adventurous quartet: guitarist Tim Jago, keyboardist Silvano Monasterios, bassist Eric England, and drummer Dave Chiverton.

The opening track of Nu-Jive Perspective, “Fame & Four Tune”, is an amalgam of Steve Coleman’s M-base and Michael Brecker’s crossover jazz. With Roberts expelling fierce popping sounds from his tenor, the tune’s passages oscillate between ecstatic turbulence and hip composure.

Abiding by a 6/8 meter, “Slideshow” incorporates an immersive sax solo over a funky strut. Mordant wha-wha bass thumps and organ flare-ups are also part of the show. Rippled wha-wha effects also mark the short “Phish HQ”, whose conglomeration of soul, jazz, and funk vibes recalls Jamiroquai’s style.

The bass pumps 5/4 grooves with vigor on the emphatically rhythmic “Table For Five” and “Jack The Sipper”. With the rhythm team playing in the pocket, the latter piece thrives with remarkable improvisations by Roberts and Jago, two exciting soloists. The soulful, explorative side of the guitarist is ruling on “Adamant Eve”, an R&B song, slowly developed with deep melodicism and a hip-hop beat; as well as on the shifting “Through The Eyes of Psychoville”, whose vertiginous rhythm takes us to a psychedelic neo-funk realm intercalated with moments of pure jazz.

The lullaby-ish melody introduced by Monasterios on “Professor Ghetto-Rig” is posteriorly overlapped by the cool funk that slinks its way through the groove. Roberts also maintains a close relationship with melody on “Avni Lane” and the more contemplative “Belle”, whose pure laconic voice diverges from the joy imparted by the gospel-infused “Veepea-Are”.

Nu-Jive Perspective is a kaleidoscopic and groove-oriented endeavor that showcases Roberts’ passionate musicality. The way he traverses styles feels all at once genuine, accessible, and daring.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Jack The Sipper ► 06 - Avni Lane ► 08 - Through The Eyes of Psychoville