Hedvig Mollestad ‘Ekhidna’ LP/CD (Rune Grammofon) 4/5

Okay then “serendipity”, how come I hadn’t heard Hedvig Mollestad’s work before now? Having spent my teenage years in a state of constant Heavy-Metal-as-amphetamine stimulation, a guitarist who is categorised as “jazz-metal” or, more judgmentally, as a “jazzrock monster” AND has been blessed with adjectives such as “riffmeister”, “fierce”, “one mutha”, “powerful” and “fearless” should really have been on my radar, love.

Serendipity-less until now then, “Ekhidna” is my virgin experience of Mollestad’s work and I am now in thrall. The album is named after the half woman, half snake monster of Greek mythology. With a serpentine smirk, I note that the gender ratio of musicians here is half woman, half man with Marte Eberson and Erlend Slettevoll on keyboards, Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Torstein Lofhus (drums) and Ole Mofjell handling percussion.

“No Friends But The Mountains” opens with a heroic, resolute Santos Silva standing erect and alone as doomy, smoky density looms beneath and around her; further portended by a cleanish, slowish Fates Warning/Metallica-esque Mollestad chord progression. It acts as that very Metal of things, the quiet-bit-intro; a segue to the hard riffing of “A Stone’s Throw”. “A Stone’s Throw” has a touch of the Frippian NWOBHM about it, but that rock tightness is soon blown apart via Lofhus’ busy, explosive kit work and Santos Silva’s perfectly accentuating playing. Then there’s some Zappa vs Mahavishnu fusion dual lead dramatics before Mollestad closes her eyes for the Dave Gilmour moment. Riffarama returns before it excitingly falls apart as battles ensue between guitar, keyboards and percussion.

“Antilone” kicks off with an organic Green Tinted Sixties Mind and a Paul Gilbert Mr Big boogie that punches with a damp, warm, dense fist (the nicest sort of fist) instead of the sharper, tinnier fist (metaphor dies) of some 80s/90s metal. It then expands into a welcome airy trumpet break which closes back up into the riff before breaking into a busy Zappa-esque phrase fest. Again, the rhythmically compelling Lofhus leads with an extraordinary ability to enable and propel Santos Silva (fusion) and Mollestad (psych/fusion) to, separately, go on irresistible rambling solos…hopefully managing to avoid the bottles of piss inevitably propelled at the stage during this late afternoon/early evening festival set.

“Slightly Lighter” is. Glowing, glistening, gliding chords caress and cosset. “Ekhidna” drops a Sabbathy, flabby Fu Manchu-y riff with Lofhus getting properly all around it(!) before it opens into a gently uplifting, dreamy trumpet moment. We’re rudely slapped awake by the returning riff and Santos Silva pairs up again for that wonderful layered effect, where all harmonies are exponentially improved by the dualling of guitar and horn. Percussive breaks fire up the now newly-awkward trumpet’s suddenly staggering digital note choices; on edge and stumbling. Again, extraordinary compelling energy and dynamism throughout.

“One Leaf Left” builds from repeating, shifting, swaying Mollenstad four-note patterns to a proudly gripping trumpet/guitar melody that heralds something of great import. Mollestrad then stomps pedals and unleashes a tirade of trills, bends and divebombs leading to an abrupt end.

“Ekhidna” thrives on the wonderful knack that great progressive bands (whether Metal, psych, prog, fusion or funk) have of jumping from something tight & fierce to something open and expansive at the drop of a hat; creating an engrossing drama where intense pressure leads to respiteful release then back to intense pressure and so on.

I’ve littered this review with loads of subjective ‘heard influences’. I think this is an attempt, by me, to frame what’s going on because I’ve never heard these influences/styles/sonics so congruently blended before. It incorporates much that I’ve loved on my musical journey while boasting much more than a sum of their parts. It seems it was created solely for me. Serendipitous the boss gave it to me to review then, eh?

Ian Ward

Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet ‘When Angels Fall’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

The Polish bass player was born in 1976 and is often credited with the current resurgence in jazz from his homeland. He has collaborated with Tim Berne, Tomasz Stanko, John Zorn and Pete Wareham. As well as performing he has composed music for film and theatre. He has released several albums since his recording debut in 2008.

His first release for Whirlwind Recordings ‘Polka’ proved to be very successful and popular in dance clubs and rock festivals alike showing his wide appeal. This new release focusses attention on his Polish colleague Krzysztof Komeda who was not only a legend of Polish jazz but also an established composer for film and here the quintet explores Komeda’s output. The quintet is made up of fellow Polish musicians and comprises trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums with the trumpeter also supplying electronics and the pianist playing Wurlitzer. The bassist carried out detailed research when preparing to record this album, feeling the need to find out who Komeda was and how he lived. This is the product of a three year project to write original material based on Komeda’s music.

So, to the music itself. ‘When Angels Fall’ opens the album and seems to set the scene for what is to come. It is a pensive piece of music and features delightful keyboard and trumpet. ‘Roman II’ follows and is in complete contrast to the opening piece. Free exploration soon gives way to a pulsating rhythm with the saxophonist making his presence felt.

Introspection returns with all of the musicians featured on ‘Le Depart’ with trumpet and tenor saxophone blending particularly well and later, an ethereal feature for the trumpet and a relaxed tempo. There are eleven tracks on the album and most are relatively short but this allows for a great variety of approach. Mood and texture. Some pieces incorporate elements of free jazz but the overall feel of the album is that of a melodic excursion inspired by Komeda. ‘Crazy Girl’ is fun with drummer and electronics to the fore.

The feeling of this being an album of music for film is all-pervasive but is certainly not a bad thing.

There is much to enjoy in this varied collection which reveals its pleasures slowly and certainly repays repeated listening.

Alan Musson

Read also:
Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet ‎’Polka’ Deluxe 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

Gerald McClendon ‘Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now’ CD (Delta Roots) 5/5

I stumbled over this fantastic voice way back in 1999 when his “Choose Love” album was recommended to me by the late Dean Johnson, and then nothing until recently. Whilst trawling through YouTube, I heard a number of tracks advertising this new album, then within a few days, I heard the very same tracks played on soul radio, so I tracked down the album, which wasn’t cheap with new postage rates from the USA now more than the actual cost of the disc. From the moment it arrived it has taken up residence in the listening room and have been constantly playing.

Where the hell has he been? His voice is one that has been ‘lived in’, there’s no mistake, and with accompaniment by one of the best soundtracks I have heard on an album in a long time. We have to thank Twist Turner, another seasoned performer in his own right, who wrote the lyrics for all twelve tracks, every facet of life is played out, falling in and out of love, slipping around and all its pitfalls, I’m on record many times over the past 54 years in that I believe Clarence Carter is the greatest black storyteller of all time, well it seems Twist Turner is up there too – a fabulous writer who also recorded, produced and mixed the album at the Delta Roots Sound Studio in Chicago. Having said all that, we still needed a great voice to interpret the songs with passion and grit and in Gerald we have such a singer, who with consummate ease, ploughs his way through every episode that life can throw at you. When he tells you he’s falling in love with you, you believe him, when he’s out of love you feel his pain and of cause you’re shaking your head when he’s been caught slipping around and about to be cut once and shot twice. Gerald, also known as the ‘Soulkeeper’, is a native of Chicago, Illinois and has loved music from a very young age, he cites Marvin Gaye, Wilson Picket and Otis Redding as inspirations, he is able to ply his trade in various forms of music, be it rock, blues, country or jazz and has completed over 1000 performances to raving audiences while collaborating on countless musical projects.

The simply wonderful soundtrack is provided by Herb Walker, Joe Burba and Mark Wydra – Guitars, Roosevelt Purifoy, Sumito ‘Aryio’ Aryioshi and Brian James – Keyboards, Skinny Williams – Sax, John ‘Boom’ Brumbach, Delta Roots Horns – Horns with an unknown Trumpet player, Twist Turner – strings and drums, Art Love – bass. The album kicks off with a terrific dancer that in years past would have laid waste to UK dancefloors at the more adventurous soul nights. “Can’t nobody stop me now” has instant appeal and would have been very in-demand but sadly the days of new releases sitting next to endless DJ sets of rare soul are well and truly over. The same could be said of “Groove on tonight” set at a slightly slower pace but equally magnificent. The rest of the album provides mid-tempo and the odd stroller, all very enjoyable. The track that has risen to the top here is the mournful, “I think about you”, a deep soul opus with a tick-tock rhythm, bathed in horns and ticking all the boxes.

When I pen my thoughts to these albums it’s not from a theatrical, dishonest view of a music hack who has a vested interest in being nice so they can keep their feet in the trough and get freebies and lots of back-slapping. I do it at my own cost, and from the standpoint of an obsessive collector of soul music and in recent times I have found it hard to find complete albums, there appears to be very little promotion of the product, this release a classic example of finding purely by luck. I find about 40 MP3s every week that satisfy my taste, and so when a physical album hits the collection it makes the searching well worth the effort. I’m listening to “Runnin Wild” as I type, a blast of horns pave the way for our man to announce his arrival, all very restrained, that is until the sax arrives and dominates the proceedings. Lovely, simply lovely. “Mr Wrong” is also creeping up on me as I found myself humming this lowrider earlier, telling his woman that he has a love for her and can he be Mr wrong tonight until Mr right comes along. The strutting “I started over” is another joy, he’s telling us he’s a brand new man and starting over again, which fits perfectly into “You can’t take my love” a slow and torturous tune which just meanders along on a bed of percussion, bass and that sax is at it again with subtle horns just letting you know they are here.

Twelve tracks of majestic soulful beauty that will stand the test of time for sure, an absolute must. Twist Turner has an interesting autobiography out and also check the website for the excellent Z.Z. Hill Jr. album “Goin’ to Mississippi”. You can also find more about Gerald here http://www.geraldmcclendon.com/

Brian Goucher

Ant Law ‘The Sleeper Wakes’ (Edition) 3/5

Born in Saudi Arabia, now living in London, guitarist Ant Law has steadily been making a name for himself over recent years, with his previous albums (Life I know, 2018 on Edition Records, Zero Sum World, 2015 on Whirlwind Records, and Entanglement, 2013 on 33Jazz) receiving very favourable reviews along the way. Law also plays in Tim Garland’s band with Jason Rebello and Asaf Sirkis, featuring on the albums Songs to the North Sky, Return to the Fire, and ONE. Tim Garland makes an appearance here on two of the tracks, with saxophonist /clarinettist Michael Chillingworth also appearing on two tracks, Adam Kovacs on percussion on two tracks, and the core band of Law on guitars, Ivo Neame on piano, Tom Farmer on acoustic bass, and James Maddren on drums.

As one might expect from such a strong line-up of musicians, there’s a distinct tightness to the band’s playing, adding a clear connectedness and warm, intuitive feel to the music being performed. The eleven original compositions (one of these co-written) have an emphasis on warmth, in contrast to Law’s previous release “Life I Know” which was somewhat darker in mood. Whilst some of the tunes strike a chord with me on first listen, it is repeated plays that bears fruit with Law’s music, his style of writing benefitting from hidden depths that don’t always reveal themselves straight away.

One thing of which there’s no doubt whatsoever is that Ant Law is an exceptionally gifted guitarist. Technically brilliant, he brings a wealth of skill and ability to the pieces recorded here. For me, some of his compositions work better than others, with the occasional tune just not quite hitting the sweet spot – for whatever reason – whether that be a feeling that the music could be more emotive, or whether it’s the feeling that I’m just not connecting with the flow and atmosphere in the time and space I’m listening to it… I’m not one to ‘analyse’ the whys and wherefores too much. So let’s focus on the plus sides, and there are plenty of them with some real gems to be heard on this album.

The musicianship throughout this recording is exceptional. Ivo Neame, in particular, is on top form, adding touches of inspiration with his wonderful playing. The understanding between all of the musicians is clearly evident, with Tim Garland and Michael Chillingworth both supplying masterful contributions to the session. I love how the slightly melancholic feel at the beginning of “Swan Song” opens out into a joyous celebration. One of the most original pieces “Her Majesty” is a real pleasure to listen to, with its intriguing flights of fancy creating a lovely atmosphere. The uplifting title track takes the listener on an adventurous journey, with solos from both Law and Garland really swinging with a deep resonating depth. “Bridges” benefits from a vibrant groove that once you’re in on, you’re hooked. And the catchy, compelling “Harvest” is one of those tunes that offers sunshine on a rainy day.

“The Sleeper Wakes” is a solid, enjoyable album from Ant Law. I can’t help feeling that these set of tunes would come alive in a live setting… but then that’s something that we all crave right now. Maybe when the ‘new normal’ of life gets back to a ‘better normal’ for artists and musicians, we’ll be able to enjoy hearing Law and band stoke the fire that little bit more with their musical prowess.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Ant Law ‘Zero Sum World’ CD (Whirlwind) 3/5

Sasha Mashin ‘Happy Synapse’ 2xLP/CD (Rainy Days) 5/5

‘Happy Synapse’ is the sophomore album from St. Petersburg native and drummer Sasha Mashin, but here with a different group to his bandleader debut ‘Outsidethebox’ (2018), which was also released on Russian based Rainy Days Records. Here, the group consists of Josh Evans on trumpet, Rosario Giuliani on alto saxophone, Dmitry Mospan on tenor saxophone, Benito Gonzalez on piano and Makar Novikov on bass. Featuring eight original pieces with half the album using a quintet configuration, two being trio based and the other two compositions using a quartet and a sextet, which shows a very modern approach to composing and arranging.

The album begins with ‘Flowing’ and its circular piano playing and dynamic structure. This is 100% contemporary bebop with its drum and piano heavy form and impeccable bass timing which sounds like a multitrack recording rather than a live group session. The longest piece at 13’18”, ‘The Hidden Face of Stars’, offers fluidity and melodic backbone even with all the colourful playing from its counterparts, as this piece features the whole ensemble, but Giuliani particularly excels on alto as does Evans on trumpet. The Coltrane-esque ‘The Hidden Voice’ offers choppy piano chords and extended runs as Benito Gonzalez jolts over the uptempo rhythm track with Giuliani again in fine form.

Quartet number ‘Incantation’ uses subtlety but still remains extremely absorbing and is again melodically heavy, but with a title like ‘Incantation’ it does veer into more ‘cosmic’ territory especially in the final half of the arrangement, but it’s possibly my personal favourite cut on the album. ‘Inner News’ returns the album to a more fiery bebop status, featuring large amounts of intricate playing and improvisation, key changes and a very pronounced rhymic centre from the quartet. With ‘Night Melody’, the frantic drum and piano workout and underlining touches of bass highlight the strong trio set up of Mashin, Gonzalez and Makar Novikov, and ‘Sim Card’ returns to a more standard bebop affair and would be a definite crowd-pleasing live number – post lockdown. ‘Sulieman Saud’ is another soaring composition and covers all the bases during its 12-minute long journey which bounds along with energy and sophistication with some excellent unison playing included.

Unknown to this writer, Mashin and his group offer something new but familiar with ‘Happy Synapse’. Obviously influenced by both legacy US jazz musicians and newer contemporary artists from around the community, the album is faultless in its writing, stylisation and execution. Admittedly, the group includes non-Russian musicians in this instance, but bandleader Sasha Mashin offers a voice not commonly heard in modern jazz environments. And as like most people, I’m sure, my knowledge of Russian jazz is almost non-existent, but jazz is universal, transcultural and open, and I for one would love to learn more about music from his part of the world.

Damian Wilkes

Joe Downard ‘Seven Japanese Tales’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Inspired by the deep and lyrical collection of short stories by writer Junichiro Tanizaki, UK bassist Joe Downard makes his debut as composer and band-leader with this refreshingly innovative album. The music features a range of moods and dynamics, supported by soundscapes, analogue electronics and an energised acoustic septet featuring the composer on bass, Alex Hitchcock on sax, James Copus on trumpet, Will Barry on piano, Rupert Cox on synths, and Felix Ambach on drums.

Junichiro Tanizaki was a masterful storyteller and was awarded Japan’s imperial prize in literature in 1949. His collected stories “Seven Japanese Tales” explore themes along the lines of love becoming self-annihilation, contemplation of beauty that gives way to fetishism, and where tradition becomes an instrument of voluptuous cruelty. Heavy subject matter it may be, but it’s always written in a meticulous and poetic way. It’s easy to see how this Japanese writer could have influenced Downard’s musical adventures, and the composer’s “Seven Japanese Tales” stand up on their own as highly imaginative musical tales.

Downard’s compositions are distinctive and intriguing. There’s energy, excitement, joy and reflection all rolled into these seven tracks. Although each piece was conceptualised and penned by the bassist, the actual session was very much a collaborative process between all of the musicians. Downard wrote the tunes with the specific musicians in mind so that when the time came to record he would have known that an intuitive and collaborative effort should enhance the pieces, bringing new ideas and a collective spirit to the proceedings. And it certainly worked, with the whole album being recorded in a day ready for post-production, the results are at times startlingly good.

Apart from the book itself, Downard also took inspiration from many musical avenues, including Radiohead, James Blake, Messiaen and Ambrose Akinmusire. Downard’s music is as diverse as those names might suggest, with genuine originality coursing through each of the tracks presented here. The composer’s music is overflowing with creativity and colour, and none more so than on the album opener “A portrait of Shunkin”. A heady mix of acoustic piano, subtle electronics, heightened drums and bass and enigmatic sax and trumpet firing out the melody can’t fail to impress. In some ways, I’m reminded of Brian Blade’s Fellowship, or even Joe Zawinul, with such a cool vibe and rousing moments sparking fresh emotions as the tune progresses. “Terror” is one of the most lyrical pieces on the album, almost anthemic in its cascading brilliance. The Zen-like “Bridge Of Dreams” offers thoughtful contemplation. Meditative in nature, it delves and it toys, delivering a multi-layered subtle beauty. “The Tattooist” has an epic filmic quality to it, imaginatively working its way through time like a jazz-infused best of Morricone set. Reflective yet alluring, “Aguri” features some tropically wonderful acoustic soloing, luxuriating in the presence of a synth-laden atmosphere. “The Thief” gives all the band members the opportunity to stretch out in style, and “A Blind Man’s Tale” evokes a frenzy of thought as it crashes and burns, before rising again with an optimistic omnipresence. The short but sweet “My dreams are all in black and white” closes the album like a gatecrashed Donald Byrd vocal-led piece from a time gone by.

“Seven Japanese Tales” is a mesmerising debut from Joe Downard. On this evidence, he has to be one to watch for the future. His music is fresh and inspiring, with a free creative spirit that one hopes will continue to flourish in the years ahead.

Mike Gates

The Allergies ‘Say The Word’ 2LP/CD (Jalapeno) 4/5

‘Say The Word’ marks the new album release from the Bristol-based duo that make up The Allergies, released through Brighton’s Jalapeno Records, the DJ/production pairing of Rackabeat and DJ Moneyshot have established their passion for breaks-filled dance floor funk over the course of four albums since 2016, which in of itself is a staggering achievement, not to mention the lengthy selection of single releases and EPs they’ve amassed in between their full-length projects.

And theirs is a sound that proves the perfect extension to the overall aesthetic of Jalapeno Records who have accumulated an incredible roster that includes many of the UK’s heavy hitters amongst the contemporary funk and soul landscape. To touch on just a small handful of the names that the label are able to boast, Smoove & Turrell whose ‘Stratos Bleu’ release of this year marks their sixth album release for Jalapeno; there are recent releases from fellow DJs and producers in Flevans and Dr Rubberfunk (‘Accumulate’ and ‘My Life at 45’, respectively), and of course what could only be referred to as dream-like acquisitions for any label, the powerhouse talents of vocalists Gizelle Smith and Izo FitzRoy.

The innumerable talents of The Allergies have indeed endeared themselves to Jalapeno’s incredibly loyal fan base. Over the course of their past releases, ‘As We Do Our Thing’ (2016), ‘Push On’ (2017) and ‘Steal The Show’ (2018), The Allergies have brilliantly captured the essence of classic funk and soul records, along with what everybody loved about the 90s golden era of hip-hop, and managed to repackage it all for modern day consumption.

‘Say The Word’ continues in the vein of traditional Allergies-esque compositions and themes but there are some interesting and innovative ideas presented on the album that excitedly pull their sound in new directions. Sticking with the familiar first – hip-hop is still very much the focal point for much of the album with a host of frequent collaborators featured throughout including Dynamite MC, Dr Syntax and Skunkadelic, along with the duo’s most frequent collaborator, Ugly Duckling rapper Andy Cooper who is credited on four of the album’s thirteen tracks. In fact, if anyone would have earned themselves the title of honorary “Allergy”, it would have to be Andy Cooper whose numerous collaborations between all three date further back then ‘Push On’ which also boasted a strong contribution from Cooper.

The Cuban Brothers provide vocals on the album’s single release, ‘Let Them Know’, which proves a particularly strong highlight as the song’s horn-heavy and Latin-inspired production presents an exciting new dynamic to what Rackabeat & Moneyshot have unveiled previously. Vocalist Marietta Smith is another welcome addition to proceedings credited on four of the album’s tracks including the high-energy and infectious album highlight, ‘Take My Love’.

Through each project that The Allergies release, their star seems to continually rise to garner them an increasingly higher profile and ‘Say The Word’ will almost certainly maintain their upwards trajectory. A solid release for fans of the hip-hop and breaks-inspired funk fusion which The Allergies – and to an extent, Jalapeno Records as well – have turned into an art form.

Imran Mirza

Chico Pinheiro ‘City of Dreams’ (Self-released) 4/5

Let’s face it, anything that makes you happy in these testing times has to be a good thing. This album brings a smile to my face. It warms the heart and reminds me of the good things in life. Over the last decade or so, guitarist Chico Pinheiro has become one of the leading lights in Brazilian music. Not only is he an exceptional instrumentalist, with a wonderful sound an effortlessly fluid playing style, but he is also a unique composer, as can be heard across many of his recordings. His CV looks equally as impressive, having worked alongside some iconic artists including Placido Domingo, Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves, Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding, Mark Turner and Eddie Gomez, to name but a few. Pinheiro now enjoys a revered presence inside and outside of Brazil, and this album will surely serve to enhance his growing reputation worldwide.

“City of Dreams” features Pinheiro on guitars and vocals, with Chris Potter on sax, Tiago Costa on piano and keys, Bruno Migotto on electric and acoustic bass, and Edu Ribeiro on drums. It’s a sparkling line-up, and together they make some wonderful music across the eleven tracks performed on this release. As a newcomer to Pinheiro’s music, on the basis of listening to this album in isolation, I would say it comes over as a very fine contemporary jazz album with clearly evident Brazilian heritage, rather than having an out and out Brazilian sound and feel to it. Either way, what it does have is some masterful musicianship paired with a lovely warm, feel-good sound.

The title track kicks off proceedings and it’s certainly one of the strongest tunes on the album. Pinheiro’s personality shines through in his music, and on this fabulous opener, the whole band shine brightly as they weave their way through some tremendous melodies, truly capturing the spirit of the guitarist’s exciting composition. Chris Potter supplies the fireworks on “Long Story”, a compelling piece that wouldn’t be out of place on any of Michael Brecker’s classic albums. One of my favourite tracks is undoubtedly the Latin-infused “Estrada Real”. Pinheiro’s acoustic guitar is beautifully rhythmic, and his vocals are sumptuously eloquent as his roots come to the fore on this spellbinding piece of music. There’s such an understated eloquence to Pinheiro’s playing, and on tunes such as “Gesture” and “Theme”, the guitarist teams up really well with pianist Costa, creating subtleties and nuances that are somewhat reminiscent of Metheny/Mays at their reflective best. Catchy hooks are at the forefront of the tunes “Invisible Lights” and “Up in the Air”, making them easily accessible whilst still being compelling and rewarding.

“City of Dreams” is one of those albums that brings out the metaphorical sunshine… whatever the weather. Strong performances from all of the musicians involved, along with some creative writing and production, make it an uplifting experience and an album that can’t fail to make you want to pour yourself a cool drink and put your feet up for a short while.

Mike Gates

Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’ LP/CD (Real World) 4/5

Gnawa and other North African musical styles flavour “Nayda!”, the debut of Moroccan-French group, Bab L’ Bluz. It’s the product of a meeting in Marrakech of lead vocalist Yousra Mansour and Brice Bottin. Brice plays the guembri, a three stringed instrument frequently played in Gnawa music and Yousra plays awicha, a smaller version of the guembri. As Mansour says “We use the awicha as a guitar and the guembri as a bass, both at different tunings.”

This is a fusion musically and is also reflected lyrically as Yousra sings in a variety of languages including Darija, standard Arabic and English. The ‘power quartet’ is completed by drummer Hafid Zouaoui and Jérôme Bartolome on flute and percussion.

Amid ululation and repeating guembris, “Gnawa Beat” is lively and catchy with standard rock drums. A tangible introduction to Bad L’ Bluz’s take of Gnawa music with western rock. Slower paced but sonically more interesting, “Ila Mata” is trippy with a psych, slightly dubby feel awash with fuzzy flange and electronic effects.

Mansour has stated that “more than anything we’re a rock band”, and on “El Gamra” it’s like Led Zeppelin’s Moroccan dabbling has come full circle. A crunchy power-chord intro and frantic riffing prevail. “Glibi” has a lighter touch and a cleansing purity. However, the thick, opulent soundscape combined with the simple melody of “Oudelali” is mesmerising.

“Waydelel” has a hooky call and response chorus and features manic ribab. The breezy “Africa Manayo” hints at pastoral afrobeat. The dense repetitive wall of sound on the stand out “Yemma” is truly a thing of beauty. “El Watane” has an interesting stop-start groove combined with yet another tuneful chorus. The closer, the eponymous “Bab L’ Bluz” swaggers with some robust riffing and drips liquid wah-wah.

“Nayda!” is an enjoyable and exciting mix of musical styles performed with vibrancy and lucidity. It is infectiously catchy, sonically sophisticated and very polished. Maybe I would have preferred a little more grit sometimes to rough up the shiny production but the sheer energy and imagination of the band is still intact and is captivating.

Kevin Ward

Freelektron ‘Live at Tenho’ LP (Jazzaggression) 4/5

This recording from Finnish duo Freelektron dates from a 2016 performance at Tenho Restobar Helsinki. The duo are drummer Ilmari Heikinheimo and multi-instrumentalist Jimi Tenor. Heikinheimo plays acoustic and electric drums, percussion and triggers while Tenor plays sax, flute, microKorg and even photophone! The vinyl version of the album is released in a limited edition of 250 copies.

Of the two musicians, the highly prolific Tenor has been around longer and played and recorded with a multitude of others including Kabu Kabu and Tony Allen. As well as being a musician he’s a visual artist and designer of his own instruments and stage costumes. Originally inspired by industrial music, Tenor started his recording career in 1988 with his band Jimi Tenor and the Shamans. He took his stage name by combining the name of his unlikely childhood hero Jimmy Osmond with his choice of instrument, tenor sax. His solo debut was in 1994, since then he’s made many albums in a variety of styles, smooth jazz-funk, heavy groove-based electronic music and collaborations with Afro-jazz musicians. A cultural magpie and child of the sixties this sensibility is reflected in whatever stylistic vehicle he happens upon.

Heikinheimo is the younger of the duo, born the year Tenor made his recording debut. As a member of the Afrojazz Quintet, he’s explored an interest in polyrhythmic drumming and rubato phrasing. Heikinheimo also played with Sound and Fury during their 2010 memorial concert for founding member and legend of Finnish jazz Edward Vesala, taking Vesala’s place on drums in the band. Heikinheimo has also worked with jazz improvisers Juhani Aaltonen, Jonas Kullhammer and Hjilmar Jensson. Not only does he play jazz but also Avant-Garde progressive music, notably with Alamaailman Vasarat.

Live at Tenho occupies an intersection between electronic and acoustic music. Some contemporary sounding rhythm and electronic texture combined with an almost nostalgic use of flute and sax. It’s an unlikely marriage but one that offers unique moments of harmony.

This is exemplified on the title track ‘Tenho’ the first four and a half minutes are occupied by Tenor’s airy flute accompanied by a percussive Eastern flavour. It’s that sixties sensibility I mentioned earlier, almost anything with a flute makes me think of music from 1969 or thereabouts. Once the flute is discarded the piece becomes tonally darker as Heikinheimo’s rhythms and Tenor’s electronic colours take the foreground.

‘Kaipuu Part One’ sees Tenor’s meandering sax weave its way around a series of pulses and electronic rhythms. There is an injection of humour into the yearning theme as the sax stutters and mimics the electronic rhythms in a surreal echo.

‘Kaipuu Part Two’ is the most free part of the album, Heikinheimo’s spare drumming competes with sounds akin to a bank of obsolete arcade games. The thing builds to a climactic crescendo but is pulled back from the abyss and held there with welcome structure provided by an organ theme before ending abruptly.

After listening to this album a couple of times I fished out my copy of Edward Vesala’s Nan Madol to try and figure out where these guys are coming from. Maybe I could hear part of Heikinheimo’s inspiration when Vesala alternates between light themes and more sombre tones and in the economy he used to punctuate the percussive space. Anyway, it gave me some traction for subsequent listens to the rest of this dramatic and inventive Freelektron recording.

James Read

Astral Travelling Since 1993