Kasai Allstars ‘Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound’ LP/CD (Crammed Discs) 3/5

Kasai Allstars is a Congolese collective, based in Kinshasa with a core of fifteen musicians, plus many, many guests. They have been internationally recognised since their 2008 debut, the equally impressively titled “In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned into a Swimming Fish and Ate The Head Of His Enemy By Magic” as part of the Congotronics series by Belgian label, Crammed Discs. The latest album sees the collective embrace Congo-electronics with greater use of synths and machine beats.

“Kasai Munene” is a prime example of the group’s new electronic direction. A little of the grungy edge endearing in previous releases is smoothed by shiny electronic beats and sunny upbeat stabs of keyboards. The standout track, “Olooh, a War Dance for Peace” is slower, moodier and more interesting with the hypnotic prominent guitar lines. The timbre of the numerous singers contrast and coalesce. “Musungu Elongo Paints His Face White to Scare Small Children” kicks off on a disco groove but the electronic drum patterns evolve into something more complex, sparring with the fuzzy guitar. On “Like a Dry Leaf on a Tree”, the circular melodic lines merge into a complex whole and the effect is sweet and laid-back. Nimble, repetitive, xylophone and call-and-response vocals drive the uptempo “The Large Bird, the Woman and the Baby”.

“Baba Bende” is bright and breezy with thin synth sounds and melodic vocals. “The Ecstasy of Singing” is slower and mellow but with bursts of rhythmic spice to keep it interesting, “Hunters and Farmers Need the Blacksmith” builds towards an urgent and intense percussion-fest. Electronic drums are to the fore in “Betrayal by Gossip” which give it a bit of an 80s production vibe. The lightness of the synth and guitar on “Unity Is Strength” is offset by the direct bass-y undercurrent. “Allstars All Around”s syncopated rhythms are layered with glossy keys and gnarly distorted likembe (finger piano).“The Goat’s Voice (Lullaby)” fluid and shifting rhythm is engrossing.

This record is a significant departure sound-wise from the previous albums, incorporating electronic drums and keyboards. It’s exciting to see Kasai Allstars seeking new sonic areas and the impact that has had on the songs. Sometimes for me, the sounds are a bit too clean so some of the grittiness that makes their earlier work more attractive is a little lacking here. It’s a good album and the supple and dynamic drum patterns are a masterclass in rhythm.

Kevin Ward

Dans Dans ‘Zink’ 2LP/CD (Unday) 4/5

Dans Dans is a thrillingly unique Belgian trio featuring Bert Dockx (Guitar, cassettes), Frederick Jacques (bass, synths) and Steven Cassiers (drums, percussion, synths). Since their debut in 2012, the band have enthralled audiences with their atmospheric, hypnotic, delicate, yet often explosive music. Refusing to be restricted to the usual guitar-bass-drums idiom, they construct their own musical universe, and this album clearly demonstrates why they are one of the most intriguing bands currently working in Belgium and far beyond.

Although until recently the band was known for their imaginative covers of the work of other artists (Ennio Morricone, Ornette Coleman, David Bowie,…), on their fourth album “Sand”, nearly all compositions were their own, and “Zink” continues in a similar vein, allowing the trio to use their writing as a launchpad for the improvisational exploration of an unheard spectrum of musical landscapes and emotions. Their imagination knows no bounds, with a heady mix of gorgeous melodies, soaring solos and spontaneously combustive improv filling the listener’s head with a multitude of guitar-led sounds.

From jazz, psychedelic blues and exotic noir soundtracks to spacey rock ‘n’ roll, there are so many different styles and genres influencing Dans Dans’ music, it’s difficult to imagine it all fitting together well. And yet it does, with intelligence and panache. Their highly distinctive, intuitive mix of music has enabled the trio to build a solid fan base since their inception with limited edition runs of early releases becoming collector’s items among vinyl enthusiasts. Well-received appearances at Cactus Festival, North Sea Jazz and Pukkelpop, as well as Gent Jazz, Ljubljana Jazz and Jazz Middelheim have confirmed their reputation as one of the most unique and exciting bands to come out of Belgium. In recent years, the group has also been touring throughout Europe, garnering enthusiastic reactions beyond the Belgian borders.

Dans Dans’ music is filled with contrasts. Imagine being stuck inside a David Lynch movie, where subtlety collides head-on with extravagance, where light infuses darkness, where melancholia breaks into bliss, and where sincerity burns deeply alongside playfulness. The shape-shifting music on “Zink” is engrossing and rewarding. Like a cult classic, the Americana-hued, almost quaint melodies of “Cinder Bay” soon break out in a Jimi Hendrix style underworld of dark feedback and ensuing exploratory sound. “Naiad” also begins in a light, airy fashion, its gentle bass riff enveloped by Bill Frisell-esque guitar textures. The groove solidifies as drums and guitars increase in power, leading to a distorted, fever-pitched finale. The moody, atmospheric “Blue Silver” is a Marc Ribot style meandering journey, classy, off-kilter guitar interwoven with distorted bass and special effects that set the heart pumping. Exploratory and yet still incredibly listenable, the trio achieve an excellent balance throughout the album, with “Anemone” continuing the mood of eclecticism. The slow-burning “Sleeper” entices the listener with its cool, kinetic vibe, and the wonderful “Revine” brings back memories of an early 70’s Pink Floyd, successfully manoeuvring its way between beauty and beast. The beatific “Shell Star” is an infectious exploration of hypnotic grooves, atmospheric electronica and mind-bending melodies. The closing piece “Wrist” exemplifies what this trio are all about, with its explosive mix of guitar, bass and drums, perfectly integrated with a cool weirdness that defies the rule-book.

Spellbinding musicianship and incredibly inventive writing and performance are at the helm of this intoxicating trio. Everything gels, with a genuine feel of musical togetherness shining through with ambition and quality equally matched.

Mike Gates

Avishai Cohen / Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra ‘Two Roses’ 2LP/CD (naïve / Believe) 4/5

‘Many musicians dream of making a record with a symphony orchestra, but few can afford to make it a reality’. When I read this statement on Cohen’s website regarding this new release I must admit my initial reaction was one of scepticism, however, this scepticism was tempered with curiosity. Would a meeting of a jazz trio and symphony orchestra be an inspirational move or a thorny car crash? Two Roses is a collaboration between Cohen’s trio and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the trio features Azerbaijani pianist Elchin Shirinov and New Jersey drummer Mark Guiliana and of course Israeli bassist and composer Cohen himself on both acoustic and electric instruments as well as vocals and Minimoog. Most of the songs are Cohen originals apart from a reinterpretation of Thad Jones’ ‘A Child is Born’ and Eben Ahbez’s ‘Nature Boy’. Some of the other tunes are orchestral interpretations of songs that Cohen has honed over the years.

Avishai Cohen describes himself as a ‘citizen of the world’. I wasn’t exactly sure what that means, a quick Google and I’m informed it’s a person who is at home in any country or the idea that identity transcends political borders. This makes a lot of sense in the context of the music on this record and its cross border flavours. Swedish, Israeli, Azerbaijani and New Jersey musicians with Latin jazz, Afro Caribbean, reggae, Ladino and Sephardic musical influences and it’s all beginning to add up. However, I could still do with a few more clues to help my understanding of this album.

In a promotional interview on Cohen’s YouTube channel his stated influences of ‘everywhere and everything’ didn’t help me too much in finding the centre of his music. In a later, more forthcoming answer he says he was raised on classical music. As far as jazz goes, his favourite artist is Monk, someone who he describes as being ‘most himself’. In the bass player’s hall of fame, it’s Jaco Pastorious who ticks all Cohen’s boxes. Surely this is one of his more obvious influences, not so much on this album but it’s certainly apparent on earlier albums like Continuo from 2006.

What’s not immediately obvious from listening to this record and I say that as someone new to his music is what a sensuous player Cohen is. Watching a video of his tune ‘Remembering’ on YouTube this becomes evident in the way he caresses, embraces and articulates his movements around the bass. Watching this really brought his music to life for me. Incidentally, that tune has 27k likes on YouTube, how many jazz musicians can muster that level of support?

‘Almah Sleeping’ is the album’s expansive orchestral opening piece. The scope and symphonic scale is ambitious, its sweeping gestures and quieter passages are very cinematic. ‘When I’m Falling’ follows, though different in tone it flows beautifully from the opening track, a catchy vocal piece, subtle orchestration and a nicely placed marimba characterize the piece. The title track, ‘Two Roses’ fuses Latin and Middle Eastern flavours with the most jazz-like piano on the album. Guiliana‘s drums are prominent as is the vocal but so much else is thrown in too. It’s extravagantly over the top but somehow works miraculously well. Another triumph is ‘Alon Basela’ its simple introduction of vocal and bass soon builds to a crescendo as Guiliana‘s powerful drumming slogs it out with the orchestra.

I think it’s safe to describe this collaboration between trio and orchestra as masterful, Cohen has pulled it off in a spectacular fashion.

James Read

Johannes Wallmann ‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ CD (Shifting Paradigm) 5/5

‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ marks the brand new album from pianist and composer Johannes Wallmann released through Shifting Paradigm Records.

Wallmann’s elegant new project marks his second through Shifting Paradigm – following 2018’s ‘Day and Night’ – and his ninth album overall which has positioned the pianist as a bandleader. A decorated and revered musician and educator, the entirety of this article could genuinely be spent recounting Johannes Wallmann’s glowing résumé and singling out his seemingly endless list of achievements to date.

Born in Germany and raised in Canada, Johannes Wallmann studied jazz piano and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston and at New York University; he currently resides as the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, as previously mentioned, with nine albums credited to him as a bandleader since the self-titled The Johannes Wallmann Quartet in 1997, Wallmann can boast album releases through Shifting Paradigm as well as on the Fresh Sound New Talent record label.

Recorded at the Hamel Music Center, February 2020, ‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ introduces Wallmann’s quintet as comprised by Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Allison Miller on drums, Nick Moran on bass and Dayna Stephens on saxophone, with Wallmann of course credited on piano and composition. Already a quintet showcasing world-class talent, exquisite textures and dimensions are further introduced throughout the seven-track recordings courtesy of the fourteen-person string orchestra – a notable inclusion that, at times through such an understated presence, adds such beautiful depth to songs like the album’s title track and ‘Two Ears Old’, while boasting a more central role for other of the album’s tracks.

‘Expeditor’ delivers as another of the album’s highlights – a track that boasts numerous standout moments within its own ten minutes’ length, no less from Nick Moran’s bass work which teases traces of a grittier funk number lurking within it and Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet which finds itself comfortably interweaving a sublime 70s soul aesthetic into the proceedings. A real joy.

In keeping with many of Shifting Paradigm’s album artworks, the distinction is once again bestowed to trumpeter and Shifting Paradigm label mate, Jamie Breiwick, whose B Side Graphics business has also helmed album covers for the label’s past releases including Andrea Scala’s ‘Coming Back, Leaving Again’, Tony Barba’s ‘Blood Moon’ and Devin Drobka Trio’s ‘Resorts’.

An album developed over the course of two years, ‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ is a wonderful piece of music from start to finish. A real celebration of styles and genres and for any artist fortunate enough to deliver their ninth album, to still do so with such a thoughtful and innovative approach to their music is really an inspiring thing so this is a project that will rank forever highly amongst Johannes Wallmann’s – and Shifting Paradigm’s – catalogue.

Imran Mirza

Katherine Priddy ‘The Eternal Rocks Beneath’ CD (Navigator) 5/5

Over the past three years, Birmingham based singer-songwriter Katherine Priddy has quietly been building a following across the UK with her captivating performances, showcasing her distinctive, imaginative and enchanting songs. I first came across her music in 2018 with the self-released EP “Wolf”. Immediately struck by the genuine quality of what I was listening to, I couldn’t help but think back to years gone by and how I felt when I made such wonderful discoveries; listening for the first time to the likes of Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and John Martyn. Fast forward to 2021 and I’m listening to Priddy’s full-length debut, “The Eternal Rocks Beneath”. Two years in the making, recorded at Rebellious Jukebox Studios, a little basement studio hidden beneath inner-city Birmingham and presided over by masterful producer Simon Weaver, even after hearing that EP three years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that what I’m listening to now would be as astonishingly imperious as it is.

For one so young, Priddy’s songs are so mature. Musically and lyrically, she has that rare gift of bringing her stories to life within the music she makes. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear such a natural talent perform a set of songs with such skill, honesty and empathy. At times tender, at times carrying a darker edge, the tales that she weaves are magical and transporting. Many of the songs were written during Priddy’s teenage years and early twenties and reference themes of childhood and distant memories, and as with all great songwriters, they cross many borders with their beauty and genre-defying originality.

I’ve listened to so many albums in the past where the writer, performer, arranger or producer just doesn’t ‘get’ the feel for what’s required to make a great song into a stunning recording. It’s such a pleasure listening to this album – just somehow knowing that everything is right. It feels right, it sounds right, it is just so. Huge compliments must go to producer Simon Weaver, and of course Priddy herself, for getting everything to sound so natural and intrinsic so as to take these wonderful songs to an even brighter place of luminescence. With an excellent ensemble cast of musicians, including a sweeping string section, occasionally cut through by raw electric guitar and drums, as well as Richard Marsh on double bass and Mikey Kenny on fiddle, the resulting recording is not just one of the best debut albums I can remember, but could well be viewed in 20-odd years time as a timeless classic, keeping good company with those revered 70s artists such as Messrs Drake, Cohen and Martyn.

Whilst Priddy’s guitar finger-picking style is extremely capable, subtle, top-notch, songwriter fare, her vocal style is rather more difficult to pinpoint. As I listen to the hypnotic album opener “Indigo”, my thoughts turn to Kirsty McCall. She shares a similar lilt in her voice, a twist, a hearty expression that is sublime. There’s a folkiness to it, but without going too far into the realms of ‘folk singer’ territory and the connotations, good or bad, that come with that tag. Rural mystical imagery floats effortlessly through this piece, with strings and layered vocals allowing the song to build towards its climax. Loosely inspired by the character of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, “Wolf” is catchy, grabbing the attention with its higher tempo and driving drum beats. “About Rosie” is more stripped back, with sensitive acoustic guitar, cello and accordion adding to the warmth of this tune. The first of two tracks about Greek myths, “Icarus”, examines the consequences of always wanting to fly higher and burn brighter. The old fable is brought to life in a powerful, meaningful way by Priddy, with Mike Kenny’s soaring fiddle adding to the overall atmosphere of the tune. If the first four tracks on the album had introduced me to the fabulous, endearing songs of Priddy, the fifth tune, and the second of the Greek myths tracks, “Eurodyce” serves up a surprise, blowing me away with its dark, luscious melancholy. This is a powerful statement from Priddy, its edgy, Radiohead style production absolutely kicking at my nerve-endings and putting shivers down my spine with its primordial, mouthwatering attack on the senses. It’s so cool, so modern, and so jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring I have to hit the repeat button and listen over time and time again. The tone changes once again with “Letters From A Travelling Man”. Think Mumford and Sons and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Upbeat in a mixed-up Americana-Celtic kind of way, it’s far more than a foot-tapper/ crowd-pleaser song, but certainly has that vibe to it. “The Spring Never Came” is a song about lost love, its yearning, longing nature reminiscent of a long lost Leonard Cohen song. Simply beautiful. I also adore the change of focus towards the end of the track, yet another example of how intelligent the arrangements of these tunes are. The brooding “Ring O’ Roses” creates a moody soundscape, with the lovely acoustic guitar riffs taking me back to an old John Renbourn album, somewhere, somewhen. There’s a fine balance achieved throughout this entire album between tradition and new. Priddy has an incredible knack of finding her own style and touch within all the traditions that may have come before, effortlessly managing to pave her own way on the journey she takes. “The Isle of Eigg” floats gently like a summer breeze as Priddy takes us across black seas to the Hebrides, singing an engrossing story of the little island and the people she met there. “The Summer Has Flown” fills my heart with nostalgia. Snapshots of precious moments in time, once forgotten dreams, and transformative memories. A lovely way to close the album.

Great songs have a wonderful habit of travelling a long way, over time, and I can picture Priddy’s songs being enjoyed by a vast variety of listeners, now and well into the future. I truly hope this will be the case. Rarely does a new artist come along who unequivocally stops me in my tracks. Katherine Priddy is that artist. “The Eternal Rocks Beneath” is a breathtaking debut that will surely herald the beginning of a long and fruitful career for this extraordinarily talented, young singer-songwriter. For me personally, fresh, natural, inspired songwriting doesn’t get much better than this. The world is your oyster Ms Priddy… go grab it with both hands.

To celebrate the release of the album, Katherine Priddy is playing a very special show on the 25th of June that will be streamed live online from the stunning St. Paul’s Church in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Over the course of the evening, she will sing songs from the album as well as other favourites from her repertoire, with stripped-back musical accompaniment. Following the performance, she will then be hosting an exclusive Q&A conversation, where audience members will have a chance to ask any burning questions and have a chat over a drink. For tickets, and for further information on upcoming gigs, go to: www.katherinepriddy.co.uk

Mike Gates

Jaubi ‘Nafs at Peace’ LP/CD (Astigmatic) 5/5

Drawing on elements of North Indian classical music, modal/spiritual jazz and hip-hop, “Nafs at Peace” is the stunning debut album from Jaubi. Led by guitarist and composer Ali Riaz Baqar, the band includes Zohaib Hassan Khan – Sarangi, Qammar ‘Vicky’ Abbas – Drums, Kashif Ali Dhani – Tabla, Vocals, Tenderlonious – Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Latarnik – Fender Rhodes Mark II, Grand Piano, Yamaha PSR-550, Korg MS-20, Moog Voyager, Hohner Clavinet Pianet Duo, and The Vox Humana Chamber Choir – Vocals on ‘Seek Refuge’. The album was recorded at Riot Studios in Lahore, Pakistan, and Newtone Studios in Oslo, Norway.

Islam, the Qur’an and Pakistan are words that have, in many walks of life, been gradually associated with terrorism, barbarity and suppression for freedom of speech. It is this misrepresentative negative imagery that inspired Lahore based instrumental quartet JAUBI to change and purify. This search for purity eventually led them to discover the complex Qur’anic and philosophical concept of “Nafs”, which became the major conceptual driving force behind the all-new and original music. Nafs (سْفَن (is an Arabic word meaning “self” and has been translated as psyche, ego or soul. There are three levels of Nafs described in the Qur’an; (I) the soul inclined to evil, (II) the self-reproaching soul and (III) the tranquil soul. The album thus sonically and sequentially explores these three levels of the Nafs with “Nafs At Peace” representing the serene, contented, tranquil Nafs because the ego has been conquered and the soul has relinquished materialism and negativity.

The journey began when London flautist/saxophonist Tenderlonious (Ruby Rushton) and Polish pianist Marek Latarnik Pędziwiatr (EABS / Błoto), both amongst the torchbearers of the new European Jazz scene, visited JAUBI in Lahore, Pakistan during April 2019. The six musicians collectively poured their personal turmoil of experiencing death, divorce, unemployment, drug addiction and religious disaffiliation into the recording sessions that served as a spiritual path to transcendence and artistic purity. Nothing was written down. No song titles. No sheet music. Only six artists devoid of egos locked away in the studio, creating music for the sole purpose of reaching a higher spirit. The resulting music, from a listener’s perspective at least, is one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences my ears could hope to hear. Regardless of the inspiration behind the music itself, it’s clear to hear that it’s from the heart and soul of every performer involved, and it’s equally as affecting just listening to it, giving me a sense of joy and thankfulness as I listen.

The beautiful opener, “Seek Refuge” reminds me of Zakir Hussain’s timeless classic album “Making Music”. Featuring Hariprasad Chaurasia, Jan Garbarek and John McLaughlin, the divine nature of the music they performed is captured here, with its own exquisite sublimity. “Insia” releases its cosmic energy like a flower coming to life in the sunshine. Unhurried yet purposeful, the grooves take me on a journey that I really don’t want to end. “Raga Gujri Todi” begins in a hypnotic, haunting manner, before bursting into life with beats and rhythms to die for, classical yet modernistic, with a mesmeric depth of feel and pulsating energy. The softer, alluring sounds of “Straight Path” are warm and welcoming. An atmosphere of peace and kinship fills the air, musical colours and textures matching the multi-cultural society in which we live, with hope and renewed positivity. The deep groove and very cool vibe of “Mosty” flows like a dreamy summer’s day, glinting sunlight drifting in and out of a hazy late afternoon as I sit content with a clear mind and happy heart. “Zari” allows me to quietly contemplate, as my thoughts mirror the music in sending out loving-kindness and peaceful wishes to the whole world. The journey ends (and perhaps begins) with the title track, a spiritual awakening in the style of John Coltrane. Inquisitive and uplifting, as the music fades, I’m convinced I can now reach for the stars and beyond.

“Nafs at Peace” is quite simply an astonishing debut from Jaubi. It’s one of those rare albums that leaves me feeling exhilarated. Even after the music stops, I know it has somehow changed me, for the better. It has given to me, the musicians have given something of them to me, and for this, I will always be respectful and thankful.

Mike Gates

Pat Kalla & Le Super Mojo ‘Hymne à La Vie’ 2LP/CD (Heavenly Sweetness) 5/5

Our bodies remember. They remember when we tried to show off on the trampoline at 33, they remember when we fell on our roller skates at 5, our first heartbreak, the loss of a dear friend. If we pay attention they keep track of all the moments in our lives, big or small, joyous or full of grief. Sometimes, especially with the unpleasant, we pile the moments on top of each other and push them deep inside, and if we aren’t careful they come out in unexpected ways, there’s only so much room in there after all. But In their newest release Hymne à la Vie, Pat Kalla and Le Super Mojo challenge us to release all that we’ve boxed away. Hymne à la Vie, released May 28th, asks us what might it feel like to live in an unencumbered body, one that feels but does not absorb, one that breaths in the joy and the pain and the burden and the love and uses that as fuel for movement, not weight to tie us down.

Pat Kalla makes Black music. He tells the story of Blackness, from Africa to all the tentacles the slave trade created. There is a lot of pain there, but Kalla sees music as a way to transform that. In Colombian barrios dance parties are called Terapia, therapy, a chance to release the weight and pain that comes with living on the margins; Kalla calls it medicine. I was impressed that for an album built on a foundation of expressing and releasing pain the songs were so lively and light. Kalla’s sweet, bright voice is perfectly paired with the magical melodies of Le Super Mojo and together they create great joy out of the sadness.

“Cumbia de Paris” is a song that I have been humming since I first heard it. It’s catchy and fun and keeps you light on your feet as any good cumbia would. This song reminds us not only of the playfulness and flirtation in any good love story but of the destruction of a forced diaspora. Cumbia is Colombian in origin but its roots began in Guinea. The way he weaves cumbia into his story about Africa is a reconciliation of sorts. A recognition of a painful history that we can only release if we confront it. “Le Métèque” has a similar aim; to allow the pain of a slur directed at immigrants to escape through the movement of your body. This song is a reworking of a classic, originally sung by Georges Moustaki in 1969, it became an anthem of sorts in French musical culture as a statement of anti-racism, allowing the singer the agency and ability to embrace the term as a form of self-definition. Instead of the melancholy tone of the original or the in-your-face aggression of later versions, Pat Kalla and Le Super Mojo created a funky high spirited defiance. Their version will get you on the dancefloor singing along to the lyrics “I’ve got a sad face” with an ironically large grin.

There is something incredibly cathartic to this album. The goal is not to make you numb to your pain or to ignore it or even to laugh in the face of it. The goal is to embrace it, to love it and thank it, to accept that it is an inevitable part of a full life and it can be our ally if we let it.

Molly Gallegos

Jaimie Branch ‘FLY or DIE LIVE’ 2LP/CD (International Anthem) 5/5

‘What’s going on?’ In 2019, I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing the, then, new album from trumpeter Jaimie Branch, ‘Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise’, released through Chicago’s pioneering International Anthem record label. While the album touched on many troubling issues throughout within the US – most notably the actions of the then-Republican President, Donald Trump – we regarded Branch’s offering within the pantheon of music addressing social and political issues and cited the very question posed of Marvin Gaye from his seminal project, ‘What’s Going On?’, asking whether that was a question we, as a society, are forever destined to ask ourselves.

Fast forward to June 2021: As the world struggles back to its feet following over a year of quarantine, face masks, an abundance of hand sanitiser and homeschooling all under the threat of a deadly virus – there’s an obvious three worded question people have been asking during that time that unfortunately has given no definitive answers.

While the music on ‘Fly or Die Live’ is by no means a commentary on events over the last year, it is certainly a project directly impacted by it. Recorded live at Moods, Zurich, Switzerland, 23rd January 2020, the Fly or Die tour was now in full force and, with many dates and countries still left on its schedule, was ultimately halted during the pandemic that would subsequently impact touring for musicians around the world.

And if the music presented on this release is anything to go by… then what a tour it was!

Featuring the core musicians that played throughout ‘Fly or Die II’, including Branch of course on trumpet, Lester St Louis on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, Branch’s quartet present an epic nineteen-track setlist that revisits tracks from the initial ‘Fly or Die’ project (International Anthem, 2017) as well as its successor. The track that very much served as the centrepiece for ‘Fly or Die II’ – ‘Prayer for Amerikkka [ts 1 & 2’ – seems to have outperformed even itself in Zurich with the original 11 minutes 26 seconds bolstered by a further three minutes.

Branch’s now ominous words introduce the track live in the Moods recording with the words…

“We wrote this one about a year ago… shit was real fucked up at home… and it’s still real fucked up… in fact maybe much, much worse.”

Oh J Breezy, you have no idea.

With both instalments of ‘Fly or Die’ bursting with ideas and Branch’s impassioned voice, events post the 2020 tour must surely have the wheels turning for what could potentially result in ‘Fly or Die III’. The album would make for a thrilling vehicle for Branch’s music to address the pandemic and quarantine lifestyle as well as the results of last year’s US election, the latter of which was openly called into question throughout her sophomore album.

One thing’s for sure though – until you have the chance to see Jaimie Branch live again, you will absolutely need to wrap your ears around the phenomenal release that this is.

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Jaimie Branch ‘FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise’ LP/CD (International Anthem) 5/5

Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen ‘Live Recordings 2019-2020’ 2LP/CD (We Jazz) 4/5

“Live Recordings 2019-2020” is the second release of tenor saxophonist Timo Lassy and drummer Teppo Mäkynen as a duo. The debut, aptly titled “Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen”, a studio-based release from 2019, was a critical success. Many of the tunes on that record are featured here, expanded for a live setting and recorded from performances in their native Finland.

Subtle vibrato tenor sax and brooding rumbling drums introduce “Fallow” and slowly evolve into a crystalline but moving intensity. The joyous groove in the opening percussive sax lines gets everything moving on “Zomp” and it becomes even more joyous when the explosive drums kick in.

“Liberty” begins with an extensive drum solo and the extended length allows a freer, looser feel, not apparent on either of the studio versions. It’s a change of pace and mood for the brief and deep-toned “Hypno”. The abstract experiments with extensive use of delay and loop effects on “Aero” create a compelling and emotional atmosphere.

“Kobi” is a showcase for Mäkynen’s dextrous drumming. His patterns establish the motif and the melody line, allowing space for Lassy’s unhurried and subtle solo. “Solution Black” builds on the off-kilter sax riff and its slightly demented swagger is great fun. The repetitive sax squeal and pounding beat in “Ecru” gives it an electronic dance feel despite being primarily acoustic. “Telemagenta” feels dancey too and benefits from the harder edge of being performed in a live setting. The closer, “Calling James” has an uptempo loose feel. It really swings and gets the punters clapping along.

As much as I enjoyed the studio album where there was a deliberate intention to keep track times short, I think these versions have benefited from being longer, allowing more room for them to breathe. Performing as a duo, there’s a fascinating and intelligent blurring of the traditional melodic and rhythmic roles of the instruments. There’s more space to fill, I guess. The album adeptly covers a variety of musical styles and delivers, whether carving an abstract soundscape or hitting a groove.

Kevin Ward

Read also:
Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen ‘Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 3/5
OK:KO / Alder Ego / Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen ‘Ateneum 2019’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 3/5

The Beaters ‘Harari’ / Harari ‘Rufaro’ 180g Vinyl (Matsuli Music) 4/5

These two albums are the latest in the estimable reissue series from Matsuli Music documenting jazz, soul and funk from South Africa. The titles are slightly confusing because both albums are by the same band. The Beaters toured Zimbabwe and were so taken by the reaction they named their hit 1975 album Harari and then before they recorded their next album in 1976 changed their name to Harari.

While these albums are not jazz and were never intended to be, they do have links to the SA jazz of the time. The band through Rashid Vally, the producer, to Pat Matshikiza, Kippie Moeketsi and other jazz greats of the time and the sleeve notes by Gwen Ansell are a masterclass in pulling together connections and the history and are well worth reading on their own going into much more detail than you can in a review, including references to the political and musical awakening in the band.

“In Harari we rediscovered our African-ness, the infectious rhythms and music of the continent. We came back home inspired! We were overhauling ourselves into dashiki-clad musicians who were Black Power saluting and so on.” – Sipho Hotstix Mabuse

Drummer Sipho Mabuse played on one of my favourite tracks from back then, Tshona by Pat Matshikiza, which has elements of crossover between SA jazz and soul. The other permanent members, guitarist and singer Selby Ntuli, bassist Alec Khaoli and lead guitarist Monty Ndimande.

The opening track, Harari, on the album of the same name is a paean to Harari a township in Salisbury the capital of Rhodesia – after independence the capital was re-named Harare and the country Zimbabwe. It’s deceptively simple with a repeating underlying rhythm of bass, drums and organ and simple vocal refrain. At the beginning flute (by the drummer) leads us in and comes back after the repeating vocal “Harari” fades. Love Love Love brings in the session horns and the track is reminiscent of Lover’s Rock, again a simple vocal in English with a horn counter-point with the voice out front and the horns back in the mix. Inhlupheko Iphelile (Goodbye Poverty is what I think it translates as) returns to a simpler arrangement with a gentle flute melody leading to the Xhosa vocal in a high register all over a loping accompaniment. On Push It On it’s the organ that dominates along with the vocal in more of a funk style with the addition of backing vocals. Thiba Kamoo has a more complex and jazz-rock feel rhythm led by the drums, with a synth sound and unison vocals.

Some of the jazz session musicians play on the recording, including on the last track What’s Happening and their influence makes that sound so much like the much-loved jazz from that period. It’s an absolute banger. But this is an outlier as the band were part of the development of distinctively South African soul music. Much as the jazz players listened to US jazz and then melded that with African rhythms The Beaters took US soul but transformed it into something else.

The recording was a big hit at the time and a year or so later they were back in the studio having changed their name with a new recording called Rufaro which roughly translates as ‘to travel happily’ or ‘Bon Voyage’ in Zimbabwean ‘Shona’ or as the album title has it simply Happiness.

At the start of the opening track, Oya Kai, there is almost a field recording feel with mbira and vocal chant which leads in to music that is more electronic in feel, funky with multiple vocal voices and strong contributions from lead guitar, piano and organ. On the title track Rufaro there is a swinging soul feel with a denser arrangement with horns. Apparently, the links with jazzmen had solidified and Kippie Moeketsi on sax and guitarist Themba Mokoena among others involved. Afro Gas is a life-affirming celebration with vocal, more electronics, a funky horn line and solo, percussive piano all rolling along and very danceable. Musikana is very funky with another stonking horn line, wailing sax, very solid bass, a trumpet solo, organ and insistent guitar interventions and another unison vocal set. The final cut Uzulu features an opening bassline and piano riff which then sits under the vocal. About 9 minutes in it fades before there is a final section with only penny whistles, percussion and vocals which harks back to the roots.

If there is a weakness in the package it is that the full line-ups on the tracks are not made explicit, probably because the band was augmented by session musicians. But that is a minor quibble because these are two more intriguing additions to the history of South African music which fill out some of the connections between genres and hints at what happened next.

You could probably make a very effective and informative book from the extensive and well-researched sleeve notes alone. I’m already looking forward to the next Matsuli output.

Brian Homer

Astral Travelling Since 1993