To coincide with the release in the UK on 1 September of a film documentary devoted to the life of Fela Ransome Kuti and directed by Alex Gibney, comes this double CD compilation of Fela music from the 1970s and 1980s and including as a bonus a tribute track to his father by Femi Kuti accompanied by the Fela Band. Although Fela’s music has never really gone away, such is the aura surrounding the individual, akin to that of Bob Marley (and the two figures are comparable in terms of stature), in 2011 a hit Broadway musical on the musician’s dramatic and, at times, controversial life served to focus attention once more on the glorious musical legacy he left and the musical was eventually performed in the Nigerian city of Lagos. As far as the music is concerned, the edited versions (that do not really detract from the quality of the listening experience) enable the listener to enjoy and sample almost twenty of his more memorable songs. While some of the all-time classics are missing here such as ‘Shakara’ and ‘Roforofo Flight’ which is a pity, those that are presented help to showcase the intensity of Fela’s musical, political and social concerns and are still very much representative of his craft. Roughly speaking, the two CDs divide up chronologically into the classic era of the 1970s on the first and going on into the 1980s on the second. The first contains a few numbers that are less familiar with ‘Viva Nigeria’ and ‘Go Slow’ both interesting pieces while ‘Lover’ hints at a different side to Fela’s repertoire, though with twenty-seven wives it clearly was a pressing issue in his personal life.
As ever with Knitting Factory releases, the double CD is tastefully packaged in gatefold digipak with brief notes, though no recording dates or names of musicians. This latest anthology is in fact part of a far more extensive re-issue programme that never seems to have abated since the late 1990s, but this time round there is significantly a more comprehensive vinyl re-issue series with no less than six albums available as from the beginning of September while a completely separate listing of albums are now available as a third volume vinyl box set. There has never been a better time to stock up on Fela’s back catalogue and even the seasoned listener is likely to find something new of interest.
If the title sounds tad off-putting, then the music on offer is invariably eclectic and overall excellent dance music material. For those not already aware of the format, HMD is in fact both a DJ collective and a weekly residency that takes place in London with monthly gigs in Berlin and elsewhere throughout Europe, and they are currently on a UK tour which is now in its latter stages until mid-September. The compilation series itself began way back in 2009 and has regularly showcased the slightly zanier side of boogie, electronica and even Euro disco for a crowd that knows its eclectic tastes and seeks out something a tad more underground. On this latest offering the music ranges from the classic disco complete with boogie bassline of ‘Candidate for Love’ by T.C. Curtis, which here receives a Joey Negro remix through to the electronica influenced (betraying a Giorgio Moroder feel) to Valerie Allington’s ‘Stop’ with soulful lead and background vocals. Overall, there is something of a 1980s with Opal’s ‘Ain’t no way’ sounding like it came out of the same stable as early SOS Band on ‘Take your time’, or even Lipps Inc’s ‘Funky Town’. In a slightly more laid back vein, though still a classy dancefloor mover, is Laura Taylor’s ‘Some Love’ which is at once melodic and incisive, and develops a head of steam as it progresses. There is a Kraftwerk homage of sorts by K.S.B. with ‘Misaluba’ while Phreek plus One’s ‘La Spirale’ samples the dancefloor diva Gwen Guthrie’s ‘I’m in love with you’. The two CD volume divides up into a first mixed array of sounds that plays like a non-stop DJ set whereas the second contains the unmixed full-length version tracks. Once again, a fine job of compiling some of the lesser known disco tunes and ultimately succeeding in avoiding formulaic dancefloor fodder.
London-based specialist label Jazzman does not only unearth some of the rarest jazz from the past, but equally understands the educational aspect of its unfolding and increasingly impressive portfolio, and with this in mind has released an excellent debut recording from a young South African drummer who has clearly taken on board the political and social concerns of African-American musicians from the mid-late 1960s. Born in 1987 and having studied music while at university in Pretoria, Tumi Mogorosi has been influenced by the likes of Max Roach, Archie Shepp and Elvin Jones as well as from a South African perspective Louis Moholo-Moholo and the Blue Notes. This explains why the recording has far more of an American flavour to it than one might expect, save for the gospel vocals, though even these are rooted in a tradition that is deeply embedded on both sides of the Atlantic. The overall sound is sparse with the absence of any keyboard freeing up the music. A piece devoted to Mogorosi’s school teacher, ‘Thahozile Queen Mother’ is a highlight the some fine vocals in the lineage of Abbey Lincoln here while both the nine minute plus ‘Princess Gibi’ and the passionate ‘Slaves Emancipation’ impress and speak volumes of a fully committed musician. The six piece band comprises a three pronged horn section with the tenor saxophonist coming across as a Jan Garbarek acolyte and a melodic guitar undercurrent which works especially well as a counterpoint to the ensemble voicings. If in parts the numbers are slightly over long, with experience and growing maturity as a composer, this can certainly be rectified in future albums.
US-based bandleader, lead vocalist and musician Ray Lugo is a devotee of the pioneering 1960s Latin soul sound that fused the then emerging salsa with the hottest and grittiest of soul coming out all parts of the United States. Stylistically, boogaloo predominates on this new album, but there are some tasty elongated descargas, or Latin jazz jam sessions that hit the spot as well as a curious fusion of cumbia and boogaloo rebaptised cumbialoo. Of a host of Latin soul numbers present, by far the strongest on offer here is the title track with an English subtitle in the chorus of ‘My baby’s got Latin Soul’ and with some heavyweight percussive accompaniment and punchy brass into the bargain, this track really cooks. A mixture of old and new from Nueva York is audible on ‘Rico Boogaloo’ where modern day musica latina and old school vibes meet head on. Evidence of more disparate influences emerge on the mid-tempo KC and the Sunshine band inspired vocals of ‘C’mon everbody’ while the eeriest of 1960s style organ plus chanted vocals greets the listener on ‘La tumbia de Fu Manchù’. A homage to the great Latin music leader Willie Rosario is offered on the piano vamp-led ‘Watusi Boogaloo’ with Spanglish the new lingua franca. Ray Lugo and the Boogaloo Destroyers have been championed by DJs of the calibre of Adrian Gibson and authors of distinction such as Pablo Ygelesis and on this evidence it is easy to see why.
This 1961 recording by jazz vocalist Oscar Brown Jr. fits neatly into a trio of albums the Chicago born musician recorded for Columbia and this no frills re-issue contains some excellent songs. In particular ‘Mr Kicks’ enjoyed a resurgence of interest during the 1980s and is a catchy number that has featured on many a jazz compilation with big band orchestration courtesy of a then young Quincy Jones. In a similar vein is ‘When Malindy sings’ which is a real cooker of a tune. Thematically Brown aimed to have the original vinyl release divide into two parts reflecting the title and ‘Hazel’s Hips’ is another winner which could belong to either side depending on one’s liberal or conservative attitude. Brown would subsequently gain notoriety as a vocalist on Max Roach’s ‘We Insist! Freedom Now Suite’ and among his most enduring performances are the vocal reworkings of Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blues’, Miles Davis’ ‘All Blues’ and Bobby Timmons’ ‘Dat Dere’, all bona fide classics and heavily aired by DJs during the 1980s jazz dance revival.
Although purely on musical terms this album scores a clear four stars, the paucity of time on offer (barely thirty-five minutes) when the third album for Columbia, ‘Tell it like it is’, could have been added, detracts from the overall product. Greater thought needs to go into the packaging (little information on musicians accompanying) and value for money time and elsewhere with Tyrone Davis and Ohio Players re-issue, For anyone beginning to search out Oscar Brown Jr, the ACE records compilation makes for a better all-round introduction.
The early 1980s was a time of change on the dancefloor and the introduction of synthesizers in the 1970s would become a predominant trait in dance music with Giorgio Moroder the leader in the field alongside the more experimental musings of Kraftwerk. One early example that worked at all levels was the smash hit ‘Don’t stop the music’ for soulful vocal duo Cavin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples which is contained here in its full length version, and it certainly stands the test of time remarkably well. It scored a number one position on both the R & B and pop charts and with its heavy bass synth was a precursor to what would follow with the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis production stable. The instantly recognisable chorus riff was interesting also for the use of a reggae-influence keyboard bridge. What is surprising, however, is that given the production team had pioneered this new sound, they then reverted back to a more conventional soul pairing, clearly influenced by the likes of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Thus ‘Don’t stop the music’ stands out head and shoulders above the rest with an attempt at a follow up, the acoustic meets electronic sounding ‘Third Degree’ a fair stab at the dancefloor and here there is the bonus of the 12″ version. Elsewhere the sound is a tad pedestrian in spite of the excellence of the musicians that include on keyboards Patrick Moten (Chapter Eight and Anita Baker) and Michael Wycoff plus the percussive genius of Paulinho da Costa. It is a pity that Yarbrough and Peoples never recorded a whole album in the dancefloor vein, but nonetheless their long-term status in dance music history is confirmed with this timely re-issue. As ever excellent bio details and illustrative graphics.
Jamaican singer Jesse Green actually started off his career as a member of reggae harmony group the Pioneers, touring with Jimmy Cliff, and yet like many of his contemporaries possessed a soulful voice that was easily transferable to the soul idiom. Toots Maytals would record an entire album in Memphis and Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs, perhaps, should have followed suit at some stage in their careers. By 1976 a change of style resulted in this album which, with its suggestive cover, reeks of 1970s disco hedonism, but is a fine example of uptempo soul music. It has something of a Miami sound to it which is surprising since it was actually recorded in London. Although the album at the time was not a major success, it has become something of a cult item and the title track single released in its full 12″ version became a number one disco hit, even entering the lower echelons of the UK top twenty pop chart. It now come across as a tasty slab of pop-disco, but quality music all the same and the likes of Billy Ocean would follow suit in the next decade. That said, this writer much prefers two other songs, notably the heavy bassline groove of ‘You are the star’ and the left-field track on the album, the mid-tempo ‘Highwaves of the Sea’. An illustration of Green’s vocal powers can be found on ‘You came, you saw, you conquered’ which demonstrates that Green could stretch his falsetto vocals while for ballads ‘The greatest love’ delivers fully. Some of the tracks seem to be influenced by George McCrae’s ‘Rock me baby’ song and have a light, uplifting feel in the use of strings.
Keyboardist Bob James is among the most sampled of all jazz musicians and his mid-late 1970s albums contained some of the catchiest ditties on the planet. This double offering captures him in more R & B mode at the beginning of the 1980s with the second album a definite nod towards the highly efficient Quincy Jones production stable with several key members of the production team on board here. The first album starts with an unusual acoustic piano intro and then builds into a Caribbean-flavoured enterprise on ‘Snowbird Fantasy’ with steel drums par for the course. The strongest pieces feature a then in vogue Grover Washington at the peak of his powers on soprano saxophone(and just about to hit the charts big time along with Bill Withers on ‘Just the two of us’) on the delicate sounding ‘Brighton by the Sea’. The pair reproduce the magic on the acoustic revisiting of Peaches and Herbs classic ballad ‘Reunited’. As ever with James, film and t.v. exploitation of his music is never far from his mind and ‘Shepherd’s song’ sounds as though it is made for an airing as a t.v. theme tune. However, the second album represented a change in direction with vocals more to the fore and the writing talents of Rod Temperton (Heatwave, James Ingram, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones) ensuring that this album would score highly in the soul charts. The title track is a heavy bassline driven and moody song which scored big time in clubland and, as ever with Temperton’s songwriting skills, supremely well crafted. Virtually as compelling is ”Hypnotique’ which has an eerie atmospheric feel to it while the laid back beauty of ‘Enchanted Forest’ and an acoustic rendition of ‘Unicorn’ round off a well balanced album. Top of the range musicians include Marcus Miller, Ralph MacDonald, Grover Washington Jr. once more and the vocals of Patti Austin.
Candian-based, though Haitian born pianist Henri-Pierre Noël, is a fascinating musician whose myriad musical influences come together on this excellent set that is arguably stronger than the first re-issue and dates from 1980. It encompasses Latin, Caribbean, disco, gospel and Afro influences as well as Haiti’s very own folkloric kompa style and yet still comes out sounding distinctively the musician’s own voice. Discovered by DJ Kobal, producer Kevin Moon aka Moonstar has done an excellent job of bringing together the seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive whole.
The delicious ‘Latin Feeling; is a strong contender for the album’s killer tune and has something of the feel of the Jazz Messenger’s ‘Moanin’ about it and lingers long on the mind. The combination of acoustic piano à la Ramsey Lewis and horns plus percussion makes for a truly classic jukebox groove to remember. Equally infectious is ‘Joy to me’ which is the catchiest of numbers with cowbell and blues-inflected piano to reinforce the message. Disco meets Afro head on with ‘Step (Fan)’ while the percussive-led ‘Roller Skater Rhapsody’.
A real treat is the voice over, possibly by Noël himself, on the gospel flavoured number ‘Will come a day’ which makes for a reposing contrast to the rest whereas funky uptempo gospel piano alongside whirling synthesizer is a feature of ‘Funky Spider Dance’ with discofied female vocals making for a curious hybrid that actually comes off. So eclectic are the sounds on offer here that one wonders quite what reviewers and DJs made of this release when it originally surfaced at the back end of the disco era, Too funky by far for jazz purists and yet probably too intricate for fans of disco at the time. With the benefit of time and hindsight, we can now enjoy the music for what it is, a terrific fusion and kaleidoscope of sounds that seamlessly come together. Pierre-Henri Noël performed in July 2013 at the Jazz Café and it is to be hoped that more live performances will follow on from this excellent re-issue that demonstrates beyond doubt that jazz can be aimed at the dancefloor and still retain its integrity.
Steve Williamson Band: Live at Pizza Express, Soho 1st September 2014
Steve Williamson (tenor/soprano saxophone)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde
Tenor/Soprano saxophonist, composer and band leader Steve Williamson has been stretching the boundaries of the Jazz music idiom ever since he exploded onto the UK and worldwide scene over twenty years ago with his groundbreaking debut album, ‘A Waltz With A Grace.’ Well, Mr Williamson is officially back having made a couple of rare appearances in 2014. However, the best is yet to come, Mr Williamson has announced that a hand-picked ‘Steve Williamson Band’ will be performing live at Pizza Express, Soho, London on Monday 1st September 2014. This will be Williamson’s first live outing and exposure of his new material in several years. To aid him in realising and relaying the vision and complexity of his new compositions Williamson has brought together an equally mercurial, talented, experienced and individualistic group of musicians. Acclaimed pianist Robert Mitchell answered the call from his good friend, in the drummer’s seat is beat-meister Seb Roachford and adding some educated bass-lines to the mix is Michael Mondesir . Finally, providing her unique voice projections is the free-spirited and free-flowing vocalist Filomena Campus who Williamson knew instantly he wanted as an integral part of his new band ever since witnessing her perform live at Nexus – One World Music earlier this year.
Band Leader Williamson himself has confessed to practising on his Tenor and Soprano horns long and hard in readiness for his much anticipated and much needed return to the live forum. To find out more of what Steve Williamson has to say, watch this space for Part One of an exclusive UK Vibe interview with the man himself. In the meantime, all roads lead to Pizza Express, 10 Dean Street, Soho, London for what promises to be the most enriching, enlightening and ear enhancing evening of Jazz music.
Michael J Edwards
Essential Gig Date:
Monday 1st September 2014, 7pm – Pizza Express, 10 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3RW
The Steve Williamson Band:
Steve Williamson – tenor/soprano sax
Robert Mitchell – piano
Michael Mondesir – bass
Filomena Campus – voice
Seb Roachford – drums