Chet Baker ‘Live in London Volume II’ 2CD (Ubuntu Music) 5/5

The Canteen near Covent Gardens in London was certainly a shot-lived jazz club, but one that welcomed one of the all-time greats in trumpeter Chet Baker. Following up on the excellent first volume, this personal Sony TCS 3000 audio cassette recording from 1983, that has been beautifully cleaned up with digital technology, offers an intimate and priceless glimpse into the musical world of Chet Baker with extended takes on some of the classic American songbook, accompanied by an excellent British rhythm section comprising John Horler on piano, Jim Richardson on bass and Tony Mann on drums. With the benefit of time, we can now appreciate this timeless exploration of the standards and Baker is certainly in fine form, both on vocals and trumpet, with inventive soloing for the latter. That versatility is exemplified on a stunning nine and three-quarter minutes rendition of, ‘My ideal’, which starts with a piano solo intro before Chet takes over with a vocal delivery that is at once melodic and yet also reveals his own vulnerability before he then goes on to take a trumpet solo. It is indeed the sound of the trumpet that takes the spotlight on a leisurely paced interpretation of Horace Silver’s composition, ‘Strollin’, with an extended solo on the horn. By contrast with most jazz musicians who tend to play, ‘Stella by starlight’, as a ballad, Baker prefers to opt for a more sprightly tempo and thus heads straight into a solo, while the deft brush work from Mann is accompanied by equally subtle piano comping from Horler. Ballards have always been a feature of Chet Baker’s repertoire and here, both, ‘When I fall in love’, and, ‘Broken wing’, are treated delicately and tenderly with the trumpet caressing the melody. The fine evocative front cover black and white photo by jazz cameraman par excellence, David Sinclair, is accompanied by incisive inner sleeve notes from music writer and author of, ‘The man in the green shirt: Miles Davis’, Richard Williams.

Tim Stenhouse

Nori ‘Bruise Blood’ CD/DIG (Private Press) 4/5

Nori is a quintet from Austin, Texas. Akina Adderley handles vocals, Erik Telford plays trumpet, Nick Litterski is on Fender Rhodes piano, Aaron Allen played upright bass and Andy Beaudoin is behind the drums. The quintet’s press release describes their music as being “one-part jazz, one-part folk and one-part world”. The quintet “playfully weaves together a myriad of global influences giving rise to a seamless synthesis of sound”.

This is the band’s second release. This release continues where the first ended, pursuing their various influences. Importantly, it also seeks to address the strong emotions many are feeling in their US homeland. The name ‘Bruise Blood’ is a reference to Steve Reich’s 1960s composition ‘Come Out’. Reich’s composition includes a tape-loop based on the spoken words of Daniel Hamm, a young man from Harlem who was wrongly accused and convicted of murder. It is said that after Police officers tried to brutally beat a confession out of him, Hamm made a desperate attempt to show his need for immediate medical treatment – “I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.”

The band members believe that Hamm’s words still resonate today and the album is an attempt to “cut that wound wide open and let the blood out.”

Given the foregoing description, the album opens in a contemplative, yet somehow pensive mood with ‘The Dream’ and features a powerful vocal from Adderley and the whole steadily builds in intensity with all band members giving everything that they have.
‘Wildfire’ is next and the vocal paints more emotional sound pictures. Despite the theme of the song, the music seems quite uplifting to me.
‘Crash and Burn’ includes more difficult subject matter in the vocals and yet despite this the tune is rather graceful. ‘Undertow’ follows a similar path. On this piece as on others throughout the album, strings are added which contrast pleasantly with the core quintet.
‘The Walk’ is a protest song, but is again a thoughtful piece of music and quite elegant in its execution. A short free-form version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was certainly unexpected. This is followed by more uplifting fare with ‘Amends’ and here we have more strong playing from all and more forthright vocals. Throughout the album I felt that the sound of the Fender Rhodes piano lifted the rather gloomy ambience of the vocals.
‘Prelude’ for a string trio alone is a lovely piece of music which stands up on its own irrespective of the subject matter of the album.
The album concluded with ‘Ballad’. Again, there is more difficult subject matter in the vocal. However, the musicianship of all concerned is exemplary, as it is time and time again during the whole session.

This is not an easy album to digest and certainly would repay repeated listening. It is a “searing account of trauma, survival and power explored through intoxicating, fervent and elaborate instrumentation alongside pertinent, poetic lyrics.”

Alan Musson

Bâton Bleu ‘Weird and Wonderful Tales’ CD (DixieFrog) 3/5

La belle France is not necessarily an obvious place for the blues to thrive (though historically expat American blues musicians such as Memphis Slim have positively thrived when performing and recording in France), but thrive it does with a duo that have soaked up the early folk-blues tradition. Bâton Bleu comprise Maria Laurent on vocals, banjo, guitar, Mongolian lute and flute and Gautier Deganot on vocals, thumb piano, bass harmonica and percussion. The music, primarily in English, has a folk-pop sensibility, and is heavily influenced by the French chanson tradition, with the corresponding soft delivery of vocals from Laurent, that is reflected in the reworking of a classic June Carter Cash song such as ‘Ring of Fire’, which here is taken at a slower tempo with the sole instrumentation of banjo to accompany the female lead. Both musicians deserve credit for trawling through the history of the folk-blues, listening to and taking on board the instrumentation of the seminal Harry Smith anthology and the guitar genius of John Fahey. That rubs off in various ways as with the multi-layered vocals and banjo of ‘Trouble All The Time’.

In places, the music is quite experimental, which takes some getting used to, but is definitely linked to the creative French way of thinking. More problematic are some of the vocals in English which are a little difficult to fathom as with ‘Sick Ship’ and ‘Buffalo 7’, where the distorted male lead vocal is a tad grating and the softer female vocals bring some welcome relief. It would not be out-of-place for both vocalists to incorporate some songs in their native French and French folk singers such as Maxime Le Forestier, Georges Moustaki and never forgetting the later and great Georges Brassens are excellent sources of material to rework.

This is a case of a brave and praiseworthy first effort that requires some refinement on the vocal front in English, but is certainly heading in the right direction from an instrumental perspective. As with perfecting any foreign language, spending time in the country of origin is indispensable and both members of Bâton Bleu would find that their mastery of the English language and ability to ad-lib comes on leaps and bounds with greater exposure to native speaker American voices as well as continuing listening to the original music. Full marks to DixieFrog for putting the music out there in the first place.

Tim Stenhouse

The Ragtime Rumours ‘Rag ‘N Roll’ CD (RUF) 4/5

Old-time music has acquired a niche audience in the wake of the scene, devoid of the formulaic nature of much of today’s commercial music, and here is a fine example of what is possible on a set of eleven all original compositions that take one back in time to the early 1920s. This band comprises banjo, double bass, guitar and drums plus collective and individual vocals, and listeners will immediately hear the influence of gypsy guitar music as personified by Django Reinhardt inter-weaved with some tasty Robert Johnson folk-blues. Vocals hint at Seasick Steve and Tom Waits in parts, and the humorous monologue intro made by male vocalist Tom Janssen (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo) on ‘Turn Every Dollar’, and accompanying electric guitar, makes for some entertaining music. Collective harmonies impress on the pared down instrumentation of ‘Hookman’, with male lead and a strong folk-blues number. That blues feeling spreads to piano on the evocative, ‘Stop That Train’, which is ostensibly a duet between piano and vocals, with shuffling drum beat accompaniment to recreate the sound of a train. The sound of guitar echo is heard on ‘Faker’, which has all the feel of a Tom Waits composition and production. For a more intimate reading of the folk-blues tradition, look no further than ‘ Holy Woedend’, complete with acoustic guitar and female lead vocals. Little wonder, then, that this Dutch formation should be competitively challenging at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, and were indeed the winners of the 2018 cycle of the European Blues Challenge in Norway.

Impressive credentials and an authentic sound to back it up. Folk-blues cognoscenti will take note that the faded brown old-style photos on the gatefold sleeve cover creatively sets the scene for the musical delights that are to follow and whether the lovely graphical and novel advertisement illustrations are authentic or not, they sure look the real deal and are highly entertaining with signs denoting “Chicken For Sale. Slight catch. Both drumsticks still intact”.

Tim Stenhouse

Smiley Lewis ‘Rootin’ and Tootin’ – The New Orleans R&B of Smiley Lewis: The Complete Imperial Singles As and Bs 1950-1961′ 2CD (Jasmine) 5/5

Born Overton Amos Lemons in Louisiana in 1913, Smiley Lewis to give him his professional name moved to New Orleans in his mid-teens and by 1947 had garnered a loyal local support as a vocalist and guitarist. His nickname of Smiley naturally came from his outwardly happy demeanour and was featured on the very first single, a 78 to be precise, ‘Here comes Smiley’. While that initial recording is not included here, this wonderful and complete selection of 45s on the Imperial label is for casual and specialist listener alike the best overarching anthology of Smiley’s work. It surpasses the twenty-four song Capitol CD from the early 1990s which was a fair representation of his work, but is outgunned by this sixty-one song extravaganza. Only the multi-disc Bear Family offering outdoes this new double CD and it is frankly questionable whether anyone really needs more than this, the very best recordings that Smiley Lewis made and in the premier recording studio of Cosimo’s in New Orleans with the cream of the Crescent City’s musicians.

What is important to recognise is that just as the New Orleans sound evolved, so did that of Smiley Lewis and thus the period chronicled, from 1950 to 1961, is illustrative of the history of R & B. Indeed, the early rocking sound of, ‘Lillie man’, is testimony to how the early instrumentation came across once he signed for Imperial records in 1950. Opening up the first CD is his debut 45 for Imperial, ‘Tee-nah-nah’. His first US national hit, ‘Lillie man’, came just years later in 1952 and no less an authority on New Orleans music than the great producer (of Smiley’s own work) Dave Bartholomew indicated that moniker Smiley acquired of, ‘The bad luck singer’, gives a false impression of what Lewis achieved in practice. The individual singles that Smiley Lewis released on Imperial regularly sold over 100,000 copies which is both respectable and indeed impressive by any standards, but particularly so for an emerging music form in a regional city down in the south, with no dilution of the earthy New Orleans blues.

Among Smiley’s own musical influences was that of Big Joe Turner and that is clearly heard on the novelty song, ‘Bumpity bump’. The racier side to Smiley Lewis’ repertoire is represented here by, ‘One night’, which has suggestive lyrics that a young Elvis Presley cleaned up with alternative words and made a hit single himself out of. In an uptempo vein, the storming, ‘Sham, sham, sham’, is heard here in both of its parts, and formed part of the film soundtrack to, ‘Baby doll’ (1957). Several of his songs were successfully covered by other singers at a later juncture and that included, ‘I hear you knocking’, which Gale Storm enjoyed a pop hit with in the 1970s and Dave Edmunds recorded a separate version early in his career. Smiley Lewis’ spell at Imperial ended at the beginning of the new decade just as R & B was slowly morphing into soul music and he moved to OKeh in 1961 where he recorded one single only before a break from recording duties until a one-off 45 for Dot records. In 1964 he reprised, ‘The bells are ringing’, produced this time round by Allen Toussaint for Loma records. That preceded his death from stomach cancer in 1966 by just a year.

Tim Stenhouse

Jakob Bro ‘Bay Of Rainbows’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Guitarist Jakob Bro is in prolific form and has previously recorded as a leader for ECM, notably the critically acclaimed quartet album, ‘Returnings’, from earlier this year. This intimate trio outing pursues not dissimilar territory and, in trio format, follows on from the excellent 2016 studio recording, ‘Streams’. Interestingly, this new album was recorded live over two evenings at the Jazz Standard in New York, yet only weighs in at under fifty minutes which is a little surprising. The all-original selection of compositions includes a personal favourite that was previously recorded on ‘Gefion‘, namely ‘Copenhagen’, and is in essence a simple melodic guitar riff over which the acoustic bass of Thomas Morgan performs a largely supportive role. The number is indeed evocative of the city, possibly at either sunset or in the twilight hours, and reflects the quieter dimension that permeates any major city. A repetitive riff on bass greets the listener on, ‘Dug’, which, in addition, features a drum roll and electric guitar musings, while Morgan solos with increasing intensity. That developing pace is reflected by the deft use of the cymbals by Joey Baron, while guitarist Bro enters with echo to useful effect. Influenced by Bill Frisell among others, this live performance is noteworthy for its mid-tempo and deeply melodic phrasing and this is amply illustrated by a repeated motif on guitar on ‘Evening Song’ and the delightful empathy between Morgan and Bro makes this a thrilling rendition. An elongated riff lasting just over eleven minutes develops into a hypnotic piece on the second version of ‘Mild’, with the former opening up the album with a relaxing paced groove. In places, there is something of a dream-like quality to the music, with ‘Red Hook’ seemingly not having a starting point and, in general, a semi-rehearsed atmosphere, though within a general and coherent structure. Not quite on a par with ‘Returnings‘ but impressive musicianship nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

Shai Maestro ‘The Dream Thief’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5

Israeli pianist Shai Maestro has gained useful experience from work with his fellow native and bassist, Avishai Cohen, and this promising debut on ECM, recorded in Lugano, is an early glimpse of what lies ahead for his career as a leader. The warm introspection of ‘The Forgotten Village’ hints at the more reflective side of Esbjörn Svensson and features subtle percussive work on rim drum from Ofri Nehemya and fine all round ensemble performances. Of interest also is the melodic shuffling drum patterns on the title track which begins at a slow tempo, but gradually develops into a medium-quick tempo, and it is in fact the graceful nature of that gradual transition which impresses here. On future solo projects, Shai Maestro would be well served in varying the pace of his own compositions in this manner. On the opener, ‘My Second Childhood’, a composition by Matti Caspi, the pianist solos throughout, and in fact the album as a whole is book ended by two solo piano performances, lending something of a Romantic classical feel to proceedings. Of the latter piece, ‘What Else Needs to Happen’, the title is a specific reference to the Sandy Hook school shooting and contains excerpts of a Barack Obama speech while still president in both 2015 and 2016. Given recent events in California, that debate is sadly very much an ongoing one. In the midst of the album, ‘Choral’ is another solo vehicle, while bassist Jorge Roeder has the opportunity to shine on the reposing, ‘A Moon’s Tale’, with a crescendo of cymbals by Nehemya being a fine way to end the piece. All but two pieces are originals penned by the leader, but the standard, ‘Those Foolish Things (remind me of you)’, includes an extended piano solo from Maestro and betrays the influence of Keith Jarrett. Accompanying the inner sleeve details are black and white photos of the musicians in the studio.

Tim Stenhouse

Vitor Pereira Quintet ‘Somewhere In The Middle’ CD (Private Press) 3/5

“Somewhere in the middle” is the third release from this London based contemporary jazz five-piece. Led by composer and guitarist Vitor Pereira, the band also features Chris Williams on alto sax, Alam Nathoo on tenor sax, Mick Coady on bass and Adam Teixeira on drums.

The original compositions are largely sax driven, with the two saxophonists combining admirably at the forefront of most of the tunes. Perhaps best described as a contemporary jazz meets prog-rock album, the music is at times on the fringe of an avant-garde self-indulgence, but always on the listenable side with edgy melodies and crisp improvisation.

There is a definite rock sensibility to Pereira’s writing and performing, but for me it’s the more rounded, subtle and lyrical pieces on this recording that stand out. “Tag Along” has a freshness to it that is joyously inventive, with the two saxophones intertwining skilfully and creatively. As on a lot of the album, solos come mostly from the sax players, with guitar acting as melodious support for the main part. I like the way some of the tunes gradually unfold; the title track being a prime example. The confidence of the musicians shine on this piece, akin to a Pat Metheny-esque adventurous journey taking in all of life’s twists and turns, learning and developing as it goes. Pereira is at his best on the sumptuous “Twilight Trails”, a beautifully meandering guitar-led tune that brings out the best from everyone involved. The writing is strong yet subtle, allowing for sweeter harmonies than on most of the session. To my mind the album as a whole might have benefitted from a few more tunes like this one, with less focus given to the slightly aggressive musical style employed on some of the tunes.

This release warrants a few listens to get the best from it. There’s a creativity and purpose to it that has to be admired. Some tunes undoubtedly work better than others, but the intriguing nature of the compositions give it an edge that suggests more is to come from this band in the future.

UK tour:
09/11/2018 – Bristol – Bebop club
10/11/2018 – Shrewsbury – The Hive
12/11/2018 – Manchester – The Whiskey Jar
13/11/2018 – Birmingham – The Spotted Dog
16/11/2018 – Birmingham – Jazzlines
17/11/2018 – Brighton – The Verdict
18/11/2018 – Southampton – Southampton Modern Jazz Club
05/12/2018 – London – The Vortex (Official release date)

Mike Gates

Alder Ego ‘II’ LP/CD/DIG (WE JAZZ) 4/5

Finnish record label and festival organisation We Jazz continue with their enlightened approach to contemporary jazz with this release by Alder Ego, a new group of (mainly) quartet formation here comprised of bandleader and producer Joonas Leppänen on drums, Jarno Tikka on saxophone, Tomi Nikku on trumpet and Teemu Åkerblom playing double bass. Additionally, Ilkka Uksila plays vibes on two tracks. And although the album is titled ‘II’ there is no ‘I’!

‘Les Chant De Sirènes’ begins with a detuned snare drum pattern, before the complementing trumpet and saxophone elements provide the musical interior for the piece including a subtle but effective solo by Tomi Nikku. ‘Cubism’, an apparent influence on the project, continues with a similar sensibility with its loose trumpet and sax parts and solos, while Joonas Leppänen’s drumming is subdued and discreet, as per his playing throughout the rest of the album. With ‘Vultures’, bassist Teemu Åkerblom becomes more prominent as he plays upright bass with a bow, which affords a somewhat atmospheric quality to the composition, allowing the trumpet and saxophone to become more disconcerting. ‘Vultures’ is possibly my favourite piece of the set.

Both ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Flight’ include the excellent work of vibraphonist Ilkka Uksila. His work here thoroughly respects the other textures supplied by the main group. At times, these two compositions remind one of some of Gary Burton’s 1970 ECM releases, wherein, they were also without piano or keyboard parts, and so, devoid of the chordal framework offered by a pianist.
‘Blood Moon’ and ‘Solitude’ complete the album with certain aspects of the saxophone reminiscent of UK musician Dick Heckstall-Smith’s (1934-2004) jazzier moments.

Being negative, it could be argued that Ilkka Uksila could have played a more prominent role as the added vibraphone on ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Flight’ provided some valued supplementary textures – but possibly less is more in this instance. With a drummer as bandleader, Joonas Leppänen is happy to sanction his team to lead the way, especially letting Jarno Tikka and Tomi Nikku become the main focus of the project, and so, the album does not contain the standard flash of drum solos like many drummer lead ventures. But I feel that bassist Teemu Åkerblom was possibly underused as he was mostly employed to maintain the rhythm section that underpins the horn elements, and plus, his bass level was quite low within the overall mix.

The lack of piano and thus typical chord work could be seen as an advantage as this allows the arrangements to deviate, meander and evolve over their duration in a way that is difficult with straight piano chord progressions. And it’s this juxtaposition which is liberating especially considering the album still maintains a strong melodic centre, while the quartet orientation never feels sparse or light.

It’s no secret that we love We Jazz here at UK Vibe. They continue to ever so slightly push jazz forward with their relatively nuanced catalogue of releases, but not in a clinical or too radical direction to alienate listeners. The growing We Jazz discography is edgy and progressive, always allowing its artists to be creative within their own terms, but they continually generate releases that are interesting, ambitious and warrant many additional plays.

Damian Wilkes

Mr. Confuse ‘Only A Man’ LP/CD/DIG (Confunktion) 3/5

Confunktion Records label founder and German funk/breaks producer, Mr. Confuse, returns with his 4th solo album “Only A Man”. Starting out as a DJ in 1999 he turned to composition/production in 2004, gaining some success in 2005 as a member of the Breakout crew with a funk reworking “Planet Rock” and eventually releasing his first solo album “Feel The Fire” in 2008.

Since then he hasn’t been afraid to shine light on his influences with
with a cover version of Debbie Deb’s freestyle-electro classic “Lookout Weekend”, that still continues to be a download seller to this day, and his 2012 release “Do You Realize” which pays tribute to the man, Man Parrish.

So, I guess we should know what to expect. And Mr. C delivers that in spades with a right royal bouncing funk up of Shannon’s freestyle electro hit “Let The Music Play”. That aside the rest of the album sonically nods at this influence but is less overt.

Opening title track “Only A Man” sees long-time Mr. Confuse velvety-rasper Dan Salem belt out an anthem to all the fellas who work hard (16hrs and bills to pay) and play even harder. It’s a guitar-led uptempo 3 mins 46 worth of, fun-for-all, funk workout

Next up is the tight, Northern Soul-ish “Same Old Game” with the beautifully throaty Leo Will fronting some fruity organ, smashing snares, funky beats and stabbing horns. Leo absolutely nails it, probably the album highlight.

“Against All Odds” is a 70’s TV instrumental electro funk piece. Light, bright and heavy on the dance. “Only Rainbows” intros with some lush, horny blaxploitation-ness before Dan’s bouncing us through a soulful step or two. “Can’t Be No Crime” is a busy, latin-touched, organ-stabbing, Freak Power-esque, groove-laden growl that leads us into the real meat of today’s action…Busy, busy…the 3 instrumental electro Acid Jazz cop chases that are “Fast Lane”, “Gain Station” and “Rush Zone”. They’re all about the busy percussion, chopping organs and barking horns.

“Modern Way” is quick, tight beats and more of Dan the Man with a fast throbbing jazz soul down-trodden anthem about the dull, knackering day-to-day. Sleep Eat Work. Work Work Work.

All that work has me plum-tuckered out and “Cranberry Dream” is the sweet soulful dream ending to the day/album with Mayfield guitar trills, Strawberry (all about the berries) Letter tings and Elaine Thomas’ lovely lullabying.

Mr. Confuse has created a right cheery funky little thing here. Its indomitable, inherent chirpyness defies the energy-sapping theme of some of the lyrics. Mr. C sure ain’t gonna let The Man get HIM down.

Ian Ward

Astral Travelling Since 1993