24th Mar2017

Soul Basement ‘What We Leave Behind’ (ITI) 3/5

by ukvibe

This is an 8-track foray into what I would say would best be described as a modern soul/jazz album. With large amounts of piano, Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ parts blended with programmed but live sounding drums and horns, ’What We Leave Behind’ is a outright retro album that unashamedly takes its influences from 1970s soul and vocal jazz records for this the forth Soul Basement album. Fabio Puglisi aka Soul Basement is an Italian musician and producer who this time out adds jazz vocalist Jay Nemor, originally from Houston, Texas on all eight tracks, who has also released previous material including a solo album in 2014 titled ‘Just Sayin’.

Regards the songs themselves, all are perfectly crafted with the ballad, ‘With You’ being a standout. The more uptempo ‘I’m Doing Fine’ with its catchy chorus holds an Incognito quality, and I enjoyed the more contemporary ‘Future Reminiscence’ with its Dilla/Ummah sounding sub bass and finger snaps, combined with Jay’s Gil Scott-Heron type rap poetry lyrics considering past memories and positive thoughts, with added saxophone included. 

Being critical, the album is quite old fashioned with nothing new here that is going to attract an audience outside of the modern soul/jazz world – but that’s probably the point. The vocals are perfectly delivered with Jay obviously being influenced by baritone jazz vocalist Jon Lucien as well as the previously mentioned street poetry of Gil, but lyrically the songwriting is very literal with not a great deal of abstraction. And the level of musicianship is competent throughout the album, but maybe the use of some additional musicians to augment the production here would provide alternative ideas could be seen as a positive. This isn’t a massive criticism but it is common with albums where an individual or a small team has handled the entire production. The reason we all love Marvin, Stevie and Miles is also because of their collaborators. 

Comparisons with artists such as Mario Biondi and Incognito are clear, and if that’s your lane then this is very much for you. But in a world where Gregory Porter is so dominant, it is genuinely very difficult for vocal based soul/jazz artists to create an impact or to market albums like this. But it will fit in nicely with the Jazz FM crowd and music fans who tend to stay with albums that are firmly rooted in the 70s soul sound.

Damian Wilkes

22nd Mar2017

Soul Scratch ‘Pushing Fire’ (Colemine) 5/5

by ukvibe

I’ve been hoping that this lot would eventually get an album out, the 45 “Telephone” has been hammered here at home and I’v managed to play it out too.  A funky dancer with a real choppy sound, great vocals ride the rhythm effortlessly. Then the album arrived and thankfully it’s more of the same – you may remember me raving over the St Paul & The Broken Bones first album, well this ain’t a million miles from that sound, Dale Spollet and Paul Janeway should consider a duet, what a tune that would be! 

First up two tracks hit me big time, “Kiss me in the morning” and “Thankyou”, both are majestic downtempo cuts oozing with soul and would sound the dogs bollocks on radio, the rest are funky danceable well-sung tunes. The group consists of Dale Spollett on vocals, Joel Givertz on guitar, Johnny Chou on Bass, Adam Greenberg on Drums, Matt Reale on trumpet and Ian Anderson on Sax supported by Roger Rivas, Dan Hastie and Joel on keys and Kassandra Kocoshis on percussion. First of the funky cuts to impress is “Be kind” and horn and percussion fuelled gem, there are people out there who claim to be into funk, in fact at the minute an all nighter exists for the genre but you won’t hear any from this group, far to real, far too James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins… having mentioned those icons, they have there own sound but you can feel the inspiration in there. 

The big tune for me though is “Look how far we’ve come”, as deep as you can go with lots of horn support, just the way it should be. Colemine records are slowly becoming a real force in soul & funk circles with many essential releases, they appear to have great distribution too, keep them coming I say.

Brian Goucher

21st Mar2017

The Mark Masters Ensemble ‘Blue Skylight’ (Capri) 5/5

by ukvibe

I had been aware of the name of Mark Masters for some time but this was the first opportunity that I had had to hear any of his output.  Masters is an American trumpeter, composer and arranger who “has emerged as one of the great jazz arrangers of the 20th and 21st Century.” His first recording as leader, the aptly titled “Early Start” was released in 1984 when he was aged just twenty-seven. Since then he has released some ten albums as leader.  

Aside from writing charts, Masters has dedicated much of his time to education. In 1997 he founded the American Jazz Institute, concentrating on interpreting the music of Bill Holman, Lee Konitz, Sam Rivers and others. His initial recording in tribute to jazz greats was “The Jimmy Knepper Songbook” and subsequently “The Clifford Brown Project.”

Masters’ modus operandi is to assemble groups of all stars and the best local West Coast musicians to record his arrangements in concept tribute albums. His latest release continues this tradition by focussing on the work of Charlie Mingus and Gerry Mulligan. At first these two might seem to be strange bed-fellows, but the affiliation seems to be a marriage made in heaven. The play list includes ‘Peggy’s Blue Skylight’ and ‘Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love’ by Mingus and ‘Apple Core’ and ‘Birds of A Feather’ by Mulligan. Otherwise, less well-known compositions have been chosen for Masters’ arranging pen.  

Amongst the soloists in this seven piece group are Gary Foster sounding at times rather reminiscent of Lee Konitz on alto saxophone, Gene Cipriano (the sound of Tony Curtis’ sax playing in ‘Some Like It Hot’) on tenor sax and Adam Schroeder on baritone sax. On the Mingus tracks the ensemble sound is varied with trumpet and trombone replacing tenor and baritone saxes.

I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable set, so much so, that I immediately ordered two other Masters’ releases.  

Despite the stress placed on Masters’ arranging skills, he does not over-write and allows plenty of space for his soloists. Each group member gets solo features throughout the eleven tracks.  

It is important to say that these are not slavish imitations of the originals. This is no repertory band and the charts are a wholly original re-imagining, almost re-compositions. After all, as trumpeter Tim Hagens points out in the liner notes; “arranging is composing and if the arranger’s voice is highly personal and developed, the original composer fades in function against the arranger’s musical opinion”. It’s clear too that Masters had the personalities of the various band members in mind when writing, in much the same way as Ellington had done many years previously.

There really is something for all musical tastes here, burly swing, tender balladry, swaggering bluesy interludes, and be-bop fuelled bravura.

One final comment, the wonderful Edward Hopper painting adorning the album sleeve seems to depict perfectly the music to be found within.

From start to finish this album certainly delivers the goods.

Alan Musson

20th Mar2017

The Chappells ‘Are You Ready’ (Bedford) 5/5

by ukvibe

This album came as a monumental surprise and to up the anti a little further on vinyl too. The Chappells were one of a myriad of groups who came together briefly, released two 45’s, got ripped off by some one they thought was looking out for them and subsequently walked away from music finally shutting up shop in 1972. Both 45’s are revered as classic mid 60’s and much sought after, in more recent times “You’re acting kinda strange” has had a revival, due in the main to the plethora of Sunday soul sessions that have sprung up over the past 18 months, most of which are presenting the slower side of our music.  The aforementioned tune is a lovely well produced mid-pacer that fits the bill perfectly, I’ve spun it several times at my Sunday Soul Sessions at Stanwick. 

The four sides of the two 45’s are here but the remaining seven are unissued and it’s these I acquired the album for and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest, all could quite easily have made it to 45, in fact if this album had come out in 1964 it would be considered a holy grail today.

Let’s get straight to the real meat on here, “Searchin” and “She needs him” are gloriously produced skipping dancer’s, very much in the Constellations’ “I don’t know about you” sound – and just how big is that now? Once word is out amongst the Northern Soul fraternity I can almost guarantee some ars-hole will boot them (all in the name of getting the music out there of course). The reason we have this album now is that a set of lo-fi demos tracked on portable reel to reel were found in a basement, capturing the evolvement of the group to a self contained band. 

The crossover boys will cream there pants when they hear “Moan for you” with its relentless choppy beat, tinkling pianos, muted horns, superb tune every way, “Don’t take a trip” is straight out of that wonderful ‘Newsounds’, ‘Pretenders’ sound, a strolling beast of a sound. I must warn you though the sound is lo-fi but that doesn’t affect the sound quality at all, I have “Everybody needs someone” playing as I type this and I’m shaking my head in sheer wonderment, another dancer that would have them up dancing at any thinking mans soul night. 
This album isn’t easy to get hold of and it ain’t cheap but just buy it and like me wallow in the shear beauty of a lost sound from a time long gone and never to be repeated. For me, the release of the year so far and it’s going to take something quite special to knock this off top spot. There is a suggestion that this surfaced at the tail end of last year but it certainly wasn’t available to the likes of me until February this year.

Brian Goucher

19th Mar2017

La Mambanegra ‘El Callegüeso y Su Mala Maña’ CD/LP/Dig (Movimientos) 4/5

by ukvibe

Pan-Caribbean grooves are the order of the day on this slice of driving Colombian salsa with funk and the occasional hip-hop influence and underlying it all, some of the literary magic realism for which Colombia is so rightly famous. The music is inspired by an anonymous and mythical hero of one of the popular working class neighbourhoods in Cali, called barrio obrero. In fact on the Pacific coastline of Colombia, there is a thriving music scene and in the case of La Mambanegra one that in the choppy rhythms and chanted vocals takes a leaf out of Cuban band Los Van Van, and that is most certainly the case of the opener, ‘Puro Potenkem’. This writer immediately warmed to the 1970s style horns that echo the classic salsa dura of New York. Where this album wins hands down over contemporary salsa is in the variety of styles with great subtlety displayed on the muted trumpet and electric piano accompaniment of, ‘Cantare para vos’, which features what sounds like a Cuban trés and with nasal male lead vocals reminiscent of Rubén Blades. There is even some retro cha-cha in the intro to the mid-tempo burner that is, ‘El sabor de la guayaba’ with the guest vocals of Santiago Jimenez. More contemporary dance flavours with hammond organ and funk tinges are evident on, ‘La compostura’.
Neither reggaeton nor salsa romantica, this authentic salsa meets son fusion offering promises a great deal and succeeds on all fronts in delivering first rate dancefloor grooves. Little wonder they cooked up a musical storm at the 2016 Womad festival.
Tim Stenhouse

18th Mar2017

Thundercat ‘Drunk’ CD/LP/DIG (Brainfeeder) 4/5

by ukvibe

Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, returns for his third full-length album ‘Drunk’ which follows on from his last release in 2015, the EP ‘The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam’, and is again released on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label. This is another esoteric journey through the mind of the world’s favourite electric bass player and contributor to some of the most regarded artists in the modern music climate, from Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin and label boss FlyLo.The album contains 23 tracks, although the Japanese CD release has a bonus track (more later), but only six tracks are more than 3 minutes in length. This is quite typical of Thundercat so this is definitely not an album of singles. And as the title suggests, the alcohol/being drunk and escapism theme permeates the set with Thundercat’s added soulful vocals being quite accomplished, and it does remind me of a time when bass players would be given recording contracts on major labels to create fully formed albums, such as those by Stanley Clarke and Michael Henderson, with Michael also providing vocals, so this isn’t an album designed strictly for bass players, but obviously his playing is virtuosic and impeccable.  

As common with recent Thundercat material, his West Coast home is a major musical influence, with The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan being obvious reference points here, including getting Michael McDonald to guest on ‘Show You The Way’. Other vocal guests include Pharrell on ‘The Turn Down’, Kendrick Lamar (‘Walk On By’) and a pointless appearance from rapper Wiz Khalifa on ‘Drink Dat’. But for some frantic musicianship, check the 2’16” instrumental jam ‘Uh Uh’ with its speed up ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’ breakbeat and dexterous bass guitar timing, piano rushes and mollifying vocal harmonies over the top. ‘Show you the Way’ is possibly the only real radio playable track, and it does sound like a contemporary Doobie Brothers song, with electric piano chords, LA synth movements and additional vocals from Kenny Loggins – yes, the guy who did ‘Footloose’ (but play ‘Make The Move’ from the Caddyshack OST in 1980 for some sample heaven).

And in this cynical world, Thundercat doesn’t take himself too seriously with lyrics such as ‘everybody wants to be a cat’ on the otherwise soulful, ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’ which blends jazz tones with smooth vocal melodies. And he must be one of the few musicians to reference Japanese Anime, Manga and video games within his records. Thus, it’s refreshing to hear an artist that incorporates something else other than failed relationship material within their releases. And so it’s a very difficult album to categorise, other than it sounds like a typical Thundercat album. And with production from Flying Lotus adding his own unique twist on modern electronic black music, the Brainfeeder label continues to show the world how to be eclectic but also familiar at the same time. There’s modern soul in there, frantic new age funk, a bit of Frank Zappa humour and video game electronica – but all with integrity and honestly, plus some mesmerising bass playing.

But it also has its unfortunate moments such as ‘Drink Dat’, with its poor guest lyrics from Wiz Khalifa, which could have been written by a 14-year old kid trying to impress his school friends on his experiences of getting drunk. And the bonus Japanese CD track ‘Hi’ which features Mac Miller, a Pittsburgh MC, but here he sings rather than raps. This ‘bonus’ is not missed in the rest of the world as it sounds like an unfinished demo – and not a good demo. These may be Thundercat’s drinking buddies, but best to leave them at the bar and go drinking elsewhere. And even Kendrick’s verse on Walk On By’ (not that one) seems a little disjointed and was probably not needed. Added guests from the Hip Hop community I find rarely work on more progressive contemporary music, and coming from a strong and lengthy Hip Hop background, I feel I can identify and comment upon this. Thundercat deserves equals, and artists such as Pharoahe Monch or Black Thought from The Roots would have been a better fit here.

But to redeem the release, ‘Drunk’ also contains the now modern soul classic ‘Them Changes’ from his 2015 EP, with its Isley Brothers ‘Footsteps in the dark’ drum loop and infectious bassline groove. And thankfully, the vinyl release was issued at the same time as the other formats, with it being another Brainfeeder boxset piece but this time pressed on 4 red 10” vinyl records.

Damian Wilkes

17th Mar2017

Egberto Gismonti ‘Dança das Cabeças’ 180g vinyl re-issue (ECM) 5/5

by ukvibe

Part of the ongoing re-issue series of classic vinyl on the ECM label, this album typifies all that is best about ECM and is a superb example of world roots and improvised music coming together, interacting in melodious harmony. This is about as far away from conventional Brazilian popular music (think bossa nova) as one could conceive, and yet the two Brazilian musicians somehow nonetheless manage to conjur up the vastness and sweltering heat of the Brazilian landscape with a crystal clear vividness. From the very outset of the opening piece, ‘Quarto mundo #1’, the listener is greeted by the evocative percussive sounds of nature and is immediately transported into the Amazonian rain forest. A veritable battery of percussion is deployed by Naná Vasconcelos including the haunting sound of the berimbau to create a truly evocative ambience with Gismonti alternating between flute and then on an eight string guitar. Elsewhere on the all but one original numbers, the ace writer pairing of Milton Nascimento and Roland Bastos contribute the excellent, ‘Fé cega faca Amolada’. Greatly aiding the pair in communicating is the wonderful sound recording of engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug and the music still sounds as if it were made yesterday. It never ceases to entice you in even after repeated listens.

What is important for the reader to recognise is that the two sides, amounting to virtually fifty minutes of glorious sound, are two de facto suites where the music develops organically and shifts in mood from one segued piece to another. Truly impressive is the extent to which vibrancy of the music compels the listener to focus intently on the esoteric and ever shifting music, and one is left with the sensation of having witnessed a live recording that has been beamed into one’s own home. The dexterity of Egberto GIsmonti, who was just hitting musical maturity aged thirty at the time, is just one of the magical ingredients to savour here.

For those in search of a likeminded musical experience, then the Gismonti ECM recording from the same year, ‘Sol do meio dia’, comes highly recommended and comprises a crack band of Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, Colin Walcott and Naná Vasconcelos once again on percussion duties. Likewise, a reunion several years late between Gismonti and Vasconcelos from 1984, ‘Dias Voces’, is well worth investigating. 

Tim Stenhouse

16th Mar2017

Various ‘Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica’ CD/LP/DIG (Chapter Two) 4/5

by ukvibe

Here is a much anticipated release that delivers with an almighty righteous punch of authenticity. Picture the idyllic scene. Overlooking the hills of Kingston, assemble a number of the crème de la crème of reggae singers from the classic roots era with a smattering of the younger generation to reinvigorate proceedings accordingly. Then record organically with a pared down instrumentation and let mother nature and skilled musicianship take care of the rest. The result is this consummately produced take on the roots reggae tradition, with more than a few surprises in the ever inventive re-interpretations of classic numbers. Chapter Two records are no less than the expert team from Makasound in Paris and they know a good reggae tune like they know a vintage cheese and wine or two from their native land.

The mighty roots harmonies of The Viceroys get proceedings off to a most dignified start with acoustic guitar and percussive accompaniment to, ‘Love is the key’, and with the glorious sound of crickets in the background. A stunning way to begin. Ken Boothe is an institution on the reggae map and the lovely piano vamp and heavyweight percussion lead into a wonderful take on, ‘Let the water run dry’, one of two offerings, the other being a sumptuous reading of the all-time favourite, ‘Artibella’. A real favourite of this writer is the glorious revisiting of ‘Slaving’ by seminal roots bassist Lloyd Parks. What makes this version stand out is the heady mix of strummed guitar, collective wordless vocals and percussion which together makes for a wonderful alternative to the Glenn Brown classic interpretation. Sadly, that title has never been more relevant with modern day slavery all around us.
Cult singer Kiddus I is one of the overlooked talents of roots reggae in the 1970s and so it comes as a most pleasant surprise to hear that he is still in top form on, ‘Jah power, Jah glory’. Equally respected and acclaimed is former lead singer of the Congos, Cedric Myton, who contributes the excellent, ‘Youthman’. Another veteran roots singer worthy of attention, and one whom the Makasound label did so much to promote, is Winston McAnuff and he excels as ever on ‘Secret’.

Among the younger generation. Kush McAnuff has featured previously on Chapter Two releases and here he fronts a strong uptempo roots number, ‘Back to I roots’, where horns (or are those keyboards, perhaps, reproducing the sound of horn instruments?), piano and percussion all combine to good effect. New names to this writer include Derajah, Steve Newland and Bo-Pee whose excellent, ‘Thanks and praises’, ends the album on a natural high.

In a world where roots reggae is sometimes forgotten and regarded as a distant relic of the past, it is heartwarming to know that a specialist record label is doing its utmost to showcase the sub-genre and actively promote the representation of the music in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Absolutely first class information on the recording itself and revealing that to be a story worthy of recounting in its own regard.

That France has played an important role in the promotion of reggae music is beyond doubt. As if to demonstrate the argument, an accompanying short film documentary is available too. The various artists will come together at the prestigious and recently built Philharmonie de Paris to perform on 22 April and from the same month onwards – there has never been a better time to visit Paris, but avoid those April showers all the same! This new release deserves to be a hit with a live follow-up to boot.

Tim Stenhouse

12th Mar2017

Maxime Fougères Trio ‘Guitar Reflections Vol. 2’ (Gaya Music Production) 3/5

by ukvibe

This guitar, bass, drums trio is headed up by French guitarist Maxime Fougères and features Antoine Paganotti and Yoni Zelnik. 2012 saw the release of Fougères’ first album, “Guitar Reflections”, a tribute to Duke Ellington. “Guitar Reflections Vol 2” includes 10 tracks which are a combination of original compositions and the music of Wayne Shorter, arranged and adapted by Fougères for the trio. Together the trio explore both harmonically and rhythmically Shorter’s music, paying homage to the jazz legend and taking influence from him for their own writing and performing. Fougères enjoys a nice, easy-going style to his playing that appears to suit his bassist and drummer particularly well. That said, the trio do find their own spark on tracks like “Heads Up” where the changes in style and sound work especially well, offering the listener something fresh and inspiring. In general however, as good as the trio’s performance is on this recording, the moments of originality, freedom and expression are little too few and far between. The hard driving “Iris” got me excited though, with the bass and drums creating a great groove for Fougères to solo over. It’s clear to see that the trio have tried to take their music out of the box at times, incorporating different guitar sounds and techniques, styles, colours and textures, along with changes of mood, but in general, although this does offer some nice variation for the listener’s ear, the resulting music is good, but seems to lack that special quality that leads it towards making it great.

Classic Shorter tunes such as “Juju” and “Night Dreamer” are interpreted in a sensitive way, but for this listener lack any real punch or new-found zest. These are nice interpretations that the trio have given a different lilt to, but almost inevitably, when compared to Shorter’s originals, they don’t seem to have a great deal to say, and they certainly don’t have the feel or innovative edge and emotional reaction that I get from listening to the master’s original tunes, even now, so many years after they were first written and recorded by Shorter.

“Guitar Reflections Vol 2” isn’t a greatly memorable album, but it does have some nice interplay between the musicians alongside some quality soloing. In the end though, it lacks any real punch or innovation. It is however, an enjoyable listen, and one can only applaud Fougères for attempting to interpret the music of Wayne Sorter, perhaps surprisingly in a guitar trio format, even if the results don’t hit the heights one might have hoped for.

Mike Gates

09th Mar2017

Siks Haedo ‘Ready To Travel’ (Plaza Mayor Company) 4/5

by ukvibe

Siks Haedo is a project led by guitarist and composer Hispano-Argentine, Diego Lipnizky. Having relocated from Spain to Paris in 2012, the change of city and life gave rise to the formation of this wonderful sextet and the following year heralded their debut release “Influencias”. This second album takes the listener on an uplifting journey between jazz, classical and African music, but with the emphasis very much on the jazz element. The guitarist is joined by Olivier Bridot on trumpet and bugle, Carlos Mejias on alto saxophone, Francois Faure on piano, Laurent Salzard on bass, and Stéphane Adsuar on drums.The album features six compositions, all worthy of note. The opener “Dernier Train”, begins in slightly melancholic mood with a haunting bass riff, slowly joined by guitar, piano and drums, setting a gentle tone. The tune then morphs as the guitar leads us into an incredibly gorgeous melody that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Wonderful harmonies between trumpet and sax are a feature throughout the recording, offering up some of the sweetest sounds I have heard this year.

Diego Lipnizky’s compositions are top notch, but it is the trumpet playing of Olivier Bridot that steels the show for me. He has a natural, instinctive way of performing that works stunningly alongside the rest of the band.

“Brian De Nice” has a welcoming groove to it, creating its own lush summer landscape as it goes. There’s a section in this track where the piano mirrors a chord progression offered up by the guitar, and the resulting feel is just so deeply rewarding. It’s moments like this that make me truly happy when listening to music.

“20 km avant l’andalousie” sings out with grace and style as the trumpet and sax once more produce lovely harmonies. Carlos Mejias takes the lead solo on alto sax with verve and skill, words I could use for so much of this recording. An innovative solo from Lipnizky ensues, with creative support from the rhythm section.

“News from Naghreb” begins with an Arabic feel as the solo bass creates an atmosphere of Middle Eastern textures and colours. A haunting bugle leads us into the tune itself, with repeating motifs cascading over progressive chord changes. The sextet work together intelligently with intuition and poise.

A jazzier, funkier tone can be heard on “Chasing Bona”, as the musicians skip and dance their way through this tune with glee. The subtle twists and turns of the composition allows the soloists the freedom to improvise whilst keeping hold of the tune itself.

The final track “Welcome to Sotolongo” represents perhaps the most straight-ahead jazz tune on the album. There’s a distinct Afro-Caribbean flavour pushing through, with fine soloing from each of the band members, bringing proceedings to a close with a memorable, lively, upbeat tempo.

“Ready to travel” is a warm, nourishing album that is rich in style and has that feel-good factor about it that just oozes class. Every tune has something delightful about it and I have found myself pressing the play button again and again on this one. Very enjoyable music indeed.

Mike Gates