Abatwa (The Pygmy) ‘Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?’ LP/CD/DIG (Glitterbeat) 3/5

Berlin-based indie label Glitterbeat have made it their lasting objective to showcase the supposedly commercially unviable musical projects that other labels would simply ignore. In so doing, they have performed the vital task of bringing hitherto unknown artists with important stories to tell about themselves and in this global village in which we all now inhabit, that is an extremely worthwhile endeavour.

Rwandan roots music has been given a boost in the last fifteen years with the unexpected success of Konono, but the music within this project is and definitely no glossy studio refinement either, though the recording quality is excellent on state of the arts equipment. Rather, producer Ian Brennan, has played the role of a latter day Alan Lomax, travelling to the most places in order to chronicle the folk music and seek to explain how it relates to the socio-political surroundings.

In the case of the Abatwa, or Pygmy peoples, they are an endangered community that have been marginalised by the larger nation-state and their music is a genuine plea both for help and greater understanding. The instrumentation is as basic as it gets, but in some ways this harks back to the origins of the blues in the United States, which does share common roots with west Africa, and from this perspective alone musicologists will be fascinated by some of the sounds that they hear within.

Resembling more a surfboard than musical instrument, the eleven-string icyembe, conjures up the Delta blues on a wonderful vocal duet with call and response elements on, ‘Umuyange’ (‘Protect the environment’) by Teonesse Majambere who also happens to have composed the piece. An outstanding example of the Abatwa’s musical heritage. Another instrument, the one-string fiddle, or iningidi, curiously has echoes of the folk roots of the Appalachian mountains and male vocalist, Jean-Baptiste Kanyambo cooks up a storm on, ‘Nyirandugu’ (‘The hard worker’). Needless to say modern technology is something in short supply in such a rural setting, but the Abatwa are nothing if resourceful and on a battery operated loop machine comes their unique take on rap, with the young teenage voice of Bihoyiki Dathive who improvises on, ‘Igira hino’ (‘Come closer’) and this creates a lovely bass-synth sound plus handclaps with a rap that makes even 1970s US rap sound somewhat passé. In the Abatwa community, music is something to be shared between generations and they can teach western society a thing or two in this respect, with, ‘Urwanikamiheto’ (‘War song’) a song performed by a sixty-seven year old mother and her sons. In the government designated villages, the Abatwa community are left to their own devices and this, sadly, results in alcohol addiction and depression. This mirrors the plight of Native Americans in the United States and it is to be hoped that projects of this nature will finally shed some much-needed light on the community and their desperate need for a hand up and greater recognition of and remedies to the difficulties they face. .

A very worthwhile project, but one point deducted for the paucity of time. Under thirty-five minutes for a CD, especially one compiling various artists, however interesting, is selling the listener short.

Tim Stenhouse

Elektrojazz ‘New York Tribute’ CD/DIG (Giant Sheep) 4/5

Not at all what it may first seem, this is a Danish band, now Harlem based and with American collaboration and input, who have come up with a pictorial twenty-first century fresco of contemporary life in the Big Apple. Composer and trombonist, Anders Larson, would appear to be the band’s leader, and the all-Scandinavian quartet form the nucleus of the band with additional guest vocals supplied by Cary Goldberg and Michael Stephenson (who also doubles up on saxophone and writes the lyrics).

The sound is a lovely mixture of acoustic jazz with electric piano and beat-box, but the name of Elektrojazz is actually misleading and one that the band would do well to drop if they wish to attract the audience that would be interested in their music. They excel on the Fender-led ‘East Village Blues’, which is one of the strongest pieces this writer has heard this year and gives off the jazziest of vibes on the repetitive riff. A jam session groove permeates, ‘Midtown Madness’, with Fender once again in the ascendency. Another real favourite is the soulful beat ballad of ‘Imaginary Love’, with some lovely trombone accompaniment from the leader, a laid back Headhunters’ type rhythm and vocals that recall early Bobby McFerrin. One final gripe, and it is a minor one. The inner sleeve writing is difficult to decipher because of the background photos. That aside, this is a group with a very promising future and the support of the Danish Arts Foundation is worth every penny, or make that every euro. A highly creative concept of soaking up all the everyday noises of the city of New York and Elektrojazz have definitely succeeded in communicating that hustle and bustle milieu. How about giving themselves a New York influenced rename?

Tim Stenhouse

Paul Tillman Smith ‘A Beautiful Heart’ CD/DIG (Chump Change) 5/5

“Having basically started my music career as a starving avant-garde jazz drummer, 19 and almost penniless on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side in 1967. Jazz drummer Norman Connors and I were best friends and roommates for a while, the difference being he could run home to his momma in Philly to eat and my momma was way in California. Rent was like 40 dollars a month, and I was lucky if I had that. Kenny Dorham and Cecil McBee whenever I would see them on the streets always bought me food. Playing the angry experimental jazz of that era mainly with saxophonist Sonny Simmons, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler was definitely economically dangerous.”

The above is the first paragraph from the liner notes of this classy fabulous album. And I found them fascinating. The production values on this set are at opposite ends to my normal Southern Soul fare, real instruments a variety of tempo’s and styles, and with various lead vocalists keeps you interested throughout, the songs are well written too. Two of my favourite under the radar singers are on here, Latoya London and Donnie Williams both of whom cut there teeth on American Idol, I was enamoured with Latoya London from the moment I saw and heard her and without doubt I thought Donnie was well ahead talent wise and should have won it. Latoya’s 2005 “Love & Life” set still gets some laser flicker time and in particular the sultry “More” should have made her a house-hold name amongst soul patrons, I remember playing “More” at Soul Essence circa early 2006 and the reaction set me believing we had a real star in the making. We also have the superb voice of Derick Hughes on here too, and a real bonus a composition that was put together in 1982 but never saw the light of day, well get your ears around Rosie Gaines and “Summer Skye”, a crisp dancer set for recognition over the coming months. The album was produced by Mr Tillman with a helping hand from one Norman Connors and it shows, in places this could be a Norman Connors album from back in the day.

A few highlights then “Out there in space” with Donnie at the helm, a sublime head nodding toe tapper complete with classy backing singers, the track that’s got me hooked is Latoya London and “Crying for love”, her voice appears to be not as strong as on her 2005 album, that’s not a complaint, I’ll take this lovely warm voice anyway I can get it. Tootie Williams gives us the stunning “April Fools” which carries on the slipping around tale in which she’s married but manages to get another man in love with her, the title gives away the rather sadistic notion that she’s enjoying the torment she’s piling on man number 2, so infectious. We have Derick & Tootie on a cracking version of “Sweet & Wonderful” as lavish as it gets. Soul radio will love every track and expect to hear this album plundered by various jocks, space is always at a premium, I’ve only scratched the surface here.

There’s a vast array of musicians on here far to many to name, buy the cd, read the liner notes and wallow in a very special album. Fish at Simply Soul has them, amongst other outlets.

Brian Goucher

Various ‘The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues’ LP/CD/DIG (Rough Guide Network) 4/5

From humble origins and more general compilations during the early 1990s, the Rough Guide to music series has developed its own momentum and grown into a far more specialised and, ultimately, more interesting set of to the roots of world music. This ongoing sub-series on the blues has generated a good deal of interest, not least because blues aficionados now have the luxury of choosing between vinyl and CD formats.

The names are, to a certain extent, familiar, but with some fiendishly hard to find rarer examples of early blues included and thus this is a compilation that will appeal to neophyte and long-term devotee alike.

The excellent liner notes rightly point out that an artificial distinction was made by US record companies in the 1920s between black (African-American) and white music. In reality, the distinctions were far more nuanced with musicians borrowing from one another. A major plus of this anthology is that it demonstrates by placing seemingly disparate musical traditions together how country blues and country folk were inextricably linked and inter-connected. Thus we have examples here of Doc Boggs and Charlie Poole who would not normally be associated with the blues, but whose repertoire was diverse and the specific songs selected here would comfortably fit into any reasonable definition of the blues. The Hawaiian slide was highly influential and Jimmy Rodgers storytelling quality comes to the fore on, ‘Mule skinned blues (blues yodel #8)’ and let no-one tell you that the stretched out vocals have nothing whatsoever to do with the blues.

One aspect of traditional folk music is that it follows on from the European late 1700 tradition of ‘parlour’ guitar and it is fascinating to contemplate how, while the white middle classes would perform light classical on the guitar, in the United States this filtered down via the so-called ‘lower classes’ into folk music with a wider world roots sensibility. Examples here are of John Dilleshaw performing a ‘Spanish Fandango’, and even the opener, ‘Guitar Rag’ by Roy Harvey and Jess Johnson.

More conventional blues interpretations are to be found on Sam McGee’s ‘Buck Dancer’s Choice’, and this writer would willingly welcome the opportunity to listen to a good deal more of his excellent sound. Likewise, Clarence Green impresses on ‘Johnson City Blues’. At seventy-five minutes, the quality and quantity of music on offer is evenly distributed and makes for compelling listening.

Tim Stenhouse

Will Butterworth Quartet ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ (Jellymould Jazz) 3/5

Autumn brings forth a whole slew of new musicians with new narratives, but in the case of pianist Will Butterworth this is now his fifth release since debuting almost a decade ago. His latest quartet has been touring since late August and will perform various dates during mid-late September, including one of the hottest new venues, Zeffirelli’s in Ambleside (well relatively speaking and one that welcomes major jazz musicians such as Dave Holland and associates recently).

As with many of the current generation of jazz musicians, they combine elements of classical and jazz phrasing by virtue of their musical education and this latest recording by Butterworth strives to find the right balance between the two. It is important to stress that they are not mutually exclusive genres, but having said that, the music on this album actually works best when the drums are dispensed with altogether. The combination of piano and cello offers a gentle, refined and refreshing reading on the opener, ‘No Red Rose In All My Garden’. Equally enticing is the conversation between piano on repeated riff and alto saxophonist Seb Pipe on the title track, where there is a sudden shift to solo piano and bass from Nick Pins.

Full marks for the inventive use of titles and for the wonderfully evocative black and white photos that captures the band members in both the studio and in more relaxed mode. Just a tinkering with the musical balance should ensure this quartet are one to watch, especially in a live context.

Tim Stenhouse

Remaining tour dates:

Sun 17 September
Llandudno, 3rd Space The Great Orme Brewery, Builder Street LL30 1DR

Weds 20 September
Sheffield, Jazz at the Lescar, Sharrowvale Road S11 8ZF

Fri 22 September
Brighton, Jazz at the Verdict 159 Edward Street BN2 0JB

Sat 23 September
Ambleside, Zeffirellis, Compston Road LA22 9DJ,

Sun 24 September
Ashburton St Lawrence Chapel, St Lawrence Ln, TQ13 7DD

Mon 25 September
Appledore, North Devon Jazz Club, The Beaver Inn, Irsha Street EX39 1RY

Tues 26 September
St Ives Jazz Club,The Western Hotel, Gabriel Street TR26 2LU,

Weds 27 September
Cardiff, Dempseys @ The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place

Thurs 28 September
Poole, Sound Cellar, The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close BH15 1NE

Sun 12 November
London Jazz Festival, Zedels 20 Sherwood Street W1F 7ED

Yasuaki Shimizu ‘Music for Commercials – Made to Measure Vol. 12’ (Crammed Discs) 3/5

A much-anticipated re-issue and sought after original from the early days of Belgian label Crammed Discs, this is an example of how music can be composed and utilised for more commercial aims and it is by no means the first time this has happened. In the 1960s when the advertising industry was still in its embryonic stages, Blue Note jazz instrumental recordings by Herbie Hancock, ‘Maiden Voyage’, Lee Morgan, ‘The sidewinder’, and Horace Silver, ‘Song for my father’, all became pop chart hits after being linked to advertised products, and this is very much the raison d’être of this offering from Japanese composer and saxophonist, Yasuaki Shimizu. Sadly, jazz fans will not find much here since it is a representation of where 1980s synthesizer music was at, with a strong Parisian influence, since that is where the musician was resident. However, for a younger generation that harks for a more experimental side to 1980s synth-dominated music, this may just prove to be their nirvana and there is no doubting Shimizu’s skill at producing interesting pieces in a concise format. In general, the pieces are extremely short between one and two minutes on average.

The more esoteric listener/reader will probably be looking forward to other re-issues in the series, especially if albums by the likes of Fred Frith and Arto Lindsay are re-issued. Minimalist gatefold sleeve packaging in keeping with the 1980s ethos. Among others in the series are recordings by Hector Zazou and various film soundtracks.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Black Songs Matter’ (Ariwa) 4/5

Reggae has always had a strong socio-political ethos and represented those in society whose voices have not been heard, or been ignored. In the case of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign, young black males in particular have tended to be pigeon-holed and stereotyped. In their dealings with the police and criminal justice system, this has resulted in a disproportionately large number of incarcerations, perpetuating and worsening their condition, and ultimately resigning them needlessly to a life of criminality in order to survive. This when other alternatives are available, if only time and care is taken to deal with the specific needs of the youths and a recent parliamentary report has explicitly pointed out where the current system is going wrong. Neil Fraser, as a creative black man, is clearly sensitive and receptive to such issues and with this excellent compilation, that spans some twenty years of musical activity, has sought to attract attention to their plight, and how their struggles are mirrored elsewhere on the planet, from Kingston to Paris (where males of North African origin are the most discriminated group), to just about any town or city in the United States with a significant African-American presence.

A reprise of a 1970s roots classic by Wayne Wade, ‘Black Is Our Colour’, is a positive affirmation of blackness and this version has a lovely retro feel with sublime harmonies and this message is reinforced by Earl 16 on ‘Black Man’. Of course, Bunny Wailer cut arguably the finest example of with his mid-1970s album, ‘Blackheart Man’, though there are other worthy contenders. The commonality of conditions for youths is alluded to by U-Roy on ‘Ghetto Youths’, and their vulnerable status, while Big Youth expands the subject matter to debate the oppression of an entire continent with ‘Free Africa’.

Sometimes, it is the gentler sounding songs that carry the strongest message with a powerful punch and on this compilation, a cover of Deniece Williams’ opus, ‘Black Butterfly’, by Aisha, proves to be an uplifting lover’s rock inspired number with a metaphor that is most apt to convey the underlying message behind this anthology’s title. Carroll T is even more to the point with ‘SOS’, and the lyrics speak volumes, “Calling all mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. I’m sending out an SOS. Save our sons”.

An appropriately simple black cover with a clenched fist in solidarity sends out a powerful message of the music within and this does not disappoint. This will be of interest both to roots reggae fans and those passionate about seeking justice for the human condition more generally.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘A Ruff Guide to Ariwa Sounds’ (Ariwa) 3/5

A showcase of what the London-based Ariwa label are capable of, this handy sampler is an extension of the Mad Professor’s (aka Neil Fraser) Croydon living room to create his own label devoted to a subtle and personalised update on the classic roots idiom, with plenty of dub-soaked rhythms to accompany. Founded in 1979, Ariwa has gained a reputation for quality productions and has attracted some of Jamaica’s best, as well as championing the very best in black British talent. Mad Professor himself has been a major influence on musicians outside the realms of reggae in the more left-field arena of dance music and these include Gotan Project and Massive Attack, to name but two. A wonderful collaboration between U-Roy and Yabby You is a highlight with ‘I’m A Rastaman’, combining the righteous harmonies of the Yabby You production stable and the smoothest of DJ deliveries from Daddy U-Roy. The Congos lead singer, Cedric Congo, offers up an engaging roots number in, ‘Lightning And Thunder’, and elsewhere Big Youth, Luciano and Max Romeo prove that neo-roots music is still very much alive. Mad Professor’s own interest in black diasporan culture is illustrated on the instrumental, ‘Kunte Kinte’, with plenty of percussion, while his reaching out to other cultural music traditions and creating new and exciting fusions is evident on ‘Bengali Skank’. Women artists are invariably neglected in the world of reggae, but not on Ariwa where a rootsy ‘Works To Do’, by Queen Omega and Aish’s ‘Creator’, not forgetting Redhead, are fine examples of a distinctive female interpretation.

Ideally, one would have liked a 2-CD sampler to better reflect the whole gamut of artists that have recorded on the label and there are some significant names missing here from Jah Shaka (deserving of his own 2-CD anthology) through to the Twinkle Brothers and not forgetting Johnny Clarke. Otherwise, a useful introduction to the label.

Tim Stenhouse

Neil Ardley & The New Jazz Orchestra ‘On The Radio: BBC Sessions 1971’ (Dusk Fire) 4/5

Arguably the finest British jazz composer of his generation, Neil Ardley has been re-discovered by a whole new generation of listeners thanks to the pioneering efforts of the indie label Dusk Fire and this is the third instalment, following on from his finest work, ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’ from 1968, and the lesser known ‘Camden ’70’.

This recently unearthed recording originates from the BBC archives which are proving to be a mini treasure trove of cornucopias (does the BBC, for example, have the complete recordings of the late 1960s ‘Jazz Scene’ programme at their disposal? This might include live footage of Miles Davis from his November 1969 concert(s) at Ronnie Scott’s as well as the Mary Williams Trio at the same venue) and, while not on a par with the 1968 album, it is superior big band music all the same. Who other than Ardley would be ambitious enough to attempt interpreting a George Russell composition, ‘Stratusphunk’, which is the only group non-original. A personal favourite is the Mike Gibbs original, ‘Time Flowers’, augmented by strings, with the stunning use of flutes and larger brass ensemble, a fine trumpet solo, and yet still sounds contemporary with the use of electric guitar. Arguably, the strongest orchestral ensemble performance comes on the more sedate ‘Tanglewood ’67’, where the repetitive melody is re-emphasized and is closest to a more classical jazz big band sound, possibly inspired by the Gil Evans sound, though with a thoroughly modern twist that is an Ardley trademark. Here a subdued trumpet solo from, perhaps, Ian Carr, precedes a gorgeous soprano saxophone.

Challenging material, yet expertly delivered from a consummate composer and arranger, and performed by the very pinnacle of British jazz talent including Harry Beckett, Ian Carr, guitarist Dave Clempson, bassist Jeff Clyne, brass including Barbara Thompson and Mike Gibbs. On a few numbers, Humphrey Lyttleton introduces with his usual finesse and panache, which only enriches the listening experience. More of the BBC archives, please!

Tim Stenhouse

Christian Balvig, Frederick Bülow, Adrian Christensen ‘Associated With Water’ (AMP) 3/5

Scandinavian piano trios have become increasingly prominent in European jazz over the last twenty plus years, and this latest offering from Denmark, with Balvig in the central role of pianist, offers a good deal of promise. Denmark is a low-lying land surrounded by water and thus there is a natural preoccupation with water. This is the underlying inspiration for the album. The title track is actually quite bleak in tone, but reflective nonetheless and retains a dreamlike quality in spite of the faintest touch of the avant-garde and that is, perhaps, an aspect of their performance that they could develop further. The pieces as a whole are relatively short, with only two out of the eleven original trio compositions exceeding four minutes. Conciseness is a virtue, but in this case the compositions would benefit from a tad more depth, and this will probably come naturally as the trio become more confident in the studio and in live performance. By far the longest number is ‘Fictitious Conversations’, and this writer immediately warmed to the empathetic rapport between the trio members here and this is one example where lyrical simplicity and improvisational conversations come together in harmony. A staccato stop-start intro greets the listener on ‘Motor Neurons’, that thereafter slips into a more sedate tempo.

Folk-based or inspired pieces are a forte of Scandinavian piano trios going way back to the 1960s and this may just be a source that this new trio can draw upon in future album releases. While ‘Swedish’ displays some nifty brush work and a delicate piano solo intro, it is ‘Bulgaria’ that stands out with its Satie-esque beginning, lovely floating piano throughout and shuffling drum rhythms. Classical influences are apparent with both Debussy and Satie and twentieth century Romantic piano playing a leading role, while in terms of piano trios Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau spring to mind. Inventive bass and drums combine on the melodically repetitive ‘Disturbingly Pure’, with the most straightforward of piano motifs. A trio to chart the progress of in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

travelling the spaceways since 1993