By the beginning of the 1970s, soul singer Wilson Pickett was moving with the times and he scored a major success with his final Atlantic recording, ‘In Philadelphia’, that was a marked departure in style from the grittier southern recorded albums. The then newly ascending Philly sound was in its infancy and a single ‘Engine number nine’ shot up the charts. This handy anthology neatly takes up the story where Pickett’s Atlantic contract finished and a new chapter in his career with RCA began. Wilson Pickett was already an established artist and consequently there was little need to re-brand him since he had an immediately recognisable voice and overall sound.
The first album for RCA was ‘Mr Magic’ and while the title track was a minor hit, as a whole there was something a little missing of the magic that his Atlantic albums captured in abundance. However, the second album, recorded in Nashville in 1973, was ‘Miz Lena’s boy’ and was co-produced by the singer and Brad Shapiro. It retains some of the rougher edge to Pickett’s previous work and there is certainly an old school feel to ‘Soft soul boogie woogie’ with blues-inflected electric piano and the use of horns. Why break a winning formula when it attracted attention in the past? Pickett was always an excellent chooser of cover material and in this case ‘Help me through the night’ had been a recent chart entry for Kris Kristofferson and Pickett transforms the number into an uptempo soulful ditty. A tasteful mid-tempo song, ‘Is your love live better’, is taken at a leisurely tempo while the Stax-influenced, ‘Take a close look at the woman you’re with’, was a top forty entry in the R & B charts.
During the early 1970s Wilson Pickett’s voice was still in its prime and the 1974 album, ‘Pickett in the Pocket’, saw him return to Muscle Shoals. The Memphis Horns were on board for stabbing horn accompaniment and the classy female background vocals were supplied by none other than Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes. This is arguably the strongest album of all the RCA records and it is one that most logically follows on from the Atlantic era. A storming mid-tempo southern soul opener was penned by singer-songwriter George Jackson and is a winner in every department with some tasty piano rounding off the pleasurable experience. The deep soul ambiance continues on a gently uplifting ballad in Isn’t that so’ and there is something of a blues feel to ‘I was too nice’, co-written by Pickett and Dave Crawford, the latter of whom would play a vital role in Candi Staton’s career in the mid-1970s. Only the slightly dated neo-Stax sound of ‘Don’t pass me by’ sounds a trifle passé in comparison to the smoother soul sound that was permeating the United States from the Philadelphia International staple. In 1974 Pickett recorded a ‘Live in Japan’ double album that reprised some of old material and fused it with the new. Sadly this album is not contained within and that is pity. By 1975 Wilson Pickett was primarily associated with a previous era and the advent of disco made his old-school soul seem somewhat behind the times. A change of musical direction arrived with ‘Joint me and let’s be free’ and in truth it confused long-term fans and did not attract a substantial number of new ones. Funk producer Yusuf Rahman was recruited, but the result is not especially convincing to these ears in comparison to rivals of the stature of Earth-Wind and Fire, the Ohio Players and even veterans the Isley Brothers who had evolved their distinctive sound. It works best on the ballads and the blues influenced numbers with a cover of a Paul Butterfield tune, ‘Take your pleasure where you find it’, the pick of the bunch among the uptempo songs and a killer bass line throughout. An aching ballad of some distinction comes in the shape of ‘What good is a lie’ and with fine female background vocals and horns, this was a vintage blast from the past. It should have been a hit single, but in fact no single was ever released off the album, a sure sign that the record company had lost faith in their singer. To give some idea of how this material compared with his mid-late 1960s classics, one only has to listen carefully to ‘Smokin’ in the United Nations’, a pretty decent driving number, yet not nearly as strong in the horns department and, recorded in L.A, just a little too on the smooth side for Pickett’s trademark delivery. Wilson Pickett would pass away aged just sixty-four in 2006. While his Atlantic sides will remain the definitive era in his career, these RCA albums as a whole stand the test of time pretty well and any fan of Pickett or indeed quality soul music will want to hear them.
“At Dusk” is a collaboration between Southern Californian native Brian Ellis and South Carolina ambient producer Brian Granger – and it’s a little gem of an album. It’s trippy, ambient and psychedelic sound takes the listener back to the heyday of an early 70’s analogue, vintage warmth and spaced-out loveliness. The two offbeat musicians tune in, zone out, and with the use of acoustic guitars, percussion, flutes and vintage synths create their own unique world of sound that drifts effortlessly into the listener’s ears. The resulting set of tunes are of a ghostly, meditative nature, mellow and mysterious.
“At Dusk” is a tale of two Brians: Brian Ellis is a producer and multi-musician from Escondido. He plays guitar in the progrock band Astra, saxophone for Psicomagia and keys in the excellent, ever-adventuring Brian Ellis Group. Brian Granger is a musician, producer and record label owner from Columbia, South Carolina. His massive output over the years has included his work as Milieu and Coppice Halifax. Their collaboration here is a kaleidoscopic work of rare intensity. At times serene and life affirming, at other times dark and edgy, the two Brians share an interconnected, at times intergalactic understanding. Their music sounds rooted in the British folk scene of the late 60’s, with the alluring textures and colours of early 70’s psychedelia thrown in for good measure. I would hasten to add though, there is nothing hastily thrown together about this album. “At Dusk” is a carefully crafted work of art, one that stirs the soul with a spiritual like grace.
As a guitarist myself, I can really appreciate the sound and feel of this recording. Lovely open tunings truly radiate and glow. The synth sounds are beautifully played and thoughtfully mixed with other instruments to give an earthy, lush sound that personifies everything good about a musical (not so?) bygone era. I remember well (albeit around 25 years ago), playing around with my Fostex 4 Track Tape Recorder- attempting to stretch the boundaries by bouncing tracks down and trying out new looped sounds from a reel to reel echo machine. Double tracking guitar parts, inventing brave new sounds in my head that my skill as a guitarist could never quite achieve. This is the album I would have loved to have made. There’s a timelessness to this music, and although it may sound easy to achieve, it’s not. Many have tried similar projects, but this one stands alone as a majestic masterpiece.
There are 10 tracks on the album, though to separate them out would be the wrong thing to do. Each tune has its own ambience but together the pieces flow like a river, sometimes slow and lazy, sometimes crashing with carefree abandon. From the gentile opening of the title track, through to the ethereal sounds of the closing track “Night Beach”, we are taken on a journey through time and space, evoking thoughts of a rural American long-lost landscape, with its less travelled byroads leading to lost love and abstract acquaintances along the way. This is undoubtedly one of those albums that shifts in mood depending on the circumstances it is played in. When all is said and done, “At Dusk” is a gorgeous recording that needs to be listened to with an open mind and an open heart. Let the music in and allow the sumptuous sounds to speak for themselves.
Nine original compositions make up Dutch pianist Rogier Telderman’s debut recording with his trio. Featuring Guus Bakker on bass, and Tuur Moens on drums, the threesome have produced a very fine album indeed. “Contours” is awash with some excellent writing from Telderman, married with first rate performances from all involved. There is a quiet, untroubled beauty to this album, with the pianist creating melodic and lyrical themes that gently twist and turn their way throughout the recording. Telderman is a storyteller at heart, and it is with a romantic, emotive bent that he spins these nine mesmerising tales for the trio to perform.
My initial thoughts as “Goodbye Monsieur Belkin” begins the album, are that Telderman has that same clarity and melodic simplicity as Brad Mehldau. There is a touching minimalism to this tune, a focus that is clear throughout the entire album. Thoughtful, lovely chord sequences stir the emotions as the song builds – somewhat EST style – allowing for the coherent trio to explore the feel of the tune itself. One could say that these are mood pieces, and the trio might have a solid jazz ethic at its core, but there are certainly a mixture of influences shining through, from classical to ambient to rock. “Minor Conspiracy” is built upon a great bass line from Bakker, with Telderman adding a light and deft touch with the uplifting melody. There’s nothing “out there” and there’s no pushing of musical boundaries here, but as on tracks like “Sketch” and “Strange Place” it is the lyrical beauty which grabs hold of the listener – gently at first – then more tightly as the interplay between the trio works it’s magic. “Song for AC” is more straight ahead jazz, with Moens on top form on the kit. As the album develops with more and more intelligently played themes, Telderman proves himself to be an incisive teller of tales. On “Slippers” there is a sense of strength and purpose that lifts the music to a high level, and the closing track “Waltz” will have a place in my heart for some time to come.
A very good debut from a very promising trio, “Contours” was released earlier this year and the trio have spent much of 2015 touring the Netherlands and Europe. Between April and May 2016 the trio will embark on a Nationwide tour, for which Telderman has been composing new tunes. Their live sound is said to be more raw and open – allowing the trio to explore the tunes in more depth. One to look out for next year.
Saxophone player Sean Khan has been a regular fixture on the London jazz scene since the 1990s, as previously a member of SK Radicals, a broken beat/nu jazz outfit that released numerous albums and singles on People and Freestyle Records. But here, Khan releases his second solo album, Muriel, an ode to his mother who recently passed away with what is mainly a return to his more traditional jazz roots – but with a twist.
This 12-track set comprises of nine original compositions created by his four-piece band of sax, piano/keys, drums and upright bass, plus the inclusion of three previously released 12” single remixes. Starting with the original cuts, five of these are instrumentals, including ‘Tranes Shadow’, a discerning musical poem to Khan’s musical hero Coltrane, with its time signature changes and brisk saxophone and piano solos, and ‘Dance For Little Emily’, an infectious and melodic piece with the sax and piano sections working well together. ‘Murial’ is obviously a more contemplative number, with its fluid sax runs, effortless Fender Rhodes meanderings and steady rhythm section.
Three tracks have full vocal recordings, including ‘Things To Say’ with the soulful Diana Martinez, ‘Sister Soul’ featuring the graceful Sabrina Malheiros from Brazil and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ with London legend Omar, which was an obvious single choice for the project. The addition of the vocal tracks does propel this set outside of the conventional jazz boundaries and will help it appeal to a broader audience, but yet, still fulfill the needs of regular jazz listeners.
As mentioned, three remixes are also added to the album, including 4Hero’s remix of ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ by Marc Mac with his infectious samba influenced mix, Ben Hauke’s choppy remix of ‘Things to Say’, which replaced most of the original instrumentation for some supplementary electronic textures, and finally, the ‘Samba For Florence’ remix by Henry Wu, with its rimshot friendly drum pattern and jumpy synth chords.
This is an album that is difficult to dislike. Straight jazz fans get their fill of excellent jazz musicianship, yet listeners of a more contemporary outlook will enjoy the vocal tracks and remixes. Thus, the album does display Sean Khan’s versatility as a jazz musician and composer and will hopefully lead to more opportunities for this group to perform live. And again, Joe Davis’s Far Out Records has pitched the album perfectly to satisfy both creative and economic needs.
Genre helps to categorise music but it also restricts and limits. Artists belonging to a musical genre are offered the luxury of possessing a simpler method to market their creations. But art generally not considered to fit into a specific and definable genre can be difficult to promote and exploit commercially.
Bastien Keb’s debut album, Dinking in the Shadows of Zizou, is an example of a musician stepping out of the boundaries and confines offered by usual musical classifications. An album named after a retired French footballer (Zinedine Zidane), created by a native of Leamington Spa and possessing numerous musical and cultural reference points including: jazz, soul, hip hop, experimental, avant-garde, ambient, electronica, afro beat, movie scores and funk, does not seem to be an obvious example of a high quality release, but this is one of the most interesting and absorbing albums of 2015.
Warwickshire-based, multi-instrumentalist and TV music composer, Bastien Keb leaps from one musical idea to another, but with confidence and panache. Gritty one moment and opulent the next, Dinking in the Shadows of Zizou reels in the listener with its textured and dynamic soundscapes, groove riddled rhythms, fascinating synth parts and curious structures and arrangements. Of the 11 tracks, seven have vocals, but I would be false in saying that they are full vocal tracks per se, as some tend to use vocals briefly and not in the usual verse/chorus manner.
Other instrumentation includes guitars, as Bastien is an accomplished guitarist, acoustic drums, percussion, flute, trumpet and other instruments including some choppy bell and glass-like samples. The keyboard, synthesiser and organ touches are also compelling. But overall, the album does possess a soulful quality, without it being an actual soul record. Nonetheless, ‘Down River’ could be the new release by Jordan Rakei.
Forward thinking UK independent label One-Handed Music, home also to Mo Kolours and Paul White, have to be commended for releasing an album that doesn’t quite fit into a precise aesthetic, but this is label’s strongest release to date.
Criticisms – well, some tracks are rather short and although they could be used as cues within a soundtrack, four tracks on the album are less than two minutes long. And although there is a vinyl release, only 300 copies were pressed – so hopefully a repress will be forthcoming to satisfy the needs of the vinyl collectors.
So for a debut release, this is a fantastic start to a hopefully fruitful career and I look forward to hearing more from Bastien in the future.
4th Coming were a LA-based group that released a series of singles from 1969–1974, who consisted of local musicians that had previously worked with Charles Wright’s Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band and other local artists. At the core of the band were songwriters Hank Porter and J.S. Williams, together with sometimes member and guitarist John Greek and keyboard player Yusuf Rahman, with their output predominantly released on Alpha Records, a Hollywood label run by producer Al Firth.
This album is essentially the complete discography of 4th Coming including two songs by Impact – who were a rebranded version of 4th Coming, with the collection featuring a mix of their pretty obscure 45-only releases, which is what will attract most listeners, plus a couple of unreleased cuts. So unless you’re an avid vinyl collector wishing to track down the original and expensive 7” singles, this will be the only alternative to owning all these songs.
Sonically, the compilation is a mix of raw, downtempo LA funk and eccentric deep soul, with a hint of psychedelia thrown in. So this isn’t your straight-ahead 70s soul/funk album. It also includes two additional unreleased pieces, ‘Heaven & Earth’ and ‘Oh Love’, that both have a country influence. Yes, I do mean ‘country’ as in the music style, with ‘Heaven & Earth’ with its twangy guitar and washboard shuffle particularly belonging to that genre.
But fundamentally, music lovers will be drawn to its loose West Coast soul and funk temperament, including personal favourites ‘Cruising Central Ave’, a sleazy instrumental funk groove, the slightly trippy ‘Come to the Feast’ and the raw soul power of ‘Don’t Let Him Take Away Your Mind’. Sample fiends will also enjoy ‘You Don’t Stand a Chance’, in both part 1 and part 2 forms, with it’s heavy drum break laden intro and bluesy guitar riffs.
Long Beach funk favourites War are on obvious influence here, and you can also hear some psychedelic touches of early Parliament records. So these layers and textures offer a slight alternative to the standard funk stylings of most California-based groups.
Now-Again Records head honcho Eothen Alapatt aka Egon, has always had a great ear for finding and curating old, forgotten gems of this nature and this is no exception. Additionally, the packaging is exceptional and the double vinyl pressing as usual from Now-Again is of high quality. Unfortunately, there is only one surviving member of 4th Coming, principal songwriter Hank Porter, but hopefully this release will shine a spotlight on this bygone era of the Los Angeles funk/soul scene.
Ivory Coast reggae roots man Tiken Jah Fakoly has been endeavouring to break into the Anglophone market for a few years now and this all-English language project is firmly aimed at winning over reggae fans who might baulk at the idea of hearing roots reggae in French, or other languages than English. He covers a few classics along the way.
Of note is the attention to authentic roots reggae detail and here that means recording at Tuff Gong studios, Kingston, with Sly and Robbie providing the rock steady rhythm section and, among others, more top session musicians accompanying in Mikey Chung and Robbie Lyn. One of the strongest re-workings is a reggae take on Syl Johnson’s 1960s political anthem, ‘Is it because I’m black’, which back in the late 1970s Ken Boothe reworked to stunning effect. This time round the singer joins the leader here for a version that shifts up a gear from a gentle acoustic intro. Another guest, on this occasion Max Romeo, duets on his own original, ‘One step forward’, and this writer is especially fond of the subtle use of West African percussion and taken at a slightly slower tempo than the original. A reprise of Bob Marley’s ‘Get up stand up’ with Daddy U-Roy on toasting duties works a treat and Fakoly further sources the Marley back catalogue with a faithful interpretation of ‘Zimbabwe’. Elsewhere, Junior Byles’ epic ‘Fade away’ and Burning Spear’s ‘Slavery days’ are updated to good effect. Reggae from the African continent is not forgotten, however, and Tiken Jah Fakoly has a decent stab at another of his compatriots reggae anthems, Alpha Blondy’s 1980s classic, ‘Brigadier Sabari’. If Tiken Jah Fakoly does not score a hit with this album, there will be no excuses whatsoever for the English-speaking world of reggae. A solid homage to the roots era.
Soulstress Nicole Willis joins up once again with crack Finnish backing band the Soul Investigators for a sumptuous exploration of the rootsier side of soul and what really comes across are the subtle shadings of colour and there is nothing forced or artificial about the music on offer here. If anything, in comparison to previous releases, the tempo is a tad more downbeat than per usual. However, a strong contender for most compelling number is the uptempo ‘Paint me in a corner’ that has a distinctive ne-Motown feel and the catchiest of chorus hooks, and something that Al Green no less could have sung first time round. Fusing funk and jazz, the instrumental ‘Vulture’s prayer’ has a retro 1970s groove and with the jazzy accompaniment of vibes and flute, is another winner. Infectious and only marginally a fast-paced song, ‘Together we climb’ features a slight echo and prominent rhythm guitar with punchy brass. In fact the five piece reed section and equivalent five member rhythm section are to be commended for such an authentic sound. They are more Detroit, or Chicago than downtown Helsinki. For a trip down musical memory lane, the gently uplifting ‘One in a million’ hits the S-spot and is notable for some lovely collective horn work and juicy Hammond organ.
Nicole Willis has the slight look of a young 1970s Millie Jackson and if the music does not immediately grab you by the throat, then…
A fine follow-up to the excellent 2013 offering, ‘Tortured Soul‘.
An album that I sense may well have by-passed many, there is no date on the album but it sounds new – very new. My supplier sent me an email listing the album and this was nestling mid-way down the list. The name of Preston Glass as the producer got my attention big time too. Probably my most played album since it arrived in February, at times sounding so like the Delphonics, Stylistics in places, you know, those sugary sweet vocal groups from back in the day, yet on the excellent dancer “True Lies” he comes across as very R Kelly-ish, he possesses a very rich black soulful voice and on every track he leaves nothing behind, the ballads “Something”, “Gave” and “Pirate” are particular standouts. “Misconception” is a real grower, a subtle midtempo dancer which is so easy on the ear, the hook grabs you on your first play. I mentioned the dancer “True Lies”, I dropped it over at the Cambridge All-Dayer I attended in August and it packed the dance-floor, with everyone asking who it was.
The only downer is the fact it comes as a CDR and neither of my studio CD players will play it in its entirety, I had to use a stand alone ‘Bose’ player I have, I’ve contacted the label but got no reply, surprising really because the label makes some loud boasts about them bringing quality music to the masses, well I don’t think so, not in this flawed presentation, in 2015 it’s a strange way to present your project.
Just how good is it to have the silky dusky tones of Andre’ Lee back in circulation? I first got acquainted with this guy way back in 1997 when the superb “So Good” set landed, of which the epic dancer “Something about your loving” became a monster dance-floor destroyer, and it still gets spins today from those jocks in the know! Then I had to wait until 2008 for his “Straight from the heart” eleven-tracker and the quality continued with numerous songs getting radio spins, and so to today, with his latest album, “The Truth”. Once again the quality is still there, even if the production is a tad on the sparse side. He has never been about real instruments, synthesisers used professionally without erasing the soulfulness. The first three tracks are aimed at the dancers with “Right kind of woman” getting the replays here, a full-on romping southern soul dancer, “Im thinking bout us” is the first of the down-tempo tunes and the subject matter of which won’t win too many radio plays. “My Girl” is a busy bustling dancer which could have benefitted from some real horns, it’s an old school sound and another top vocal, a perfect radio tune. “Im that man” has a mid 80’s feel and it’s none the worse for that, a nice stepper that grows on you, with a further ballad and a good dancer the album closes out with a piece of nonsense, a remix of “Its going down” with a rapper Eric C who actually has nothing to say of any merit, we could have another great vocal to enthuse over, still 10 superb vocal tracks, I’me not complaining, great to have this voice back, that’s for sure.