29th Jul2014

Magic Sam ”Live at Avant Garde’ (Delmark) 4/5

by ukvibe

Magic-SamSinger and guitarist Magic Sam (real name Sam Maghett) cut some of the funkiest Chicago blues albums in the 1960s and is the author of the seminal ‘West Side Soul’ which has now become a term for describing that particular style of the Windy City’s blues and ‘Black Magic’ (both on Delmark) and has subsequently influenced countless musicians. However, Magic Sam was by no means a prolific artist in terms of the output of his recordings and a combination of his earlier Cobra and Chief sides alongside the pairing of aforementioned Delmark’s represent the zenith of Sam’s recorded legacy. All the more reason, then, to cheer the first ever issuing of a live recording from some forty-five years ago by blues aficionado and at the time young sound engineer and producer Jim Chame who has captured Magic Sam in his prime at small club in Milwaukee in June 1968, the folk-oriented Avant Garde venue, that was both a coffee house and poetry reading establishment and even an underground cinema. In this somewhat cosy hub of 1960s counter-culture, the adventurous and radical selection of music included the likes of the reverend Gary Davis, Skip James and Fred McDowell as well as groups from the folk revival movement such as the New Lost City Ramblers. However, the electrified sounds of Magic Sam and group was an altogether different kettle of fish and just a ninety mile derive away from Chicago the new sounds permeating that great musical city were transported into the rural heartland of middle America. A classic selection of the modern blues repertoire forms the playlist of that particular June evening and reveals a profound love and respect for other blues musicians of the era. A strong take on Otis Rush’s ‘All your love (I miss loving)’ is an obvious highlight as is the take on Willie Dixon’s evergreen ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’. Others will marvel at the interpretation of ‘I don’t want no woman’ which for many typifies the West Side soul sound to perfection. This writer is particularly fond of an alternative version to Lowell Fulsom’s ‘It’s all your fault baby’ and ‘Still a fool’ which Muddy Waters wrote. As the excellent sleeve notes by Chame indicate, these sides were recorded at a time when the pop charts were full of bland easy listening material with Herb Alpert topping the US hit parade with ‘The guy’s in love with you’ and consequently the terrific music contained within must have come across as something from another planet altogether, so vibrant are the underlying grooves. Overall, the sound quality is crisp and clean (bass could be a tad higher, but that would be splitting musical hairs) and perfectly acceptable with the intimacy of the show conveyed extremely well.

Tim Stenhouse

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26th Jul2014

Matthew Halsall and Gondwana Orchestra ‘When the world was one’ CD/2LP/Dig (Gondwana) 4/5

by ukvibe

Matthew-Halsall-The-Gondwana-Orchestra-When-The-World-Was-OneMancunian trumpeter and modal jazz champion Matthew Halsall returns with an album that places the emphasis very much on eastern musical horizons and the result is arguably his most harmonious recording thus far. The Gondwana Orchestra is made up of some familiar names, including long-time fellow modal maestro Nat Birchall on soprano and tenor saxophones and excels in his role of sideman, albeit one with a major role, Gavin Barras on acoustic bass, and Rachael Gladwin on harp. However, the reposing Japanese koto aound of player Keiko Kitamura is a very welcome addition to the ensemble and one that takes the overall sound in a slightly different direction. Likewise Lisa Mallett, who has regularly performed in world roots orchestras in the north-west, finds her natural spiritual home here with some lovely Indian bansuri flute playing that Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia would heartily approve of. Factor in drummer Luke Flowers who has been a regular member of the Cinematic Orchestra and you have a new formation that takes Halsall slightly away from the 1960s modal musings from which he is best known at this stage in his career and into more exploratory territory. One of this writer’s favourite pieces is the delicate number ‘A far way place’ with some fine bansuri flute from Mallett in tandem with the koto and this over a repetitive riff and sensitive use of percussion. Travelling in Japan has for Matthew Halsall served as the inspiration for ‘Kiyomizu-Dera’ where the trio of flute, harp and koto combine to marvellous effect and create a floating musical ambience par excellence. Of note is the inventive use of bass which sometimes sounds akin to a trombone. It should be stated that Halsall the composer is to the fore on this album while the trumpeter takes a more secondary role in the overall scheme of things. However, on the deeply melodic ‘Falling water’ where Birchall performs beautifully on soprano, after quiet a reflective passage including harp accompaniment, Halsall finally comes in for a restrained solo. For a welcome touch of variety. the mid-up tempo modal piece ‘Patterns’ provides a lovely contrast between flute and soprano saxophone and ‘Sagano bamboo forest’ is a soprano-led number with modal flavours. If here Japan serves as the thrilling backdrop to this recording, then Matthew Halsall should seriously consider devoting future albums to other parts of southern Asia including the Indian sub-continent.

Tim Stenhouse

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25th Jul2014

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Enjoy the View’ (Blue Note) 4/5

by ukvibe

Bobby-HutchersonAs the legendary Blue Note celebrates seventy-five years of existence with a re-activated new and back catalogue under the tutelage of musician/producer Don Was, one of the label’s prodigal sons returns to the fold after some thirty-five years away. Vibist Bobby Hutcherson returns with an album that harks back to the mid-1960s albums when he recorded with the likes of Larry Young, Grant Green and Elvin Jones and were anything but predictable, with a gentle nod to the avant-garde. If you thought that organ combos were restricted to the soul-jazz idiom and somewhat formulaic in nature, then think again for there are some harder hitting grooves on this new recording and the pairing of Bobby Hutcherson with saxophonist David Sanborn is a truly inspired one and should definitely be extended to future collaborations. Ably assisting proceedings are Hammond B organist Joey de Francesco and drummer Billy Hart who is ever inventive with subtle polyrhythms throughout. A reworked take on Hutcherson’s ‘Montara’ is a real breath of fresh air and whereas the original was a languid, laid back Latin percussive number, the new version is altogether more fiery with strong saxophone work from Sanborn and excellent comping from de Francesco.

Bobby Hutcherson almost single-handedly re-invented the context in which the jazz vibraphone could be performed and was present on some of the seminal ‘new thing’ recordings such as Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch’, Jackie Mclean’s ‘Destination Out’ and ‘Action, Action, Action’, and Andrew Hill’s ‘Judgement’ just some of the classic mid-1960s albums he cut as a sideman for Blue Note. A recent BGP re-issue under the leadership of long-term collaborator Harold Land, ‘Chroma’ (1971) reveals that even into the early 1970s Hutcherson was still pushing back the boundaries, though by the mid-1970s and the domination of jazz-fusion and jazz-rock, his sound was becoming increasingly mellow to suit the times. More recently, Hutcherson has enjoyed something of a revival in interest and the well received tribute to the music of John Coltrane on ‘Wise One’ (Kind of Blue, 2009) and an earlier set of standards on ‘For Sentimental Reasons (Kind of Blue, 2007) were an indication that the vibist was most definitely back in town and indeed fully rejuvenated with life. Of the three Hutcherson originals, ‘Hey Harold’ stands out as both the most challenging and with the funky back drop as an additional attraction. A truly liberated Sanborn shines here and his playing throughout is inspired while an expansive Hutcherson solo retains the listener’s attention while de Francecso lays down some distinctly Larry Young influenced organ licks. By contrast ‘Teddy’ is a mid-tempo burner that features Sanborn at his most lyrical while the haunting closer ‘You’ allows both de Francecso and Hutcherson the opportunity to comp in unison and then take extended solos while Sanborn is given full reign to explore. A real return to form, then, for the vibist.

Tim Stenhouse

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17th Jul2014

Lili Boniche ‘Trésors de la musique judéo-arabe’ (World Village) 4/5

by ukvibe

Lili-BonicheFranco-Algerian music well before Rai emerged is little known in the UK and so the superlative ‘Anthologie’ of male singer Lili Boniche was a major treat when it surfaced last December. This is in effect a follow up of sorts (Boniche passed away a few years ago and his music has been resurrected thanks to the efforts of his daughter who owns the master tapes). The majority of songs on this new compilation date from Lili Boniche’s classic period between 1958 and 1960 with some extra bonus songs dating from 1978. Once again the music conjurs up at once the smell and very essence of the Mediterranean with a delightful Latin undercurrent that may come as a surprise to some, but not to those who lived through the period. If North African music had an equivalent figure to Ibrahim Ferrer of the Buena Vistas, then Lili Boniche might just be that singer. Emotive strings and French vocal delivery are a feature of ‘Alger Alger’ while on the opener, ‘Ana el owerka’ there are hints of tango. An especially recognisable Latin riff can be heard on ‘Bambino’ and it is a reprise of a famous Perez Prado composition that enjoyed renewed attention and success when it became the theme tune to an advert for quintessential Irish beer in recent years. Here the tempo is far more relaxed than on the somewhat manic Big Band Latino original from Prado. The interweaving of styles is best illustrated on ‘Golo le fene’ where a stunning eastern-flavoured piano solo sits side by side with a violin solo and deeply evocative vocals, and consequently the listener is immediately transported to the Maghreb. Quite simply, the magic of the music of Lili Boniche is that he succeeds in bringing back to life a bygone era that has been largely ignored and even repressed, with a love both of Arabic music and Arabo-Andalusian culture more generally and for the listener that means a real treat is in store.

Tim Stenhouse

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16th Jul2014

Cumbia All Stars ‘Tigres en fuga’ (World Village) 4/5

by ukvibe

Cumbia-All-StarsIf the Buena Vista parallel in terms of old veterans reuniting is all too obvious, then that is where the comparison ends. Cumbia originated in Colombia and in recent years its rich musical legacy has been re-examined with a whole slew of re-issues including those on the prestigious Discos Fuentes label. However, Peru’s own take on the cumbia genre has been little chronicled outside of Latin America and this is why this brand new recording is such a treat. In the 1970s Peruvian musicians began performing their own take on the Colombian original sound and cumbia with a distinctive Peruvian twist that is now regarded a national musical genre in its own right. As the inner sleeve notes indicate, this is a trip back to the roots of psychedelic cumbia and in practice this means that the horns that normally predominate in the Colombian version are replaced here by guitars and the biggest compliment one can pay to the Cumbia All Stars is that you do not miss at all the sound of the reed instruments because there is so much to appreciate in the intricate guitar work. Instrumentals such as the opener ‘Lobos al Escape’ immediately hit a bubbling groove with the unusual use of wah-wah guitar for cumbia and this gives the album as a whole something of a central African flavour with 1970s Congolese guitar bands such as Zaiko Langa Langa quite possibly influencing the All Stars. Strong collective vocals and some exquisite guitar soloing greet the listener on ‘Quiero que amanezca’ and on the riff driven ‘La fiesta de la cumbia’ where there is a lovely contrast between, on the one hand, the rustic feel to the vocals and on the other, the excellent sound quality of the instrumentation. A more traditional Colombian-style tempo of cumbia is adopted on ‘La primavera triste’, yet even here the guitar work sounds like no previous cumbia you have heard. The combination of vocal and instrumental numbers adds some welcome variety and ‘Caballito de 7 colores’ is a strong uptempo instrumental. The Cumbia All Stars will be performing during July and August at various dates in Europe including on 25 August two concerts in London, the August street festival in the morning, and the Forge at Camden in the evening.

Tim Stenhouse

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15th Jul2014

Stan Getz ‘Round Midnight in Paris’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

by ukvibe

Stan-GetzFormerly only available as an expensive import, this excellent value CD groups together three separate live sessions from Paris, all dating from 1958, with the added bonus of dates in Denmark and Germany, and, judging by the quality of the sound recording, are possibly radio broadcasts of the era. The Paris concerts form the majority of this near seventy-five minute CD and feature a line up of the cream of French jazz musicians with Martial Solal and René Urtreger alternating on piano duties, Pierre Michelot features on bass (replaced on two numbers by Jean-Marie Ingrand) with long-term expatriate Kenny Clarke on the drums and fellow countryman and guitarist Jimmy Gourley participating on several tracks. Getz was a fully matured musician by this time, having passed his thirtieth birthday a year earlier, and his sound is instantly recognisable. A classic selection of jazz standards and the Great American Songbook includes some old favourites that Getz would return to subsequently throughout the decades. They include a sumptuous rendition of ‘East of the Sun’ and a melodic take on ‘Dear old Stockholm’, the latter featuring some delicate guitar licks from Gourley. Europe was in fact a good place for Stan Getz to be and in the mid-1950 served as an escape from his drug addiction, staying for a period in Scandinavia. In the inner sleeve notes which provide a useful biography of Getz in the mid-late 1950s, reference is made to a Downbeat article from 1960 which explained that Getz, like many American expatriate musicians, found more time to develop their craft when sojourning in Europe and were consequently free of other pressure back home. A spine-chilling and emotional interpretation of ‘Round Midnight’ showcased Getz’s ability to milk a ballad for all it’s worth, while for some thrilling contrast his love of be-bop comes shining through on a slightly less frenetic version of Tadd Dameron’s ‘Lady Bird’ and a fascinating take on ‘Cherokee’ which was virtually a signature tune for Charlie Parker. Rounding off matters with a jovial ‘Get Happy’, Stan Getz was just about to hit his prime and this fine effort is a marvellous document of the tenorist in a live setting.

Tim Stenhouse

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14th Jul2014

Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra ‘Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra’ (Far Out) 4/5

by ukvibe

Monster-Disco-OrchestraAs part of the twentieth celebration of the Brazilian specialist Far Out label of London, comes this terrific double CD of new material. A different approach to simply rehashing the old classics was adopted and this is one potentially risky endeavour that has paid off handsomely for Joe Davis who is to be congratulated, not only for the production and co-writing duties, but for managing to survive and indeed thrive for so long in an increasingly uncertain music business while sticking to his principles. What we have here is a thoroughly Brazilian take on the disco era which is both authentically retro, yet fresh and offering new perspectives on the genre. Enlisting a stellar cast of some of the top sessions musicians in Rio where the music was recorded (and later mixed in London, giving the overall sound a decidedly funky feel) and including two of Azymuth’s founding members, the late José Roberto Bertrami and bassist Alex Malheiros, there is a strong jazz undercurrent throughout both in the subtle use of keyboard changes and the high calibre instrumental work. Lead vocals are shared between Marcina Arnold and Mia Mendes and are predominantly in English, though wordless scatting is showcased on some numbers. It is Arnold who takes the lead on the fine opener ‘Mystery’ which evokes the 1970s jazz-funk period to perfection and Brazilian cult musician Arthur Verocai is featured here, part of FOMDO. A semi-instrumental, ‘The Last Carnival’, is a favourite of this writer and has some typically Azymuth-esque ingredients with bubbling bass line and adding wordless vocals and punch horns. It is a winner of a tune as is the classic disco intro to ‘Keep believing (can you feel it)’ with joint lead female vocals. Strings and rhythm guitar are pervasive on ‘Disco Supreme’ with a riff that seems to be a homage to Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ and once again FOMDO and Arthur Verocai feature while syndrums make their appearance on the keyboard-laden ‘Freefall’ which was co-written between Bertrami and Davis. A second CD updates the sound with some of the current crop of remixers and among these John Morales who offers a typically danceable M &M mix to ‘Mystery’ and Theo Parrish will be familiar to readers.

Tim Stenhouse

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13th Jul2014

Various ‘Far Out Presents Friends from Rio Project 2014′ (Far Out) 3/5

by ukvibe

Friends-From-Rio-2014An interesting project from the UK’s specialist Brazilian label in new and old music that makes sense and does precisely what it says on the tin. Bring together some of the top session musicians, record the music in a variety of genres to reflect the diversity of Brazilian music, and into the bargain give proceedings a funkier edge with the production talents of one Daniel Maunick. If the results are not overly spectacular, they are nonetheless solid and hint towards an early 1980s musical sensibility. This is illustrated on the instrumental ‘Anthemia’ which has a jazz-funk feel à la Azymuth from their Milestone albums period and the syndrums and horns conjur up the 1980s to perfection while ‘Aguai’ has a cuica drum intro and sensitive keyboards that once again hark back to thirty-something years ago. Multi-percussionist Robertinho Silva is on hand and excels on ‘Batucada Bidu’ on which he is the featured musician and this is certainly an authentic samba guaranteed to liven up any day. More contemporary beats are covered on ‘Vam’ Bora’ with vocals by Sabrina Malheiros and this could be described as a subtle electro-bossa tune that is ideal for some dancefloor action and also features a lovely flute solo. Equally impressive are the wordless scat vocals from Denise Pinaud on ‘Veneno’ with a fender-led intro. Not everything works quite as well. A somewhat tame rendition of ‘Mas que nada’ would have been better left in the studio and the vocals on ‘Garota’ are slightly below par. Otherwise, this is very much a modern day take on the Brazilian sound with hints of the past and no better an example can be found on ‘Só nesta a porta se abrio’ with vocals from Carlos Dafé and a terrific instrumental breakdown.

Tim Stenhouse

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12th Jul2014

Ashford and Simpson ‘High Rise’ (BBR/Cherry Red) 3/5

by ukvibe

Ashford-and-SimpsonSinger-songwriter duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson personified all that was good about Motown and penned some of the most endearing hits for other artists including Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and the Supremes with ‘You’re all I need to get by’, ‘Remember me’ and of course ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’. By the mid-1970s Simpson had recorded a brace of albums in her own right, but as a duo it was from the mid-1970s that they really took off with the sensational ‘Bourgie Bourgie’, ‘Over and Over’, ‘Flashback’, ‘It seems to hang on’ and ‘Found a cure’ all enjoying chart sucess between 1977 and 1979. They even managed to fit in more production duties, producing the well received ‘Boss’ album for Diana Ross that included the dancefloor anthem of the title track. By 1983, Ashford and Simpson were simply among the most respected of singer-songwriters and this is reflected in the top notch backing musicians who graced the studios of L.A. While not an out and out classic in the vein of the prime mid-late 1970s period, ‘High Rise’ is significant in that it directly preceded what would turn out to be the biggest hit of their own singing careers with 1984′s ‘Solid’, eclipsing even their disco era successes. The sweet harmonies that characterised the duo’s vocal prowess are in evidence on the uplifting ‘Side Effect’ while club land would warm to the funk-tinged bass of ‘It’s much deeper’. However, it is arguably the ballads that are strongest of all and ‘I’m not that tough’ and especially ‘My kinda’ pick me up’ showcase not only their songwriting talents, but equally their ability to share lead vocals within a given song. As a bonus, the 12″ version of the title track is coupled with an M & M instrumental mix and the vocal version was a minor R & B hit, securing a place just outside the top ten in the US. Global success with ‘Solid’ a year or so later was just around the corner and this album witnesses Ashford and Simpson in a temporary in-between period veering towards a more pop sensibility that would find its zenith with the ‘Solid’ single and album.

Tim Stenhouse

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11th Jul2014

Carol Williams ‘Lectric Lady’ (BBR/Cherry Red) 4/5

by ukvibe

Carol-WilliamsRewind to 1976 when the disco revolution was then in full swing. Factor in Philadelphia’s top soul orchestra, MFSB, rebranded the Salsoul Orchestra, and add one soulful vocalist in Carol Williams who had enjoyed a previous career in the 1960s as lead singer for groups such as the Geminis and Fantasia. For a final coup de grâce factor in the considerable arranging, conducting and production talents of one Vince Montana Jr. and you have a potentially interesting project well underway. So it proved with the release of ‘Lectric Lady’. The killer track that has been sampled subsequently and was a hit all over again when Spillers’ ‘Groovejet’ climbed the pop charts is of course ‘Love is you’ which is quite simply a classic disco anthem and here you have the original album version, the extended 12″ Tom Moulton remix and a shorter single companion. A left-field contender is ‘Rattlesnake’ which actually differs from the rest of the album in that it was produced, not by Montana, but by Herb Rooney and the vocals were therefore laid down in New York rather than Philadelphia and it is a real sleeper of a tune that grows with repeated listens. However, this album is primarily about dancefloor action and a second slice of the cake comes in a reprise of the standard ‘More’ which is also included here in both album and 12″ formats. Based on the classic instrumental soundtrack version on the 1962 film ‘Mondo Cane’, the track originally became a top ten hit in 1963 for jazz trombonist Kai Windig and has been covered by no less than ol’ blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Who would have thought that thirteen years later the tune would be a hit all over again in the disco idiom? Williams’ vocal delivery here has more than a hint of Aretha Franklin’s influence and paradoxically the latter’s career would temporarily suffer when disco reigned supreme for the latter half of the 1970s. Carol Williams, however, is a versatile singer and the jazzy intro with fine percussion on ‘Come back’ indicates that she could easily adapt to other genres as and when required, and this also became a top thirty disco chart mover at the time. Released in the same year as both the epic ‘The Bottle’ by Joe Bataan and Double Exposure’s ‘Ten Per Cent’, ‘Lectric Lady’ now stands the test of time and at the same time defines an era in modern music history. Its evocative dancefloor front and back cover speaks volumes of of the hedonism and escapist nature of the 1970s club scene and with no less than five pages of interviews with the singer and excellent photos, album and single cover graphics, this project could not have been brought to life again any better.

Tim Stenhouse

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