Szabolcs Oláh Quintet ‘Crystal Book’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

Hungarian guitarist/composer Szabolcs Oláh‘s latest release is an album of free-flowing, exquisite and thoughtful contemporary jazz. The key to his music is melody. Dream-like moods intertwine with charismatic energy to create a set of ten stylistic and original tunes.

There’s a uniquely beguiling essence to Oláh’s music. A natural feeling of reflectiveness and expression is captured perfectly by the quintet. Joining Oláh on guitar are János Ávéd on saxophone, Gábor Cseke on piano, Ádám Bögöthy on bass, and László Csízi on drums. The gorgeous melodies that form the basis for all of the tunes are further enhanced by the instinctive and lyrical playing of all five musicians, making this an album that will appeal to many types of listener, not just those focused on jazz.

Switching from violin to guitar in his mid-teens, Oláh went on to graduate from the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in 2005. After forming his own quintet, he became one of the founding members of the Modern Art Orchestra, one of Hungary’s most unique bands. Along with various other projects, Oláh’s quintet have released three previous albums between 2013 and 2017, building a solid reputation for crafting music that combines a contemplative serenity with a confident sense of freedom of expression.

The musical dialogue between the musicians, especially guitarist Oláh and saxophonist Ávéd, is at times spellbinding. As I listen to these wonderful tunes I am reminded of artists such as saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Joshua Redman, pianists Marcin Wasilewski and Esbjorn Svensson, and guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheny. The common thread is the ability that all of these musicians share in successfully producing characterful, melodic music, in a focussed style. Their tunes can often sound deceptively simple, where the intelligent writing allows for many layers of individual breathing all combining to gift the listener with an exulted exhalation of breath that surges from the soul deep within.

Tunes such as the exhilarating “Pearls” and the uber-cool “Return to the Park” leave me totally mesmerised. The melodies, the chord sequences, the soloing, it’s all played with such feel and understanding that as a listener you just can’t help but smile with contented pleasure. Reflective pieces like the title track and “Lunar Muse” are ethereal and other-worldly in a sensitive kind of way, allowing the listener to lose themselves in their enchanting, melancholic beauty. I could sing my praises for all ten tunes on this album. This music leaves me feeling calm, satisfied and uplifted.

Szabolcs Oláh’s music benefits from what one might now call a quintessentially European sound, and certainly wouldn’t be out of place on a label such as ECM or ACT. The compositions are delightful and the performances first rate, and I very much look forward to hearing more from this quintet in the future.

Mike Gates

Širom ‘A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse’ LP/CD (Tak:til) 5/5

I enjoy the idea that the person who first invented that section in music shops that says “world” was just a deeply indecisive individual rather than someone violently trying to stick two fingers up at the “others”. After all, the “world” is against you, and the “world” is at large, and the “world” is a cold and lonely place. It really, utterly, truly is you against the “world”. A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse could be one of those “world” albums that people lump together for convenience (or to uphold the aforementioned “otherness”). But this fascinating, though it could be considered part of folk or world or fusion or traditional, it certainly is not from the lineages of those genres in a normative sense.

The wailing of the opening track is a haunting start, bewilderingly titled ‘A Washed out Boy Taking Fossils from a Frog Sack’. Because of course, it is. It feels like the sound of Riddley Walker running through the woods, flanked by packs of wild dogs in the dark. There is an uncanniness to Širom’s album that feels very much like the similar-but-different world of Hoban’s masterpiece. Or perhaps the cries of the population encased in trees in Rodoreda’s surreal Death In Spring. These are the sorts of atmospheres to expect.

This is an album of rude shifting. For a second after the groaning of the opening, the banjo of ‘Sleight of Hand with a Melting Key’ feels like a shock of normality. Or the alternate universe’s title music for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But! Do not be too hasty, Eagles fans, the meat of the album, after the aperitif, is not commonly trodden ground.

Širom consists of three members playing a wide variety of instruments. Hurdy-gurdy, banjo, gamelan, flute, qeychak (had to look this one up), lyre, tank drum and all manner of other items, sit next to the abstractly declared “various objects” on the sleeve. Indeed, a quick look on the internet for videos will show the varied arsenal the trio use.

A Universe is also an album of phasing. Sometimes it is brazen and pokey, other times it slips into hypnotic cycles. It is hard to pin down the melodies, which wriggle and course in unexpected ways across the main four tracks. Clocking in between seven-ish minutes and fifteen, they seem to me to be as long as they need to be. But then, they never feel exhausted, like a weird procession that turns up in your town and you stare at it as it passes the window of your nasty little flat.

In direct comparison, I was reminded of Stephen Micas and Polish folk-subverters Mosaik. Outside of that, the revolving threads of picking, striking and winding lines, is at once familiar and alien. Conceptually, however, I am none-the-wiser. Usually, I am able to at least clumsily apply meaning onto an album, like that lady did with clay in that Lionel Richie video, to make something that at least looks vaguely normal, but I can’t grab it. I don’t know if this is a lament, a soundtrack to a rite, the lazy humming of a protozoa on a distant moon, or a really badly pitched relaxation CD, but it’s kind of all of them at once. And it’s brilliant. A Universe acts as one of those albums that doesn’t really mind if you’re there or not because it exists musically for its own sake. Switching between modes constantly, but never feeling irritating, hinting at moods but never settling on one thing, it feels like an impulsive and magnetic new acquaintance. This is deeply enjoyable music that refuses to be anything but itself and is joyful because of it.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Søren Bebe Trio ‘Echoes’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

Nordic people have a reputation for shyness – a product, perhaps, of a Calvinist Protestant tradition that shunned brazenness and ostentation, the freezing temperatures that necessitated taciturnity when outdoors, and the ethnic homogeneity which meant that shared experiences and feelings needed only to be implied rather than said out loud. This natural reticence, nursed in the cold dark winters, seems to permeate much of the jazz produced in Northern Europe.

The current Scandinavian jazz scene seems somewhat overpopulated with piano trios. Most who read this will be aware of the music of the late Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST) and Tord Gustavsen. There are many others too, of course. However, one pianist who stands out in this crowded field is Søren Bebe.

This is the sixth release from this Danish piano trio and it follows a slightly more melodic path than that of some of their earlier releases which were a little more abstract and impressionistic. The opening, title track, has a folk-like stately feel. Not only do we get to hear the leader’s piano in all its glory but also the double bass of Anders Mogensen and the gently brushed percussion of Kasper Tagel. The deceptive simplicity of the theme statement draws the listener in.

‘Waltz for Steve’ follows and is a sheer delight. A highlight is the feature for double bass, the acoustic instrument adding great depth to the music than the bass guitar which featured on at least one of the groups earlier releases.

Whilst Bebe would agree that there is a specific ‘Nordic sound’ he considers there are many contributing factors, one being the influence of shared folk traditions and the shared landscape of sea and mountains. Bebe states that a lot of care for the details of the music and the sounds that each instrument produces goes into each new release. The famed ECM label started by reflecting the Nordic scene and this influence continues in the music of the Søren Bebe Trio.

Much of the music is introspective and clearly much thought has gone into the individual performances. The album is a slow burner which gradually reveals its beauty and simply gets better with repeated listening. One potential difficulty with this type of understated music is that it may struggle to keep the attention of the listener. However, the music here contains just sufficient fire to hold attention.

In addition to his jazz work, Bebe has amassed a recorded portfolio of music for ballet classes. This project too is well worth investigating. Furthermore, Bebe is a keen student of classical music and also listens to a lot of singer-songwriters and this also infuses his music.

The pianist names Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett as influences and interestingly trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Much of the music has the kind of yearning intensity that characterised Wheeler’s own music. There are several pieces here which one could almost imagine Wheeler playing. The lyrical nature of Bebe’s playing has echoes of the music of Bill Evans. Indeed, one-time Evans bassist Marc Johnson is featured on an earlier trio album.

The ultimate highlight of the album is the trio’s reading of ‘Sospiri, Op.70’ written by Edward Elgar.

Bebe has led his trio for almost twelve years and the musical telepathy of the trio members is clear to hear, almost breathing as one entity. The emphasis is clearly on melody and this is music which is accessible to all, not just a specialised jazz audience.

Alan Musson

Read also:
Søren Bebe Trio ‘Home’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

A Different Sound ‘Eclectic’ (Chamber Nickel) 5/5

Storming out of Paducah, Kentucky Chamber Nickel Records delivers this wonderful nine-track album that could quite easily end up in a great many top ten charts of 2019. A simply stunning soul album with many highlights fighting for ear space it really is difficult to know what order to prioritise the playlist. Consisting Ernie Burton Jnr., also known as ‘E-Flat’, on saxophone and vocals; Gareth ‘Mr Brick’ Roberts on drums and vocals; Donovan ‘Teddy Bear’ Woods on keyboards and vocals; CT Shackleford on Bass, and Adam “Duck” Duckwyler on trumpet and guitar and Reggie May on guitar, bass, drums and vocals.

First thing to highlight is Donovan’s voice, which is a mighty thing of beauty, and somewhat reminiscent of The Dell’s lead singer, Marvin Junior, if not the mighty L.V. Johnson – yes it’s that good, and if you need evidence then head straight for the scintillating dancers, ‘Miss The One You Love’ before rolling straight into ‘You Give Good Lovin’. Then, like me, you’ll be shaking your head in total disbelief at what you are listening too; a wonderful voice, top musicianship, and great songs perfect for the UK soul lovers over here.

‘Arms of a Stranger’ will floor you the first time you hear it, with, I suspect, the repeat button clicked before it ends. The silky smooth lead on this is delivered by Reggie May and just about as sweet as it can get; a lilting crooner of the highest quality. For me ‘the’ track off the album just has to be ‘Never Again’ which is something of a shuffling groove-laden opus; all very restrained, with Donovan ‘Teddy Bear’ Woods doing battle over subtle horns. I’m not sure if the lead changes, but he fights to hold onto the higher notes as he tells us “she has to go” – stunning, absolutely stunning. I truly believe we have discovered one of the great black voices of the modern era on this release.

Track 3 comes in after the two aforementioned cracking dancers by Donovan, different in sound and tempo, more sparse with double tapped rim and sax this time with a change in Ernie taking over vocal duties, fitting perfectly with the sound, all very smooth and effortless. ‘Night On The Town’ opens with a keyboard intro and then in comes Donovan once more, it morphs into a ballad of real intensity, mocking horns behind his vocals add to the deeper feel, with further grandeur in the name of ‘Honesty’, which wraps up the album in truly fine style. A plaintive ballad full of melody with a and slight increase in tempo, but not too much, earning its place as probably my favourite of the two. The other tracks just compliment this magnificent album. I must thank Gareth for answering my questions and providing information, I’ve gently nudged him into the possibility of a small vinyl run for us vinyl mad Brits, and I am lead to believe “he’s working on it”. As for the album, it is available on all the popular download sites. As for airplay? Well, Starpoint Radio is championing the release on Mark Merry’s ‘Soul Sermon’ show, supporting the band and heartfelt statement that we just might have discovered the next big soul group. Thank you A Different Sound, you have made this ageing soul man very happy.

Brian Goucher

Kongo Dia Ntotila ‘360°’ 2LP/CD (Pussyfoot) 4/5

Kongo Dia Ntotila is a London based 6 piece afro-fusion group. The music on 360°, the second album, is described by the group as ‘Afro-joy’. It’s a pretty accurate description of this mix of numerous African influences, jazz and contemporary styles.

The album opens with “Kongo”. The drum roll flows into rhythmic stabs, a question and answer passage between vocals and the rest of the group. The band is tight and the rhythm section, in particular, has an exuberant drive, lifting this from standard mundane world-fusion fodder. The rhythmic assault continues with “Agbwaya”, a slick uptempo track with the motif led by the mini brass section consisting of saxophone and trumpet. The closing section is a bed of beautiful interlocking of bass, drums and guitars under a layer of repetitive vocal exchanges. The intensity subsides a little with the breezy and tuneful “Mbongo”. The instrumental “360°” follows and is a direct descendant of fusion workouts from the 1970s. The hard-driving repetition of “Faux Boss” flowers into colourful arpeggio guitars and is a humorous revenge on folks who have exploited them in the past. “Kinshasa Makambo”s horn-based introduction quickly locks into a liquid groove by the rhythm section and guitars. The platform for the tuneful horns to shine. The dual guitar provides the substance to the straight forward reggae of “Naleli” where there’s a neat bass guitar solo. “Feti”, which apparently means party, is led by the arpeggiated guitars for once giving the track a lighter and more melodic feel. The percussive introduction to “Koupe Dekale” gives way to flowing guitars, a galloping rhythm and rapid fire horn bursts. “Mutwashi” is the smooth and satisfying closer to the release with grand vocal lines and Latin horns. The performances are impressive in their complexity and intensity and although I’ve yet to see them in concert, I expect the live show is an exciting experience.

Kongo Dia Ntotila has chosen to associate itself with the current jazz scene in the UK capital and I can understand why. There is joy and excitement in encompassing different styles and making them their own which is common to much of the great music recently emerging from there. This album is a significant progression from the first, ‘Seben Steps To Heaven’, with a grittier, fuller sound. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of the UK ska revivalists in the late 70s with their more direct and uptempo spin of the Jamaican original. This album is clearly influenced and informed by the UK urban experience and is a celebration of London as much as it is of Kinshasa.

Kevin Ward

Donald Byrd ‘Ethiopian Knights’ 180g Vinyl (Blue Note) 4/5

Set for release on August 9th, Donald Byrd’s ‘Ethiopian Knights’ is another important reissue from the Blue Note 80 Vinyl Edition. The album is all-analog, mastered by Kevin Gray from the original master tapes, and pressed on 180g vinyl for great sound quality.

Donald Byrd must be one of the most prolific artists to have ever recorded for Blue Note Records with a highly successful career that spanned over 35 years, with many best selling albums within his formative period from 1955-1975. His career started in 1947 aged 15 and he first featured alongside the Robert Barnes Sextette; a 78 shellac release with the swinging r&b track, ‘Bobbin At Barbie’s’. Aged around 23 the trumpeter was setting up his own band for Blue Note Records whilst recording for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers alongside Doug Watkins, Horace Silver and Hank Mobley. In demand during the mid to late 1950s as a key replacement for the great Clifford Brown, the trumpeter featured on many key albums alongside leaders including Hank Mobley, Jackie Mclean, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and Gigi Gryce whilst recording for his own band.

A teacher and inspiration for many emerging artists, Donald Byrd transcended the changes during the 1960s and 1970s with later classics such as ‘Places and Spaces’, ‘Steppin Into Tomorrow’ and ‘Blackbyrd’ reaching out to a wider audience, many of whom approached his music from a retrospective means through the means of contemporary styles of music. Theo Parrish paid tribute to the trumpeter’s music with the 1996 track ‘Early Byrd’, which sampled ‘Lansana’s Priestess’ from The Street Lady album. It referenced Donald Byrd’s debut album in 1955 and respectively marked the influence that the trumpeter conveyed for many generations of artists and audiences. A few years earlier Donald Byrd age 60, featured on Guru’s Jazzamatazz album project, contributing to the project on the track ‘Loungin’ playing trumpet and talking about life experiences over a hip hop beat.

Produced by George Butler, Donald Byrd’s ‘Ethiopian Knights’ was recorded in 1971 and it’s an important album which marks a transitional shift away from the mid-late 60s soul-jazz classics such as ‘Blackjack’ and ‘Slow Drag’ into the emerging electronic funk-inspired jazz era that the early 70s embraced through such innovators as Miles Davis.

The album kicks off with the excellent ‘Emperor’ track; a gutsy groove that’s loose and adventurous leaving scope for Bobby Hutcherson [vibes], Harold Land [tenor saxophone], Thurman Greene [trombone] and Donald Byrd [trumpet] room for improvisation. Joe Sample [organ] and Wilton Felder [electic bass] add a touch of that funkier Crusaders sound whilst the rhythm section dialogue between drummer Ed Greene and percussionist Bobbye Porter Hall is colourful and inventive whilst maintaining a sturdy backbeat groove throughout the 15 minutes.

David T Walker featured on many great albums including Stevie Wonder’s ‘Innervision’ album and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let Get It On’. On the laid back funk-inspired ‘Little Rasti’, the guitarist lifts the weight of the groove with buoyancy and spark, adding touches of altered electronic guitar effects, loosely associated with groups such as The Meters and Funk Inc. In fact, the track starts off in a Meters fashion before the melting pot groove builds. There’s a collective spirit about this track with pianist Bill Henderson III and organist Joe Sample bringing a spacey feel to the occasion. It’s another adventurous jam which spreads out over 17 minutes whilst always brought back into a central perspective by Harold Land and Donald Byrd.

Ethiopian Knights is an adventurous piece by Donald Byrd which arrived at a time when the explosion of funk/rock/jazz/fusion was becoming almost hallowed by the burgeoning free-spirited scene that artists like Miles and Sly Stone infused. Whilst this album envelops certain elements of that movement Donald Byrd’s ability to transcend boundaries yet retain a central ethos and approach is once again displayed with his usual humility and wisdom. An important album and definitely a welcome release for those seeking to take that journey away from either his later pursuits alongside The Mizell Brothers or his earlier soul-jazz albums in the mid-sixties.

Mark Savva

Vin Gordon ‘African Shores’ LP/CD (Tradition Disc) 5/5

So when an LP lands called ‘African Shores’ by Vin Gordon, and it has been done in that old skool Studio 1 type of Jamaican way; hit the studio; hear riddim and play, you just have to listen, for the sake of your mind, body and soul. Vin is the type of musician we have been hearing for decades. His horn lines have written history. And yet, as a solo player, aside from some 45s he has recorded sparsely. Following the success of Tradition Disc label’s ‘Sound Almighty’ Vin Gordon blazes horn lines again with Nat Birchall and Al Breadwinner on this new release, with a different kind of ease. It’s that spontaneity which when you think about is genius, as ‘African Shores’ was recorded in just one day. I know that sounds ridiculous. Pop stars with massive budgets can spend weeks, months, even years, trying to work out their next release. But these cats do it in less than 24 hours. As a horn-led Reggae LP with no lyrics, it is what you expect and Vin does the talking. Taking us on a series of magical journeys, capturing a distilled vibe that is difficult to put to words, so all I can do is listen and imagine. It must be heard to be experienced, and preferably on a big sound system.

‘African Shores’ opens with spiritual reasoning. A lamenting trombone searching for roots and origins that goes up a gear with the Dub on ‘Gold Coast Dub’. ‘Styler Dub’ has a different pace and bravado echoing a ‘Shank I Shek’ composition but not copying it and the Dub is majestic, as one would expect from Al Breadwinner. ‘Spill Over’ has a funky raw edginess, and after about a minute you get hypnotized. Then comes ‘Gusum Peck’, an odd title reminiscent of how titles used to be concocted back in the day. The Dub to this, ‘Voodoo Man in Dub’, is spooky and chugs along like an ocean liner heading for home. Then the oddest ‘Shucumooku’, with its innovative horn lines. It’s hard to imagine anyone working these kinds of complex progressions on the spot, with crescendos climbing high to low and back. I am clueless what the title means but its irrelevant. Go with the flow of the song, get enchanted, skank, and fly with it – sad there is no dub to this. The last song, ‘Sa La Vie’, has a lamenting aura, a tribute perhaps to all things past, horn players, singers, MCs, Dub Creators and innovators. The spirit of all those different but soulfully connected parts lives on in this release. Give us more Vin.

Haji Mike

Read also:
Nat Birchall Meets Al Breadwinner feat. Vin Gordon ‘Sounds Almighty’ LP/CD (Tradition Disc) 5/5

Resavoir ‘Resavoir’ LP/CD (International Anthem) 4/5

This 9-track debut is the brainchild of Chicago musician and producer Will Miller and released on the incredibly hip and innovative International Anthem record label, also based in Chicago. Here, Miller assembles an extensive line-up of players to contribute to the project but the core group consists of Lane Beckstrom on bass, Irvin Pierce on saxophone, Akenya Seymour playing keys and on vocals, both Peter Manheim and Jeremy Cunningham on drums with Miller himself playing trumpet and synthesisers.

The album begins with the appropriately titled, ‘Intro’, with its gorgeous female harmonies and lush, sweeping string parts which support to introduce the rest of the forthcoming album and its sonic temperament. ‘Resavoir’ initially delves into what could be described as modern fusion with its guitar-like improvisational runs (played via synths) and stimulating saxophone licks, before it diverts and embraces an almost drone influenced second half with coastal soundscapes and loose synthesiser pads. A personal favourite, ‘Taking Flight’, features the omnipresent Brandee Younger on harp, combined with melodic flute and horns during the chorus and a double-time drum pattern making this one of the few DJ friendly pieces of the set.

The atmospheric ‘Plantasy’ is a piano and horn lead but percussion-less composition filled with dynamics but with a loose arrangement. It possesses a cinematic quality reminiscent of many contemporary film score composers. ‘Clouds’ at 1’11” may be influenced by Steve Reich and his seminal ‘Clapping Music’ composition from 1972, which then segues perfectly into ‘Woah’ which also features hand claps as its foundation, before the synth textures and other melodic elements are introduced. ‘Illusion’ is another drum-less piece and continues with the film music framework that most of the album also encapsulates.

‘Escalator’ includes the rap-come-poetic vocals of Sen Morimoto for this quite bouncy dance floor number, which reminds one of the more club-based compositions emerging out of the young UK jazz scene. Here, Morimoto recounts waking up “…Wednesday on another planet with a different language”, over a driving Afro-beat groove. Final track, ‘LML’, reminds this writer of early Little Dragon, with its sparse downtempo instrumentation and slightly quirky vocals from Akenya Seymour who graciously exalts, ‘I love my life and it’s not over’, during its short 2’25” duration.

As per other releases on International Anthem, much of the production happens during the post-recording stage with various editing, overdubbing and multi-tracking techniques applied. This allows producer Will Miller additional opportunities to experiment with the recorded material in a more sample-based context, which is also present in Miller’s other role as a contributor to many contemporary hip hop recordings, such as those by artists including A$AP Rocky and Lil Wayne.

This debut by Miller is extremely creative and reinforces the growing musical climate for inventiveness and innovation, although, this is a very easy listen and not heavily experimental by its nature. Nonetheless, some of the ideas and themes presented deviate from many modern jazz-based recordings, including its more ‘cut and paste’ aesthetic, although, it still maintains an organic musical environment throughout. Highly recommended.

Damian Wilkes

Freddie Hubbard Quintet ‘At Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall / Hamburg 1979 (Jazzline) 4/5

Freddie Hubbard, like Andrew Hill and Eric Dolphy, was one of those adventurous musicians who embraced the free jazz recordings of the 1960s, whilst firmly rooted within the more blues and bop approach that his influences such as Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown had embued over his early formative years.

Featuring as a sideman on many great albums including Oliver Nelson’s ‘Blues and The Abstract Truth’, Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out To Lunch’, Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’ and Wayne Shorter’s ‘The All Seeing Eye’, Freddie Hubbard began his role as a bandleader in the early 1960s for Blue Note Records with albums including ‘Open Sesame’, ‘The Artistry Of’, and ‘Breaking Point’ before moving onto record such classics as ‘Straight Life’, ‘Backlash’ and Black Angel’.

This latest release is a treasured moment in the history of live recordings featuring Freddie Hubbard live at the Hamburg venue, Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall, recorded for the German radio broadcaster NDR. Thankfully the tapes were kept intact and in good shape. With 6 tracks over around 65 minutes, the live appearance allows the musicians more room to breathe.

Also contributing towards this archive treasure are the drummer Carl Burnett, Hadley Caliman on tenor saxophone/flute, two musicians who continued to play alongside Freddie Hubbard in the years that followed this recording. Both bassist Larry Klein and pianist Billy Childs featured on the trumpeter’s 1982 fusion album ‘Born To Be Blue’ on which the track ‘Gibraltar’ became a much loved underground track. That same year Larry Klein married Joni Mitchell and went on to become a highly successful producer.

Stretching out over 18 minutes this live version of the ‘Little Sunflower’ composition allows each musician to create something special from the moment and it’s Hadley Caliman providing some sharp clear sounds on flute with graceful and flowing changes that lifts the occasion. The rhythm swings between uptempo and a more relaxing mode. It’s when the tempo drops we hear the exceptional 22-year-old pianist Billy Childs come into his own. The leader finishes off the track with some sparse relaxed notes that float and fade with a relaxed exit. It’s an opportunity to hear a version of Little Sunflower that is more open and explorative and a change from the classic versions such as that on the much referenced 1979 released ‘Love Connection’ album featuring, vocalist Al Jarreau, which was sampled by contemporary artists including Pépé Bradock and A Tribe Called Quest.

Frank Sinatra popularised the early 50s American songbook classic, ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’, but the Wes Montgomery version more likely gave Freddie Hubbard the inspiration to include the composition on this album. Both the guitarist and trumpeter stemmed from Indianapolis and worked together before the trumpeter left for the bright lights and big city. On this track, there’s an affectionate nostalgic nod as he plays throughout the 9 minutes with drummer Carl Burnett laying down a soft walking rhythm, which allows for the sparse notes and reflective warmth to emanate through the trumpet.

The shortest track on the album is the straight uptempo swinging ‘Blues For Duane’; a buoyant composition for Freddie Hubbard’s son which featured on the MPS album ‘Hub For Hubbard’ although the sound seems much more uplifting on this live version.

On ‘One Of A Kind’ the young 22-year-old pianist Billy Childs contributes greatly to this lengthy composition with some superb imaginative flair and inventive solos that accompany the leader and the group as they weave in and out of the changing dynamics. The track stretches out over 23 minutes creating the perfect platform for each musician to explore and improvise.

From his later recordings as a leader, this quintet is definitely one of the strongest for the trumpeter’s best sound and vision. Bassist Larry Klein and pianist Billy Childs had both toured and recorded with Freddie Hubbard for some time and the drummer Carl Burnett and saxophonist Hadley Caliman seem a perfect fit. It’s another important album from Freddie Hubbard’s wonderful career as a musician and composer.

Mark Savva

Bobbi Humphrey ‘Blacks and Blues’ 180g Vinyl (Blue Note) 5/5

Bobbi Humphrey’s third album, ‘Black and Blue’, quickly became a landmark crossover album for Blue Note Records. Her 1971/2 albums ‘Flute In’ and Dig This’ had both faired well for the label but it was this classic recording, produced by the Mizell Brothers, which brought the artist more deserved recognition and became one of the label’s best selling records. It was a crossover hit that appealed to many listeners who were more in tune with the r&b/pop songs of that period. This really was a triumph for Blue Note Records and they could not imagine how successful the album would become racking up high sales and support from names including Stevie Wonder, who was a big fan of Bobbi Humphrey.

In 1972 Larry and Fonze Mizell’s Sky High Recordings had acquired the newly introduced Arp pro soloist synthesizer which shaped a particularly sound for their production company that was progressive and appealing across the board. They recorded such seminal albums as Donald Byrd’s ‘Blackbyrd’ and ‘Places and Spaces’, Johnny Hammond’s ‘Shifting Gears’ and of course this timeless Bobbi Humphrey classic, recorded during the summer of 1973 at the Sound Factory in Hollywood.

Over the subsequent years since its release, the album has continued to attract attention and recognition. Artists including Ice T, Common, Eric B, Louie Vega and Madlib have all used their popularity to introduce Bobbi Humphrey to a new audience. The flautist also featured on the highly acclaimed ‘Electric Circus’ album by Common alongside many other female artists including Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.

Throughout the album, there’s a laid back summer vibe and it’s easy to see why the album crosses over to a wider audience. It’s a meeting of minds and a convergence that leads to a tempered flight from each individual, with the result leading towards an overall atmosphere of serenity and warmth. The combination of instruments without a horn section really works well and it’s hard to imagine many other drummers bringing the same feel and sound as Harvey Mason.

Each cut from the album holds something special, yet it’s the beautifully crafted vocal penned ‘Harlem River Drive’ which really stands out. A superb laid back groove with an infectious combination of harmony and effects. The track stands up there with classics such as ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ by Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd’s ‘Think Twice’ with a lighter touch than the social commentary echoed about ‘Harlem River Drive’ by Eddie Palmieri and friends featuring the main vocalist Jimmy Norman.

In 1994 The Digable Planets sampled the title track for their popular cut ‘The Art Of Easin’. They and Madlib were probably most in line with Bobbi Humphrey’s positive and uplifting approach within the hip hop circles. ‘Black and Blues’ is highlighted by the pronounced and emphatic piano lines by the highly esteemed Jerry Peter who is another integral factor in the success of this album. ‘Chicago Damn’ cut is a light and breezy jazz-funk track with Harvey Mason adding more weight and drive alongside the Arp synthesizer effects by Freddie Peren. ‘Jasper Country Man’ is another turned up funk cut that has a Seventies soundtrack feel about it.

‘A Love Child’ and ‘Baby’s Gone’ are more laid back and affectionate pieces that work perfectly for the flute and piano style of Bobbi Humphrey and Jerry Peters. It’s great to hear the flautist’s voice on the former track and artists such as Minnie Ripperton and Syreeta seemed worth a comparative mention. Both tracks also elevate the positive effects of the harmonious background vocals by the Mizell Brothers and King Erisson.

Leaving Dallas in the early 1970s, Bobbi Humphrey stepped off the plane in New York looking to make a career in New York and thankfully she walked into George Butler’s office at Blue Note Records after being turned down by other labels. A great album that is a true classic and this month’s 180g reissue is a welcome inclusion to any collection.

Backing Vocals, Arranged By [Vocal] (Fonce Mizell, Freddie Perren, Larry Mizell), Bass [Electric] (Chuck Rainey, Ron Brown), Clavinet, Trumpet (Larry Mizell), Congas, Backing Vocals (King Errisson), Drums (Harvey Mason), Flute, Vocals (Bobbi Humphrey), Guitar [Electric] (David T. Walker, John Rowin), Percussion (Stephanie Spruill), Piano, Piano [Electric] (Jerry Peters), Producer (Chuck Davis, Larry Mizell), Synthesizer [Arp] (Freddie Perren).

Mark Savva

Astral Travelling Since 1993