30th Oct2014

Nana Love ‘Disco Documentary’ LP/CD/Dig (BBE) 4/5

by ukvibe

nana-loveAfro-disco is not an especially well known fusion, but with the current quest for unearthing dancefloor gems from the past, BBE have come up with a real winner in Nana Love. The album was actually recorded in London in the late 1970s with co-engineer Denis Bovell present. However, this has all the feel of an authentic stab at heavyweight disco from a Nigerian perspective and the absence of any strings whatsoever lends a directness to the music which merely adds to its unique charm. The original tapes were uncovered and, in the process of restoring these, unreleased material henceforth became available. No less than three extended dancefloor gems predominate here and the opener ‘I’m in love’ with its heavy bass line and lengthy instrumental breaks should have been a disco anthem had it have been more widely promoted at the time. Nana Love’s girlish vocals make for an interesting contrast with the instrumentation. Afro-Beat horns and a skin tight rhythm section feature on ‘Talking about music’ where Nana offers a spoken dialogue and the melody builds in intensity. The Chic-esque rhythm guitar is the first hint of external influences on ‘Hang on baby’ which is another meaty tome at nearly nine minutes in length while for a little variety the dance mix version of ‘Loving feeling’ has more of a classic Motown intro, but then reverts to classy disco. Only ‘Disco Lover’ sounds a trifle dated while Bovell’s influence comes through subtly on the reggae flavoured keyboards allied to a funky bass on ‘We’re gonna stay for the party’ which is fundamentally still a funky ditty. This is in fact the third instalment from BBE of their ‘Master we love’ series’ and if the quality remains this high, then the next instalment will be eagerly anticipated.

Tim Stenhouse

29th Oct2014

Various ‘Spiritual Jazz Vol. 5′ LP/CD/Dig (Jazzman) 5/5

by ukvibe

spiritual-jazz-5Jazz is a worldwide phenomenon in case anyone had not noticed and for the latest exploration of jazz music in a deeply spiritual vein, Jazzman have extended their search as wide as possible globally and this is by far the most eclectic of the volumes produced thus far. Music from India and Japan takes us on an excursion into eastern climbs while Latin America and the Caribbean feature prominently this time round.

From Venezuela comes a modal number that is flute-led by leader and pianist Virgilio Armas and his quartet on ‘Sobre el Orinoco’ which commences as a dream-like waltz, but then suddenly shifts up a gear and morphs into a speeded up slice of retro bossa. Argentina is well represented here with some lesser known home grown talent and rightly so since it has a rich jazz heritage and proudly exported some of the most distinguished jazz musician exiles to the United States such as the late groove pianist Jorge Dalto who played with Tito Puente in the 1980s, tenorist Gato Barbieri who took on board the musings of both John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and of course the wonderful pianist and arranger Lalo Schifrin. An excellent interpretation of Charles Davis’ composition ‘Half and Half (famously recorded by Elvin Jones on Impulse) by Chivo Borraro whets the appetite while the piano trio of Jorge Lopez Ruiz conjur up a subtle waltz in ‘Vicky’. Delving a little further into the Caribbean, Jamaica is best known from a jazz perspective as pioneering the sound of ska which was predominantly instrumental and this was heavily influenced by the sounds of American bop jazz that Jamaicans could pick up on their radios. There is an unusual take on Dave Brubeck’s anthem ‘Take Five’ by Oladepo Ogomedede, but rather than a reggae undercurrent as one might have expected, the rhythm section sounds more akin to a rustic calypso. An anthology of Jamaican reggae would make a wonderful future project.

The sound of the Japanese koto have on occasion been used by jazz musicians and this instrument serves as the intro to a reflective piece composed and performed by drummer and band leader Hideo Shiaki and group and the combination of trumpet and saxophone in unison plus flute is a winner from start to finish. Indian classical music has been a very complimentary bedfellow for jazz, and John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar had a healthy respect for one another (the former naming his son in tribute to the latter musician) and so it proves on ‘Raga Rock’ by the Baaz Gonzalez Seven, a piece that goes through various mood changes and features some impressionistic flute. Somewhat less Indian sounding in form with a piano vamp over which percussion improvises is the second contribution from that nation in ‘Song for my lady’ by Louiz Banks. Arguably the most traditional eastern sounding composition on the album comes, surprisingly. from Australia and is the wonderfully evocative ‘Islamic Suite’ by the Charlie Munro quartet and it has something of a Middle Eastern dervish about it.

Folk-based melodies have been regularly showcased on Jazzman releases and the contribution from Israeli group Jazz Work Shop bears a remarkable resemblance to some of the more recent work of current Israeli bassist and leader Avishai Cohen. The piece ‘Mezave Israel’ features some gorgeous soprano saxophone courtesy of Albert Piammento. South Africa has an exceptionally strong and long-standing relationship with jazz and of the two worthy contributions on offer, pianist Tete Mbamibsa. The United States is not forgotten and has of course featured in various previous volumes. Here the Paul Winter Sextet, who performed at the Whitehouse for JFK in 1962, offer a delicate modal waltz entitled ‘Winter’s song’. As with previous volumes in the series, there is the usual impeccably high standard of attention to detail in the inner sleeve notes which are meticulous in the information contained within.

Tim Stenhouse

27th Oct2014

Janet Lawson Quintet ‘Janet Lawson Quintet’ (BBE) 5/5

by ukvibe

janet-lawson-quintetOne of the joys of being a fan of jazz in the 1980s was the emergence of new singers on the New York jazz scene and the vastly underrated Janet Lawson was one such chanteuse who recorded on scat king Eddie Jefferson’s ‘The Main Man’ album from 1977. Regular attendees of jazz dance sessions at Dingwalls will have regularly heard songs from this album and BBE have wisely re-issued it coupled with some excellent bonus cuts form a separate and slightly later session which served as a tribute to the music of Miles Davis. Challenging for the strongest number is ‘Sunday Afternoon’ which is simply a gorgeous mid-tempo song that features some superlative scatting from Lawson and delicate accompaniment including a lovely flute solo. This filled the dancefloors in the 1980s and deservedly so. However, ‘So High’ is equally strong with an instantly memorable bass line intro and this was a more uptempo vehicle and an ideal piece for jazz dancers to improvise upon. With latinesque polyrhythms and soaring soprano saxophone, a high tempo is maintained throughout. A third jazz dance number emerges in the slightly off-tempo (but deliberately so) of ‘Nothin’ like you’ where Lawson delivers arguably her strongest vocal performance of the entire album. For some welcome variety, a jaunty mid-tempo interpretation of Fats Waller’s ‘Jitterbug’ creates an altogether lighter mood and there is a gentle, yet emotive ballad rendition of Monk’s opus ‘Round Midnight’. The extra pieces are collectively devoted to the music performed by Miles Davis circa ‘Porgy and Bess’ through to the transitional ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ album. The pick of the quartet of songs is ‘Joshua’ from the latter album and here the piano solo intro leads into a deliciously extended scat excursion with soprano saxophone accompaniment. From ‘Porgy and Bess’, ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ is taken at a slightly faster temp than per usual. Subsequent to this album and its follow up from 1983, ‘Dreams can be’, Janet Lawson pursued a parallel career as a jazz educator at a college in New York, and has only sporadically returned to live performance. She is, then, an under-recorded and some of her unissued sessions would be a welcome addition for this writer, notably a tribute to Charles Mingus and live recordings at the Jazz Café. The album she participated on with David Lahm from 1982, ‘Real jazz for folks who feel jazz’, also deserves to be re-issued at some point.

Tim Stenhouse

26th Oct2014

Mark Turner Quartet ‘Lathe of Heaven’ (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

mark-turnerTenor saxophonist Mark Turner debuts for ECM here on a set that respectfully evokes the spirit of mid-1960s Miles Davis and the acoustic recordings Wayne Shorter with a deliberately pared down setting. In reality Turner is anything but a novice for ECM having recorded on several albums as a sideman including Billy Hart, Enrico Rava and the latest Stefano Bollani that was recently reviewed in this column. The quartet has comprises Avishai Cohen (not to be confused with the namesake Israeli bassist), Joe Martin on double bass and drummer Marcus Gilmore. If the six pieces are lengthy (none less than eight minutes and one at just under thirteen), then they are nonetheless beautifully constructed. On the title track and opener, there is a full frontal attack by the leader which contrasts with the lengthened out notes of Cohen, but both combine with the catchiest of hooks on the chorus. In a more laid back vein is the lovely bossa-infused bass line of ‘Year of the Rabbit’, which is a title in direct reference to the ECM album by Fly from 2012, ‘Year of the Snake’. An ode to Stevie Wonder is paid on the pared down ballad ‘Sunset for Stevie’. In general this is chamber jazz music of the highest quality and a debut album that takes the listener on at times an unknown, yet utterly fascinating journey. The title of the album, by the way, is a reference to a 1971 Science Fiction novel by K. Le Guin.

Tim Stenhouse

25th Oct2014

Astrid Jones & The Blue Flaps ‘Stand Up’ 5/5 (Private)

by ukvibe

astrid-jonesWell, their I was basking in the 34 degrees in Bilbao Spain for our yearly sojourn to the Soul4Real weekender, with no less than the immense Barbara Mason live with a full band including a string section. The weekender takes the shape of 2 full on all-nighters plus a six-hour session of deep, sweet ballads etc. Barbara Mason came on stage on Saturday night at 9:30pm and completely blew us all away, her performance of one of my all time faves “Yes Im ready” will stay with me until the my end. The backing singers were very impressive, 2 ladies and one hell of a male voice. After the concert I caught with the three of them outside and found them to be down to earth, lovely people. I also caught with them in the club later where Astrid sold me her cd, she managed to offload all she had, self distributed it seems at the minute so we need to help her get it out there mainstream, at the time I bought it blind, bloody hell am I glad I did, the whole album makes for astounding listening pleasure, all self-written and produced by Astrid (hark at me calling her by her first name) a real band too, real instruments. Space is always at a premium and these reviews are simply meant to stimulate some interest and get you to go and have a listen for yourself, some highlights then, the opener “Something else” is a cracking head nodding, foot tapper that is hard to get past, so easy to hit that replay button. Can I just tell you that Astrid’s voice is a beautiful tool she uses so so well, lots of jazz inflections in their, and there is no doubt about her soulfulness either…………….other highs are “Stand up” and “I wanna say” but the cream that has risen to the top is the sumptuous sax led “Power”, on repeated plays here at home for sure however; “Who they are “ is creeping up on the rails as a contender for a place in my top ten, it’s a superb dancer that sits perfectly with my southern soul plays out, hell the album’s already secured its place. The album was recorded in Madrid and mastered in Washington DC and sung by a marvellous new voice that I can’t get enough of.

Brian Goucher

24th Oct2014

Isabelle Boulay ‘Merci Serge Reggiani’ (Wrasse) 5/5

by ukvibe

isabelle-boulayFrench-Canadian singer Isabelle Boulay is little known over here, but judging by the superb performance on this tribute album, that may be about to change. This album is a delicious slice of retro music firmly in the French chanson tradition and the singer Boulay is paying homage to, Serge Reggiani, is internationally best known as an actor of some standing, notably in the film ‘Le Casque d’Or’. However, in his native France Reggiani is much loved also for his interpretations of the songs of Georges Moustaki as well as those by the pairing of Jean-Loup Dabadie and Jacques Datin, and these form the bedrock of the compositions contained within. Boulay, who possesses both a deep and emotionally charged voice, a prerequisite in order to remain faithful to the Reggiani songbook, is at her most effective on the acoustic guitar led and uplifting number that is ‘Le Vieux Couple’ which receives here an outstanding rendition. There are hints of Brel, who was surely a major influence on Boulay, on the accordion accompaniment to ‘Ma Fille’ while the song ‘De quelles Amériques’ is distinguished by the use of orchestrations and percussion, with arrangements in general being taken care of by husband Benjamin Boulay. Simplicity is a much undervalued virtue and here the deceptively simple, yet highly effective cover design of a red rose speaks volumes of the quality music on offer throughout this album. The album has in fact become something of a cult hit in France and English language listeners will find much to enjoy if they are searching for that classic French chanson sound.

Tim Stenhouse

23rd Oct2014

25 Years of Mr Bongo

by ukvibe

mrbcd124highresMr Bongo started life in 1989 as a small record shop underneath Daddy Kool’s Reggae Store on Berwick Street in London. They were the first shop to sell vinyl releases from independent hip-hop labels such as Def Jam, Rawkus, Nervous and Big Beat outside of the USA. They also became the established bearer for hard-to-find, classic Latin music, particularly Brazilian, outside of the Americas.

Out of this basement a thriving Latin shop was born and supplied music for salsa dancers, Latin Jazz addicts and Brazilian groovers. Such characters as Giles Peterson and clubs such as Dingwalls championed this music and in the following years Mr Bongo established itself as the leader and provider for whole scene.

In 1991, Huw Bowles entered the Mr Bongo fray bringing his own encyclopaedic knowledge of hip-hop, expanding Bongo’s field of expertise. Initially selling old skool and hip-hop, the shop was the first to start selling music from small independent hip-hop labels from around the world in the UK (artists such as Jurassic 5 having special Bongo pressings). This pioneering spirit revived the waning interest in hip-hop and also started to bring focus to home-grown talent. As the independent scene grew Mr Bongo exclusively imported the first releases by Dr Octagon, J5, Mos Def and many more.

Ray Barreto opened much needed new premises in Lexington St. as the Latin section expanded. Always expanding its field of vision and expertise, the Mr Bongo store moved again, to its final premises in Poland St., Soho. Now fully established, it was not unusual for queues around the block on Saturdays, caused by stocks of their exclusive vinyl.

The shop also initially acted as home to the Mr Bongo record label and the later formed imprints; Disorient and Beyongolia. In 1995 the Bongo empire expanded into Japan, opening a store in Tokyo, providing a useful A&R source for Disorient. After a two year crusade Bongo’s secured the soundtrack rights to the classic hip-hop movie Wildstyle and released two LPs from the film on Beyongolia.

The label and publishing operation moved to Brighton in 2001. From their seaside base Mr Bongo have been responsible for discovering and breaking some of the world’s most exciting new talent, as well as reissuing sought after classics and rarities that have gone on to become collectors items in their own right. Looking through the label discography is like digging into a treasure trove. Mr Bongo’s eclecticism married with their unshifting focus on quality has resulted in celebrated releases from artists such as Terry Callier, Jorge Ben, Joyce, Marcos Valle, Seu Jorge, Labi Siffre, Hollie Cook, Karol Conka, Prince Fatty, Ebo Taylor, Lula Cortes, and The Incredible Bongo Band. It may have been these artists that introduced you to the world of Mr Bongo, or it may have been through their legendary Brazilian Beats compilation series, but whatever the introduction, we can guarantee there are countless other classics in the catalogue for you to discover. And the releases keep coming with the recently launched re-issue labels Brazil 45s and Latin 45s creating a whole new generation of Mr Bongo fans.
This compilation is a celebration of the label’s work from 1989 – 2014; Mr Bongo classics on disc one and the future of Mr Bongo on disc two.


Disc One (Mr Bongo Classics)

01 Incredible Bongo Band – Apache (Grandmaster Flash Remix) 02 Seu Jorge – Carolina
03 Hollie Cook & Prince Fatty – Milk And Honey
04 Doris – Did You Give The World Some Love Today Baby
05 Terry Callier ft. Massive Attack – Wings
06 Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 – African Problems
07 Ebo Taylor – Heaven
08 C.K. Mann & His Carousel 7 – Asafo Beesuon MEDLEY (Gruff & Grey Edit) 09 Fab 5 Freddy – Down By Law
10 Atmosfear – Dancing In Outer Space
11 Os Ipanemas – Nana
12 Wilson Siminal – Pais Tropical
13 Trio Mocoto – Swinga Sambaby
14 Tom Ze – Sao Sao Paulo
15 Lula Cortes E Ze Ramalho – Beira Mar
16 Blo – Chant To Mother Earth

Disc Two (Mr Bongo Future)

1 Hollie Cook – Looking For Real Love
2 Mungo’s Hi Fi – Scrub A Dub Style Ft. Sugar Minott (Prince Fatty Remix) 3 Horseman – Computer
4 Karol Conka – Boa Noite
5 Junip – Oba La Vem Ela
6 Olli Ahvenlahti – Grandma’s Rocking Chair
7 Hareton & Meta – KM 110
8 Juca Chaves – Take Me Back To Piaui
9 Jorge Ben & Toquinho – Carolina, Carol Bela
10 Pete Rodriguez – I Like It Like That
11 Beny Moré – Babarabatiri
12 Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock

22nd Oct2014

John Mayall ‘A Special Life’ (Forty Below) 4/5

by ukvibe

john-mayallOctogenarian John Mayall is enjoying a new lease of life late on in his career and this latest album showcases his profound knowledge of the blues tradition and beyond, while laying down some heavy blues-rock grooves. This writer prefers the more subtle side to the Mayall repertoire and the soulful, catchy melody of ‘Heartache’ is a joy to behold with keyboard and bass in unison on this terrific number. On the minor blues number ‘Floodin’ in California’ Mayall reveals a more delicate side to his music and excels on vocals. His respect for the blues tradition is beyond dispute and on the rustic ‘Just a memory’, he takes the ensemble sound down to the bare minimum to thrilling effect while there is a faithful interpretation of Jimmy McCracklin’s ‘I’ve just got to know’. The mid-paced groove of ‘Why did you go last night’ is noteworthy for the use of some subtle electric piano while Mayall himself leads on harmonica on the title track. Some of the uptempo numbers were a tad too much in the blues-rock bag for this writer, but that is exactly what his fans love him for and ‘Like a fool’ is probably the pick of these. John Mayall is currently undertaking an extensive UK tour that began on 17 October and continues on into late November, taking in Manchester at the Bridgewater Hall on 28 October and a double bill at Ronnie Scott’s in London on 25 and 26 November respectively. Blues fans are in for a treat.

Tim Stenhouse

21st Oct2014

DJ Tudo e Sua Gente de todo Luga ‘Pancada motor-manifesto da festa’ (Far Out) 3/5

by ukvibe

dj-tudoFar Out records have pioneered contemporary Brazilian music, but for this latest release have gone slightly left-field for an album of music that both digs deep into the traditional sounds of north-east Brazil and gives these rhythms a decidedly modern feel fused with dub effects. The project is the brainchild of DJ Tudo aka Alfredo Bello, a DJ who during the 1990s dance culture craze made London his home and soaked up the myriad influences of the dance scene at the time, but his other musical hat is that of musicologist and during the periods 2003-2009 and 2102-2013 he went around the north-east of Brazil in particular recording local traditional music styles and he deserves a good deal of credit for this. Here he has enlisted the support of London’s very own dub maestro Mad Professor and a fusion of Jamaican reggae and Brazilian grooves is not as unlikely as one might expect. Musicians such as Olodum and Gilberto Gil have regularly sampled Jamaican music, though it is true to say that an international audience has not warmed to such fusions and generally prefers a more conventional samba-based groove. Quite possibly a Brazilian equivalent of the Congotronics sound is what DJ Tudo was searching for and to a certain extent he has succeeded on the dub-infused opener ‘É hoje é hoje’ which has something of an African feel to it with rustic male vocals. There are blues inflections on ‘Traveler’ which is a street march from Marujda and again driving percussion is a feature of this instrumental. Afro-Funk is in evidence on ‘Meu Natural’ with rock-influenced guitar while the pared down ‘Nico’s dream’ has some wah-wah guitar effects and a bass line right out of classic Jamaican dub with dubbed horns for extra effect. Perhaps for devotees of the genuinely rootsy sounds of Brazil what might have enhanced the overall feel of this project is to include both the original versions and their dubbed versions. There are some truly exceptional and seldom heard rhythms contained on this album and it is a pity that the listener is not afforded the opportunity to hear them in their original glory. That said, this is still a worthy release and fans of dub who enjoy some exotic musical backdrop will find a good deal to enjoy here.

Tim Stenhouse

20th Oct2014

Willie Hutch ‘In Tune’/’Midnight Dancer’ (Real Gone Music) Separate CDs both 4/5

by ukvibe

willie-hutchSinger-songwriter and guitarist Willie Hutch was simply too talented a musician to ever fit neatly into any one category. His falsetto vocals beg obvious comparisons with Curtis Mayfield, but during the 1970s Hutch transformed his career from being a skilled songwriter for others (‘I’ll be there’ for the Jackson Five, ‘California my way’ Fifth Dimension and even a debut LP for the Miracles) to a solo career of some distinction. By the beginning of the 1970s he had already recorded two albums as a leader for RCA, but it was his mid-1970s stint at Motown that really brought his name to prominence, notably with two classic soundtracks to Blaxploitation movies, ‘Foxy Brown’ and ‘The Mack’. These combined elements of classy soul and gritty funk to perfection and have long been favourites of music fans, DJs and samplers in equal measure. However, in 1977 Willie Hutch left Motown for a new endeavour with ace producer Norman Whitfield. Of course Whitfield himself was behind some of the classic early 1970s grooves at Motown, especially the psychedelic masterpieces that are ‘War’ for Edwin Starr and ‘Papa was a rolling stone’ for the Temptations. It was with this background that Whitfield sought to update the Hutch sound for the late 1970s disco explosion that incorporate elements of the earlier Whitfield formula. In truth Hutch’s voice is simply too soulful to ever be considered a disco clone, but there was nonetheless a conscious attempt to gear his music to the dance floors and this was always measured by some superior quality balladry. The two albums under consideration here date from 1978 and 1979 respectively and represent the twelfth and thirteenth albums of his career as a whole. Thus Hutch was no novice, but rather an experienced artist and Whitfield sought to compliment his mellifluous voice with some of the crème de la crème of L.A. musicians including what remained of the Funk Brothers (aka the Motown rhythm section) of Jack Ashford, Eddie ‘Bongo’ Brown and Melvin ‘Wah Wah’ Watson. Factor in string arrangements by Gene Page, vocalist from groups Lakeside and Stargard and the results were always likely to be a critical success.

The first album, ”In Tune’ is noteworthy for the stunning ‘Easy does it’ which has one of the subtlest of keyboard riffs imaginable and yet effortlessly cooks up a head of steam in the process. In a funkier vein and with a definite nod to ‘Papa was a rolling stone’, ‘And all hell broke loose’ features some of the distinctive percussion and clavinet sound that Norman Whitfield productions were famous for. This is repeated on ‘All American Funkathon’ which sounds as though Hutch was listening to the updated Curtis Mayfield sound of the mid-1970s and is a heavyweight soul tune. Only ‘Come on and dance with me’ sounds in retrospect a little dated and a too contrived attempt at disco glory. Hutch and Whitfield must have discussed the extent to which they were prepared to go towards disco and on ‘Hi shakin’ sexy lady’ it is as if the disco-fied intro which then gives way to psychedelic soul is an indication that 100% disco was not on their radar. Gorgeous keyboard vamps make this a winner of a tune. Rounding out proceedings were two classy ballads in ‘Paradise’ and ‘Anything is possible if you believe in love’. The second album followed in a similar vein, though the elongated uptempo numbers veer more to disco than previously as do some of the song titles. That said, arguably the strongest album cut here is the mid-tempo ballad ‘Never let you be without love’ that surely owes a debt of gratitude to the Isley Brothers and is a truly inspirational number. For uptempo soul, ‘Everyday love’ is a strong melodic piece while there is a nod to Latin music in the intro to ‘Down here on disco street’ with lovely rhythm guitar riffs. Again there is one number that sounds a trifle dated,’ Everybody needs money’ in terms of the disco bass line, but the lyrics are just as relevant as ever. Of the other two ballads on offer, ‘both ‘Kelly green’ and ‘Deep in your love’ showcase that instantly recognisable Hutch voice.
The major question remains of why these albums were not more significant hits at the time, particularly since Whitfield was obviously scoring major successes with Rose Royce and there are definite hints of that band’s instrumentation in some of the songs contained on these two albums. Maybe Hutch was just too associated with the earlier 1970s era to be regarded as a bona fide dance artist, or maybe it was simply that with the success of Rose Royce and, to a lesser extent Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch did not receive the promotion he fully deserved. Whatever the case, these two albums generally stand the test of time remarkably well and include some hidden gems for lovers of deeper soul ballads and uptempo grooves alike. Willie Hutch would continue to record into the 1980s when he briefly returned to Motown and scored another club hit in the UK with ‘Inside Out’. He passed away in 2005.

Tim Stenhouse