Date: 26 April Saturday
Act: Akalé Wubé + DJ Chris Menist
Venue: Rich Mix
Address: 35-47 Bethnal Green Road London E1 6LA
Price: £12 adv / £15 door
Venue phone: 020 7613 7498
Back after their London Jazz Festival debut in November, super-groovy Parisian Ethiojazz band Akalé Wubé bring the atmospheric, danceable, retro-inspired sounds of Golden Age1960s Swingin’ Addis Ababa to the party. http://akalewube.com
Akalé Wubé is a Parisian band devoted totally to the grooves of 60s and 70s Ethiopian music. Since their beginnings in 2009, Akalé Wubé have been exploring passionately and meticulously the musical goldmine of Swingin’ Addis, which they discovered through the “Ethiopiques” compilation curated by Buda Music.After years of absorbing this unique genre, working on a sound of their own through adventurous arrangements and original compositions; after numerous collaborations, two albums, over two hundred concerts and a Ethiopian trip, Akalé Wubé today propose their personal and powerful version of a fantastic Ethiopia. The band excels in building bridges between Ethio-jazz and 70s West-African music (afrobeat), Jamaica (reggae), and even still the New York contemporary scene in the years 2010; a rich melting pot with an obsessively clear direction: communicating to the feet before the mind, a thing sometimes called groove, swing, or even “jawa jawa” in Amharic.
Plus DJ Chris Menist (Paradise Bangkok/Soundway/Finders Keepers) will be spinning original East African vinyl on the night. Expect real rarities from Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania.
Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius has performed with some of the jazz greats and these include Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Oscar Peterson to name but a few. On this new solo project the sound has a definite ECM feel to it with acoustic guitar only in use here and parallels with the virtuosity of say Egberto Gismonti are in order. In truth this is as much a world roots release as it is a jazz one and this is illustrated throughout with raga influences for example discernible on ‘Hindustan Blues’ while the Chinese pipa instrument is alluded to on ‘The Dragon’ which is somewhat Metheny-esque in style and yet thankfully avoids the pitfalls of an essentially orientalist approach. A language that was once thought in the 1920s and 1930s would become the lingua franca of global communication, Esperanto, is also the title of a piece that has both Greek and Middle Eastern influences to it. Indeed multiple musical influences are on in evidence on the album with Keith Jarrett, Wes Montgomery, Oscar Paterson and Sixto Rodriguez all receiving homages of one form or another. An interesting selection of standards features an inventive reworking of Satie’s ‘Gnossienne’, a faithful rendition of Charles Trenet’s evergreen ‘La Mer’ and a fine take on Sixto Rodriguez’s superb film soundtrack score ‘Sugar Man’ while the tributes to Jarrett with ‘Preludio’ and ‘Wes’ [Montgomery] are adept at immediately conjuring up the original musicians. For even greater variety, look no further than the reposing quasi-classical ambiance of ‘Ballad for E’, written by EST member Magnus Öström. A musician who displays an inventive musical mind and is keen to explore roots music in its myriad styles. Tim Stenhouse
As part of the new duet series initiated by ACT, comes the pairing of pianist Joachim Kühn and Russian alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov. In actual fact the duet came about as a result of Kühn being invited to perform two concerts in Russia. A contact and friend, Russian author and jazz writer, Marc Samozy suggested Kühn meet Kruglov and in spite of the thirty-five years separating them in age, the two decided to perform together that very evening. The present album was recorded in just four hours which means that almost all the music was recorded as first takes adding to the spontaneity of proceedings. Six of the eight compositions are originals with the two remaining pieces being Ornette Coleman numbers. In general there music is quite melodic in nature as exemplified by ‘Waltz for you’ which is mainly a vehicle for pianist Kühn with Kruglov in a largely supportive role whereas ‘Because of loud’ is more equally distributed in weighting with a joint stating of the main theme and thereafter becoming significantly freer in form. On the opener ‘Poet’ the two musicians go through a variety of contrasting moods, but Kruglov’s playing in particular is relaxed here. Not surprisingly of the two Coleman numbers, ‘Researching has no limits’ is a complex piece that becomes increasingly abstract before returning to some semblance of normality. Kruglov’s influences include Jan Garbarek and are certainly more European in scope than Transatlantic. An interesting pairing of musical minds and one that should be repeated. Tim Stenhouse
The ACT label continues its pioneering championing of new piano talent with the latest set from young German musician Michael Wollny who has been championed by this reviewer on previous ACT releases. This time round the album is devoted to a combination of original pieces and jazz trio interpretations of contemporary classical composers such as Hindemith, Rihm and Varese and on the whole this works extremely well and enables Wollny to focus firmly on the performance side. Now into his fifth album for ACT, Wollny is ably assisted by his regular trio members bassist Tim Lefbvre and drummer Eric Schaefer who present a cohesive whole. The title track of the album is taken from a piece by Gustav Mahler, the full title of which is ‘Wir suchen den weltentraum’ (We are searching for the dream worlds) and few, if any jazz musicians, have taken it upon themselves to incorporate the music of Mahler into their repertoire which makes Wollny’s explorations all the more fascinating and praiseworthy.
If the choice of composers is surprising for someone of Wollny’s relatively young years, then he is still able to search into the current pop scene and pull out an ideal vehicle in a similar fashion to Brad Mehldau who has regularly drawn up contemporary musical sources for his inspiration. Here the reworking of the Flaming Lips’ ‘Be free, a way’ is used as a vehicle for some delightful improvisational work by the trio. Film soundtrack music is another source of inspiration and the David Lynch film ‘In Heaven’ is transformed and transposed into a thoroughly convincing jazz setting. A late April/early May UK tour beckons with more dates likely to be confirmed. Once again ACT have spotted a gem of a musician and the live performances promise to be a treat for those who appreciate their piano trios with a difference.
Neo-soul has become a much used term over the last fifteen years and the likes of Erykah Badu, Angie Stone and Rapphael Saadiq have paid homage to the great legacy of soul music that has been so influential in shaping contemporary American music in the second half of the twentieth century. Enter onto the scene an instrumental collective with a vocal dimension, RC and the Gritz. Based in Dallas, Texas, a state with a long history of pioneering black musicians (Bobby Bland, T-Bone Walker, Ornette Coleman to name just three), RO and the Gritz belong to a new generation that effortlessly weaves in elements of funk, hip-hop and soul into the mix. In their use of heavy bass there is the influence of Roger Troutman and Zapp. Vocalist Claudia Melton is on hand to provide some welcome variety and excels on the bass line riff of ‘We can’t be friends’ while Texas’s very own neo-soul superstar Erykah Badu turns up as guest vocalist on the sumptuous ‘Leave me alone’, a song that has been garnering much airplay on Gilles Peterson’s radio shows.
Ideally, this writer would like to hear more of the instrumental soloing virtuosity of the band as illustrated wonderfully on the Stevie Wonder-influenced track ‘Melodies’ which is also notable for some Earth-Wind and Fire style wordless harmonies. It makes all the difference to the enjoyment of the listening experience to be able to hear subtle keyboards in tandem with melodic bass line grooves and hopefully future collaborations with singers of the calibre of Erykah Badu will veer the band more in the direction of jazzier approach to the instrumental side. There is a nod to early 1980s era hip-hop drum patterns and scratching technique on another instrumental ‘C7#9′ while the sampling on ‘Summer Boo’ leads on to a glorious mid-tempo soul groove with shared lead vocals. In sum, a fine outfit with plenty of potential that just needs a little fine tuning to become a major new figure on the neo-soul scene.
In recent years ECM has regularly found time and space to champion new up and coming artists of talent and in this particular case, the two musicians are both Norwegian. Violinist Vilde Sandve Alnaes and double bassist Inga Margrete Aas to give them their full names are young conservatory trained musicians who in some respects are a trip back in time to the experimental New York loft scene of the 1970s (and in the process conjur up also the pioneering innovations of Arthur Russell) and this is certainly reflected in the non-conventional manner in which the duo play their respective instruments. There is a highly improvisational feel to the music which, at certain times, gives the impression of barely sketched out pieces. Indeed the compositions in general are relatively short in length with ‘Sarand’ by far the longest weighing in a seven and a half minutes. It is difficult to fully appreciate the contribution made by the duo in written from since the sounds they make are those of everyday life and beyond and it is a musical voyage of discovery. The title track hints at early music with the use of viola de gamba solos, yet unlike early music Vilde and Inga take the sounds in an altogether different direction. Interestingly, the inclusion of brief vignettes adds to a cohesive whole. If the music by the duo on this debut for ECM may on first hearing be difficult to fathom for some, with repeated listens it becomes increasingly accessible. Vilde and Inga are names you should ignore at your peril. It will be fascinating to chart the progress in the years to come. Tim Stenhouse
British blues has traditionally been the reserve of men, but thankfully this domination has been broken in recent years with the arrival of several excellent vocalists and musicians and Malaya Blue, who hails from Doncaster, is merely the latest addition. In general she focuses on blues-rock with a distinctive crossover feel and throughout the ambiance is soulful with the instrumental solos never too overbearing. The all original compositions are evenly shared between lead guitarist Mick Simpson and multi-instrumentalist Andy Littlewood. On the intro to ‘Forgiveness’ the sound of B.B. King is conjured up while on ‘Bitter Moon’ the Chess and Stax labels are paid gentle homage to with the inclusion of some tasty horns courtesy of the MEP collective who perform throughout and have been clearly influenced by the Memphis Horns. The title track has a definite US blues feel with warm instrumental accompaniment from Simpson on guitar. Arguably one of the strongest songs is ‘Bluesville UK’ and this old-school 1950s approach complete with horns best suits Malaya Blue’s voice. Variety is the order of the day on ‘Lost Girl’ which fuses blues and reggae beats while there is a potential pop crossover on the catchy riff-laden ‘Guilty’ which impresses with its use of piano vamp and horns. Included on the labum is a new version of a song, Lady sings the blues’ that Malaya Blue recorded with Mockingbird Hill and became a number one pop chart hit in 2013. Here the new interpretation is pared down to the bone. In general a pretty good stab at vocal blues. Tim Stenhouse
Indo-jazz has now become an established and respected sub-genre, but Americana folk fused with Indian classical and jazz is a new concept to this writer. However, it is precisely this mixture of sounds that has been attempted on this ambitious release by American electric, steel and acoustic guitarist Joel Harrison and Indian sarode* player Anupam Shobhakar. Jazz support comes in the tasty alto saxophone of David Binney who is creating something of a stir on the New York scene who contributes on two numbers. The fusion works best on ‘Spoonful’ where American blues (steel guitar and Hammond organ) and Indian classical blend together beautifully and possibly a larger project devoted to this harmonious blending of styles should be a future priority. Ry Cooder is evoked on ‘Devil Mountain’ and it is certainly true that blues presents the ideal counterfoil to Indian percussion. Elsewhere there are shades of Shakti with virtuosity to the fore on ‘Madhuvanti’ which is a fast-paced number with sarode* and saxophone in unison. If the balance between the disparate elements is not always as well defined as it could be, the music created will surely weave into a more cohesive whole with time. To even attempt such inter-cultural exchanges is praiseworthy and this is anything but formulaic in approach.
Joel Harrison was inspired to examine how Americana could combine with Indian classical after discovering the pioneering albums of the Nonesuch label from the 1960s and 1970s and among his musical heroes he counts Ali Akbar Khan, Baba Allaudin Khan and Ravi Shankar.
Sao Paulo-based band Garotas Suecas (Portugese for Swedish Girls, though as far as one can gather there are no obvious Swedish connections in the band) are champions of psychadelic samba rock and if they have not quite mastered the genre just yet, they are well on the way to achieving a kind of updated take on the tropicalia movement sound of the mid-late 1960s and that is to their credit. The delicate opener ‘Manchetes de solid o’ has a rock sensibility allied with percussion. One of the pioneers and true masters of samba-rock is Jorge Ben and a homage of sorts is paid on ‘Eu vou sorrir pra quem é gente boa’ which also features strings. In general latin-pop orchestrations permeate the album and are illustrated on ‘La disco collective’ while on ‘Bucolismo’, which is one of the strongest album cuts, there is even an early 1980s feel with the use of synthesizers. With lyrics in both Portugese and English, this is a well presented release from a young group we are likely to hear more from in the future. A name to watch out for. Tim Stenhouse
Best known for his lead vocals as part of 1970s super funk group and Oakland-based collective Tower of Power (‘What is hip?’ being just one of their signature tunes), Lenny Williams forged a distinctive and separate parallel career in his own right and this late 1970s album is rightly regarded as one of his very best. Born in Little Rock Arkansas (Bill Clinton being another native of this area), Williams in the early part of his career recorded for a variety of labels between 1972 and 1975 including Atco, Warner and even Motown. However, he is most fêted for his mid-1970s albums between 1977 and 1981 for both ABC and MCA and the ‘Choosing You’ album from 1977 is definitive Lenny Williams from this era. The very album cover, with Williams in a three piece suit and lady at his side, evokes the disco era and this is an album with dancefloor connections as well as more soulful tempos. One of the strongest cuts is actually a B-side to the title track as a 45 ‘Problem Solver’ which has a strong gospel influence and a previous version of this was contained on a 1974 Warner Brother album produced by Eugene McDaniels no less. Of course the A-side showcased the album to perfection and is a stunning dancefloor winner of a track produced like the rest of the album by Frank Wilson who had worked closely with Diana Ross in her post-Supremes period at Motown. An ideal follow up to the title track was the uptempo groove of ‘Look up your mind’ while, for one of those classic Williams ballads that received plenty of nightime radio airplay and in the process made him a darling of modern soul fans, ‘I’ve been away from love for too long’ is a quiet storm gem of distinction. As a result of the success of ‘Choosing You’, a second album was recorded for the label ‘Spark of Love’ which surfaced in 1978. An anthology overview is now urgently required and one that contains most of the classic sides that were first compiled by David Nathan on the now deleted and defunct Ichiban label. A year later Lenny Williams would score a major R&B and pop hit with a reprise of the Five Stairsteps 1970s hit ‘Ooh Child’ and a delicious mid-tempo number ‘Messin’ with my mind’ which is a particular favourite of this writer. Tim Stenhouse