28th Apr2015

Jack de Johnette ‘Made in Chicago’ (ECM) 3/5

by ukvibe

jack-deJohnetteThis new live release represents something of a return to his family roots for drummer and leader Jack de Johnette. He in fact studied piano and music at college in Chicago as far back as 1962 and among his then classmates Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. The recording ties in with the fiftieth anniversary of one of Chicago’s modern jazz institutions, Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and was recorded in late August 2013 at the Windy City’s Millennium Park, officially ‘Jack de Johnette day’. AACM were in their heyday during the 1970s and the lengthy pieces here hark back to the loft era of intense musical creativity. One major feature here is the minimalist use of piano throughout from Muhal Richard Abrams. After a rambling intro on piano, there is reed ensemble work with bass flute in the lead on ‘Museum of Time’. One of the strongest pieces is the evocative ‘This’ where the flute playing of Threadgill is showcased over a quasi-funereal tone and this an extremely downbeat number that requires several listens in order for the ear to adapt to the achingly slow pace. By contrast, the free thinking seventeen minute opener, ‘Chant’, can best be described as organised chaos and fans of AACM will be in their element here. In parts, the music here is a little too diffuse and disorganised for this writer with some losing their thread part way through, and this is definitely not music for the faint-hearted. That said, there is no doubting the sincerity of the music and to have so many of the key members the band reunited is a triumph in itself.

Tim Stenhouse

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27th Apr2015

Emily Saunders ‘Outsider/Insiders’ (The Mix Sounds) 4/5

by ukvibe

emily-saundersBrazilian vocalists other than Astrid Gilberto tend to be overlooked as influences for jazz singers, but in the case of Emily Saunders, there has been a detailed examination of the craft of Flora Purim not to mention the compositional genius of Hermeto Pascoal and instrumental prowess of Airto Moreira, and the result is an excellent recording that drives along from start to finish. Saunders specializes in uplifting, Latin-tinged numbers and the breezer, ‘Summer days’ is quite simply the perfect accompaniment to a spring or summer’s day.
The title track pays homage to Lee Morgan with an electric piano riff in ‘The Sidewinder’ vein and features a quasi-spoken delivery with a catchy ‘Nurthern like Thuthern’ bass line that lingers long. Return to Forever’s early-mid 1970s’ sound is incorporated on the wordless vocals to the exquisite ballad ‘Moon’ with an extended piano solo and this is a flowing piece with the use of subtle percussion from Fabio de Oliveira and Asaf Sirkis.
In general, fine brass ensemble playing is delivered by Byron Wallen on trumpet and Trevor Mires on trombone while keyboardist Steve Pringle is to be commended for his sensitive electric piano performance throughout.
If one had to make any comparison at all in terms of the actual voice, then it would probably be the light and gentle voice of Stacey Kent, but that is where the parallel ends for Saunders’ songbook is a slightly later and more progressive one. Her previous debut, ‘Cotton Skies’, goes back to 2011 and it has taken another four years to wait for this follow-up. On this evidence, it has certainly been worth the wait. The briefest of UK concerts took place in March and hopefully there will be more to follow.

Tim Stenhouse

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27th Apr2015

Anders Jormin/Lena Willemark/Karin Nakagawa ‘Trees of Light’ (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

trees-of-lightIn recent decades ECM has played a leading role in the promotion of world fusion music and this is no better illustrated than on this fascinating project that combines Swedish instrumental and vocal folk music with the Japanese koto. In order to fully appreciate this interweaving of folk music traditions, one means of comparison for the general listener might be the wonderful Tony Scott album from 1964, ‘Music for Zen Meditation’, that fused clarinet with flute and koto to such thrilling effect. In this new example, the music was performed by the trio for a full two years prior to the musicians going into the studio to record in Gothenburg and the results in general are excellent with odd caveat. This writer was especially taken by the instrumental pieces with Hirajoshi’ an outstanding number and more of the same calibre would be very welcome on future projects. Interestingly, despite the extensive use of the twenty-five string koto from Nakigawa, in places the feel is distinctly Celtic-sounding as on ‘Urbanus’ which features a steady bass line in tandem with koto. The vocals from Lena Willemark are quite offbeat and do require repeated listening before they fully envelop the mind and the genesis of the lyrics emanates from poems that Willemark herself has composed. Swedish double bassist Anders Jormin impresses throughout in the same way Dave Holland shone on ‘Thimar’. A series of concerts have already taken place in Sweden in March and the trio have now moved on to Japan where they will be performing during May.

Tim Stenhouse

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26th Apr2015

Buena Vista Social Club ‘Lost and Found’ Cd/LP/Dig (World Circuit) 4/5

by ukvibe

buena-vista-social-clubIt is virtually twenty years ago that the first recording took place of a then virtually unknown collective of Cuban musicians that had graced the music scene there during the mid-late 1950s, but for a good four decades thereafter had largely fallen into oblivion. Thankfully World Circuit saw fit to record the veteran at the Egrem studios in Havana and Wim Wenders had the presence of mind to film them and document both their live performances and their first trip to New York and over eight million copies of the first album were shifted globally. What marvellous cultural ambassadors they now appear with a thawing in relations between Cuba and the United States. This new release is in reality a collection of the band in its myriad formations at the absolute peak of the creative powers and is a worthy album in its own right and not simply a collection of discarded numbers. The big band (banda gigante) re-working of Bruca Manigua’ simply fizzes with panache and vitality, and this was recorded in 2000 when Ibrahim Ferrer was still taking care of lead vocals. Ferrer was that most versatile of singers and elsewhere he delivers a heartfelt bolero on ‘Como fue’ which is virtually a signature tune. Semi-instrumental pieces work particularly well with ‘Boclas de oro’ a stunning track with a wonderful piano solo from Rubén González. A younger band member whose contribution is sometimes overlooked is singer Calunga and on the infectious ‘Tiene sabor’ he opens up and the heavens open with catchy piano vamp while another big band extravaganza awaits on ‘Guajira en F’. This year represents the adios or farewell tour and several of the key band members have now passed away. However, the cannon of music that this collective have laid down will remain for decades to come.

Tim Stenhouse

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25th Apr2015

Various ‘¡Chicas! Spanish Female Singers vol. 2 1963-1978′ (Vampi Soul) 4/5

by ukvibe

ChicasHow did Spaniards internalise the emerging and prevailing sounds of the Brit invasion in the 1960s and beyond? That was the rationale behind this latest compilation from the ever wonderful Vampi Soul and once again they have unearthed some gems from the past.
What immediately comes across from this cross-section sampling is that even under Franco’s rule, Spain was slowly beginning to soak up external cultural influences and in the musical sphere this in practice meant singers from overseas recording specifically Spanish language repertoire. The results were often entertaining and, on occasion, quite surprising choices into the bargain. Who, for example, would have thought that Millie Small’s ska-pop hit ‘My boy lollipop’ would be covered some twelve years later in Spanish by US singer Donna Hightower with ‘Tú eres mi idolo’ and a lovely rendition it is too. A pity, then, Hightower did not record a whole album’s worth of reggae-infused music, or maybe she did and that should be a future re-issue project. Merseyside trio the Satin Bells fancied themselves as Motown scousers of sorts, but the excellent B-side, ‘Come c’mon’ features lovely harmonies that would not be out-of-place on a soul-blues 45.

Bossa Nova was not overlooked by the Spanish music scene and a very Sergio Mendes feel is to be found on a lush take on Jorge Ben’s classic, ‘Más que nada’, completely revisited with a new set of Spanish lyrics. The French musical and fashion revolution was well underway by the mid-1960s with Brigitte Bardot leading the way for Les Françaises and one of her compatriot’s, Claudine Coppin, decided to chance her luck in Spain with 40° a la sombra’. Interestingly the evocative title was revamped in a different setting by French writer Philippe Djian when penning the cult novel and later to become film, 37° 2 le matin (‘Betty Blue’ being the English language title).

Home grown ye-ye came in various guises such as the uptempo and brassy hues of ‘Un millión de lágrimas’ by Claudya con Ramon y sus Showmen and the rhetorical sounding title, ‘Tú no eres yé-yé’ from Blanca Aurora. Indeed even Stax soul classics from the era were not immune from a reworking as ‘Los Quandos illustrate on Sam and Dave’s eternal, ‘Soul Man’ There are in addition some old favourites from the recent past in Elia and Elisabeth, a duo of sisters whose Spanish parent settled in Colombia and here the pairing offer up ‘Porte bajo el bol’ with joint vocals and an eerie organ accompaniment. Bilingual inner sleeve notes and memorable photos of the singers plus individualised notes on the songs leave no stone unturned and the reader and listener is very much the beneficiary.

Tim Stenhouse

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24th Apr2015

VA ‘Tony Minvielle presents Into Somethin’ Vol. One’ (The Sound Of Everything) 4/5

by ukvibe

into-somethin_vol1If you buy one compilation album this year, make sure it’s this one! The album, lovingly compiled by Mr Tony Minvielle – and when we say lovingly, we mean lovingly! When it comes to a man who not only has the musical knowledge and history, but also the respect of his peers, including the likes of Gilles Peterson and the ilk, he really is an encyclopaedia of jazz, funk and soul with over 30 years experience. Having worked with and interviewed greats like Roy Ayers, Curtis Mayfield, Incognito, Maceo Parker, Weldon Irving and Gregory Porter, it comes as no surprise to which the standard of this compilation reaches and delighted by the implication of the title that there are more to come!
The obvious apparent factor on listening to the album is how the each track stands out on its own merit, unlike those albums that fall into a certain style or containment and usually filled with one or two main cuts that carry the rest of the fodder! Here though, Tony presents us with a stunning collection of quality songs from over the past few years, boasting 12 tracks that range from the soulful groover of ‘Distance Can Be Sweet’ from London-based band Personal Life (lifted from their album Morning Light), to Liz Elensky with her stunning mellow Jazz number ‘Distractions’ reminiscent of Seawind’s ‘He Loves You’, in style – but totally fresh with the likes of Jessica Lauren and Marc Rapson on musical duties. The piece originally started life as an Emanative project via The Lions of Judah sessions, oozing quality and worthy of buying the album for this cut alone!

The golden boy Carl Hudson is also represented here, from his excellent Jazz Funk album ‘Zoology For Martians’ with “Sea Snake”, a beautiful slab of Soul Funk, which Tony again avoids the obvious choice of the brilliant “Cell Divides” and heads instead for another hidden gem. ‘Let the Music Play’ from Detroit’s Collective Peace is a beautiful slab of quality mellow soul, and yet another winner from 2014. One of my favourites is ‘Miss Purty’ where Snarky Puppy’s keyboard genius, Cory Henry, delivers an excellent Jazz Funk groover – essential for all George Duke/Chick Corea fans alike. Lauren Desberg’s sublime take on ‘You Go to My Head’, from her Sideways EP, makes a classic number respectfully her own, and with Daz I Kue on production duty, it is a given that the standard is assured. Finally, with the added bonus of Cecilia Stalin (ex-Koop), plus Khari Carbral Simmons take on the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ this will surely be expected to set standards. Amazing!

With tracks that include Leon Ware on Guida de Palma & Jazzinho, Mauricio Maestro, Nana Vasconcelos and Jesse Fischer, I really cannot recommend this release enough. Tony Minvielle has delivered a compilation of exceptional standards with some real musicianship and soul. Into Something? You bet.

Head over to iTunes and pick up a copy.

Bruce Q

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23rd Apr2015

Jennifer Holliday ‘The Song is You’ (Shanachie) 2/5

by ukvibe

I was so disappointed with this release. I mean this is the lady who gave us the totally spell binding “And I’m telling you I’m not leaving” 20 plus years ago (no not Jennifer Hudson). With a gap that long you would be thinking there is something big coming from Ms Holliday… then bang – nothing! Theatrical, over-produced, and clearly her many years of treading the boards in stage musicals has removed her so far from her roots, it’s just so painful to listen to. I suppose the cover should have warned me, air brushed, theatrical presentation – I just wanted it all so badly it just had to fail. However, all is not quite lost, there is one track that saves the day, a spoken monologue ala Shirley Brown/Barbara Mason/Millie Jackson leads us into the most exquisite ballad which I haven’t been able to stop playing these past few months. Echoes of days gone by (and I’m playing it as I type) and no amount of words can do this monumental piece of soul music justice, grab a listen yourself, seriously moving. 5 Stars for “Are You Leaving Me” but yet another one-track album for the soul music lovers worldwide.

Brian Goucher

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22nd Apr2015

Jerry Kalaf ‘Welcome to Earth’ (Palm Mountain) 3/5

by ukvibe

jerry-kalafWhat is it with drummers? They tend to bring with them a (sometimes well earned) reputation of being the most annoying member of the band. And yet there are times when they bring us some of the finest original music we have heard. Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Brian Blade’s Fellowship, Paul Motian’s Trios; to name but a few. Maybe they look at things from a slightly different perspective, but whatever the reason, we are fortunate to have so many recording and performing new compositions in the jazz world. Jerry Kalaf’s “Welcome to Earth” may not hit the dizzy heights of some of the aforementioned artist’s recordings, but it is nonetheless a fine album. This is a captivating mix of quiet, confident lyricism and rich textures – performed as a trio or sextet. Kalaf actually employs three different bands in effect, each one relishing the task of working their melodic majic around Kalaf’s sensitive drumming.
“Welcome to Earth” is Jerry Kalaf’s fourth release as a leader. Having toured extensively with many well- known names in music, and having earned himself quite a reputation for his movie soundtracks, it’s pleasing to hear such sincerity on this release. A very well respected drummer, Kalaf’s compositions are tuneful and at times very compelling. The album opens with the first of three tracks featuring his sextet; “Ambiguity”. With Doug Walter on alto sax, Barry Coates on guitar, Jeff Colella piano, Gabe Davis bass and Scott Breadman adding the percussion, it swoons with its harmonic atmosphere. “Siyaya Samba”, a smooth rich samba, not surprisingly, along with the rhythmic “This one’s for Jim”, dedicated to Jim Hall, make up the other two sextet pieces. Three tunes as a trio see Leonard Thompson on piano and Ryan McGillicuddy on bass join Kalaf at his kit. “The Jazz Answer” is a warm yet rich piece of writing, inspired by Bill Evans. “Not Knowing” has that lush piano trio sound that melts the heart and suggests to the listener that actually, yes, all is well with the world after all. The title track was penned by Kalaf for his new grandson and again allows the trio to shine. For the two remaining tracks; “See You Next Year” and “Moving On” the band leader performs with Rich Ruttenberg on piano and Domenic Genova on bass. The first of these two tracks is an engaging jazz waltz with a Bill Evans languorous style. The second; “Moving On” would sit nicely on any ECM “best of” album. The tune has a sense of peace and satisfaction and is the perfect end to a very nice album.

Jerry Kalaf’s “Welcome to Earth” may not set the world on fire, but then not all music has to. What it does have is a quiet intensity and lyrical warmth that allows the listener to enjoy its uncomplicated compositions, performed with an elegance and sincerity, be it as one of two trios, or a sextet.

Mike Gates

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21st Apr2015

Emanative ‘The Light Years of The Darkness’ (Brownswood) 5/5

by ukvibe

emanativeEmanative’s latest release is an incredible, full-on, world beats meets jazz collaboration with some of the finest musicians on the scene at the moment, performing a collection of what amounts to nothing less than some of the very best spiritual jazz ever composed. This whole double album was conceived from the outset as a way to raise both money and awareness for Gilles Peterson’s Steve Reid Foundation. The Foundation commemorates the life and legacy of Steve Reid and aims to help people working in music who are in crisis, especially those suffering from illness. As Gilles Peterson explains, “In 2009, Steve was diagnosed with throat cancer, and it was during one of my visits to New York that I became aware of the extent of his suffering. I was horrified by the conditions he was living in during his last days.” He continues, “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Steve Reid’s life than to start a charity to help other musicians in his name.” The Foundation provides grants to non-profit organisations that help people working in music.
Orchestrated by Nick Woodmansey aka Emanative, but not without the generosity, help and contribution of every musician and collaborator involved, “The Light Years of The Darkness” is a limited edition release of 500 2xLP on 180gsm heavyweight vinyl. Released on Brownswood Records, Gilles Peterson adds; “I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Emanative’s album as our first release for the Steve Reid Foundation. In keeping with Steve’s open-ended approach and his musical history, Nick Woodmansey has delivered a knock out jazz and beyond album.” And he isn’t wrong there. Featuring, among many others, the talents of Tamar Osborn aka Collocotor, Jessica Lauren, The Pyramids, Finn Peters, Earl Zinger, Idris Ackamore, and Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, this is a hypnotic, organic, cosmic body of work. It is a celebration, as Gilles Peterson puts it, of “the wealth and depth of the art of black musicians, magicians who have given us so much; as well as a joining of forces with an emergence of new and present time talent to co-create new versions of music of this era.”

The album opens with a serene, dreamy, laid-back take on Alice Coltrane’s “Om Supreme”. This acts as a fine introduction and leads the listener gently into the mind-bendingly awesome “Hum Allah”. Written by Pharoah Sanders, this is undoubtedly one of the many highlights of the album, with its wonderful out-there saxophony and meditative, harmonious vocals cutting through the cyclical nature of the keys and drums. Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s “Makondi” is a percussive masterclass in rhythm with its seductive synchronicity and timeless simplicity. An ebullient melody ensues on Joe Henderson’s “Fire”, summoning the light from the dark with its sparkling arrangement. As the flames die down and the smoke rises, we find ourselves way out in orbit for the melancholic beauty of Sun Ra’s cosmic poem of love; “Love in Outer Space”; a chant and solo delivered to us by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, veteran member of The Sun Ra Arkestra. The double vinyl includes two very different versions of this, both from the same session. Arthur Blythe’s “As of Yet” rumbles, tumbles and grumbles its angry tones with expressive fortitude and a steadfast authority. Now bring on the horns, two drummers, two percussionists and a flute flight of fancy for Sun Ra’s celestial “Rocket Number Nine”. Neneh Cherry’s band, Rocketnumbernine, are joined by the brothers of United Vibrations who supply Sun Ra’s chant, vocals and message on this blast through the outer regions of space and time. This decadent and diverse album closes with Albert Ayler’s signature piece “Music is the Healing Force of The Universe”. And so it ever was, and so it should always be. A spiritual sun sets on one of the finest musical journeys to have been released this year. “The Light Years of The Darkness” is a gift, a joy to behold and cherish. The production and musicianship heard throughout this recording is jaw-dropping. It’s clever, it’s natural and ultimately it’s incredibly inspiring. May your smile Emanate from the radiance of its beauty.

Mike Gates

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20th Apr2015

Tony Joe White ‘The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings’ 2CD (Real Gone) 5/5

by ukvibe

tony-joe-whiteSwamp rock is a misleading term that has come to include myriad sub-genres that are seemingly disparate. What do Bobbie Gentry and Lynyrd Skynyrd plus the superlative Allman Brothers for example have in common other than their southern roots? Nonetheless, it is a convenient music industry designation and in recent years the UK has witnessed a resurgence in interest in the music of the south imbued with blues, rock and soul influences and the two Soul Jazz record compilations were a step in the right direction and BBC have even in recent months devoted a three-part series to the music of the southern states. One artist featured in an interview was Tony Joe White and Real Gone have done a sterling job of putting together the three LPs that White cut for Warner Bros back in the early 1970s. Of course White had already established a reputation as a singer-songwriter of some calibre by then and as a leader had scored a hit on Monument records with ‘Pork Salad Annie’. What is less well-known is that Tony Joe White is the original writer and performer of ‘A rainy night in Georgia’ that so many significant artists have covered from Ray Charles through to a dub-soaked reggae interpretation from Lee Perry’s production stable in George Faith, and then an early 1980s UK soulful pop hit from Randy Crawford.

The first self-titled album, dating from 1971, starts off as it means to continue with some stunning evocative music and a title that conjures up a dozen potential stories on its own, ‘They caught the devil and put him in jail in Eudora, Arkansas’. As a whole, it is a diverse affair and very soulful in parts since White enlisted the support of the Memphis Horns and this is the full six-piece ensemble in its full glory. For a marked contrast in emphasis, the extended monologue intro to ‘The Change’, which impressively changes gear as it progresses, features an impassioned delivery from the singer. Political changes were already afoot and White was neither afraid to allude to them nor to voice his own allegiances as on ‘Black Panther swamps’ which is an uptempo blues-rock tinged piece that Janis Joplin might have been proud of. White has always been capable achieving great subtlety in his delivery and ‘Traveling Bone’ is a wonderful Memphis soul-blues number. On the second album, ‘The train I’m on’, the singer-songwriter in White’s craft comes to the fore and the album is divided up between the second part of CD1 and the first part of CD2. It was recorded at Muscles Shoals in Alabama where Aretha Franklin and many others cut some of their finest southern soul sides. A more sensitive aspect to White’s music is revealed on ‘The family’ which has echoes of ‘A rainy night in Georgia’ while the melodic opener, ‘I’ve got a thing about you baby’, is a largely pared down affair with White on acoustic guitar (elsewhere his harmonica playing is featured extensively) and some lovely vocal harmonies from Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes (the trio would later find fame as a soulful and classy disco pairing when that genre came to prominence) and some minor chord changes on electric piano from Harry Beckett. The album’s title track is, perhaps, this writer’s favourite and is a mainly solo nugget. Several songs betray the influence of the early 1970s Stax label with White arguably strongly influenced by the music of the Staple Singers. This is most likely the case on the groove-laden ‘As the crow flies’ or on the superb ‘300 pounds of hungry’. White’s inventive song writing talents are once again evident the acoustic guitar-led ‘Sidewalk hobo’ and even more so on ‘The gospel singer’ with a stunning ‘Halellujah’ chorus. Could Leonard Cohen have heard this at some point and incorporated the gospel tinges into his repertoire? The third and final album, ‘Homemade ice cream’ from 1973 repeats the stylistic diversity, but is never formulaic for all that with swamp blues permeating the creatively titled, ‘Saturday night in Oak Grove Louisiana’, ‘Backward preacher man’ and ending on a musical high with ‘Did somebody make a fool out of you’. Full marks to Real Gone for truly first-rate inner sleeve notes where the reprinted album cover details are clearly legible and the photo graphics are clear and as large as possible within the obvious constrictions. Full recording date details make for a comprehensive package and a first port of call for any fan of southern blues with a deeply soulful edge. An early contender for re-issue for the year.

Tim Stenhouse

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