Selma Juudit Alessandra ‘Rubicon Songs’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

Rubicon Songs is the debut album of Selma Juudit Alessandra, a four-piece group based in Helsinki led by composer and singer Selma Savolainen. The group describes the sound they produce as ‘nostalgic and experimental indie-hybrid’. It’s going to be a nightmare for the record shop owner who likes to display his wares by genre but what does it mean? For a start, I can happily report that the music bears no resemblance to Oasis and their ilk! The rhythm section is jazzy and includes double bass. Synthesiser keyboards and voices dominate the ethereal sound with references to the 1980s and hints of prog and folk.

The sombre, crystalline “Rubicon Song” introduces the album with the muted voice intertwining with the swirling synths. The songs build to grandeur as the muscular rhythm section slowly asserts itself. I detect elements of folky progressive rock here. The uptempo “Spineless” follows with grinding distorted double bass. The dance-y feel abruptly cuts into a syncopated disjointed chorus which I find a little jarring. On “Spring Song”, voice and synth noodling wander on the ether. It’s reminiscent of 80s dream pop, partly because of their use of contemporary synthesisers.

Drums burst through on the sublime “Miles Apart” with Drum & Bass style broken beat patterns, though set low in the mix to emphasise the track’s ethereal sound. It’s the stand out track on this release. Some more exciting drumming on “Spook Hour” accompanied by bowed bass as its claustrophobic repetitive synth hook takes hold. The balladic, haunting “Metro” follows, featuring a melancholic Rhodes piano solo. The more uptempo “Request Song” is not so subtle. It lacks the precision of the other tunes and grates a little after a few hearings. The smooth “Stray” has a folky feel and is gentle and moving. Especially enjoyable is the vocal harmonising towards the end of this song. The beautiful dense sweep of soaring vocals and layers of keyboards on “Back Here” completes the album.

This album explores deep experiences such as grief, so the music, as you’d expect, is mostly solemn. It is more successful where the songs are slow-paced and moody. Unfortunately, the more uptempo tracks feel a little forced and are less convincing but overall this is an accomplished and skilled first outing for the band. And it does sound impressive, as the use of retro synths and the layered vocals blend well with the aggressive, (largely) acoustic rhythm section. When listening, there are echoes of the past but primarily this music is forward-looking. So I guess that’s what it means.

Kevin Ward

Roland Johnson ‘Set Your Mind Free’ LP/CD (Blue Lotus Recordings) 4/5

Well, it’s been a long time Roland, October 2016 to be exact, yep it’s that long ago since I reviewed your first long-player, “Imagine This”, in which that deep soul masterpiece “Ain’t That Loving You” still gets frequent plays here. I didn’t have a clue that this was out, UK collector/DJ Cliff Steele announced its arrival in vinyl format on the dreaded FB, so, vinyl ordered and eagerly anticipated I contacted Blue Lotus direct and in no time at all, a digital copy was in my sweaty mitts. The wait was worth it, it’s a cracking album with something for every soul fan, one small gripe there isn’t an out and out weeper on here but fret not, vocally he’s in great form and in many ways this album leaves off where “Imagine This” ended. Musically it’s exciting to hear a southern soul man backed by 14 musicians which include a small string section. I’m assuming it was recorded at Blue Lotus Studios in St Louise. Of course, we were all enthralled by another Blue Lotus set, 2017’s Gene Jackson “1963” which still gets aired here too.

And so this ten-track album, kicking off with the storming title track, “Set Your Mind Free”, it’s relentless, set at the right pace, I can see this lighting up a few dancefloors, especially with the vinyl format being available. It has a nagging familiar riff, easy on the feet and ears. The track for me though is “Still Here” – think the James Hunter Six and you’re in the right territory – it has also got a sneaky subtle Jamaican feel to it, those stabbing horns are straight out of Kingston’s Studio 1, he’s joined by a fine female voice in Emily Wallace, crystal clear in tone and is the perfect foil for Roland, utterly fabulous in every way. The swaying “Now You’re Gone” drops the pace and morphs into a fine ballad, bathed in strings and a simple tap on the drum rim for company, there’s a subtle bass well down in the mix which builds to a crescendo and then drops back, complete with a sax solo, this really is lovely tune. The often recorded “You’re My Best Friend” is another easy on the ear stroller which sits on here without offending anyone. “Push & Move” is a duet with the aforementioned Gene Jackson, it has an insidious groove which will take you over, so try and keep still to this, an impossible task. The closer, “Mean Mistreatin”, is a bluesy strutter with guitar out front, and what sounds like a double bass stamping its authority throughout, it’s sparse, black, gritty and I love it. Not a million miles away from what Mavis Staples is doing now and another personal fave is the Dixie inspired romp, “You Know You’re Mine”, where Emily pops up again, her voice fits this genre perfectly, the manic sax solo just adds to this romping brew.

The other tracks just add to the overall quality of this album and I can’t recommend it enough. A long list of musicians bring much to the album, and we thank you all. Track this down in whatever format you’re happy with, this is another stunning heartwarming set. Thank you again.

Brian Goucher

Read also:
Roland Johnson ‘Imagine This’ CD (Blue Lotus Recordings) 4/5

Santiago Bosch ‘Galactic Warrior’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

Santiago Bosch releases his sophomore album ‘Galactic Warrior’ which serves as a marked return to the forefront for the multi-faceted pianist.

Following eight years since Bosch’s well-received debut release ‘Guaro Report’, the native of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, who boasts the distinction of being a Berklee graduate and son of saxophonist Jaime Bosch, has become a live music staple having performed at festivals the world over including Puerto Rico’s Music Conservatory Jazz Festival, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, Colombia’s Barranquilla Jazz Festival, as well as hosting a residency at New York City’s 55 Bar with guitarist Tim Miller.

Even without being told directly, the fact that thematically Bosch has strived to emulate the soundtrack to a video game would in complete honesty leap out at you – with song titles like ‘Level 8’, ‘Main Menu’ and ‘Finding Your Way Out’, and compositions which, at times, emulate the fervent and desperate pace of a hero committed to the fulfilment of his quest like those enshrined within an early-1990’s Sega Mega Drive classic like Shinobi or Golden Axe. But the fact that this aesthetic is still presented as a contemporary jazz record is, well, intriguing to say the absolute least.

Joining Santiago Bosch on his own quest are an accomplished array of musicians including the aforementioned Tim Miller, saxophonists Tucker Antell (Myele Manzanza, Saucy Lady) and George Garzone (Magnus Bakken, Joe Lovano), electric bassist Dany Anka (the only returning member of Bosch’s ‘Guaro Report’ debut), drummer Juan Ale Saenz (Adrián Escamilla Quartet), trumpeter Darren Barrett (Roy Hargrove, Esperanza Spalding), with laouto by Vasilis Kostas (Hago) and upright bass by Jared Henderson, which leaves Bosch the duties of handling the Fender Rhodes, synthesizers, acoustic piano and all production.

The real strength and charm in ‘Galactic Warrior’ comes from the versatility of Bosch’s compositions – the skill that Bosch demonstrates as he interweaves incredibly subtle themes of electronica into the arrangements is near masterful. And while, yes, the idea of this album being presented as the soundtrack to a video game adds a genuinely exciting dimension to the whole package, there are also songs that listeners will connect with on entirely different dimensions – like the jazz-funk of ‘Perspectives’ and ‘Transition’, or the introspective nature of ‘Questions’. ‘Persecution’ is another notable mention as, over the course of nearly seven minutes, this overwhelming cacophony of sounds transports you through this surreal cosmic nightmare that you ultimately realise is best appreciated when you just give yourself over to it.

Santiago Bosch has delivered an inspired project with ‘Galactic Warrior’ and hopefully one that will receive a follow-up in fewer than another eight years.

Imran Mirza

Kit Downes ‘Dreamlife of Debris’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

“Dreamlife of Debris” is pianist/organist/composer Kit Downes’ second release for the ECM label, extending and developing further the core ideas heard on his first recording “Obsidian”. This new release benefits from music performed in a much wider context, featuring long-time collaborators saxophonist Tom Challenger, cellist Lucy Railton and drummer Seb Rochford. There’s also a first musical encounter with Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus.

The album is drawn from sessions recorded at two UK locations – the 13th century church of St John the Baptist in the village of Snape in the Suffolk countryside and St Paul’s Hall (a converted 19th century church) at Huddersfield University – where the musicians arrived to variously interact with Downes. The instrumentalists meet – as Downes puts it – “in a space with no singular character”, with a dream-like ambience being created through overdubs and collage. Although the players do not come together as an ensemble, their appearance as individuals in changing constellations influences the direction of the shape-shifting music triggered by Downes’s improvising, arranging and composing.

The intuitive, effortlessly ethereal understanding between Downes and saxophonist Challenger is built on years of performing and recording together, and it shows. When two musicians of this calibre share the same wavelength at an identical moment in time, the results, as heard here, are quite simply stunning. Downes and Challenger had maintained an organ/sax duo for eight years prior to this recording, yet it is the introduction of piano from Downes that brings a new light and breath of fresh air to the session. The bright opening section of “Sculptor”, the first track here, rings the changes, with alert sparkling piano gradually dissolving into organ drones. Downes’ intelligent use of piano and organ works wonderfully, with a deft touch from the composer skilfully weaving the two instruments’ different sounds into a thoughtful, elegant tapestry of sound.

Each tune develops into its own journey, with time and space for us to take in the beauty that surrounds us. I’m also taken by Downes’ ability to surprise the listener, as on the ambitious “Bodes”, with its stark, bereft, industrial soundscape, and the closing piece “Blackeye” which features an energised Seb Rochford.

There are moments of absolute bliss as Downes and Challenger touch the soul on the mournful yet sublime “Twin”. Downes’ flexibility with, and vast understanding of the sounds that can be nurtured from the organ cannot be underestimated. “Sunflower” is the perfect example of this, as he conjures ideas and sounds that are at once other-worldly and yet somehow still grounded in earthly tradition.

The music on “Dreamlife of Debris” has a timeless quality to it that is a rare gift. Immerse yourself in it and you will be carried away by its beauty. It has intrigue, it has depth, it has wonder. It is unique – even for an ECM release.

Kit Downes and co are promoting the album with the following UK dates:
MAC Theatre, Birmingham (December 5)
Anteros Arts, Norwich (December 6)
King’s Place, London (December 7)

Mike Gates

Read also:
Kit Downes ‘Obsidian’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5
Kit Downes and Tom Challenger ‘Vyamanikal’ CD (Slip) 4/5
Kit Downes Trio ‘Quiet Tiger’ CD (Basho) 4/5

Muriel Grossmann ‘Reverence’ 2LP (RRGEMS) 5/5

I’m going to cut to the chase, I love this record. Last year Golden Rule blew me away and I really feared that Muriel and her quartet wouldn’t be able to top it. But I’m delighted to report I was wrong. It’s a joy and a privilege to hear such a wonderful album. If Golden Rule was permeated with the spirit of John Coltrane then ‘Reverence’ which with its swirling organs, gorgeous strings, and Radomir Milojkovic’s driving guitar is exploring the paths first travelled by Alice Coltrane, Miles electric bands and Larry Young. It is powerful, insistent, creative and joyous music anchored by an amazingly tight rhythm section that grooves like hell.

‘Reverence’ is a record that consistently and respectfully draws on Africa influences to create wonderful, memorable, multi-layered, original and exuberant tunes. ‘Water Bowl’ is a bass-heavy afro-beat shuffle punctuated by some deep and funky solos with Barcelo’s staccato organ coming over like James Brown in the Africa 70. On album opener, ‘Okan Ti Aye’, a Yoruba phrase meaning Heart of the World, Gina Schwarz, and drummer Uros Stamenkovic create a cacophony of bass-led percussion, while Milojkovic and Grossman fiercely ride the changes.

Grossman has a wonderfully warm and rich sound and uses it to great effect on ‘Union’. Her soprano dances over the sonic excursions of Llorenç Barceló on Hammond and that super tight rhythm section, which is augmented by an array of drones, string and percussion instruments, creating a pulsing and beautiful polyrhythmic tune which acknowledges and pays tribute to the African roots and legacy of jazz.

‘Chase’ starts with the sumptuous interplay between drums and saxophone before settling into another intense percussive groove Grossman’s solos are 100 miles an hour, exciting and exploratory and gloriously powerful, a musician confident in her own sound and ready to share it with the world.

‘Sundown’ is a wonderous and peaceful, spiritual meditation with strings and keys creating the perfect atmosphere for Grossmann’s beautifully melodic solos and it is one of many highlights on an outstanding record. Another highlight is the bass of Gina Schwarz. Her introduction to ‘Tribu’ is stunning, as are the exchanges between Hammond and Horn and throughout the record she is the potent and concentrated rhythmic pulse, creating a solid and yet creative canvas for the vibrant and resonant explorations of the rest of the group.

The core of this band has been together for nearly four years and you can hear that this in their playing. Radomir Milojkovic’s guitar gives the group a unique and distinct sound, his solos on ‘Afrika Mahala’ take the instrument into new worlds. Llorenç Barceló’s organ is a revelation as far away from the sixties soul-jazz trios as you could imagine but still evoking that richly sonorous, joyful and spiritual sound of Sun Ra and those later Blue Note sides by Larry Young.

The final track ‘Morning’ epitomises the whole record, with marimbas, strings, shakers and whistles setting the tone for a gloriously searching and celebratory tune that captures the sound of a group that is still growing, evolving, experimenting and surging towards its creative peak.

Nick Schlittner

Read also:
Muriel Grossmann ‘Golden Rule’ 2LP (RRGems) 5/5
Muriel Grossmann 2019 interview

Joy Ellis ‘Dwell’ (Oti-O) 4/5

This is Joy Ellis’s second album as a leader coming a couple of years after the well-regarded Life on Land. Sadly I have missed her and the band when they have played Birmingham and judging from this album it’s my loss.

What is immediately apparent is the open and well recorded and mixed sound. There is a clarity which allows the individual instruments and Joy’s voice to shine while preserving a strong group aesthetic. And from the moment I heard Joy’s voice on the opening track ‘Daffodils’ it straight away put me in mind of a distinctly English style – clear with an emphasis on telling the story in the lyrics.

It reminded me of, for example, Jacqui Dankworth’s rendering of Housman poems on her album with New Perspectives from 20 or so years ago or her settings of William Blake. And that’s a real compliment – I have to say that British singers who affect a Stateside intonation do present me with a barrier to get past. But Joy is not a copyist and has her own unique and refreshing feel.

Joy was apparently classically trained which might go some way to explaining her approach. But she is a pianist first and on initial listening it is the tunes and the arrangements and the lovely playing that grabs your ears. The album mainly features her regular quartet with her piano, keys and voice supported by Rob Luft on guitar, Henrik Jensen on double bass and Adam Osmianski on drums. In addition, Ferg Ireland contributes electric bass on ‘Pollyanna’, ‘Family Tree’ and ‘Dwell’. On ‘One Minute in Manchester’, both bassists play.

Daffodils starts quietly with a lovely piano intro leading into Joy singing the verses and then Rob Luft with a well-constructed solo with Joy taking over on piano before she returns to vocals with a subtly different and more urgent delivery. This structure with the vocals being important but not over-shadowing the other instruments follows throughout the album.

Pollyanna has a choppy piano vamp while Joy sings. With Ferg Ireland on electric bass there is a different feel. He contributes a solid solo before well-considered ones from Luft, Joy and Osmianski. It’s the drummer who sets the tone for Family Tree with a quick and effective snare riff. With Joy on electric piano (I’m guessing Rhodes), Luft on lead style electric guitar and Ireland under-pinning on electric bass this has a funky feel.

There is plenty to enjoy on this recording with effective changes to the tonality and instruments used and the lyrics are well worth a careful listen for their own sake. ‘One Minute in Manchester’, for example, is a moving tribute to the victims of the Manchester bombing when Ellis took part in a minutes silence while in the city for a residency.

Joy Ellis is the leader but this really successful album is as good as it is because of the top levelling playing and teamwork from everybody involved.

Album launch:
14 December – Vortex Jazz Club

Brian Homer

Various ‘Move On Up: The Songs of Curtis Mayfield’ CD (Playback) 4/5

A lot of elements of Curtis Mayfield’s music seem very pertinent in today’s climate, particularly when considering events in the US over the last few years. A very public and visceral backlash to social and political injustices have gone on to inspire swathes of music from artists and musicians all keen to lend their voice to the protest. International Anthem recording artist, Jaimie Branch, addresses the racism attached to the current Republican presidency on her album ‘Fly or Die II’; saxophonist Brent Birckhead used his self-titled debut album to address soaring levels of police brutality; Ethiopian-inspired funk collective, Anbessa Orchestra, released ‘Tch’elema’ intending to inspire hope and change to those impacted by the continued threat of international conflict, divisive and dishonest politicians and the real danger that climate change has on our lives…

And when reviewing music from this wide and diverse pool of talent, the music of Curtis Mayfield is very much something that continues to maintain its relevance even in 2019. Inspired by the events and tragedies he witnessed growing up in Chicago, Mayfield’s music openly addressed issues surrounding civil rights and he would become revered as introducing topics of this delicate nature into a wider social consciousness through his timeless recordings.

The quality of Mayfield’s music is such that it seems to find ways of reintroducing itself to audiences of younger generations as the years pass – the arrival of “Hip-Hop Soul” in the 1990s saw Mayfield’s music heavily sampled by artists including Mary J Blige and Total, as well as covers by neo-soul champion, D’Angelo. Even in recent years, Kanye West’s seminal ‘Touch The Sky’ (2005) boasts the beloved and inimitable horns of ‘Move On Up’; Angie Stone tackled ‘The Makings of You’ for her sophomore album release ‘Mahogany Soul’ (2001); funk band Lettuce partnered with neo-soul vocalist, Dwele, for an interpretation of ‘Move On Up’ (2008). The reach of Curtis Mayfield’s music is boundless.

Which brings us to ‘Move On Up: The Songs of Curtis Mayfield’ presented by Australia’s Playback Records. Rather than a straightforward ‘best of’, this compilation draws from a number of artists covering classic Mayfield recordings within a predominately 1970s period. The compilation boasts several highs – Barbara Mason covering ‘Give Me Your Love’ is excellent and Willie Wright’s ‘Right On For The Darkness’ is another clear standout, but as an added bonus, there are tracks presented here which featured Mayfield’s golden touch as a writer and producer, showcasing his compositions for Aretha Franklin ‘Look Into Your Heart’, The Staple Singers ‘Let’s Do It Again’ and Baby Huey’s cult classic ‘Hard Times’ from Huey’s Mayfield-produced album, ‘The Living Legend’. The inclusion of ‘Here But I’m Gone, Part 2’ (featuring the additional vocals of Lauryn Hill) makes for a nice addition – a song originally housed in ‘The Mod Squad’ soundtrack and released in 1999.

Thinking about it, the dream version of this project would perhaps host a two-disc compilation with the second disc really delving into more contemporary takes on Mayfield’s recordings as performed by the likes of the aforementioned Lettuce and Angie Stone. Within this 20-track selection, it’s only the final few covers by Geoffrey Williams, En Vogue and Joanna Teters & Mad Satta that strive to achieve that. Taking ‘Hard Times’ as an example, Baby Huey’s original is clearly undeniable but it’s a song that has seen some excellent renditions from John Legend & The Roots as well as Alecia Chakour & The Osrah.

Aside from the latter very minor note, ‘Move On Up’ serves as an excellent compilation of Curtis Mayfield’s forward-thinking and indelible style of soul music – as definitive in today’s times as they were fifty years ago.

Imran Mirza

Åkerblom & Zenger ‘Live At Romu Jazz’ LP (Jazzaggression) 3/5

‘Live At Romu” is a recording of an improvised bop performance from July, 2015 by a young Finnish duo, Max Zenger switching between alto saxophone and flute and double bassist Teemu Åkerblom switching between fingers and bow!

“Peaceful Mornings”, the first of five original compositions on this release, is a steady start. The ponderously slow semi-walking bass lines underpinning the rhythm with short, melodic and sometimes repetitive bursts of saxophone.

“So One Has To Go” is much more interesting and enjoyable. The longest and most successful track on this release, Åkerblom’s chordal harmonics introduce the idiosyncratic bass lines which occupy the space available from the softer flute tone. Max Zenger’s flute is more tuneful and fluid than the playing on the first track. After a few minutes, the track is propelled by the walking bass and dense chords when Zenger later switches to saxophone. There seems to be greater synergy between the two musicians on here.

“Aurajoen Rannoilla” begins with flute and bowed bass. The track is slow which emphasises the heavy timbre. The effect is surprising considering there are just two instruments.

On “Abstract Blues & The Truth”, another outstanding track, the saxophone and repetitive bass orbit and slowly gravitate toward the track’s simple and bluesy motif. The bass explores chordal variations and concludes with a sound weirdly reminiscent (to me!) of Bo Diddley’s old chugging records. Also, there’s a warmth here that is sometimes not apparent with improvised music.

Åkerblom continues in a similar vein to where he left off in the previous track on “Frozen Land”, with intermittent and repetitive bursts of activity providing a solid foundation for Zenger’s sax to build upon. The tune lightens and slows to wind down the record.

An improvisational set with just two musicians is a challenge but also an opportunity to explore the space usually occupied by other band members. They approach this with intelligence, using different techniques and even different instruments. Zenger’s flute playing is good but is also enhanced by juxtaposition to his, probably inferior, sax noodlings. Sometimes, though, the music is a little too sparse and becomes static and rhythmically inert. The album is more successful when Åkerblom’s bass lines give the music propulsion and momentum. “So One Has To Go” and “Abstract Blues & The Truth” have that rhythmic drive and are particularly absorbing. Coupled with the accomplished musicianship, this album is interesting and exciting. It demands your full attention.

Kevin Ward

Charles Tolliver ‘Charles Tolliver and his All Stars’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Few debut sessions as leader can have had such a chequered history as this latest Charles Tolliver re-issue from Pure Pleasure Records. The recording itself occurred in July 1968 at a New Jersey studio but the first issue wasn’t until 1971 on the Black Lion label based in the United Kingdom. It took even longer for this music to get a US release as Paper Man on the Freedom imprint in 1975. In between times, Tolliver’s second session as leader had overtaken it and been released in 1969 under the title The Ringer and the trumpeter had co-founded the much-vaunted Strata-East Records with pianist Stanley Cowell.

Perhaps the hiatus between the recording and release of this first session was in the back of Tolliver’s mind when he and Cowell launched Strata-East in frustration at not being able to interest any New York record companies in their Music Inc material? At over 50 years’ distance, it seems almost incredible that a date boasting Tolliver backed by the firepower of a rhythm section comprised of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers plus Gary Bartz guesting on alto should sit unreleased for so long.

This re-issue preserves the running order of the six tracks of the original record and manages to find space for a, previously unreleased on vinyl, additional tune on Side B (though it has previously appeared on CD). The programming scores on two counts: the first obvious one being the extra music in the form of a quintet version of Repetition; the second that the logical split of the music features the Tolliver-led quartet for all of Side A while Side B is devoted to the quintet created by the addition of Bartz. Throughout, the blend of continuity and variety that typifies Tolliver’s live and on-record identity is already present.

The continuity comes from the selection of material that the trumpeter has continued to revisit and remould over the course of his career. ‘Right Now’ was first recorded when Tolliver was a sideman on Jackie McLean’s 1966 Blue Note date of the same name; ‘Household of Saud’ reappears on Music Inc’s debut Strata-East album; and the bonus cut, Repetition (Take 2), remains a live favourite (Tolliver opened his recent Camden Jazz Cafe date with it) and is captured on the Music Inc double LP Live At The Loosdrecht Jazz Festival. These three tracks alone offer variety from ‘Repetition’ and it’s strong bebop roots via its association with Charlie Parker to the “New Thing” feel of ‘Right Now’.

Jazz trumpeters rarely record whole LPs as the lone horn supported by just a rhythm section: Lee Morgan’s Candy, Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny and Blue Mitchell’s Blues’ Moods spring to mind. All these proved to be one-offs such is the pressure of the responsibility of being a one-man front line for prolonged periods. Tolliver is almost unique in that he frequently recorded in a quartet format. So it should come as no surprise that he was able to anchor all of Side A with a strength of purpose, a stream of ideas and technical excellence. The centrepiece of this side, indeed of the whole record, is the nine-minute deep dive of ‘Peace With Myself’. This majestic number sweeps back and forth with Tolliver demonstrating control across the full range of his instrument from low growling notes through to rapid high-pitched trills.

Bartz joins the group on Side B and if like me, your familiarity with his work is based on the Harlem Bush Music records, then there’s something different to enjoy here. Bartz’ alto sounds rich, smooth and unflustered – almost the inverse of the sharp tone of Tollver’s early mentor Jackie McLean. That, allied with the presence of Carter and Hancock, leads to moments when you can be lulled into thinking you’re listening to the Second Great Miles Davis Quintet. Then the spell evaporates to be superseded by an entirely different kind of magic. For instance, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that a mid-Sixties Lee Morgan outing like Cornbread or The Sixth Sense was on the turntable during ‘Paper Man’.

Perhaps such versatility is both Tolliver’s greatest strength and his most obvious weakness: in him you can hear Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and Woody Shaw influences to name but a few. Tolliver assimilates elements of all their styles with ease but sometimes that seems to obscure his own identity. He deserves to be credited as one of the finest jazz trumpeters to emerge towards the end of the 1960s and had few serious challengers in the 1970s yet he is not as well known as others on his instrument.

The mastering at Air Studios was done from high-resolution digital files rather than directly from the original analogue master tapes (apparently they’re too precious to cross the Atlantic) but I’d challenge you to spot the difference on many HiFi systems. Even if its sound seems a little “off” to begin with, Hancock’s piano is a constant presence throughout the record whether he’s propelling things forcefully or teasing out subtle prompts. Carter and Chambers are less obvious in the mix and that is perhaps the one area where the digital source falls a little short.

Overall, though, this re-issue is the best option for anybody interested in hearing the genesis of Tolliver’s career as a leader. I hope it attracts new interest in Tolliver and it’s a pleasing thought that this, his first leadership date, has come “home” in some sense by virtue of finally being bestowed with a Strata-East catalogue number and matching labels!

Martin Kelly

The Meters ‘Gettin’ Funkier All The Time: The Complete Josie / Reprise & Warner Recordings (1968-1977)’ 6CD (SoulMusic) 5/5

This definitive 6CD collection is essentially the best of The Meters, recorded between 1969 and 1976 including all the music from those first five albums on the Reprise and Josie record labels. Their unique funk and blues sound captured the essence of New Orleans and spread it throughout the world with a firm stamp of approval. To many, The Meters are considered to be the founding fathers of funk and through the years their incredible music has touched many generations and continues to inspire many who dip their tippi toes in the water.

The 1969 hits “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut” marked part of the beginning of a long line of incredible tracks over a 5-6 year period, sampled by many hip hop groups and producers over the years and through different generations including A Tribe Called Quest, Gangstarr, Main Source, DJ Krush, Flying Lotus to name a few. That debut album sparked a momentous step forward away from the New Orleans enclave spreading the funk at parties, clubs and bloc parties throughout America and further afield. DJ Kool Herc playing a Meters’ track next to say, James Brown, Sly and The Family Stone and an obscure proto-disco track with a heavy 2, 4 or 8 bar break was part of that continuation and inspiration. Collectors, DJs, producers, party goers and listeners worldwide acknowledge that definitive Meters hook and sound.

The Meters debut album, ‘Look-Ka, Py Py’, was a big success with the title track included in many DJs 50 best samples of all time. Each subsequent album up until the mid-1970s revealed a captivating mixture of funk and blues. The music continued with an energetic force after the album ‘Struttin’ adding a wider lens to their repertoire. Following their fourth album, ‘Cabbage Alley’, The Meters recorded and released ‘Rejuvenation’ which is considered by many to be their most rounded and essential album to date. It’s a classic that seemed to pay homage to New Orleans but from a distance with a deft touch and a new sense of direction which kept hold of that rooted signature sound, adding some punchy vocals and wider appeal. The album was high in many music polls of the top 500 greatest albums released.

The history of this native New Orleans band dates back to 1965 when keyboardist and vocalist Art Neville recruited bassist George Porter Jr., drummer Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste and guitarist Leo Nocentelli to form The Meters. During those formative and most significant years between 1969- 1975 most of the albums were recorded in the New Orlean based Sea Saint studio, started and run by Allen Toussaint and Marshall E. Sehorn. The studio brought out a special sound and a sense of community which favoured many great musicians who happen to record at this legendary studio.

There are too many favourites on this collection and personal favourites differ for most people although the core recordings such as ‘Citty Strut’, ‘Look-Ka Py Py’, ‘Just Kissed My Baby’, ‘Handclapping Song’ and a few choice others rank high in many favoured lists. Some like the raw stripped-down funk of the first three albums whilst others opt for the music that arrived via the later ‘Rejuvenated’ album, which resonated throughout the hip hop and rare groove community. Tracks such as ‘Just Kissed My Baby’ were a firm favourite on the rare groove scene. Released in 1969, ‘Same Old Thing’ was a big hit with the early mainstay of hip hop producers including Mantronix, who used the track on the early classic ‘King Of The Beats’. In 2007 Speedometer added their own mark to the original with a heavy version that came out on Freestyle Records on a 7″. So many bands have covered The Meters’ early period of music so it’s worth mentioning a few tracks.

‘Cissy Strut’ is another of many Meters’ tracks that have been sampled and reinterpreted with enough identity to enhance and add something different. Check out the psychedelic funk version by Chilean group Los Masters, recorded in 1969 or the big band leaning version by The Willard Posey Reunion adding a Jack McDuff like touch in 1972.

The San Diego based collective, The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, are definitely worth checking out and their 2016 version of ‘Here Comes The Meters’ is particularly solid and well worth a listen. Lloyd Charmers covered ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ in a Ska style back in 1970 and many other reggae acts have added a special note to tracks by the New Orleans funk masters over the years. In 2007 the Mocambo record label released a great 7″ steel band version of ‘Ease Back’ by The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band; a Hamburg based group worth checking for other Meters’ material. The list could go on.

There’s so much great music to choose from and enjoy from this 6CD essential collection of music dedicated to the memory of the great Art Neville and his contribution to the music world. The reissue is produced by David Nathan with linear notes of great interest on the CD booklet courtesy of Charles Waring. The reissue is mastered and released via the SoulMusic record label via Cherry Red.

Mark Jones

Astral Travelling Since 1993