Infinite Spirit Music ‘Live Without Fear’ 2LP/CD (Jazzman) 4/5

“Creative musicians should not consider themselves entertainers. Their purpose is to enlighten – themselves first and then the audience.” That’s how Muhal Richard Abrams stated the essential truth in the AACM manifesto. This ethos has been clearly articulated by its many awe-inspiring members; from the Art Ensemble to Anthony Braxton to Phil Cohran to Henry Threadgill to etc.

As AACM members themselves, I had an expectation of this 1979 recording by Chicago’s Infinite Spirit Music to be proudly uncommercial, seriously uncompromising, with an out there, spiritual, African influence. So, I planned to give it a quick blast to prove I was right and then wait until I was more ‘in the mood’ (and until my free-jazz-fearing family were out of the house!) to give it a focused full play.

As it turns out, the out there onslaught I was expecting never came; “Live Without Fear” is a gentle, soulful, peaceful flow of feel good and optimism.

In “Children’s Song” a Soji Adebayo rhodes twinkles and massages, Light Henry Huffs ascendant sax soothes and strokes while Ka l’ella Alou’s (?) smoky, celestial voice seeks ascendance. Divine, fluid, relaxed and respectful it feels like a coasting Lonnie Liston trustfully taking his foot off the gas.

“Ritual” and “Father Spirit, Mother Love” are African voice and percussion prayers; calling for love, wisdom and strength to proceed and grow. They’re both led in the devotional by Kahil El Zabar, creating a voice of strength, tension and uplift.

If you want some percussionfest rhythm fire then “Bright Tune” is your spin. Following a deep Huffs walkabout the layers of conga, whistles, ticks n tocks n shaky stuff deliver an extensive, revitalising, hypnotic space that eventually gets rudely interrupted by some gleeful, expressive Rhodes runs and glides. It’s fusion-time in Evanston!

“Rasta” has many parts and wears its Caribbean influence interestingly. The first 2 minutes are metronomic and electronic music-aware; then Soji stabs us into dub-lite while Huff lyrically floats and soothes again. Always sparse, it breaks down into a conversational bass solo before Soji takes us on a soulful, peaceful ramble.

Title track, “Live Without Fear”, kicks off in the vein I expected from this album. Huff’s wasp sax excites, lifts & stings, but only briefly, before the soulful spirituality takes over again; this time in the elevating vocal/sax/piano spoken mantra of “Live Without Fear”. We are then blessed with Soji’s explosion of warmth before the Infinite Spirit Music percussive troupe dances away into the distance finally, and sincerely, wishing upon us a life without fear.

Soji Adebayo remembers of the album “I recorded Live Without Fear on May 31, 1979 with some of my friends. We drove up into Evanston from Chicago in three cars on a day that smelled good and spoke all day sunshine…to Live Without Fear means to live in material reality with faith… Peace on you!”

That pretty much sums it up; warm, soulful, spiritual sunshine that smells real good, wishes Peace upon you and, true to the AACM manifesto; it enlightens.

Ian Ward

Jake Leckie ‘The Abode’ LP/CD (Outside In Music) 4/5

Going to gigs I often enjoy the music and buy the CD but at home the music doesn’t seem to have the same presence as it had live. I’ve not heard Jake Leckie live but I immediately warmed to this, his debut recording, as soon as I put in on.

He is not a name I knew before listening but his bass is strong and robust with a resonant rounded sound. Boston born Leckie has spent time in Brookline, Barcelona, Banff, Montreal, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Brooklyn, and is now based in Los Angeles.

The sound is pretty straight ahead post-bop in a contemporary New York style. The eponymous first track opens and closes with strings but in-between moves into a smart bassline and a strong lead by the trumpet of Kenny Warren, a name that may be more familiar in the UK as he is signed to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Records.

This sets the tone of the CD with Leckie prominent, exchanging lines with Warren and the excellent Swiss piano player Sebastien Ammann. The core quartet is completed by Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums who is excellent throughout.

The theme of the tunes on the CD, all penned by Leckie, is migration, the places, people and the journey that he has been influenced by. And the tunes hold up well as a set with a nice range of feel while remaining cohesive.

‘Metis’ is a slower bluesy number with a lovely bass introduction which moves into a solo from Warren and then an articulate and percussive one from Ammann. ‘Bam Bam’ is hotter with a swinging feel and great underpinning from Leckie and Ellman-Bell. ‘Mutuality’ is a ballad that has bluesy overtones with more classy soloing from Warren. ‘Negev’ is another swinger with a classic trumpet head. ‘Morning Sound’ finds Ivey Page guesting on organ with a churchified opening and continuing with a gospel feel.

On ‘After the Flood’ another guest, the remarkable 17 year old Alexis Morrast gives us a soul infused vocal with some cool strings. Her voice is cool and clear in a classic style. The CD concludes with ‘Perseverance’ a slowly pulsing tune with more of an ensemble feel with some expressive soprano sax from Caroline Davis.

The Abode is a really strong debut from Jake Leckie – very listenable and accessible with a very high standard of musicianship – now who will book the band for a UK tour?

Brian Homer

Rymden ‘Reflections and Odysseys’ 2LP/CD (Jazzland Recordings) 5/5

Scando Piano Jazz is good for me. I know this. I know this from personal experience. It fills me with liberal, pragmatic thoughts; allows me to cooly reflect on my life; and increases my IQ by at least 10 points. While listening to it I’ll pour myself a deep white burgundy (no premox, natch) or a robust coffee in my favourite Rörstrand cup (with a Semla, natch) and open books of great intellect that I might otherwise stutter at. It is music of its place, reminding me of personal Scandinavian experiences e.g. being on a ferry in Stockholm with my wife ‘debating’ whether we should go to the Abba Museum or visit the Moki Cherry exhibition at the Moderna Museet (fyi – we, after a calm, reasoned discussion, agreed to do both, natch).

So my experience says that an album recorded by 3 Scando Jazz superstars will be serious, cerebral, reflective and have that seductively tempered, boldly melancholic, passion. Rymden’s brace of jazz superstars are Bugge Wesseltoft (piano, keyboards) and the e.s.t. rhythm powerhouse’s Dan Berglund (bass) and Magnus Öström (drums); hence exceptional musicianship and well-earnt Scandinavian jazz insight, and expression, is assured.

So…errr…what’s this?! Way to go “The Odyssey” for immediately slapping my positive prejudices down; no reflective, cerebral here. It’s part guitar-less heavy metal of my youth (see Savatage) and part jazz prog. Dramatic and impactful, it’s all about quiet relief and then building and seering. Ferocious and beautiful; certainly no suggestion I should open the chilled Mersault just yet.

“Pitter-Patter” doesn’t get me brewing the coffee either; it’s a fiercely groovy Rhodes driven jazz fusion piece. Absolutely nailed down. Rymden got rhythm.

Now, “The Lugubrious Youth Of Lucky Luke” is much more like it! A bit of lugubrious is good for the soul; and add to that some languorous, via Wesseltoft’s gentle piano melody and Berglund’s forlorn/contemplative acoustic bass, and you’ve got a glorious habit-forming heartache. “The Celestial Dog And The Funeral Ship” continues this mood as Berglund’s bow and Wesseltoft’s heat slowly lead an ascension to inevitable emotive critical mass.

“Bergen” is a rollicking, upbeat traveller that is soon intimidated from memory by the dread and darkness of “Råk”; more piano jazz metal, and fusion in bursts, with Berglund and Öström bringing the powerful doom while Wesseltoft’s Rhodes attempts to escape. And escape they do, to “Homegrown” a touchingly reflective piece that in a single poignant contemplation sums up why I know that this music is good for me.

I love this album very much. I’m surprised just how much. The musician(kin)ship is unequaled; like a jazz Olivia Coleman, they have an ability to make us believe everything they say and feel; in the nuanced detail, the powerful expression and in the space.

The longevity of Rymden is now on my personal list of great hopes for the future. If realised it will be exceptionally good for me.

Ian Ward

Quartetto Minimo ‘Atlantico’ (Self-released) 4/5

Question: how many harpists can you think of in jazz? err… Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby (obviously), Rachael Gladwin (Matthew Halsall), Tori Handsley (everywhere it’s ‘happening’ in London), Alina Bzhezhinska (Ubuntu), oh dear, my mind has gone blank. It is a little like that, in reality there are others that have brought the wonderful sound of harp to recorded jazz, the likes of Brandee Younger (Marcus Strickland/Ravi Coltrane/John Legend), and the prolific Zeena Parkins (30 albums to her name) are points of reference. And so to the harp we move in to Quartetto Minimo territory courtesy of newcomer Norma Mugnier, currently studying in Versailles, France, where she has regularly performed at festivals and whom in 2018 joined Quartetto Minimo. It is the overwhelming beauty of the instrument that catapults this latest of four albums further forward from the previous releases, giving it a distinctly alternative edge, one this writer feels enhances the band’s sound from say their collaboration with Doro Offermann in 2012, where her saxophone and Nicolas Arzimanoglou Mas’ guitar work sits centre-stage. Both albums, and that of their ‘Elmer’ release of the same year will delight in different ways. The overwhelming feeling one gets from all of their albums is that of richness, listening to Parisian, Nicolas Arzimanoglou Mas, fuels my passion for music like a Egberto Gismonti or Baden Powell number might do, but I also hear elements of Flamenco – that absorbing sound of passion. Passion, which is very likely to be overused in this review. So there is history to this group, there are changes to the lineup, and we like that diversity. One needs to explore the discography, revel in ‘El Macabro’ from 2012 and kick yourself for overlooking such a quartet’s output. I am drawn to the latin/Brazilian jazz feel to it all, the acoustic guitar controlling the passages, a sound I can not recall embracing me since Clarice & Sérgio Assad released ‘Relíquia’ back in 2016.

The quartet is made up by Ilan Hercelin on drums and Eliaz Hercelin playing double bass (and doing a sterling job on painting the artwork for each release), both originating from Paris, but like Mas, with their feet now in Madrid. Hercelin walking the same ‘Baroque’ corridors Mugnier treads, and perhaps where the idea of introducing harp was formed? Eliaz’s playing is open and melodic, Ilan’s drumming is energetic but controlled and never overpowering. There is no mistaking the quality of Nicolas’ guitar style, he is what makes this quartet shine bright. ‘Alejandria’ from 2012 is such a joyous piece of guitar playing and somehow I feel in listening to the new ‘Atlantico’ album I need the others too, the changing pace of each are essential to full enjoyment of any – like the concert where a band picks from their repertoire, I am bouncing from album to album. The title track skips from harp strings to guitar strings, gently supported by drums in what seems the distance where as ‘Pharos’ is a little moody number with quickening flamenco-esk touches, whilst ‘Queequeg’ spiritual like harp use summarises the ethos of the band’s sound – passionate playing. Finally ‘Samarcande’ has more of a european jazz quirkiness found on the German labels of notoriety.

If there is anything disappointing about this record, and the previous releases, it is the unavailability of physical issues. We are not at all fond of the digital only era and would wholeheartedly welcome these albums in physical form to sit beside our Nascimento and our Deodato albums. ‘Atlantico’ has been on repeat play for some while now, yes it is on the short side at only 25min in total, but every minute of their tale is a gripping one. Quartetto Minimo has enriched my life ten-fold and there is always going to be a place for music born of passion with an abundance of harmony. Please Sir, can we have some more, but on vinyl next time, so we can enjoy the artwork and the music side by side?

The quartet will be playing live at Sunset-Sunside Jazz Club, Paris, on 27th February.

Steve Williams

The 3rd Eye Flute Band ‘Music From An Eastern Western’ LP (OB) 4/5

Although there are hints at the new album on Paul “Lefty” Wright’s ‘Songs From The Portal’ back in 2014, there is a clearer departure from the psychedelic, dare I say progressive rock theme, although use of sitar, and flute are at both their cores, the previous use of Hammond is replaced with Mellotron here and saxophone, cello and drums, bass and guitar are sympathetic with one another as they weave in and out of the 12 compositions. I had hoped to be in Indo-Jazz territory, referencing the great John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra just for the hell of it, but it couldn’t be much further from those ideals. A more cinematic approach is on the table with titles ‘Village Theme’, ‘Theme from An Eastern Western’ and the cream of the lot, ‘Paxploitation’, providing visual reasoning to the project before even listening to a single note. It has a classical Indian feel for most parts, along the R. D. Burman pathway. In a way, far closer to the traditions of 60s musical scores from India. And unlike the title might suggest, a far cry from the Spaghetti Western of old, or the rather more quirky fagioli westerns I grew up watching with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Well, maybe ‘Theme, variations 1 and 2 and Reprise’ feels a little like a coin is about to be flipped and Tim Blake’s ‘Buster Scruggs’ is hell-bent on cleaning up the town.

Written and produced by Paul “Lefty” Wright for OB Records, ‘Music From An Eastern Western’ is a live session recorded in Dundee during Midsummer 2018. It has a fresh feel to it, but not obviously live, with Esraj and Sitar use, whilst Wright applies further experience on both Jawharp and Tanpura to elevate his credentials. Let us not be polarised by our opinions however, on either classical or the indo-jazz forms, this is as creative as one would wish for with added kudos for its format as it will not disappoint those black vinyl traditionalist amongst us. The instruments used produce the expected timbre. It is gripping with filmic qualities all fully enriching the listener’s enjoyment – I drift off on a tangent and hark back to Nitin Sawhney producing the soundtrack to the visual stage experience of his 2005 ‘Throw of Dice’ – the Franz Osten 1929 silent movie – and wonder if The 3rd Eye Flute Band could venture down this path to a more ‘visual’ future?

Where this modern approach changes direction for me is in the composition lengths. We are accustomed to long ragas in this genre; the one track per side syndrome. With the short bursts of inventiveness we can hear Paul Wright in a creative phase, subtle, yet reflective in what is otherwise a neglected, poorly documented musical style in the West. Yes we may have the occasional Sarathy Korwar come along, we might even find solace in the pairing of Shankar and Zakir Hussain, but there is very few instances of this fusion of ideas and instrumentation raising its head in these times, and I for one would embrace more.

Maybe I unwrapped the album hoping for a new Amancio D’Silva, or expecting a bit of “Mathar” funk, but what unravelled was challenging, fresh for its times and different enough to absorb both the A and B side in their entirety. It will stand its test of time for sure, as there’s nothing here to date, to tire or bore of. I regularly return to my collection of Ravi Shankar albums – creativity is like that, but I for one would certainly like to hear more of Wright’s flute playing, as what unfolds, when it does show its face, is stylish. Oh and dare I say perhaps a pitch at the Darbar Festival could be a fruitful partnership…

Steve Williams

Dowdelin ‘Carnaval Odyssey’ LP/CD (Underdog) 5/5

For a group whose name is a play on a word meaning slow and idle, the French-Caribbean trio Dowdelin are anything but. From the moment you press play you find yourself transported to a fireworks display. The rapid-fire rhythms that greet you leave no space for idleness; you must move. The Lyons based trio have carved out an exciting space for themselves with their debut album Carnaval Odyssey. They take existing conventions and turn them inside themselves, creating something wholly theirs – what they call Creole Afro-Futurism. Drawing inspiration from multiple sources, Dowdelin is able to explore the outsides and in-betweens, almost mocking existing boundaries. The group takes pieces from dancehall, jazz, R&B, and the traditional gwo ka rhythms of Guadeloupe and fuses them with contemporary electronic music, all sung in the vocalist’s native French Creole.

As the album begins, you are struck immediately with the boundary breaking beats. Within the first few moments you know that you are bearing witness to something quite extraordinary. The opener “Laissé Mwen” is the perfect introduction to the band’s joyfully raucous sound and their creative philosophy. “Laissé Mwen,” begins with these boisterous horns, which catch you off guard just enough to leave you vulnerable and ready to surrender to the warm, spirited sounds that await you. Each moment offers something different, leaving you a bit breathless, but it’s the kind of breathlessness you feel after your lover kisses you for the first time. A breathless that is full of excitement and possibility. Those moments are what Dowdelin is all about; the balancing of disparate sounds in a way that makes you question why they ever existed apart. This refusal to be categorized, to fit their sound in a pretty, easily defined little box applies to people too.

Olivya, the vocalist, lives in Lyon, France but has her roots in the former French colony of Martinique. The entire concept of Carnaval Odyssey celebrates the fact that she refuses to choose which home to love more, which person to be. Much like the way they blend seemingly unrelated styles of music, Dowdelin also challenges us to unite those parts of ourselves that seem to exist separate from the others. How can a person embrace the customs and cultures of their ancestors while living an otherwise unconnected life? Well, listen to “Eléphants Roses” or “Jay Pal”; they will give you some ideas. The audacious bravery to play music in French Creole, to bring that ancestral flavor to a space that hasn’t previously allowed for that sort of exploration should shake you to your core. And when you listen to “Carnaval Odyssey”, it will. The album challenges you to be free, to avoid the roles you are supposed to inhabit and to explore what living feels like for you. This is some real spiritual alchemy.

Underneath it all is an air of celebration. As if they’re telling us the way forward lives inside the party. And it is party music. “Ka Fwo Bit” seduces you out onto the dance floor – even if it’s just your living room – and into the celebration. But, Carnaval Odyssey is not the messy parties of our youth that we struggled to piece together the next morning. This party is the sophisticated and artsy kickback of our evolving adulthood. This album is the difference between who you are and who you want to be, reminding you with each track that (s)he’s right there under the surface. Carnaval Odyssey leaves you with just one question, where can I hear more?

Molly Gallegos

Harold Land ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 5/5

Texan tenor saxophonist Harold Land is primarily associated with the East Coast jazz sound of the late 1950s, but was in fact a highly versatile musician who could easily adapt to changing times, and by the late 1960s was performing on some of the modern Blue Note albums of fellow East Coast musician and personal friend, vibraphonist, Bobby Hutcherson. However, this outstanding double CD covers the greatest sides that Land cut in Los Angeles, and then expands to the wonderful and yet underrated, ‘West Coast Blues’ and a one-off New York recording along with trumpeter, Kenny Dorham.

On the first CD, Land is heard as he is just about to hit the age of thirty, which is generally regarded as the age at which many jazz musicians become fully mature as composers and individual soloists. In the case of Harold Land, he passes with flying colours on both accounts. For the first of these albums, the 1958 ‘Harold in the Land of Jazz’, Land co-arranges the album with pianist Elmo Hope and two separate sets of musicians deliver an essentially solid side of standards, with ‘Speak Low’ and ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, the pick of the bunch and with three Land originals. Fast forward a year, though, and on the excellent ‘The Fox’, Hope is now the featured pianist and co-composer (Hope delivers four pieces to Land’s two originals) and the warmness of tone is almost Getz-like, with a quintet comprising Dupree Bolton on trumpet, Herbie Lewis on bass and Frank Butler on drums. The tile track has become something of a modern classic, but the rest is of a consistently high standard.

If anything, ‘West Coast Blues’, maintains and indeed improves upon that high standard, but with a cast that includes some of the finest practitioners of their individual instruments and leaders in their own right. Thus, Joe Gordon features on trumpet while no less than Wes Montgomery is on guitar, with Barry Harris on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. The overall relaxed feel of this album is typified by the opener, the melodic, ‘Ursula’, with an instrumental take on Billie Holiday’s composed opus, ‘Don’t Explain’, a delicious Wes Montgomery original in the title track and two further lengthy Land pieces to finish the album off in, ‘Terrain’ and ‘Compulsion’. Only a lesser known Parker tune, ‘Klactoveedesedstene’, veers into bop territory. In fact, Land the composer was coming to the fore and the final album finds him as co-partner with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, better known as an East Coast musician, even if he hailed from the West, and a 1960 Jazzland New York date with a largely obscure quintet of musicians. This is the real surprise and a treat for the listener. The gentle waltz, ‘Triple Trouble’, a melodic original by pianist Amos Trice features some lovely brass ensemble work while fans on pop music in the 1970s will recognise the main motif to, ‘On A Little Street in Singapore’. Some fifteen or so years later, vocalese group, Manhattan Transfer, made a retro hit out of it, but this rendition takes the song at a significantly faster pace, with the warm tenor of Harold Land centre stage, and a delicious Eastern tinge weaved in on the brass.

Harold Land was that most collaborative of musicians and would go on to play on several recordings with Bobby Hutcherson in the late 1960s before returning as a leader in the 1970s on Mainstream and some of these harder to find albums are enjoying a resurgence of interest via re-issues in both the UK and Japan. However, for anyone requiring the essential Harold Land from his West Coast prime, this double CD could hardly be bettered and is definitive Land.

Tim Stenhouse

Jakob Sørensen’s Bagland ‘Cirkel’ LP/CD (Jaeger Community Music) 4/5

Scandinavia has been relentless in its consistency to show the rest of the world its place on the global platform. We are regularly exposed to stunning television and acting; the likes of Sofia Helin, Mia Jexen, Sofie Gråbøl and Aliette Opheim all spring to mind as I write, and it’s on this topic that I find myself discovering the actress Sarah Francesca Brænne (The Rules for Everything), of whom Jakob Sørensen called upon for his 2017 album cover of FABEL and closing piece, ‘Mundelstrup’ on the visual album of the same year. The world of art, media and music often cross paths and I for one regularly find myself within a loop, a circle of events so to speak, and it is to Denmark, Sweden and Finland I find I navigate my ears and eyes more and more these past few years. Notably listening to Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Esbjörn Svensson and Olli Ahvenlahti whilst discovering new names in Joonas Leppänen, Jukka Tolonen, Thomas Fonnesbæk, Jaska Lukkarinen, Sigurd Hole, Bruno Råberg and Kenneth Dahl Knudsen.

Since finishing his studies in Aarhus, Denmark (the very foundation for Jakob Bro), Jakob Sørensen has released BAGLAND (2015), NOMAD (2016), FABEL (2017) – incidentally 2017 was to award Jokob ‘New Jazz Name of the Year’ – and now CIRKEL (2019), all on the Danish Jaeger Community Music label, the latter featuring Frederik Sakham – double bass, Alex Jønsson – guitar, Frej Lesner – drums, Mathias Jæger – piano/synthesizer, and Jakob Sørensen – trumpet. This recent but consistent writing has given the ‘Bagland’ project room to breath; one that of the ten pieces, Jakob has written eight of the numbers with regular live performances throughout Denmark enabling the group to fine-tune their understanding of each other; and understanding I feel is communicated best between Mathias Jæger and Jakob Sørensen.

The title track alone provides Mathias Jæger with perhaps my most impressed of moments. Trumpet work echoes and takes the listener to a much further place whilst what sounds like a pedal steel guitar holds the emotions throughout the gripping chapter. A beautiful place to start the Bagland story, and one where I found myself running to the record shelves to pull out the classic Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays’ ‘Are You Going With Me?’. There’s an eerie similarity for me with Alex Jønsson beside Jakob Sørensen (although no trumpet was used in the making of Offramp!). Perhaps Jacob Worm has mixed and mastered this release well enough to have plucked that thought straight from this writer’s memories – perhaps indeed many could learn much from Jacob Worm’s menneskesyn, as they might say in the native lands. So be it ‘Drapeau Blanc’ with its uplifting chase theme, or the moody excitement of ‘Bryllup’, there is a significant development in this sequel and listening to the vinyl album now for the past few weeks has been a wonderful experience. I understand better the importance on the background for CIRKEL being that of Skagen, the Top of Denmark, its peninsula where the varied landscape with drifting sand, harshness of the North Sea and the encirclement of Norway and Sweden could provide any writer ample inspiration and any listener a place to drift in joy, in sadness, in contemplation. Having now notched up work on over ten albums, we must thank Jakob for Bagland, for its journey and the story, it has a remarkable setting, a curious plot, and filled with captivating characters.

Upcoming live shows:

Feb 23 – Kulturstationen Vanløse – Copenhagen, Denmark
Mar 17 – Aarhus Kunsthal/jazzselskabet – Aarhus, Denmark
Mar 21 – Huset – Aalborg, Denmark
Apr 13 – Jazzhouse på Tobbers – Kolding, Denmark

Steve Williams

Billie Holiday ‘Four Classic Albums – Second Set’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Singer Billie Holiday needs no introduction and is one of the iconic musicians of the twentieth-century. She has already been the subject of a previous retrospective on Avid and this second installment focuses on two distinctive periods: the early part of her career in the mid-late 1940s when she recorded in a variety of settings from trio to larger orchestra; the mature period of the 1950s when Holiday recorded with smaller combos. On the second compilation, ‘The Blues are Brewin’, the album is notable for the inclusion of two duets between Holiday and the great Louis Armstrong, ‘My sweet Hunk o’ Trash’ and ‘You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart’. What a pity then that no record label saw fit to record an entire album’s worth of these two stars together as was the case between Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald a decade later on Verve.

To these ears, while the voice was already memorable on the lush orchestral sides (these were not original albums, but rather a combination of assembled 78s of the era and as such they criss-cross small and large group dates, and veer towards the more conservative side of Billie’s repertoire), it is the latter 1950s sides that are of the greatest interest to jazz fans. ‘Solitude’, from 1952, features a stellar cast of accompanying musicians, some of whom would regularly perform with Holiday live and in the studio. They include guitarist Barney Kessel, tenorist Flip Phillips, Oscar Peterson on piano and Ray Brown on the bass, with interchangeable drummers, Of the mainly US songbook repertoire, the two Cole Porter interpretations, ‘Easy To Love’, taken at a relaxed pace and, ‘Love For Sale’, impress while, ‘Blue Moon’, is a song ideally suited to the Holiday treatment.

Even stronger still, and regarded by some as Billie Holiday’s greatest later period recording, ‘Songs for Distingué Lovers’, from a 1957 recording on Verve, finds Holiday surrounded by the cream of mainstream jazz instrumentalists. Once again, Barney Kessel is present, but on this occasion, he is accompanied by Ben Webster on tenor, Harry Edison on trumpet, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Red Mitchell on bass and Larry Bunker on drums. The lengthier songs, just six in total, allow far greater freedom to the soloists of which the voice of Holiday is an integral part. An impeccable line up of the great writers from Arlen and Gershwin through to Rodgers and Hart are highlighted. Definitive vocal versions of some of the evergreens include a stunning ‘Day In, Day Out’, a laid back blues in, ‘A Foggy Day’, and an uptempo, ‘Just One Of Those Things’. Jazz singers ever since have used this as the template from which to attempt covers of the standards, but it is doubtful that anyone will approach this standard of performance. The early sides will certainly be of interest to completists and are now hard to find, while general listeners can marvel at the later material. Either way, the music comes highly recommended.

Tim Stenhouse

Read also: Billie Holiday ‘Lady Love – Live in Basel 1954’ (Poll Winners) 4/5

Clifford Jordan ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Chicagoan tenorist Clifford Jordan was a prolific studio musician who recorded on a plethora of labels from the late 1950s onward. He would during the 1960s be an integral part of the Max Roach band (1962-1964), of both the J.J. Johnson and Kenny Dorham formations, and most notably, a key member of the Charles Mingus Sextet, and in so doing held his own with the late, great Eric Dolphy. However, this double CD captures the early promise of his trio of Blue Note albums coupled with an early 1962 Jazzland album, ‘Bearcat’. Of the Blue Note albums, ‘Blowing in from Chicago’, is the jewel in the crown and here Jordan had joint lead billing alongside fellow tenorist, John Gilmore, then also a leading member of the Sun Ra Arkestra. The two are joined by what is essentially a Jazz Messengers reunion band comprising Horace Silver on piano, Curly Russell on bass and Art Blakey himself on drums. Two Jordan originals feature in ‘Bo Til’ and ‘Evil Eye’, while Silver contributes ‘Everywhere’. Hard blowing bop, but then Clifford Jordan was never too out and has been perceived by some jazz critics as an out-and-out disciple of Sonny Rollins. In fact, he had his own, slightly more laid back style. This writer actually prefers the more balanced line-up on ‘Cliff Craft’, with an outstanding quintet of Art Farmer on trumpet, Sonny Clark on piano, George Tucker on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. The whole of the first side is devoted to Jordan compositions, with both the opener, ‘Laconia’, and the title track standing out above the rest. Side two is divided between two be-bop tributes to Charley Parker in ‘Anthropology’ and ‘Confirmation’, while the ballad, ‘Sophisticated Lady’, reveals the gentler side to the quintet where both Clark and Farmer excel.

A pared down quartet is the sole contribution from Clifford Jordan’s tenure at Jazzland and features four Jordan originals and three standards. Fresh Sound have now re-issued their own 2-CD of the three albums on Jazzland by Jordan and that will be required listening for those who already possess the Blue Notes in one guise or another, and wish to hear Jordan paired with trumpeter Kenny Dorham. On ‘Bearcat’ Cedar Walton proves to be a most able accompanist on piano, with Teddy Smith on bass and J.C. Moses on drums. The latter would reach his prime in the 1963 Eric Dolphy band and recorded equally with the New York Contemporary Five including Archie Shepp. Among the Jordan originals, the slightly misleading waltz, ‘Dear Old Chicago’, is the pick of a fine melodic set. Arguably, the Blue Note albums are already relatively easy to locate on re-issue and what would have made a more interesting pairing would have been either a second Jazzland recording such as the 1961 ‘Starting Time’, or the 1960 ‘Spellbound’ record, or alternatively Jordan featured as sideman on the originally unissued, ‘Sonny Clark Quintets’, that later surfaced in the 1970s.

Tim Stenhouse

Astral Travelling Since 1993