08th Feb2016

Dr. Lonnie Smith ‘Evolution’ CD/Dig (Blue Note) 3/5

by ukvibe

dr-lonnie-smithDr. Lonnie Smith returns to Blue Note after 45 years. Few current labels can lay claim to such a strong back catalogue, and with the likes of Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire and GoGo Penguin, also have artists turning heads on the jazz and popular music scenes. This album fits nicely in to this context; at once it evokes the label’s heritage but thankfully does so in a contemporary setting. The first thing that struck me about this album is the quality of the sound. It’s so engaging, and with such depth you could be forgiven for thinking you’re sat in the middle of a live set. Hats off to label head Don Was for the production.
The album comprises of seven songs featuring regular Smith collaborators like John Ellis (tenor sax and bass clarinet) and Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar), together with guests and stable mates Robert Glasper and Joe Lovano.
Most of the tracks are up-tempo, whether it be the funk of the first track, ‘Play It Back’, or the soul jazz of his updated version of ‘Afrodesia’. The exception is the laid-back slow jam, ‘For Heaven’s Sake’, which I think just about edges it as my favourite track on the album. This has a decidedly modern feel to it that could easily fit in to a Robert Glasper or D’Angelo project.

I’m not so sure that returning to ‘Afrodesia’ is one of the album’s high points. 1970’s Afrodesia has a big, big sound, with echoing vocals and a hard funky rhythm, whereas this version sounds like a tamer, albeit more intimate, jam session.

Evolution contains two standards, ‘Straight No Chaser’ and ‘My Favorite Things’. Before listening I did wince a bit, as both of these are old, old chestnuts. For me ‘Straight No Chaser’ is the stronger one of the two, with a great organ groove interspersed with Kreisberg’s intricate guitar playing.

‘My Favorite Things’ on the other hand does not resonate so well. It starts and ends with what I can best describe as music from a low budget film score, which I imagine is intended to add something different, but does not really work for me. The meat of the track, the tune we all know and love is fine, but because of its familiarity, it is difficult to get too excited.

Andy Hazell

07th Feb2016

Anglo-Saxon Brown ‘Songs for Evolution’ (Soul Music/Warner Brothers) 4/5

by ukvibe

anglo-saxon-brownThis welcome re-issue is one of the jewels in the crown of hard to find Philly soul from the classic era of the 1970s. Recorded at Sigma studios and featuring several Philadelphia International studio musicians ranging from guitarist Bobby Eli and percussionist Larry Washington to the impeccable sound of the Don Renaldo strings, this is a consistently strong album that had little impact at the time of release, but in the fullness of time has come to be regarded as a rare modern soul album of distinction.
Interestingly, despite the above details, Anglo-Saxon Brown were in fact a largely self-contained group who wrote from within the group. They were formed out of another group Ujima, a little known outfit, who recorded some tasty 45s during the early to mid-1970s. A change in direction and sound emerged with the arrival of Deborah Henry as vocalist in 1974. The original album was divided up into two distinct parts entitled ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’, which just adds a touch of authenticity to proceedings and the individual personality of the group is stamped all over this release and one of its undoubted charms. Classy production and superb mid-tempo numbers predominate on this set that oozes Philly chic and one of the key numbers is ‘Gonna make you mine’ with Henry’s lead vocals not dissimilar to those of the late Phyllis Hyman. Just as compelling is a gem of a song, ‘Call on me’, with gorgeous harmonies and the subtlest of grooves. It has one of those stunningly elongated 1970s intros with the additional personal touch complete with finger-snapping and a cappella keyboard breakdown. Of note to soul fans who prefer the shorter single version of a song on this extended edition is the inclusion of the 45 of ‘Straighten it out’ which is not the more famous Latimore song.

Rounding off matters in fine style is an extended fourteen page de facto mini essay on the band’s history that leaves no stone unturned and the incisive notes emanate from the pen of Mojo writer and soul aficionado Charles Waring who knows a thing or two about the finer side of soul. A fine album, then, from a little known band and fully deserving of re-issue. Among other classy acts who are little heard of and have only featured on the occasional compilation is flautist Artie Webb. Some of his mid-late 1970s Atlantic albums contain beautiful soul tracks alongside more Latin-tinged numbers and with a jazzy undercurrent overall. There is no shortage of under-valued musicians who merit a re-appreciation of their work and that is what makes this on going series such a delight.

Tim Stenhouse

06th Feb2016

The James Hunter Six ‘Hold On’ (Daptone) 5/5

by ukvibe

the-james-hunter-sixFrom the same label that brought you Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and with musicians that have backed the late Amy Winehouse, British born and Essex raised Rhythm and blues singer James Hunter is very much in the old school of a throaty vocal delivery of Sam Cooke or Ray Charles, and dipped in the tradition of an era when blues met the emerging soul sounds head on. His first US release in 2006, ‘People gonna talk,’ catapulted him into the US blues charts and was also a top ten album by discerning British music magazine Mojo. The key to Hunter’s vocal prowess is the time he has undoubtedly spent soaking up all those musical influences and these range from Bobby Bland and the grittier side of soul-blues through to the Motown greats and then practising in live performance. A fast-paced R & B song, ‘(Baby) hold on’ would make an ideal single and has the catchiest of riffs with fine polyrhythms on drums that recall the mighty Joe Dukes who backed Bobby Bland and owned the independent Duke label out of Texas. That sound in particular has served as an inspiration for the instrumentalists and their crisp and tight accompaniment is a joy to behold. If this writer had to choose a favourite number then it might be the horn-led, ‘If that don’t tell you’, which has something of a Latin undercurrent, though close on its heels is the rumba-tinged mid-tempo groove of ‘Light of my life’. A proto-Motown feel comes across on the uptempo, ‘Free your mind (while you still got time)’, and for sheer variation the quality deep soul ballad, ‘Something’s callin’ is a quality song with punchy horns and a thoroughly authentic 1960s sound. If ACE records had placed this on one of their excellent compilations and concealed the real author, listeners would be desperately seeking out the singer’s origins.

Musicians these days can tend to be over-hyped and receive too much exposure before they are fully matured and this is a downside to the industry as a whole that is heavily reliant on immediate payback. In James Hunter’s case, it is the complete opposite because he has more than paid his dues and honed his craft over a long period. He has recorded with Van Morrison who regularly calls upon the singer to support him on tour and has opened for musicians of the calibre of Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Willie Nelson, which is praise indeed. James Hunter’s time has definitely come and boy is he now ready and able to deliver!

Tim Stenhouse

05th Feb2016

Various ‘Soul Sok Séga: Sega Sounds From Mauritius 1973 – 1979’ CD/2LP/Dig (Strut) 4/5

by ukvibe

soul-sok-ségaStrut have over recent years made a regular incursion into the danceable world beats rhythms from parts of the globe that larger labels would otherwise not touch with a barge pole such as the excellent, ‘Haiti Direct’. It is with this open-minded approach in mind that one should view the latest compilation from the former French colony of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, formerly known as Ile-de-France. African slaves were brought to the island against their will, but, as with other small islands, a new Creole culture emerged that took on board the vestiges of their ancestors African homeland from places as far apart as West Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zanzibar. A new indigenous music and accompanying dance thus began to take shape during the 1960s and by the middle of that decade had become a source of national pride and identity for the inhabitants of the island, not dissimilar to the origins of samba in Brazil.
This identity cut across a multitude of religions and ethnic groups as Mauritians of African, Chinese, European and Indian heritage enjoyed the séga rhythms that are extremely varied and difficult to compare with other musical styles elsewhere. It is this multitude of musical styles that is celebrated on this new anthology, the first on modern Mauritius music to be compiled from an English-language label to this writer’s knowledge. The sheer diversity of the artist names and rhythms are testimony to the inclusiveness of séga and this is typified by the shuffling Afro-Latin beat of ‘Eliza’ by Georgie Joe, or the high tempo and repetitive groove of ‘Bonom Chinois’ by Claudio. For some old-school 1970s organ beats, ‘Ségar Lenoir’ by the evocatively named Les Stardust (no relation 1970s UK pop idol Alvin, one presumes). In parts, the sound effects are bizarre and take a little time to come to terms with, but underpinning much of the compilation are the funk beats and both coincide on the album title track performed by Ti L’Afrique. Soul music from the United States clearly made an impact on the island and the soulful intro combined African guitar riffs combine well on ‘Mademoiselle’ by Jean-Claude with the catchiest of choruses, ‘Mademoiselle, donnez-moi la permission’. A love of English language musicians seems to be reflected in the names chosen by musicians on the island and this proves to be the case for the percussive and funk guitar riffs of ‘Manuel Bitor’ by John Kenneth Nelson. Perhaps not as immediate as some of the previous compilations, but definitely worthy of your attention.

Tim Stenhouse

04th Feb2016

Gerard Presencer and Danish Radio Big Band ‘Groove Travels’ CD/LP/Dig (Edition) 4/5

by ukvibe

gerard-presencerThis is a welcome return to recordings duties as a leader. To a younger audience, the name may not be that familiar, but the trumpet will be because Gerard Presencer was the sound behind the 1990s jazz-dance hit cover of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Canteloupe Island’ by US3 that became a smash pop hit. The trumpeter has previously recorded three solo albums, but this is his first in over a decade when he recorded with the German ACT label in 2001. On this new effort, Presencer arranges and leads a significantly larger ensemble, the Danish Radio Big Band, and if one had to make any kind of meaningful comparison, then it might be Miles Davis’s ‘Aura’ with Palle Mikkelborg from the mid-1980s. In recent years the big band format has slowly but surely made a return to the jazz scene, with the obvious financial obstacles hindering regular live performances of this extended setting. Joining the musical party are guest trumpeter Adam Rapa and percussionist Eliel Lazo and the music comprises new originals and creative arrangements of covers, most notably a reprise of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’. A new reading of the epic ‘Footprints’ from the classic Miles quintet era begins with the main theme established and repeated by tuba and once again Presencer intervenes with a lovely understated solo. From the arranging perspective, the piece stands out for its mixing of time signatures with a general uptempo Latin-tinged theme running through. Funk flavours emerge on the uptempo groove with James Brown guitar licks that accompanies ‘Blues for Des’, with the number settling into a minor chord number with fender Rhodes and saxophone solo by Karl-Martin Anqvist.

Another interesting cover is that of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and this is reworked completely and performed at a rapid tempo cha-cha tempo and is undoubtedly an album highlight. This version compares well with the mid-1960s interpretation by the Jazz Crusaders or the famous vocal take by Ray Charles. Impressionistic hues are a distinguishing feature of this new album and the atmospheric bass line of a nocturnal eastern setting gives way to a soprano-led number on ‘Istanbul coffee cup’ that is far from clichéd, but conveys with due clarity the pace of life in the Turkish city, with fine ensemble work and prominent guitar riffs.

What comes across in general on this new album is the subtlety of Presencer’s arrangements and this is no better illustrated than on the minor Latin theme that permeates ‘Ballad of the tango of the misunderstood’, here played as a gentle bossa nova with a gorgeous fender Rhodes solo from Henrik Gunde who has clearly been influenced by mid-1970s Herbie Hancock and with a fine soprano saxophone solo from Peke Fridell. In sum, then, there is a well-balanced mixture of tempi, with a gently paced opener in ‘Another weirdo’ and even a rock-tinged piece, ‘Devil’s larder’. Gerard Presencer is one of the less media-present musicians of the British jazz scene, yet judging by the maturity in the orchestral arrangements, he fully deserves to be more widely known and this recording may just introduce him to a wider and appreciative audience.

Tim Stenhouse

03rd Feb2016

Bill Evans ‘Original Album Series’ 5 CD Box Set (Warner Bros) 4/5

by ukvibe

bill-evansAfter a somewhat quiet and introspective period in the early 1970s, Bill Evans signed for Warner in 1977 and there then began a highly creative period resulting in some of his most consistent studio recordings in well over a decade. This culminated in the superb ‘Turn out the Stars. Complete Live at the Village Vanguard’ sessions from 1980 on Warner, re-issued on a pared down edition, or as a single CD sampler.
For those on a tight budget, the 2005 double CD ‘Anthology’ was a useful overview of Evans tenure on Warner, covering the four years between 1978 and 1980, and including examples of the two Elektra live in Paris recordings. This is now superseded by this bargain five CD set offering, part of the budget price original album series. A real favourite of this writer is ‘You must believe in spring’, which must rate among Evans’ strongest studio albums of the 1970s. Frustratingly, the three bonus cuts on the single CD re-issue are not included here, but this is a judicious selection of popular pieces all the same. Jimmy Rowles’ ‘The peacocks’ receives a suitably refined treatment while the television sound track, ‘Theme from Mash’, became a staple in Evans’ repertoire from that point onwards and never has that song sounded more beautiful than in Evans’ most capable hands. Rounding off a high quality album is a reworking of Bacharach and David’s, ‘A house is not a home’, that is impressionistic in tone and meditative in outlook. Aiding and abetting Evans were bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Elliot Zigmund.

The third instalment of Evans performing a solo recording, effectively duetting with himself is to be found on ‘New Conversations’, a riposte of kind to ‘Conversations with myself’ from 1963 on Verve. Here the pianist has a ball with himself, alternating on both acoustic and fender rhodes. Stand out interpretations include Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s, ‘Nobody else but me’ and a cover of Duke Ellington’s ‘Reflections in ‘D”. As one might expect with Evans, the touch is exquisite throughout. Jazz and the harmonica are not immediately connected to one another, but then Belgian musician Toots Thielmans was an out of the norm individual and the duet album with Evans, ‘Affinity’ is surprisingly good and the two blend with a natural empathy developing. This album is notable for the first appearance and rendition of ‘Do it for love’, the Paul Simon composition while in a more traditional songbook vein, the ballad, ‘Body and Soul’ receives a sumptuous interpretation from the pair. Long-time fans of Bill Evans will be wondering where the excellent ‘We will meet again’ album from August 1979 is and the truth is that Warner have seen fit to exclude it from this anthology which is a major disappointment. All the more so because it afforded the listener the rare opportunity to hear Bill Evans in a larger ensemble setting, with that most sensitive of trumpeters Tom Harrell and tenor saxophonist Larry Schneider, Marc Johnson and Elliot Zigmund making up the quintet. This is an oversight and the listener is very much the poorer for not being able to hear the album.

Of interest to fans of live Bill Evans performances are the two Elektra albums, recorded at the French national radio studios in Paris. Evans had finally found a trio that was, if not the exact equal of the superlative 1961 trio, then could compare favourably with that formation. Bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe La Barbara collectively reached a degree of intensity that has seldom been rivalled since, and this was unquestionably a precursor to the ‘Turn out the Stars’ recordings. The first volume is slightly the stronger, but both have to be heard in their entirety.

While this may not necessarily be the first, or only place to search for the beginning of a Bill Evans collection, the three studio albums and two live recordings nonetheless represent an accurate summation of Evans in the late 1970s and already hint at the creative peak he was about to achieve with his final Village Vanguard performances of 1980. Evans would tragically pass away later in that year at the age of just fifty-one. His departure was an absolute travesty and musical fans were deprived of what could have been an extend new golden era in his musical career.

One final point of clarification. For the music alone this set deserves a five star rating and it is indeed excellent value for money at budget price, but with both the exclusion of the ‘We will meet again’ album, the absence of available bonus cuts and the incredibly tiny writing on the back covers that makes a magnifying glass de rigueur in order to decipher liner information, this has been reduced to a four. Warner Brothers really need to treat all-time great musicians such as Bill Evans with a little more respect and six CDs would at least have ensured the package could be retitled, ‘The complete Warner sessions’. That said, it has to be remembered that Verve did the unthinkable way back in the late 1990s and released a complete ‘Bill Evans on Verve’ in a metal box that deliberately goes rusty. That feat alone must win the accolade for the most inappropriate packaging ever conceived for a musician of distinction. Thankfully, their slimmed down re-packaged complete set avoids that pitfall second time round.

Tim Stenhouse

02nd Feb2016

Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Listening to the Ground’ CD/Dig (Gundu Entertainment) 4/5

by ukvibe

nduduzo-makhathiniIn 2014 Jazzman Records brought contemporary South African Jazz to a wider audience through the release of Tumi Mogorosi’s Project Elo album.
This album introduced me to the talents of some fascinating musicians, including Nduduzo Makhathini, who helped produce the set.
Fast forward a year to an interview Nat Birchall gave to the Band on the Wall website in which he gave props to a number of South African musicians including Nduduzo Makhathini. Being a curious sort I did some research; just at the right time it seems as ‘Listening to the Ground’ (his third album) had just been released.
Nduduzo won Standard Bank Young Jazz Artist for 2015. As a young musician he played with the likes of Zim Ngqawana and Feya Faku, artists with little profile outside of South Africa, but legends in their own scene. Other influences stylistically are Bheki Mseleku and McCoy Tyner.
His musical journey is a spiritual one. At the age of 13 he received the gift of healing from his ancestors, and in early adulthood determined to use this gift through his music.
‘Listening to the Ground’ is a two-disc set comprising 16 songs in total. The core group comprises Nduduzo (piano), Magne Thormosæter (double bass), Ayanda Sikade (drums) and Karl-Martin Almqvist (tenor/soprano sax and flute). There are also contributions from Robin Fassie Kock (trumpet and flugelhorn), Sophie Ribstein (harp), El Hadj Ngari Ndong and Mabaleng Moholo (percussion), choir and Nduduzo’s wife, Omagugu, on vocals.

South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Senegal and France are represented musically.

The mix of instruments is bound to draw comparisons to Matthew Halsall’s work and whilst it’s true that they both create broad, evocative soundscapes, the results are quite different.

Where this album is at its best is where the mood is most overtly spiritual. The first CD starts with ‘Same Mother’, a track with a brooding opening before throwing itself in to a sweet mid-tempo showcase of the band’s, and in particular Nduduzo’s, chops.

CD one ends with probably my favourite track, ‘Thokoza’, the Zulu word for Rejoice. This is an invocation to the ancestors through a blissful mix of choir, swirling harp, percussion alongside piano and sax.

The closest to late period Coltrane comes in ‘Supreme Light’, the opener on the second CD. There is a strong interplay between Nduduzo and Karl-Martin, although I can’t help but feel that the tune had more energy in it than the recording delivers. One to hear live I think.

‘Miss New Day’ is an uplifting track, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Strata East release.

The rest of the album is not quite as memorable, although it’s pleasant enough. There are a number of fairly straight vocal tracks, the best of which is ‘Rejoice’. There are also a couple of blues and tracks influenced by Nduduzo’s time in Nigeria. None of these really captures the imagination as well as the tunes I have highlighted.

Here’s hoping that a wider worldwide audience gets to hear his music.

Andy Hazell

01st Feb2016

Bob Gluck ‘Infinite Spirit: Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band’ (FMR) 3/5

by ukvibe

bob-gluckThe inspiration for Infinite Spirit emerged from pianist Gluck’s conversations with band members whilst writing “You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and The Mwandishi Band”. Bringing together two key original band members; Billy Hart on drums and Eddie Henderson on trumpet, along with Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass, they join Gluck, who plays acoustic piano and electronics throughout the album, for what is a new exploration of a selection of Mwandishi tunes, rather than just a modern day take on what has been before. Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi Band was an innovative and forward thinking jazz ensemble from the late 60’s, early 70’s, a band that perhaps in some circles was overlooked a little at the time, compared to other musical innovators of that time. In the spirit of the original music, the quartet perform new interpretations of Hancock’s “Sleeping Giant” and “You’ll Know When You Get There”, Maupin’s “Quasar” and “Water Torture”, Gluck’s “Sideways” and the Sullivan composition “Spirit Unleashed”.
It is indeed that searching spirit that inspires some great collaborative music throughout this album. Often conversational, questioning and textural, there are a plentitude of robust grooves and melodic lyricism on offer. Creative improvisations abound, with Gluck’s inventive piano playing and Henderson’s astute trumpet playing both being a high point throughout. The music evolves as it is performed, allowing all four musicians to play an important role in their own inimitable way. The album opens in pensive mood, with Billy Hart slowly but surely laying the foundation for “Sleeping Giant” to develop. Sprawling and spiralling acoustic piano blends beautifully with Henderson’s crisp, exploratory horn. Evident throughout the session is the reflective interplay and searching nature of the music. “You’ll Know When You Get There” is the perfect example of how tuned into each other these guys are as an acoustic quartet. It’s such a good sound. At this point however, I have to say I have a pretty serious gripe with the music I’m listening to. For me personally, I feel that the insertion of Gluck’s electronics actually detract from the music being performed, rather than adding to it. Don’t get me wrong, there are instances where it works well, as on the intro to “You’ll Know When You Get There”, which offers up a creative and rewarding piece of interplay between Hart’s excellent drumming and Gluck’s electronics. But overall, especially when layered over the top of the whole quartet, it just doesn’t work. I actually find it becomes tiresome and annoying. Many listeners may feel differently, and I for one love my twiddly bits in all forms of music, but I’m sorry to say that for me, on this album, the electronics do not do justice to the balance and warmth of the rest of the music, the resulting effect on my ears being to dub them as “twiddly bits”. Back to the positives though, as the band work their way through “Sideways/Quasar” which once again highlights Billy Hart’s incredibly sensitive and textural drumming, before the tune builds in strength with its graceful, luscious, improvisational feel. “Spirit Unleashed” is a new tune by bassist Sullivan that opens with a virtuosic bass solo, juxtaposed with Gluck’s electronic percolations. There’s a great pulse to this tune as the melody criss crosses with a diversity that’s sums up well just what this band are about. The album closes with “Water Torture”, with its catchy yet off-kilter melody allowing the soloists to stretch and discover new directions.

“Infinite Spirit” is a worthy and enjoyable revisiting of the music of the Mwandishi Band. It gives the listener plenty to contemplate, with its free spirited, excellent performances from all the musicians involved. Ultimately it will perhaps be of more interest to Mwandishi Band devotees, but in 2016 it could also act as a great introduction to the band’s music for new listeners. And depending on your point of view in regard to the electronics element of the album, it’s either a classic or annoyingly flawed… Why not have a listen and make up your own mind.

Mike Gates

31st Jan2016

Hidden Jazz Quartett ‘Raw and Cooked’ (Agogo) 4/5

by ukvibe

hidden-jazz-quartetSometimes in music, though perhaps not often enough, record label owners have a clear vision of what their label’s output should sound like. The classic example would be Manfred Eicher of ECM, a true visionary. Moments of clear thinking aligned with the passion and dedication to see a project through often develop from hearing performers play in different settings and being bold enough to put something new together with a particular sound or musical collaboration in mind. And this is how The Hidden Jazz Quartett came about. Ralf Zitzmann, Agogo Records label head, masterminded the production behind the eclectic sounds that make up “Raw and Cooked”. As the respected elder statesman of the German club scene explains; “One night, while our Calameri Moon Club in Hannover was cooking and the DJ’s were spinning spicy jazz sounds I thought- it sounds so fresh and vibrant like there’s a jazz quartet hidden somewhere behind the curtain.” Zitzmann took to the phone and called saxophonist Stephen Abel, organist Lutz “Hammond” Krajenski, drummer Matthias “Maze” Meusel and bassist Olaf Casimir, all well travelled musicians, and The Hidden Jazz Quartett was born. Producer Christian Decker was brought in and the label head’s idea soon became a reality.

“Raw and Cooked” has an energy to it that that is both immediately likeable and fresh. It’s late night club sound evoking the past, present and future, it’s jazz chops positively at the fore, with its cool and vibrant, almost lazy grooves tuning in and dropping out throughout the excellent recording. The album features guest artists Bajka, Omar, Greg Blackman, Anthony Joseph and Tim Hollingsworth. What is apparent throughout the session though, is that the cool sounds created by the quartet are never lost or watered down and when a vocalist does take the lead, it is very much in keeping with the ethos of the album. Kicking off proceedings is the wonderfully seductive “Luvlite” featuring a gorgeously chilled vocal from Bajka. A mix of soul, jazz and modern R&B ensues, at once setting the tone for the album. UK modern soul legend Omar then raises the temperature with the excellent, uber-cool “High Heels”; an instant classic. The band let out the swing on “The Footlocker”, providing some first class, spirited performances. It’s not just the way these guys play with a refreshing fearlessness, it’s obvious they’re enjoying creating the vibe, none more so than organist Krajenski who excels throughout the whole session. Greg Blackman provides the soulful vocals on “Tap on the backdoor” before Bajka takes things back to the nitty gritty with “Soulsophy”. “Kimberley Hotel” is a kind of Last Poets vs Hustler’s Convention excursion translated for our times, with Trinidad born poet Anthony Joseph voicing the spoken word. “Nardis” has a distinct late 60’s, early 70’s feel to it, whilst “Walzer”, almost mystical in a European jazz kind of way, was actually the band’s first release back in 2010 as a limited edition 10″ vinyl. Tim Hollingsworth provides a deep, late night feel to the jazz standard “Lush Life”, an interesting take on this timeless classic. The band sign off with bonus versions of what could well become their theme tune, “Luvlite”.

“Raw and Cooked” may well appeal to many, being an engaging mix of jazz, soul and late night club music. It all fits together very nicely, testament to the skills of the quartet themselves, and of producer Christian Decker who has succeeded in achieving a wonderful vibe whilst remaining true to the sincerity of the different elements of the music being performed. With its cool grooves it’s chilled yet modern, making for a very enjoyable listen.

Mike Gates

30th Jan2016

Miles Davis ‘The Last Word – The Warner Bros. Years’ 8CD Boxset (Warner Brothers) 4/5

by ukvibe

miles-davisIn 1986 Miles Davis turned sixty and his thirty year musical relationship with Columbia records had ended. The last five years of Miles’ musical life proved to be at once a productive and creatively fertile period and one in which his own sound on the trumpet was at its strongest since the five year inactive period from 1975. In fact it was a good deal more consistent than the early 1980s recordings for Columbia where Miles was still struggling to find his feet again after taking a lengthy period out. A major contributing factor was that the trumpeter had finally managed both to secure and maintain a new regular band of musicians. These included bassist and arranger Marcus Miller, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett as well as some of the top session musicians from seasoned veterans such as George Duke to a younger generation such as Adam Holzman.
Indeed, for the first and only time in his illustrious career, Miles was persuaded by old friend and musical arranger extraordinaire, Quincy Jones, to revisit some of those immortal collaborations with Gil Evans from the late-1950 and the beginning of the 1960s. While there are no bonus tracks from those already in possession of the original albums, as a whole this is a vital historical document that requires repeated listens. A sixty page booklet aids the listener in order to better appreciate what Miles was seeking to accomplish and, there are, moreover, extended essay notes from renowned jazz author Ashley Kahn (who has authored books on Miles and Coltrane among other works) as well as the original 1993 notes to ‘Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival’ from legendary Downbeat reviewer, author and songwriter Leonard Feather. Contained within is a black clamshell box with individual facsimile album covers, a box set that is in keeping with a musician of Miles Davis’ colossal stature.

The music commences chronologically with ‘Tutu’, an album from 1986 that cemented Miles’ reputation and at the time was heralded as a return to his past glory. There is certainly a case for arguing that these were some of his best compositions in nearly twenty years and the distinctive sound was in no small part down to the considerable efforts of Marcus Miller who contributes both on electric fender bass and bass clarinet. The ‘Bitches Brew’ sound, then, was given a modern and more accessible update and numbers such as ‘Portia’, ‘Splatch’ and the title track all stand the test of time remarkably well, even if the drum machines do sound a tad dated. If anything, its follow up recording, ‘Amandla’ (1989), is even more cohesive and quite possibly the strongest album of his post-inactive era. There is a touching homage to the departed ex-Weather Report bassist on ‘Mr. Pastorius’, a bubbling funk undercurrent to the opener, ‘Catémbe’ where the band really hit top form here. Once again catchy riffs abound and are illustrated on the brooding piece, ‘Cobra’. Miller’s imprint is all over this project and his trademark plucked bass can be heard in full on the laid back ‘Hannibal’ which is probably the pick of the compositions.

A lesser known recording and one that this writer regards as much underrated is the film soundtrack to ‘Siesta’. Here the musical collaboration with Marcus Miller is the key element and, viewed some twenty-five years later, comparisons with the Gil Evans partnership are inevitable. The music once again conjurs up images of Spain, albeit a more contemporary vision, and parts one and two of ‘Lost in Madrid’ illustrate the sheer beauty of the orchestrations with Miller outstanding on bass clarinet accompanied by flamenco guitar. This is an album that urgently needs to be revisited and is far better than given credit for at the time. In contrast another film soundtrack, ‘Dingo’ (1990), was a lesser triumph. The Australian film reunited Miles with French arranger, composer and pianist Michel Legrand with whom the trumpeter had guested on the 1958 album, ‘Legrand Jazz’. Davis even plays a small role in the film and the brief motifs recorded are a reference to the classic era of ‘Milestones’ and ‘All Blues’. The big band orchestrations are somwhat jaded and Miles does not even feature on half the trumpet solos, those being executed instead by Chuck Findley.

A major coup was convincing Miles to re-record pieces from the Gil Evans period and this was achieved with the ‘Live at Montreux’ recording in July 1991, just three months before Miles was to pass away. The ambition was to re-create the Evans collaborations in a live context and, while this was always going to be an impossible task to match the glittering peaks of those studio recordings, this was nonetheless a major event for long-term Miles fans who never dared think he might look back to his past. The George Gruntz concert band backed by a further twenty-two musicians included current band member Kenny Garrett and deputising on trumpet solos, as and when required, Wallace Roney was under the overall control of master orchestrator Quincy Jones. If some of the pieces from ‘Miles Ahead’ and ‘Porgy and Bess’ on the new readings are given too modern and rapid a reading in comparison with the magisterial original versions, the frail muted harmon trumpet of Miles on ‘Sketches of Spain’ pieces such as ‘Solea’ works a treat and any true jazz fan would have given their right hand just to be present to witness events in person. Most importantly, Miles himself seemed to enjoy the concert and it must have recalled very happy memories of working with Gil Evans.

The final studio album Doo-Bop is the least essential of any of the offerings in this box set and was indicative of Miles’ constant desire to keep up with a younger generation, in this case the hip-hop generation. The difference is that whereas at his creative zenith he was making the pace, here Miles was merely playing catch up. From a purely intellectual perspective, this album indicated how Miles’ quest for searching for something new remained with him to the very end and was unquestionably a factor that distinguished him from his own generation, who tended to rest on the laurels.

Closing up the box set are two live recordings, one specific to different evenings at the 1986 Nice Jazz Festival and the other, ‘Live around the world’ capturing a selection of Miles’ live performances globally, dating between 1988 and 1990. The former is noteworthy for extended versions of ‘Tutu’ and adaptations of then current pop tunes, Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time after Time being a fine vehicle for Miles to solo at length while Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature’ demonstrated Miles’ seemingly innate ability to capture a quality ballad and make it his own. For the latter, there is a tantalisingly brief reprise of ‘In a silent way’ and further extended jams on from his recent albums of that time.

If there is one regret with this set, it is that the early July reunion of Miles alumni live at la Villette in Paris has not been captured, even though a video of the performances did become available and was aired on British television a few years later. Hopefully, at some stage in the not too distant future, those performances will be available in digitised format. That gripe aside, this box set marks a momentous end to a fabulous musical career and, as ever, stylistically Miles Davis was in several musical bags and never someone who could be categorised into one pigeonhole. He was always going to be far too open-minded, forward thinking and musically creative ever to fall into that trap and that is why he continues to be loved so dearly.

Tim Stenhouse