Little North ‘Familiar Places’ LP/CD (April) 4/5

Barely a year has passed since the release of of the critically acclaimed “Finding Seagulls”, a wonderful intro to the music of Danish trio Little North. For this, their latest album, the band continue to expand on their Nordic jazz sound with an elegant, involving set of original tunes.

Pianist Benjamin Norholm Jacobsen, drummer Lasse Jacobsen and bassist Martin Brunbjerg Rasmussen expand the core essence of the trio on selected tracks, with the addition of Swedish guitar prodigy Viktor Spasov and trumpeter Kasper Tranberg. The intelligent use of these two further instruments works particularly well, offering further layers and textures to the music, without ever being overtly flamboyant or at odds with the atmosphere the trio strive to create.

There’s a spacious, cinematic feel to Little North’s music that I really like. It’s unhurried, sensitive and at times, compellingly beautiful. A sense of togetherness and intuitive understanding is clear to hear with the trio. Intricate interplay, deep grooves and delicate, mouthwatering melodies all combine with grace, subtlety and sincerity.

The anthemic “Running down the park” energises with its repeating motifs and cascading melodies, reminiscent perhaps of an old Christian Scott tune, light and dark converging with melodrama. The beauty of “It’s beginning to rain again” lies in its timeless simplicity. This is stunning, taking me back to memories of EST at their sensitive best. The classical romanticism of “Calystegia” meanders with longing and intrigue. “Push” entices the listener in, a dark sense of intrigue underlying this fascinating piece. The lyrical “Spotting Salamanders” sounds like a tune steeped in its own folklore, beguiling storytelling at its best. Mystical and free-flowing, “Einar” reaches out, slightly restless in its captivating transcendence. “Tide” gradually increases in intensity, its mesmeric charm totally captivating. Breaking the mould, “Huntress” quickens the heart rate, its dynamism pulsating freely. Like an age-old, long-forgotten nursery rhyme, “Ind i det Azurblå” is quietly decadent, a gentle, soothing antidote to all our ills.

“Familiar Places” enhances further Little North’s growing reputation. Wonderful, original music, well-crafted and expertly performed. Yet another example of how Scandinavian jazz continues to delight with its myriad of high-quality composers and performers.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Little North ‘Finding Seagulls’ LP/CD (April) 4/5

Lis Wessberg ‘Yellow Map’ LP/CD (April) 4/5

‘Yellow Map’ marks the debut album release from Danish trombonist, Lis Wessberg. With over 30 years as a performing musician under her belt, it’s something of a remarkable statistic that ‘Yellow Map’ serves as the debut solo release for an artist with such an already incredible body of work.

Having completed her education at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, Wessberg set out to carve her career in music and, having contributed to the recording of over 40 albums and has performed on stages around the world, the release of ‘Yellow Map’ must come with equal levels of excitement and perhaps trepidation.

While I cite Wessberg’s efforts to date as resulting in an incredible body of work, it’s certainly been an expansive one too – with contributions to records dating as far back as the shiny pop of Shu-bi-dua’s ‘Shu-bi-dua 13’ from 1992, to collaborations on more contemporary jazz projects by Benjamin Koppel and Steen Rasmussen for the revered Stunt Records, and then there’s the alternative neo-soul of Astrid Engberg’s ‘Tulpa’, released in 2020.

‘Yellow Map’ certainly comes with a weight of expectation attached to it but for a piece of art that is the result of years of varying influences and experiences, countless performances and collaborations, it is the perfect testament to the glittering career that has come before it. Making up the members of Wessberg’s quartet are pianist Steen Rasmussen, drummer Jeppe Gram and bassist Lennart Ginman who help to realise Wessberg’s incredible vision for this album over the course of nine exquisite and original compositions.

The understated ‘The Strip’ sets the album off perfectly, really accentuating the dynamics between Wessberg’s trombone and Jeppe Gram’s drums but it’s a project where everyone is afforded their moment to shine – Rasmussen claims the scene-stealing solo for the lush ‘The Ancient Road’ while the playful 80s-esque sonics for ‘Midnights’, courtesy of Lennart Ginman, provides another of the album’s highlights. But Wessberg is very much the star of the show – providing a beautifully warm and intimate tone throughout, you can’t help but cling to every note as it sashays past. While the more ballad-style compositions are hard to rival, the more “playful” (as I cited earlier in regards to ‘Midnights’) tracks really do offer some wonderful contrasts. Aside from ‘Midnights’, ‘Chimes’ warrants special mention in the same vein but in this instance, it’s more so noteworthy for its more abrasive and cinematic scope.

If there’s a chance that ‘Yellow Map’ receives a follow-up then I don’t doubt that we will all be in for an amazing treat but if this proves to be the only record Lis Wessberg ever releases then she should forever be proud to have bestowed a project of such scintillating calibre.

Imran Mirza

Nova Materia ‘Xpujil’ LP/CD (Crammed Discs) 4/5

Nova Materia’s “Xpujil” re-creates the feeling of walking through time. Inspired by a walking trip through the Mexican jungle, towards the ruins of the ancient Maya city of Xpujil (pronounced “ex-poo-khil”) the album is a single 40-minute song that takes you along the path of wonder, intimidation and the seductive nature of danger. This is an album you probably don’t want to listen to in the dark. It’s haunting and reminds you that you cannot see everything. “Xpujil” blurs the limits between music, field recording and psychoacoustic trance. During their trip, Nova Materia (Eduardo Henriquez & Caroline Chaspoul) recorded the surrounding soundscapes with binaural microphones. Upon their return to their studio in Paris, these recordings became the foundation of this new work. They processed and transformed the sounds until melodies emerged, which they then enhanced by using sparse instrumentation creating something that takes the listener on a sonic journey through an organic and shifting world.

Xpujil, the archaeological site, sits in the midst of a nature preserve in the Yucatan Peninsula where you can find everything from pumas and jaguars to wild turkeys toucans and parrots. The name itself means “cat tail”, a reference to the thick vegetation of the landscape. Made of stone blocks covered in stucco, the structures on the site, abandoned for centuries and in varying states of decay, maintain their splendour. The three towers of Structure 1 had extremely steep stairways, false stairwells, doorways leading nowhere and false temples. The purpose was to awe. On the temple doors, overlooking life on the ground is Itzamna-the Earth Monster.

Nova Materia, through their found sounds, re-creates the heat, the swarming insects, the cries of the wild cats and the thickness of the cat tails, opening up the sacred and supernatural world of Xpujil. You can imagine standing in front of the ruins looking up in awe at the three towers. It almost takes you to two worlds at once, the moment you’re in and the moment when the ruins were alive and full of activity. Daily life swirls around you; the ghosts of the women grinding corn, the men preparing for ritual, the children laughing and playing. The flute and the drum create a very eerie sound that fills you with reverence as much as it intimidates you.

Sacred spaces can be kind of scary and “Xpujil”, with all its ominous, ambient sound really gave me the sense that I was in the middle of a horror film. We watch horror because it taps into something primal, giving us a way to live out our deepest fears from a safe distance. “Xpujil” does something similar. The way Nova Materia created distance is genius and it manages to give the sense that something is stalking you, watching you through the brush. It sounds almost like footsteps, something moving the wind chimes as you try to run. It’s calm though, knowing you’ll slip and it will catch up. Put in the context of Xpujil the ruins, to be faced with the majesty of the ancient and looming makes you wonder what lies beneath, what secrets could be around the corner waiting to pounce.

As time goes forward, about 15 minutes into the album, you start to come out of your reverie and re-enter the moment. The sounds of the wind dissipate and you can hear the birds, maybe a monkey or two in the distance, the threat feels cleared and all that’s moving is the rustling of the cattails. Relief and peace set in and you can really take in the scene around you. That is the brilliance of “Xpujil”, it is a real exploration of the setting. You truly feel as if you’re walking around the ruins taking in not only the sights but the feelings. Each shift in the music is a shift in the scenery and the moment it captures. “Xpujil” begins with the wind and all its foreboding and as time goes on the fear elevates and then dissipates as you find a clearing, some peace, the water and animals, but you know the journey isn’t over yet. Except that at the 40-minute mark it just sort of is and that is my one critique. I recognize, of course, that everything must end and I suppose an album of 10 songs also just sort of ends, but the story that “Xpujil” creates deserved more than such an abrupt end.

Nova Materia has created an eerie ethereal experience that both captures a very specific moment yet morphs with you each time you come back to it. And with travel what it is these days you can visit Xpujil anytime you’d like from the comfort of your headphones.

Molly Gallegos

Kenny Cox ‘Clap Clap! The Joyful Noise 1974/1975’ 2xLP (180 Proof/BBE Music) 4/5

Another inspired choice by DJ Amir and the BBE label . ‘Clap Clap! The Joyful Noise’ is the unreleased 1974 masterpiece by the highly accomplished musician and composer Kenny Cox . It’s rare to see such an important album that has never been released before and such a surprise for seasoned collectors who rarely come across such cases. The album could have been released through a corporate label but Kenny Cox decided it really went against the independent spirit that surrounded the label and those involved.

The album has been remastered from the original reel to reel masters and includes extensive liner notes and never seen photos. Granted full access to the Strata catalogue, DJ Amir set about emphasising more of the story behind Strata Records, the Detroit based musicians and the arts scene. His 180 Proof Records label documents the history and the fascinating insights to what was happening around the time.

Kenny Cox had written scores for many jazz musicians and groups including the Jazz Crusaders before his debut album alongside his Contemporary Jazz Quintet in 1968. After two albums for the Blue Note label under producer Duke Pearson the commercial restraints on his musical direction and the social upheaval within Detroit culminated in the decision to start his own independent label. Strata released 6 albums before folding due to external factors but the label and its socially minded work in Detroit was to leave a lasting positive impact. World renowned jazz musicians would often play in intimate Detroit based venues set up by Kenny Cox and company, with hardly any entrance fee, no alcohol and no age restriction so the inspiration carried through to those usually not able to attend.

The music on the album leans towards the Caribbean and Latin America yet is rooted in a soulful homegrown jazz aesthetic.There’s a progressive experimental edge that is anchored by jazz traditions, both tugging at each other as past and future swing to and fro. Instruments like the Clavinet, Arp Synthesizer and Mellotron accent the album alongside a wide array of hand held percussion sounds, all building a soundscape full of warmth and ease.

The title track opens the album up with a gentle meandering pace, filled with wordless vocals, hand held percussion and the synthesizer emulating gently lapping waves.

Samba de Romance is a superb easy listening composition with the orchestrated synthesizer and 12 string guitar adding to the gentle late night atmospheric piece. ‘Lost My Love’ is an infectious downtempo soulful groove piece which references the classic ‘Feel Like Making Love’. The Five tracks featured are all written by Kenny Cox with the exceptional composition ‘Beyond The Dream’ co-written with Maria Martin, a piece performed by Pharoah Sanders on his album of the same name, recorded live at Montreaux in 1978 alongside Norman Connors.

The line up is as follows: Backing Vocals – Fito Foster; Acoustic Guitar /Amplified Guitar / 12-String Guitar / Bass Guitar – Ron English; Drums – Victor Reeves; Drums / Percussion – Ronald Johnsons; Electric Guitar – Skeets Curry (tracks: A1); Flugelhorn – Charles Moore; Piano / Hohner D6 Clavinet / Mellotron / Arp Odyssey Synthesiser – Kenny Cox; Soprano Saxophone / Flute – Buzz Jones; Vocals – Ursula Walker

A really enjoyable album and important piece of Detroit’s music history from an independent jazz perspective.

Mark Jones

Wendell Harrison Tribe ‘Get Up Off Your Knees’ 2LP (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

‘Get Up Off Your Knees’ marks one of the latest releases from saxophonist and clarinettist Wendell Harrison to receive the full 180g vinyl treatment courtesy of the devoted audiophile restorers, Pure Pleasure Records.

And while the reissue of Harrison’s ‘Dreams of a Love Supreme’ is currently slated for release a little later this year, Pure Pleasure have managed to unearth many of the gems that adorned the catalogue of Wendell Harrison and trombonist Phil Ranelin’s Tribe Records. With releases across the 1970s, Pure Pleasure can proudly boast reissues of some of the label’s seminal projects including Ranelin’s ‘The Time Is Now!’ (1974) and ‘Vibes From The Tribe’ (1975) along with Harold McKinney’s ‘Voices & Rhythms Of The Creative Profile’ (1974). There are also further Wendell Harrison/Tribe projects available including the revered ‘An Evening With The Devil’ and Harrison’s collaborative project with Ranelin, ‘A Message From The Tribe’, both released in 1973.

Tribe Records – more than existing as solely an independent record label and artist collective – was indicative of so much of the messages and ethos that the Detroit native Harrison has stood for throughout his career. The record label, and in later years its accompanying magazine, was committed to addressing social and political issues and helping to spread messages of black unity and pride. As an educator, business owner and musician, Harrison has continually strived to utilize his position as a vehicle to both help and inspire the youth and local communities through music workshops. The non-profit music education program, Rebirth, again was created in this vein and subsequently aided the careers of a string of successful musicians like Geri Allen and Woody Shaw.

When exploring the current ‘Get Up Off Your Knees’ release, these principles are all still at the forefront of Harrison’s mindset with this project as a whole. Throughout an incredible career, Harrison has always been motivated to take control of his own music and subsequent successes, a message echoed through the album’s title track, featuring a lead vocal from Miche Braden: “if your future isn’t bright then you only have yourself to blame”. The spoken word delivery courtesy of Mbiyu Chui for ‘Educators’ and ‘Revolution’ again seeks to inspire listeners and to think outside of stereotypes and social constructs from technological reliances, social media and delusions of fame.

Amongst the excellent array of musicians enlisted for the album includes drummer Louis M. Jones, bassist Pathe Jassi and pianist Alexis Lombre. Fellow Tribe recording artist, pianist Pamela Wise, also guests on several songs making this a wonderful contribution towards the extensive work recorded between Wise and Harrison. As alluded to earlier, there’s no shortage of ideas throughout the album – a variety of styles and influences are present from West African-themed compositions to tracks centred around vocalists and spoken word artists. There’s inescapable energy throughout much of ‘Get Up Off Your Knees’ that’s created by passionate musicians all keen to spread Harrison’s shared ethos.

Wendell Harrison has never taken his position of influence lightly and has always fully embraced the responsibilities that come along with having a voice that reaches people across the world. He has proved to be the definition of an “educator” and this – his music and his message – will forever be representative of his long-lasting legacy.

Imran Mirza

FALKEVIK ‘New Constellations’ LP (Drabant Music) 4/5

The Norwegian piano trio, Falkevik, describe their sound as ‘riff-based, playful, Nordic’, their recent release, New Constellations, follows the 2018 album Louder Than We’re Used To. The new album was written during the first lockdown in Norway, a time of ‘frustration and longing’ for the musicians who found themselves grounded in Oslo with time on their hands. It was put to good use, lockdown meant more time to jam together and formulate these songs. The band describe how most of the tunes start with a piano pattern but as lovers of the groove, a compelling rhythm is also an essential aspect to the music.

The trio consists of Julie Falkevik Tunevåg (piano and vocals) Ellen Brekken (upright and electric bass) Marius Trøan Hansen (drums and electronics). A couple of tracks feature additional viola textures from guest Ola Kvernberg. It was recorded at Propeller Music Division during a week in December 2020 by Aleksandr Sjørlie, the band counted him as their fourth member as he was key to how the album sounds.

There’s a pop sensibility to the music with Falkevik’s clear, pure and strangely cool, unaffected vocal style. Many of the songs have a hooky chorus which on my first listen deflected from the piano and keyboard-led nature of the music. This was, I think, because I initially listened to the album in alphabetical order rather than the intended sequence. More listening in the intended sequence soon revealed a greater keyboard-led depth to the songs; there really is an art to the sequencing of album tracks.

‘Keep The Coordinates’ sounds like a mission statement in a song title and sets out the album’s direction of travel. ‘Keep your eyes upon the road, don’t you blink or linger’ sings Falkevik over her undulating piano theme. After a couple of verses, the piano and drums come boldly to the fore and show us where Falkevik are really at, another verse and the band bow out with a softly fading passage.

‘When We Let Go’ provides one of the album’s strongest and most strident piano patterns. The lyrics, ‘you’ll be patient, you’ll be stronger, you’ll be closer’ seem to form a sort of instructional list. During the instrumental passage that follows the trio really ratchet up the tension with some especially lively drum surges.

Less frenetic is the third tune, ‘Traveller’, there’s a neat piano and bass intro which builds gradually before meandering rather than reaching a destination. This traveller is on a detour, quite a pleasant one with the benefit of some gentle vocal harmonies but they are nonetheless sidetracked.

On the title song ‘New Constellations’ with its choppy theme and fabulous bass and percussive interplay, there is an all too brief hint of psychedelia with its electronic feedback, a bit more if this wouldn’t do any harm at all.

One of the album’s stand-out tracks must be ‘Amputation’; it has a heavier sound that is raw and energised in comparison to the rest of the record. The keys are hammered with an urgency and the purity of the vocal is transformed with distortion emphasising the cathartic nature of the song. The quiet and quirky keyboard theme of the instrumental piece, ‘Walts’ follows, providing a nice juxtaposition to ‘Amputation’.

New Constellations is an intriguing record with its stylistically hybrid nature, perhaps a little polite and understated in places but when the trio let go it’s full of surprises and well worth checking out at https://falkevik.bandcamp.com/album/new-constellations

James Read

Shay Hazan Quintet ‘Nuff Headlines’ (Chant) 4/5

The world is complicated. Too much noise and too many demands. Lots we don’t know or understand. We cope by using avoidance behaviours and exercise and therapists and limp acceptance of authoritarianism. Or we use hope and a magic dusting of spirituality, nature or art. And it’s in the dusting of magic where Shay Hazan can help us.

Bass player/composer Hazan is an ace face on the Tel Aviv jazz scene. His music covers Moroccan Gnawa music, hip hop and spiritual/free jazz with many destinations in between. “Nuff Headlines” was recorded in December 2019 and features the two-horn duo of Tal Avraham on trumpet and Eyal Netzer on saxophone, along with Milton Michaeli on piano and Haim Peskoff on drums.

Opening track, “Beber’s Cha Cha”, named in honour of the Israeli jazz saxophonist, is a loose soul-jazz waltz around a swinging bassline, with some upbeat Avraham and Netzer twinning and Michaeli’s spirit-comforting, modal padding. Netzer’s intense breaks satisfy any ‘edge’ lust you might have.

“Evening Puja (Netzer)” is a top drawer, bass-anchored-and-propelled, atmospheric builder. Peskoff gradually works his kit harder and busier to up the drama levels and Netzer goes on a heartfelt ramble before Avraham subdues him into a trance like, mutually agreed resolution.

“Vertigo” is beloved, blessed, much-needed tranquillity. Michaeli’s gentle caress and Netzers’s pure, deeply felt, unhurried notes offer care and acceptance. Peskoff and Hazan join with an empathic nod and breathe the deepest of breaths, blessing us with calm. It’s an extraordinary track that frees you from tension, enabling you to reappear at its end with a renewed hope, ready to deal with life again. It should be prescribed to all parents of teenagers and/or anybody who uses Twitter.

Spiritual jazzer, “Kebero”, features a heavy Hazan/Peskoff pushing force, as Avraham, Netzer and Michaeli engage in intertwining discussion before Michaeli darts off in short multidirectional runs; little, almost manic, fizzes. Finally, Netzer’s zuma spins and pops in a high pitched call to ‘the other’.

“Desert Snake” starts with Hazan’s gimbri free patterns before he lays down a dirty rockabilly riff that Peskoff supports as Avraham and Netzer drop a sweet repeating motif. Joyous gimbri solo delivered and we’re back into a (maybe) even dirtier riff than riff #1 that Netzer has fun playing over. It ends with a quickened, thrilling, harmonious team rejoice.

“Olam” is modal perfection. Hazan’s penetratingly rhythmic, pendulum bass holds you compelled and opens you up to allow layers of spiritual trumpet, sax and piano to affect your heart.

Rosa Lea Salmon’s doleful vocal helps “Old Tart” not be the uplifting finale one might expect. The quintet’s beautifully imploring solemnity is cooled by Salmon’s knowing, jaded delivery. Unexpected yet perfectly cogent.

I could recommend buying this album for “Vertigo” alone but that would be doing the other six consistently excellent tracks a disservice. “Nuff Headlines” is a coherent work of great beauty and spirituality that calms the nerves and refreshes perspective. I’ve got no idea how I missed it when it came out last year but I humbly join those who were ITK at the time in asking “Please, Jazzman Records, could we have a vinyl release of it this year?” And if that happens, I already know what my magic-dusted, coping mechanism for 2022 will be. Nuff said.

Ian Ward

Avishai Darash Feat. Marmoucha Orchestra ‘Andalusian Love Song’ CD (Sena/Marmoucha) 5/5

Israeli pianist and composer Avishai Darash has developed, over the last few years, a wonderfully lyrical style of playing. His music takes in influences from North African traditional music, Western classical music, American jazz and Israeli folk. Having gained much international experience, from his origins in Israel, and his studies in New York, he moved to Amsterdam in 2010 and still resides there now. Several collaborations and exciting albums have followed, including his debut “Impermanence”, and more latterly “Nomadic Treasures”, and “Samskara”.

When Darash was in Morocco for the first time in 2014 and came into contact with Andalusian music through fellow musician Mohamed Ahaddaf, he was taken by storm. He delved into Andalusian music and discovered, partly due to his classical training, that Andalusian music can be compared to Bach. “For me, Andalusian music is the origin and core of Western music. I want people to learn and discover Andalusian music and let them find their own voice in this vast and rich tradition. That is my mission, the same mission I have with the Marmoucha Orchestra and Arabic music in the west.”

In 2020 Darash received the prestigious position of artistic director, first arranger, and pianist of the Marmoucha Orchestra. This position is shared together with artistic coordinators, Ud virtuoso Ahaddaf and oboist Maripepa Contretas. “Andalusian Love Song” features these three key musicians, along with twelve highly respected international players. Compositions are by Darash, with the pianist and oboist Contreras sharing the arrangements. Talking about the album, Darash says: “It is my love letter to Andalusian music and a tribute to the evolution of that music: how it sounded and how it is now. That’s what I chose my musicians for: Mohamed Ahaddaf is a master of Andalusian music and Yoran Vroom is a master of jazz. That combination is very fresh. You may think it’s a bizarre combination of people, but it works! With the support of the Marmoucha Orchestra, I was able to realize the project on a larger scale.”

The first thing I’d say about this recording is just how incredibly refreshing the music is. An exciting blend of East meets West in the best possible way. Highly original, it is at times genuinely intoxicating. The compositions may vary in style, but the compelling togetherness of the music acts as a road trip, taking the listener on a magical mystery tour. There is undoubtedly an underlying passion in the performances that is delightfully infectious. It isn’t often that I come across music that is so intelligently well crafted, yet joyously playful at the same time.

Nine compelling tunes have me transfixed from start to finish. The recording is on a grand scale, the arrangements are sublime and sumptuous in turns. I find myself lost in the originality, the excitement, and the beauty of it all. Darash leads from the front, his fluent, enchanting playing leading the large ensemble cast on a journey of adventure. But it’s how they take the listener with them that means so much. I feel fully immersed and totally involved in the music as I listen, completely captivated.

I could talk for hours about the complex nature of some of the music, the skill involved in bringing to life a project such as this, the stylish compositions or the passionate displays of musicianship. I’d encourage anyone and everyone to have a listen to this album. We will all take different things from it, but at the very least, it can’t help but put a smile on your face. And that’s got to be worth its weight in gold.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Avishai Darash ‘Samskara’ CD (A.MA) 5/5
Avishai Darash ‘Nomadic Treasures’ CD (A.MA) 4/5
Avi Darash ‘Impermanence’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

STUFF. ‘T(h)reats’ LP/CD (Sdban Ultra) 3/5

“T(h)reats” is the third long-player from Belgian quintet STUFF. featuring ewi player Andrew Claes, bassist Dries Laheye, Joris Caluwaerts on keys, drummer Lander Gyselinck and Mixmonster Menno on the decks and continues to hone their electronic/groove/jazz/rock thing they have established on their previous releases.

The album kicks off with the upbeat “Cigogne”. The thick creamy banks of synth, quirky flourishes and flashes of stabbing syncopation have a sci-fi ‘futuristic’ vibe, evocative of synthy prog like early 80’s Tangerine Dream. “Waksi” is slower and looser; funkier with a chunky bass swagger. “Hono” is a highpoint; a left-field funk and art-pop collision reminiscent of prime-time Japan, particularly due to the slippy Mick Karn-style bass. “Cumulus” picks up the pace and the rhythm section’s running hot but still feels a bit like an album filler.

“Finding Mu” only clocks in at just over 5 1/2 minutes but the music is epic. The off-beat melodies, squiggles and solos build towards a powerful and moving climax. Its complexity contrasts with the simple and effective chord structure of “OB499”, a down-beat, rather sombre tune. A quick burst of the jagged, deranged synth-funk of “Kwibus” does away with any melancholic feelings though. “Loomy” is an unusually restrained but precise performance lending the last track a spacious, crystalline transparency.

“T(h)reats” is a good album. It’s smoother and more coherent than their previous outings. STUFF. are a slick machine though I sense aloofness at points. It’s been suggested this is a mix of dance music and jazz-fusion. However, it appears to me that the sound is more in the spirit of the older tradition of continental European progressive electronic music, like the aforementioned Tangerine Dream. I enjoy the more idiosyncratic tracks like “Waksi”, “Finding Mu” or “Hono” and I can imagine the more uptempo tracks would work well in a live environment but for me to really love it, I would have liked (to quote Todd Rundgren) “a little more humanity, please”.

Kevin Ward

J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts ‘Give Me Hope’ LP/CD (Lovemonk) 5/5

This year has been a tough one for collecting the music I love, I’ve found a mass of digital-only music, an abundance of vinyl 45s, but finding albums that you could put on from start to finish has been very few and far between. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there has been a proliferation of vinyl releases which has always been my preferred format.

Now then, along with the exceptional Lady Blackbird long-player from 2021, this is an album that you just put on and play through, every track has its moments but there are also some supreme tracks on here. Let’s go straight to the cream, two deep soul tunes complete with the obligatory horns, “Find That Love” is utterly mesmerizing on every level, very closely followed by “Guilty and Blessed”, trust me “Find That Love” will be very hard to beat in 2022, yes it’s that good. But you know you’re in for a treat when the album’s opener, “Four Walls”, cracks the silence in your world, Eddie Holman of course gave it to us way back 1969 – his version is bathed in strings, but not so here, not a string in sight, it’s a funkier affair with those horns, heavy bass and percussion, a great version this. If you’re looking to slip and slide on a dancefloor near you then look no further than the urgent “Not In My Name”, I defy anyone to sit still to this, and wouldn’t sound out of place in a set that includes 60s soul from Stax and Atlantic. The most thought-provoking track on here is “James Stern”. A tribute to James Hart Stern, the civil rights activist who passed away in 2019.

No great voice can do it on his own and the six-piece Black Belts really are an accomplished group of musicians that include Rodrigo Diaz “Niño” (drum/percussion), Pablo “Bassman” Cano, Fernando Vasco “Two Guns” (guitar), Ricardo Martínez (trumpet), Rafael Díaz (sax) and Alex Larraga (keyboards).

Look I raved over his 2018 album and I’m at it again, eleven tracks which include an instrumental “Ghost City” which admittedly is crying out for a vocal, it’s a great dancer now, put JPB over the top of it and we have another winner with real instrumentation throughout, new music that gives a big nod to our treasured past, what’s not to like?

The single and title track, “Give Me Hope”, was released back in November while the album is available from February in all formats, and I for one, can not wait.

Brian Goucher

Read also:
J.P. Bimeni and The Black Belts ‘Free Me’ LP/CD (Tucxone) 5/5

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