Various ‘Wish You Too the Best Christmas Ever’ (Trikont) 4/5

Christmas. That joyful time of year when everyone rushes around like demented rabbits in search of the perfect present and one has to suffer the annual ravings of the in-laws. For a truly alternative take on the Christmas message and to celebrate the less savoury, and some one say more realistic aspects of the festive period, Trikont have unearthed a second volume of festive rantings and one which is the audio equivalent of cinema’s Billie Bob Thornton’s ‘Bad Santa’ meets Will Ferrell’s ‘Elf’.

The compilation covers the whole gamut of Americana focusing predominantly on classic soul and blues, but not forgetting the rootsy side of country with bluegrass ably represented. From the Stax vaults comes a timely reflection by the Staple Singers in ‘Who took the merry out of Christmas?’ and a superb ‘Gee whiz, it’s Christmas’ from Carla Thomas whereas Big John Greer in full festive mood affirms ‘We wanna see santa do the mambo’. More unusual are the countrified takes on the festive period with a downside ‘Blue Christmas’ from Ernest Tubb’ and a more upbeat ‘Christmas time’s a-coming’ from Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. For the truly esoterical, however, sample the French language questioning of Santa’s very existence on ‘Je et tu ne croient plus au Pere Noel’ by Marianne Dissard and Ampiro Sanchez, the alternative disco of ‘Christmas Wrapping’ from the Waitresses (later massacred by the Spice Girls) and the melodic punk of Japanese duo Coconami on ‘Sleigh Ride’. Add in some gospel courtesy of Sons of Heaven, blues from Jimmy Witherspoon and Sonny Boy Williamson respectively, and you have a genuinely eclectic interpretation of Christmas that will have the relatives running for cover.

Tim Stenhouse

Putumayo presents ‘A Jazz & Blues Christmas’ (Putumayo)

Only real Xmas release we’ve had through this year, a well rounded collection that has Ray Charles doing ‘Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer’ and the intriguingly titled ‘Wrap Yourself in a Christmas Package’ which I’ve not heard of before but was apparently first brought out in 1961 by Charles Brown (who is featured on this CD with ‘Santa’s Blues), here it’s covered by Randy Greer and Ignasi Terraza Trio. Other tracks come courtesy of Mighty Blue Kings, Riff Riffin, The Dukes of Dixieland, Ramsey Lewis, Emilie-Claire Barlow and BB King.

Graham Radley

Cesaria Evora ‘Radio Mindelo. Early Recordings’ (Lusafrica) 4/5

Cap Verdean veteran singer Cesaria Evora has become known to an international audience at a relatively late stage in her career, but in her early twenties at the begining of the 1960s had already become the darling of national radio on the islands. This luxuriously packaged CD with extensive tri-lingual liner notes pulls together various sessions that were previously unissued and were found by chance among master tapes. Now lovingly re-mastered they represent a priceless document of Cesaria’s early career when she was struggling to make end’s meet. In fact at this time she did not even have enough money to pay for a pair of shoes and this led to her being nicknamed ‘the shoeless diva’, and also explains why to this day when performing live she does so in her bare feet.

The CD reveals that even in her youth Evora’s voice was almost fully matured and in a pared down setting that allows us to marvel at the sheer musicality of Cape Verdean morna which in influence is close to Portugese fado (the influence of the great Amalia Rodrigues is evident), but also to Cuban and Congolese rumba, and even classic Brazilian samba. From the mournful lament of ‘Mar Azul’, a song revisited in recent years, to the uplifting exuberance of ‘Terezinha’ and the forbidden fruit uncovered in ‘Frota probido’ and the anthemic cavaquinho inflections of ‘Beirona’, this is a re-issue richly deserving of repeated listening. Probably the rootsiest CD to emerge of 1960s music since Guillermo Portables’ ‘El Carretero’ in the mid-1990s.

Tim Stenhouse

Stan Tracey Octet ‘The Early Works’ 2CD (Resteamed) 4/5

As part of the ongoing series of re-issues comes the latest instalment of classic Stan Tracey sides. This focuses on live recordings from the mid to late 1970s, with the leader’s compositional skills to the fore, and captures Tracey and the larger ensembles in top form. By this period Stan Tracey had completed his long stint as house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s and was beginning to explore freer jazz forms in both duet and larger ensemble formats. Comprising three separate recordings, the one on CD2 features a set from the Salisbury Arts festival. The octet formation was born out of three commissioned pieces for the festival and showcases a mouthwatering line up of British jazz from the era including trumpeter Harry Beckett and reed players Trevor Watts, Alan Skidmore and Don Weller respectively. Of the extended numbers, ‘Peg-leg Bates’ impresses with its heavy emphasis on swing while ‘Ballad for St. Ed’ reveals the influence once more of Ellington in Tracey’s playing. The line up would be modified slightly on other dates with bassist Dave Green and saxophonist Peter King featuring among others.

The first CD from an earlier concert at Bracknell is more blues-inflected while being in the post-bop style and is characterised by a winning combination of stabbing horns and melodic compositions. Excellent saxophone solos and highly improvised piano intros make for highly enjoyable listening with a bonus being the unreleased encore of ‘Chiffik’. 2009 will see Tracey revisit some of the octet suites and if this is a taster of what is to come it should prove be both essential viewing and listening in the new year. A previous BBC Omnibus documentary featured the octet formation during the original period.

Tim Stenhouse

Gotan Project ‘Live’ 2CD (Ya Basta) 4/5

Gotan Project’s live recordings are something of a cause celebre (for essential viewing see their previous live DVD which is an ideal accompaniment)and the combination of acoustic instrumentation and electronic beats have resulted in a cult fan base and a welcome re-invigoration of the classic tango sound that is already enjoying a renaissance in its native Argentina. This new offering captures two separate live performances from distinct tours, one resulting the first album during a concert in London in 2003, and the second from a more recent live gig in Switzerland, 2007, focusing on the ‘Lunatico’ album. In luxurious digipak format with gatefold sleeve, the recordings are every bit at stylish as the ever inventive packaging. With only one noteable change in the line up for the latest tour, this being a new pianist Lalo Zanelli, the sound is remarkably good for a live session and consistently strong throughout. There are no less than three separate versions of their signature tune ‘Santa Maria(Del Buen Ayre) and two versions of the latest dancefloor hit ‘Diferente’ with a faithful rendition of ‘Triptico’. As an introduction to the group’s distinctive sound, this is exemplary music.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘The Rough Guide To Colombian Street Party’ (Rough Guide)

Rough Guide once more exel with their mix of old and new, try these to give you a snapshot of where they are coming from: Joe Arroyo y La Verdad, Radio Cumbia, LA-33, Colombiafrica, Mojarra Electrica and Grupo Saboreo. 15 tracks in all and they all have one vision, dance and party until you drop. Very good.

Graham Radley

Dozan ‘Introducing Dozan’ (Intro)

Formed by Jordanian vocalist Shireen Abu-Khader to celebrate Arabic folklore. Their description on the sleeve notes as a ‘ modern folkloric chamber group’ sums them up well, the music is traditional with new arrangements but keeping the vocals very much to the fore on these Sufi influenced songs. Beautiful.

Graham Radley

Buena Vista Social Club @ Carnegie Hall (World Circuit)

Oh just listen to ‘Chan Chan’ kick in on CD one and they’ve got you in the palm of their hands, pure magic. Produced by Ry Cooder, from a concert in 1998 as the group made their American debut, even though they were in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. This is very much a moment in time as they never all played together again and sadly members like Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Company Segundo were soon to pass on. Double CD, 16 tracks, music just doesn’t get any better than this.

Graham Radley

Ten years on from the world-wide explosion of interest in the Buena Vista Social Club, it is fascinating to revisit the the first concert that the collective played in the United States and at the prestigous Carnegie Hall in New York to boot. Fortunately World Circuit recorded it for posterity and it does not disappoint. Long-time Buena Vistas in this country will remember the atmosphere at the Jazz cafe gig in London, and the week long fesitval of Cuban music at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. A decade earlier it would have been unthinkable that a bunch of Cuban musicians from the 1950s and beyond could have become a world-wide phenomenon, let alone be allowed to play in the States given political differences pervasive at the time. The concert swept away any such considerations and the music contained within catches the Buena Vistas at their absolute peak with the extended collective in all their glory.

The double CD provides plenty of space for the expanded repertoire of the band to be showcased, and in uptempo numbers such as the classic ‘Mandinga’ and the instrumental ‘Siboney’ with refined piano playing from Ruben Gonzalez we hear them at their absolute zenith. Shifts in tempo abound on ‘Almendra’ while the campesino country style of ‘Orgullecida’ allows the duet between Compay Segundo and Omara Portuondo to shine through. This is a trip through the classic Cuban songbook with songs such as ‘Cuarto de Tula’ that Celina Gonzalez made famous, but here transformed into an eight minute Latin big band number with vocals shared by Ferrer, Pio Leyva and Puntillita. Mid-tempo burners such as ‘De camino a la vereda’ swing like crazy and cha cha cha’s of the calibre of ‘La enganadora’ oscillate between instrumental and vocal passages. Of course the hit numbers are featured and ‘Chan Chan’ is a particularly fine rendition while ‘Quizas Quizas’ conjurs up the magic that Nat King Cole once injected into the song. With a deluxe thirty page booklet, the whole phenomenon is beautifully chronicled with musicians and writers alike providing commentaries. An indispensable slice of timeless nostalgia.

Tim Stenhouse

The Lani Singers ‘Ninalik Ndawi’ (Dancing Turtle)

Another tasty Dancing Turtle release with this husband and wife duo from the remote central highland region of New Guinea now exiled in the UK. The journey here was brought about by the dreadful difficulties they faced from the occupying regime of Indonesia including imprisonment for peacefully raising the banned national flag of West Papua. Rooted in the sacred rituals of the Lani Tribe the songs are emotive tales of their journey, of life, of traditions and ensure a legacy for a tribe whose future is of great concern. Folk music from the heart.

Graham Radley

Jimmy Radway and Fe Me Time All Stars ‘Dub I’ LP/CD (Pressure Sounds) 5/5

Mixed at Joe Gibbs studios by one half of the Mighty Two, Errol Thompson (but devoid of the special effects typical of the Mighty Two dub albums), ‘Dub I’ originally came out on an extremely limited edition LP in Jamaica in 1975. It was briefly released in the UK, albeit in a highly disguised form in the early 1980s, but has remained a collectors must have among dub cognoscenti because of its uncompromising pared-down sound. Pressure Sounds have reproduced the orginal minimalist sleeve with a crystal clear re-mastering, adding five extra dub and instrumental tracks.
Ivan ‘Jimmy’ Radway is something of an elusive figure even in reggae circles and certainly has not been prolific on the production front. However, what he has lacked in sheer quantity, he has more than made up for in the superb quality of the recordings and attention to detail. Some of the finest roots 45s were cut by Radway including ‘Black Cinderella’ by Errol Dunkley and ‘Mother Liza’ by Leroy Smart as well as various DJ cuts to the aforementioned by the likes of Big Youth and I-Roy. The genius of ‘Dub I’ was to bring all these classic riddims together and reproduce them in beautifully crafted and relatively short dub versions. Impressive are dub cuts to ‘Dub is my desire’ (originally Leroy Smart’s ‘Happiness is my desire’) and ‘Big Youth version’ (a dub cut to ‘Cinderella’). Of the extras, the instrumental ‘Tina May’ stands out and offers some nice trombone soloing from Vin Gordon over a heavyweight rhythm as does ‘The great Tommy Mc Cook’ by the legendary Skatalite member. Another winner of a re-issue from the premier UK label championing quality roots recordings.

Tim Stenhouse