Issa Bagayogo ‘Mali Koura’ (Six Degrees) 5/5

Excellent release from yet another wonderful Malian artist, with great production, from Yves Wernert and Philippe Berthier, neatly mixing the rural sound with a raw funkiness and Western dance loops. Gael Le Billan is a major player as well, not only as an arranger but also adding a whole range of playing from acoustic guitar to sax to this album of many flavours. Issa Bagayogo is clearly with this CD ready to find a bigger audience, I recommend you are one of them.

Graham Radley

Issa Bagayogo has been a recording artist for just over a decade and thus far has primarily focused on rootsy acoustic Malian music. While generally well received, his music has yet to be perceived among the premier league of African singers. This may be about to change with the release of ‘Mali Koura’, a stunning collaboration between West African and French musicians and one in which the exceptional production chores have resulted in the musical marriage of two continents where creativity, sensitivity and mutual respect are all in evidence. Not unlike the production talents of Manu Chao with Amadou and Mariam in bringing the music of the latter to a wider audience, multi-instrumentalist Gael Le Billan and producers Yves Wernert and Philippe Berthier have come up with a winning combination. Recorded at Issa’s home in Wassalou, south west Mali, but with further instrumentation added at the supremely eclectic Le Billan’s home in Nancy, eastern France, this is a highly inventive mix of tradition and new technology.

Possibly the stand out track is the infectous ‘Poye’ with its lovely use of percussion in harmony with the duet vocals and Malian violin thrown into the rootsy mix. However, this is an exceptionally strong album throughout. The uplifting ‘Dibi’ impresses with keyboards acting as surrogate brass while ‘N’Tana’ is a busy, bustling song that incorporates complex rhythms that build in intensity. Contrast these with the altogether jazzier feel to ‘Ahe Sira Bila’ with nice use of guitar and the opener ‘Sebero’ with a stronger emphasis on electronics, and you have a superbly well balanced and diverse album. Unquestionably one of the world roots albums of the year and a major surprise arriving at the very end too.

Tim Stenhouse

Azymuth ‘Butterfly’ LP/CD (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

Rio-based trio Azymuth have been together on and off for the best part of thirty-five years and with this latest recording have come up with one of their best all round albums in over a decade at least. They have returned to the grittier groove of their early Milestone albums and this ideally suits the band. The opener and title track is a tribute to keyboard legend Herbie Hancock and his composition, and they remain faithful to the original with subtle use of strings and lovely fender rhodes playing from their own keyboard maestro Jose Roberto Bertrami. However, it is the mid-tempo groove of ‘Os cara la’ and ‘Triagem’ that typify the Azymuth sound and the former may become a dancefloor favourite with its fine funk bass from Malheiros and use of vocoder vocals. Where Azymuth have added to the original concept of the group is in the jazzy colouration of instrumentation as in ‘Caitutu’ which is a short samba with gorgeous flute, or the light and breezy folk-influenced ‘Meu doce amigo’. A percussion breakdown courtesy of the renowned Robertinho Silva is on offer on the brass-led ‘Avenida Rio Branco’ with Bertrami exploring on fender. The laid back mood of ‘New dawn’ rounds out a terrific recording and one that will rate among the finest Azymuth have recorded thus far.

Tim Stenhouse

Chick Corea/Hiromi ‘Duet’ (Concord) 4/5

In 1978 Chick Corea undertook a concert tour with Herbie Hancock the result of which was the acclaimed piano duet evening. Thirty years on Corea repeats the formula, this time with upcoming Japanese pianist Hiromi and what a winner of a collaboration it is too. Based on live recordings at the Blue Note club in Tokyo from 2007, this is the latest in what historically has been an intense relationship between jazz musicians and Japan and one that stretches back several decades to the like of Horace Silver with the ‘Tokyo Blues’ album, or Dave Brubeck and his ‘Impressions of Japan’. For Corea it is over forty years ago that he visited Japan as part of Stan Getz’s group in 1967. The connection with Hiromi goes back a decade to when the Japanese pianist was only seventeen. Now a maturing musician, Hiromi and Corea played together again at the 2006 Tokyo Jazz festival and a year later decided to record an album.

Compositions are shared between the two with Corea’s ‘Windows’ receiving a sumptuous treatment that conveys all the beauty of the original while ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Place to be’ by Hiromi are surprisingly lyrical pieces from the pen of a relatively young pianist. The sensitive quasi-classical feel to Jobim’s ‘How insensitive’ is another highlight and Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ becomes an extended improvisational number. Only ‘Concierto de Aranjuez/Spain’ disappoints with Corea’s latin-tinged theme being over-elaborate. Otherwise this ranks alongside last year’s Hank Jones and Joe Lovano live duet, and the Bebo Valdes and Diego El Cigala collaboration as one of the finest duet albums of recent years.

Tim Stenhouse

David Sanchez ‘Cultural Survival’ (Concord) 3/5

Puerto Rican born tenor saxophonist David Sanchez has over a fifteen year period explored his musical folk roots of bomba and plena in a variety of contexts, but has steered away from the Latin jazz formula. Indeed his last recording was devoted to Latin classical composers and involved work with a symphony orchestra. Now on the Concord label, he has returned to a more abstract, jazzier sound, and one that reflects the influence of the tenorist he sounds closest to, namely Sonny Rollins. Sanchez employs his own band with long-time collaborator Adam Cruz on drums and guitarist Lage Lund filling the space normally employed by piano. However, piano is in evidence on three tracks, two of which feature Danilo Perez. The majority of the lengthy compositions are Sanchez’s own and perhaps he does not yet possess the lyricism of say a Michael Brecker or Kenny Garrett to carry this off wholly successfully. The uptempo piece ‘Adoracion’ is actually the same title of a famous Eddie Palmieri composition and part way through Sanchez plays a riff from the original chorus, with Cruz impressing on polyrhythmic percussion. Lund stretches out on ‘Coast to Coast’ with Metheny-esque guitar licks while Perez accompanies Sanchez and the band on the Michael Brecker sounding waltz ‘Mambo Azul’. In general while technically accomplished, some of the tracks simply lack warmth and tend to drag on for too long. It is on the laid back ‘Monk’s Mood’ that the soulfulness in Sanchez’s tenor playing comes to the fore and in future he should concentrate on this aspect of his playing.

Tim Stenhouse