Jane Birkin ‘Enfants d’hiver’ (EMI) 4/5

To coincide with a much anticipated live performance in London, Jane Birkin’s latest album is a musical reflection on her childhood. Long-time pianist Fred Maggi remains from the superb 2002 CD ‘Arabesque’ which re-worked the Gainsbourg repertoire so convincingly in a Middle Eastern/North African feel. Jane Birkin has spent virtually all her adult life in France and has become the Anglo-Francaise par excellence, combining an infrequent acting career with singing. The almost whispering delivery has become her trademark and not one she is likely to foresake as illustrated on ‘Il fait nuit’. Birkin has clearly been listening to other contemporary singers and the catchy ‘Periode bleue’ is the kind of song that Carla Bruni might have attempted with instrumentation to match while ‘Prends cette main’ has a pared-down country-folk feel that is very much in vogue. Reminiscent of her Gainsbourg-produced debut ‘Di doo dah’ with use of strings is ‘Maison etoilee’. 
It is the sad side of love which is never shared that is exposed on ‘14 fevrier’ while the title track is an intimate expose of her childhood memories. Political consciousness is showcased on ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’, the sole composition sung in English. All in all a strong album and one that cements her already established reputation.

Tim Stenhouse

The Blue Note Seven ‘Mosaic’ (Blue Note) 4/5

Setting off the seventieth anniversary of arguably the most prestigious label in jazz history, and certainly the one by which all others are measured, comes this fitting tribute from a collective of present day musicians. It was the mid-1980s renaissance of Blue Note via the Pathe-Marconi vinyl re-issues from France and Bertrand Tavernier’s wonderful ‘Round Midnight’ (criminally still not available on DVD over here)that introduced a younger audience to the fabulous recordings of hammond organists Jimmy Smith and Big John Patton, the hard bop musings of Art Blakey, Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan, and the accessible yet avant-garde genius of Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers and Larry Young. This set of classic compositions on the label revisited focuses attention on the 1960s and in particular the hard-bop and modal sounds. The rhythm section is none other than Bill Charlap’s trio, a modern day Blue Note stalwart, and provides the required cohesion around which the other musicians are able to stretch out. These include tenorist Ravi Coltrane, altoist/flautist Steve Wilson and guitarist Pete Bernstein. While no single recording can ever fully represent the totality of music on offer on such a vast back catalogue(the 1950s catalogue in particular is deserving of a separate tribute), this tribute does enable one to enjoy the compositions of pianists of the calibre of Hancock, Monk, Silver and Tyner. Where the ensemble work best is on the modal and mid-tempo numbers and this is no better illustrated than on the delicious ‘Little B’s Poem’, a Bobby Hutcherson composition with sensitive flute playing from Wilson and fine ensemble performances all-round. The Grant Green piece ‘Idle Moments’ is rarely revisited and one wonders why. Here Pete Bernstein has the opportunity to solo with horns playing in unison. In a more uptempo vein, Horace Silver’s ‘The Outlaw’ is one of his less frequently covered pieces, but here is given a lovely Latin vamp before reverting to bop albeit with a continuous Latin tinge. The title track, a classic Jazz Messengers tune, receives a faithful rendition with polyrhythmic drumming even if the urgency of the original is near impossible to match. Unquestionably the 1960s was a fertile period for Blue Note and this is amply demonstrated on this recording which is far superior to the 1990s tributes by various artists and the ‘Blue Spirits’ compilation of Japanese artists that coincided with the sixty-fifth anniversary.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Far Out Strictly Samba’ (Far Out) 4/5

With the Rio carnival imminent, Far Out have wisely decided to cheer us up with some rootsy samba, several songs of which have never previously been released in this country and make this essential listening at an affordable price to boot. The fact that it has been compiled by Brazilian specialist DJ Cliffy gives this additional crediblity and there are some terrific discoveries to be heard here. Teresa Cristina is not a name familiar to most, but along with her Grupo Semente has devoted her attentions to showcasing the music of samba legend, Paulinho da Viola. The result is the beautiful ‘Foi un rio que passou en minha vida’, an album highlight. Likewise Roge is not an obvious choice, but one who clearly has a great future ahead of him as illustrated on the fabulous ‘Swingue do samba’. More familiar Brazilliance is to be found on ‘Carolina’ by Seu Jorge, by far the best known of modern samba artists. Of great interest is the solo project of Nereu with group Swing, founder of Trio Mocoto, who of course backed Jorge Ben during his classic period in the 1970s and in ‘Maria Jose’ provides an example of what became known as samba rock and later samba funk. Elza Soares typified a more commerical form of samba from the mid-1960s onwards and here is accompanied by singer-songwriter Joyce on guitar. It would be impossible to have a samba compilation without some fiery larger ensemble percussion and this compilation does not disappoint with Grupo Batuque and Dom Um and Jair de Castro on various instrumentation. In a more laid back and melodic vein is the song form of samba known as samba-cancao and somewhat surprisingly it is Wilson das Neves in his more unlikely role as vocalist with the Ipanemas who illustrates the sub-genre. Extensive sleeve notes chronicle both the origins of samba and shed light on the artists contained within.

Tim Stenhouse

Eamon Doorley, Muireann Nic Amlaoibh, Julie Fowlis and Ross Martin ‘Dual’ (Machair) 4/5

This project was initiated by vocalists Julie Fowlis and Muireann Nic Amlaoibh and inspired by them both growing up in Gaelic-speaking communities, the former in North Uist and the latter in county Kerry, Ireland. In the case of Nic Amhlaoibh this is doubled by working for the Irish-language television channel TG4 that prides itself on championing traditional Irish music on the island of Ireland and further afield in its diaspora communities.

The music contained within celebrates and to an extent chronicles the very real historical musical links that exist between Ireland and the highlands of Scotland. As such it provides a fascinating insight into the connections that distinguished folk musicians such as Andy Irvine and Bert Jansch have frequently alluded to in their music. This is no better illustrated than on ‘Uist-Kerry Set: Bu chaomh leam bhith fuireach’ which includes a tune of Scottish music that was transported to West Kerry when Gaelic-speaking Scottish guards were stationed there. Bi-lingual lyrics enable one to better understand the storytelling quality of the Irish/Scots Gaelic language and above all it is the sheer lyricism of the musical exploration that shines through on this fine recording.

Tim Stenhouse

Nicola Conte ‘Rituals’ (Schema/Emarcy) 4/5

Jazz dance DJ Nicola Conte is best known for his compilations of new artists and collection of rare vinyl. However, in recent years he has become increasingly interested in producing and performing on acoustic jazz. On this new album he goes beyond the normal dance oriented music to produce a supremely well rounded release that incorporates vocal, big band, modal flavours and left-field compositions. Latin polyrhythms and big band horns abound on ‘The Nubian Queens’, one of the albums’ many highlights, with the excellent vocals of Jose James and on the big band vocal piece ‘I see all shades of you’, featuring the vocals of Alice Ricciardi. The instrumental ‘Macedonia’ allows the musicians to really stretch out with pianist Pietro Lussu impressing with some McCoy Tyneresque licks and horns reminiscent of the Jazz Messengers. Long-time fans will love the dancefloor beat of ‘Black is the graceful veil’ and this is a possible song to be lifted for 12” release. In a similar vein is a big band version of ‘Caravan’ while the intimate bossa ‘Paper Clouds’ has an easy lounge feel to it. Further variety comes in the form of ‘Red sun’, which is laid back with lovely flute and the vocals of Kim Sanders, and ‘Karma Flower’ with a Pharoah Sanders inspired Eastern intro that floats along like the vocals. The title track has a modal feel that recalls Miles’ late-1950s recordings with the subtle use of harp. A stellar cast includes alto saxophonist Greg Osby, an array of other American, Finnish and Italian musicians and Conte himself on guitar, clearly influenced by the Blue Note grooves of Grant Green. By far the most complete album recorded by Conte thus far.

Tim Stenhouse