29th Apr2010

Charles Mingus ‘Mingus Ah Um’ (Jazz Wax Records) 5/5

by ukvibe

From the iconic cover through to the music itself, everything about this album exudes sheer class. One of Mingus’ best ever line-ups featured Texan tenorist Booker Ervin, altoist John Handy and Shafi Hadi, trombonist Jimmy Knepper and a stellar cast of other musicians to boot. Perhaps in the pantheon of Mingus recordings, it is important to note that this was one of the first albums when a variety of self-penned compositions by the leader were aired in one concise project. These include the wonderful ‘Better ‘git it in your soul’, the original blues-inflected version of ‘Goodbye pork pie hat’ that would be covered by countless musicians (most notably a folk guitar interpretation from Bert Jansch and John Renbourn) and the immaculate ‘Fables of Fabius’ which has been covered almost as much as the previous aforementioned numbers. Mingus was clearly in reflective mood at the time and devoted a composition apiece to Jelly Roll Morton, ‘Jell Roll’, and Charlie Parker on ‘Bird calls’. There may well have been a third homage on ‘Open letter to Duke’, but critics have subsequently cast doubt as to whether the duke in question was indeed Ellington, though in terms of big band influences the former was a seminal guide and inspiration for Mingus. The extensive original liner notes are befitting of the first album that Mingus would record for Columbia. This would form part of a duo during his short-lived residency for the label comprising also ‘Mingus Dynasty’ and came after the Atlantic recording, ‘Blues and Roots’. ‘Mingus Ah Um’ is quite simply a great place to start a Mingus collection.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
28th Apr2010

Duke Ellington ‘Original Album Series’ 5CD Box set (Atlantic/Rhino) 3/5

by ukvibe

The gargantuan output of Duke Ellington spanning several decades was bound to include some missing items and this box set brings together some of the sides that the Duke recorded for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label during the 1960s when the orchestra was consolidating its reputation as well as recording some fine suite material elsewhere, notably ‘Far East Suite’ and ‘His mother called him Bill’. One surprise omission given the above, is that the now hard to find ‘Sinatra and Ellington’ collaboration album is not included here and that is a great pity since it is largely Ellington material which Sinatra did not attempt to replicate in a live setting. However, there is plenty to keep Ellingtonia fans content and one of the welcome inclusions is the ‘Jazz violin session’; between Duke and Stéphane Grapelli from 1963, that only surfaced in 1976. This is very much Grapelli as a soloist and not with string accompaniment and as such the tunes sound totally fresh as on ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’ and ‘In a sentimental mood’. Another treat in store is actually the Ellington take on the ‘Mary Poppins’ film soundtrack, which has the Ellington band in prime form, especially on ‘A spoonful of sugar’ and this really works in a jazz context just as John Coltrane reworked ‘Chim Chim Cheree’ which also features here in a big band treatment. Two albums which go hand in hand are ‘Ellington ‘65’ and ‘Ellington ‘66’. Taken together they are a bit of a mixed bunch with an eclectic selection of songs that at worst enter easy listening territory on numbers such as ‘Blowin’ in the wind’, but on the other hand more reflective treatment of pieces like ‘Danke schön’. Ideally they should have been coupled onto one CD with extra space left for other recordings. One re-issue that could certainly have been dispensed with in this collection is ‘Will big bands ever come back’, an ill-advised attempt by the Duke to recreate the swing era of other bands. Quite why anyone would have wanted to hear this is beyond this writer, but it does not fit well with the work he recorded as a whole and is an instantly forgettable part of an otherwise highly distinguished discography. it would have been far better to include ‘Afro-Bossa’ which hinted at some of the other longer suite works that Duke was involved in during the same period. Clearly some of the projects here were commercially driven, hence the short timing on many of the numbers. No extra tracks or additional notes to place the albums in a historical context.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
27th Apr2010

Ray Charles ‘Original Album Series’ 5CD box set (Atlantic/Rhino) 5/5

by ukvibe

Grouped together in slimline fascimile sleeves, Rhino have handily assembled five of the classic Ray Charles albums into one set. Chronologically this covers the period roughly from 1956 through 1962 when Charles was re-writing the music history books and crossing boundaries with ease. The first of these, ‘The Great Ray Charles’, captures the leader in jazzy mood (and an excellent pianist he was too) over a series of standards of which Horace Silver’s ‘Doodlin’ impresses and new original compositions such as ‘Sweet sixteen bars’ with David ‘Fathead’ Newman wailing on tenor saxophone are just as good. This captures merely one aspect of Charles’ repertoire to perfection. A year later the live recording, ‘Ray Charles at Newport’ surfaced and this introduced us to the call and repsonse vocals of Charles with the Raelettes. Both are outstanding on ‘The right time’ with New Orleans style piano and impassioned vocals from Marjorie Hendricks and on the seminal 
‘I got a woman’. The classic cover photo from Lee Friedlander says it all really and the music would provide the blueprint for singers from Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland to Stevie Wonder. Going further in time by one year, ‘The Genius of Ray Charles’ from 1959 is a big band outing with Charles in his prime on, ‘Let the good times roll’ and ‘Deed I do’, accompanied by an all-star cast of jazz musicians and it was this fuller orchestration that Ray Charles would use throughout the 1960s and into the next decade. Charles entered the new decade in 1961 with another winner of an album, ‘The Genius sings the Blues’, with electric piano, Raelettes and orchestra all on board on a judicious selection of orginals and blues standards with ‘Early in the morning’, ‘Hard times’ and ‘The right time’ just some of the highlights. One of his very best albums without question. Finally ‘The Genius after hours’ which, although indicating a 1961 date, is actually from the same earlier session as ‘The great Ray Charles’, but is no less enthralling for all that. Classics from the great American songbook abound with ‘Ain’t misbehavin’ and ‘The man I love’ stand out here. A pity that the album, ‘Hallelujah, I love you so’ was not included to complete the set of Atlantic recordings. For jazzistas, possibly the only sides missing that would have been worthy of inclusion are ‘Soul Brothers’ and ‘Soul Metting’, both collaborations with vibist Milt Jackson and available elsewhere as a 2CD set and the country-soul sides are also generally available collectively and separately. While there is still a major gap in the Ray Charles discography with the recordings on his own Tangerine label missing on CD, this box set neatly groups together some of the essential sides and at a significantly fairer price than some of the previous weightier tomes. For anyone wishing to start off a Ray Charles collection that covers soul, blues and jazz, this is the first port of call. No extras, or additional sleeve notes.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
26th Apr2010

Various ‘The Afrosound of Columbia Vol.1’ 3LP/2CD (Vampi Soul) 4/5

by ukvibe

Columbian music has rightly gained a higher profile in recent times with excellent compilations from Soundway to supplement the Cumbia greats past and present on previous World Circuit albums some twenty years ago. However, the funkier side to these Afro-Columbian flavours have seldom been seen or heard outside Columbia or its neighbours and therefore Vampi Soul are to be congratulated for enlisting the expert ears of DJ Pablo Iglesias to unravel some of the lesser known sounds and introduce some new names to a wider public. Afro-Columbian culture is not a single, easily identifiable sound, but is rather based round a somewhat looser concept of Afro-Columbian identity which tends to be situated geographically along the coastline of the country. All tracks derive from the illustrious independent label Discos Fuentes which was founded as far back as 1934 and the music contained within this selection dates between the late 1960s and 1980. Columbian salsa is distinctive with its crisp sounding percussion, but on ‘Salsa con tabaco’ by Afrosound a funkier ellement is added with wah-wah guitar and this gives the number a different feel. The same band excel on ‘Jungle fever’ with sensuous female warblings from vocalist Keri Kenton akin to those of Jane Birkin accompanying Serge Gainsbourg while there is opera-style singing on the funky ditty that is ‘El caterete’ by Wganda Kenya, another group fully deserving of wider recognition. Excellent cumbia is provided by Rodolfo y su Tipica RA7 on the classic tune ‘Tabaco y ron’ from 1970 and there is a fiery descarga from Fruko y sus tesos on ‘Descraga espectacular’ with percussion from Cuban conguero Tata Güines. Latin-soul with vibes and percussion thrown in for good measure are prominent on ‘Salsa boogaloo’ by Sexteto Miramar from 1968, doubtless taking a leaf out of the musical innovations at the time in Nueva York. With no less than forty-three choice cuts and lavish cover and artist photo illustrations in the deluxe inner sleeve, this is a treasure trove of information on a country whose myriad musical genres have been largely overlooked until the last decade to an international public. Perhaps some of the harder to find albums could be coupled together and re-issued for future release. In the meantime this worthwhile selection from Pablo Iglesias fulfills the very useful purpose of filling in some of the gaps.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
25th Apr2010

Brad Mehldau ‘Highway Rider’ 2CD (Nonesuch) 4/5

by ukvibe

In recent years pianist Brad Mehldau has operated in a variety of formats from solo to trio, but on this latest recording he has gone one step further and included a quartet with saxophone and even a string orchestra as well as adding percussion and omitting bass in the aforementioned, and all this highlighting his own compositions. This represents by far his most diverse and ambitious album thus far and is testimony to the multiplicity of musical influences Mehldau has been soaking up and these include both the romantic period of classical composers such as Brahms and Tchaikovsky and the orchestrations of singers of the calibre of Jacques Brel and Tom Waits. Intimate duets, hispanicised-influenced numbers and layered orchestrations are just some of the new features on ‘Highway Rider’. Mehldau himself plays not only acoustic piano, but equally pump organ, electric piano and even orchestral bells. However, long-time fans should not be afraid, for it is primarily on acoustic piano that he plays here.

The romanticism is most evident on the piece ‘John boy’ with Joshua Redman on soprano saxophone with orchestra, but minus bass. One of the revelations of this album is the rapport between Mehldau and Redman on the gorgeous composition ‘Old west’, a duet which opens up a whole new territory for the pianist to explore for a possible future project. The usual trio with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums is at times augmented by an additional drummer, Matt Chamberlain, bringing to mind the use of an extra percussionist by both Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane during the 1960s. Here Chamberlain operates to bring more contemporary drum patterns to play, inspired by hip-hop and other newer musical forms. One example of this is the title track where very subtle sampling technique drumming is used to compliment the layered textures on electric keyboards and the format works equally well on ‘The falcon will fly again’. Flamenco influences are discernable on ‘Capriccio’ with handclaps while expansive film soundtrack sounds are evident on the epic twelve and a half minute opener, ‘We’ll cross the river’. There is quite a lot of music to take in here and plenty of new avenues for Mehldau to explore in more depth at a later stage. In general this is a supremely varied album that is ideally suited to being stretched over two CDs. A brief UK tour in early June promises to be another pianistic treat.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
24th Apr2010

Sarah Vaughan ‘Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughan in the Land of Hi-Fi’ (American Jazz Classics) 5/5

by ukvibe

The velvety tones of Sarah Vaughan never sounder finer than on this pairing of albums from 1954 and 1955 respectively. The former has the added bonus of featuring trumpeter Clifford Brown who only ever recorded with two other vocalists during his brief career, Helen Merrill and Dinah Washington. Some of the finest work of Vaughan ever laid down on vinyl is contained on this collaboration and they include definitive versions of ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ and ‘April in Paris’, though the set as whole is exceptionally strong throughout. Accompanying the two were musicians of a similarly high calibre such as flautist Herbie Mann and drummer Roy Haynes. Indeed the rhythm section is identical on both albums. For the second album, which featured an all-star larger ensemble (though no less jazzy), Ernie Wilkins was in charge of the orchestrations and enlisted the help of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Here Vaughan and the band excel on numbers such as ‘Cherokee’, ‘Soon’ and ‘I’ll never smile again’. Part of a much larger series of sides that Sarah Vaughan cut for Mercury/Emarcy (and available elsewhere as a weighty 23 CD box set), this CD condenses the genius of Sarah to its very essence and as such is a first choice recommendation for fans of jazz vocalese unfamiliar with her craft. Alternate version of songs were not included because of time limitations, the two albums together being just under eighty minutes in length.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
23rd Apr2010

Anita O’Day ‘Cool Heat’ / ‘Swings Cole Porter’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

by ukvibe

Vocalist Anita O’Day came to international prominence with her appearance in the film, ‘Jazz on a summer’s day’, but more generally was an early practitioner of what came to be known as the cool style of jazz singing. She was in fact a major influence on other singers of the period, most notably June Christy and Chris O’Connor, but had a wide vocal range and could scat with the best of them. Perhaps being a native of Kansas City exposed O’Day from an early age to blues and jazz sounds. The two albums contained within were originally released on the Verve label and all but one additional song date from April 1959 sessions when the jazz world was at a crossroads with ‘Kind of Blue’ imminent. Arrangements were made by Jimmy Giuffre who also doubles up on clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophone duties. By far the more intimate of the albums is ‘Cool Heat’ and this features a version of ‘Mack the knife’ that comes a close second to Ella’s classic rendition and excellent interpretations of ‘Come rain or shine’, ‘The way you look tonight’ and notoriously Anita scatting to wonderful effect on ‘Hershey bar’. Classic big band accompaniment is provided on the second arranged by Billy May in the first of a couple of collaborations between May and O’Day, the former of whom would go on to be one of the foremost producers of Frank Sinatra. A top session roster of musicians included guitarists Jim Hall and Barney Kessel, drummers Gene Krupa and Mel Lewis, and reedists Art Pepper and Bud Shank. Among the superb repertoire of songs that Cole Porter conjured up, ‘I get a kick out of you’, impresses’ as does ‘All of you’ and ‘What is this thing called love?’. O’Day would go on to record a series of excellent early 1960s albums collaborating with the Three Sounds and Cal Tjader no less before heroin addiction would keep her out of action for the good part of a decade. She would return triumphantly during the mid-late 1970s. An excellent coupling of albums and as with the majority of American Jazz Classic releases, unbeatable value time-wise.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
22nd Apr2010

Koop ‘Coup de Grace. 1997-2007’ (!K7) 4/5

by ukvibe

Swedish pairing of Oscar Simonsson and Magnus Zingmark have over a decade successfully fused jazzy samples with a catchy pop sensibility and enjoyed underground hits in the UK with the jazz-dance and electronic beats crowd with old-school jazz influences recalling 1980s club haunts such as Dingwalls in London and Berlin in Manchester. Of course ‘Waltz for Koop, taken from the 200s album of the same name, was a big favourite with DJ Gilles Peterson at the time and the familiar bass riff and subtle use of synthesizers typifies their sound. The Latin-inflected fresh as a summer breeze vocals of Yukimi Nagano on ‘Summer sun’ impress and unsurprisingly the album won a Grammy for best club/dance album of the year. Elsewhere jazz hues abound as on the uptempo song ‘I see a different you’, again sung by Nagano with the lovely use of vibes and the excellent percussive waltz on ‘Tonight’ with vocals provided by Mikael Sundin. Along with sampling beats, Koop specialise in mixing these with acoustic instrumentation and in this respect they are not dissimilar in outlook from Gotan Project, though the emphasis on jazz is greater with the former. The jazzy waltz that is ‘Baby’ includes a lovely flute solo from Magnus Lindgren and several top Swedish jazz musicians are called upon to contribute including former EST bassist Dan Berglund. An indication of the serious intent of Koop is found on ‘Prince of peace’ which features a bass riff and sample of Swedish contemporary classical music. At only forty minutes, this overview of the three albums recorded thus far could certainly have been a good deal more generous. However, by being lean on the time factor, the choiciest cuts are now available to all and sundry.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
21st Apr2010

Gilberto Gil ‘Banda Dois’ (Geléia/Warners) 4/5

by ukvibe

Singer-songwriter and, up until recent times Brazilian Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil has made a virtue out of live recordings and for this latest effort has largely returned to the pared down surroundings of his earliest recordings from the mid-late 1960s, accompanied by son Bem Gil on guitar, and the percussive instruments of pandeiro and tamborim with very occasional vocalists Maria Rita and José Gil guesting on a couple of numbers. While his most popular period commercially dates from the late 1970s and early 1980s with songs such as ‘Palco’ and ‘Todo Menina Baiana’, this near seventy minute effort from a live performance in Sao Paolo in September last year focuses more on the early to mid-1970s period when he was making his name nationally, but had yet to really break the international market. Consequently, this CD captures the very essence of Gil and the acoustic format suits him well. Old favourites includes ‘Expresso 2222’ and his interpretation of Jackson do Pandeiro’s ‘Chiclete com banana’ while the title tracks of two of his most consistent albums, ‘Refazenda’ and ‘Refavela’, are revisited to good effect and were ones that cemented his reputation at the time. Among the (relatively) newer material, ‘Escotérico’ is a laid back number with a whistled intro and a lovely way to open the evening’s proceedings and ‘Lamento sertanejo’ is a part vocal, part scatted piece with only Gil himself accompanying on guitar to depict in musical terms the rugged landscape and daily life in the semi-arid Sertao region of north-eastern Brazil. English and Portugese lyrics combine on ‘O rouxinol’ (’Nightingale’) and Gil makes a decent stab at the only other standard ‘Saudade da Bahia’, written by the quintessential Bahian songwriter Dorival Caymmi. A separate DVD of the concert is available.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
20th Apr2010

Joyce and Joao Donato ‘Aquarius’ (Far Out) 4/5

by ukvibe

Formerly a Japanese only album, this excellent release allows is to listen to the pairing of two of Brazil’s finest musicians and in some ways recalls the seminal collaboration between Elis Regina and Tom Jobim, ‘Elis and Tom’, from 1974. This new recording is at once an uplifting and introspective experience with restrained and impassioned vocals from Joyce on the one hand and subtle and always refined acoustic and electric piano (including fender rhodes) playing from Donato. Mid-tempo bliss comes in the shape of ‘Amor das estrelas’ and it is the apparent simplicity in the delivery that impresses and belies the musical geniuses at play. This is a song that in structure at least is not dissimilar to ‘Waters of March’ by Elis and Tom. A classic interpretation of the standard ‘Xango e da Bac’ provides the pretext for an uptempo samba with scat vocals from Joyce while the catchy ‘E muito mas’ serves as a vehicle to highlight Joyce’s glorious voice. Two of Joyce’s old chestnuts and most loved songs among her fans, ‘Feminina’ and ‘Tardes cariocas’, are reprised to good effect with the latter featuring Joao cooking up some tasty vamps on electric piano. Elsewhere there is a reprise of ‘Amazonas 2’ and Joyce is totally at home on this song which is taken at a slightly slower tempo than on the original. Overall a strong album throughout and one longs to hear the pairing in a live context where both their extensive back catalogues can be heard in depth.

Tim Stenhouse

Off
Pages:123»