It is some two years since José Roberto Bertrami’s CD ‘Butterfly’ and Azymuth return with a set that has a distinctive retro early 1980s feel that takes in jazz, funk and even disco grooves. Produced by Daniel Maunick and David Brunkworth, the album has the classic Azymuth imprint all over it. This is typified by the title track which features one of those instantly recognisable bass and percussion intros and atmospheric keyboards before developing into a semi vocal piece with singing chores divided between Sabrina Malheiros, daughter of bassist Alex, and Marcio Lott. Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album. Traditional samba rhythms surface on ‘Isso’ as does another instrumental, based on one of the classic samba rhythms, ‘ E partido alto’. The driving ‘Ta nessa ainda bicho’ features subtle keyboards from Bertrami and the creative use of percussion. Jazz-funksters will be in seventh heaven on the heavy bass-led ‘In my treehouse’ that part way through morphs into a samba-inflected instrumental with vocoder chants and cuica drums. Other tracks are devoted to the trio’s favourite football team, ‘Meu mengô’ and to Michel Legrand on ‘Carnaval Legrand’. If this is a tried and tested sound, it is nonetheless a well-crafted one and there is little or no reason to depart from it.
This new set from the Kairos builds on the debut ‘Kairos Moment’ of two years ago and once again is an all-acoustic album that is very much in the melodic vein of the 1970s ECM recordings by Jan Garbarek and latterly by Charles Lloyd from the late 1980s to the present. Multi-reedist and leader Adam Waldmann has welded a tightly knit group sound, which has benefited greatly from extensive touring during 2010. The new album has something of a political bent to it, but is ultimately enjoyable on a solely musical level. It certainly has all the feel of a musical formation that is on an urgent mission and this makes the intensity of the music all the more enjoyable. Accomplished individual and ensemble playing predominates here with the engaging ‘Box set anti-hero’ being the pick of the compositions on offer while there is terrific work from the rhythm section on ‘Hicks’ with melodic saxophone from Waldmann. Special mention should be made throughout of the piano playing of Ivo Neame. Indeed he has the opportunity to take off on an extended solo on the incendiary trio outing entitled ‘Philosophy of futility’. Vocalist Emilia Martensson provides some refreshing to proceedings on the romantic sounding ‘Maybe next year’ and impresses in particular on the lovely waltz that is ‘The calling’. With beautiful clarity of sound to this recording session, Kairos 4tet belong very much in the pantheon of the new jazz scene that is emerging in the UK. With such a classic sound to them, they should expect to attract an audience way beyond these shores. A lengthy UK tour begins in April and continues through May and into early June.
Vocalist Kurt Elling is now in the big league of jazz artists and now on his second album with Concord after a critically acclaimed sojourn at Blue Note.
Clearly Elling is being geared up for the wider market and this explains why he tends to focus on this album on more straight ahead delivery on classic and modern standards. However, something has been diluted in the process. For long-term fans there are nonetheless some memorable moments to behold and these include the delightful take on Miles’ seminal ‘Blues in green’ with lyrics added by none other than Al Jarreau. The more experimental side to his repertoire surfaces briefly on ‘Samurai cowboy’ which in some ways is a kind of homage to the vocalese talents of Bobby McFerrin. Of the standards, Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ out’ is an excellent take on the 1980s pop-jazz song while Earth. Wind and Fire’s ‘After the love has gone’ is a surprise candidate for inclusion, nonetheless yet works wonderfully well even minus the trademark horns. On the minus side, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Golden lady’ sounds flat and adds nothing to the original while ‘Norwegian wood’ has simply been sampled far too often in the recent past for it’s own good. This is an ultimately frustrating listening experience given the unquestioned talents Kurt Elling has at his disposal and one wishes he were not forced to be pigeonholed into any easy listening category since he is in fact a musical sculptor who needs the free reign. If you really want Elling to reach a wider audience, then it is necessary to provide that audience with a visual as well as oral illustration of his craft. A live CD/DVD would go a long way to educating the audience on the totality of Kurt’s vocal skills.
Tenor giant Joe Lovano has been with the Blue Note label now for some twenty years and during this extended period has cut some of the finest music of his career. Continuing on from his last album, ‘Folk Art’, Lovano has recorded once more with US Five and for this project has devoted the album to the music of Charlie Parker. Though playing mainly on his favoured tenor, Joe Lovano performs on a variety of reed instruments including straight alto, double soprano and G-Mezzo soprano saxophones. The piece ‘Passport’ is taken at a brisk pace and possibly the number most like Parker in its interpretation. Yet on tenor Lovano evokes rather Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and even in parts both Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon. A truly inspired ‘Donna Lee’ is an album highlight and here it is played as a ballad. This enables the listener to hear the piece in a whole new light. Compelling is the only way to describe the take on ‘Barbados’, complete with latinised percussion.
This number has long been a favourite of Jazz Jamaica and Lovano succeeds in capturing the Caribbean flavour of the composition. Further Latin incursions, though this time of a Brazilian jazz kind, are to be found on ‘Dewey square’ and this is so convincing Joe Lovano really ought to think about devoting an entire album to this genre. Esperanza Spaulding plays a lovely lengthy bass solo while James Weidman impresses with lyrical piano riffs. This is an outstanding ensemble performance with some truly novel takes on a normally all-too familiar repertoire, thus cleverly avoiding the pitfall of playing old school be-bop. A brief late March UK tour takes in the south-east and north-east of England. Hopefully he will return for an extended tour in the near future.
Contemporary reggae singer Richie Spice has been on the scene for some time now and this is his fifth album. It steers between a modern update on the classic roots genre and a more lovers-oriented approach and works best on the songs devoted to the more socially conscious side of the singer’s songwriting. A potential future single and arguably the most convincing track on the entire album is ‘Find Jah’ which, from the very first notes, is an instant winner. More of this style is required from Spice. Almost as good is the opener ‘Better tomorrow’ with lovely female harmonies. The lilting hues of ‘Confirmation’ has Spice’s voice somewhere between a roots vocalist and the saucer delivery of say Sizzla. In fact Richie sounds positively like a latter-day Dennis Brown on ‘Serious woman’ with its subtle use of keyboards. Produced mainly by Donovan Germain and elsewhere by Shane Brown and Stephen ‘Lenky’ Mardsen, this latest album is a mixed bag of goodies and the slightly annoying intro vocalizing by Spice, which is repeated on several songs, could do with being dispensed with immediately. Singles already out included within feature a take on the Crusaders ‘Street life’ retitled ‘My life’ and ‘Jah never let us down’.
Now in her mid-thirties, Portuguese fado diva Mariza is now very much at the peak of her creative talents and as such is the natural inheritor to Amelia Rodrigues’ mantle as the queen of fado. An impeccable selection of songs is matched only by the flawless delivery. She even pays homage to the former star on Rodrigues’ own composition ‘Ai, esta pena de mim’ (’Oh this pain of mine’) which sounds as though it could be straight out of a traditional taverna setting. Pared down and with the minimum of instrumentation required, Mariza here sings largely a capella with just strings to accompany her. The pace varies somewhat on ‘Na tua do silêncio’ where Mariza delivers a breezy rendition and on the excellent ‘As meninas dos meus olhos’ (’The apples of my eyes’). In terms of quality, this merits a five star rating. However, given the paucity of time (barely thirty-five minutes) one star has been deducted. An additional half a dozen songs could easily have been added on. It is high time an extended live recording was made on CD at least. UK audiences will have the opportunity to hear Mariza live during a relatively brief tour in May and in particular the intimate rapport that she has established with audiences in this country. It should truly be an occasion to savor.
This new album is the follow up to the ‘Golden’ debut set that was nominated for a Mercury prize and introduced the pianist to a significantly wider audience than might normally be the case for an emerging jazz talent. It is not in fact a trio album in the strictest sense of the term since tenorist/clarinetist James Allsopp and cellist Adrien Dennfield feature on some pieces. Possibly the album’s greatest selling point is the beautiful ballad ‘With a view’ which shimmers with tension and Downes plays a rolling piano style that conjures up both Keith Jarrett and Abdullah Ibrahim. The pianist sets off on an extended excursion on the be-bop influenced ‘Frizzi pazzi’, so titled because of a sweet that is popular in the South Tyrol. Throughout this album there is a slightly menacing tone and indeed brooding atmosphere, and this is no better illustrated than on the tribute to the legendary folk-blues singer-songwriter simply titled ‘Skip James’.
Here Downes delivers a truly soulful performance. Equally haunting is ‘Attached’ where the quintet is heard to its full potential with cello and bass clarinet combining beautifully. Freer form sounds emerge on ‘Wooden birds’ and ‘The wizards’. A varied set, then, and one that confirms that the initial interest in Kit Downes’ musicianship was not misguided, far from it. An extensive UK tour began in late February and does not end until mid-May.
A second compilation of selection from Dean Rudland carries on from the above with a slightly more up-tempo representation of grooves which is even more diverse than the first and covers old school funk, the alternative side of disco, organ-groove jazz, early rap and even some blues. Thus Instant Funk’s epic ‘Got my mind made up’ sits next to the Mohawks skinhead reggae-funk classic ‘The champ’ and Cymande’s ‘Bra’ rubs shoulders with the Last Poets’ ‘Run nigger’. Rare groove discoveries include the surprisingly good 1980 Philly magic of ‘Hurry up this way again’ from the Stylistics and Aaron Neville’s New Orleans soul on the Allen Toussaint penned ‘Hercules’. The left-side of disco gets a look in with Liquid Liquid’s underground hit ‘Cavern’ and the Salsoul heaven from Gaz on ‘Sing sing’. Smoother grooves from Philly International and Hi are showcased as on the previous compilation and they include Al Green’s wonderful ‘Love and happiness’, the O’Jays laid back ‘Cry together’ and Jean Plum’s seminal ‘Here I go again’. Even more esoteric is the pared down funk-blues of Lowell Fulsomn on ‘Tramp’ and some instrumental jazz-dance magic from Funk Incorporated on ‘Kool is back’. The majority of these originals have been sampled by contemporary hip-hop and rap artists and the rhythms will be instantly recognisable to most. Again terrific value for money with informative sleeves notes and all the basic details you require on the individual tunes.
Dean Rudland has forged a reputation as one of the most trustworthy among compilation specialists and this latest offering does little to dissuade one of his discerning ears. The focus here is one the more laid back of classic soulful sounds, but in the process it straddles eras (early 1970s through to mid-1980s), labels (Hi and Philly International being particularly well represented) with the odd surprise into the bargain. It has to be said that some of the songs have featured on previous compilations and long-term collectors should expect some repetition, but that does not detract in any way from the quality on offer. Rare grooves from Andrew White with ‘I’m so much in love with you’ and Lou Courtney with ‘What do you want me to do’ impress and when Jae Mason’s ‘Cloud of sunshine’ and Maryan Farra add Satin Soul and their superb living in the footsteps of another girl’ are thrown into the mix, you know you have an excellent set of tunes to select from. Rudland is clearly a devotee of the Philadelphia sound and at some point it would be nice to hear an entire compilation devoted to this city. In the meantime here the Jones Girls’ ‘This feeling’s killing me’ and Teddy Pendergrass’ ‘Heaven knows’ are just a couple of the Philly-based grooves on offer while Jean Plum’s Hi 45 ‘Look at the boy’ is certainly worthy of your attention. At seventy-five minutes per side it is also unbeatable value for money.
This is definitely a trip down memory lane with a super 70s retro Afro-funk feel permeating the entire album, though it is in fact a brand new recording. A storming opener in ‘Ne te fâches pas’ (’Don’t get angry’) starts proceedings off on the right footing (albeit one with a large James Brown imprint) and there is delicate rhythm guitar work that reminds one of Ghanaian highlife. West African grooves surface also on the excellent ‘Pardon’, which could just as easily be from a Nigerian band. With its driving bass, repetitive riff and chorus, the mid-tempo number ‘Von vo viono’ is a terrific slice of 70s Afro-funk. However, it would be wrong to portray the Orchestra as merely Fela disciples. In fact there is a good deal more variety and even subtlety in other songs. This is illustrated by the gentle paced intro to ‘Ma vie’ which builds up into something one might have expected to have originated from Zimbabwe, or South Africa. Latin vibes predominate on ‘Koumi dede’ with its incessant piano vamps underneath a basic Afro-funk structure. This has the potential to be a dance floor smash. Guest vocalist Angélique Kidjo alternates on lead vocals on the rapid and ultra funky ‘Gbeti madjro’ while Fatoumata Diawara contributes vocals on the brassy hues of ‘Mariage ou c’est lui’. Even Franz Ferdinand gets a look in on ‘Lion is burning’. All in all a great return to form and one looks forward immensely to the forthcoming tour.