Gal Costa ‘Recanto Gal’ (Wrasse/Universal) 3/5

Brazilian singer Gal Costa is one of MPB, or Brazilian popular music’s most enduring stars and this new album marks a radical departure from the past. However, despite the photo of a young Gal with fellow singer Caetano Veloso on the back of the main CD cover, this is certianly no exercise in retro, but rather a twenty-first century vision of the chanteuse. The twin musical talents of Moreno Veloso (son of Caetano) and Kassin are on hand here to provide a distinctly younger, electronica-driven feel to the veteran singer, but the key question is whether this has served to reinvigorate Gal, or merely place her in musical surroundings which are unbefitting. If one were to make a parallel with Diana Ross at the beginning of the 1980s, then the distinctive production of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards from Chic opened up new avenues for the soul diva and attracted a whole new audience in the process. In truth here with the pairing of Gal and Veloso/Kassin it is highly questionable whether a younger audience will be enticed by the music and her long-term fans may actually be alienated by the whole experience. There is in fact an attempt at the dancefloor on ‘Neguinho’, but with a rock guitar and beat underpinning the song, this is a flawed effort. By far the most interesting piece and one with sympathetic accompaniment is on ‘O menino’ which is a haunting number where the voice of Gal is finally afforded the opportunity to take centre stage and what a gloriously natural and undistilled pure voice she still possesses. Ironically she is accompanied here by another set of musicians, Banda Rabotnik which is telling. Elsewhere there is a successful attempt at a more sensitive sound to accompany Gal on ‘Mansidao’ with Daniel Jobim on piano and long-time Caetano accompanist Jaques Morelenbaum on cello. What a pity the latter could not have produced the whole album with a more subtle element of electronica incorporated. Only on the minimalist ‘Recanto escuro’ does the electronic programming fit and even here the staccato rhythm pattern is intially unsettling for the listener. Above all one is left with the abiding impression on this recording that Moreno Veloso and Kassin have been left too much to their own devices here and that greater input on the production side from both father Caetano (he is cited as executive producer and several of/all the songs are written by him) and Morelenbaum would have resulted in a stonger album. As it stands too much of the instrumentation here comes across as self-indulgent musings by the production duo which would have been better placed on one of their own recordings. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Cumbia, Cumbia Volumes One and Two’ 2CD (World Circuit) 4/5

These volumes were orginally released separately on CD during the early 1990s, but have now wisely been re-packaged together, particularly given that since their intial issues sufaced a good deal more attention has been paid to Columbian music in the UK and Europe. In fact in the last three years or so there has been an extensive trawling of the Discos Fuentes (Columbia’s most prestigious label with the distinctive yellow and blue insignia) back catalogue and this has included salsa and Afro-Columbian funk. The music here is firmly on classic cumbia with the second CD focusing mainly on the 1960s where jazzy orchestrationbs including the glorious retro sound of the clarinet (an influence imported from New Orleans, perhaps?) while the first is in general more contemporary (that is to say with a healthy does of salsa-style brass and percussion) with songs recorded between 1976 and 1988, though a few songs from the 1960s are included. Even the newest songs are now almost twenty-five years old. It is indicative of their enduring popularity that one such song, ‘La colegiala’ by Rodolfo y su Tipica R.A.7 has became the background tune to a famous coffee advert while various others have at some point or another found their way on to the television screens. Mambo-esque big band cumbia emerges on ‘Lupita’ by Guillermo Gonzalez y su Orquesta while in contrast pared down accordion dominates on ‘Baila Rosita’ by Los Guarachos which is the most traditional form of cumbia and one that is heard in the Columbian countryside. If the names are unfamiliar, then one group that should not be ignored are Sonora Dinamita who have become something of a musical institution in the country since 1960 and are in fact well known throughout Latin America and even in the United States. They offer a jovial and totally uplifting piece in ‘Se me perdió la cadenita’. As ever with World Circuit releases, luxurious packaging and informative inner sleeve notes on the individual songs and musicians concerned. A welcome re-issue of music that is instantly accessible to even the beginner to Latin music and it goes without saying that it will help spice up any party atmosphere. Tim Stenhouse

Azanayah ‘The One’ (Jazzman) 4/5

This is a virtually unknown album in the spiritual jazz idiom that dates from 1987 and was totally out of kilter with prevailing trends at the time in urban America and in style harks back rather to the early 1970s. Azanayah were a group based in Atlanta, Georgia, who were the brainchild of bassist Mamaniji Azanayah, originally born in London to Jamaican parents, but emigrated to the States during his early teens. Azanayah’s formative influences reflect his catholic taste in music and took in ska, early reggae as well as jazz and classical elements. However, it was upon hearing John Coltrane’s ‘Greensleeves’ that he developed a serious passion for jazz and later he would investigate the Miles Davis back catalogue alongside Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters. This one-off album originally was only pressed up in five hundred copies and as such is an extremely rare item. The music itself reveals the influences of Pharoah Sanders from his Theresa releases and in general albums on the Strata East and Tribe labels. The eight piece line-up interestingly included guitarist Shaka and on five pieces the vocals of Theresa Morton who both provide some welcome variety to proceedings. Nonetheless the compositions are primarily instrumental with small vocal segments sometimes incorporated at the very beginning. Indeed there are quasi-religious chants on the opening to the title track, but these rapidly give way to a heavy modal bassline and echoes of the seminal ‘The creator has a master plan’ that Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas immortalised. The soulful tenor saxophone of Immanuel Zechariah and the harp-like use of guitar are prominent features here. Evidence of Caribbean musical roots surface on the excellent ‘Let God come first’ which is folkloric in nature with flute and guitar combining. Arguably the most spiritual composition on the whole set is ‘Praise’ which is a deeply meditative piece featuring lyrical soprano saxophone and fine guitar work. Possibly the most immediate number is ‘I will surely come again’ which, in its veering between bop-inflections, gospel tinged vocals and freer form, sounds like a direct descendent of Sanders’ ‘You’ve got to have freedom’. Overall a deeply satisfying re-issue and Jazzman are to be commended for unearthing this release which would otherwise have been consigned to the forgotten artists list. Tim Stenhouse

The Chieftains ‘Voice of Ages’ (Hear Music/Decca) 4/5

Irish folk music legends the Chieftains celebrate fifty years in the business this year and to celebrate this considerable achievement (on a par with the Rolling Stones) have continued to pursue collaborations with musicians outside their own field, thereby ensuring that Irish traditional music is heard by a vast global audience than would otherwise be the case. This expansive musical policy began over twenty years ago with the famous album recorded with Van Morrison, and has subsequently extended to American folk and country, Spanish and Latin American musical genres as well as with UK and US pop giants such as Joni Mitchell and Sting to name but two. For their latest endeavour, leader Paddy Moloney and the boys have not rested on their laurels and have hooked up with some of the newest artists to emerge on the folk and pop scenes and the gropu sound refrshed as a result. This album works best where those collaborative artists perform in a field which has close roots to Irish traditional such as bluegrass or American country music more generally, Galician folk and surprisingly even rhythm and blues. For the latter compatriot Imelda May contributes her own bluesy vocals on the catchy opener ‘Carolina Rue’ while there is an obvious empathy between the band and bluegrass harmony group Pistol Annies on ‘Come all ye fair and tender ladies’. Likewise the collaboration with the Punch Brothers works beautifully on two numbers, ‘Lark in the clear air/Olam punch’ and ‘The frost is all over’. Long-time collaborator Galician piper Carlos Nuñez is right at home on ‘Lundu’ which recalls the wonderful album ‘Pilgrimage to Santiago’. Where the album is less successful is on the inclusion of pop singers who tend to relegate the band to mere background instrumentalists, or on the Lisa Halligan contribution ‘My lagan love’ which to these ears comes across as a dated version of 1980s Clannad/Enya. Nonetheless Scots singer Paolo Nuttini seems perfectly at ease with the band on a fine rendition of the gentle ‘Hard times’ while there are even shades of the Pogues on ‘When the slip comes in’ by the Decemberists, which is an uptempo and utterly pulsating number. With an extensive UK tour that begins in late May and continues through June, the Chieftains have constantly sought to both extend and promote their sound which was illustrated to thrilling effect on their last and superlative album ‘San Patricio’ co-produced by Ry Cooder and devoted to the folk music of Mexico, and they remain a mesmerising act in live performance.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Meet me at the Mardi Gras’ (Rounder) 3/5

The music of New Orleans continues to occupy the public’s consciousness and so a compilation of old and new sounds is always a welcome addition. This latest contribution cuts across several boundaries, yet still has the common roots of the city’s music scene underpinning it. A classically constructed song and by far the CDs most pleasant new discovery is Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers ‘Goin’ back to New Orleans’ with some old school jazz vocals and a combination of baritone saxophone and clarinet that only the Cresecent City could conjur up. Professor Longhair is one of the most influential of New Orleans pianists and ‘Go the Mardi Gras’ typifies his genius with the distinctive piano rolls and his inimitable whistling. Brass bands are a regular feature of the music of the city and in the Re-Birth Brass Band one of New Orleans most proficient exponents so the funky ditty ‘Do watcha wanna Pt.3’ is a fine example of just how groovy the sounds of collective brass can be. The reprise of ‘Tipitiana’, a ‘Fess Longhair standard, by Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias is at once percussive and brassy and almost as appealing as the original. At forty-five minutes, this compliation is a tad stingy in its timing and with such a rich diversity of old and new sounds from New Orleans from which to select, the range could have been a good deal more generous. No doubting the quality on offer, however. Tim Stenhouse