Various ‘Ragga Ragga Ragga’ CD/DVD (Greensleeves) 3/5

The annual overview of modern ragga sounds continues with this mini chronicle of the contemporary reggae scene. Some of its premier practitioners are present including I Octane who delivers a staccato rhythm and vocoder vocals on ‘Informer a work’ and Gappy Ranks who offers two songs with ‘Money out deh’ being a possible reference to the current social and financial woes affecting the entire planet. A second contribution by Gappy is something of a departure from previous projects and is deep into dancehall territory with minimalist accompaniment. More social concerns are expressed by Stylo G on ‘Call me a yardie’. In general, however, catchy rhythms and punchy lyrics are the characteristic of modern ragga and this is no better exemplified than with the lo-fi instrumentation and repetitive riff of ‘Settle down’ by Mavado. Subtle this is not, but if you requirements are strictly dancefloor action, then this ticks all the required boxes. This contrasts with the 1980s style use of synthesizers, vocoder vocals by Khago who offers call and response vocals in the intro to ‘Turn up di ting’. An accompanying DVD is part video promotion of the singers featured on the CD and part interviews with musicians and for the latter, the thoughts of Gappy Ranks are most interesting. Tim Stenhouse

EST Trio ‘301’ (ACT) 4/5

Here is an unexpected treat for fans of the superlative trio formation from Sweden that transformed the way we view the classic piano trio sound and attracted an audience way beyond the confines of jazz untile the untimely death of its leader, Esbjorn Svensson. This release is in fact only part of music that was recorded in studio 301 in Sydney, hence the title, during an Australian tour by EST. It is certainly no left over session and compares favourably with the very best of the trio’s output. Some of the raw energy that was present on other albums is still there, but the overriding ambience here is one of reflection with an immediate intimacy created as on the opener ‘Behind the stars’. Three lengthy compositions weight in at over ten minutes and include the most conventional sounding piece ‘The left lane’ where each member of the trio has the opportunity to stretch out over the repetitive, yet seductive rhythm. One of the key album numbers is ‘Inner city, city lights’, a brooding piece with beautiful playing from bassist Dan Berglund, and which incorporates some truly atmospheric electronic programming from Svensson. Most experimental, but all too brief, is ‘Houston, the fifth’ while for minimalist vision the second part of ‘Three falling free’ features what amounts to a virtual bass-piano duet on ‘The childhood dream’ with delicate drum rolls nonetheless emerging from the background. A strong release, then, and we look forward to possibly more of this material being issued.

Tim Stenhouse

Jessica Lauren 4 ‘Jessica Lauren 4’ CD/LP/Digital (Freestyle) 4/5

Here is the much anticiapted album from keyboardist Jessica Lauren who has featured on so many other musicians albums and live performances ranging from jazz-funkster Tom Browne and jazzy soulstress Jean Carne to the blues-gospel hues of Barb Jungr. A foretaste emerged in early spring with the excellent latin-influenced instrumental ‘Mr. G’ from the latest Frerestyle compilation, but what is refreshing about this latest project is that one can hear Lauren perform almost exclusively on acoustic piano. The opener ‘White mountain’ which is something of medium-paced Latin shuffle with a simple but catchy piano riff sets the tone with the two percussionists David Gallagher and Paul Gunter embarking on some fine experimentation in a classic ‘montuno’ percussion workout. If anything the Latin Jazz flavours are quite understated on ‘Vaya con dios’ with the subtle use of strings supplied by the Wrecking Crew while the initial 12” single ‘Happiness train’ to promote the album featuring the vocals of dancefloor diva Jocelyn Brown is more blues-inflected than soulful disco, but works all the same. For much of the albums pieces, Jessica is content to blend in to the overall sound rather than dictating and when she really does start to solo, it is in a gentle manner and with a simple (but never simplistic) approach. The Latin feel is reflected in the creative late 1950s art cover on the CD which harks back to Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria albums on the Californian Fantasy records label. Tim Stenhouse

Amadou and Mariam ‘Folila’ (Because) 3/5

On their latest album ace Malian duo are not necessarily breaking any new ground, but have wisely decided to stick with the previously the winning formula of mainly French lyrics (with the noticeable inclusion of English gradually slipping in to appeal directly to a young rock audience), driving musical accompaniment of Malian inspired blues and simple lyrics that are easy to relate to and instantly catchy. Possibly best of all is the blues feel that is constant throughout ‘Oh Amadou’ with lead vocals from the male lead as well as harmonica while the other obvious contender for most compelling number is the politically charged lyrics of ‘Africa mon Afrique’ with an undercurrent of Afro-Beat horns. Guest appearances include contemporary French new wave rock singer Bernard Cantet, formerly lead with influential 1980/1990s group Noir Désir who have now disbanded, and he seems to revel in the new musical universe, and contributes vocals on four songs and performs on guitar elsewhere. Scissor Sisters band member Jake Shears appears on the uptempo ‘Metemya’ offering vocals in English while Amp Fiddler contribute on the blues guitar driven ‘Wari’. A misguided attempt at pop-rock on ‘Dougou badia’ falls short of expectations and such blatant attempts at entering the charts are best avoided by a duo such as Amadou and Mariam who are fully capable of reaching a wider market on their own terms. A confirmation of their existing talents rather than a major departure. Nonetheless possible new ground for future releases can be found on the pared down closing song ‘Chérie’ which is a much needed illustration of the more reflective side to the duo’s repertoire. More of this side on album, please.

Tim Stenhouse

Nancy Vieira ‘No amá’ (Liusafrica/Harmonia Mundi) 5/5

Cape Verdean singer Nancy Vieira is one talented young singer with a very promising future and this stunning album could prove to be one of the surprise hits of the summer. Vieira’s delivery is that of understated passion and she has been surrounded by some of the cream of Cape Verdean instrumentalists, who compliment the singer’s approach to perfection, and critically among the best songwriting talents also with three songs from Mário Lúcio and two from Teofilio Chantre apiece. The opener ‘Maylen’, with its relaxed vocals and sensitive guitar and percussive accompaniment, is a strong contender for the most compelling album number, but is only one of a host of outstanding compositions on offer. Arguably the Afro-Cuban influenced and guitar led ‘Trubuco’ is the pick of the bunch while the light Brazilian-style samba ‘Nhara Santiago’ with delightful flute intro and cavaquinho background is another strong contender. What comes across from this recording is that Nancy Vieira has listened to a wide range of musicians and singers and there are even echoes of Brazilian songstress Elis Regina on the quasi-bossa (in terms of the sue of guitar and vocals) of ‘Ninguém é di ninguém’ on which Vieira displays some lovely ad-libbing as the song develops into a gentle samba in the second half. Only on ‘Brasil (nos sonho azul)’ can a parallel be made with other Cape Verdean singers, here the obvious comparison being that of Cesaria Evora. The album is already picking up plaudits in the French media and they were first to spot the mercurial talents of Cesaria Evora. A fine new talent to be reckoned with. Tim Stenhouse