Soname ‘Natural Mind’ (Enja) 3/5

sonameTibetan singer Soname Yangchen belongs to that indefinanble category of singers/musicians that are now commonly referred to as world fusion. In her case the instrumentation shifts between US country roots, West African with classical instrumentation thrown in for good measure. In the inner sleeve notes the chanteuse declares, ‘We all share the dream of world peace’ and while this is a laudable objective most would subscribe to, it does also reveal that in strictly musical terms she lacks any clear focus as to where her music is heading and her voice, while undoubtedly a pleasant one, is fairly unexceptional. However, it is not all bad news for she does come to life on the excellent ‘Running (like children)’ and more compositions in this vein are required. Slide guitar accompanies Soname on the lyrical ‘Bird sad song’. One major gripe is that the production here really lets her down. It would significantly have enhanced the listener’s understanding and ultimate experience if a more detailed insight into the singer’s background and career was provided, particularly since she has had a most fascinating and probably harrowing to reach the west. She is actually the authoer of ‘Child of Tibet’ and escaped the Himalyas to settle permanently in Germany. Lyrics are provided in English and German, though she sings in her vernacular language throughout.

Tim Stenhouse

Tania Maria ‘Canto’ (Naïve) 4/5

Brazilian pianist and singer-songwriter Tania Maria comes back with a real return to form on this latest album which harks back to her early days on Concord Picante and albums such as ‘Taurus’. In fact she reprises a few of her 1990s and beyond repertoire while the newer material is as strong as ever and the fruitful collaborative writing with Carlos Werneck that resulted in anthemic albums such as ‘Come with me’ is resumed. The trombone-led ‘Intimidade’ finds Tania Maria at her terrific best with piano vampo, funky bass and those unmistakable vocals to the fore. It was also the title track of a 2000+ Blue Note album. Likewise ‘Ça c’est bon’ is a fast-paced recent oldie that features some of those trademark vocals scats and one of the catchiest hooks on the planet.

Where the new material really impresses is on the added lyrics to instrumental pieces such as Sideny Bechet’s ‘Florzinha’ which is arguably the most compelling song on the entire album. In contrast the reflective title track demonstrates what a sophisticated ballad singer and pianist Tania Maria is capable of being. Recorded partly in Paris and partly in Sao Paulo, Tania Maria has returned to her roots with long-time bassist Marc Berteaux back with her, and in the process she has delivered an album that will stand the test of time, enthrall her existing fans and win her a few more devotees. Full marks for the evocative pre-Raphaelite-style front cover. Lyrics contained in the inner sleeve are in Portugese only. Tim Stenhouse

Rabih Abou-Khalil ‘Hungry people’ (World Village) 4/5

Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil has built up a body of work over the last twenty or so years that stands comparison with the best and his collaborations with jazz musicians have been especially sought after. The memorable 1992 CD ‘Blue Camel’ featuring Charlie Mariano and Kenny Wheeler was one such example. Trained at the Beirut Conservatory and equally adept on flute and oud initially, Abou-Khalil on this new album must surely be a prime contender for the year’s quirkiest album titles! Stylistically, the album oscillates between Balkanesque uplifting brass numbers and more reflective oud plus rhythm section pieces which are this writer’s preferred terrain for the oud. Sporano saxophone and oud combine beautifully on ‘When Frankie shot Lara’ and this is repeated on the hypnotic piece ‘Dreams of a dying city’ which inlcudes pared down instrumentation and is all the better for it. A staccato rhythm on ‘Hats and cravats’ has oud and accordion combining to good effect while on the joyous ‘Banker’s banquet’ a tuba solo is prominent, intensifying the Balkan folk feel, and the uplifting piece is augmented by some throat vocal scatting which needs to be heard to be believed. Above all, with any Abou-Khalil recording one is aware of a musical East meets West interweaving of cultures and one where there is both a mutual respect and a profound knowledge of the respective idioms. This merely reflects the leader’s own wide-ranging appreciation of the entire history of jazz that takes in Monk and Ella, as well as jazz-fusion material by Frank Zappa. Jazz purists would do well to follow in Rabih Abou-Khalil’s footsteps.

Tim Stenhouse

Philippe Petrucciani ‘Este Mundo’ (Jazz Village) 3/5

Sometimes wrongly overlooked as the lesser known of the Petrucciani brothers, guitarist Philippe has carved out a career in France and returns with a well balanced album that invokes Pat Metheny and a contemporary updated take on the Hot Club de France in equal measure. He is ably abetted by singer and co-writer Nathalie Blanc who might best be described as a French equivalent of Stacey Kent, bassist Dominique de Piazza and drummer Manhu Roche. Eight of the originals were co-penned by Blanc and Petrucciani and of these the Brazilian-flavoured ‘Bahia’ impresses as a shuffling mid-tempo breezer complete with French language vocals that evokes the north-eastern Brazilian state. There are some inventive re-interpretations of French classics such as a reggaefied accompaniment to a song immortalised by Yves Montand, ‘Sous le ciel de Paris’, a francophone version of ‘Round midnight’ re-titled ‘Autour de minuit’ as written by the great chanteur Claude Nougaro which is a duet between Blanc and Petrucciani, and a funkified bass take on Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’. Pan-Mediterranean grooves return on the light Latin-tinged opener ‘Este mundo’. Philippe Petrucciani veers between guitar and synth guitar on various pieces and yet succeeds in freeing himself from the shackles of the Metheny shadow, providing an imprint that could only be French.

Tim Stenhouse

Bobby Hutcherson + Joey de Francesco Trio ‘Somewhere in the night’ (Kind of Blue) 4/5

Vibraphone and hammond organ are an occasional combination that results in some soulful and even avant garde . The former was exemplified by Johnny Lytle on his 1960s albums for Riverside while Bobby Hutcherson illustrated perfectly how adventurous the musical pairing can be on his Blue Note albums both as sideman and leader with Larry Young. For this live recording from New York’s Dizzy’s club, Hutcherson has enlisted the support of the fine young organist Joey de Francesco featuring guitarist Pete Bernstein, and reprised both old classics and the odd surprise interpretation. Of his most recent albums, the title track to the homage to John Coltrane, ‘Wise One, was especially well received and it is fascinating to hear this most spiritual of pieces with different instrumentation. A similarly atmospheric take is achieved while ‘Take the Coltrane’ is here taken at an altogether faster tempo which enables de Francesco to indulge in some high speed solos of which he has fast gained a reputation. Of course one of Hutcherson’s signature tunes and all-time favourite tunes is the lyrical ‘Little Bee’s poem’ and this is a brisk and breezy version. Milt Jackson is one of Hutcherson’s major influences and so iti s entirely fitting that old-school bop should be the order of the day on Jackson’s fine composition ‘Skj’ with guitar and vibes in unison. The great American songbook is the subject of the rest of the set and this includes Greshwin’s ‘S’wonderful’ with driving bassline making for a rousing finale and a nod to Bill Evans on ‘My foolish heart’. Now in his seventies, on this evidence Bobby Hutcherson is certainly well up to the task.

Tim Stenhouse

Antonio Zambujo ‘Quinto’ (World Village) 4/5

Fado internationally is invariably associated with female singers which is an unfair and ultimately inaccurate depiction of the genre historically. One young singer who is contributing to reversing that stereotype is Antonio Zambujo and this latest effort is arguably his finest to date, breathing new life into the traditional format. His slightly nasal delivery actually reminds one of Brazilian living legend Caetano Veloso which is no bad thing and no more so than on the excellent ‘A casa fechada’/’Abandoned house’ which conjurs up a mjaor surprise with some delightful clarinet as well as on ‘Rua des meus ciûmes’/’There where jealousy lies’. Brazilian samba flavours emerge on the cavaquinho-led (translated as a ukelele, but actually with a slightly different sound and any parallels with George Formby are purely incidental and indeed illusory!). Elsewhere more traditional fado is found aplenty in numbers such as the uplifting ‘Fado desconcertado’/’Disconcerted fado’ and on the laid back jazziness of ‘Na(~)o vale mais um dia’/’A day is worth no more’. A beautifully packaged digipak features lyrics in Portugese, French and English which is helpful with the inner cover featuring the word ‘Quinto’ or ‘Fifth’ in numerous other languages. Those fans of Mariza will certainly find a kindred spirit here.

Tim Stenhouse

Harold McNair ‘Harold McNair’/’Flute-Nut’ (Vocalion) 4/5

White Jamaican multi-reedist Harold McNair was one of the post-WWII migrants to settle in the UK and soon made a reputation for himself. These two LPs handily placed onto one CD date from 1968 and 1969 respectively when McNair was at the peak of his powers, just reaching thirty years of age. The first album is the more straight ahead with McNair’s love of bop self-evident. That is not to say that he has forsaken his Caribbean roots, though. Far from it as the opener ‘Indecision’ hints at with its mento flavours and fine polyrhythms from drummer Tony Carr, and the rest of the rhythm section in fine form. An album highlight is the mid-tempos groove on the flute-led ‘The cottage’. For jazz dance fans, the jewel in the crown is of course the fabulous piece ‘The hipster’ that has graced many a compilation. The instantly recognisable piano vamp and flute work à la Roland Kirk (surely a major influence on Mc Nair’s playing) is impressive to say the least. Elsewhere the US songbook standard ‘Secret love’ is reworked as a busy uptempo piece with lovely floating bassline and minimalist piano accompaniment while be-bop hues with McNair on tenor saxophone can be heard on ‘On a clear day you can see forever’. The second album is just as tasty, but with a larger big band accompaniment. These are used to perfection on the dynamic flute-led ‘The umbrella man’ while even faster paced is a terrific take on ‘The night has a thousand eyes’. Latin and Caribbean rhythms surface on ‘Nomadic Joe’. All in all a fine way to be introduced to one of Jamaican and UK jazz’s finest kept secrets. Tim Stenhouse

Joe Harriott ‘Movement’/’High Spirits’ 2 CD (Vocalion) 4/5

Jamaican alto saxophonist Joe Harriott’s reputation has never been higher thanks to a wonderful box set from Proper that enabled a wider audience to sample his music. This excellent pairing of albums from 1963 and 1964 captures his regular band in fine fettle with an identical line up of Shake Kean on trumpet, Pat Smythe on piano, Coleridge Goode on bass and Bobby Orr on dums on both CD sides. The first album oscillates between blues-inflected numbers and more avant-garde free form, but overall it is more soulful than say ‘Abstract’. Even on the more angular numbers such as ‘Beams’ and the title track, Harriott and co are still capable of retaining a blues feel. If one had to make any parallel, then it would probably be with the mid-1960s work of Jackie McLean on ‘Destination Out’ minus the vibes, or even Eric Dolphy in less exploratory mood. A fine swinging blues emerges on ‘Count twelve’. The second album is a departure in one important respect; it was the music score to a film composed by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray and thus if one were to make any kind of tenuous comparison, then it might be with Freddie Redd’s album ‘The connection’ that also featured Jackie McLean. Arguably the most compelling number here is ‘Blue on blue’ which is surely a nod to the seminal ‘Blues on Green’ from ‘Kind of Blue’. The piece ‘Home sweet heaven’ features some lovely lyrical alto playing from Harriott. In general the second album is more concise in nature as is befitting of a film soundtrack. Full marks to Vocalion for reproducing the original sleeve notes in full and at a font that is easily legible. Other re-issuers should take note.

Tim Stenhouse

Prince Fatty ‘Prince Fatty versus the drunken gambler’ (Mr Bongo) 5/5

UK Dub maestro extraordinaire Prince Fatty returns with a stunning new album that places him alongside the likes of Denis Bovell as a roots master of the highest calibre. A classic set of riddims features a stellar cast of singers and DJs, the former including Winston Francis, George Dekker and UK’s Holly Cook while the latter includes DJ Alcapone. The terrific uptempo rockers ‘Say what you’re saying’, with pumping beat and percussion, showcases the fine vocals of George Dekker. Superb dub effects permeate the interpretation of the classic John Holt/Paragons song ‘Ali Baba’ with Winston Francis on vocals. Possibly the finest special effects of all, however, are reserved for the epic ‘Kung fu battle’ with stabbing horns, voicings and beefed up percussion. It is a fact of life that Kingston could no longer produce this 1970s style dub-style with anywhere near the same panache. A major surprise. The 1979 disco hit for the Whispers ‘And the beat goes on’ receives the roots reggae treatment with Holly Cook on lead vocals and what an inspired choice of material. That catchy keyboard riff is retained and the repetition of chorus suits a reggae beat to perfection. Even a take on the then [1969 and its pop charts controversy] polemical ‘Wet dream’ by Max Romeo which stays pretty faithful to the original. With an evocative cartoon spoof cover and a nod, perhaps, to Japanese manga, this set is unquestionably a classy act from head to toe. Tim Stenhouse

Matthew Halsall ‘Fletcher Moss Park’ (Gondwana) 4/5

A new album from Manchester’s modal maestro, trumpeter Matthew Halsall, and an extension of musical influences that singles this release out as the leader’s best to date. As ever the all original set includes a burning, slow paced modal number, ‘Cherry blossom’ with repeated bass and harp from band regular Rachel Gladwin combining beautifully in the intro and with a lovely delicate solo from Adam Fairhall on piano. However, the best is definitely yet to come for eastern flavours emerge on the superb piece ‘The sun is September’ with exotic hues conjured up on flute by Birmingham’s very own Lisa Mallett. This track in particular recalls the two superlative impressionistic musical frescoes of Japan by Dave Brubeck and Horace Silver and a possible future project for Halsall might be to devote an entire album to a country of choice. The oriental ambience created here is a truly inspired one. Another welcome addition is the inclusion of strings with echoes of both Debussy and Ravel on ‘Sailing out to sea’. The combination of bass and strings in unison is especially compelling. In previous recordings, the influence of John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef has been discernable and a very special composition devoted a very special lady has resulted in another winning number in ‘Mary Emma Louise’, which is a mid-paced piece with Halsall and multi-reedist Nat Birchall playing together on the main theme. With a UK tour up and running this month, the nation will have the opportunity to hear not only Manchester’ finest, but arguably the strongest modal formation since the days of Michael Garrick and Don Rendell/Ian Carr. Tim Stenhouse