Singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento is one of Brazil’s all time great performers and from the late 1960s established first a national, then an international reputation as both a songwriter of distinction and then as a singer in his own right. Raised in the hinterland region of Minas Gerais, Nascimento is in fact a highly eclectic singer whose interests take in classical, choral. jazz and rock elements (the Beatles harmonies were especially influential on Milton and his generation), and has a heightened awareness of the Latin American songbook. This combination of influences distinguishes him from his counterparts and have earned him a major global following, especially in the United States where his mid-1970s collaborations with jazz legends Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter (together on the seminal ‘Native Dancer’ album from 1974) and countless pop singers have been fêted over the years. His highly innovative period came during the early-mid 1970s with a collective of musicians referred to as the ‘Clube de Eqsuina’ (or ‘Corner Club’) and who included influential individuals such as Lô Borges, Toninho Horta and songwriters of the calibre of Fernando Brant and Ronaldo Bastos and the two volumes of ‘Clube de Esquina’ plus ‘Milton’ make for essential listening and the 1975 album ‘Minas’ is sometimes considered as the Brazilian equivalent of ‘Sgt. Pepper’.
The present selection of albums covers a later period of roughly a decade from 1994 through 2003. Milton and the period of great innovation from the 1970s was now behind him. However, in its place was a technically gifted singer who had honed his craft as a live performer and its was these two aspects of his singing that were now to the fore. The first album contained in this selection, ‘Angelus’ from 1994, is one of the strongest studio albums here and is actually quite varied in approach with an all-start list of guests including jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, old buddies Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and pop singers of the calibre of Jon Anderson and James Taylor on board. It is the folksy material that works best with a lovely feel to ‘Coisas de Minas’ featuring a solo from Metheny while a reprise of the classic ‘Vera Cruz’ with Ron Carter and Jack deJohnette in the rhythm section receives an excellent rendition. Milton’s wordless vocal technique is heard to great effect on the gentle ‘Amor amigo’ while there are collective choral and lead vocals on ‘No vena’. James Taylor duets with Nascimento on ‘Only a dream in Rio’ and with Jon Anderson on ‘Estrelada’. The next two albums, ‘Amigo’ (1996) and ‘Nascimento’ (1997) are something of a disappointment in comparison and fit very much into the MPB easy listening format with production that is a tad syrupy in parts (particularly the big orchestrations present on ‘Amigo’), though even they have their moments with a reprise of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Ana Maria’ in homage to his then recently departed wife of the same name a highlight of the latter album.
However, Milton the consumate live performer is showcased on a seventy-five minute concert from 1998 and this provides the listener with a more accurate picture of the artist. New technology was such that a duet with the deceased singing legend Elis Regina was possible on ‘O que foi feito devera’ and this impresses as does an a capella version of ‘Calix Bento’ which is an old classic. There then followed a six year break from recording during which time Milton Nascimento became seriously ill and there was even the fear that he might never record again. Thankfully that did not prove to be the case and there was cause for celebration and a real return to form by Nascimento on the 2003 album ‘Pieta’ which is arguably Milton’s strongest studio release in a couple of decades. Pared down production and the return of some of ‘Corner Club’ musicians of the early 1970s (Borges brothers and Fernando Brant) has resulted in a far more satisfying recording and one that is all the more triumphant given the personal trials and tribulations that the singer has gone through. What is of interest here is the presence on several songs of young female singer Maria Rita Mariano who happens to be none other than Elis Regina’s daughter and she contributes to the excellent mid-tempo ‘Beleza e cançao’ with its choral influences. Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny guest on a reworking of the former’s seminal mid-1960s Blue Note number ‘Canteloupe Island’. Milton displays an awareness of twenty-first century jazzy meets electronica drum beats on ‘As vezes deus exagera’ which is a lovely melodic piece, completely different from the rest of the album, and here he risks attracting a whole new audience. For older fans, the folksy hues of ‘Meninos de Araçuai’ complete with flute will make for happy listening as will the acoustic guitar-driven ‘Outro lugar’. At just over seventy minutes in length, this is the virtual equivalent of a double vinyl album such as ‘Clube de Esquina’ and Milton certainly sounds rejuvinated. All in all, then, a mixed package of hits and near misses and, while not a ‘Best of’ anthology, it is an accurate summation of Milton Nascimento in his later career and does reflect his eclectic approach to music.
Singer Elis Regina occupies a special place in the Brazilian psyche and her tragic early death aged just thirty-six in 1982 was the subject of national mourning for she is arguably the greatest ever woman singer in Brazil with an amazing vocal range and a wide diversity of performance styles. She came to national prominence in the mid-1960s at a time when bossa nova reigned supreme, but Regina’s entry onto the music scene would mark a departure point and one that would see the emergence of a new generation of singers of what is now termed MPB, or Brazilian popular music. This latest in the excellent value for money series from Warner focuses on the very latter period of Elis Regina’s career from 1978-1980 and if it is an introductory ‘Best Of’ package you are looking for, this is not necessarily the ideal place to start since Regina by the late 1970s had had enough of reworking her old back catalogue and there are already a plethora of anthologies that cover her more famous songs.
What this new selection does offer, however, are some priceless live performances of Elis and two CDs are devoted to live concerts and for devotees of Brazilian music these alone will prove revelatory experiences. An unissued live album ‘Elis por Ela’ which dates from around 1979/1980 is almost an hour’s worth of bliss with exclelent sound quality and she interprets the songbook of the then up and coming generation such as João Bosco and Milton Nascimento as well as a couple of homages to the great Tom Jobim whom she famously recorded a duet album with, ‘Elis e Tom’ in 1974. Here she offers a rootsy take on Milton’s anthemic ‘Cançao de América’ and an uplifting samba in ‘O que foi feito deverá’. Of the Bosco material, there is a lengthy eight minute plus take on the uptempo samba ‘Cobra criada’ with a four minute intrumental intro and then Elis entering first with wordless vocalising plus a subtle mid-tempo ‘O mestre sala dos mares’ and this is a gorgeous version with electric piano and percussion. Jobim is celebrated here with ‘Garota de Ipanema’, but Elis gives it her own distinctive twist performing it a much quicker tempo than the original accompanied only by piano and audience handclaps in both Portugese and English. For bonus cuts, Regina works in a medley of songs including Milton’s ‘Ponta de Arena’. A second live recording from a Sao Paulo concert in 1979 continues in a similar vein, though the sound quality is a little distant in parts, it is still perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately what live CDs can never capture is the theatricality of Elis Regina’s on stage performance and at some point a quality DVD of her live should be released for an international audience.
The very last studio album she recorded, ‘Essa Mulher’ from 1980, is included here and this revealed different facets of Regina’s musicality. The production is generally slicker in keeping with a lot of 1980s Brazilian music, but underneath there are still some wonderful sounds and of course her voice was still in top form. Looking back, the opener ‘Cai dentro’ is a funky bass-led groove that fans of Tania Maria from her Concord Picante period would feel at home with and this is reinforced further on by the funky samba that is ‘Eu hein Rosa!’. Elsewhere her receptiveness to other musical cultures is evident on ‘O bebado e a equilibrita’ which has echoes of French chanson with its use of accordion, but then develops into a gentle samba with string accompaniment. Possibly the strongest number of all is Elis’ trip into classy tropicalia with ‘Beguine dodói’ (a live version of the song is featured on CD4) while ‘Bolero de sata’ is a strong performance and indication that with her southern Brazilian roots in Porto Alegre, Regina could incorporate the instrumental music of Spanish Latin America into her wider repertoire. The double pair of ‘Saudades do Brasil volumes 1 and 2’ are at best an acquired taste and, in several places, come across as somewhat self-indulgent in that the production is distinctly overbearing and songs tend to segue into one another at will. This is typified by the bizarre transposition of the old Brazilian songbook chestnut ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ which has an utterly transformed intro with oddball vocal chants thrown in. Quite why Elis ever agreed to such an endeavour is something of a mystery. There is some all too brief welcome relief on the mid-tempo samba ‘Agora-ta!’ and an uplifting number ‘Maranibaia’ which has elements of the choro style in the use of flute and brass, but overall the arrangements have been messed around with too much and simply put, this seriously distracts from the listener’s enjoyment.
One major caveat with this selection. It surprisingly omits the wonderful ‘Live in Montreux’ album that Warner released originally on vinyl in 1982 and since this is now regarded as something of a late masterpiece, with a terrific line-up of musicians and superlative reprises of her classic era songs, it is a mystery why Warner have not seen fit to include it here. All the more so, since ‘Saudades do Brasil volumes 1 and 2 would have neatly fitted onto one CD and are obvious weakpoints here. At some point Warner should re-issue, possibly in a deluxe edition format, ‘Live in Montreux’ since it is a fitting farewell to a fabulously talented singer.
The Brazilian musical legend that is Caetano Veloso, who is the natural successor to Joao Gilberto and has carved out his own unique voice and sound over five decades, returns with an album that is brimming with vitality and he succeeds in bring thoroughly modern in approach, while retaining a classical underpinning that has been a hallmark of his highly eclectic career. Co-produced by son Moreno Veloso and Pedro Sa and with bassist and keyboardist Ricardo das Gomes a major contribnutor to the overall sound, the album has all the feel of a singer in his thirties rather than one about to enter into his seventh decade on the planet. Veloso Sr’s ability to combine retro and modern so effortlessly is illustrated on the repetitive chorus and pumping bassline of ‘Parabéns’. Subtlety in the fusing of genres and in the phrasing of lyrics has been a trait of Caetano Veloso’s work from the mid-1970s onwards and on the title track, he manages to weave in some gentle reggae rhythms in bass and drum without it ever sounding like a pastiche and the delivery is very understated. This is one of the most lyrical numbers on the album and a definite key song. Veloso has never been afraid of experimenting and throughout his career, his music has taken unusual twists and turns. The stripped down guitar and vocals that start off on ‘Quando a galo cantou’ typifies this and eventually the atmosphere changes with a dissonant guitar and percussion entering, the song thereafter evolves into something more experimental in nature while still maintaining its melodicism. In a more traditional vein, the gentle neo-bossa of ‘Vinco’ is delightful and here the singer is accompanaied by guitar and minimalist percussion. Eleswhere there are frequent shifts in mood and tempo on ‘A bossa nova é fodà’ and a staccato rhythm with Indian classical and indie rock on ‘Funk melódico’. Another highly enjoyable outing which indicates that Caetano Veloso is still finding challenging new avenues to explore. Tim Stenhouse
Possessing a raspy vocal delivery in the classic 1950s and 1960s R ‘n’ B tradition, and with impressive songwriting credentials, James Hunter is the consumate performer and it is surprising that he is not known and appreciated by a wider audience. His music is immediately accessible, yet rooted in the soul-blues tradition with the likes of Ray Charles and Bobby Bland formative influences. This latest releases follows on from the excellent preceding albums, ‘People gonna talk’ from 2006 and ‘The hard way’ from 2008. While both were fine all round albums, arguably this new recording is the strongest thus far with the arrangements and instrumentation tighter and expertly executed by a band that has undergone a few changes in personnel over the last decade, but in essence the sound is unchanged. Matters kick off with a punch on the raucous hammond organ and bassline of ‘Chicken switch’ which features some lovely piano vamps. Quite possibly this writer’s favourite is the minor theme ‘Heartbreaker’ with an intoxicating rhythm guitar that ceases to disappear into the background and a soulful saxophone solo. Likewise the light ska-inflected drums and piano blues that permeate ‘Let the monkey ride’ are irresistable. Latin hues are in evidence on the number ”The gyspy’ with a underlying guitar riff that recalls ‘Tequila’ while the shuffling beat of ‘Goldmine’ typifies the professionalism of the musicianship on offer. James Hunter is probably best known for regularly opening as a live act for Van Morrison, but on this evidence he certainly merits a place in your multiple listening channels all on his own.
Russian born producer, arranger and jazz trumpeter Boris Midney is one of the more unusual converts to the disco idiom. He was conservatory trained in his native country with both parents being professional musicians. However, he did not want to remain under Communist rule with its restrictions on individual freedom and instead defected to the USA via Tokyo. Thereafter he made his name as one of the principal musical architects of what has come to be called symphonic disco. This was typified by the USA-European Connection sound which hits the dancefloors in the mid-1970s. This latest re-issue in the truly excellent and pioneering Disco Recharge series takes us five years forward to 1981 when disco was officially dead with the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign having succeeded in taking the genre off the main pop charts. Those in the know knew better, however, and so captivating a music form simply changed its name into a plethora of sub-genres and went underground where it has thrived ever since. This is where the album ‘Companion’ comes into the equation. Originally released on the French Barclay label in 1981 and now a rare original on vinyl, it featured some of the trademark Midney classy arrangements, but given an early 1980s makeover with a synth undercurrent that is not unlike that found on the Gary’s Gang singles. Key numbers include ‘There’s a way’ which has a pared down feel and is in fact a reworking of a song from the second USA-European Connection album, ‘There’s a way into my heart’. The 12″ take on ‘Living up to love’ is included with its lengthy piano intro as is the extended version of ‘Step on out’. Some might argue convincingly that this form of disco lacked in soulfulness and in comparison to artists on the Prelude label such as Loleatta Holloway, First Choice and Double Exposure maybe they have a case, but then Midney was carving out his own distinctive sound.
The second CD brings together the disparate elements of the various projects that Boris Midney was involved in at the time and crucially features one of his most endearing and beloved disco anthems, ‘D-D-D-Dance’ by Double Discovery available here in five separate versions. For something slightly different, the mid-paced ‘Thanks for loving me’ has become a rare groove collectable and is as soulful as Midney ever got. Three takes on ‘Can’t he find another one’ make CD2 a DJ’s delight. Excellent inner sleeve notes by disco musicologist Alan Jones and as ever immaculate presentation both visually and in terms of essential vinyl details.
Disco had its all-time classic anthems and one of the biggest underground hits to go public was the THP Orchestra and the fifteen and a half minute extended version of ‘Two hot for love’. This magnificent opus to dancefloor mania is included here along with no less than five other versions, with two 12″ takes including a Pete Waterman nine minute plus edit and the original UK disco which weighed in at just under seven minutes. The original divides up into four parts, possibly modeled in this respect alone on John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ album with climax and resolution seeing the lengthy song out. The number features an elongated percussive intro that sets the scene for what is to follow and some tasty brass and flute that Canadian producers Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison tastefully put together.
The first CD focuses on the ‘Early Riser’ album and there are echoes of the ‘Shaft’ main theme in ‘Theme from S.W.A.T.’ which is end of era blaxpolitation movie sound material. In Canada 60,000 copies of the single were sold in the first week alone. More jazz-inflected grooves abound on the flute led instrumental ‘Dawn Patrol’ while ‘Crazy, Crazy’ is something aking to the underlying rhythm to ‘Car Wash’ theme meets the Stax horn section head-on. One feature of the disco era was the ability and willingness of producers to rework seemingly alien music to the dancefloor into an altogether groovier setting and the Archies ‘Sugar, Sugar’ was an obvious example. Here the innocent children’s song is given a complete makeover complete with vibes and collective female vocals. Even more unlikely a contender for dancefloor action is the Brazilian bossa nova number ‘Shadow of your smile’ which has a false ballad intro that immediately leads into classic disco terrain led by rhythm guitar. A plethora of 7″ and 12″ variations stretch out the original album tracks.
The second CD is dominated by the aforementioned anthemic ‘Two hot for love’, but elsewhere a revisiting of another Brazilian classic, ‘Black Orpheus’ receives the uptempo treatment as does a slightly more discofied ‘Manhã de Carnaval’. Authenticity was the key to the very best of disco and the album cover typified the hedonistic era with a diva dressed in lycra in front of a 1970s New York-style red bus with mist rising up from the ground. The detailed inner sleeve notes also include vinyl covers of the 12″ alternatives and back album cover. Tim Stenhouse
Back in 2005 the trio of Iain Ballamy, June Tabor and Huw Warren was formed and together they recorded a well received studio album ‘At the wood’s heart’ under Tabor’s name for the prestigious historic folk label Topic. What was little known at the time is that when the trio went on a UK tour in 2006, live recordings were made of the proceedings. Manfred Eicher went back to Munich and mastered these in the studio and the results are now before us in this new album which has taken over six years to surface and, though a live recording in theory, in practice has all the feel of the ECM studio sound and is devoid of any audience participation. Musically the album brings together classic material from the folk repertoire such as poetry and arrangements of traditional songs with a jazz sensibility on piano and saxophone and this fusion works incredibly well, and, in addition, it manages to succeed in respecting both traditions while alienating neither. A good deal of credit is down to the musicians themselves. Pianist Huw Warren has performed in a variety of contexts including new music and avant-garde jazz and his essentially minimalist approach to playing the piano here is totally appropriate and provides the ideal counterfoil to Tabor’s vocal delivery. Saxophonist Iain Ballamy has sufficient space to engage in interplay with the pianist while at the same time playing a supportive role to Tabor. A sumptuous interpretation of Robert Bruns’ ‘Lassie lie near me’ is unquestionably an album highlight and it is beautifully arranged with a fine vocal intro by Tabor and a lingering saxophone solo from Ballamy that ends off a truly memorable piece. Arguably thwe finest ballad on the set is ‘The lads in their hundreds’ which is deeply melodic and a hook of a chorus that Tabor delivers effortlessly while piano and saxohpone have the opportuntiy to stretch out. There are shades of fellow label musician Charles Lloyd in Ballamy’s lyrical sound on the delicious ‘Near but far away’ and he sounds as though he has been listening to Miles Davis circa ‘Sketches of Spain’ on ‘Come away death’ where piano and saxophone combine to perfection. June Tabor has attempted a variety of styles throughout her career and these have ranged from the balladry of Kurt Weill during the Weimar era through to collaborations with the Oysterband that has been righlty praised by the folk cognescenti. This latest departure is a total triumph and dmeonstrates that folk and jazz can be very complimentary bedfellows as Joni Mitchell and Oregon have demonstrated in the past. One of the year’s most revelatory recordings. The trio will be touring in mid-April in England.
Way back at the the beginning of the 1960s, Ray Charles recorded two sides of music that represented a radical departure from his usual repertoire and, given the heightened tensions over race issues at the time, this was a brave attempt to attract new white audiences and ones that may have been potentially hostile to a black singer encroaching upon what was perceived as traditonally ‘white only’ music. These classic albums were titled ‘Modern Sounds of Country and Western Music’ and with the benefit of time have rightly become regarded as among Charles’ most loved sides, winning over even the most dieheard of country fans. It was as a tribute to these recordings, that producer Larry Klein and singer Madeleine Peyroux set about recapturing that essence, but in a modern day setting. Rather than reworking the songs contained on those two albums, more contemporary ones were used with just a few of the originals remaining. One of these was ‘I can’t stop loving you’ and is an atmospheric take that sticks close to the original, but adds an acoustic soulful input that lends a lovely gospel edge ot proceedings, especially with some tasty licks on the organ from keyboardist Larry Goldings. As with the original, strings have been added, but these are both sparingly and subtly used by jazz arranger Vince Mendoza and there is ample space for other instrumentalist to shine. A contender for most compelling cover is the gorgeous rendition of the Everley Brothers’ ‘Bye Bye Love’ which is taken at a decidely slower tempo than per usual and is given the Muscle Shoals treatment on electric piano while there is an organic country-blues feel to ‘Guilty’. Another winner is ‘You don’t know me’ which features a
lovely trumpet solo by John ‘Scrapper’ Sneider and in her use of phrasing here Peyroux sounds most like Billie Holiday. It is a superb interpretation and a definite album highlight. For gentle ballad artistry, the take on Don Gibson’s ‘I can’t stop loving you’ is a delicious rendition and this downtempo version with Peyroux’s natural blues-infused voice makes for a listening experience that lingers long in the mind and soul.
Madeleine Peyroux possesses a deeply blues-inflected voice that does sometimes recalls Billie Holiday, though she is certainly no soundalike. Both Peyroux and Klein are to be applauded for the time and effort spent to craft this latest album and it definitely shows. For those purchasing the limited edition CD + DVD, there is the added bonus of a ‘Making of’ documentary that for once departs from the predictable and instead provides a truly in-depth look into the creative process of recording and how the two aforementioned musicians were able to collaborate in spite of having contrasting visions of what was required. Peyroux, in particular, desrves credit for sticking to her guns and stamping her own individual imprint on the project which is anything but a rehashing of Charles’ original and it is all the better for that. Madeleine Peyroux has steadily built up a series of acclaimed albums and this is the fourth in a row under the supervision of Klein and it is a musical marriage that should be continued for some time to come.
London born, but Hastings resident vocalist Liane Carroll once more hooks up with producer James McMillan for a stunning and essentially stripped down take on the ballad repertoire. This is indeed a fine follow up to the the critically acclaimed 2011 CD ‘Up and Down’. Within the limitations of the ballad format, McMillan and Carroll have provided a good deal of variety in the different types of accompaniment and deserve great credit for the amount of thought and attention to detail that has gone into this recording. This is illustrated on the song ‘Here’s to life’ which was famously interpreted by Shirley Horn. Here the very essence of the song is conjured up by Carroll with a memorable delivery that includes accompaniment from muted harmon trumpet, acoustic guitar and vibes. This contrasts beautifully elsewhere with lush brass orchestrations on ‘Only the lonely’ that could very easily have been arranged by one Gil Evans. On ‘Goodbye’ there is the tasteful use of strings with delicate drumming and piano accompaniment while on ‘Mad about the boy’ rather than embellishing the song with strings as Dinah Washington memorably did in the latter part of her career, instead the song is pared down to a piano introduction from guest musicican Gwilym Simcock and a wonderful duet between pianist and vocalist thus ensues. In general pianistic duties are performed with aplomb by Mark Edwards and he is on hand for the collaboration with Carroll on ‘Two lovely people’ which was such a wonderful duet first time round for Tony Bennett and Bill Evans. Perhaps among all the songs performed here, pride of place should go to the gorgeous rendition of ‘My one and only love’ where the deliberate phrasing by Carroll works wonders in transforming the piece and her vocal range is well and truly showcased here, which in fact has never sounded better. For a left-field take, the Todd Rundgren composition ‘Pretending to car’ is a surprise inclusion that features some fine bass clarinet playing from Julian Siegal. While Sarah Vaughan and Dee Dee Bridgewater will remain formative influences on her work, Liane Carroll has her own distinctive voice and it is this which impresses most here. Liane Carroll will perform at selective venues in London during April.
London-based group Los Chinches are a multi-national collective comprising three Peruvians, one Columbian , three Brits and a Frenchman. They perform in the retro Chincha style of which fuses the music of the Peruvian Amazon with Columbian cumbia. In pratice this means that psychadelic and surfer guitar influences are incorporated into an essentially traditional Latin rhythm section which bubbles along throughout. Formed in 2009, this is their debut album and they have already performed live at prestigious festivals such as La Linea (the London Latin music festival soon to commence its 2013 edition), Glastonbury and Womad. Overall the music is quirky enough to immediately atttract the listener’s attention and hold it for some time afterwards. The tropical rhythms are uplifting and not in any sense cheesy. These are typified by the catchy intro that leads into ‘Señorita, can you tell?’, or the folksy Tex-Mex sounding ‘Be still my beating Corazon’. There are even hints of Santana in his prime on the driving guitar-led instrumental of the title track, with licks from band leader and guitarist Gareth Finnigan, and only here is there any sense of a cheesy input which is quite deliberate from the 1970s-style keyboards. Surfer guitar sounds are most evident on the instrumental ‘El Longing’ while there are hints of Manu Chao minus the rock element with instead psychadelic guitar (reflected in the stunning cover art) and heavier percussion on ‘Guiro Mero’. Another winner of a song is ‘Mueve Calor’ with an underlying rhythm pattern that recalls ‘Jingo’ and collective vocals in Spanish. In general a feature of this album is that vocals alternate between English and Spanish, sometimes even within the same song. Los Chinches are three-quarters of their way through a UK tour which will continue until mid-May. Catch them live if you can.