Precious little Persian classical music is available to roots enthusiasts in the West who are eager to improve their knowledge of Iran’s culture. In typical enterprising fashion, ECM has seen fit to record an intimate concert between two master musicians who, while emanating from two distinct cultures, are nonetheless linked by a shared border and a shared heritage that extends here to a musical métissage. This collaboration is not the first time that Iranian kamancheh player (a spike fiddle that is held like a mini cello with bow) Kayhan Kalhor has recorded in the West. ECM and Harmonia Mundi have both released albums with him, but neither focused attention on the commonality between Iranian and Turkish music. The other part of the equation is Turkish baglama player (a stringed instrument akin to a banjo or mandolin) Erdal Erzincan who has been schooled in the instrument when moving to Istanbul and during his teens adopted an early interest in the regional folk music of his native land. In the case of Iranian Kalyan Kalhor, he is both a seasoned instrumentalist and composer, and in 1991 co-founded Dastan, the Persian classical ensemble that has performed at the London Jazz festival and on Radio 3. From the evocative opening to the title track, the music is like entering the opening to a centuries old ancient building with light seeping in for the first time and from a listening perspective one where time has been suspended. Pieces vary between traditionally-inspired and improvised numbers, but seam effortlessly into a cohesive whole. It is difficult to pinpoint individual compositions that stand out, but if one must then the compelling repetitive riff on ‘Improvisation IV’ and the kamancheh solo on ‘Improvisation V’ are outstanding while on the coupling of ‘Deli Dervis’/’Daldalan Bari’, the instrumental numbers are indistinguishable from one another. For a fitting finale, ‘Intertwining melodies’ are all lyrical traditional pieces that are expertly weaved into one another. The concert features a live February 2011 performance in Bursa, Turkey, that few save the local population would ever have access to. ECM certainly deserve credit for having the courage to put out this ambitious release and it fits comfortably into their continued support for world roots artists who would not otherwise gain a spotlight for themselves.
Think of Miles Davis’ ‘Sketches of Spain’ and contemplate what it might have sounded like in a more modal vein with just rhythm section, flamenco guitar and piston trombone to accompany. Wonder no more. One of the all-time great European jazz pair of albums has been re-issued for the first time since the 1990s and in a beautiful gatefold sleeve with the original covers featured both on the inner and outer sleeves plus informative notes from Javi Bayo. Recorded in 1967 and 1968 respectively, these two albums convey the essence of flamenco-fusion before the term was ever coined and it may comes as some surprise that aside from the Spanish soprano saxophonist and tenorist, the rest of the rhythm section are from northern European climbs, bassist Eric Peter from Switzerland and drummer Peer Wyboris and pianist Paul Grassl from Germany collectively. Of course the flamenco component could only ever be provided by a fellow Spaniard and the pseudonym of Paco de Algeciras is none other than Paco de Lucia while on the first album Paco de Antequera was one of the most respected guitarists at the Madrid tablaos of the time. The lengthy pieces are dramatic in their intensity and oscillate between straight ahead modal and flamenco-tinged numbers. Arguably the pick of the bunch is ‘Zorango gitano’ which conjures up the gypsy essence of flamenco with some gorgeous comping from Grassl. By far the longest piece is ‘Las Morillas de Jaén’ which sounds as though Iturralde has been heavily influenced by the orchestrations of Davis and Gil Evans. On the second recording the tribute to Enrico Granados, ‘Homenaje a Grandaos’ is quite stunning and captures the various classical pieces that the composer wrote beautifully in a jazz idiom. Elsewhere there are more reflective sides explored on ‘Café de Chintas’ which builds up a head of steam and develops into and Arabic-sounding number complete with soprano musings from Iturralde. Spanish jazz developed exponentially during the 1970s and beyond and the likes of Chano Dominguez, Jorge Pardo and Javier Collina among many others have become much respected household names. However, it is with ‘Flamenco Jazz’ that the heart of modern Spanish jazz begins and that is one reason among several why this double helping is indispensable. Tim Stenhouse
Multi-talented Dudley Moore is best known for his comic and acting skills, but it should not be forgotten that he trained formally as a pianist and this recording from 1960 captures his early career in full flow, produced by a pre-Beatles George Martin no less. Of considerable interest is the inclusion of a rare 45 of which the B-side contains a gem in ‘Duddley dell’. The delicious blues-inflected solo revealed a passion for jazz and influences that ranged from Errol Garner to Oscar Peterson. The 1962 album from which the majority of the music is taken continues in the jazz trio vein with all but one number a standard. Among these features a lovely re-working of Cole Porter’s ‘I love Paris’ that contrasts with the later 1990s version by Jackie Terrasson on Blue Note. Moore’s interpretation here is less radical, but goes through a series of different stages in the process and the leader adapts his style accordingly. An Errol Garner favourite ‘I get a kick out of you’ is given a shuffling percussive beat with Dudley in full flow throughout while in a more reflective mood the ballad ‘What’s new’ includes some fine accompaniment from a rhythm section that comprised Peter McGuirk on bass and Chris Karan on drums. For some left-field sounds, the swinging ‘Just in time’ is merely one of the album’s numerous highlights. Unlike the later recordings which give the sometimes false impression of a pianist who was content with performing three minute popified jazz instrumentals from the era, Dudley Moore was certainly several notches above a cocktail pianist and this CD provides convincing evidence to reinforce this view. The second half of the CD focuses on the comedy and dramatic side to Moore’s career and makes for an entertaining listen. Full marks to El/Cherry Red for putting virtually eighty minutes onto a single CD. Tim Stenhouse
Trios rarely come as cohesive as this one and in the case of Carla Bley and Steve Swallow they have been performing together for a few decades, though Andy Sheppard has performed previously with both musicians. This album is something of a novelty in so far as it is the first time in forty years that Carla Bley has recorded on the ECM label rather than on its off-shot WATT one. Recorded in Lugano, the delicate nature of the sound created and the telepathic communication between the three constituent members comes shining through and is a joy to behold. Some of the long-time favourite compositions from the pianist’s repertoire have been lovingly reworked and in the process the old chestnuts re-ingnited. These include the sensitive opener ‘Utviklingssang’ with just one of the delights on this piece being the vulnerable sounding saxophone of Sheppard who comes across here as an early-mid 1970s Garbarek on the highest tenor pitches. As ever Swallow is that most selfless of accompanists. The evocative hues of ‘Vashkar’ conjure up a Spanish musical landscape and while Bley hovers on top, Swallow lays down below a repetitive bass-line groove with Sheppard on soprano now sounding at his most Shorter-esque. Two lengthy suites make up the remainder of the set with Part One of the ‘Girl who cried champagne’ impressing with another roaming bass-line and some Getz-like tenor. A second medley of tunes is inspired by the paintings of Henri Matisse and it is the third part which is conveyed most effectively. The trio will perform at this year’s London Jazz festival on 24 November. It will certainly be one of the most eagerly awaited festival concerts. Tim Stenhouse
As part of the ongoing re-issue programme by Real World, one of the albums that reached a wider audience beyond the confines of the in the know roots audience during the 1990s has been re-released and still sounds as fresh as the day it was put together by a collection of DJs from an altogether younger generation. In fact the idea of mixing dance-floor beats with the sacred sound of qawwali might at the time have seemed anathema, but actually turned a whole new a by a collection of younger audience on to the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and consequently he was fêted by that younger generation in a way that would never have happened if that same age group had been exposed to the untouched rootsier sounds alone. Re-listening to the music some fifteen years later, the most convivial fusion remains that of Talvin Singh who as both a musician and DJ has a natural empathy with the original music and has not tampered too much with it which is to his eternal credit. This is illustrated by the subtler use of mixing on ‘My heart, my life’ which creates an atmospheric groove with a gradual building up of layers. The distinctive voice of Khan emerges slowly, but surely from the mix. Elsewhere Nitin Sawhney mixes up ‘Tracery’ to good effect with a spoken intro and a gentle introduction to layered textures and once again is respectful of the tradition. If it is a more radical reworking you are looking for, then look no further than the major drum accompaniment on ‘Nothing without you’ from the Dhol Foundation and Fun ‘da’ mental. For those in search of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s most famous work ‘Mustt Mustt’ which Massive Attack famously remixed, it is not contained on this selection, but is available elsewhere in the re-issues programme. Tim Stenhouse
American vocalist Gregory Porter has made something of a stir on the UK music scene and rightly so. His performances of old and new material reveal an immensely gifted musician with a deep hinterland knowledge of the American tradition. What of his own compositional talents, then? This debut recording for major label Blue Note is in fact Porter’s third overall following on from the critically acclaimed ‘Be Good’ from 2012. He now has his own band with small brass section and has delivered an album of mainly originals that are in general excellent and bode well for his long-term career. They are typified by quirky compositions such as ‘Musical genocide’ which has thoughtful lyrics and a memorable bass line and piano vamp. Equally impressive is the uplifting ‘Wind song’ which has a lovely subtle drumbeat and some fine piano accompaniment. The title track is a blues-inflected groover in the Les McCann style and features some delicious brass ensemble playing and atmospheric handclaps while ‘The ‘In crowd’ repeats the experience and the soul-jazz bag is one that fits Porter like a glove. A minor-themed beauty is ‘Brown grass’ and Porter’s voice reminds one that is a long time since such a distinctive sound graced the jazz idiom with Al Jarreau, Jon Hendricks and even Eddie Jefferson (minus the vocalese histrionics). For a change of tempo, Gregory Porter’s balladry skills recall the young Nat King Cole and ‘No love dying’ is a particularly fine illustration. Not everything works as well, but at over just an hour, it would be unreasonable to expect sustained brilliance on this album. The compositions will only improve with time, but just right now Gregory Porter is in a creative phase and the listener is most certainly the beneficiary.
The exotic sounding Gaudi is in fact UK break producer Headflix and this is an attempt at fusing electro beats with reggae riddims which follows on from the well received 2007 releases ‘Dub Qawwali’ and even earned a BBC world roots nomination at the time. Unfortunately on the latest recording the human element is relegated to a largely secondary role, with the overall sound likely to leave most world roots and even the most progressive of reggae fans cold. Part of the problem resides with the dehumanising effect of the instrumentation and a greater input from reggae musicians would have enhanced the balance. That said, the voice of Lee Perry is heard on ‘I start to pray’ which is noteworthy for its gospel-infused organ intro and this is probably where the reggae meets electro dub works best. It is a pity that the overproduced sound detracts from the music because there is some evidence of a musical mind at play here, especially on the flute driven ‘Tamino and the temple of dub’, but even here the improvisation is minimal. A case, then of returning to the drawing board, and increasing substantially the reggae component. Tim Stenhouse
Danish bassist and group leader Henrik Jensen is one of a number of European musicians who have now made London their permanent home and it has added a new vibrancy to the already burgeoning London jazz scene. There is an economy of style that is admirable in this new recording from the quartet which succeeds in being both relaxed and intense at the same time. The overall feel echoes mid-1950s Miles as well as post-bop hues while other influences would include the progressive side of bop via Monk and Bud Powell. Indeed it is Monk one most readily thinks of when listening to ‘Dog of the day’ which is reminiscent of ‘Think of one’ while the delicate ballad ‘Followed by thirteen’ features the lovely trumpet playing of André Canniere who sounds akin to Terence Blanchard. An all original selection of ten pieces bodes well for the future and the shifting mid-tempo number ‘A wave goodbye’ is one of the highlights along with the gorgeous ballad ‘Schmetteling’. Best of all is the lyrical sounding ‘Milden Hall museum’ which affords Canniere the opportunity to enter into an extended solo excursion. At times the quartet in the studio has all the feel of a live performance which is a positive sign and will enable an individual group sound to emerge. Throughout there is real depth to the bass playing from Jensen. Henrik Jensen and Followed by Thirteen will be performing live dates in London during November.
When Congotronics married indigenous Congolese dance rhythms with electronic beats, a whole new area of musical exploration was opened up and in the case of Donso the musical philosophy has simply been displaced to West Africa for a collaboration between the capitals of France and Mali. The brains behind the project is none other than electro DJ/musician Pierre Antione Grison aka Krazy Baldhead and overall this is a well thought and executed set of sounds that will appeal to dance music enthusiasts in search of something a little more exotic as well as to world roots fans who will still find much to appreciate from the Malian input. The album is typified by the endless repetition of vocal chants over an electronic loop on a number such as ‘Rue Princesse’ and this creates a trance like atmosphere that builds in intensity over five and a half minutes and even recalls Amadou and Mariam. A genuine highlight is the hypnotic chugging beat of ‘Mantiaba’ which is the nearest thing you will find to an authentic Malian roots groove and features some lovely vocals from the same named Mantiaba. In between the main pieces are short thirty second interludes and some of these are fascinating in themselves, with ‘Durumi 2’ being especially memorable. For variation, the blues-rock guitar on ‘Rock le Kalaban’ is an engaging uptempo vehicle with a raw feel to it that features joint lead vocals. If the electronica element is not all pervasive here, it does nonetheless combine well and the driving bass-line of ‘Jugu’ with vocals supplied by Gedeon Diarra illustrates perfectly why. The mighty impressive folkloric mask on the album cover conjures up the general mood wonderfully well. Tim Stenhouse
Coming from such an illustrious jazz family as the Dankworths could have proven an albatross around the neck of singer Jacqui Dankworth, but quietly she has carved out her own niche and on the latest recording has extended her repertoire into the soul-jazz and even fusion terrain and this suits her voice well. Reworking her father’s television soundtrack piece ‘Tomorrow’s world’ into a reggae-inflected number was a brave decision and one that has paid off with some Jaco-style bass grooves from Geoff Gascoyne. Indeed the Weather Report connection is furthered on a lovely cover of the jazz-fusion group’s famous ‘Palladium’ and a suitably percussive accompaniment is enhanced by the soprano saxophone of Ben Castle. Where Jacqui Dankworth is in her element is on the interpretations of singer-songwriter soul classics such as a delicious reworking of Donny Hathaway’s ‘Someday we’ll all be free’. This is arguably the finest moment on the album and taken at a slightly quicker tempo than the original, this is the ideal terrain for her voice to excel. Quite possibly an entire album in this vein would be a logical next step and in the process enable Dankworth to develop her own songwriting skills. Of the originals on the album, ‘Malala’ impresses the most with its Afro-Latin undercurrent and this is another avenue for the singer to explore. Fine accompaniment throughout on piano and organ from band member and husband Charlie Wood. Jacqui Dankworth and group will be undertaking an extensive UK tour from October and this will include dates in November and December. Tim Stenhouse