Stacey Kent ‘The Changing Light’ (Parlophone) 4/5

Stacey KentAmerican vocalist, but UK resident vocalist Stacey Kent has developed a specialist passion for the Brazilian-inspired songbook and this latest album is possibly her most accomplished set thus far in this vein. Her voice conjures up a modern day Blossom Dearie, but there is substance to the repertoire and Kent is accompanied by the fine tenor tones of Jim Tomlinson. Furthermore, Stacey Kent is increasingly confident singing in Portuguese and that is perfectly illustrated on her interpretations of Boscoli and Menscal’s ‘O Barquinho’ and Jobim and Mendonca’s ‘Samba de una nota só’, better known in English as ‘One note samba’.

Six original compositions have been co-written on this occasion by Kazuo Ishguro and Jom Tomlinson and compare favourably with the classic Brazilian songbook. Of the former, the lilting ‘The summer we crossed Europe in the rain’ is an outstanding song with lovely guitar from Paricelli contributing and providing a powerful counterfoil to Kent’s cool school delivery. The title track
is a moody affair in which Kent reminisces about a journey in New York. Her soft delivery is ideally suited to Brazilian material such as the guitar and piano intro to ‘How insensitive’ and ‘Mais uma vez’, which takes a leaf out of the Joao Gilberto approach to vocalising. A UK tour is already well underway with further dates in October including a residency at Ronnie Scotts.

Tim Stenhouse

Joao Donato e su trio ‘Sambou Sambou’ (El/Red Cherry) 4/5

Joao Donato e su trioThis pairing of albums that date from 1962 with bonus tracks from the early-mid 1950s is the ideal way to investigate the early career of Brazilian pianist Joao Donato who is, perhaps, better known to readers for his 1970s musings on electric piano. The first album after which the CD title is taken is a delicious slice of Brazilian samba-jazz originally on Pacific Jazz and with a host of uptempo treats. Of these ”Tim-Dom-Dom’ is the crème of the crop and would grace and Brazilian compilation with distinction. A sophisticated bossa in ‘Pra que chorar’ offers Garneresque charms while a dance-floor winner of a tune is the title track which features the catchiest of hooks and some lovely rim drum work as only a master Brazilian drummer can muster. For a left-field track, ‘Naquela base’ is an absolute gem and underlines just what a fine composer Donato is while another pacy number ‘Olhou pra mim’ should not be overlooked. The second album, ‘Bossa Nova Carnaval’, is headed by vibist Dave Pike and finds Donato in a secondary supportive role alongside guitarist Kenny Burrell and trumpeter Clark Terry. While not as compelling as the first album, the gentler bossa-influenced hues grow with each listen and ‘Sausalito’ is a shuffler of a number. As a useful bonus, ‘Mambinho’ is an early example of Donato’s craft from the 1950s and features his conjunto that includes percussion, flute and trombone. Once again impeccable value for money at just under eighty minutes and informative sleeve notes. Tim Stenhouse

Krzysztof Komeda ‘Knife In The Water’ (ÉL) 5/5

Krystof_KomedaPolish pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda, who died tragically young aged thirty-eight in 1969, has gained something of a cult reputation for his 1960s recordings and here is a major reason why. This beautifully illustrated release complete with resplendent photo images of the debut film by Roman Polanski from 1962 is everything that a film soundtrack should be: invigorating, evocative and imaginative. Surrounded by a terrific band that featured a young trumpeter Tomasz Stanko who a decade later would become a stalwart of the ECM label, the all original compositions are ideally showcased by the haunting number ‘Roman Two’ which is quite experimental in sound for 1961 and has both a lovely build of tension on piano and a modal feel. The reflective opener ‘Ballad for Bernt’ features some fine tenor playing from Swedish saxophonist Bernt Rosengren who plays in a Coleman Hawkins style. Of the four pieces composed for the film, the most lyrical is ‘Cherry’. However, this is not all for on the excellent value for money seventy-six minutes plus, one finds a number of bonus tracks that date between 1956 and 1961 including some standards and feature Komeda in a variety of settings from small combo to slightly larger ensembles. Of these Komeda’s own ‘Fourth’ stands out and is performed by the lead in a hard-bop vein somewhere between the finesse of Errol Garner and the harder yet no less refined tones of Bud Powell. Vibist Jerzy Milan enters on ‘Memory of Bach’ which provides yet more evidence for the connection between the classical composer and jazz and has an intricate MJQ feel. The three part suite to ‘Innocent Sorcerers’ again includes the sound of the vibraphone, but with the additional comfort of the harmon mute trumpet à la Miles Davis. An ideal follow up to this release would be one of the later 1960s Polanski soundtracks, ‘Cul-de-Sac’, which was originally issued on vinyl by Polydor in the UK in 1966, but has been something of a collector’s item ever since, though had been available on digital for a few years. At some point a detailed anthology of Koneda’s work is required.

Tim Stenhouse

Chastity Brown ‘Back-Road Highway’ (Creative and Dreams Music Network) 3/5

If Valerie June whetted the appetite for soulful Americana with a folk bent, then talented singer-songwriter Chastity Brown may just be your next port of call. Born and raised in Tennessee, but now resident in Minnesota, Brown is a shining example of a twenty-first century American citizen and this is reflected in the diverse mix of musical influences. She veers towards folk-blues with both Cassandra Wislon and Bonnie Rait coming to mind, while historically the likes of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly have weaved their spell on her. Recorded in Nashville, and co-produced by Fred Cannon, the album takes off on the harmonica-led ‘When we get there!’ which is a hypnotic ditty with a lingering melody on the ear. Brown’s throaty delivery is ideally suited to the emotional gospel hues of ‘Lift us’ and ‘If you let me’ and ideally this writer would have liked to hear more in this vein. The song ‘After you’ was featured on a recent BBC/HBO film ‘Mary and Martha’ and is a rootsy number with a capella vocals and banjo that leads into an engaging mid-tempo number with shuffling drums. Diversity comes also in the shape of ‘Could’ve been a Sunday’ which takes a leaf out of Emmylou Harris’ ‘Wreckin’ ball’ concept. For impressive guitar work, the folk-blues ballad ‘I left home’ fits the bill admirably with some timely fingersnaps for good measure. That Chastity Brown can alternate her vocal style is indicated by the altogether softer delivery on the gentle sounding ‘Leroy’ which works well and the singer should definitely attempt more in this vein. A promising album, then, and plenty more aspects of Americana to explore including jazzier climbs.

Tim Stenhouse

Dennis Ellsworth ‘Dusk Dreams’ (Busted Flat) 4/5

Canadian singer-songwriter Dennis Ellworth is an accomplished musician who belongs to the classic tradition of folk-rock from the 1970s and his influences barely disguise his musical upbringing. They include the likes of Paul Simon and Neil Young as well as more contemporary artists such as Elvis Costello. This second album sees Ellsworth in a rich and prolific vein of form and a third is already on the way and due for release at the end of the year. Bassist David Barbe doubles up as producer and together they have come up an album that is likely to appeal to a wide audience without Ellsworth losing the essence of his roots. The downtempo folk-tinged number ‘Perfect storm’ is a delight as is the gentle, shuffling beat of ‘Apple of my eye’ which features a lovely pedal steel guitar. Arguably the strongest number is ‘I don’t want to worry you’ and there are shades of the Cystal Gale sound of the late 1970s in the production here. For some subtle blues-rock, the title track fits the bill to perfection. This is a supremely well crafted and produced album that ticks most boxes, though this writer would have liked something a little less slick. Tim Stenhouse

Tamikrest ‘Chatma’ (Sisters) CD/Vinyl/Digital (Glitter Beat) 4/5

Tuareg band Tamikrest have become one of the victims of the current political unrest in the region of north and west Africa and are currently exiled in Algeria. The new album, their third overall, is dedicated to the courage of Tuareg women and is arguably their most lyrical thus far. They cut across musical boundaries also and incorporate elements of rock guitar inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. Indeed the very name of the band itself means ‘crossing’ and is apt to describe the fusion of influences that abound. In contrast with previous albums, the more melodic side to the band’s repertoire has been emphasised this time round with the laid back acoustic ‘Adounia tabarat’ a highlight number and complete with Ry Cooderesque guitar licks. This adds another dimension to the Tamikrest sound and is something that this writer would like to hear more of. In a different vein, though equally melodic, is the gentle reggaefied rhythm guitar of ‘Imanin bas Zihoun’ fits the bill while for fans of the desert blues ‘Timtar’ echoes the music of one Ali Farka Touré. For devotees of an uptempo groove, Tamikrest can certainly deliver on the groove laden rocker ‘Djanegh etoumast’ which is memorable for its call and response vocals and on the vibrant percussion of the album opener, ‘Tisnant an chatma’. Female vocalist Wonou Walet Sidati will be a familiar voice to some and was formerly with Tinariwen who were one of the first Tuareg groups to reach an international audience. A two-pronged UK tour has already taken in July concerts at the Latitude and Womad festivals and will continue with an extended tour in October.

Tim Stenhouse

Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr ‘Running’ (ACT) 3/5

Now in their mid-twenties, the Wasserfuhr brothers debuted on ACT in 2006 and this new album is their fourth with something of a melodic ECM influence to it and they have become stalwarts of the Cologne jazz scene. Trumpeter Julian Wasserfuhr is a relaxed player very much in the Chet Baker mould rather than the hard blowing variety while pianist/keyboardist brother Roman takes care of adding layers of sound, and this is reinforced by the use of cello and violin plus clarinet on selected numbers. If overall the approach is in parts a tad too laid back, there is nonetheless a real zest to the more compelling numbers such as ‘Adonis’ which manages to both convey a sense of urgency while retaining a marked lyricism. The mainly original set works best on the smaller combo combinations such as on the largely piano trio based ‘Rocholz-Korosak’ on which the trumpet only enters two minutes in. Of the standards, neither are obvious terrain for a jazz formation, nor attempted in a conventional manner. Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Nowhere man’ is taken at a particularly slow tempo with the trumpeter gradually laying out the melody and it is only when the strings are introduced that the tune becomes familiar to the listener. A dreamy and sedate version of the Who’s ‘Behind blue eyes’ is certainly a surprise inclusion, but a pleasant one at that. The compositions of the quartet are certainly promising, but need to be executed with more bite to retain the listener’s attention with the bustling piece ”Bachelor (over the car look)’ being a notable exception. That said, with a variety of approaches on offer here, there are plenty of new avenues for the quartet to explore on future albums with the guest vocal appearance on ‘Go on’ of David Rynkowski an additional channel to investigate in moderation. Tim Stenhouse

Africando ‘Viva Africando’ (Sterns) 4/5

The Afro-Cuban meets West African music collective return with an strong album that has a slight difference this time round. Due to visa difficulties with Malian arranger and musical director Boncana Maiga, the latest recording has taken place in Paris with extra vocals added from various destinations. Among a bevy of dance-floor ditties, it is the more traditional orient numbers that nonetheless stand out. The mid-tempo guajira-style ‘Xalazss Xalass is a real burner of a track that could just as easily have been an early 1970s Fania production while on opener ‘Deni Sabiali’ there are hints of ‘El Manicero’ given a modern update. Quite possibly the jewel in the crown is the uptempo ‘Destino’ and, overall, the punch brass and crisp percussion lends the group an irresistible groove that is hard to put down. On another dance-floor stormer, ‘Doundari’, the unnamed lead vocalist comes across as a Salif Keita acolyte. For some welcome variation to the relentless dance-floor action, the old-school charanga of ‘Noche con Santana’ with Latin-rock influences which features the flute of Orchestra Broadway musician Eddy Zervigon is a lovely diversion while there is an intoxicating tribute to the late Gnonnas Pedro on the appropriate titled ‘Es para ti Gnonnas’. The final number ‘Africa es’ is performed by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and with veteran singer Ray de la Paz on top form most certainly works. In essence, salsa of the highest order. Tim Stenhouse

Ahmad Jamal ‘Saturday Morning’ (Jazz Village) 4/5

Veteran pianist Ahmad Jamal is in a fine vein of form at present and this album follows on logically from last year’s excellent ‘ Blue Moon’. Once again it is a return to the sound of the mid-1980s ‘Rossiter Road’ period and this is reflected in the composition of the line-up which features members of the old group such as drummer Herlin Riley, percussionist Manolo Badrena alongside bassist Reginald Veal. For very long-term fans of the pianist, a reprise of ‘One’, recorded originally in 1978, will come as a pleasant surprise and the interpretation here is both lyrical and percussive, and will appeal to fans old and new. The subtle and deeply melodic tribute to another pianist of the soul-jazz/hard-bop variety [Horace] ‘Silver’ is a suitably soulful and indeed uplifting number that is totally in keeping with the congenial Horace Silver temperament. What really impresses is that Jamal the composer is still highly inventive enjoying a new lease of freedom and this is typified by the gentle breeze of a tune that is the album title track. Unorthodox, yet enticing is the only way to describe the unusual time signature of ‘The Line’ which flows beautifully with long cascading runs from Jamal. Little wonder that Miles Davis was so enamoured of Jamal’s spatial explorations. There is little sign of any slowing down on this fine set.

Tim Stenhouse

Joonas Haavisto Trio ‘Micro to Macro’ (Fredriksson Music) 4/5

Scandinavia has positively reinvigorated the piano trio format over the last ten to fifteen years with the EST phenomenon and various other luminaries, and to that list must be added a new formation from Finland that is most definitely carrying on that innovative tradition. Unlike other pianists in the region, however, there does not, on the surface at least, appear to be any obvious influence of Finnish folk music, though subconsciously that may well prove to be the case. In fact if any influences do emerge from this debut recording, then it might be a combination of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau. Indeed it is the latter who springs to mind on the piece ‘Sothis’ on which Haaavisto really stretches out and constitutes the finest performance on the album. In general there is a quiet assurance and disarming simplicity about the recording that bodes well for the future. Joonas Haavisto is very ably assisted by a tight knit rhythm section comprising bassist Antti Lötjünen and drummer Joonas Riippa who make a major contribution to the collective effort and the trio are in scintillating from on the hustle-bustle of ‘Partying quirks’ with the repetitive piano rolls conveying the chaotic atmosphere quite beautifully. From the quietly brooding ‘Is there anybody?’ with its hint of menace in the cymbal-led intro to the austere ballad ‘Circling planets’ and the unusual rhythm pattern of ‘Light from behind the sun’ which recalls, perhaps, early Thelonius Monk, this debut set is a delight from start to finish. Tim Stenhouse