Catherine Russell ‘Bring it back’ (World Village) 4/5

catherine-russellThis will be a trip down memory lane for some with the music focusing firmly and squarely on material from the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s and with a few nods to an even earlier period. Vocalist Catherine Russell has become something of a specialist in this style of jazz vocalese, but she is certainly not a mere imitation of singers of that era such as early Ella Fitzgerald or Dinah Washington. In fact Russell is well schooled in music since her late own mother, Caroline Ray, was herself a vocalist who performed in the 1940s as part of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm while her remains both an arranger and leader in his own right. The new album is in part a tribute to the two parents musical heritage and in 2012 father and daughter recorded a concert ‘Louis and Luis’ as part of Jazz at the Lincoln Center in spring of that year. It is also the follow up to the 2012 album ‘Strictly romancin’ and is Russell’s fifth album overall. She has been particularly popular in France where she has won prestigious awards such as the Prix du Jazz Vocal in 2012 and the Grand Prix du Hot Club de France. Suffice it to say that she is very much perceived across the Channel as safeguarding an earlier tradition of jazz vocal and this is reflected in the choice of repertoire which spans Duke Ellington, Johnny Otis, Fats Waller as well as an unearthed piece written by her father. She excels on laid back numbers of the calibre of Duke’s ‘I let a song go out of my heart’ and on Otis’ ‘Aged and Mellow’ also taken at a sedate pace. For swinging uptempo jazz look no further than ‘Darktown Strutters Ball’ with a fine guitar solo from Matt Munisteri who also serves as co-arranger on the album. Russell is accompanied by some fine musicianship with Earl Bostic influenced honks from alto saxophonist Dan Block on the opener and title track and punch brass arrangements throughout. Tim Stenhouse

George Mraz and Emil Viklický ‘Duo Art: Together Again’ (ACT) 4/5

george-mraz-emil-viklickýAs part of the Duo Art series on ACT, this third duet encounter between two Czech musicians (following on from ‘Moravia’ in 2002 and ‘Moravian Gems’ in 2007) is a real treat. Bassist George Mraz hardly needs an introduction to an international audience, such is his presence among the crème de la crème of musicians. He has, among others, recorded with Tommy Flanagan, Stan Getz, the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis orchestra and a whole lot more. Pianist Emil Viklický is highly regarded in his native Czech Republic, but has a much less visible presence outside the country and has consequently gone under the radar of the international jazz press thus far. The compositions comprise adaptations of Czech folk numbers, including classical composer Janácek as well as originals by the pianist. A calm, relaxed atmosphere greets the listener from the start and it is immediately apparent that there is a telepathic understanding between the two. They excel on pieces such as ‘Theme for the fifth part of Sinfonietta’, which is adapted from a Janacek orchestral piece, with beautiful use of space and this features some impressive soloing from Mraz while Viklický is content to comp. Memorable hooks linger in the mind on ‘A Bird flew’ while ‘Dear Love’ is a deeply lyrical number. The two first met in the former Yugoslavia in 1976 and the idea took place after a second meeting in 1997 to fuse Moravian folk music and jazz. In this respect there are parallels with the Scandinavian jazz scene which has regularly drawn up its own folk tradition. Tim Stenhouse

Philip Catherine and Martin Wind ‘Duo Art’ (ACT) 3/5

philip-catherine-martin-windWhen one thinks of classic duet jazz recordings, one is immediately taken back in time to the intimate musings of Bill Evans and Jim Hall, or Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, or even the magical pairing of John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. However, bass and guitar duets tend to be overlooked and so the coming together of Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine (who has recorded among others with Chet Baker and Tom Harrell and toured with Dexter Gordon and Lou Bennett) and bassist Martin Wind is most definitely a blessing. Moreover, it is one that was no mere accident since it was actively fostered by ACT boss Siggi Loch who suggested the two pair up for a recording that he would finance after hearing them perform separately in Berlin. The combination of self-penned compositions and classic standards works well with the light, airy Brazilian feel to the tribute to British pianist George Shearing, ‘Hello George (for G. Shearing)’ being just one highlight among many. A virtuoso start to the Oscar Pettiford composition ‘Blues in the closet’ is radically different from the original and sounding all the better for it while there is intricate guitar work from Catherine on the opening number ‘Old Folks’. Catherine’s tenure with Dexter Gordon is the subject of a homage on ‘Fried Bananas’ taken at a lively pace and there are some Jarrettesque grunts that attests to the joy of performing together here. A lesser known Paul McCartney piece ‘Jenny Wren’ is treated to a gentle and resposing interpretation. Aside from the odd electric fusion guitar which sounds a little out of place here, this can be strongly recommended to all fans of acoustic jazz guitar. Tim Stenhouse

Dianne Reeves ‘Beautiful Life’ (Concord/Universal) 4/5

Dianne-Reeves-Beautiful-LifeHer first studio album in at least five years with other duties including performing the music to George Clooney’s film ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, singer Dianne Reeves returns with a revisiting of her musical influences from her youth that takes in elements of R & B, pop and Latin among the classic American songbook. Surrounded by a stellar line up of jazz and soul musicians that includes the late, great keyboardist George Duke (who just happened to be her cousin and regular arranger/producer) in what must have been one of his very last recordings, pianists Gerald Clayton and Robert Glasper, bassists Richard Bona and Esperanza Spalding, vocalists Lalah Hathaway and Gregory Porter, and produced by Terri Lynne Carrington, this is a classy affair from start to finish. Reeves’ soulful delivery has always been sympathetic to the historic side of R & B and here the title track to Marvin Gaye’s epochal 1976 album ‘I want you’ serves as the pretext for some delightful Likewise a take on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dream’, Reeves reveals herself to be a keen listener of singer-songwriter territory. It should come as no surprise, then, that among the classic material two new songs are showcased here with ‘Cold’ and ‘Satiated (been waiting)’ perhaps the pick and reeves ends up co-writing on several songs here which is an interesting new direction for her to take. For a complete change of musical environment Reeves’ own composition ‘Tango’ takes the singer in a different direction altogether and her regular forays into the world of Latin music surely merits an entire album devoted to the music of Latin America. World roots beats surface also in her treatment of Bob Marley’s ‘Waitin’ in vain’ while for traditionalists, ‘Stormy Weather’ is a bona fide jazz standard that Reeves succeeds in breathing new life into. Dianne Reeves is quite simply one of the finest jazz singers of her generation. Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Duo Art: creating magic’ 2CD (ACT) 3/5

Duo-Art-creating-magicGerman label ACT has now been in existence for some twenty years or so and this double CD set celebrates the sheer diversity of the musicians on its roster with particular reference to duet performances which is a novel way in which to showcase the products on offer. What comes across from cherry-picking releases in this fashion is that ACT has promoted a good many up and coming jazz artists with a genius for uncovering talented pianists and, at the same time, focusing attention once again on some of the most gifted historical musicians who may for one reason or another have gone out of the public eye. For the former, Michel Wollny is highlighted on two numbers with ‘Polygou’ featuring Marius Neset memorable. Wollny’s brand new trio set will be the subject of a forthcoming review. British pianist Gwilym Simcock’s standing has soared in recent years and the piece ‘Pastoral’ in duet with Yuri Gloubev gives an indication why. This is another glimpse of an imminent new release that will feature in a near future review. Among the more established musicians, the pairing of saxophonist Hanz Sauer and pianist Joachim Kühn has been a fruitful one in recent years and their interpretation of the standard ‘Lover Man’ is well up to their usual high standard. Guitar and bass duets are relatively rare so the pairing of guitarist Philip Catherine and bassist Martin Wind is a welcome one and their uptempo take on Dexter Gordon’s ‘Fried Banana’s’ is well worth investigating and one track on their new album (see separate review). World roots flavours abound here with fusion collaborations another strong feature of ACT. The atmospheric Milesesque trumpet hues emanate from a duet between Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and French-born guitarist with Vietnamese heritage Nguyên Lê on ‘Lacrima Christi’ while flamenco jazz is the order of the day from Gerardo Nunez and Renaud Garcia-Fons on ‘Un Amor real’. Fusion jazz is not forgotten and Bugge Wesseltoft is included on two duets recordings, with ‘Improvisation over La Folia’ in collaboration with violinist Henning Graggervd especially memorable. A more unusual duet is that between two American jazzmen, saxophonist Eddie Harris and keyboardist/arranger Gil Goldstein. This rendition of ‘You stole my heart’ is taken from the ‘Last Concert’ that Harris performed before passing away. In general, then, this selection overview is an excellent way to dip into the ACT back catalogue as well as having a sneak preview of some new and forthcoming releases. It is part of a series devoted to duo music on the label that will be unfolding throughout the year and demonstrates ACT’s continued commitment to new and innovative jazz music. Tim Stenhouse

Joe Bataan ‘Salsoul’ (BBR) 5/5

joe-bataan-salsoulOriginally on the Mericana label that eventually fused into Salsoul, this is a definitive slice of Latin funk that is awash with intoxicating hooks, dynamite percussion and soulful vocals and when all elements are added together it is purely and simply a winning formula.The early 1970s was in fact a time of fascinating musical and more generally cultural interaction and this is illustrated by the bilingual original English and Spanish sleeve notes. The genius of Bataan was to appeal to both Anglo and Latin audiences and do so without compromising his craft. The funk element sounds as though he was hearing the Meters as much as James Brown while his own Afro-Filipino heritage meant that he was acutely sensitive to alternative cultures and more particularly the emerging Latino consciousness of the era. Of course it helps greatly to have an instrumental number in ‘Latin Strut’ that rivals ‘The Bottle’ for dance-floor action, but that is just one of the treats on offer here. Just as compelling is ‘Aftershower Funk’ which has graced many a compilation in recent years and rightly so, or the Latin soul killer that is ‘Johnny’, while Latin jazz fans will find a kindred spirit in ‘Sunny gets blues mambo’. The Salsoul label is in the UK primarily known for the classier side of soulful underground disco, yet throughout that period and before it targeted the Hispanic communities with rootsy innovative Afro-Cuban rhythms from Conjunto Libre and harder edged salsa that directly sourced Cuba from the likes of US group Saoco. Bataan could get down with the best of Latin outfits as on ‘Mujer Mia’. Of the bonus cuts, these are mono single version of the key cuts previously alluded to. It is to be hoped that this is the first in a series of classic 1970s re-issues of albums that Joe Bataan recorded including the superlative 1975 release ‘Afrofilipino’ that features Bataan’s take on ‘The Bottle’. Equally of note are ‘Saint Latin’s Day massacre’ (1972), ‘Poor Boy’ (1971) and ‘Sweet Soul’ (1972). Latin fusion never reached dizzier heights than this. Tim Stenhouse

Loleatta Holloway ‘Queen of the Night’ (BBR) 4/5

Loleatta-Holloway-Queen-of-the-NightThe third in a trio of Gold Mine albums that have now resurfaced, this album repeats the winning formula of infectious soulful dance-floor grooves alongside beautifully crafted mid-tempo numbers with the odd gem of a ballad thrown in for good measure. Loleatta Holloway belongs to that elite category of singer who elevated 1970s dance music to higher climbs and in the process created some utterly timeless grooves. Today the music sounds even better and has never been more relevant since we can now with the benefit of hindsight appreciate what followed on and was directly influenced by underground disco. Once again the dynamic Sound of Philadelphia sound is on hand to accompany Loleatta with production chores shared evenly between Norman Harris, Bunny Sigler and Ron Tyson and all allow Holloway’s fabulous voice to be fully showcased. The opener ‘Catch me on the rebound’ sets the standard and is right up there with Loleatta’s very best performances and in a similar vein ‘I may not be there when you want me (but I’m right on time)’ is only marginally less successful. As ever it is the breadth of Holloway’s range that truly impresses the listener and modern soul fans will be delighted to hear a song such as ‘You light up my life’ which is now a collectable 45. Husband Floyd Smith makes an appearance as producer on the lovely ballad penned by Bobby Womack ‘I’m in love’. Three bonus cuts includes two separate mixes of the big dance-floor hit ‘Catch me on the rebound ‘ with Walter Gibbons’ remix especially memorable and another Gibbons re-interpretation on ‘I may not be there when you want me (but I’m right on time)’. Tim Stenhouse

Aziza Brahim ‘Soutak’ (Glitterbeat) 4/5

aziza-brahim-soutakSaharan music has tended to be promoted internationally via the roots sounds of Tinarawen and the like, but Aziza Brahim is a singer who has cleverly fused her indigenous musical heritage with neighbouring Malian acoustic blues and Spanish flamenco. The result is a cohesive package and a fine debut album on German label Glitterbeat. Although born in the Western Sahara, Brahim was part educated in Cuba thanks to an exchange scheme and since 2000 has been resident in Barcelona. It is this cosmopolitan upbringing that has opened her eyes and ears to other sounds and exploring how they might compliment her own. Early musical experiments took place while Aziza Brahim was part of a band called Gulili Mankoo that released two albums on the French label Reaktion. Brahim has subsequently performed in her own right at the Caceres version of Womad in 2012 and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 2009. What really comes across on this debut solo recording is the beautiful melodic nature of the music that wins you over after repeated listens. Brahim sings in both Spanish and Arabic and the gentle, relaxed pace overall is typified by a song such as ‘La Palabra’ (The Word) which features some lovely acoustic rhythm guitar. Aziza Brahim has clearly soaked up myriad influences and these can be heard in parts of the album as on ‘Julud’ where he voice sounds a little like a female equivalent of Salif Keita, the flamenco-flavoured ‘Manos Enemigas’ where there are clear parallels with Souad Massi and which is a number that changes gear completely in the second half and develops into an uptempo groove of a piece. She repeats the stylistic transition on the more traditional sounding ‘Lagi’ which has echoes of Malian music while on the Arabic language song ‘Andana’ she is accompanied solely by percussion. It has to be said that her phrasing in Spanish is quite exquisite and conjurs up parallels with Nat Cole when recording his Cuban albums. With proper promotion, this new album may just take off in Spain. Inner sleeves lyrics are handily printed in Arabic, English and Spanish with the usual Glitterbeat flair for visual graphics. Tim Stenhouse

Avishai Cohen ‘Almah’ (Parlophone France) 4/5

Avishai-Cohen-AlmahBassist Avishai Cohen has rightly earned something of a reputation as a highly gifted composer as well as performer of music and has in the last few years increasingly drawn up the music of the Middle East for his inspiration. This was beautifully captured on the 2011 album ‘Seven Seas’ which was one of this writer’s personal favourites of that year. For his latest effort Cohen, now singed to French Parlophone, has retained the same musical links, but this time round has added classical elements with the selective use of strings deployed under the aegis of a string quartet. This exploration of jazz and classical roots is something of a return to Cohen’s earliest musical education when studying western classical harmony on the piano in Jerusalem. His inventive creations are best heard on pieces such as ‘Arab Melody’ which comprises three famous melodies of Lebanese singer Samira Tawfik, or on the ballad ‘Southern Lullaby’ which is a composition written by one of the founding fathers of Israeli music Moshe Vilenski and one can certainly hear the Russian classical influence of Rachmaninov here. Further eastern European influences surface on the piece ‘On a Black Horse’ which is actually a Red Army theme and the connection between eastern Europe and the Middle East is crucial to both the genetic and musical make up of modern day Israel. A pared down version can be heard on the old Israeli song ‘Kefel’ with piano solo by NItai Hershkovits. The only nod to the world of jazz is via a warm, soulful cover of Thad Jones’ ‘A Child is born’. Tim Stenhouse