After what seems like a long absence, multi-keyboardist Jason Rebello returns with an album that showcases his ability to appeal to a wide audience and that explains why seven out of the ten pieces are vocal driven. Of these, the pairing of Rebello with Will Downing works best with the jazz empathy of the latter ideally suited to the leader’s sensitive musings. On the moody ballad ‘Is this how?’, in Rebello Downing has clearly found the perfect accompanist and a whole album between the duo might prove to be a fruitful experience. The opening number on the album, ‘Know what you need’, impresses and features the vocals of Omar harks back to the 1970s and Herbie Hancock’s explorations of the fender Rhodes on an uptempo number. In contrast, the title track is a gentle piece with a lovely bass undercurrent and Rebello transfers from acoustic in the first part to a delicious fender solo in the second. For fans of jazz-rock, ‘Without a Paddle’, with its staccato piano rhythm, will enthrall and features the guitar playing of Paul Stacey who takes an extended solo. If the album could be described as a kaleidoscope of sounds encompassing Latin, funk and rock elements, this may also, paradoxically, be it’s Achilles heel; it tries to appeal to too diverse a listener and ends up at times somewhere in-between. More emphasis on the keyboard work where Jason Rebello truly excels would be this writer’s recommendation with, perhaps, two or three vocal numbers by one vocalist alone to help aid the promotion of the album. As it stands, this new recording should nonetheless appeal to listeners beyond jazz and, judging by reports of recent acoustic trio concerts, Jason Rebello is still fully capable of coming up with the musical goods in a live setting. Sporadic concert dates around the country include an appearance on April 30 at the annual Cheltenham Jazz Festival. A date to watch out for in your diary. Tim Stenhouse
British jazz singer Norma Winstone occupies a unique place among musicians in the UK. She arrived on the scene after the mainstream sounds of the late 1950s and the bop revolution just when jazz was beginning to become more experimental in nature and this is reflected in the wonderful line-up of then young up and coming British (and British-based) instrumentalists who were out to demonstrate that there was a more adventurous side to big band music. This 1972 debut recording by Winstone surfaced at a time when jazz was indeed in a poor state of health. The musicians included future husband and pianist John Taylor, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, multi-reedist Alan Skidmore among many others. The emerging jazz-rock sound is hinted at with the addition of electric guitarist Gary Boyle and there are parts of the album which to this day remain highly experimental and represent a major departure at the time from other British jazz vocalists such as Cleo Laine who championed the standards repertoire. This is anything but routine. A typical example of Winstone’s early pioneering work is the be found in the extended excursion of wordless scatting and big band accompaniment on ‘Erebus (son of chaos)’. Arguably the finest number is the near ten and a half minute ‘Enjoy this day’ which opens with a pared down piano and vocal intro, but the inclusion of brass ensemble voicings leads into an uptempo vehicle that becomes increasingly free form in nature. Almost as radical in approach is ‘Shadows’ which starts slowly, but then develops a head of steam and this features an extended trumpet solo from Henry Lowther. On the title track, Norma Winstone once more engages in wordless scatting technique with fine interplay from the brass ensemble. The music is challenging at times and there is certainly a risk taking quality to the songs on this album that is admirable and sounds all the better for it. It is worth pointing out that releases on the Argo and Decca labels were only pressed in relatively small numbers and that with the renewed interest in 1960s and 1970s British jazz, the original vinyl has become highly collectable. It is especially welcome, then, that a small independent label such as Dusk Fire should take up on itself the task of re-issuing the prime UK jazz examples of the era and do so on both vinyl and CD formats catering to all connoisseurs needs. These are complete with original gatefold sleeve and inner sleeve notes that provide complete individual track listing and informative notes by Norma Winstone. Tim Stenhouse
For those in search of the raunchier side of the blues that can take in both blues rock and melodic soul-blues in equal measure, then San Franciscan born Joe Louis Walker may just be your musical nirvana. Influenced by Jimi Hendrix as well as Lightnin’ Hopkins, and taught by no less than Freddy King, Fred McDowell and Ike Turner among others, Walker was born into a musical family with a father who performed blues piano and a mother who played B.B. King records. A formative moment in his career came in 1968 when he met up with guitarist Michael Bloomfield and they became lifelong friends with the Chicagoan exerting a strong influence upon Walker’s future musical path. For an entire decade (1975-1985) Walker performed gospel only as part of the Spiritual Corinthians, but branched out into mainstream blues terrain thereafter. The latest album follows on from ‘Hellfire’ (2012) that won the Living Blues critics album of the year and is similarly chock full of different aspects of the blues story. There is for example the gentle down home blues ‘As the sun goes down’ that develops into a mid-tempo burner complete with a Carlos Santana style guitar solo, while a cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Ride on baby’ impresses. Gospel influences are evident on ‘Keep the faith’ and ‘Don’t let go’, both sounding as though they have come straight out of the church. For boogie woogie piano with R & B accompaniment, look no further than ‘Stick a fork in me’ and Memphis funk is evoked on ‘Ramblin’ soul’ with electric blues thrown into the mix. Arguably the strongest guitar solo by the leader comes on the laid back ‘I’m gonna walk outside’. Joe Louis Walker may have been no instant success (though being the house guitarist at the Matrix at an early age was no sign of failure by any measurement), but his gradual yet nonetheless steady progress has stood him in good stead now as a seasoned performer and this album is testimony to that. Tim Stenhouse
West London based label Honest Jon’s has gradually built up an impressive roster of early roots recordings from throughout the globe and on this occasion they have had the foresight to select some of the earliest known recordings of music from Iran. a country that the West has many preconceptions about, but has little or no knowledge of its vast musical legacy. For that reason alone, the new anthology is very welcome indeed. It actually marks a cultural collaboration of sorts that existed between the then Shah, who had visited England and was impressed by the new medium at the time of the phonograph, and visiting musicians from Iran. By 1906 a recording contract was concluded between the Gramophone Typewriter Company and the Iranian distributors for five discs of material the contents of which are contained within this two CD set. The result was some incredible recordings of classical Iranian music that include both instrumental prowess and soulful vocal accompaniment. Since they date from the early part of the twentieth century listing the names would be a futile gesture since even educated Iranians might barely know only the odd name. However, both the music and the lavishly illustrated hardback booklet that accompanies the CD with photos of the musicians of the era open an entire world of creative activity to the listener/reader and as such cannot be faulted. The insightful notes educate us as to how the recording and distribution process were undertaken at the very beginnings of the record industry. A marvellous document of a time that had been long forgotten until these sides were recovered and lovingly restored. Tim Stenhouse
The pioneering examination of the dub phenomenon is now into its eighth instalment and this time round is an infinitely deeper exploration that long-time dub heads will relish. By far the best known practitioner here is Prince (now King) Jammy whose 1986 outing ‘Computerised Dub’ is just one of the four featured albums. With a typically creative Tony McDermott cover design and with Steelie and Cleavie on hand as musicians, inventive and at times deeply melodic sounds are the order of the day as illustrated on ’32 bit chip’ with keyboard echo to the fore and the awareness of the computer revolution underway is indicated further by ‘Megabite’. At times the influence of Kraftwerk can be heard as on ‘Synchro start’ with the subtle use of keyboards and even more so on ‘Autorhythm’ which is surely a tribute to the anthemic ‘Autobahn’ piece by the German band. If the somewhat cheesy 1980s keyboards date some of the pieces, a track of the calibre of ‘Modem’ provides a classic dub album feel that has merely been updated.
Lesser known, but of great interest is ‘Juxe Boxx Dub’ by Shane C. Brown who is in fact the son of legendary engineer Errol Brown and thus son has learnt some of the old-school techniques from the old master, but has applied them judiciously in a new setting. With horns supplied by studio veterans Dean Fraser and Nambo Robinson with Chico Chin making the horn section a threesome, the atmosphere is roots with a slice of modernity. On ‘The statement’, originally a vocal piece by Morgan Heritage, the excellent use of keyboard echo and isolated rhythm guitar create an intoxicating riff, while ‘Freedom Dub’ has delightful horn echo intro and repetitive drumbeat.
The Two Friends label was inspired by the productions at Gussie Clarke’s Music Works studio and the two friends in question are Mikey Bennett and Patrick ‘Shadow’ Lindsay. Indeed the former has co-written and produced several artists on Clarke’s label including Cocoa Tea, Gregory Isaacs and Shabba Ranks. Contained herein, the album ‘Voyage into Dub’ reworks some of the hit productions of Bennett in a dub style and these include a revisiting of Dennis Brown’s ‘No more walls’, Gregory Isaacs’ ‘I’m your lover man’ and, best of all, ‘Morning Blues Dub’. As ever with takes on vocal originals, where the original song was melodic, the dub version tends to work best. However, the limitations of digital dub are also exposed here for there is simply not the same degree of subtlety that can be applied to the percussion as with acoustic instrumentation. Nevertheless, there is inventive use of special effects with a airplane sound intro to the ironically-titled ‘This dub will self-destruct in 3’53’ and throughout there are hints at an interest in soundtrack music with the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme riff re-occurring as on ‘Your dub should choose to accept it’.
Finally comes ‘Dub Clash’, a dub accompaniment to Italian roots merchant now permanently settled in Jamaica Alborosie who provides some bang up to date modern roots dub. Ironically, though, it is this album that dates from 2010 that is closest in form to the classic dub albums of the 1970s than any of the other recordings in this box set. Alborosie is a multi-instrumentalist who performs here on bass, guitar, drums and keyboards, though he does receive accompaniment from members of the Shengen Clan band. The album as a whole pays homage to the innovatory sounds of King Tubby and, in general, even old-school dub fans such as this writer have to acknowledge that modern dub interpreters are well aware of where the roots of the genre emanate from and that is good news for the listener. The inner sleeve notes for the box set are both detailed and incisive on the long-term impact that dub technique exerted upon the music world more generally and, as an interesting aside, Richard Williams predictions on the influence of the genre are truly prescient. As ever original vinyl sleeve covers are presented in slim line format.
Brazilian specialists Far Out have always been keen to champion new talent in Brazil and Sao Paulo-based and born group Otis Trio are no exception. It has to be stressed that this is not at all the stereotypical terrain of bossa and samba with jazz that a great many Brazilian jazz musicians focus on and they are to be congratulated for taking an alternative route. Rather the trio (plus augmented six piece brass section and vibes) are more of a Brazilian equivalent of Medeski, Martin and Wood with freer elements of jazz added in on this their first full length album. Otis trio excel as creating riffs on guitar and vibes and then improvising off that and the opener, the haunting ‘Montag’s Dream’ typifies their sound as does ‘Quarta Feira Santa’ which may just be the album’s strongest number and the rhythmic element is here with a sparing use of brass orchestrations. A first taster of the trio came with the releases of the 7″ ‘Otis Natu’ which has a bubbling bass line that recalls the Japanese-French collective United Future Organization in their prime. If the all original numbers do sometimes lack the necessary melodicism throughout to retain the listener’s attention, then this will come in time with more experience and greater confidence in writing material. Definitely a band to watch out for in the future. Tim Stenhouse
Virginia born and raised Brothers Sherman (songwriter and baritone vocalist) and Wendell (bassist) set up the group thirty-five years ago in 1979 with falsetto vocalist and drummer Popsy Dixon making up the trio. Eleven albums on and the fifth in a row recorded for Chicago-based Alligator records, this new album finds the group excelling at what they do best, combining soul-blues, gospel and R & B elements into a cohesive whole. Influenced by the likes of B.B. King, Junior Parker and Jimmy Reed, quality is the name of the game here and this is no better illustrated than on the superlative and ever so classy soul ballad ‘Soldier of Love, an outstanding composition that lingers long on the mind. Only marginally less enticing is the mid-tempo ‘Lickety Split’ that enters into Robert Cray soul-blues territory with aplomb. Melodic harmonies abound on a cover of the old Stax chestnut composed by William Bell and Booker T, ‘My kind of girl’ and there is acoustic guitar accompaniment on the Ted Hawkins number ‘I gave up all I had’. Early R & B sounds are evoked on ‘You’ve got to lose’ with piano vamps and handclaps galore while the Hi records sound is revisited on the Curtis Salgado composition ‘Drivin’ in the drivin’ rain’ with authentic 1970s style keyboards and drums. Gospel hues are never too far away, though, and surface on a sedately-paced version of ‘Amazing Grace’. A strong album all around and what that showcases the versatility of the Holmes Brothers. Little wonder, then, that they have shared the stage with artists as renowned and diverse as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Steve Earle, Al Green, Merle Haggard, Ben Harper and Willie Nelson among many others. Tim Stenhouse
The art of blues shouting is sadly a dying one and one of its greatest ever practitioners, the late Jimmy Witherspoon, is showcased here, on a one hundred song overview that begins in the late 1940s and takes us through the early 1960s at which time he was about to sign and record pared down jazz dates with one of premier jazz labels, Prestige. Witherspoon was born in Arkansas in 1923, but headed to California to make his name and after a stint in the army during World War II, returned to the West coast joining his mother in San Francisco. His big break came when, during a weekend singing gig, the band leader and pianist Jay McShann heard Witherspoon perform and offered him the lead singer position in his band. Thus Jimmy Witherspoon was part of a collective that performed in the Kansas City jump blues style and this was ideally suited to the singer’s voice. He recorded his first album for the Modern label in 1950, but this contract lasted for just three years and he frequently changed labels throughout his career.
The box set focuses primarily on the 1950s period and this witnessed major changes in the popularity of particular types of music. Whereas R & B was initially extremely popular during the early period of the decade, by 1955/56 with the emergence of rock and roll, it began hitherto to be seen as somewhat passé and Witherspoon was astute enough to realise this and adapt his style to other genres, jazz in particular. Of all the CDs contained herein, and all four have their individual moments and highlights, it is the final one that catches Witherspoon at his absolute peak with fine musicians to accompany and excellent recording sound. For someone who is regarded above all as a blues singer, his jazz credentials were impeccable and improbably he was aided and abetted in this respect on a 1954 Chicago session, ‘When the lights go out’, by some of the Chess studio musicians who were regarded as the top blues instrumentalists in the city. These included the stunning rhythm section of Lafayette Leake, Willie Dixon and Fred Below. Proof, if any were required, that quality musicians could adapt to other genres with ease. What stands out in the mid-late 1950s sessions is the maturity of the voice and delivery of Witherspoon, never hurried and at once emotive and melancholic when needed as on the 1956 New York date ‘How long blues’. An all-star billing from 1958 in L.A. included trumpeter Gerald Wilson (soon to form his own big band with whom Witherspoon would also perform), tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards and pianist Hampton Hawes. Eight numbers featuring this stellar line-up are included with the melodic ‘Wee baby blues’ a highlight alongside the adult themed ‘When I’ve been drinking’. A 1959 live date in Monterrey was a classic and it is a pity that only one number is included here with tenorists Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster excelling alongside the singer on ‘No rollin’ blues’. One of Witherspoon’s most memorable interpretations invokes a genuine party atmosphere on the uptempo ‘There’s good rockin’ tonight’. When more commercial avenues were opened to him, as on the 1961 larger orchestral big band plus strings sessions, taking a leaf out of the Dinah Washington sides from the same period, Witherspoon still stood out with a magnificent interpretation of ‘The Masquerade is over’, a song that George Benson would later cover to critical acclaim. Elsewhere some of Jimmy Witherspoon’s most endearing interpretations are aired, not least the song with which he will be forever remembered, ‘Ain’t nobody’s business’. While he was not the first singer to interpret this all-time classic, his rendition is now regarded as the definitive one and we have it here in its full two part version.
As ever with Proper box sets, detailed information on the individual sessions and an informative overview of his career was beyond the period covered. Barring the excellent 1960s sessions for Prestige, this is a fine place to start your Jimmy Witherspoon collection and even with a very generous timing on offer, you will definitely not want to end here once you have become attuned to his voice.
Something of an underrated and forgotten gem. Gloria Gaynor hooked up with the Philadelphia International backing band and producers for this sumptuous and ever so classy disco album that, although situated in New York where it was indeed recorded, is really a homage to Philadelphia and the soulful groove that emanates from the city of brotherly love. Co-produced by Ron Tyson and Allan Felder and featuring MFSB member and guitarist Norman Harris, you know you are in for a treat with a strong selection of dance-oriented cuts. It should be remembered that Gaynor and Harris hooked up for the first time in 1973 when disco was still in an embryonic state and Harris produced a younger Gaynor on ‘Honey Bee’ which at the time was a failure. Second time around, however, with the Earl Young hi-hat cymbals and a significantly lower mix for the buzzing guitar, ‘Honey Bee’ was revamped and re-released in 1974 for MGM and became a smash disco hit which set the scene for what was to follow. If ‘Park Avenue Sound’ pre-dates the anthemic ‘I will survive’ by a year, it contains a whole slew of underground dance-floor winners that are now being re-discovered. Pride of place probably belongs to ‘This love affair’ which is featured with an extended 12″ version, one of four 12″ elongated interpretations in total, and it is a stunning number that stands the test of time easily. Almost as compelling is the mid-tempo groove of ‘Every time you make love to me’ while others will undoubtedly marvel at the reworking of a Motown classic, ‘You’re all I need to get by’, first sung by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. This follows in a line of Gaynor re-interpretations of the Motown back catalogue with the Jackson Five’s ‘Never can say goodbye’ and the Four tops ‘Reach out I’ll be there’ immediately springing to mind. A real left-field song and one that emphasises the soulful side of Gloria’s voice, is ‘For the first time in my life’ with a terrific intro while the flute and funk-tinged bass intro to ‘Kidnapped’ (originally a B-side to ‘This love affair’ but deserving of AA side status) is just the sort of vehicle that First Choice in their prime might have attempted. Excellent sleeve notes and photos as ever from BBR make this an essential listening experience. Tim Stenhouse
Now into this the twentieth album of an illustrious career, St. Etienne born singer Bernard Lavilliers was one of the singer-songwriters who came to prominence during the very late 1970s and early-mid 1980s. From early on in his career, travelling to hear other sounds has become a major source of creative inspiration and consequently he has cultivated a growing interest in world roots music that has been continuously woven into his music. Think of him as something of a Damon Albarn a good twenty five years before the latter expressed an interest in other global sounds. In the recent past Lavilliers has recorded reggae with Tikhen Jah Fakoly, Cape Verdean morna with the late great Cesaria Evora and dabble in Brazilian, salsa and other tropical adventures. This latest project was inspired by a trip to visit artist friends in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit its capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010. The title of the album is taken from a silhouette the singer saw on a cemetery wall of Baron Samedi who was an important figure in the Haitian voodoo religious cult. Several songs on the album relate directly to his visit. An obvious contender for radio play is the funk-tinged ‘Y a pas qu’à New York’ which, after a Brazilian samba-influenced guitar and percussion intro, leads into a gloriously soulful groove with beautiful female harmonies and tasteful strings to accompany. The title track has all the hustle and bustle of downtown Port-au-Prince and connections with Brazil are once again evoked with the use of pandeiro and tambourim. A recurring feature of Lavilliers’ latter half career has been the gentle acoustic songs and here the examples are well up to standard with a lovely melodic pared down feel to ‘Rest’là Maloya’ and another relaxed vocal delivery plus acoustic guitar on ‘Sans fleurs ni couronnes’. The downtempo atmosphere is augmented by strings on ‘Villa Noailles’. However, Bernard Lavilliers is a musician of great integrity as well as possessing a deep social conscience. He is always eager to explore new avenues and one of his most ambitious undertakings ever is contained on the second CD which is just one long poem by Blaise Cendrars ‘Trans-Siberian Prose’ and The little Jehanne of France’ set to music with the aid of jazz double bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons and the Quatuor Ebène string quartet. For another trip into nostalgia, an inventive reworking of Kurt Weil’s evergreen ‘Mack the Knife’ resurfaces here with a Tom Waits style eclectic interpretation re-titled ‘La complainte de Mackie’ with trombone to accompany him. Producer Romain Humeau, equally frontman of group Eiffel, ensures that nothing sounds dated. Lavilliers, now in his fifth decade, as a performer, is something of a French musical institution and this album is a perfect illustration of why. As an ideal compliment, the Brazilian and lusophone influenced ‘Carnets de Bord’ (2009) makes a wonderful companion. An extensive tour the length and breadth of France began on 8 February and will continue until 20th June. Tim Stenhouse