Amid a sea of highly polished Brazilian recordings in the mainstream MPB industry, it is heart warming to discover that Analog Africa records have seen fit to explore one of the lesser known regional musical tradition in the north-west of Brazil from the state of Pará and the music contained on this compilation was largely recorded in the city of Belém. This is music with a slightly rawer edge in terms of production and sounds all the better for not being too polished and instead has been stripped down to its raw essence. It is a music that above all else celebrates life and its myriad pleasures as well as exploring the roots of the Quilombolas or Maroons, the freed former slaves who now form their own community and inhabit part of the Amazon. The leader of the big band formation is Cupijó who is a multi-instrumentalist and son of band leader Mestre aka Vicente Castro. After first performing on clarinet and mandolin, Cupijó finally settled on the alto saxophone and this has become his immediately identifiable sound in the band. It was indeed after experiencing life among the Quilombolas that the leader returned to form Jazz Orquestra os Aces do Ritmo and the band’s reputation gradually spread by word of mouth. This anthology cuts across six albums that the band recorded and there elements of rural big band music (similar in some respects to Columbian big band cumbia in fact and with accordion incorporated at times) as well as urban samba (at least in the use of cavaquinho and percussion), though the final result is something that is quite distinctive and utterly compelling. An outstanding example of the style is ‘Farol do Marajó’ which is a joyous track featuring male lead vocal and unison brass to stunning effect. In general a driving beat with joint saxophones and vocals is performed at a rapid pace which is ideal for the rural dancefloor and numbers such as ‘Papa Chibe’ and ‘Morena do Rio Mutuacá’ illustrate this to perfection. Ideally one would have like a more generous timing and with six albums to choose from, at least sixty minutes of music should be made available to the budding listener. Otherwise, a fascinating insight into a rural style of Brazilian music that has hitherto been ignored outside the regional and national borders and that is something to be welcomed. Tim Stenhouse
Mancunian reed multi-instrumentalist Nat Birchall has made it his personal quest to explore the spiritual dimensions of the progressive jazz tradition and has come up with another gargantuan slice of musical intensity on this latest recording, the first that he has recorded in a live setting in Greece. His second on his own label, but sixth overall, Birchall has now surrounded himself with a trusted set of musicians including vibraphonist Corey Mwamba and this begs comparisons with the 1960s work of Archie Shepp and Jackie McLean, both of whom collaborated with vibist Bobby Hutcherson. Three pieces from the previous studio album, ‘World Without From’ from 2012, are revisited in elongated versions here, while two bona fide spiritual classics, one composed by Alice Coltrane, and the other by bassist Bill Lee make up a sumptuous selections of pieces. Opening proceedings is the longest cut, ‘John Coltrane’, which originally saw the light of day on Clifford Jordan’s Strata East album ‘Glass Bead Games’. The seventeen minute plus homage to the late great tenorist is a meandering and sprawling interpretation that states the main theme in melodic fashion before becoming a deeply absorbing number. Birchall alternates between tenor and soprano and on ‘Journey In Satchidananda’ reverts to soprano saxophone that mirrors the intensity of the original. Eastern influences bound on these live performances and this writer’s personal favourite is the irresistible take on ‘Return to Ithaca’ which was aired on the saxophonist’s previous album and here takes on a dervish-like quality with lovely accompaniment from Mwamba. For some delicate balladry, ‘Sacred Dimension’ offers a gentler vision of what Birchall and the quartet are fully capable of. Avant-garde compositions such as ‘Divine Harmony’ and ‘World Without Form’ both begin as relatively straightforward pieces, but then develop their own head of steam and become quite abstract in form. On what by all accounts was a compact stage (shades of Coltrane and Monk at the legendary Half Note in New York), the sound quality is intimate which suits the approach and style of the group to perfection.
Back in the late 1970s when disco reigned supreme (it still does judging by the number of re-issues, samples and new artists reworking the instrumentation of the era), rap was inspired by the classic bass lines with Chic’s hedonistic ‘Good Times’ heralded as the ultimate groove to feed off and served as the pretext for inventive and melodic rapping. This new anthology of the classic ‘old skool’ of rap reveals how independent and grass roots the rap scene was at the time with every single contained within emanating from a different locally-based label. Historically, of major importance is the thirteen minute and socially aware number ‘The people’s message, part two’ by Terry Lewis and Wild Flower. Lewis was in fact a member of the Younger Generation whose ‘We rap more mellow’ is a seminal slice of early rap and the track selected here is a stunning cut complete with a devastating lyrical intro. A particular favourite is the Jazzy 4 MCs and their offering ‘MC Rock’ featuring male and female rappers which just goes to show that women are equally adept at rapping when given the opportunity and in general the compilation celebrates the collective nature of the music and its inclusivity, something that is all too often lacking in today’s ultra commercialised scene. Fans of the disco not disco classic ‘Genius of Love’ by the Tom Tom Club will immediately recognise that magical riff as the undercurrent to ‘The Golden Rule’ by Cat Claw and the Better Love Crew and the symbiotic relationship between rap and funk grooves. One interesting and, perhaps, surprise inclusion is actually an instrumental, ‘Rappin’ Partee Groove’ from Rappers Rapp Group that in its use of bass line evokes both Curtis Blow’s ‘Christmas Rappin” and Chic’s anthemic song. Compiled by Sean P., there are informative notes on individual raps and this makes the listening experience all the more pleasurable. Once more, a winner from the BBE stable of quality re-issues.
Blue-eyed soul has become an increasingly well documented sub-genre in recent years with Boz Scaggs retrospectives, Gregg Allman and others being fêted on swamp rock anthologies, and the likes of Donald Fagan and Hall and Oates ever popular. Enter into the equation Hawaian soul singer Hal Bradbury who will not be familiar to many, but was recently featured on a BBE compilation of 1970s and early 1980s artists with a stand out contribution. Bradbury’s ‘This is Love’ album has been re-issued as part of the ‘Masters We Love’ series and is something of a rare soul classic fetching large sums on the collectables circuit. Dating from 1981 on the obscure Fan records label, it fits neatly into the Kenny Burke or Atlantic Starr bag of quality modern soul with the odd dance floor mover and containing three self-penned compositions by the leader. The classy mid-tempo groove of ‘You win I lose’ is an instant favourite with its synth intro while ‘Call me’ is a pure early 1980s uptempo modern soul heaven burner with keyboards that conjur up Steely Dan instantly. As ever with modern soul, it is often the less dance floor friendly cuts that grow on the ear and so it proves with a creative working of Sam Cooke’s ‘You send me’ which here is taken at a leisurely mid-tempo and really works while the moody mid-tempo ‘Keep the fire burning’ (no relation to the Gwen McCrae rare groove classic). If some of the ballads can be a tad sugary sweet in places, ‘By Now’ is a convincing number with subtle instrumental accompaniment. Overall, well worthy of re-issue and in a lovely gatefold sleeve that oozes a bye gone era of vinyl intensity.
Robert Cray the blues man, the jazz man and now with this his latest album we have the soul man, two fine funky chuggers lead us into the subtle mid pacer “Fine yesterday” which is worth the album’s purchase alone, had this arrived in time for the Soul Essence Weekender it would be anthem status by now but my supplier let me down and it wasn’t for sale at the weekender so I couldn’t get my hands on a copy. Very much in the rare groove/two step style but this is much better than the vast majority ever played under that banner. Moving on then we have the southern styled stroller “Your good thing is about to end” which could have surfaced way back in the day at the famed Royal Studios with Willie Mitchell and the crowd. For many the scintillating balladry of “Hold On” will be the reason you buy this album, it’s already getting attention from soul radio and will without doubt get wider recognition, once again this would have caused more than a stir in the ‘Jim Wray Lounge’ at Soul Essence, simply wonderful. A nod to Stax records next and the Booker T inspired “Hip Tight Onions” instrumental, if anyone is looking for an opener for there radio shows then this is it, a real throwback tune that works well. The album ends with a stunning deepie in the shape of Bobby Bland’s “Deep in my soul”, a constant play here at home, throughout this album the band a really tight and whilst Cray doesn’t appear to break sweat vocally, he’s in charge and has created an album that in years to come will be revered, potentially my album of the year, if not it will be there or there abouts. A superb mix of original material and cover versions.
Latin music specialist label Mr Bongo has always devoted plenty of attention to the myriad styles that encompass the Brazilian music scene and, in its latest compilation of sounds old and new, has come up with a winning combination of the classic as well as the relatively unknown. For fans of twenty-first century hip-hop meets electronica Brazilian urban sounds, ‘Boa Noite’ by Carol Conka has become a favourite of radio presenters and with the intoxicating mixture of rhythms it is easy to understand why. The north-east of Brazil has been a traditional hot bed of innovative sounds and ‘Isso é bonito’ by Odair Cabeça de Poeta is a fine example of the kind of music currently in vogue. More traditional samba devotees will most certainly not feel left out, however, for there are some tasty updates as on Junip’s reworking of ‘Oba, la vem ela’ which is an anthemic song in its original from the mighty Jorge Ben, authentic escola de samba is illustrated by the male lead and female backing vocals of Som Sete and ‘Esquindindin’ and instrumentally (plus chorus) by Junior com Orquestra e Coro with a footballing medley on ‘O campeão hindo do Flamengo’. Just in case you might feel overwhelmed by the new sounds, Mr Bongo have wisely tempered this by including a few all-time Brazilian classics and these include Quarteto Novo and the sublime ‘Misturada’ with Hermeto Pascoal on flute and some killer samba pop from Djavan with ‘Nereci’ where the influence of Steve Wonder can be heard. Arguably the most pleasant surprise of all is a gorgeous early 1970s slice of MPB-inflected samba from Claudia, who sounds as though she has been listening intently to Elis Regina, on ‘Deixa eu dizer’. All in all a splendid summation of Brazilian music and worthy of your attention.
Heralded as the Argentine equivalent of Tom Waits and now garnering extensive airplay among the more specialist radio programmes, Daniel Melingo is finally receiving some well deserved media attention. He has recently performed in London this year as part of the La Linea Latin music festival and has been championed by this writer for several years including his brief sojourn with the XL label that Gotan Project made famous. The latest album by the singer-songwriter is typically eclectic in style, including tango-canción, and uses the lunfardo slang for which Buenos Aires is renowned. In fact the title track itself is an example of the vernacular language, based on the title of a well known a song written by Maria Luisa Carnelli under the pseudonym of Luis Maria, and refers to a vagabond whose low-life nocturnal yearnings form an integral part of the tango repertoire. An interesting fusion of tango and bossa nova greets the listener on ‘Después de pasar’ during which Federico Garcia Lorca no less is alluded to while for those in search of melancholic and refined tango, ‘Garrapatea’ should fit the bill nicely. Melingo differs from many other Argentine singers in his espousal of minority causes and here he explicitly refers to the plight of the Quetchua Indian inhabitants with ‘Soneto para Daniel Reguera’. It should come as little surprise, then, that the singer should have been influenced by the 1970s protest song that permeated Latin America and the song of one key individual, Violetta Parra, is covered to good effect on ‘Volver a los diesisiete’ with a lovely dissonant guitar accompaniment. It has to be stressed that the music of Daniel Melingo is not something that immediately strikes the listener first time round. Rather, like a subtle wine, one needs to soak in the tango flavours on several occasions before they eventually linger long on the mind and soul. Tim Stenhouse
Brazilian songstress Simone came to prominence in the mid-late 1970s following on from her slightly older contemporaries, Maria Bethania and Gal Costa. Her sophisticated balladry and subtle mid-tempo musings place her on the more reflective side of Brazilian popular music, which became somewhat lost during the uniformity of glossy orchestrated sound in the 1980s, and her influences include Elis Regina and both Bethania and Milton Nascimento whose voice at its deepest she resembles to some extent. Only a now deleted compilation of her work on EMI has been released in the UK and her music is thus largely ignored and unknown even among Brazilian music aficionados. That is a pity because there is a good deal to admire in Simone’s sound, though the refined palate may be initially off-putting to some. Her traditional terrain is a combination of heartfelt ballads as on the classy ‘Descaminhos’ with exquisite jazz inflections, or subtly lilting samba-inducing numbers such as ‘Trégua suspensa’ and here the vulnerability of her voice comes to the fore. Simone is in fine form on the light and breezy bossa ‘Aquele plano para me esquecer’ which is a musical homage of sorts to the maestro Tom Jobim and on the cavaquinho-led samba of ‘Haicai’ which is favourite of this writer. A mid-tempo version of a song made famous by Os Mutantes, ‘Mutante’ illustrates how wide ranging the selection of song writing is on the album with one song co-written by Simone. Brazilian label Biscoito Fino is to be commended for taking the time and effort to allow some of the greatest singers in MPB who are now in the twilight of their careers in search of rediscovering the true roots of their music. Tim Stenhouse
Best known as one of the founding members of the Fania All Stars and the longest artist on the label, Johnny Pacheco first made his name as a musician as a flautist and this terrific double header of albums showcases his instrumental virtuosity. While the cover indicates just the second volume, the CD contains both volumes of the now legendary charanga sessions that Pacheco and band cut back in 1960 and 1961. They are definitive examples of a musical style that was pioneered in Cuba and then taken to the United States by migrants who fused it with Afro-Cuban jazz. In its essence charanga is string driven with five violins and no brass and instead the flute taking over, but still incorporating a full Latin percussive rhythm section. Of not here is the inclusion of timbalero Manny Oquendo who would go on to become an integral part of Eddie Palmieri’s La Perfecta band before forming Conjunto Libre in the 1970s. Interestingly, the vocals on both albums were not delivered by Pacheco himself, but by a combination of Elliot Romero and Rudy Calzado. In general the pieces are relatively concise in nature, with the final descarga, or extended jam session numbers being that bit longer and both ‘Soy guapo de verdad’ (Vol. I) and ‘Tema de Pacheco’ (Vol. II) are impeccable examples of how traditional sounds and jazz improvisations can effectively be married. Among a host of dancefloor winners, the classic ‘Pare cochero’ stands out and has been covered by just about everyone including a wonderful Tito Puente Latin Jazz Ensemble version in the 1980s. The iconic album cover of the first volume designed by Izzy Sanabria is contained within the ever excellent inner sleeve notes. Malanga once again have come up with a winning combination of 24 bit remastering, excellent quality original album cover graphics, photos of the era, updated notes on Pacheco’s career that provide an historical overview and faithfully reproduced original album sleeve notes that are easy to read. Tim Stenhouse
Dublin born, but now London resident singer Christine Tobin has built up an impressive reputation for interpreting unusual singer-songwriter material and transposing it into the jazz idiom. Poetic writers ripe for interpretation have included her fellow Irish writer W.B. Yeats on the excellent album ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and Brill Building graduate Carole King extraordinaire on ‘Tapestry Unveiled’. For her latest musical foray, Tobin has wisely chosen the songs of Leonard Cohen and this serves as a tribute to the Canadian who, in 2014, celebrates his eightieth year on the planet. What really impresses is the thought that has gone into the re-workings with a bold and wholly successful attempt to convey the melancholy of the originals by recasting the songs in a variety of jazz, blues and Brazilian musical settings. The latter is represented on the title track which conjurs up one of the more intimate beaches in Rio and on gentle the bossa-flavoured ‘Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye’, whereas ‘Tower of song’ here acquires a downbeat blues feel with the song interestingly ending with the famous riff from Miles’ ‘In a silent way/It’s about that time’, which is a lovely deft touch. A world roots feel invades the accordion and guitar led ‘Suzanne’ with creative use of Brazilian percussion from Adriano Adewale. The album ends on a fine note with some Chet Baker-inflected trumpet courtesy of guest musician Nick Smart (pianist Gwilym Simcock guests elsewhere on the album) on ‘Dance me to the end of love’ with some intricate guitar work from Phil Robson. Christine Tobin even engages in some scatting on ‘Everybody knows’. A musician at the peak of her creative powers on this thrilling evidence. Tim Stenhouse