Djessou Mory Kanté ‘River Strings – Maninka Guitar’ (Sterns) 5/5

djessou-mory-kantéOnce in a while an African or Latin American musician comes along and blows the listener away with an album that is quite simply a breath of fresh air. Such is the case of this new offering from Guinean guitarist Djessou Mory Kanté (not to be confused with the musician Mory Kanté). The timeless sound gives this recording all the feel of something that could have been released in the 1970s in either Africa or say Cuba, and is an all instrumental affair of some distinction. The relatively concise (by African standards at least) thirteen tracks makes for an album with no filler and plenty of joyous moments along the way and, despite the assortment of percussion to aid proceedings such as calabash, djembe and doumdoube, this is in reality a pared down recording and it is all the better for that. What really comes across is the interweaving of layers between guitars and the subtlest hint of external musical influences, including flamenco guitar, without it ever being a deliberate attempt at world roots fusion. The wonderfully melodic ‘Senekela’ recalls the great Ambassadeurs and is a stunning multi-layered number. On the opener ‘Cocuou’ the emphasis is firmly on guitar virtuosity and both the leader and fellow guitarist Kerfala Kanté engage in some delightful exchanges. The intricate number ‘Nan Koura’ is where the flamenco component is most evident, and possibly Kanté has listened to Spanish guitar master Segovia at some point and is a lovely intimate composition. Another layered guitar number is ‘Toubaka’ and it should come as little surprise that musicians of the calibre of John Williams have covered Kanté’s compositions or that the leader has been a regular member of Salif Keita’s band. On this evidence, he fully deserves to be considered as a major artist in his own right. At a time when some in western society would seek to stigmatise Africans, this recording shows just what Africans are fully capable of when they have the creative resources at their disposal. If Joe Zawinul were still alive, he would have loved to play on such a recording. A candidate for new African album of the year.

Tim Stenhouse

Nana Love ‘Disco Documentary’ LP/CD/DIG (BBE Music) 4/5

nana-loveAfro-disco is not an especially well known fusion, but with the current quest for unearthing dancefloor gems from the past, BBE have come up with a real winner in Nana Love. The album was actually recorded in London in the late 1970s with co-engineer Denis Bovell present. However, this has all the feel of an authentic stab at heavyweight disco from a Nigerian perspective and the absence of any strings whatsoever lends a directness to the music which merely adds to its unique charm. The original tapes were uncovered and, in the process of restoring these, unreleased material henceforth became available. No less than three extended dancefloor gems predominate here and the opener ‘I’m in love’ with its heavy bass line and lengthy instrumental breaks should have been a disco anthem had it have been more widely promoted at the time. Nana Love’s girlish vocals make for an interesting contrast with the instrumentation. Afro-Beat horns and a skin tight rhythm section feature on ‘Talking about music’ where Nana offers a spoken dialogue and the melody builds in intensity. The Chic-esque rhythm guitar is the first hint of external influences on ‘Hang on baby’ which is another meaty tome at nearly nine minutes in length while for a little variety the dance mix version of ‘Loving feeling’ has more of a classic Motown intro, but then reverts to classy disco. Only ‘Disco Lover’ sounds a trifle dated while Bovell’s influence comes through subtly on the reggae flavoured keyboards allied to a funky bass on ‘We’re gonna stay for the party’ which is fundamentally still a funky ditty. This is in fact the third instalment from BBE of their ‘Master we love’ series’ and if the quality remains this high, then the next instalment will be eagerly anticipated.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Spiritual Jazz Vol. 5’ LP/CD (Jazzman) 5/5

spiritual-jazz-5Jazz is a worldwide phenomenon in case anyone had not noticed and for the latest exploration of jazz music in a deeply spiritual vein, Jazzman have extended their search as wide as possible globally and this is by far the most eclectic of the volumes produced thus far. Music from India and Japan takes us on an excursion into eastern climbs while Latin America and the Caribbean feature prominently this time round.

From Venezuela comes a modal number that is flute-led by leader and pianist Virgilio Armas and his quartet on ‘Sobre el Orinoco’ which commences as a dream-like waltz, but then suddenly shifts up a gear and morphs into a speeded up slice of retro bossa. Argentina is well represented here with some lesser known home grown talent and rightly so since it has a rich jazz heritage and proudly exported some of the most distinguished jazz musician exiles to the United States such as the late groove pianist Jorge Dalto who played with Tito Puente in the 1980s, tenorist Gato Barbieri who took on board the musings of both John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and of course the wonderful pianist and arranger Lalo Schifrin. An excellent interpretation of Charles Davis’ composition ‘Half and Half (famously recorded by Elvin Jones on Impulse) by Chivo Borraro whets the appetite while the piano trio of Jorge Lopez Ruiz conjur up a subtle waltz in ‘Vicky’. Delving a little further into the Caribbean, Jamaica is best known from a jazz perspective as pioneering the sound of ska which was predominantly instrumental and this was heavily influenced by the sounds of American bop jazz that Jamaicans could pick up on their radios. There is an unusual take on Dave Brubeck’s anthem ‘Take Five’ by Oladepo Ogomedede, but rather than a reggae undercurrent as one might have expected, the rhythm section sounds more akin to a rustic calypso. An anthology of Jamaican reggae would make a wonderful future project.

The sound of the Japanese koto have on occasion been used by jazz musicians and this instrument serves as the intro to a reflective piece composed and performed by drummer and band leader Hideo Shiaki and group and the combination of trumpet and saxophone in unison plus flute is a winner from start to finish. Indian classical music has been a very complimentary bedfellow for jazz, and John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar had a healthy respect for one another (the former naming his son in tribute to the latter musician) and so it proves on ‘Raga Rock’ by the Baaz Gonzalez Seven, a piece that goes through various mood changes and features some impressionistic flute. Somewhat less Indian sounding in form with a piano vamp over which percussion improvises is the second contribution from that nation in ‘Song for my lady’ by Louiz Banks. Arguably the most traditional eastern sounding composition on the album comes, surprisingly. from Australia and is the wonderfully evocative ‘Islamic Suite’ by the Charlie Munro quartet and it has something of a Middle Eastern dervish about it.

Folk-based melodies have been regularly showcased on Jazzman releases and the contribution from Israeli group Jazz Work Shop bears a remarkable resemblance to some of the more recent work of current Israeli bassist and leader Avishai Cohen. The piece ‘Mezave Israel’ features some gorgeous soprano saxophone courtesy of Albert Piammento. South Africa has an exceptionally strong and long-standing relationship with jazz and of the two worthy contributions on offer, pianist Tete Mbamibsa. The United States is not forgotten and has of course featured in various previous volumes. Here the Paul Winter Sextet, who performed at the Whitehouse for JFK in 1962, offer a delicate modal waltz entitled ‘Winter’s song’. As with previous volumes in the series, there is the usual impeccably high standard of attention to detail in the inner sleeve notes which are meticulous in the information contained within.

Tim Stenhouse

Chick Corea Trio ‘Trilogy’ 3CD set (Concord/Universal) 4/5

chick-corea-trioPianist Chick Corea has enjoyed several varied and contrasting chapters in his illustrious career and the acoustic piano trio side is just one of his numerous musical identities. This wonderful extended overview of a world tour allows us to take in the sheer breadth of his repertoire with some old favourites from his own compositions and a judicious selection of standards. He now has a trusted rhythm section of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brain Blade and when the empathy between them is so natural, the results are always likely to be of a high quality and this recording does not disappoint and the sound quality is universally excellent with a cohesive feel wherever the trio are performing on the globe. Corea’s love affair with Latin music in its myriad forms is hardly a secret and here he interprets some of the very best of his and others compositions. First off is a stunning rendition of Joe Henderson’s classic ‘Recorda-me’ and Chick is clearly in his element here with some inventive bass from McBride and ever sensitive accompaniment from Blade. From the Spanish end of the tour comes a collaboration on the anthemic ‘Spain’, with two major musicians from the Iberian peninsular, former Paco de Lucia alumni and leader in his own right, flautist Jorge Pardo, and flamenco guitarist Niño Josele. After a gentle and intricate intro on guitar, Pardo suddenly enters and thereafter an all out assault on the number ensues during which, after a tentative accompaniment, Pardo musically speaking takes centre stage and is in full flow to the obvious delight of the live audience and home listener alike. This is unquestionably an album highlight. Latin vamps on piano are a feature of another much-loved piece, ‘Armando’s Rhumba’, which is played as a trio number and with Blade excelling on some creative percussion accompaniment. In direct contrast, the reposing ‘Someday my prince will come’ has been covered by both Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck and the vocal version here (at least in the first part) delivered by Chick’s wife, vocalist Gayle Moran Corea. Another delicate ballad, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, receives an appropriately sensitive interpretation. Thelonius Monk is one of Corea’s all time piano heroes and in the past he has paid homage to him with a wonderful double LP trio recording for ECM. On this occasion two Monk pieces are covered and Chick puts his own twist on ‘Blue Monk’ with a more classical jazz reading with just a hint of the unique Monk phrasing. Another tribute of sorts occurs on ‘My foolish heart’ which was a number that Bill Evans loved to perform and guitarist Josele returns for some delicate work that recalls in part the lovely John McLaughlin all acoustic guitar homage to Evans. Piano and guitar work in unison here with the flamenco element adding something new to proceedings. Rounding off a memorable live set is a twenty-minute version of Russian classical composer Scriabin’s piano sonata entitled ‘The Moon’. It is often forgotten the extent to which jazz musicians, pianists especially, have been influenced by the classical domain. All in all an excellent way to sample one of jazz music’s most foremost exponents and in the most relaxing of settings.

Tim Stenhouse

Janet Lawson Quintet ‘Janet Lawson Quintet’ (BBE Music) 5/5

janet-lawson-quintetOne of the joys of being a fan of jazz in the 1980s was the emergence of new singers on the New York jazz scene and the vastly underrated Janet Lawson was one such chanteuse who recorded on scat king Eddie Jefferson’s ‘The Main Man’ album from 1977. Regular attendees of jazz dance sessions at Dingwalls will have regularly heard songs from this album and BBE have wisely re-issued it coupled with some excellent bonus cuts form a separate and slightly later session which served as a tribute to the music of Miles Davis. Challenging for the strongest number is ‘Sunday Afternoon’ which is simply a gorgeous mid-tempo song that features some superlative scatting from Lawson and delicate accompaniment including a lovely flute solo. This filled the dancefloors in the 1980s and deservedly so. However, ‘So High’ is equally strong with an instantly memorable bass line intro and this was a more uptempo vehicle and an ideal piece for jazz dancers to improvise upon. With latinesque polyrhythms and soaring soprano saxophone, a high tempo is maintained throughout. A third jazz dance number emerges in the slightly off-tempo (but deliberately so) of ‘Nothin’ like you’ where Lawson delivers arguably her strongest vocal performance of the entire album. For some welcome variety, a jaunty mid-tempo interpretation of Fats Waller’s ‘Jitterbug’ creates an altogether lighter mood and there is a gentle, yet emotive ballad rendition of Monk’s opus ‘Round Midnight’. The extra pieces are collectively devoted to the music performed by Miles Davis circa ‘Porgy and Bess’ through to the transitional ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ album. The pick of the quartet of songs is ‘Joshua’ from the latter album and here the piano solo intro leads into a deliciously extended scat excursion with soprano saxophone accompaniment. From ‘Porgy and Bess’, ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ is taken at a slightly faster temp than per usual. Subsequent to this album and its follow up from 1983, ‘Dreams can be’, Janet Lawson pursued a parallel career as a jazz educator at a college in New York, and has only sporadically returned to live performance. She is, then, an under-recorded and some of her unissued sessions would be a welcome addition for this writer, notably a tribute to Charles Mingus and live recordings at the Jazz Café. The album she participated on with David Lahm from 1982, ‘Real jazz for folks who feel jazz’, also deserves to be re-issued at some point.

Tim Stenhouse